Recent Articles

The Importance of Our Public Fiber Optic Infrastructure

[ Guest Writer Atul Deshmane, a PUD Commissioner, County Planning Commissioner, and Broadband Advisory Group (BAG) member, outlines some of the biggest infrastructure issues facing Bellingham today.]

This article is an attempt to provide an outline, in clear language and brief paragraphs, of the internet infrastructure topics now being discussed in our community. As a PUD Commissioner and County Planning Commissioner and technology professional, I have come to believe there are many important reasons to prioritize the development of a public fiber optic infrastructure.

Broadband/connectivity needs are growing, but what is “acceptable” broadband? While there are a variety of physical means to provide connection to the internet (fiber, copper wire, cable), “acceptability” is defined in terms of communication speeds. In 2015, the Federal Communication Commission defined it as 25 MB delivery of data to the end user (‘download’) and 3 MB delivery from that end user (‘upload’). It is important to note that our data needs increase by 50% each year which means demand for throughput is increasing by 50% every year and, luckily the capability of fiber optic infrastructure is increasing by 100% every year.  I support fiber because it meets our current needs, it’s fast, and it keeps getting faster. 

We need broadband that is symmetric; which means upload and download speeds match. Private telecoms built their copper infrastructure for delivery of media content (download), not information or data you may want to transmit (upload). Most wireless technology is not symmetric either and will continually require new protocols and end user devices. But our needs for data have rapidly evolved from passive consumption to interactive consumption and delivery, meaning both upload and download. Many of us have experienced problems using applications like Zoom which needs faster upload speeds. Upload speed is also critical for office, education, and tele-health applications. Fiber is already symmetric. 

The energy, carbon, and environmental footprints of our telecommunication systems are burgeoningOver the last few years, there has been an explosion of networked devices with embedded wireless antenna (think phones, tablets, laptops). The energy footprint created by these new devices is concerning. 5G frequencies consume more energy than 4G networks. Additionally, 5G antenna need a line of sight, which means trees in the way of 5G towers are being removed. Starlink (satellite wireless) generates an estimated eight metric tons of carbon emission associated with the launch of each satellite. Since Starlink is planning to initially launch over 40,000 satellites, carbon pollution under this system is a grave concern. At the same time, transmission losses through wireless and copper are an order of magnitude larger than losses in fiber optic cable. Fiber has a smaller environmental footprint. 

Durable and reliable infrastructure is fundamental. Copper and wireless infrastructure is not only slower, it is also more likely to become overloaded, creating frustrating reliability issues for the user. When wireless communications begin to break down, they often requires replacement of the antenna—in other words, the entire device. As an alternative, fiber optic cable is more durable and reliable than either wireless or copper cabling: if buried, fiber can last up to 100 years; if a fiber wire fails, a replacement can be pulled in and spliced. Fiber will perform better and last longer.  

Fiber optic infrastructure promotes social equity. The revolution that our consumer products industry foresees for home devices may not reach economically disadvantaged communities. Public fiber infrastructure is less dependent on these personal network devices. With public fiber infrastructure, these households will have access to world class connectivity. Over time, and due to fiber’s durability and reliability, public fiber networks will remain the most cost competitive and energy efficient infrastructure to serve end users. This sustained, high-performing infrastructure will enhance social equity. 

Competition is to everyone’s advantage. Our telecommunication providers have depended on market controls of access through agreements implemented at the federal, state, and local level. Local governments enter franchise agreements. State governments limit the retail and service authority of public utilities, and the federal government provides preferential assistance to private sector telecommunications companies. A public fiber infrastructure will allow many more internet and data services providers to rely on a fiber backbone that is owned, maintained, and operated by the public sector. At the same time, fiber infrastructure has been proven to increase private sector participation, because areas with public fiber networks have many more service providers than areas without public fiber.  

Cyber security was declared the number one threat to our national security two years ago by the Director of National Intelligence. Wireless internet creates extensive potential for data breaches. Our most secure facilities are relying, almost exclusively, on fiber to handle mission-critical data services because fiber optic communication is inherently more secure. Fiber supports our national security. 

There are certainly other perspectives on this subject and I am open to hearing them. My goal and intent is to work with others in our community to develop infrastructure that serves our community well. For more discussion, which I welcome, please comment below or email me at 

[Disclaimer: Although I am a PUD Commissioner and County Planning Commissioner, neither of these bodies has reviewed or is endorsing this document. These are my opinions, informed by my work in the private and public sector. I am grateful for the opportunity to share my personal perspective with my community.  Atul Deshmane]

Comments by Readers

Jon Humphrey

Mar 05, 2021

Thanks for this excellent outline Atul. I wonder, do you feel as a BAG member, with all of the special interests public works director Johnston and IT director Mulholland forced onto the committee, that the BAG can accomplish the goals our community needs in relation to fiber?

For example, WAVE employee Milissa Miller is a voting member, which the PUD, Port and schools are not. The libraries don’t even have representation. Do you feel the BAG is really just being used by the COB to try to kill the idea of this needed, critical, fiber infrastructure to protect special interests like WAVE, Comcast, CenturyLink, etc.?

Do you think the BAG can at least produce a Dig Once Policy and Open Access Policies or will Eric and Marty continue to do what they always do, and protect special interests at the expense of the community? I mean, Eric and Marty must really be invested in sabotagining the BAG to insist on having Vincent Buys represent Comcast.

It has been 346 days since the March 23rd COVID lockdown, and not only have the COB and schools not put up a single access point at any of their locations, they are also pretending that everything is fine even while our community, including our teachers, tell them it’s not.

Why do you tink most of our government officials aren’t taking their responsibilities to their citizens seriously? This is an easy problem to solve and it’s not even expensive.



Randy Petty

Mar 08, 2021

25 Mbps down and 3 up was ‘acceptable’ in 2015. The problem is that private companies have to make a profit and they aren’t going to run fiber ( or even cable) out to areas where it will only serve a smallish number. In my general area we’re looking at perhaps an average of four people per acre, so ~ 2,500 per square mile. My Centurylink DSL is 37 down/5 up.  In my case it’s the 5 UP that becomes a problem.

I chose to live here. On the other hand many infrastructure items are done on a public (subsidized) basis. One can hope.


Jon Humphrey

Mar 08, 2021

Randy, you will find if you run a proper network load test, like rrul via Flent in Linux, that your DSL does NOT hold up to your stated speeds if run a proper test for a few minutes. Why? Because DSL is obsolete technology. Even the CEO of AT&T admitted that.This is true of hybrid DSL/Fiber, and Cable/Fiber services too. Like CenturyLink, Ziply, and Comcast’s pretend gig services, which are terrible compared to actual fiber and cost too much. This article, written by a local author, explains the differences in the types of services.

The speeds you specify are only adequate for services at the turn of the last millennium for education, work, etc. Speedtest and the state’s speed tester are intentionally not accurate. They are designed to protect big telecoms who want to keep selling us outdated services at the highest prices. The arugments you’re making were made around the time of the rural electrification act. However, it is a very good thing that we ran power to virtually everyone. It’s simply time to do that with fiber. The wireless devices, and satellite devices, all have to be backed up by fiber anyway, are wasteful, and don’t come close to the speed and reliability of fiber.

I also recommend thaty ou read the book “Fiber” by Susan Crawfod. I donated a copy to the library. America is missing the technological revolution and our state doesn’t even plan on starting to respond to it until 2028, and then with totally half-assed measures because Inslee is incompetent when it comes to telecom and in the pockets of the big telecoms. So he put a big telecom lackey in charge of the State Broadband Office. So the state can do what it does best, pretend to be working on an issue while accomplishing nothing and stealing from hardworking citizens to give to corporate citizens instead.

We should also not forget that the federal government gave the big telecoms $400 billion to complete a nationwide fiber network by 2010. What did the telecoms do instead? They mostly stole it. The problem is that we keep trying the same thing repeatedly, giving money to predatory anti-first amendment big telecoms, and expecting a different result. Our approach to telecom in most of the US literally qualifies as the definition of insanity.




Randy Petty

Mar 08, 2021

Jon, I think you’re preaching to the choir here.  😊    The U.S. seems to be behind many other countries on a number of fronts.  Continually hearing “ancient” politicians hold forth on topics they know nothing about is depressing.   I heard economist Paul Krugman speaking about how federal expenditures are too often seen as money that recipients will simply flush down the toilet, as opposed to funds that will circulate many times as they are spent on rent, groceries, gas, etc etc etc.   It’s very hard for many to see such expenditures as investments.


Randy Petty

Mar 31, 2021

One of the comments on the article from a rural Canadian “Lemme tell ya, cramming two kids worth of remote learning and two adults worth of working from home into a single 10/5 Mbps connection during lockdown sucked so hard it had an event horizon. “


Randy Petty

Apr 12, 2021

Fcc app to gather isp coverage and performance data.


The Verge: The FCC wants you to test your internet speeds with its new app.


Randy Petty

Apr 15, 2021



VICE: Washington State Votes to End Restrictions On Community Broadband.


The Importance of Our Public Fiber Optic Infrastructure

By Guest WriterOn Mar 03, 2021

[ Guest Writer Atul Deshmane, a PUD Commissioner, County Planning Commissioner, and Broadband Advisory Group (BAG) member, outlines some of the biggest infrastructure issues facing Bellingham today.]This article is [...]

7 comments, most recent 3 months ago

‘Public Banking Bill’ Voted Out Of Ways and Means Committee

By Dick ConoboyOn Mar 02, 2021

[This article is intended as an update to several previous articles listed below that should be read for the complete picture.]A second substitute bill (SSB5188) on a Washington State [...]

1 comment, most recent 4 months ago

After worker victories, The Bellingham Herald’s union is in place

By Ralph SchwartzOn Mar 02, 2021

McClatchy put up a fight, but newsroom employees at The Bellingham Herald and three other Washington newspapers got what they wanted -- a single union to represent workers at all [...]

3 comments, most recent 4 months ago

Emergency Management

By Guest WriterOn Feb 27, 2021

[Guest Writer Garrett O’Brien is a lifelong resident of Bellingham and lives with his wife Brittany and their three children in the Birchwood neighborhood. Garrett has worked in the [...]

5 comments, most recent 4 months ago

The Reality Of Zoom And Citizen Participation

By Dick ConoboyOn Feb 21, 2021

We have entered into the age of Zoomification, book-ended by the Boomers and the Zoomers. We, the public, have now been consigned to being pixels on a screen with electronic [...]

4 comments, most recent 2 months ago

Letter: Secretary of Department of Corrections

By Letter WriterOn Feb 20, 2021

Dear Governor Inslee, I am writing to you today after learning your Department of Corrections (DOC) Secretary, Stephen Sinclair is resigning. I’ve watched over the decades as many people [...]

Public Banking For The State of Washington Inching Along

By Dick ConoboyOn Feb 13, 2021

SB 5188, a substitute bill to establish a state public financial cooperative (no longer referred to as a bank) moved out of the Senate Committee on Business, Financial Services & Trade [...]

2 comments, most recent 5 months ago

Ranked-Choice Voting – Let’s Keep It Moving

By Stoney BirdOn Feb 12, 2021

Over 1,500 Washingtonians signed in “Pro” to the House State Government and Tribal Relations Committee’s February 8th hearing on HB 1156, sponsored by Rep. Kirsten Harris-Talley. On February 11th, the Committee [...]

1 comment, most recent 5 months ago

Cruising And Tourism: Wretched Excess

By Dick ConoboyOn Feb 10, 2021

A friend in Juneau, Alaska sent me this article, “Towns and businesses across Alaska brace for a second summer without cruise ship tourists” which states in part: “[Alaska] saw more [...]

4 comments, most recent 5 months ago

Political Pretzel Logic without Cognitive Dissonance

By Guest WriterOn Feb 09, 2021

Ray Kamada guest writes. Ray is a retired atmospheric physicist from NOAA/DoD, and is now mostly involved in climate change and renewable energy studies. - - - - - [...]

5 comments, most recent 5 months ago

COB Puts The BAG In A Box

By Jon HumphreyOn Feb 07, 2021

Since the City of Bellingham decided not to broadcast or record the first meeting of the Broadband Advisory Group in an open manner, I think it’s important that we [...]

3 comments, most recent 5 months ago

Letter: Internet home service and Olympia lawmakers

By Letter WriterOn Feb 01, 2021

I’d like to express my appreciation of Jon Humphrey’s well-informed article on broadband that appeared on your website last Wednesday. Just as with health care, Americans pay more [...]

Task Force Slams Bellingham City Hall

By John ServaisOn Jan 31, 2021

The Whatcom Human Rights Task Force normally works with the police and local authorities as it pursues long term advances for human rights in our local communities. This is the [...]

Letter: Bellingham Sweep of Homeless Camp

By Letter WriterOn Jan 30, 2021

Dear Editor, As we bear witness to the aggressive removal of unhoused people from the encampment at City Hall, we should remember this sort of combative response to people power [...]

Public Banking Bill Gets A Warmer Reception In Olympia

By Dick ConoboyOn Jan 30, 2021

A hearing was held on “An act relating to the creation of the Washington state public bank” (SB5188) before the Business, Financial Services & Trade Committee of the Washington State [...]

City Hall homeless camp cleared out a day early

By John ServaisOn Jan 28, 2021

The Bellingham Herald has a frequently updated online reporting going on all morning. Julie Shirley, the Managing Editor, is covering this herself, and doing a thorough job. Maybe underreporting on [...]

2 comments, most recent 5 months ago

State’s Telecom Standards Full of Loopholes

By Jon HumphreyOn Jan 27, 2021

Some say Senate Bill 5511 is a big leap forward for new Washington state broadband standards. However, after analyzing the bill, I suggest that it does what our leadership consistently does [...]

Planned Roberts Bank Terminal Threatens Orcas

By Michael RiordanOn Jan 26, 2021

Less than a mile north of the border, the Port of Vancouver is planning an enormous new container-ship terminal on the Salish Sea that Canada’s Federal Review Panel has [...]

3 comments, most recent 4 months ago

City Hall Clutches its Pearls

By John ServaisOn Jan 26, 2021

Homeless folks and their advocates from Camp 210 (the Lottie Street address of city hall), finally spoke clearly and without apology to Mayor Fleetwood and the Bellingham City Council last night, [...]

25 comments, most recent 5 months ago

Will City Double-Down to Kill Public Trail?

By Tip JohnsonOn Jan 24, 2021

Somehow an application to abandon the public’s right to a 26-year old trail in Happy Valley got through the Technical Review Committee (TRC), made it to Hearing Examiner Sharon [...]

3 comments, most recent 6 months ago