Tacoma seeks private sector help for its city-owned cable system

1 April 2018 by Steve Blum
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The City of Tacoma wants to hang on to its municipal cable system, but it’s looking for someone else to come in and run it. It posted a request for information and qualifications (RFI), asking private sector companies to propose business models.

Examples given include leasing out the system as a whole to an operator, bringing in a company to manage it or running it as an open access system, where competing retail providers would buy wholesale capacity from the system and take responsibility for selling it to customers. Click already runs its Internet service business on an open access basis, but sells video service directly to subscribers.

There are strings attached…

The City seeks a Provider interested in expanding the existing customer base, advancing broadband connectivity services to residents and businesses in the community, upgrading the network as required, providing operational support, and supporting the 12 critical community policy goals defined in Section II. The Partnership Arrangement could be a lease of the HFC network assets described herein, a management contract pursuant to which the Provider operates such assets, a partnership of another form with respect to such assets, or any other contractual arrangement that satisfies the City’s objectives.

Those 12 policy goals include maintaining public ownership, running an open access network and abiding by network neutrality principles, particularly no paid prioritisation. That would seem to rule out a major incumbent, such as Comcast or CenturyLink, since all three of those restrictions run counter to their core business models. Wave, which is much smaller nationally but calls Puget Sound home, might find the flexibility to qualify, though.

The Click system needs an upgrade, but in its current condition the system can’t support it on its own. Most of it is limited to 750 MHz of analog bandwidth – not bad when it was built in the 1990s, but not so impressive nowadays when the standard is 1 GHz or better – and the average node serves 1,200 homes, which is a critical bottleneck when it comes to delivering high speed Internet service.

Responses are due on 27 April 2018.

Request for information and qualifications for partnership arrangements for Tacoma Power’s Click network, 23 March 2018.