Citizens Continue to Speak against Potential Fiber Optics Agreement with Astound

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About ten people on Tuesday spoke out against a closed-session item on the agenda prior to the regular Davis City Council meeting.  The item was simply noticed as “Agency Negotiators” between the city and Astound Broadband, LLC d/b/a Wave, a Washington limited liability company.  Under negotiation were price and terms of payment.

The council ended up taking public comment and finishing the item following the regular meeting.  There was no reportable action.

Following public comment, Mayor Brett Lee said, “This will be the first opportunity that the council has had to discuss this item in the background of negotiations.”

He acknowledged the lack of information contained on the agenda about the closed session item: “The closed session items are rather skeletal – it’s a one-liner about what it is.”  He would add, “This gives us a chance to better understand the negotiations that have been going on.”

The council has not had a chance to weigh in.  A consent agenda item with a proposed agreement was removed from the council agenda in early February.  There was no announcement as to why.

That staff report noted that the city had been negotiating with Astound to provide a fiber-optic network.

Staff writes, “Working with the city attorney on this agreement, Astound will bring fiber-optic cable into the City of Davis using existing City owned conduit to supply high speed network to their existing and future customers.

“In exchange for using City conduit, Astound will build a fiber-optic network to some city buildings, well/pump sites, Yolo County buildings and a connection to UC Davis. This new network will be available to city/county/UCD free of charge and provides more capacity and redundancy to the existing computer/phone network.”

Staff notes that the city has relied on two fiber-optic network deployments for years in order to run the city, county and school district computer and phone networks. The city owns and maintains one of these.

“The second network was part of the cable franchise agreement with Comcast that expired in October of 2018 and is cost prohibitive to continue using,” the city writes.

There are several aspects of the agreement that seem to be drawing fire – one is the lack of the city receiving benefit from the agreement.

As Rob Nickerson, owner of Omsoft Technologies, pointed out in February, “This agreement is backwards.”

He said, “This is a big giveaway to a company, that according to a statement of its representative that was at the last broadband advisory taskforce, makes 95 cents of profit on every dollar of internet revenue it brings in.”

That remained one of the themes on Tuesday during public comment.  (Thanks to CivEnergy for providing the Vanguard with an audio recording of the public comments).

Johannes Troost read a Utility Rate Advisory Committee motion from March 17: “URAC believes that the city council should pause and do its further due diligence in reference to the contract for Astound and the fiber optic network.”

He added: “It was our hope that the council would consider the value of our assets… and consider options including but not limited to a city owned system.”

Doug Walter, president of DCN, stated that “while meeting the city’s IT needs, would most likely foreclose the kind of content neutral, accessible and secure gigabit broadband network that most of the people that are here tonight support.  It would also most likely prevent us from addressing the digital divide and student achievement gap issues.  It could ease student development of local economic vitality.”

Matt Williams, Chair of the city’s Finance and Budget Commission, pointed out that “the cost to the city of putting its own fiber in a conduit is very very low.”

The current lease proposal is $0, Mr. Williams pointed out.  He noted, “[S]o it’s not something that I as the Chair of the Finance and Budget Committee would consider a great addition to the city’s financial health.”

He told the council: “We need you to look in your due diligence to something more than the offer that’s on the table which is a zero dollar lease.  You may be constrained because of the Brown Act to not consider dollar amounts that are greater than zero…”

He argued, “You really haven’t made a policy decision of whether or not lease for zero dollars…”

He added that it was a “mistake” the first discussion happened in closed session.

Rob Nickerson also spoke asking the council: “Please take seriously this opportunity to develop a long term revenue stream for the city, you can charge money to a private company for access to your conduit, you can put in fiber on your own to lease to this company over here, please don’t short yourself.”

As noted, council took no action on this item, which continues to attract community pushback and controversy.

City Manager Mike Webb told the Vanguard: “Staff continues to gather information about the proposed Astound agreement and will return to Council at such time that additional information and/or a proposed agreement is ready for review.”

—David M. Greenwald reporting

Correction: Doug Walter was inappropriately identified as being from DCC, that a was a typo, he is currently the President of Davis Community Network (DCN).


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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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10 thoughts on “Citizens Continue to Speak against Potential Fiber Optics Agreement with Astound”

  1. Rob Nickerson

    Although there are a lot of procedural issues with this arrangement, the primary reason we object is we think the City and by extension the community should own Fiber Optic Cable Plant in Davis, and lease it to companies like TPG Capital, which owns Wave, which bought Astound. We have been working on evaluating this proposition at the Broadband Advisory Task Force, which was setup by City Council, and is now entering its 4th year.

    The BAT Force is close to making its recommendations to City Council, and we believe this Astound Agreement severely degrades the many opportunities and benefits of community ownership of such an asset. Many people in the city associated with or supporting DavisGIG feel the same way, and the Astound Agreement simply shuts this effort down before the City Council is even given a chance to consider alternatives, and the possible recommendation the BAT Force may present in the coming months.

  2. Alan Miller

    CITY COUNCIL:

    Listen to Robert Nickerson.  He knows his stuff, he knows digital-information infrastructure.  He cares about Davis.

    Cool the ‘agreement’.  Do what is best for Davis long-term.

    1. Craig Ross

      I’d like to understand why it’s in the best interest of Davis long-term – when broadband is likely to be obsolete within ten years.  Even if 5g doesn’t kill it, the following generation will.

      1. Rob Nickerson

        I don’t understand the comment about broadband being obsolete within 10 years. As far as I can see the Internet, like electricity, is here to stay. 5G, just like 4G and all other Cell based Internet services are connected to the Internet via  Fiber Optic.

        When you connect to a cell phone tower, fiber optic connections deliver your internet packets to the world, and back to your cell phone tower to your phone. 99% of the time your packets travel on fiber optic cable.

        There is no Internet access without fiber optic. It is the backbone of the whole thing, and will continue to be.  Best that our City OWNS  fiber optic to lease to other wireline carriers, to large telcos for forthcoming 5G deployments,  to get revenue from every customer from every month from this asset.

        1. Matt Williams

          It’s an easy mistake to make Craig, and one that the average citizen would make.  Think of wireless as the stream of water that comes out of the faucets in your home.  Unless there are water pipes bringing the water supply (the signal, in the case of telecom) to the aerator in your faucet, then no water will come out … no signal will be broadcast, in the case of telecom.

          That reality already exists in most of our homes/businesses, where the wireless router that broadcasts signal throughout the house/office works very well as long as the fiber or cable delivers signal to the router, but goes dark if that signal is lost.  A cell phone tower, whether broadcasting 5G or 4G or any other generation of wireless signal, is just a huge, high-capacity router with its source signal coming from its fiber connection to the internet.

  3. Dianne C Tobias

    Admit my ignorance but why has this been secret? Why hasn’t the City (?staff or CC?) consulted or waited for its commission’s (BAT) recommendation??

    1. Matt Williams

      Dianne, the BATF asked that very question of staff at its February 27th meeting.  The staff liaison for the BATF, Diane Parro and the Information Systems Administrator, Jason Best, who was the author of the February 5th Staff Report for the Council Consent Calendar item (accessible HERE) explained that it was just an oversight and lack of inter-departmental collaboration that caused (1) Jason not to let Diane know about what he was doing with respect to the expired Comcast agreement and (2) Diane not to know about Jason’s efforts/activities.

      One could argue that the absence of collaboration is a leadership issue that the City Manager needs to address.

       

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