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Customers of Tacoma’s city-owned internet and TV services worry of proposed changes

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Adrian Florez

Tacoma has one of the first and largest city-owned internet and TV networks in the U.S.

It's called Click, and it's the reason Tacoma once billed itself as "America's No. 1 wired city."

Now, some residents are worried about proposed changes to the 21-year-old service that would see it operated by a private company.

City Council members are scheduled to vote Nov. 5 on the "public-private partnership." It would have the city retain public ownership of Click, but day-to-day operations would move to the Tacoma-based company Rainier Connect. 

City officials say Click has been losing millions of dollars a year, and a partnership is necessary to keep it financially sustainable. 

But fans of Click say they fear Tacoma is backing away from treating the internet as a public utility just as other cities are moving in that direction. 

"The internet is the highway of the future," Tacoma resident Darrel Bowman told council members at an Oct. 29 hearing. "It is the electrical system, it is the water system. It is the next frontier. And we're ditching it, man. I can't believe you're actually considering this." 

Some customers also fear Click's relatively low rates could rise, potentially pricing out some residents at a time when they increasingly rely on the internet to apply to jobs, complete schoolwork, and pay bills. 

"This is the year 2019," said Celeste Burris, another resident who spoke at the hearing. "The internet is a utility. It is a necessity."

Under the proposal, Rainier Connect would pay Tacoma Public Utilities a fee that grows from $2.5 million in the first year of the agreement to $3 million in the fifth year. After that, changes in fee would be tied to the rate of inflation.

The agreement would last 20 years, with the potention for two 10-year extensions. 

Will James reports and produces special projects, including podcasts and series, for KNKX. He created and hosted the Outsiders podcast, chronicling homelessness in Olympia for more than a year, in partnership with The Seattle Times.
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