BY ANDREW FRASER
Dear County Council,
I see that broadband is on the agenda for your meeting on Tuesday. I’ve read the agenda item and the attachments. While I would be pleased if you simply took the Recommended Action of directing “[the] County Manager to pursue a procurement for an open access network operator […]”, that Recommended Action ignores the weakness of general telecommunication infrastructure in the County that the outage in December demonstrated, and it fails to give guidance about the values the Manager should consider in pursuing the procurement. I recommend that you adopt a stronger motion with wording such as the following:
I move that the Council adopt the policy position that high quality reliable telecommunication including broadband is an essential utility which is not adequate in the County now. The Council directs the County Manager as follows:
- Develop and maintain knowledge about telecommunication utilities in the County, and report to the Council at least annually on the status of those utilities. Specifically explain how the County will reliably contact residents in an emergency.
- Make the information thus collected available to County residents. That information should include service options and advice on how to respond to outages.
- Pursue a procurement option for a Community Broadband Network (CBN). In that pursuit, note that the Council values the following characteristics listed in order of importance:
A. The option is likely to actually be implemented
B. The network should permit open access
C. The County should retain ownership or an option to obtain ownership of the basic infrastructure
D. The network should provide the option of fiber to the premise to any resident who subscribes
E. The network should be built promptly
The first paragraph of my proposed motion expands the charge to Staff to include telecommunication in general. During the outage in December residents did not get any information about what was happening. To date we haven’t heard a comprehensive explanation of what services were affected and why. Nor have we gotten advice about how to prepare for or how to deal with any such future event. Because the utility companies that we rely on don’t take responsibility, it’s necessary for the County to step up. Items 1. and 2. are more specific about the scope of that responsibility.
Item 3. mimics the Recommended Action in the agenda and in addition lists values that characterize success. I think that one of the reasons the broadband effort ten years ago failed was because Council specified the network characteristics too tightly. The action I recommend is much longer than the Recommended Action and has more details. However, I intend for it to avoid killing the project with micro-management by saying only that we value characteristics A. through E. My proposed action does not require that the procured option have any particular characteristics. Now I will comment on each of the valued characteristics:
- A. We do not want an option that is not likely to be implemented.
- B. We want open access because we support freedom, and less idealistically we expect the competition that it enables to improve the quality/price ratio. The business model of the County’s dominate ISP, Xfinity, is selling entertainment and engagement. We want to separate the means of communication from the content.
- C. We want to avoid the possibility of a monopoly ever buying the infrastructure that we build.
- D. Fiber is the best long term technology.
- E. The Federal BEAD program is going to provide $42B to other communities for building broadband networks. Once those communities start spending that money, they will be competing with us for resources to build networks. We will have better cheaper options if we can start before then.
Thanks to each of you for serving on the County Council,