WAVEing at Problems on the BAG

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• Topics: Bellingham, Open Government,

I have written about the many conflicts of interest on the COB Broadband Advisory Group, the most disturbing being the extreme over-representation of WAVE on the group. WAVE has two ex-officio members: David Brinn of WAVE and Allen Meeks of MOX communications. Then there’s WAVE employee, Milissa Miller, who happened to retire right before Eric Johnston appointed her as a voting member of the BAG. Of course, there was Vincent Buys of Comcast, who also protected WAVE’s interests. Thankfully, Comcast had the good sense to replace him recently even though the City seemed to want him in spite of his outspoken gender discrimination and links to white supremacy. 

While we knew that Milissa was most likely put on the BAG to protect the interests of WAVE, a recent development raises new concerns about Melissa Miller and her family’s close ties to the Nooksack Starlink project. Milissa’s husband and son were heavily involved in Blackrock Cable which was part of the Nooksack Tribe’s Starlink fiber hookup and installation. WAVE recently absorbed Blackrock communications for $50 million. So the question arises, did Milissa use her position to line up work and/or make money for her family through the BAG position? The veneer that the money is going to her family members, and not her directly, seems to have been enough separation to placate our mayor and council into looking the other way. Eric Johnston also apparently felt comfortable enough to place her in a position where she might choose between public good for personal gain.  

But before we worry about her too much, the state broadband office and elected officials dating back to Issac Stevens  have a tradition of taking advantage of Native American populations to advertise for special, well monied, interests, in this case Starlink. In fact State Broadband Office Director Russ Elliott goes out of his way to encourage people to use WAVE connections. Because we’ve discussed this, I know he is well aware WAVE charges 13.5 times more for connections than the Anacortes public network, and at least 25 times more just to get hooked up to WAVE fiber.

Christine Grant, Satpal Sidhu, and many others were present at the Nooksack Starlink activation, even though everyone knew there were issues.

What’s really unfortunate is that the fiber WAVE has run for the Nooksack Starlink program comes very close to the Nooksack reservation. This fiber could easily have been run directly to the Nooksack people, providing better connections at lower cost. So why wasn’t it? Most likely to line the pockets of WAVE/Blackrock, and as a huge advertising campaign for Starlink. Please note that the state stepped up to back this program.  

So I must ask readers, again, to contact the mayor and demand that Milissa be taken off the BAG. Maybe it’s not a conflict of interest, but it certainly does not pass the smell test and it looks even worse. And to be direct, public works director Johnston and IT director Mulholland were aware of this situation/conflict before appointing Milissa to the BAG. So were the mayor and council.  

One last note, the COB contacted NWCitizen about doing an article on a new consultant they are hiring to evaluate whether our municipal network can be used for city-wide fiber connections. Why didn’t I write about this? Because they’ve done this before. City policy analyst Mark Gardner generated a report about five years ago after Councilmember Lilliquist asked him to investigate the possibility of putting Dig Once into practice on a Roeder Ave. water-main repair. Their estimated project cost was nearly six times what Mount Vernon pays to install  conduit and fiber. I anticipate that this is what public works director Johnston plans to do again. It is a way to pretend to be doing work while making sure no progress is made. 

Just to be perfectly clear: our existing fiber network can absolutely, positively be used to provide connections to the public. It has always been able to do that.

We don’t need a consultant to tell us; a consultant is just a stalling tactic. The COB could provide Open Access to the network, just like they do in Mount Vernon, and they could do it tomorrow if they wanted to. Local net-neutral providers like PogoZone could immediately start hooking people up to it. But the mayor, council, and just about everyone else are already well aware of all this. What’s tragic is that we don’t have a mayor or council that is willing to hold anyone accountable.

So once again, this is where the real blame lies: With our inept or corrupt government, particularly our mayor and public works director who just can’t seem to do anything broadband-related without allowing special interests to work against the public interest.

About Jon Humphrey

Citizen Journalist • Bellingham • Member since May 23, 2017

Jon Humphrey is currently a music educator in Bellingham and very active in the community. He also has decades of professional IT experience including everything from support to development. He [...]

Comments by Readers

Ray Kamada

May 23, 2021

Question: besides you and Atul, who else do you feel is working on fiber in the public interest? 

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Jon Humphrey

May 24, 2021

Hey Ray, nice to hear from you man. Yes, there are quite a few people working on fiber in the public interest at this point. However, most of our politicians who said they were going to work on it to get my endorsement (see Christine Grant, Seth Fleetwood, Satpal, etc.), once elected did otherwise, and/or were too spineless to stand up to city staff, and did other things that are very much like the previous administration. Sadly, except for Kelly Krieger, none of the candidates for this election cycle seem to be talking about it much and none seem to want to. We need to let candidates know that if they don’t support fiber we don’t support them. 

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Satpal Sidhu

Jun 03, 2021

Hi Jon Humphrey

I read your write up. I think what Ray Kamada has said, has lot of weight. Public funds shall be prioritized for access to broadband not luxury. What you are proposing is not something in the domain of use of tax dollars for a showdown with private enterprizes. There are many examples in our society where services can possibly be rather owned by tax payers. Our Country is not built on this premise. If this makes sense, people can form an enterprize and compete between them and public funds cannot be used to tip the scale.

Your comment of myself and Christine being present at the Starlink demonstration should not scare you or concern you.  I support opening opportunties of broadband access to people who do not have this utility. I will support public funds like American Rescue Plan to create broadband access opportunities and competition in rural parts of our county rather than metro Bellingham.

 

 

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Jon Humphrey

Jun 03, 2021

Satpal, you are twisting words and ignoring the simple math in the situation. Private enterprises have NEVER provided us with the fiber services we need at an affordable price as you and Christine are well aware. WAVE will NEVER really help address the Digital Divide unless they’re getting corporate welfare. The only way to balance it out is with a public entity that allows other local net-neutral providers to compete and provide services. Mount Vernon’s network supports 9 local net-neutral providers.

WAVE quoted us $250K for a less than 1 mile fiber run on one project and $900 a month for Gigabit after that. The cost in Anacortes, Chatanooga, etc. is less than $1K to get hooked up (in most cases) and $70 a month for Gigabit. On top of that you, Christine, Seth, etc. were all in positions to start to build critical mid-mile infrastructure that could have been leased in an Open Access fashion and paid for its own expansion (like in Mount Vernon) for years now. It it foolish and ludicrious to believe that WAVE or any other existing private fiber provider (like CSS or Blackrock which is now WAVE) will provide affordable fiber without a public project backed by a Dig Once policy. My God, the fiber literally pays for itself and these companies have NEVER done the right thing for decades.

So yes, we should all be concerned that you, Christine, etc. backed up a half-assed, unaffordable solution like Starlink, when you knew better, and sold out our Native American brothers and sisters instead of doing the right thing and you did it DURING A PANDEMIC! Installing public fiber is a great example of the critical work that needed to be done during the pandemic, that could have provided safe high-paying jobs, that you ignored to give corporate welfare to abusive private providers like WAVE and abuse your positions to advertise for Starlink. You should be ashamed of yourself, apologize to your citizens, and build out public fiber. NOT cover your inappropriate behavior and protect WAVE and Starlink. They can take care of themselves and should compete in a fair market without having their hands held by our corrupt public officials. Oh, and the Nooksack and most of our other tribes in the area still need fiber to the premises. So time to get to work. There is no magical fairy riding in on a Stalink satellite to save us. Even Starlink is backed up by fiber, so it’s time to get to work and stop making excuses. Our citizens are suffering.

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