Bellingham Mayor Seth Fleetwood has recommended appointing an ad hoc advisory group to inform the City’s study of high-speed internet access and affordability, including reviewing options for future use of the City’s fiber optic network. The Bellingham City Council will consider the advisory group proposal during its August 24 regular meeting.
“I am pleased to be moving forward with a robust public discussion on the City’s role in broadband,” Mayor Fleetwood said. “Now more than ever the internet is critical to functioning in society. The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically underscored what we already knew: access to the internet is a basic need and essential for all households and businesses. This workgroup will help define the City’s role in broadband services and help ensure equitable and affordable access to quality high-speed internet in our community.”
Bellingham City Council allocated $100,000 in the 2019-2020 budget to fund a consultant study to develop a business plan and consider options to use the City’s fiber-optic network for public purposes. The proposed workgroup, if approved, will lend a public voice and local expertise to this project, Fleetwood said.
On August 24, the Bellingham City Council will consider a resolution to create a Broadband Advisory Workgroup during its Public Works Committee meeting. The group will participate in and inform the broadband consultant study.
“Access to reliable, high-speed internet with reliable connections is increasingly a basic and essential need for both businesses and households,” said City Councilmember Michael Lilliquist, chair of the City Council Public Works Committee. “High-speed internet supports jobs, education, health care, public safety and basic daily activities. My hope for this workgroup and consultant report is for the City to identify its role in meeting community broadband needs today and in the future.”
Workgroup members would consist of individuals with general interests, industry professionals and experts in business and finance.
With municipal broadband services increasingly viewed as vital public infrastructure, much like road and utility services, the workgroup and consultant study will be supported by Public Works Director Eric Johnston, in collaboration with the City’s Information Technology Services Department and Bellingham Public Library.
Johnston said a key function of local government is to provide and support infrastructure systems, including broadband, that are essential for daily living. Through partnerships, regulation, permitting and direct services local governments provide and plan for transportation, energy, water and telecommunication infrastructure needs of today and the future. Public input and policy development is a critical step in ensuring these systems can meet the needs of the community.
The City of Bellingham, in cooperation with the Bellingham School District and other partner agencies, built and currently owns and uses an extensive fiber-optic network. The network currently supports the City’s utility systems, all Bellingham public school buildings, public safety communications including the countywide 911 dispatch system, Port of Bellingham and other public agencies. The workgroup will consider ways the existing City fiber optic network may be used to improve access to quality broadband for the community.
Johnston said the workgroup originally was planned for Council consideration last spring but was put on hold temporarily due to impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The proposal is now ready for consideration by the City Council.
For a complete description of the proposed workgroup and agenda for the August 24 meeting, visit meetings.cob.org.
For additional information or to provide comments on the proposal please contact the Public Works Department at ASKPW@cob.org or (360) 778-7800, or contact the City Council office at email@example.com or (360) 778-8200.