By John Larson
Negotiations are underway between the City of Tacoma, Tacoma Public Utilities and a local business in regard to the future of Click! Network. A public broadband system owned by TPU, Click has been providing Internet and cable television to customers in Tacoma and surrounding cities for many years.
In March, Tacoma City Council passed a resolution to have Rainier Connect expand its existing partnership with Click Network. Along with Advanced Stream, another local company, Rainier Connect provides Internet service over the Click Network. Under the deal it reached with the city, Rainier Connect will fund upgrades to the system as well as begin to provide cable television service.
Rainier Connect was founded in 1912 by a young Danish immigrant. It began by offering telephone service in Eatonville and the surrounding rural areas. Today it operates offices in Tacoma, Eatonville and Centralia.
Members of the council and the TPU Board heard an update on negotiations during the June 18 study session. Chris Bacha from the City Attorney’s office began the discussion. He said the goal of completing the negotiations in 90 days may not be reached, but progress is being made. “Negotiations are moving right along.”
Rainier Connect President and CEO Brian Haynes said it has been a great experience to work with staff from the City and TPU. His company is getting the word out about upcoming changes to its customers and staff. It has plans for a public relations effort to get information out through newspapers and other sources.
Councilmember Ryan Mello said his two major concerns are the quality of customer service and a schedule for rate increases. Haynes said the rates Rainier Connect offers are very competitive. “Customer service is something we do very well,” he remarked. “We strive to serve every customer well. My grandparents are still customers.”
TPU Board member Brian Flint told Haynes that he is inheriting a system that Tacoma residents have much civic pride in. He likened it to the passion fans have toward a local sports team.
Mitchell Shook, owner of Advanced Stream, is opposed to the deal and is taking legal action to stop it. He said his legal argument is based on the Tacoma City Charter Section 4.6, disposal of utility properties. It states, “the City shall never sell, lease, or dispose of any utility system, or parts thereof essential to continued effective utility service, unless and until such disposal is approved by a majority vote of the electors voting thereon at a municipal election in the manner provided in this charter and in the laws of this state.”