Citizens File Referendum to Keep Click! Network a Public Broadband System.

Citizens File Referendum to keep Click! a public broadband system.

Citizens Have Filed a Referendum to Keep Click! a Public Broadband System.

A citizen group, Keep Click Network Public, has filed a referendum to put privatization of Click! Network on the ballot. The referendum would stop the controversial sale and 20 year “lease” of Click! Network, the Tacoma community’s public broadband system, to a private company.

Click!’s municipal gigabit telecommunication system is owned by Tacoma Public Utilities (“TPU”). Click! was established in 1998 with over $200 million in public funds and is one of the nation’s first such “public broadband” systems.

Click! created municipal competition for broadband and cable TV services in the greater Tacoma region. Studies show that municipal competition results in lower rates for such services.

The Click! system and such municipal competition is highly controversial. Private telecom companies, such as Comcast, fiercely opposed Click!’s creation over 20 years ago. Powerful private companies oppose municipal competition and lobby fiercely against such systems, both in Tacoma and nationwide. Their lobbying efforts have resulted in laws that make municipal “public” broadband illegal in 19 states.

In those states where public broadband is allowed, communities are following in Click!’s footsteps. The City of Chattanooga, Tennessee is one example. In Chattanooga the municipally owned Electric Power Board (“EPB”) operates a gigabit telecommunication system. Public broadband in Chattanooga is driving economic growth for the region and profits from broadband services are keeping electricity costs lower.

After 20 years of opposing Click!, private interests in Tacoma finally succeeded in securing enough City Council votes to privatize Click!. On January 7th Tacoma’s City Council voted to approve an ordinance that transfers Click!’s Franchise to a private company.

Privatization would transfer Click!’s entire commercial enterprise, as a turn key business, the Click! brand name included, along with all Click! customer accounts, to the private company. Rates will no longer be set by City Council, rather the private company would set prices and control the system.

The Keep Click Network Public (“KCNP”) citizens’ referendum petition would overturn City Council’s privatization plans by stopping the transfer of the Click! franchise. The referendum puts privatization of the public broadband system on the ballot —if enough signatures can be gathered in 30 days.

Darrel Bowman, a volunteer with the Keep Click Network Public campaign says, “City Council refuses to allow a vote by the people despite Tacoma City Charter’s requirement for a vote.” He adds, “City Council previously recognized privatizing Click! requires a vote of the people.”

Bowman says privatization of Click! is overwhelmingly opposed by the public, since it results in a loss of Council control over setting rates for cable TV and wholesale broadband services.

Bowman states, “Click! is a $200 million investment of our public funds and politicians are gifting the system to a private company, with no appraisal or bidding, for a fraction of its current market value.”

The referendum was filed on January 14th, and Tacoma’s City Attorney must now issue a “Ballot Title” for the referendum. Once that occurs, the citizen group will have 30 days to collect 3,528 signatures from registered Tacoma voters to succeed in placing the matter on the ballot.

Bowman also filed a lawsuit based on Tacoma’s City Charter, which is moving forward in Pierce County Superior Court. Tacoma’s City Charter requires a vote of the people for the sale or lease of municipal utility property required for continued utility services. Since Click! Network is required for the community’s municipal telecom services, privatization of Click! requires a public vote under the City Charter. Summary Judgement on the Bowman case is scheduled for February 7, 2020.

The KCNP group has a page on Facebook and will be posting updates there:

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