By DAN CHANZIT
reprinted by permission from the Kane County Chronicle
© 2003 Kane County Chronicle
GENEVA —Comcast and SBC lied to residents and misrepresented
themselves in recent telephone surveys that asked about broadband
services, Tri-Cities officials charged Thursday.
The telephone survey comes just more than one month before Tri-Cities
residents will consider allowing Batavia, Geneva and St. Charles
to borrow more than $53 million to create their own broadband company
to compete with Comcast and SBC.
Pollsters this week asked Batavia, Geneva and St. Charles residents
to rate the quality of their local government officials and their
satisfaction with Internet services. Some callers said the Tri-Cities
paid for the survey.
"That is a lie," Geneva Mayor Kevin Burns said. "I
expect a written explanation. Someone is misleading our community."
Broadband is a general term for Internet, telephone and cable
television service. The Tri-Cities believe they can offer better
service and more choices for less money than private industry.
St. Charles Fifth Ward Alderman David Richards said he took the
survey. Richards, who works in marketing communications and advertising,
said it was designed to sway his opinion.
"The questions were very, very loaded ," Richards said.
"If you listen to them, there's only one way you can respond
to them. It's a very well-constructed survey."
SBC and Comcast officials said they launched independent studies
to gather voter information for the April 1 election. They denied
the questions were misleading and written to elicit a specific response.
Both companies refused to provide copies of the survey.
"We are trying to get some demographic information, and the
likelihood of customers subscribing to our services and intent to
participate in the upcoming election," said Pat Andrews-Keenan,
Comcast vice president of communications.
SBC spokeswoman Andrea Brands said her company is trying to protect
She said the company spent $62 million to bring broadband service
to 62 percent of Batavia, 93 percent of St. Charles and 100 percent
"We have quite a bit of saturation, but the take from consumers
has not been that great," Brands said. "We are puzzled.
Like any good business, we want to know what's going on."
However, Tri-Cities officials charged the telecommunication giants
intentionally worded the questions and timed the survey to confuse
"People are being totally misinformed about the entire issue
because of this survey," Richards said. "Obviously, somebody
doesn't want the competition."
Batavia City Administrator Bill McGrath said the city received
"Some of our residents are concerned with the tone of some
of the questions asked, and some were led to believe the survey
was being conducted by one or all of the three cities," McGrath
Batavia Mayor Jeff Schielke was contacted for the survey at his
"They asked me what I thought of the mayor and city council,"
Schielke said. "I rated myself very high.
"By asking about the mayor and the council, they obviously
are trying to find out who they have out there in their corner,"
"There was never any identification offered as to who it
was doing the survey. My caller ID on the telephone showed nothing,
which made me think somebody had control over that technology."
Burns said Geneva City Council members called him after they answered
"They stupidly told the council members they were doing the
survey for Mayor Kevin Burns and the Geneva City Council,"
Officials for the company conducting the Comcast survey refused
"We have confidentiality agreements with our clients, and
we are not allowed to discuss our surveys," said Jill Lemke,
a senior analyst for C&R Research of Chicago.
Operators for Solutions in Surveys of Phoenixville, Pa., placed
"We really have no idea what the survey is about," said
Ellen Ruppe, who manages the Phoenixville office. "We are just
a phone room. We get the phone numbers at random, and the calls
are going to Geneva and Batavia."
Brands said the SBC study was conducted by a different Chicago
firm, but she declined to identify which one. The calls were placed
by a call center in suburban Chicago, she said.
Contributing: Mark Foster and Janna Smallwood.
HERE ARE SOME OF THE QUESTIONS:
The following are questions one survey company
asks about the broadband initiative. The call emanated from Spokane,
- Will you vote in the April 1 election?
- Do you believe your community is heading in the right direction?
- How do you feel about the following names and businesses? Comcast,
Mayor Kevin Burns, SBC, Mayor Susan Klinkhamer, Mayor Jeff Schielke,
- How would you rate the job performance of your government utility?
- Do you have Internet access?
- Who is your ISP provider?
- Are you satisfied with your ISP provider?
- Do you believe high-speed Internet access is important?
- Did you know that AT&T Broadband & SBC offer high-speed
Internet access to most businesses in your community?
- Do you support the TriCities broadband proposal that will
appear on the April 1 ballot?
- How would you rate your AT&T broadband service?
- How would you rate SBC customer service?
- Do you believe local government can provide better customer
What is your opinion on the following statements:
- AT&T Broadband can't be trusted to provide service at an
- Taxpayers should not invest more than $20 million on Internet
service when two private companies provide that same service.
- Is it appropriate to spend 62 million for broadband service
when two private companies already provide that service?
- Are private companies better prepared to offer high-speed
Internet access, telephone and cable service than local government?
Are the following reasons persuasive to vote "Yes" in
the upcoming referendum:
Are the following reasons persuasive to vote "No" in
the upcoming referendum:
- All taxpayers might pay higher taxes for only a few users.
- The proposed plan creates a large expensive and inefficient
bureaucracy like that of Amtrak and the Post Office.
- Do you believe local schools will have to cut teaching staff,
increase class sizes and eliminate after school programs
because the Tri-Cities broadband referendum competes with existing
- Should tax money be allowed to provide pornographic movies
- Do you believe, if the broadband proposal fails, there would
not be money to spend on transportation and educational needs?
- Would a government broadband invade privacy and allow the government
to listen to your telephone conversations, monitor the Internet
sites you visit and know what cable shows you watch?
Would the following questions make you more or less likely to
support Tri-Cities broadband:
- The technology local government would use would be obsolete
in a few years therefore requiring another bond issuance later.
- The government plan requires property taxes to increase if
30 percent of the households do not immediately sign up for service.
- Because private company offers broadband service there is no
need for government to provide the same service.
Now after listening to the previous questions, do you support
or oppose the government broadband plan?
The questions also include inquiries about your age, political
party affiliation, and if you describe yourself as a liberal, conservative