Darrell Steinbundy: Sacramento Salesman Extraordinaire

Above photoshop art by @SHRIMPCOSBY (this picture is just a joke, folks)

What if I told you I can give you free internet, all over Sacramento, that will improve the quality of life for all residents while reducing costs for the city? And it won’t cost you a penny. Is that something you might be interested in? The latest from SacSnark, with contributions from Elliot Stevenson:

The City of Sacramento has a new best friend: Verizon.

Mayor Steinberg cut a sweet deal with the telecom giant to give us free WiFi and kiosks in the City, in exchange for streamlined permitting and free cell phone tower leases. As part of the deal, Verizon–known for “enhancing” their own customers’ data and participating in the National Security Agency-ordered surveillance of its users–will have full access to Sacramentans’ information from their public internet use.

Steinberg and his friends at Sacramento City Hall turned down a similar deal with a local company, anyComm, in favor of the corporate behemoth.

On Tuesday, June 6, the Sacramento City Council bypassed a council-mandated 10-day waiting period for publicly posting contracts and then unanimously approved this deal. The ease with which Steinberg streamlined this contract and suspended Council’s rules of procedure contrasts sharply with the contempt with which he addresses homeless initiatives presented by advocates to the city.

The primary purpose of this Strategic Joint Development Agreement is to hand over Sacramento-owned infrastructure, allow Verizon to enhance their existing 4G network throughout the region, and create a new–and supposedly super fast–5G network.

The cellular network currently available in much of Sacramento is 4G. If you bought a smartphone within the last couple years this is what you already use. But this agreement only specifies an initial 98 4G small cells, and eventually another 101 4G small cells installed. The agreement states that, “Verizon also intends to install 5G small cells,” but we have no idea how many there will be or how much of the city will actually have 5G coverage.

In exchange for using the city’s cellular infrastructure for free and getting 10 years of streamlined permitting for installing their equipment for this project, Verizon has committed to installing Wi-Fi in some 27 of the city’s 226 parks for up to five years, and 15 kiosks along K street, in select parks and civic centers. The kiosks will have Wi-Fi and will “offer citizen engagement, public service announcements, educational messaging, Art, Wi-Fi, and advertising.” After that, the city would have the option to extend the agreement in exchange for 20 percent of advertising revenue from kiosks and Wi-Fi.

At an estimated $100 million investment on the part Verizon, this may seem like a pretty good deal for Sacramento:

  • We become one of only 11 cities in the country with Verizon’s super-fast 5G network (which could entice the autonomous car industry, whom Steinberg and his buddy from the Greater Sacramento Economic Council, Barry Broome, have pitched since he took office last December. Remember #Sac2thefuture?).
  • Verizon has committed to providing at least five, but maybe as many as 20, internships per year to young residents over the next five years.
  • Some 27 parks in the city get Wi-Fi (don’t worry yuppies, Land and McKinley parks are already confirmed) and 15 internet-capable kiosks for which the city is responsible for maintaining.
  • Improved public transit. However, in response to an inquiry from the authors, Sacramento Regional Transit says that it has no role in the new partnership with Verizon, so it’s anyone’s guess as to how they are going to improve public transit without RT.
  • For two years, at no cost to the city, Verizon will assist with improving public safety at 15 key intersections by collecting data “via enhanced video analytics,” (yes, Verizon will be watching us) as well as using advanced signal controls to manage traffic flows at 12 intersections.

For all of this, Steinberg only made us give up $2 million in infrastructure leases for the next 10 years! This is an estimate that if Verizon were to actually pay for all the permits and leases that are required of anyone else to install this equipment, they would pay about $2 million to the city. So for free, Verizon will install small cell sites (those grey boxes on telephone poles and streetlights), connecting them with underground fiber optic cable. But what is the real trade-off?

Since 2010 Verizon has been fined over $370 million for violations of various telecommunications laws (like hidden fees for their customers), complaints of employment discrimination and labor relations violations, and using “supercookies” to track their customers. Included in these fines is almost $93 million for overcharging the U.S. government.

But maybe Verizon won’t try stealing from our city since they donated the maximum amount to Mayor Steinberg’s past two electoral campaigns ($2,300 from his Lt. Governor campaign, another $1,000 for his mayoral bid).

The Federal Communications Commission also argued that Verizon violated net neutrality laws, but rescinded the claim soon after Trump took office. Why wouldn’t Verizon pull this same shady shit on their fancy, new 5G network, for which Sacramentans will sign up in droves?

Nothing in the contract restricts or prevents Verizon from taking advantage of the data and information they collect from their services to the city. In fact, Sacramento “grants to Verizon a non-exclusive, sub-licensable right to store, use, reproduce, make available, modify, display and store [sic] (digitally or otherwise) City Data, solely for its internal business purposes, and to fulfill its obligations under this Agreement.”

Also, “Verizon may store City Data collected pursuant to the provision of the Services under this Agreement, so long as such data has been de-identified with respect to the City and is therefore no longer considered City Data.”

Sweet. Hopefully they will remove our social security numbers and addresses before sharing our data with the NSA, using it to sell us shit, or selling it to a third party. Nothing to worry about!

Maybe it’s cool that our data and personal information will get sold to advertisers and marketing firms. Steinberg seems like a nice guy. Lots of folks already have Verizon phones and internet, and most of us have nothing to hide. We’re downloading movies, swiping left and streaming Carly Rae Jepsen on Spotify all at the same time–a fine trade-off for this new technology.

Why did Verizon get this contract? They chose Sacramento out of a ton of different cities, primarily because of Steinberg’s pitch for the deal. However, the city had supposedly been in talks since January for a similar wireless network and partnership with an El Dorado Hills-based company, anyComm, who would have partnered with Siemens.

The CEO of anyComm spoke at the June 6 city council meeting when the Verizon deal was passed and voiced displeasure with the circumvention of the 10-day waiting period. He said the deal they were close to proposing included profit-sharing and was an overall better deal for the city.

The City Council Rules of Procedure require “all labor agreements and all agreements greater than $1,000,000 shall be posted on the city’s website and be made available to the public at least 10 days prior to council action.”

The contract was only posted for five days, and this rule was suspended because council is going on vacation in three weeks, and a federal transportation grant application due soon would benefit from having this partnership with Verizon included.

Don’t worry though, one of the Guiding Principles of the Collaboration of the Partnership is to develop a “Public Input Process!”

How will this affect residents who don’t use Verizon, since this deal creates a de facto Verizon monopoly on 5G cellular data within the city? The agreement states that the city and Verizon will “identify key areas within Sacramento that benefit the community, and enable cost effective deployment of smart city services and networks and ensure digital equity,” which sounds okay, but poorer communities don’t have ready access to devices that can use this network. Only 64 percent of those who make less than $30,000 a year have a smart phone, and the percentage of those with the means of obtaining a 5G-capable device is undoubtedly much lower.

Additionally, there is nothing in the contract that caps what Verizon can charge for their service, so unless there are magic subsidies for 5G plans, it is unlikely that many residents will be on the network, unless of course one of the 15 kiosks are placed near their place of work, school or home.  

There is still a lot we don’t know about this deal and how it will all play out for Steinbundy and the city. Stay tuned to Voices and keep an eye out for updates.


Sac Snark on EmailSac Snark on Twitter
Sac Snark
Formerly a pain-in-the-ass on Twitter, Mr. Snark brings his act to VOICES: to continue pissing people off in the city we all love.