For several years now, Tacoma, Washington, has pondered the fate of its Click! municipal open access network. In the spring of 2018, the community issued an RFI/Q searching for interested private sector partners that would lease the network from the Tacoma Power Utility (TPU). After reviewing responses, consulting experts, and comparing potential arrangements, Tacoma has narrowed the field of possible partners. The goal is to put the network on a sustainable and competitive footing both financially and technologically. Tacoma is following a path that will retain public ownership of the Click! network as the network continues to expand.
Click! has offered considerable benefits during its lifetime, but the network retains considerable debt even as it will soon require more upgrades to continue competing with Comcast. The cable television system is rigged against small operators and while the open access Internet side creates many benefits, Click!’s ISPs just don’t have enough subscribers to make the network financially viable into the future. The discussion around Click’s finances are complicated because the broadband network is used for both external customers and internal utility uses -- the rate modeling around how to allocate costs is a process that requires subjective analysis (e.g. should the costs be allocated based on bandwidth or evenly split among each service). Some have credibly accused past TPU officials with cooking the books to make Click!’s financial status worse than it actually was. Nevertheless, Click! still doesn’t appear to be financially sustainable when costs are allocated more reasonably. Given the upgrades needed by the cable system, we fear that preserving the status quo will do more harm than good to the community over the medium and long terms; Tacoma needs to make a change to avoid being stuck solely with the broadband monopolies that plague the rest of us.
Opponents have labeled the current proposal to lease the network as “privatization.” ILSR strongly disagrees. The options being considered by Tacoma will ensure public ownership - the lease to a partner is no more privatization than allowing independent service providers to...Read more