Tacoma’s municipal broadband service, Click Network, has long been a point of pride. But now city officials are wrestling with the future of Click because it’s losing cable TV customers and facing higher programming costs.
In the late 1990s, Tacoma invested heavily to create Click with the hope of spurring economic development, but it’s struggled in recent years.
One reason is its business model. Click offers cable TV directly to customers, but for Internet service, it uses third-party providers. That means someone who wants to sign up for both has to deal with two companies.
Now Tacoma officials are trying to figure out whether to ditch that fragmented business model and be a one-stop shop. Mayor Marilyn Strickland says internet is so crucial these days that the city has to consider issues of equity, not just profits and losses.
“What is the cost socially of people not getting a job (and) education levels that don’t go up?” Strickland said at a city council study session. “So there’s a lot to weigh here aside from just the income statement, there’s a much greater good here.”
Tacoma’s also considering leasing the network to Kirkland-based Wave Broadband. Advocates say that could mean faster internet service down the road.
Doug Dawson, a consultant, told the city the lease makes more financial sense. He says if Tacoma sells internet service directly, it’s likely to face increasing competition because CenturyLink is exploring jumping into the market. Right now, Tacoma’s biggest Internet provider is Comcast, followed by Click.
Tacoma has already held public hearings about this but there are likely more to come.