Broadband Task Force Prepares to Wrap Up Their Work, Drafts Letter to the City

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The Broadband Advisory Task Force is preparing to complete their work for the city.  On Wednesday, they approved the draft of a letter from Chair Chris Clements, but authorized him to make minor revisions prior to submittal.

The letter comes as the city prepares once again to bring a potential contract with Astound Broadband back to the council for approval.  Staff on Wednesday indicated that could come back to council within the month.

In early April, council heard from a number of citizens prior to a closed session meeting with regard to that contract, which would allow Astound to “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.”

Rob Nickerson has argued that the contract “is backwards” and “a big giveaway to a company.”

In their letter to council, the contract with Astound is not mentioned, however, Mr. Clements writes, “I find it important to stress that the overall consensus of the Task Force is that the time has never been more important than now to take significant action towards this effort.”

He argues, “With the empty promises of faster networks, all wireless options, and even dense fiber deployments, it is the community that suffers as these technologies just never seem to penetrate the masses and provide a common platform that all can call their own.”

Instead, the letter reaffirms the BATF recommendation that “City Council support the concept of implementing a community owned broadband network in the City of Davis.”

That includes exploring community interest toward the concept of a community owned broadband network.

Doug Dawson, a consultant hired to help BATF wit the feasibility study, developed a survey which consisted of 30 questions and was responded to by 350 residents of Davis.

The survey generated three “statistically valid” findings: “People in the City want a municipal fiber network, they don’t know how fast their internet connection is today, and they feel they are paying too much for what they are receiving in terms of quality of service and throughput.”

The results “demonstrate the desire of the community to have a more robust, fairly priced alternative to the commercial networks that are currently available in the community.”

Mr. Clements notes, “In order to move the project forward, it will require technical expertise beyond the volunteer BATF composition.”

Here the financial component is deemed critical: “Throughout the majority of the analysis that was performed by the BATF, one message was recurring more than any other. That was the need to spend some time and effort to understand the financial options that could be used to make this program a success.”

Along these lines they believe “it will be critical that an expert in alternative financing options be consulted.”

Therefore, the BATF recommends “that the City engage with someone with background and expertise in order to understand the financial possibilities that will make the deployment possible.”

Mr. Clements writes: “From a starting point, the most natural option would be to investigate the network requirements and connectivity needs that are essential to satisfy the data needs once served by the iNet network. This will afford the city a first-hand account of the power a fiber network will provide the rest of the community. In addition, it sends the message that the City is willing to support the project to the extent it is using the network on a daily basis to run the City.

“As with any major undertaking, the devil is in the details,” he continues. “Building a new fiber network is no different. Because of this fact, it is imperative that a technical group inclusive of the City engineers be put together to review the options that will detail the network build out.”

In conclusion he writes: “While the BATF prepares to disassemble, the emotion and passion around the concept of a municipal fiber project could not be any more intensified. We strongly feel that with the right level of technical engineering and financial exploration, not only will the City be successful in deploying this utility to the community, but would also pave the way for massive economic development.

“The network would create the ability for businesses around the world to employ work from home professionals in the City of Davis.”

Mr. Clements provides “numerous examples of how the community would benefit from such a powerful utility” and implores Mayor Brett Lee and the council to “take the next step.”

—David M. Greenwald reporting


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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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15 thoughts on “Broadband Task Force Prepares to Wrap Up Their Work, Drafts Letter to the City”

  1. Dave Hart

    I would like to see the BATF remain involved.  I think the work they have done is extremely valuable and because this of the nature of information technology their knowledge and perspective would continue to be of value to the City Council when making decisions on policy.   As we have seen in the past, experts bring their own inherent biases to analysis.  The BATF is from Davis and we very much need the voice of people like Rob Nickerson to keep the community on track.  Maybe that can happen with no official task force in existence, but I am concerned that the process be transparent.  Thanks to the BATF for all the work they’ve done so far.

    Also, I wonder if the model of a cooperative would help in the financing of a network.  Maybe that’s part of the BATF recommendations?  I don’t know, but I do know that Davis is notoriously ‘cheap’ when it comes to paying for infrastructure or recognizing value sometimes.  Most people only understand broadband access in terms of lowest price and that is a very shortsighted way to look at it.  I would be willing to pay quite a bit more in terms of buying shares in a cooperative to get this off the ground initially.  I would really hate to see us end up with another Comcast like scenario where we think, as a community, that some distant corporation will give us everything we want and need for cheap.

    1. Craig Ross

      So a permanent broadband commission?  It does seem like their business is not concluded yet, but I don’t know about a permanent  presence.

      1. Bill Marshall

        but I don’t know about a permanent  presence.

        Agreed… as to a Commission, City staff involvement (costs), financing, maintenance, etc., etc…

        But then again, nothing is ‘permanent’… copper wire served needs for a long time, then fiber optics, now a new generation of fiber optics… at least the conduits remain… they should outlive the “occupants” of those conduits… semi-permanent…

         

         

  2. Bill Marshall

    the concept of a community owned broadband network.

    it is imperative that a technical group inclusive of the City engineers be put together to review the options that will detail the network build out.

    We strongly feel that with the right level of technical engineering and financial exploration, not only will the City

    First, I believe that the proposal in front of the Council is fraught with problems… as was the previous arrangement… at least for serving City of Davis and other public entities… how we got here…

    Second, the “alternative posed” is fraught with problems… as was the original ‘Davis Community Cable’ effort (if you haven’t been in town ~ 30-35 years, that will not resonate).  That did not work out well, many levels…

    Third, am comfortable with my level of service/cost from ATT…

    Fourth, very uncomfortable with a proposal that might well require City taxpayer subsidies/charges, additional City staff to analyze, implement and maintain, even if many stick with their current provider.  I can easily imagine where all will have to pay, whether they use the carrier or not.

    We’ll see… but I hope the CC not act affirmatively on the current Astound proposal, nor commit to the current alternative of “a community owned broadband network”… I believe both choices, as currently presented, are “not good”…

    IMHIO…

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      “Third, am comfortable with my level of service/cost from ATT…”

      The problem is that there is what is known as the “digital divide”

      1. Bill Marshall

        So, how much do I need to pay to resolve your undefined “issue”?

        After all, from the article,

        We strongly feel that with the right level of technical engineering and financial exploration, not only will the City be successful in deploying this utility to the community, but would also pave the way for massive economic development.

        I see near zero referent to ‘economically challenged’ folk… where do you think the network would be rolled out first in?  Olive Drive? Royal Oaks?  Am thinking, not…

        Can you define further the “digital divide”?

  3. John Hobbs

    “The BATF is from Davis…but I do know that Davis is notoriously ‘cheap’ when it comes to paying for infrastructure or recognizing value sometimes.”

    Davis seems to be endlessly mired in the pursuit of perfection, to the exclusion of any solutions.

    Santa Cruz and Santa Barbara might provide useful examples of how to “Get ‘er done!”

     

    1. Dave Hart

      People in Davis are generally unwilling, as a community, to spend much for anything.  Why are there no really first rate restaurants?  Yes, we have several that are good, but nothing outstanding.  Same thing goes for just about any category you can think of.  We don’t think twice about driving forever and gone to “save” money such as all the trips people will make to Costco or Walmart in Woodland.  I stand by the statement that Davis is cheap.  That is why I float the idea that maybe a good way to finance a fiber optic network is through a cooperative type model.  There are maybe enough people who can entertain the vision and once it is off the ground more people will be interested.  And I see no good reason why the city should not get involved.  Fiber optic internet access is no different from a city street or public park or even a good quality water system.

  4. Alan Miller

    Rob Nickerson has argued that the contract “is backwards” and “a big giveaway to a company.”

    Rob Nickerson knows his stuff.  I will be a**-Tounded if the City fails to heed RN’s advice.

    Actually, we all will be.

    1. Bill Marshall

      Agreed… but the proposed alternative has dangers/problems, as well… neither (as proposed) should move forward at this juncture, IMNSHO

    2. Dave Hart

      There will always be uncertainty and risk, but if we don’t take some risks, we won’t end up with anything of real value…just a couple big telecoms sucking our cash out of town.

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