What’s the BAG Been Up To?

Under Eric Johnston, they’ve been stalling, dragging it out, and protecting big telecom.

Under Eric Johnston, they’ve been stalling, dragging it out, and protecting big telecom.

It has been a while since I’ve written about the Broadband Advisory Group (BAG). This is an update, a short update, because in spite of months of meetings, their accomplishment so far appears to have been: they hired a consultant.

I know a few of the BAG’s members, so I’ve asked around a bit. Recently, they admitted to me that all the BAG has really done so far is hire someone to begin sorting out where the fiber network is and what shape it’s in. This is a process public works should have started a decade ago when they first realized they’d lost track of parts of the network as well as millions of dollars in resources. 

So while I was disappointed, I was not surprised that all they have done is hire a consultant who has barely started. This means two things: First, clearly City Hall expects us to sit out yet another winter of this pandemic without access to our existing public fiber resources. They claim it must be cataloged first, but we already know where most of it is and it’s usable. Which leads to my second point: Since, we already know where most of it is, the city could provide Open Access to it, like they have in Mount Vernon. 

This would be a win-win as many local net-neutral providers could get leases on the existing network and start connecting people to fiber services. Doing this would pay dividends on multiple levels: it would generate revenue for the city (all of us) via the leases, it would provide better connections and faster speeds, and it would bring real competition to the big telecoms. But wait, there’s even more: these new local net-neutral providers would help us identify problems on the network and help fix them, thereby speeding up the entire process. So should the city hire a consultant? Sure, but a consultant is not an excuse to delay providing Open Access to the existing network. We can do both at the same time. 

Beyond all that, opening this fiber would provide next generation jobs with real pay and benefits, and the COB is well aware of that. I guess they just don’t care about creating good, safe, high-paying, sustainable, next-generation jobs?

I’ve been reporting for a long time that the BAG has been set up by Public Works Director Eric Johnston to protect special interests. I’ve posted about how they’ve been forbidden from actually discussing the topic of broadband in a comprehensive manner.  In this one I talk about how Mayor Fleetwood lied to us about picking the BAG members himself and actually let long known, big telecom supporter, public works director Eric Johnston do it instead.  I’ve exposed the questionable member choices of the group. And in several articles, I’ve discussed serious conflicts of interest. Still, I knew the group had several members who want to see change and was hopeful that somehow they could produce real results. At the very least, I hoped for a real Dig Once Policy, maybe even open access to the existing network during the pandemic…maybe beyond. As it stands, we are entering our second winter of pandemic and we still don’t have access to the existing publicly-owned fiber-optic network that we deserve, already own, and need. Why? Well there is no good reason, but BAG members tell me that many of the meetings were spent listening to Comcast, WAVE and others whine about how they feel they’d be getting a raw deal if anything was done with public fiber. Big telecom also made it clear that they feel they have a right to control everything that is going on in our city with communications and in our right of ways, and that they won’t tolerate any backtalk from their customers.

As I’ve said before, I believe Eric Johnston’s goal is to stall, drag this thing out as long as possible, and protect big telecom. Watching the meetings is painful as they often degrade into the big telecom representatives threatening to leave the area if they can’t continue “providing us” with overpriced, virtually worthless connections. They get especially irate if it looks like they may have to compete with local net-neural providers. Which raises the obvious question, Why is Eric Johnston still our public works director? What has he done to promote public infrastructure, improve our lives, or protect us from rapacious big telecoms? If your answer is, “Nothing,” I’m asking you to please write to Mayor Fleetwood and the City Council demanding a new public works director. We need leadership and public servants who serve public interests—not big telecom’s.

I should note that while I rip on the city, for good reason, a lot that the county is equally pitiful in their response to out needs. The Port, PUD, County Council and County Executive have sat on hundreds of millions of dollars, and bowed to special interests instead of taking care of the needs of most of their voters during a pandemic when broadband is a huge issue. This winter the pandemic will fold into an evictions epidemic on top of everything else. Perhaps they are hoping that we will forget how they have abandoned us on broadband when this evictions horror befalls us and our neighbors.   

Fiber doesn’t cost money. It makes money in many ways from leasing to creating a next-generation county with next-generation jobs. Not to mention the positive influence it has on education, healthcare, the environment and more . We’d have to be insane to vote the same people back into office that have failed us when it comes to providing this basic, critical, infrastructure. 

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 [...]

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