In my last article, I reviewed the applications for the Broadband Advisory Group and identified the ones from big telecom interests that are trying to make their way into the group. All of them are closely tied to upper echelon city staff, which creates negative credibility for the city in relation to broadband. My comments prompted a response from Mayor Fleetwood on Monday when he tried to reassure the public that the City of Bellingham is not dragging their feet on the issue. Unfortunately, the truth is that they are dragging their feet, as I will explain again.
First, I would like to remind everyone that it has been 219 days since the March 23rd lockdown; 358 days since Mayor Fleetwood was elected; and 301 days since he took office, after agreeing he would address public broadband concerns. Unfortunately, he hasn’t done that yet, even though throughout the pandemic we have needed broadband infrastructure more than ever.
Second, it has been almost five years since we approached the city about this issue. At that time, the COB tried to coerce us into not pursuing it because the former public works director, Ted Carlson, and the current director, Eric Johnston, wanted to “wait for wireless.” Although they both demonstrated a fundamental lack of understanding as to how the technology worked, that did not deter them from protecting special interests, especially those of AT&T and Verizon. Four years ago, we set up a petition with change.org.
Since lockdown, the Public Works Commission and public works director have still refused to provide Open Access to our existing public resources during a pandemic, even though they recently met about the issue. Further, they have dragged their feet on creating even basic policies like Dig Once and Open Access, even though they have several excellent examples they could modify and adopt.
So yes, Seth, they are dragging their feet and have been for years, while in the background they negotiate deals with big telecom. Remember, it took them five years to nail down a CenturyLink (now Lumen) franchise agreement, which did not provide us with anything close to a city or county wide solution. The scheme behind CenturyLink’s pretend fiber is covered in the book “Fiber” by Susan Crawford. There is more detail in my article.
Yes, I acknowledge that city employees are working hard, but so is every other worker. Many people who are not working are on the cusp of losing their homes, not getting enough to eat, or worse. Yet places with public fiber are in consistently better shape than we are. Most City of Bellingham employees make more money than half our population does, they have excellent benefits, and work in safer environments than a lot of other workers that earn less than they do. Just think about how safe a COB employee working at home is compared to our heroes in healthcare. Maybe it’s time for those city employees to help the community that makes that possible. Please take the time to read my last article:
It is NOT “inclusive” to stick a bunch of special interest representatives on a citizen advisory group. We all know exactly what they are going to do: protect the interests of their companies. I could write a program that would predict their responses; it’s not going to be a real conversation because corporations are NOT citizens.
Over two years ago, the city allowed a representative from Puget Sound Energy on the Climate Action Task Force. That was a mistake; and it was hardly “inclusive.” The COB edged out other energy providers to give PSE preferential treatment. It was wrong and did not serve the interest of our citizens.