It's spring time in the Tn-Cities, which means it's time for two things to pop up:
daffodils and the push for a municipally owned and operated broadband network. Although I love the daffodils' blooms, I can't say the same for the broadband arguments. Because broadband
proponents seem intent on pushing an idea that voters soundly rejected nearly one year ago, it's probably as good a time as any to start asking some tough questions about the proposed system.
First, in spite of some recently published articles that extol the success of these city-owned systems, the truth is somewhat less rosy. According to the research I've done, the number of profitable municipal ventures is near zero. This includes some of the networks proponents have been touting as winners.
Many of these conclusions are contained in a 31-page study that I don't have the space to reproduce here.
However, anyone who wants a copy can get it the same place I got mine: from a report referenced on the Web site of “Fiber For Our Future,” the main group behind the pro-municipal broadband movement. A bit of an “Oops!” on their part, I guess you could say.
I also think the public has the right to know what and who are behind the drive to construct the broadband network. Why is this so important to a small group of people that they have spent years trying to get the rest of us to go along? Who are these folks, and what do they stand to gain if the network is completed? If it is all for purely altruistic reasons, that's great. However, if there are ties —financial, spousal, or political - that haven't been revealed, now is the time for them to do so voluntarily before it's done for them.
Judging from my e-mail and phone calls, most of you either don't care about this issue or figure your “no” vote last spring was the final word. Oh, that it were so. I, too, thought last year's resounding thumping of the idea was enough to put an end to it, but it looks like we were wrong. The people behind the municipal broadband concept aren't going to go away anytime soon, so it's time for us to demand they backup their claims, and explain just why it's so important to force this on the over 60 percent of voters who have said they don't like the idea.
You asked - we answer.
In a recent opinion column in this newspaper, Bill Page said "it's
probably as good a time as any to start asking some tough questions
about the proposed system." He was referring to the proposed
municipal utility that could be jointly built, owned and operated
by the Tri-Cities to provide fiber-optic broadband services to our
Since we are the citizen group (Fiber For Our Future) that supports
the proposal, Mr. Page's questions are directed at us. So, here
are his questions followed by our answers.
1) "The number of
profitable (emphasis ours) municipal ventures is near zero."
Right. Municipal utilities are not big business. They are required
to operate at break-even. Like our electrical utility. What Mr.
Page overlooks is that none of the municipal utilities have failed.
None of them have resulted in higher taxes. The fact that they have
not been profitable is immaterial.
2) Mr. Page says he got
his facts from a 31-page study "referenced on the Web site
of Fiber For Our Future." He thinks this is an "oops."
Our Web site, www.tricitybroadband.com, has links to many papers,
studies, articles, ads, etc. We're not sure which one he is referring
to here, but we are not at all afraid of printing opposing opinions.
In fact, we feel it is very important for us to address the so-called
facts that are often found in these publications. So we include
them in their entirety. Thinking that we are stupid or unwilling
to address the opposition is the real "oops."
3) "I also think the
public has the right to know what and who are behind the drive to
construct the broadband network."
You bet! No secret here. Fiber for our Future is a citizen group
of ordinary, typical individuals who live in Batavia, Geneva and
St. Charles -- some old, some young, some men, some women, some
geeks, some not, some conservatives, some liberals. All the information
about the group and a list of supporters is prominently featured
on our Web site. Our meetings are public and the dates and times
are posted on the Web site. No conspiracies here.
4) "Why is this so
important to a small group of people that they have spent years
trying to get the rest of us to go along?"
Well, it has been a little over one year since the group came together
in January 2003. And we did spend some time prior to the referendum
vote last year trying to get the word out about this issue. But
we were slightly outmanned and outspent by SBC and Comcast who spent
hundreds of thousands of dollars to defeat this. Wouldn't a better
question be "Why is this so important to SBC and Comcast that
they have spent a fortune trying to get us not to go along?"
5) "Who are these
folks and what do they stand to gain if the network is completed?"
Already answered who we are, here's a few things we hope to gain:
A state-of-the-art fiber optic
broadband network that provides a fat pipe network at the speed
of light for less than we are paying right now for inferior services.
Local control (like with our
An attraction for new business
and benefits for existing businesses.
Real competition for the monopolistic
incumbent service providers (Comcast and SBC).
But here's what Mr. Page really wanted to know --
6) "If it is all for
purely altruistic reasons, that's great. However, if there are ties
-- financial, spousal, or political -- that haven't been revealed,
now is the time for them to do so voluntarily before it's done for
Wow. That sounds like a threat. So go ahead, reveal!
The people in this group live and work in our community in a
variety of capacities. Not a single person in this group has any
"tie" that hasn't been revealed. There are a lot of
geeks in this group, naturally. It's the kind of issue that appeals
to geeks! Some of them work for and/or own technology-related
businesses in this area. Not one of those businesses has any kind
of a deal either hinted at or spoken of that would be a financial
"tie." But every one of them would love to see our area
become a hub for fiber optic broadband. It could only benefit
all of us, including any technology-related businesses in the
area. If a municipal fiber optic network is installed in our area
you better believe there are a lot of geeks out there who hope
it results in more jobs, more work, more businesses moving into
the area, etc. But none of us has any kind of a deal going. However,
if you hear of a deal out there, let us know. We'd all like to
bid on it!
Um… spousal ties? You mean… husbands and wives can't
both be supporters of this issue? Or do you just mean specifically
the chairperson, Annie Collins? Because her husband Peter Collins
is the information systems manager for the city of Geneva? Did
you think that was a secret? This is the 21st century, right?
Wives are allowed to have opinions?
Support local causes? Is Annie doing this because it could somehow
benefit Pete? He's already at the highest level he can go in the
city in his field of expertise. And he's not qualified to run
the broadband network, if it gets built, if that's what you're
hinting at. A municipal fiber optic network is not going to benefit
his career. There's no agenda there.
And you should check Annie's resume. She has a track record of
volunteerism that she deserves to be quite proud of. She has spent
her time and efforts on many notable causes in Batavia and the
Tri-Cities. And if you're thinking she's kind of a mouthpiece
for her husband on this issue… well, you just don't know
Annie. She's not anyone's mouthpiece.
Political ties -- Like the three mayors who supported the broadband
referendum last year? Like the city councils who favored it? They
are our local politicians, is that to whom you're referring? The
issue was defeated at the polls last year as you so graciously
point out, in case we hadn't noticed.
Even though most of our local politicians support the concept,
they might be somewhat shy about publicly supporting it again
this year. It's a political hot potato of sorts, thanks to SBC
So who would benefit politically? Of course, if this municipal
utility gets built it will be quite successful, so the local politicians
who were in office when it got passed might claim some responsibility.
But it would be fabulous if you would devote some time to exposing
the political ties that exist between SBC and Comcast and our
elected officials in Springfield. There's some political ties
7) "…it's time
for us to demand they back up their claims, and explain just why
it's so important to force this on the over 60 percent of voters
who have said they don't like the idea."
Happy to back up the claims! Would love to get the word out to
everyone! Just read the feasibility study. Just look at what's happening
all around the country with municipal broadband. We're not "claiming"
anything. We're simply trying to get the word out. The truth. Because
we believe that the 60 percent of the voters who voted no last year
did so mainly because SBC and Comcast convinced them that it would
raise their taxes, that it would benefit only a few, and that it
SBC and Comcast were so worried that it would succeed that they
spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and lied… and lied…
and lied to make sure it got defeated. Talk about forcing 60 percent
of the voters!
Well, they got what they wanted. They convinced people that passing
this referendum would raise taxes. And they pretended to care about
how much money we taxpayers shell out. Till they won. Then they
raised rates -- how many times now? -- and cut back on services.
They say they welcome competition but they charge such exorbitant
rates to their competitors for use of their wire that the competition
can't make money. And now they want to make it illegal for municipalities
to have a local utility. But they welcome competition.
Mr. Page mentions the e-mails and phone calls he gets… well
we also get a lot of e-mails and phone calls. And so have all three
city offices -- from a lot of voters who are sorry the referendum
was defeated last year. Because they now see Comcast and SBC for
what they really are.