Fiber follies act 2, part 1
What part of "no" does the City not understand?
In November 2016, Lake Oswego voters rejected a proposal for the City developing a public/private partnership with eventual municipal ownership of a fiber/broadband network. Such a partnership was not in the best interest of the City, they said.
But on June 18 of this year, city councilors essentially ignored that decision and voted to explore a possible partnership with Clackamas County and the Mountain Park Homeowners Association to provide municipal-owned broadband service — without any real analysis to back up the preliminary assertions and no real consideration of the long-term policy implications.
What could possibly go wrong or is wrong with the proposal? Let us count the ways.
Assertions without evidence — The June 18 staff report to council asserted capital and operating costs for a municipal-owned fiber/broadband service would be about $62 a month per subscriber (not counting actual programming costs). Nothing was provided to explain the numbers. In the November 2016 proposal, it was asserted (again without evidence) the capital and operating costs would be about $60 per month for installation citywide — roughly the same number despite the fact that the geographic obstacles in most of the city are much easier to negotiate than in Mt. Park.
Topography risk — Installing a fiber network in Mt. Park is highly likely to be more expensive than existing fiber networks already built throughout the city. Installing fiber on a "mountain" is more expensive than on Kruse Way flat lands. Given the city's decades-long goal to underground new utilities, Mt. Park's proposed fiber network will be especially costly because boring underground will be more expensive than installation above
School district savings — It has been asserted since the Lake Oswego School District saved a great deal of money by installing its own fiber network, those kinds of saving are applicable for the City. Using a service is very different than providing a service. The school district, which was already spending money on internet service, has seen a measurable return on investment by installing its own infrastructure and connecting to a countywide service. But that is very different than the proposal the council approved. It is a false equivalency. The City will not be saving any money.
Business risk — Even if we ignore the issue of cost, there is a more basic question: Why should the City get into a new line of business when it isn't performing all of its existing core city services exceptionally well now? Ask Lake Oswego residents how they feel about the condition of their neighborhood roads or the size of their utility bills and then consider the implications of adding another city-run service to the list.
All means all — When voters rejected a municipal-owned fiber/broadband network in 2016, they clearly said it was not in the best interest of the city. The fact one precinct in Multnomah County — which includes parts of Mt. Park — voted for the measure does not mean the City should proceed for just that area. That is like saying the City should only replace street lights in one area and not the entire city. In the eloquent words of former school superintendent Heather Beck, "All means All."
Simply put, this is the wrong proposal at the wrong time in the wrong place. The City of Lake Oswego should stick to core services and provide exceptional service to everyone.
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