By John Larson – firstname.lastname@example.org
As the City of Tacoma and Tacoma Public Utilities move forward with a public/private business model for Click! Network, the deal continues to face strong opposition. On Oct. 29, Tacoma City Council held a public hearing to declare surplus elements of the telecommunications system, such as vehicles and excess capacity of the hybrid fiber coaxial network.
Rainier Connect, a local business that is one provider of Internet service on Click, has an agreement to take over the cable television portion of Click. Sixteen people testified during the hearing, all in opposition to declaring the assets surplus.
Mitchell Shook is CEO of Advanced Stream, another local business that provides Internet service on Click. A vocal critic of the deal reached with Rainier Connect, Shook said the Council is preparing to hand a public asset over to a private entity and lend the good name of the local government to a business.
Jose Chavez called this a 100-year decision, and warned the Council against ending up on the wrong side of history. “Economically, I do not think this is a wise decision,” he remarked.
Richard Langsford said the public has consistently denounced the privatization of Click over the past few years. He said the city and TPU are declaring a surplus to skirt language in the city charter that requires a public vote regarding the disposition of a utility asset. He described this as “an invalid approach.”
One speaker noted that prior hearings regarding this topic have been full of Rainier Connect employees who spoke in favor of the public/private partnership. None spoke at this meeting.
Courtney Love said the deal would have no benefit to the public. She was one of many speakers who called for an audit of the system’s finances. She compared this situation to the streetcar system that operated in Tacoma from 1888 to 1938, after which the rails were removed. “We had the best and we gave it away.”
One speaker cautioned that Rainier Connect could get purchased by a major telecommunications corporation, which would acquire the system assets in the transaction.
Melissa Dunbar told the council to think of students who need access to low-cost Internet in their homes to do school work. She demanded a public vote on the topic.
Kit Burns said Rainier Connect could use its control of the asset to leverage a loan. He was among many who called for a public vote.
Marilyn Kimmerling described the plan as reprehensible. “I see it as a potential theft.”
The Council is scheduled to vote on the matter on Nov. 5.