The end of the year is a good time for reflection. So after carefully considering my participation on a committee tasked with charting the future of Tacoma’s Click cable system, I feel compelled to share a few thoughts.
Mayor Marilyn Strickland asked me to join as the only business representative. Frankly, the several-months-long, closed-door process left me a bit dumbfounded. It seemed to defy logic and ignore facts. It was the pursuit of some lofty vision to ensure the city government controls internet access at any cost.
It was as if the outcome was already set, masked by a firehose of questionable data and little substantive discussion. This blind ideal seemed to be paramount to any real development of a business plan for Click. Instead the lengthy process simply attempted to figure out how to fund the plan.
So now, thanks to the mayor and City Council, Tacoma Public Utilities ratepayers will subsidize an aging infrastructure operating in a highly competitive environment. Oh, and if you are a ratepayer outside the Click service area, sorry, but your money doesn’t really get you anything.
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This is a recommendation I both disagree with and find oddly prioritized over more important initiatives for our community.
So just how did we get here? Several years ago, TPU entered into negotiations with three internet service providers (ISPs) to reach consensus on a multi-year operating agreement. The ISPs had met and exceeded sales goals set forth by the utility, but the contracts were up and needed renewal.
Unbeknownst to the ISPs and most of the council, TPU and the mayor rolled out a new private lease agreement with Kirkland-based Wave Broadband that had been negotiated in the dark.
After the lease debacle, the mayor made a complete reversal in her support of Wave and instead got behind the “all-in” model, which would put government in charge of internet service. As a result, the Click committee was formed with myself and several career bureaucrats.
While the committee met for several months, the outcome was pre-determined from day one. Our task was not to analyze facts and data to determine if the “all-in” model could be viable. Instead, it was clear the mission was to find ways to justify making ratepayers subsidize the network.
The majority of committee members wanted to shut out the ISPs, independent industry experts and the public because their input was not viewed as important. I suspect that I, too, might have been in conflict with the desired outcome.
So here we are today, stuck with some semblance of a funding plan, propped up by an illegal ratepayer subsidy, veiled in the idea that the community somehow benefits by paying for a service it might not want, need or be able to get.
The very important idea of offering low-cost internet access is not new, and there remain multiple ways to achieve it. The process and justification for where we are today is a complete façade for the real problem in this community.
Countless processes seem focused on what divides us rather than what brings the community together. The “all-in” effort by certain elected local leaders is indicative of an anti-business attitude that pervades city government. For the health of Tacoma and its economy, that is a dangerous precedent to set.
I hope 2017 can mark a shift in how we involve the public in decision making. I implore the mayor and council to reflect on how flawed and destructive this process and mindset have become. This isn’t a “win at all costs” proposition; it’s a “do what is best” for our entire community decision.
My fear is they may never see the difference.
Janine Terrano is the CEO of Topia Technology, a Tacoma-based data security company.