Politics & Government

Poll results differ from public feedback on potential Click lease

Most Tacoma Power customers polled last month say users of Tacoma’s Click Cable TV and Internet service should bear the full cost of its service.

Among the 602 people polled, seven in 10 have cable TV service at home. Of that same group, only 13 percent are Click customers, while more than half subscribe to cable giant Comcast.

Elway Research conducted the telephone poll in May and its results were presented Wednesday at a Tacoma Public Utilities board study session. Questions included how customers access television content, their familiarity with Click’s offerings, and whether taxpayers or Tacoma Power customers should subsidize the municipal network.

The poll follows two public meetings earlier this year, where Tacoma Public Utilities revealed details about a private company’s proposal to lease Click’s infrastructure.

Attendees at those meetings were highly critical of the proposal, in which Wave of Kirkland would lease Click’s infrastructure for 40 years and take over operations of the network. A similar offer by Rainier Connect, which already offers Internet service over Click’s wires, soon followed.

“It’s safe to say a majority of the speakers (at the public meetings) said they did not support the Wave proposal,” said Bob Mack, TPU deputy director for public affairs. “Not very many expressed concerns about Click’s financial distress.”

Mack said that’s likely because many who attended the meetings have a financial interest in the outcome of the lease discussions and want to defend the status quo. This group includes Click employees and their family members, as well as owners or employees of the companies that sell Internet service on Click’s wires.

If Click is leased to a private company, most of its 93 employees could lose their jobs. The Internet service providers that resell Internet service from Click would also face competition from the company that leases the network. Click currently does not sell Internet service directly to customers.

The poll results differed drastically from comments offered at those public meetings. Seven in 10 polled said they would rather see Click shut down than have power customers or city government provide any kind of subsidy to offset growing costs. Any additional costs should be paid by Click customers, 75 percent of respondents said.

On whether to lease Click to an outside company, 43 percent said it was a good idea. Roughly a third said they were undecided, “which indicates this is a new idea that people hadn’t really thought about yet,” said Stuart Elway, the president and founder of Elway Research.

The offers from Wave and Rainier Connect come as Click is losing cable customers, and fees paid to broadcasters and other cable content providers are rising. Without a fee increase, Click will lose $7.6 million in the next two years, according to a recent cost allocation model.

Tacoma Power picks up the tab when Click does not earn enough, TPU Director Bill Gaines has said. The subsidy represents 2.5 percent to 3 percent of a customer’s bill. For a typical residential customer with electric heat, that amounts to about $3.20 to $3.84 on a $128 monthly bill.

Decisions by the TPU board and the City Council on whether to lease Click to an outside company or pursue an alternative could come in late July, said Tacoma Power Superintendent Chris Robinson. They plan to meet jointly next Tuesday at noon to discuss the poll and other issues associated with Click.

The poll by Elway Research, which frequently conducts non-partisan polls for other governments in the Pacific Northwest, had a 4 percent margin of error.