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To: The News Tribune Editorial Board – Op-ed Article    November 15th, 2014

How we did it –Why Click is Green and Growing
The open access model is working!
By: Mitchell Shook, CEO and Founder of Advanced Stream
In Reply to Sean Robinson’s article: Is it time to cut the cord on Tacoma’s Click cable?

The old notion that Tacoma’s Click! Network is a failure, with ongoing losses and no end in sight is simply outdated. It’s important for Tacoma Citizens to understand that significant changes and improvements have been made over the past couple years. In fact, revenue is up and the Click! Network is green and growing!

Back in 2011, Click! Network brought in a new General Manager, Tenzin Gyaltsen. He faced real challenges at the time. Customer counts and revenues were falling. Mr. Gyaltsen’s first idea was for Click to start offering retail Internet and phone service, in direct competition with Click’s own wholesale customers, the three local ISPs, Advanced Stream, Rainier Connect and Net-Venture.

This shocking news came as a complete surprise to the ISPs, who had never been told that Click was having any troubles. Click management had developed their plans without seeking advice or input from the ISPs. If Mr. Gyaltsen’s plan passed a vote of the Tacoma Public Utilities Board, and Click began offing retail phone and Internet service, the three local ISPs who already provide those services, would be ruined. The stage was set for a showdown.

On January 25th, 2012, Mr. Gyaltsen, along with TPU Director Bill Gaines, made their presentation to the TPU Board. The proposal, which drew overwhelming opposition from the public at the time, was unanimously reject by the Board -with Chairperson Laura Fox’s leadership. The Board directed TPU management to abandon plans of offering retail Internet and Phone service and confirmed the original vision for Click as the impartial operator of the city's wholesale open access network. The Board also instructed Mr. Gyaltsen to sit down with the ISPs and see if his goals could be accomplished by working with the ISPs.

Thus began a series of productive meetings, where Click’s staff sat down with the owners of the 3 ISPs and, together as a team, they started digging into all the financial statements to find a solution. The answer was simple. Click needed more Internet customers. After six months of number crunching and countless brainstorming sessions with the Click staff it was finally determined that adding 6,000 more internet customers would certainly fix things and make Click profitable.

With a solution in hand, everyone agreed it could be done by keeping prices low and making Internet speeds faster. A timeline of 4 years was set, which meant the ISPs would need to consistently add 125 Internet customers a month to meet the ambitious goal.

The new plan was dubbed "Plan-B", since it was an alternative to Click’s original proposal (to offer retail Internet and phone service). The old plan became known as “Plan-A” and was officially discarded.

TPU officials presented Plan-B to the TPU Board and it was approved in July of 2012.

Then the real work began. Starting in August of 2012 the ISPs got busy. Adding 6,000 customers wasn’t going to be easy, so we hired more people, increased advertising budgets, rolled out faster Internet speeds, lowered prices, and set about accomplishing the lofty goal.

After 2 years of efforts, I am proud to report that Plan-B is fully on track and is actually ahead of schedule! Over 3,500 Internet customers have been added (so far). The open access model is working and things are truly looking up for Click! Network.

Once Click’s remaining “depreciation and amortization” expenses are paid off, (from building the whole telecom network), then Click will most likely be turning a profit of $8 to 10 million dollars every two years, while continuing to save ratepayers $20 million a year in the lower prices they get because of the competition that Click brings to the market.

All those meetings brought another benefit –a much closer working relationship between Click’s staff and the ISP’s owners. At the last quarterly meeting, when the progress report showing the growing number of customers was read aloud, the Click team gave the ISP owners a heartfelt round of applause. That was a proud moment for me. I am very thankful for their support. I have enjoyed getting better acquainted with the Click team. They are a talented group of passionate people. We are lucky to have them running our hometown municipal network.

Click brings amazing benefits to our community. Our cable modem Internet platform is the envy of cities and towns across the nation. I pray the News Tribune will help spread the the good news, by reporting about the progress being made and how things are improving at Click Network. A misunderstanding of these important facts could be the ruin of our hometown municipal network. There are powerful forces trying to get their hands on it. Keep an eye out for that!

Finally, community support is essential in maintaining Click! Network. If you are currently a customer, I Thank You! Please tell your friends and neighbors about your blazing fast cable modem, the friendly local customer support you enjoy, and all the money you are saving!

If you’re a Tacoma Power ratepayer, and not yet signed up, then please join us. After all, it’s your hometown municipal network. You, as a ratepayer, are like an owner! Think of what could happen if we ever lost Click. Remember the old days, when Tacoma was ignored by the giant monopoly that held us hostage with high prices and terrible service. Remember that Click! Network is your network and “We Want You!”

Truly Click! Network is green and growing. We look forward to bringing you amazing service, significant savings and blazing fast Internet speeds for years to come.

Sincerely,

Mitch
Mitchell Shook
CEO and Founder
Advanced Stream Broadband
253-627-8000
http://www.advancedstream.com

P.S. I am very proud to say that Plan-B, which brings Click to profitably by adding 6,000 customers, was calculated using Click’s own accounting formulas –which, as the TPU annual report says, "requires management to make estimates and assumptions that affect amounts reported in the financial statements and accompanying notes"