The future of the Click Cable Network has been in flux ever since plans announced to lease the network to a private company sparked a community pushback to save Click. However, things are starting to come into focus as the Tacoma Public Utilities approved a funding plan at their Sept. 28 meeting that could see the cable company go “all in” as a phone, Internet and cable provider, should the Tacoma city council take the recommendation.
The funding plan sees TPU ratepayers pay the majority of the cost associated with the upgrades that would come with the all-in plan as well as continuing operations. Tacoma Power will devote between $6 and $10 million per year to Click to maintain its operations. The other option floated at the meeting would see the city fund Click from its general fund, a third option that would have both the city and TPU pitching in to cover costs. The TPU route passed with a 3-2 motion from the TPU Board.
The plan comes after TPU announced last year to lease the network to a private company, which prompted an outpouring of cries to “Save Click” as a city asset. The leasing plans were put on hold to allow time for a series of closed-door meetings of a committee of appointed officials and technology experts to research ways to make Click profitable based on co-mingled accounting practices regarding shared costs between Click and Tacoma Power by expanding its system and increase customers. The “all-in” options are a result of these meetings, which could see click offer commercial broadband, broadband, retail Internet and voice over Internet phone services.
The Click network is an outgrowth of a fiber optic system originally constructed in the 1990’s to help run the power grid and provide its own cable option, while leasing extra space to Internet Service Providers. To many, Click represents an escape from the monopoly of large Internet providers, an affordable public alternative and why the potential privatization of the service elicited such a big commercial response. Click has always leased space on the network to ISPs, if the plan should be approved, Click will be in direct competition with those same providers.
Critics of the plan cite the potential legality of ratepayers paying for a service they may not use, and the legal responsibilities of making sure customers aren’t doing anything illegal on the network. And, of course, being in direct competition with providers on their network, a murky grey area that seems to invite controversy.
“Beginning these relationships go back for years, people have a relationship with a brand and it means something and it represents equity in a brand and if they destroy these, that’s a problem,” Advance Stream CEO Mitchell Shook said.
The proposal will now move onto the city council in the form of a recommendation, and is expected to go through a public hearing process before being on the agenda sometime this fall. It is of note that University Place falls within the TPU service area but will not get a say in plans moving forward, as the service answers to the Tacoma City Council.