Motions denied in effort to block Click negotiations, but fight may not be over

A Pierce County Superior Court judge has denied motions to stop the City of Tacoma from pursuing a final agreement with Rainier Connect to provide broadband services over the Click Network.

In March, the Tacoma Public Utility Board and City Council voted to pursue negotiations with Rainier Connect in an expansion of its public-private partnership managing and maintaining Click as a publicly owned asset. The network provides cable TV and internet services.

Two parties — Thomas McCarthy and Christopher Anderson, and Mitchell Shook — made separate motions in Superior Court seeking a stop to those negotiations.

McCarthy and Anderson are Click customers. Shook runs Advanced Stream, one of the current providers on the Click Network.

A news release from the city July 2 about the ruling by Judge Bryan Chushcoff stated:

“The judge affirmed that the City of Tacoma is following a process authorized under state law and found no basis to stop negotiations with Rainier Connect or require a public vote. The City confirmed there will be public hearings before the proposed agreements are presented to the Public Utility Board and Council for their consideration.

“The judge also indicated that he would review the City’s actions in the event that the City Council and Public Utility Board approved the agreements with Rainier Connect.”

Jackie Flowers, director of Tacoma Public Utilities, said in the release: “Based on this ruling, the City will continue negotiations as directed by the City Council and Tacoma Public Utility Board with Rainier Connect on a partnership agreement according to the 12 community policy goals.

“If a proposed agreement is negotiated, it will be submitted to the Board and Council for consideration, public input, and possible approval later this summer.”

When contacted by The News Tribune, McCarthy described the city’s news release as “a fairly rosy interpretation of court proceedings.”

“In fact, Judge Chushcoff clearly stated that as it stands, Click is an essential part of Tacoma Power, and therefore ... would require a public vote because Tacoma uses Click wired meters for 18,000 households,” McCarthy said via email. “The Tacoma City Council would also need to declare Click surplus to proceed with wholesale privatization of Click without a vote. This has not happened.”

In response, the city’s legal team told The News Tribune in an emailed statement:

“In his oral ruling, Judge Chushcoff did not find that the Click Commercial Network is an essential part of Tacoma Power and did not make a ruling regarding the gateway meter program. The City expects that the court may in the future make further rulings in this matter.”

McCarthy indicated his opposition also is rooted in keeping Click as a viable local competitor.

“A friend of mine in Puyallup pays $700 a year for the same speed internet that I pay less than $350 a year for with Click,” he said. “So Tacoma consumers pay less collectively not just because internet costs less than in neighboring communities that do not have Click, but also because Comcast and CenturyLink have to drop their rates in Tacoma to compete.”

On its Click Update online site, last updated July 2, TPU says: “The public-private partnership term sheets protect the public interest across all of the policy goals — including equity, net neutrality, data privacy, low-income affordability, and robust competition. TPU will retain ownership of the existing network and take ownership of all upgrades the private partner makes to the network.”

Shook, in a July 3 social media post about the case, said: “The City is free to negotiate, even sign an agreement and pass an ordinance for privatization; but, then a vote of the people is required for the ordinance to take effect.”

He elaborated on the point when contacted Friday by The News Tribune.

“I suppose they might attempt to declare Click Network a surplus asset and dispose of it without a vote of the people, but that would be impossible because it would simply be an attempt to circumvent the law,” Shook said. “It’s not a surplus asset when it is performing its intended objective of providing broadband service to our community.”

McCarthy, when asked if he would pursue further legal action, replied: “We are still digesting with our attorneys on next steps, but it is our every intention to fight the wholesale alienation of Click from Tacoma citizens tooth and nail.”

TPU posts updates on Click at MyTPU.org/ClickUpdate