To Click!? or Not to Click!? Tacoma City Council to Decide

The ball is now in the Tacoma City Council's court on the question of the fate of Tacoma's publicly-owned Click! network. That's after the Tacoma Public Utilities board voted to support both keeping the network and leasing it out to a private company.

Click! currently provides cable TV directly to customers. It sells internet wholesale to private, local Internet Service Providers, who then turn around and repackage it for their customers. There seems to be a general consensus that the utility cannot continue to operate as it has been, but that's where the consensus ends. Two possible alternatives for Click!'s future have been kicked around for a while now: to lease the entire business to a private operator, or to keep operating Click! and begin offering internet services directly to customers. On Thursday the TPU board basically said it was okay with either - just not the status quo.

The Lease Option

There have been offers to lease the Click! network from two companies so far: one from the larger Wave Broadband, and one from smaller local ISP, Rainier Connect.

In this scenario TPU would technically maintain ownership of the utility, but would turn over its operation to a private company - either one of the two that have already thrown their hats in the ring, or possibly to another company if one turns up in response to a bid process.

Tacoma could put stipulations on any lease deal, including the provision of low-cost internet to low-income households and retaining a certain number of jobs locally, but would let go of ongoing operational decisions and services. One possible concern with this option moving forward is a question as to whether the City has the right to lease a major part of the public utility without a vote of the public.


Click! Cable + Internet Option

Under this scenario TPU would continue to operate Click!, but staff would come up with a new business, financial, and marketing plan, and the finances of the cable/internet arm of the utility would be separated from TPU's.

Click! would invest in upgrades to allow it to operate gigabit internet service, and would likely buy out the ISPs it currently works with. This would mean that Click! customers would be able to subscribe to both services through Click!, and pay just one bill.

The News Tribune's Kate Martin lays out a few more details of the debate here.

The TNT reports that the TPU board voted 3 to 2 in favor of the option to keep Click! and add internet service for its customers. The board also voted 3 to 2 in favor of the lease option.

Now it's all up to the City Council...

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What is super weird about both resolutions is that they are fundamentally in conflict about language in the City Charter. 

The retain Click resolution makes mention of section 4.6 of the City Charter that indicates that the lease or sale of property necessary for utility operations

The leasing resolution skirts the Charter by stating that Click is “surplus property” instead, which would put the decision outside the scope of voter control.

December 4, 2015 at 1:47 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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That second line is meant to read:

The retain Click resolution makes mention of section 4.6 of the City Charter that indicates that the lease or sale of property necessary for utility operations—- requires such a lease or sale to be approved by a vote of the people.

December 5, 2015 at 8:54 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Agreed - absent unlikely boldness from the council or a citizen vote, Tacoma Power executives are going to get their way, public interest be damned.

December 5, 2015 at 9:00 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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Public interest is not damned @talus, but rather is shown in their ever decreasing number of cable subscribers- both here with Click as well with the biggest companies, Comcast included. And it’s not new. New to us perhaps, but it’s been in decline for years. This discussion does not appear to me to be some evil corporate takeover, but instead a very real, local example of how people’s entertainment viewing preferences & options are changing. Not sure getting “their way” is all that bad in this instance- a flailing, local cable television company unable to compete with changing technology or even sell broadband is being called to the floor because it’s costing the rest of us electric customers millions of dollars. And the problem is…? That I somehow have no access to entertainment without Click? So that X thousands of customers have a ‘choice’ in cable tv suppliers? Really? And how does this represent some social justice issue? TNT articles have shown their customer base is decreasing year over year- that’s our collective [democratic] choice as consumers; not some executive getting “their way.” You show me how customers are flocking to click cable, and their executives want to shut them down, then sure- you have a point. But in this case, sorry, the people have spoken.

December 7, 2015 at 3:01 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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