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Comcast for Your Small Business

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• Topics: Bellingham, Business,

I took my kids to Bloedel Donovan Park recently to rent a paddle boat, but in the building that operates the rental business, the internet was down, as it often is. So, because many customers do not carry enough cash to pay for rentals, with no internet, this small business unfortunately could not process credit cards. The internet was out for most of the work day. Why? Because they are Comcast customers.

While my kids played at the lake, I watched about $250 worth of customers walk away just in the few hours I was there. The shop was forced to wait several hours for Comcast to restore their internet service. So in just a few hours of an outage, this seasonal shop lost about five times its monthly Comcast cost for internet services

But here’s the rub: That building is rented from the City of Bellingham and is on land owned by the city, so technically, our public land. What this means is that the city's fiber network is less than 20 feet from their building. In fact, the main Bloedel Park building has COBPUBLIC wi-fi and fiber in it.

The people who operate the boat rental shack are running a small business and paying a healthy rent to the COB (I have requested the exact amount). Still, the city doesn't include internet services as part of the rent, even though it would cost them literally nothing to do so. This means they aren't even wiring all of their own buildings, on their own land, when they bring fiber in for their own use. Instead the COB, IT staff, and public works uses this lack of fiber as a reason to force tenants to pay for the less useful, less reliable, overpriced services of Comcast instead. Even though public fiber is literally right there.

Not too long ago the COBPUBLIC fiber network at the library's main branch proved functionally worthless as well. A recent incident where a COB truck backed into some equipment may have been to blame. So, why didn't city staff verify that their equipment was working correctly after such an incident? I mean, it’s literally their job. The city employs its own network technicians who are well paid, including excellent benefits. The IT director makes over $150K a year and many technicians make $90K. Didn’t common sense dictate to these well-paid “professionals” that an electrician and network technician should confirm the system was operating properly after being hit by a truck? What are we paying them for? Why are they ignoring such obvious opportunities to make at least the existing public resources we have usable? 

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Comments by Readers

Tom Dohman

Jul 26, 2021

Hi Jon:

What you witnessed at Bloedel Donovan Park sounds like it was a genuine shame and could have systematically been avoided if the COB provided quality fiber network accessibility - certainly in scenarios like these where the vendor is leasing city property for a small business operation.

I am curious though - as I do follow your lobbying campaign for city fiber access to the citizens of Bellingham - based on my limited experience with COBPUBLIC wi-fi connection & functionality.  The numerous times that I have previously tried to utilize COBPUBLIC wi-fi (e.g. in person MNAC meetings in the lower floor of the City Library), it functioned so poorly that I opted to disconnect & just use my cellular LTE connection.  Perthaps the quality of the COB fiber wi-fi has improved since 2019?

I’d also suggest (not to detract from the major thrust of your article) that since the Comcast Internet service will undoubtedly go down again in the future - before COBPUBLIC wi-fi might be provided - it would seem that the owner of the boat rental business could have used (or provided his employees) a personal hotspot for wi-fi connection from his / her cell phone to insure the business did not miss out on potentially $1,000 in boat rental business that day.  While that is assuredly an awkward work-around, it could possibly have avoided such a painful business loss.  The owner could have further tried to get a bill deduction from Comcast - to cover any data usage costs that using a hotspot might have incurred over his / her allotted data minutes.

Tom D.

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Jon Humphrey

Jul 26, 2021

Thanks Tom, all good points. While we can only guess at some of this, since we could only tell for sure if given access to the back end, I too have experienced slow COBPUBLIC internet at Arne-Hannah. We leared a few months ago that although the COB has lots of well paid IT staff they virtually never do any maintenance on the network. For example, the police admitted that no independent security audit of their network has ever been done to their knowledge. Or even an internal audit. Why, because our public works director (Eric Johnston), who admits he’s not a broadband expert, keeps telling them it’s not necessary. Eric Johnston further responded by saying that, “the network is highly secure,” but the truth is that they have no data to show that other than the fact that fiber is hard to access comapred to say wireless so is kind of secure by default.

So it seems like the COB has allocated bandwidth, as most institutions, etc. do, mostly to its own staff and has assigned very little to the COBPUBLIC network. This could easily be solved with a reallocation of bandwidth, which would especailly have made sense during the pandemic when virtually no one was occupying COB buildings and makes sense now too. Getting these kind of simple requests filled are very much like pulling teeth with the COB because staff like it that way and our council and mayor remain technologically incompetant and never hold them accountable or get independent advice.

As far as the hotspot goes, yes you’re right. The biggest issue in America with technology remains a lack of proper technological education. Still, we tested library provided hotspots at Bloedel from Verizon and T-Mobile and the performance was not great. Sure, enough for credit card transactions, but it left a lot to be desired otherwise. It’s all such a shame when the COB has fiber right there. They seem to divide the network into at least 2 allocations, COB-Internal/ Staff and COB-Public (if memory serves). I suspect a 95/5 split with 5% going to public but only they know for sure. There are lots of simple solutions tha would really make a different if we only had a government that worked for the people and sought objective advice.

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