From critic of municipal broadband to business partner

Tacoma News-Tribune editorial

Times do change. Pierce County telecom entrepreneur Brian “Skip” Haynes once hated the very idea of Tacoma Power’s Click!Network.

Now his rapidly growing company, Rainier Connect, is using the utility’s fiber-optic network to expand its business and is building a new headquarters in Tacoma’s Brewery District.

The irony is not lost on the folks at Tacoma Power, although there was no trace of it in the announcement by Click! last week. The news: Rainier Connect, the 98-year-old, family-owned firm formerly known as Mashell Telecom, has signed to become the fourth private company, or ISP, providing broadband Internet services via cable modem to Click! customers.

Rainier Connect has been using the city’s fiber-optic network since 2001 to provide phone and data service.

No small irony here. Back in 1996, when the City Council debated whether to allow Tacoma Power to build the network and provide a cable-TV alternative to widely detested cable monopoly Viacom (later TCI, now Comcast), Haynes objected loudly.

Haynes authored an oped piece for The News Tribune arguing that government had no business competing with private telecom companies. But Viacom’s reputation for lousy service was so bad that the public clamored for any reasonable alternative to the cable monopoly, even if it was Tacoma Power. The council vote was unanimous.

There’s no disgrace in Rainier Connect’s new hookup with Click! Network. The company, based in Eatonville for most of its history, has prospered serving the rural market and built a reputation for responsive service. It was one of the first small, independent firms to take advantage of telecom deregulation to offer “bundled” products.

Now Haynes and Rainier Connect are ready to compete with Comcast and the three ISPs that operate over the Click! Network. And the winners are the Click! customers who have far more telecom alternatives to choose from than most U.S. consumers.

We haven’t talked to Haynes lately. But he probably would admit that he never foresaw the competitive opportunities that Click! ultimately opened up for his own business.

Times do change.

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