Tag: "tacoma"

Posted April 26, 2017 by lgonzalez

Recently, state lawmakers in Minnesota passed legislation to protect Minnesotans’ online privacy. In Tacoma, the City Council made a similar move by passing a resolution asking the Tacoma Public Utilities board to prevent ISPs on the city’s fiber network from collecting and selling personal online data. The resolution was an example of local authority stepping in to fill the gap when federal policy fails.

When The State And The Feds Don't Act

Bills were introduced in the Washington State Legislature this session, but state lawmakers didn’t turn them into law. By mid-April, it appeared that the bills weren’t going anywhere so City Council members felt the need to address the issue after the Trump Administration’s FCC allowed privacy protections to lapse.

“I’ve just heard lots of concerns from community members and from boosters of the Click network about privacy,” said Councilman Anders Ibsen… “This also ensures that any private entity that rides our fiber, that uses the Click network, is held to certain ground rules, just really basic ground rules about respecting the privacy of their customers.”

Tacoma's Click! publicly owned network serves about 23,000 people. Over the past few years, the community has debated the future of the network and is still considering several possible scenarios. For more, check out our four-part series on the network's history and an analysis of the benefits from this public investment.

Local Network = Local Control

Like many of the local and regional ISPs that tend to offer services via publicly owned infrastructure, the two providers on Click’s network already commit to subscriber privacy. Since the announcement that privacy protections would be rolled back, several municipal networks that offer retail services have also assured their subscribers that collecting and selling information such as location data, search history, app usage, and browsing history just isn’t in their wheel house. Chattanooga’s EPB Fiber and Optilink in Dalton, Tennessee, are a few... Read more

Posted June 28, 2016 by ternste

This is the last in a four part series about the Click network in Tacoma, Washington, where city leaders spent most of 2015 considering a plan to lease out all operations of this municipal network to a private company. Part 4 highlights Click’s often unseen “spillover effects” on the City of Tacoma’s economy and telecom marketplace over the network’s nearly 2 decades in operation, contributions that Tacoma should expect to persist and even expand in the future.

We published Part 3, an analysis of why the municipal network is positioned to thrive in the years ahead within the modern telecommunications marketplace on June 21st. In Part 2, published on June 7, we reviewed why Tacoma Public Utilities considered the possibility of leasing out all of the Click operations. On May 31, we published Part 1, which reviewed the community's plans for the network.

Part 4: Click’s Accumulating “Spillover Effects”

Regardless of any impending changes with Tacoma Click’s operations, it’s clear that the network has and will continue to support and enhance the overall economic interests and the public good in the City of Tacoma. “Spillover effects” - the benefits to the community that don’t show up clearly in any financial statements - tend to appear after communities developing their own municipal broadband networks.

Click’s spillover effects start with the broad economic development benefits that arose when Click appeared. Before Click came to town, Tacoma was a city in economic decline. Many businesses had fled downtown for the suburbs over the 50-plus year period after World War II. 

While we can’t give Click all of the credit for the city’s efforts to rebound from that period of economic downturn, analysts like the U.S. Conference of Mayors cite the $86 million Click network as a major component. The network was part of an ambitious and highly successful economic development effort in the 1990s that helped to revitalize Tacoma. In 2005, the Sierra... Read more

Posted June 21, 2016 by ternste

This is Part 3 in a four part series about the Click network in Tacoma, Washington, where city leaders spent most of 2015 considering a plan to lease out all operations of this municipal network to a private company. In Part 2, published on June 7, we reviewed the main reasons why Tacoma Public Utilities considered the possibility of leasing out all of the Click operations. On May 31, we published Part 1, which shared the community's plans for the network. Part 3 covers why we believe the Click municipal network is positioned to thrive in the years ahead within the modern telecommunications marketplace.

Part 3: Positioning Click for the Future

If Tacoma leaders decide to move ahead with the “all in” plan that they're currently exploring, several factors suggest that Click can become an increasingly self-sustaining division of Tacoma Public Utilities (TPU). To recap, the “all in” plan would reportedly involve two major changes at Click. One, it would mean upgrading the network to enable gigabit access speeds. Two, the all in option would likely mean cutting out the “middlemen” private companies that currently have exclusive rights to provide Internet and phone services over the network. Instead of the current system, where Click only offers cable TV services while middlemen provide Internet and phone, the new all in plan would position Click as the retail provider for all three services.

Adapting to A Challenging and Changing Telecom Landscape

It makes sense for TPU to keep Click and improve it. TPU’s slide from Part 2 in this series reveals:

(1) Click’s subscriptions for Internet-only customers turned a corner in 2014 and started to exceed projections.  This data indicates that the most important component of Click’s future business prospects—its Internet access service—is growing.

(2) With a proposal on the table to upgrade the infrastructure to offer gigabit speed service, the city can expect Click to provide stronger local ISP competition on both broadband speed and price. In an age of increasing need for data access, any ISP that upgrades its infrastructure should reasonably expect to see increased demand for extremely fast Internet access services, a level of demand that didn’t exist 10 or even 5 years... Read more

Posted June 7, 2016 by ternste

This is Part 2 in a four part series about the Click network in Tacoma, Washington, where city leaders spent most of 2015 considering a plan to lease out all operations of this municipal network to a private company. Part 2 explores the major reasons why Tacoma Public Utilities has considered the move to lease out all Click operations. Part 1, published on May 31, examines possible plans for Click in the immediate future.

Part 2: TPU’s Challenges with Click

When TPU officials proposed last March to lease the network to a private ISP for 40 years, they cited revenue losses for Click as high as $7.6 million annually, indicated by troubling financial reports in recent years. Some critics, however, such as those with the advocacy group “Stick with Click,” countered that this figure is inaccurate. They say that TPU manufactured the revenue losses through an accounting decision that resulted in a deceptively bleak picture of Click’s financial performance.

To shed light on the disagreement, we're examining relevant facts about Click.

Allocating the Costs of a Shared Infrastructure

When Tacoma first built the Click network in the late 1990s, the Hybrid Fiber Coax (HFC) infrastructure was to support services for two divisions of the TPU: TPU Power and Click. Besides the infrastructure’s function for supporting Click’s services, the city designed the HFC infrastructure to support a smart electrical metering program for TPU Power services.

This dual purpose meant that for accounting purposes, TPU had to allocate the costs of a shared network based how much each division would rely on the network. This cost allocation (a common accounting practice) would assign each division a portion of the original capital construction costs for building the network and a separate portion of the network’s ongoing operations and maintenance (O&M) costs. 

Ultimately, and with the help of an independent consultant, the city settled on cost allocation ratios in 2003, which determined how the TPU would assign capital and O&M costs to each division.

TPU Power would pay 73 percent of the capital costs to build the HFC infrastructure; Click would pay the remaining 27 percent. Click would then pay a 76 percent of the network’s ongoing O&M costs, with TPU Power paying the remaining 24 percent of O&M... Read more

Posted May 31, 2016 by ternste

This is Part 1 in a four part series about the Click network in Tacoma, Washington, where city leaders spent most of 2015 considering a plan to lease out all operations of this municipal network to a private company. Part 1 explains Tacoma's plans for Click's immediate future.

Part 1: Tacoma Votes to Explore Keeping Click!

2015 was a tense year for Tacoma Click, the nearly 20-year-old municipal network in this city of about 200,000 just south of Seattle. In March of 2015, Tacoma Public Utilities (TPU) announced it was considering a proposal to sign a 40-year agreement to lease out the network to a private Internet Service Provider (ISP). But after months of deliberations, the Tacoma City Council decided in December with a resounding 8-0 vote at the last City Council meeting of the year to explore what the city calls their “all in” option: a plan which, if implemented, would include technological upgrades and major structural changes to the business model aimed at preserving Click as a municipally-owned network.

When Tacoma Click, one of the first municipal networks in the U.S., launched its Hybrid Fiber Cable (HFC) system in 1999, the network provided Internet speeds that were among the fastest in the country. For the past two decades, Tacoma Click has provided community anchor institutions, businesses, and residents in Tacoma with access to retail Cable TV service and wholesale Internet and phone service. 

Click has never managed to pay for itself. However, nothing in Click’s financial reports can account for the municipal network’s numerous indirect contributions (both economic and otherwise) and overall value to the Tacoma community as a whole. There are also promising signs that the network is positioned for future growth.

Taking Sides

The tone of discussions at City Council meetings over the past year about Click’s future signaled a strong desire by some city officials to get out of the telecom business altogether. Before the December vote, two of five TPU board members favored the lease option, a proposal to lease the network that would have effectively marked the end of... Read more

Posted April 3, 2015 by lgonzalez

Tacoma's Click! network raised prices in 2010 in order to cover increases in retransmission fees for its television feeds. Fees have continually risen for Click! and other networks and, according to Tacoma's News Tribune, will continue to rise. The market is fundamentally broken, with small providers struggling to keep up as sports programming shoots through the roof and companies like Comcast merge with content owners.

In Tacoma, the situation was so bad it led to a fee dispute between KOMO and Click! network that resulted in a channel blackout on the network. The News Tribune pursued document requests early in 2014 to obtain copies of the retransmission agreements at the center of the dispute between the network and KOMO. The documents revealed that agreements with several broadcasters rewarded broadcasters significant increases in retransmission fees. Over a six year period, KOMO's rate increased 416 percent.

In a recent update, the News Tribune reports that the new contracts include yet another significant increase:

New contracts that took effect Jan. 1 show the broadcasters’ fees are rising far faster than inflation.

No fee has increased over the years more than that of Seattle broadcaster KOMO. In 2009, the broadcaster received only 31 cents per month per home from Click. That amount has soared this year to $2.43 — a 684 percent increase.

Had the broadcaster’s fee risen equal to inflation, KOMO would earn only 34 cents per subscriber — or approximately $78,000 for all of 2015.

Instead, the new fee structure will mean Click pays about $561,000 this year. That cost is likely to be passed down to the utility’s 19,250 subscribers.

Chris Gleason, speaking on behalf of Tacoma Public Utilities, said the utility board will now have to consider a 17.5 percent rate increase for 2015. The original plan was to incorporate a 10 percent increase in 2015 and a similar increase in 2016. Four other channels are instituting similar increases:

“We don’t really have a lot of bargaining power with these broadcasters,” Gleason said. “... We do negotiate with them but... Read more

Posted August 22, 2012 by lgonzalez

We have watched Tacoma's Click! Network for years, sharing its advances and benefits with you. The latest achievement in Tacoma is a new option for customers - 100 Mbps.

The network is a division of Tacoma Power, which has been  providing electricity to the community for over 100 years. The municipal utility upgraded recently to DOCSIS 3.0, increasing Internet speeds for customers. 

Click! allows independent service providers to offer Internet access on the network rather than offering that service directly. This approach has resulted in less revenue for the publicly owned network, creating delays in paying down the debt from the infrastruture investment. Nonetheless, Click! has create benefits far in excess of costs -- from increased investment from incumbents to much lower prices for residents and businesses.

RainerConnectAdvanced Stream, and Net-Venture all offer retail services on the Click! network.

Customers from the three ISPs have multiple choices in speed and price, varying from $29.95 for up to 6 Mbps to $189.95 for the new 100 Mbps option. The choice allows consumers to tailor their Internet (and their Internet bill) to the their individual needs. Vibrant competition continues to create choice and affordable consumer prices. Regardless of what network they subscribe to, Tacoma residents tend to pay less than their Seattle brethren.

Unfortunately, it was no surprise to come across a recent news story that describes CenturyLink's misleading sales tactics. CenturyLink salespeople have gone door-to-door and told people Click! is closing. C.R. Roberts from the News Tribune covered the story in mid-July. According to the report, even after Click! contacted CenturyLink to complain, the lies continued in parts of the city. This is no single anomaly, we have heard of similar tactics being used in the past.

Posted June 30, 2012 by christopher

We have followed Seattle's on-again, off-again consideration of a community broadband network for years and have occasionally noted the successful cable network in nearby Tacoma.

Seattle Met's Matthew Halverson has penned a short, impressive article explaining the trials and tribulations of Tacoma while also exploring why Seattle's Mayor has abandoned his goal of a broadband public option.

Before the massive cable consolidation that has left us with a handful of monopolists, we had a larger number of smaller monopolists that abused their market power to limit competition. One of the worst was TCI, which refused to upgrade its awful services in Tacoma, which pushed Tacoma to build its own network. TCI suddenly decided it did care about Tacoma.

TCI wouldn’t go down easily, of course. For the next year, as the City built out its system, the cable giant took advantage of the utility’s biggest weakness: All of its plans, from the kind of equipment it would buy to its construction schedule, were public information. So when Tacoma Power put in an order with its supplier for, say, coaxial cable, it found that TCI had already bought every foot of it. “But we started in one area of town and luckily we were able to get just enough material,” says Pat Bacon, Click’s technical operations manager. “We just inched our way through it and, before you knew it, we were a presence.” By July 1998, Click had its first cable subscriber, and the first broadband Internet user signed on in December 1999.

A substantial portion of the article is devoted to the dynamics around open access between the utility and independent providers -- an important read for anyone considering the open access approach.

Halverson did his homework on this article and I think he got it mostly right. I think the FiOS-wired suburbs do present a larger threat to Seattle than suggested, but it certainly does not compare to the approaching-existential crisis faced by Tacoma fifteen years ago.

I wish I could disagree with his conclusion that Seattle is unlikely to get a community fiber network but unless the community rises up to demand it, elected officials are unlikely to see any benefit to making such a long term... Read more

Posted July 12, 2010 by christopher

In January 2001, or about 1 million years ago in tech time, Site Selection Online published "Wired Cities: Working-Class Communities Build Next Frontier of High-Speed Connectivity". I found it years ago when reading up on the Click! network in Tacoma, Washington.

I recently stumbled across it again and thought it might be interesting to evaluate its claims after a decade (or close to it) had passed.

The lead of the article discusses Tacoma its relationship to Seattle. Tacoma had extremely poor connectivity from the private sector and its public power utility decided to build an HFC network to extend broadband to everyone in the community. Tacoma's Mayor notes that over 100 companies poured in after the community solved its own broadband problems - generating some 700 jobs in 18 months.

Fast forward to today, and this paragraph:

As a result, the next frontier of information companies isn't being confined to the Silicon Valleys of the world. It's taking root where you might least expect it: in places like Tacoma, LaGrange, Ga., and Blacksburg, Va.. And in most cases, it's government taking the lead, beating business to the punch by stringing fiber and building networks in working-class communities that most bottom-line corporations would otherwise ignore.

The principle of self-reliance is timeless. And we see the same idea in news articles today: local governments bringing broadband to areas the private sector cannot. In 2010, the fastest and more affordable broadband networks in the US are not in Silicon Valley -- they are in Lafayette, Chattanooga, Wilson, Utah, and other places where the community decided to prioritize big broadband.

Because of the competition in Tacoma, prices for telecom have remained lower than in nearby Seattle - as I quoted a Tacoma resident previously:

I have Comcast in Tacoma and all I know is since there is competition down here Comcast is about half the cost as it is in Seattle. They give you a rate good for a year. When your year is up you call up and just say Click! and bam back down you go. A friend in Seattle once called Comcast with both of our bills with similar service and mentioned my price and they said I must live in Tacoma and they wouldn't match the price.

Seattle... Read more

Posted January 19, 2010 by christopher

Seattle's new mayor continues to impress me as he makes good on his pledge to build a publicly owned fiber-optic network in the City. He has just met with the mayor of Tacoma to discuss lessons learned from the Tacoma Click! network.

We have previously discussed Click!, an HFC network run by Tacoma's public utility. Here are some additional benefits from the article:

Since its approval in 1997, Tacoma’s hybrid fiber coaxial network has, among other things, ushered in a cable television service, offered customers three high-speed retail Internet service providers, enhanced Tacoma Power’s electrical system and created a communications network among government institutions. In turn, the network and its programs have drastically reduced market rates for cable TV and Internet subscribers; saved local governments about $700,000 in annual expenses; and created several promising projects, such as “smart meters” that can gauge utility consumption electronically and “pay as you go” account options for electricity customers, she said.

I was glad to see the article noting the many differences between when Tacoma built their network and the present situation in which Seattle finds itself. Seattle certainly has bigger difficulties than Tacoma did, but they should continue examining their options to determine if the community should build its own network.

A local blogger was more pessimistic after reading the article, but one of the comments on the post bears repeating:

I have Comcast in Tacoma and all I know is since there is competition down here Comcast is about half the cost as it is in Seattle. They give you a rate good for a year. When your year is up you call up and just say Click! and bam back down you go. A friend in Seattle once called Comcast with both of our bills with similar service and mentioned my price and they said I must live in Tacoma and they wouldn't match the price.

Photo used under creative commons license from flickr.

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