Tacoma Council May Weigh in on the Future of Click!

This could be the week that the Tacoma City Council weighs in on the future of the Click! network.

A pair of resolutions appearing on this week's city council meeting agenda represent the two possible paths for the publicly-owned network: it could be leased to a third-party operator, or it could continue to operate as a public utility, with increased investment from the City.

The resolutions come close to mirroring a pair of resolutions that came before the TPU board on December 3. Rather than choose one over the other, the board passed both, putting the ball in the council's court - although it may not stay there.

The two options being considered would take Click! down distinctly different paths. 

The Lease Option

The possibility that Click! would be leased to a third party operator first came to wide public attention earlier this year when TPU announced it was in negotiations with private cable operator Wave Broadband. That deal didn't move ahead, although it is still on the table, as is a proposal from local Tacoma ISP, Rainier Connect to lease and operate the network. The resolution proposing this option would:

"authorize Tacoma Power to prepare a draft Request for Proposal for a third-party to operate, use, and maintain Tacoma Power’s telecommunication network and purchase Click!’s physical assets to offer cable television and retail internet services, including voice over data internet protocol, and commercial broadband and Gigabit service (“Retail Services”) to residential and commercial customers within Tacoma Power’s service territory."


The "All-In" Option

The other option is for the City to go "all in" on the Click! network. In this scenario, the City would not only maintain control of the public cable and internet network, but would invest significantly in upgrading the system and marketing services. In this option, Click! would also begin to provide internet service directly to customers, rather than selling it wholesale to local ISPs, who sell to retail customers, as is currently the case. The resolution proposing this option would:

"authorize Tacoma Power to prepare a business plan to provide, in addition to retail cable television, retail internet services including voice over data internet protocol, commercial broadband and Gigabit service."


Who Decides?

Public comment sessions to this point have been well-attended, and contentious. The council hasn't tipped their hand to suggest which way they're leaning, but they will need to make some decision at some point - TPU has made it clear that the status quo will not be allowed to continue.

Less clear is exactly how much control the council has over the ultimate outcome. 

City Council documents say "The City Council has retained the right to be involved in all major policy decisions involving the commercial aspects of the System. The Board’s action has triggered a major policy decision; therefore, consideration of a business plan option is before the City Council for consideration and policy direction."

The News Tribune reports that TPU Director, Bill Gaines (who has made little secret of his preference for unloading Click! to a third party) has put the council on notice that he won't be leaving the decision to them alone.

Gaines says that the council must either accept one of the two proposals passed by the TPU board as-is, or, if it passes a different option with substantive changes, that option must get kicked back to the TPU board for approval. If the council does neither of these things, and can't come to agreement with the board on a coure of action, Gaines says TPU could be "forced" to either end Click! services altogether, or to pass the network over to the council for them to operate - and fund.

Your guess is as good as ours on what the council will choose to do with this situation. They could vote to adopt one or the other (or even both) of the resolutions. They could choose to put the decision off to a future date, which at this point would be next year, as this week's council meeting is the last one of 2015. When the council reconvenes in January, the make-up will be a little different, with council members Boe and Walker at the end of their terms, to be replaced by Connor McCarthy and Keith Blocker, respectively. 

Will the council decide this week? Will they leave the tough decision to the new 2016 council? Stay tuned... Any predictions?

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