About Juliette Daniels

Juliette is a licensed attorney in both Washington state and Texas. After spending 15 years working in litigation for two large Houston law firms, she moved to Bellingham in 2004 and eventually became interested in studying and writing about Whatcom County government and its criminal justice system. Juliette holds a BJ in communications and news journalism from the University of Texas at Austin; and a law degree from the University of Houston Law Center.

By: Juliette Daniels (21)

Public Fiber Network: A Blueprint for Bellingham and Whatcom County

Byy On

The internet was created to be—and has become—our public commons. It is the central medium for communication and business, for public discussion and engagement, and democratic discourse and debate. Given its importance to the public, community networks should have been financed, constructed and managed as public infrastructure like municipal water systems, sewers, streets or libraries. High-speed optical fiber-based internet access networks should have been installed in every community with direct hard-wired connections to every household and workplace. Just as with electricity in the early days, internet access should now be for all, and in a form that is fast, affordable, neutral, sustainable and safe.

Yet, in the United States, internet access has been hijacked and walled off by relatively few corporations with commercial motivation to limit availability, quality and content of high-speed access to the public. The corporate takeover of the internet has been aided and abetted by our federal, state and local governments. Our politicians have failed us, so local citizen grass-roots action is moving to take back that power. In Bellingham, Informed and active citizens have tried to work with state, city and county elected officials and their administrations to advocate for creation of high-quality affordable fiber optic internet service for all. Forward-thinking cities and towns across the country have already successfully delivered proof-of-concept and now have fast, affordable and safe internet access for all of their citizens. The Port of Bellingham is moving in the right direction, recognizing that poor telecommunications infrastructure is affecting overall growth in our county. The Port has received significant grant funds to begin installation of fiber optic cable to extend high-speed—and hopefully competitive and affordable—broadband to rural areas of the county.

Chattanooga’s Early Adoption of Public Broadband is an Economic Development Success

Chattanooga, Tennessee, is just one of the first of more than 750 American communities that have built their own broadband networks to encourage open competition with big telecom and offer better, cheaper service to their communities. These networks are spreading across the nation as tech-savvy local governments support consumers and reject sub-par broadband speeds, high prices, and poor customer service.

A 2018 Harvard study confirmed that community-owned and open-access internet service providers (where multiple providers can compete) are cheaper and better. See Community-Owned Fiber Networks: Value Leaders in America (January 2018). That’s why Comcast and other big telecom corporations are terrified of community-run and open-access broadband: They stand to lose billions of dollars. The telecom corporations count on government-supported lack of competition in U.S. broadband markets, which leads to higher prices, slower speeds, and some of the worst customer service ratings in any U.S. industry.

Bellingham should pull the red carpet it has rolled out to big telecom and change course, like the rapidly growing list of cities that have successfully created community-owned and open-access fiber networks with better service and lower prices. Those cities have the edge to attract new business and quality jobs. So far, our local city government has been slow to wake up to this growing movement, but it’s not too late for common sense to prevail. And you don’t have to be a tech genius to recognize a good idea.

Basically, municipal and community-owned internet service providers offer similar services as Comcast and others, but they view provision of high-speed internet access as a means to achieve community benefits, including economic development and job creation. Chattanooga pioneered municipal broadband in 2010, and stressed comprehensive access to high speed internet to bridge the digital divide. The city’s fiber goes to each and every home, and the city’s fiber network is cited as the reason for its recent economic revival. Since its inception, Chattanooga’s city-run network has led to economic gains and is profitable—estimated to have generated at least $1 billion in economic growth and development since 2014. Since 2010, the city’s unemployment rate has dropped to 3 percent from 9.8 percent and the wage rate has been climbing. Volkswagen has boosted the manufacturing sector and Chattanooga is a model city for broadband innovation and explosive growth in its technology sector.

No surprise, Comcast initially sued Chattanooga to stop construction of its community network, but Comcast lost and is now competing directly with Chattanooga to offer cheaper service. Municipal and community-owned internet service providers - like Chattanooga - lease to private and public corporations, non-profit corporations, cooperatives and others—all to increase competition and add value to the consumer. Competition produces better, cheaper products and service—that’s the American way—or it used to be.

Bellingham’s Perilous Attachment to the Status Quo

Meanwhile, Bellingham has installed the beginning of an admittedly poorly-mapped fiber optic network, leased only to big telecoms. The city, so far, has been unable to produce a comprehensive map of existing fiber optic installations, or to confirm whether they’ve been installed properly. Moreover, some previously installed fiber optic cable has been destroyed by subsequent public works projects, because the city not only failed to map the fiber, but failed to bury it properly.

The city has also resisted looking to Mount Vernon for an example of a well-designed and executed community-based fiber network. It defies both logic and common sense that the city has ignored repeated community requests to study and learn from Mount Vernon’s installation of fiber optic cable to “the last mile,” or to all residential homes and businesses—like Chattanooga and hundreds of other communities.

Instead, Bellingham has cleared the path for Verizon’s roll out of new 5G wireless infrastructure—whether we need it or not. Verizon and other telecom giants have spent decades writing and funding federal, state and local laws that not only seek to prohibit community broadband, but also to stop any local and open public process over wireless infrastructure. The telecom giants—aided and abetted by the FCC and some state and local governments (including Bellingham)—are free to roll out and install - with no public process - millions of new small-scale 5G cell facilities and antenna that require line-of-sight connection and provide substandard wireless service. The wavelength used by 5G is so easily disrupted that even rain can affect service. To work, the 5G cell facilities must blanket service areas by the millions and be installed every 100 feet or so to diminish disruption.

Of concern is the fact that there has been no pre-market safety testing of the effects of blanketing the nation with millions of small-cell 5G facilities emitting electromagnetic radiation at close range, and which, ironically, will still need fiber optic networks to operate.

The Limits of Wireless Technology

The market has spoken, and consumers prize convenience. This, and enormous profit, has driven the demand for wireless technology. Federal, state and local regulations that fuel the telecom juggernaut has put wired fiber optic technology at a disadvantage and diminished access to public fiber optic networks. Meanwhile, wireless providers and their many friends in business and government have misled the public about the adequacy and safety of wireless systems which are—in fact—inherently flawed and work far less effectively than fiber optic cable. No surprise, installation of fiber optic cable to each business and residence is more expensive than installation of wireless infrastructure, and would reduce the outsize profits generated by wireless technology for a few giant telecom companies.

The terms landline, wireline and wired refer generally to both landlines mounted on poles and those—like fiber optic cable—buried in underground conduits. Users of mobile devices have little understanding of the vast and complex wired infrastructure that carries their information, mostly by optical fiber. Only the last few miles, or sometimes just a few yards, is actually wireless—which simply means radiating across free space. Wireless includes WiFi, smartphones and tablets, 4GLTE cellular networks and the so-called 5G (fifth generation) along with the Internet of Things (IoT) by which electronics (including household appliances, surveillance cameras and cars, among many other devices) will be wirelessly interconnected. The end result of 5G and the so-called Internet of Things will be waves of radiation that will blanket all free space in our environment to allow these wireless connections to work. Yet, cable is—and will always be—a necessary component of wireless technology which is—and will always be—merely an adjunct to cable. Wireless technology, including mobile phones and tablets, have value, but are not substitutes for wired access networks. Wireless communication can never approach the speed and reliability of wired networks.

Lurking and Unanswered Questions about Health and Safety Risks of Wireless Technology

Wireless “smart” meters, phones, tablets and computers are useful and profitable. However, problems with excessive wireless use and layering of radiation are emerging, and include risks to public safety, security and privacy, energy waste and emerging effects on public health. The World Health Organization has listed wireless radiation as a “possible carcinogen,” a concern that has been validated by a U.S. Government National Toxicology Program Study. Additional studies confirm other public health risks of radio frequency and electromagnetic radiation, including cellular DNA damage, lowered fertility, neurological and neuropsychiatric effects, impacts on childhood development and learning, and on addiction, mental health and social issues. And yet, our governments continue to allow roll-out of more wireless technology and devices to add more radiation in our homes and everywhere we go—whether or not we need or want it.

Instead of allowing the federal government, the FCC and local governments to enable the telecom industry’s installation of millions of new cellular antenna and 5G facilities nationwide, it may be wise to re-examine and stop our rush to make everything in the world wireless and connected. Is it possible that in this so-called “race” to 5G that we risk another tobacco or lead or asbestos-like health disaster with ever increasing amounts of electromagnetic radiation in our homes, schools, businesses, medical facilities and everywhere we find our most vulnerable people? The least we should demand before wholesale roll out of 5G is further study of the health effects of increased radio frequency and electromagnetic radiation on people and the environment. Especially, with a safe, effective and affordable alternative: community owned and operated fiber optic networks.

Attached Files

About Juliette Daniels

Posting Citizen Journalist • Member since May 11, 2017

Juliette is a licensed attorney in both Washington state and Texas. After spending 15 years working in litigation for two large Houston law firms, she moved to Bellingham in 2004 and eventually [...]

Wynne Lee

Jun 19, 2019

Thanks, Juliette, for writing this. Very clear about why Bellingham - and all of Whatcom County- needs to move intelligently on this rather than stick with failed Big Corporations Should Rule approach.

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Public Fiber Network: A Blueprint for Bellingham and Whatcom County

By Juliette DanielsOn Jun 13, 2019

The internet was created to be—and has become—our public commons. It is the central medium for communication and business, for public discussion and engagement, and democratic discourse and [...]

1 comment, most recent 1 year ago

Saving The Orca And Salmon - Does Inslee Have The Political Will?

By Juliette DanielsOn Mar 20, 2019

In March 2018, Gov. Jay Inslee issued an executive order that directed state agencies to take “immediate” action to help the critically-endangered Southern Resident orcas and formed a nearly 50-member Southern [...]

7 comments, most recent 1 year ago

The Cost of Prosecutorial Mismanagement

By Juliette DanielsOn Oct 14, 2018

On November 6, Whatcom County voters will choose a new Prosecuting Attorney for the first time in 44 years. One candidate, Eric Richey, has been a criminal prosecutor in that office for [...]

13 comments, most recent 1 year ago

Voices from the Inside:  Part two—It’s time to decriminalize mental illness in Whatcom County

By Juliette DanielsOn Mar 05, 2018

The “criminalization” of mental illness is the end result of decades of failed mental health policy. Jails and prisons are the new asylums. Law enforcement is now on the front [...]

4 comments, most recent 2 years ago

Voices from the Inside: Part 1 - What’s next for the Whatcom County Jail and Justice System?

By Juliette DanielsOn Feb 05, 2018

The sheriff and corrections officers working at the Whatcom County Jail have described intolerable working conditions and inhumane housing for inmates. Based on first-hand accounts of former inmates, the jail [...]

4 comments, most recent 2 years ago

Prosecutor has State Law Mandate to Lead Criminal Justice Reform

By Juliette DanielsOn Nov 01, 2017

On October 23, the Vera Institute of Justice presented its findings and recommendations regarding the Whatcom County Criminal Justice System, in a four-hour presentation before the Incarceration Prevention and Reduction Task [...]

2 comments, most recent 2 years ago

Vote NO on the New Jail Tax

By Juliette DanielsOn Sep 08, 2017

In November, Whatcom County voters will again consider giving the County an extra 0.2 percent sales tax “for public safety purposes, including costs associated with financing, construction, maintenance, and operation of [...]

3 comments, most recent 2 years ago

Both Councils Ignore Jail Studies

By Juliette DanielsOn Jul 15, 2017

On Monday, July 10, The Vera Institute presented its preliminary data findings on the Whatcom County justice system at a special meeting of the Incarceration Prevention and Reduction Task Force (IPRTF). [...]

5 comments, most recent 3 years ago

Repair the Jail!

By Juliette DanielsOn Jul 08, 2017

The Fiscally-Responsible Alternative: Renovate the Existing County Jail A scant majority of County and City Council members currently support compelling voters to a second vote (in as many years) on [...]

Hit the Jail Reset - Again

By Juliette DanielsOn Jun 22, 2017

Walla Walla County Assumed Management of its County Jail in 2015 and became A Leader in Criminal Justice Reform On June 1, 2015, Walla Walla County Commissioners voted unanimously to create a new [...]

1 comment, most recent 3 years ago

Hit the Reset Button on the Jail

By Juliette DanielsOn Jun 17, 2017

The Chelan County Jail was built in 1982, when state grants were available to assist cities and counties with construction of jail facilities. It had an original bed count of 200. The [...]

1 comment, most recent 3 years ago

Evidence-Based Jail Planning Processes

By Juliette DanielsOn Jun 13, 2017

There are 39 counties in the State of Washington. Many of them took advantage of State and Federal funds to build city and county jails in the 1970s and 1980s. Whatcom [...]

3 comments, most recent 3 years ago

Part Eight: The Illusion of Inclusion and the Need for Speed

By Juliette DanielsOn Jun 06, 2017

The County plays hard-ball with Bellingham and hits a major “Speed Bump” when voters reject Proposition 2015-1. In basic terms, the Jail Facilities Use Agreement (JFUA) is a partnership that [...]

2 comments, most recent 3 years ago

Part Seven: 2013 and 2014 - Acceleration of the Illusion of the Need for Speed

By Juliette DanielsOn Jun 02, 2017

How the County hand-picked a jail consultant to design a large, regional jail and new Sheriff’s Headquarters project , 1) Custom fit to the 2) County’s pre-chosen Site, based on the 3) [...]

4 comments, most recent 3 years ago

Part Six: Introducing the “Need for Speed” in the Illusion of Inclusion

By Juliette DanielsOn May 25, 2017

Introduction to the hard ball tactic of “The Need for Speed” >From 2010 to the present, the County Council has allowed 3-minute statements about the jail during open public comments [...]

2 comments, most recent 3 years ago

Part Five: The Illusion of Inclusion

By Juliette DanielsOn May 23, 2017

The County and HDR present a Draft Environmental Impact Statement with no consideration of already-owned County property in downtown Bellingham or of renovation/expansion of the County Jail On February 3, 2011, [...]

Part Four: The Illusion of Inclusion

By Juliette DanielsOn May 21, 2017

Whatcom County authorizes millions to be paid to jail industry consultant HDR to design and promote the County Executive’s and Sheriff’s plan for jail expansion On July 13, 2004 (four [...]

Part Three: The Illusion of Inclusion

By Juliette DanielsOn May 18, 2017

“Illusion of Inclusion” and the Rise of Jail Industry Consultants Over time and through multiple changes in the make-up of the County Council, Whatcom County elected officials have: (1) hand-picked jail [...]

2 comments, most recent 3 years ago

Part Two: The Illusion of Inclusion

By Juliette DanielsOn May 16, 2017

Whatcom County Rejects Opportunity to be a Leader in Criminal Justice Reform The 2000 Whatcom County Law & Justice Council (LJC) Plan offered a way to address jail conditions with a [...]

2 comments, most recent 3 years ago

Part One:  The Illusion of Inclusion

By Juliette DanielsOn May 13, 2017

Part One: The Illusion of Inclusion: How County-appointed Councils, Panels, Committees and Task Forces provided: (1) Cover for Executive decisions about crucial criminal justice issues; and (2) plausible deniability for the exclusion [...]

1 comment, most recent 3 years ago