Letter: Be Wary of Granting Private Enterprise Exclusive Use of City Facilities

By Don Sherman

Please be wary of granting any private enterprise exclusive use of city facilities.

Regarding wifi and cellular service, around 40-years ago, when the technology was new to most of us, Davis and many other US cities were seduced by carriers into granting exclusives in exchange for a few public access channels. Few would have imagined that these carriers would merge what is now a handful of enormous corporations controlling distribution of data, communications, and information.

The channels “given” cities have proven to be essentially worthless as they exist only as long as mostly unpaid volunteers are willing or available to maintain them. In what has developed as a world of hundreds of choices and the ease with which live or recorded video can now be transmitted to managed or unlimited audiences, viewing through their pocketable phones, tablets or their computers, there is little evidence of measurable viewing of the so-called “public” cable channels, Davis’ among them.

Please examine who benefits the most from that historical decision to grant exclusive access to one corporation.

Technology is continuously advancing. Almost as certainly as the rotation of the earth, the tech we take for granted and have come to expect to use 24/7, will be obsolete in most of our lifetimes.

One relevant example is the expected distribution 5G communication: with remarkably greater capacity and higher speeds than either today’s wi-fi or cellular.

If we are not sufficiently skeptical of commitments being asked of us now, let us, at the very least look at the proposal from WAVE, Astoound,  or anyone seeking exclusivity in Davis from their point-of-view. Why do they think this is a good deal and why are they anxious to secure an exclusive deal before the next “big thing” comes along?

Would our city grant exclusive license to one real estate developer? One grocery chain?

One more question, before making such a commitment as WAVE proposes, does the City of Davis have the advice of experts on the level of the ones advising the Corporation to seek exclusive contracts with cities?

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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  1. Jim Frame

    A bit of backstory:  As the city’s cable franchise agreement was coming to an end, the city was warned that it would lose no-fee access to the fiberoptic lines that interconnect city and DJUSD facilities.  That institutional network (“I-Net”) was installed and owned by Comcast as part of the franchise agreement.  The City Attorney reportedly disagreed, saying that I-Net access would remain unchanged even after the franchise agreement ended.  That fantasy evaporated when the city was presented with a $190k annual bill for continued I-Net access. 
    Panicking at the prospect of a big unbudgeted annual expense, the city hastily negotiated an agreement with Wave Broadband (owned by Astound) to grant effective ownership of city conduit to Wave in exchange for 12 (count ’em!) strands of fiber for city use, and tried to sneak the agreement through on the City Council consent calendar.  The item got pulled from consent after many people complained about the sweetheart deal, and it was deferred for further review.

    The agreement came back a few days ago in revised form, stating that 12 strands in exchange for exclusive use of city conduit is a parity deal.  There was no financial analysis backing up that statement (the city’s Finance Director said he wasn’t asked to look at the deal), which leads me to think that some attorney pulled that revision out of his/her nether regions to give the deal a gloss of fairness.

    Meanwhile, even though the Comcast franchise agreement has expired, Comcast may still be using city conduit (I think the Pole Line Road overcrossing conduit is one stretch) without compensating the city.  Still looking into that.

    1. Richard McCann

      Thanks for keeping on top of this. Who is the current city attorney? Are last attorney did not serve us well, making several key mistakes and frequently misinterpreting applicability of laws to specific situations. I hope that we got a new law firm.

      Given that we are looking at municipal broadband, and the economics look reasonable, any agreement the City makes should be short term to allow us to bridge to a different regime, whatever that is.

  2. Dave Hart

    Thank you Jim Frame for a very succinct and understandable recap of where we are with our digital infrastructure here in Davis.  I’m afraid it’s an uphill fight because  of the reasons you cite about the rapidly changing nature of this technology and its implications for our social and economic future.  Very few of us grasp where all of this is headed because it’s wonky and new to our experience.  Future thinkers have identified nuclear war, climate disruption and artificial intelligence (AI) as the three biggest threats to our collective survival.  Why would we want to divest any amount of control over this burgeoning technology that is so integral to AI?  I hope the CC takes a much more careful approach here.  This isn’t as ‘simple’ as spinning off waste collection or contracting out landscape maintenance.

  3. Mike Adams

    The City will argue that this is not an exclusive contract, but space within conduit is limited and WAVE/Astound can install fiber bundles to any size they want (and will fit in the conduit provided by the City), yielding only a maximum of twelve strands to the City (and no more than 12% of the strands if they install less than a 96 strand fiber cable) – effectively this could make WAVE the exclusive user of this conduit in a commercial sense, and mean that they could provide few strands to the City on runs that are not commercially attractive. (Article 2.1)

    WAVE/Astound according to the contract would be limited in liability to a maximum of $200,000, while the City could be sued to the full extent of any loses that the company experiences. The contract gives WAVE/Astound 30 years of irrevocable use. (Article 4.3)

    The contract prohibits the City from using the designated fiber itself, or allowing a third party to use any of their designated fibers, in a manner that competes with WAVE Services. There are no stated use restrictions for WAVE/Astound. (Article 5.4)

    It is very clear that this agreement was drafted by WAVE/Astound in order to minimize their own risk and maximize their ability to monopolize the broadband market in Davis.

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