City staff reports not everybody has adequate internet participate in remote meetings, but Council continues to close the meetings anyway – all the while discussing ways to raise our taxes

22 Jan

In the early 2000’s, the phone company came through our mid-Chico neighborhood, replacing the phone lines. They were out there for about two weeks, our service was interrupted, and we were able to chat with them about what was going on. The senior technician told me, “people all over this town are paying for internet, but they’re not getting it.” He said the phone lines were over 50 years old, and starting to crumble. He said we were lucky to get phone service.

Well, now that he had mentioned it, we realized – since we had moved into that house in 2001, we’d immediately found that we got better reception for our phone in the front yard. We also noticed that many of our neighbors would stand in their front yards, talking on their cell phones. It was an “a-HA!” moment.

We were new to internet, it hadn’t occurred to us – our internet would be out for days at a time, and we just figured that was par for the course.

Here we are, 2022, and it hasn’t changed much. We have better phone service, but our internet is still sketchy, we’ve had to learn to turn devices on and off to reconnect. I found out how weak it really is when I tried to participate in Zoom meetings after the city closed meetings to the public in 2020. I just couldn’t get into the meetings a lot of the time, and while staff was sympathetic, they couldn’t help me – they don’t run the internet.

When I tried to “attend” a Finance Committee meeting last year, I was unable to get in. I called the clerk on my phone as instructed, but neither she nor the IT guy could get me in. When they informed committee members via email (which is funny, they could get my emails but I couldn’t get into the meeting), Randall Stone was the only member who seemed concerned. Meanwhile, Sean Morgan observed, “she must have poor internet...” – as if that was my fault?

Fast forward to Mark Orme’s scheme to sell us internet service. Orme is planning to use COVID relief money to get into the internet business – $4.8 million – telling us he can offer it at a more affordable rate. While I don’t understand the mechanics of this proposal, it’s very clear – staff and council know we don’t all have equal access, but they keep closing the meetings and telling us we can “participate” via Zoom.

https://www.actionnewsnow.com/news/local/chico-city-council-unanimously-votes-to-approve-the-interim-broadband-master-plan-moving-closer-to/article_adcd2f6a-8a18-52e2-bd9b-bbb1665c40a2.html

According to the city’s consultant ($$$$), there’s not only gaps in service, it’s based on how much you can pay. So they are shutting out people who could least afford all the taxes they are bringing up in their closed meetings.

“There are gaps in affordability in Chico and there are gaps in service availability meaning that it is not ubiquitous. There are different pricings and different availabilities in different areas of town based on the infrastructure available,” said EntryPoint Networks Solution Services Director Bruce Patterson.

That’s right, “based on the infrastructure available…” So yes, we’ve been paying for service we don’t get, and with Staff’s knowledge.

Patterson says the average person pays per megabit is around 70 cents but says he’s seen cities using this same model that people pay as little as 3 cents per megabit.

And here finance director Scott Dowell admits those of us who don’t have good internet are “at a disadvantage…” This isn’t what they said when I was struggling to get into that meeting.

“You are at a disadvantage if you do not have a speedy, reliable internet service. We’re almost shifting the concept that, shouldn’t we treat internet service as a utility that everyone should have access to at a reasonable price?” says Dowell during a phone interview with KRCR Tuesday morning.

I’m fed up with the closed meetings. When I complained to my district rep, Kasey Reynolds, she just shrugged it off. “We discussed meetings last night, we will be having the next two by zoom (while the Governor has indoor mask mandate still) then returning to in person meetings. Trust me I would rather be in person too i hate zoom!

She has obviously heard the consultant’s report regarding the state of our internet infrastructure and service, but she unapologetically tells me that meetings will remain closed for another month, while they put the tax measure on the ballot. Having hired a consultant with taxpayer money already, in closed meetings. I’d like to see the screen door bust her right across the ass next November, but I don’t have the money to run against her, I’m hoping some good candidate will step forward. We’ll see.

So I did what I usually do, I wrote a letter to the editor.

As the city of Chico uses taxpayer money to pursue a sales tax increase measure, discusses a consumption-based sewer tax, and anticipates a state-wide rental tax, they continue to work in meetings closed to the public. Staff and council claim the meetings are available on Zoom, even while acknowledging that internet service in Chico is not equitable.

According to the city’s consultant, “There are gaps in affordability in Chico and there are gaps in service availability meaning that it is not ubiquitous… based on the infrastructure available.”

When I tried to participate in a morning Finance Committee meeting via Zoom last year, I made it clear to Staff and committee members that I was not able to sign into the meeting, it kept cutting out. Sean Morgan observed, “she must have poor internet.” But the meeting went on anyway.

Council and Staff are well aware that Chicoans do not have equal access to internet, but they continue to close meetings to the public. Furthermore, committee meetings, even though it is possible, are not recorded for further viewing. When one member of the public asked about this, the clerk informed him that is not required. That is council’s decision.

Furthermore, council and committee members are allowed to review and redact anything they do not want in the minutes, keeping the minutes held up for months at a time.

Taxation without representation – the quandary of a populace that is required by law to pay taxes but has no say in the matter.

Juanita Sumner, Chico CA

 

2 Responses to “City staff reports not everybody has adequate internet participate in remote meetings, but Council continues to close the meetings anyway – all the while discussing ways to raise our taxes”

  1. Scott Rushing January 22, 2022 at 2:17 pm #

    Another interesting and revealing article Juanita. The most alarming fact you revealed is that the city committee meetings can, and should be, posted online, but the council has chosen not to do so. One of the arguments I have with Chico PD is their lack of transparency. In my opinion, the taxpayer should be able to sit in on all meetings virtually and personally per COVID rules, since the meetings are funded solely by the taxpayer.

    • Juanita Sumner January 23, 2022 at 5:48 am #

      Thanks Scott – sounds familiar – sound the alarm, through every middlesex village and farm…

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