Time was, the Portland Business Alliance was called the Association for Portland Progress.
It's a good thing they changed their name; otherwise, judging by the group's reaction to a plan that would drag the city kicking and screaming into the 21st century, the cognitive dissonance coming from the PBA's headquarters would have flattened downtown's skyscrapers.
In the past couple of years, City Commissioner Dan Saltzman's office has been working on an idea that would bring a fiber-optic network to the city, which would provide unprecedented broadband access to homes and businesses. It would give Portland a chance to compete with other cities for businesses that have massive broadband needs—which the city is currently unable to meet—instead of sending those companies to other, more tech-friendly cities. Plus, it would open up the market to a ton of internet service providers, who would compete with each other for customers.
But in an ironic twist you might have already seen coming, the Portland Business Alliance (PBA) has come out swinging against the idea. At a PBA meeting a couple of weeks ago, Saltzman and his chief of staff, Brendan Finn, presented the $500 million plan, only to be strenuously shot down.
"Their argument was that government shouldn't get involved in building a fiber-optic network, that this isn't a place for government to work," says Finn.
And yet? Modern government has always been in on this kind of work, building roads, regulating (and sometimes running) utilities, and even building and operating airports.
So if a fiber network would lead to more, better, and higher-tech businesses coming to—and staying in—the city, why would the PBA, the one organization most dedicated to advancing business, vehemently oppose the plan? Could it be that the organization is heavily influenced by representatives from Qwest and Comcast, who are more concerned about maintaining their own broadband monopolies than advancing the pro-business cause?
Their knee-jerk opposition to the idea highlights an increasing belief among many city leaders and politicos that the PBA has largely grown as irrelevant as their only unwavering supporter on city council—Tom Potter—claims to be. Does it matter that the PBA hates the idea of a city-sponsored fiber network? Probably not.
In mostly unrelated news, this will be my last column for the Mercury, as I'm leaving to take on An Exciting New Challenge™. This space will be taken over by my talented, soon-to-be-former colleague, Amy J. Ruiz. I'm extraordinarily proud of the work we've done here, but, as they say, all good things must come to an end.