We have been closely following the referendum in Longmont, Colorado, that will allow the local government to use an existing fiber loop to sell telecommunications services to the private sector and residents.
Comcast and CenturyLink are opposed because local businesses would have more choices for broadband services -- which would require Comcast and CenturyLink to actually invest in their offerings rather than simply collecting the benefits of a de facto monopoly. It is more profitable for them to invest in astroturf opposition to the referendum than in their physical infrastructure.
When this came up previously, Comcast and its allies spent an unprecedented $245,000 to defeat it by confusing and lying to voters. This time around, big cable may outdo itself. It looks like Comcast and anti-competition allies in the Colorado Cable Telecommunications Association have already spent some $239,000 [pdf] in glossy mailers and phone calls and door knockers to scare Longmont's voters into defeating the 2A ballot initiative.
The Comcast-sponsored Vote No group is called "Look Before We Leap and has already been busted for lying about the Mayor's position on the referendum, claiming he supported their position when he has been emphatically on the record in support of 2A. In fact, his challenger in the Mayoral race also supports 2A, as detailed here in the statements from both candidates on the issue.
So who exactly is "Look Before We Leap?" They cannot point to any real local support in the community. The web site is registered to "Melisa Kotecki Schlote" of a PR firm, Public Persuasion that lists both Comcast and the Colorado Cable and Telecommunications Association as clients (with a testimonial from Comcast). But she is out of Denver, not Longmont.
The Vote-No phone calls that direct people to "Look Before We Leap" are filled with lies about the experience of other communities that have built full networks -- which is not even what Longmont is proposing to do. When pressed, the callers have claimed they are "volunteering" their time and refusing to divulge who pays them. A letter to the editor of the Times Call reports on one experience with the calls:
At 5:30 p.m. Sept. 24, I received a call from a listing called FAX GLOBAL 303-648-4835. An older woman began telling me that a yes vote for 2A was a mistake because 80 percent of cities that have done this failed. I asked who was sponsoring this call and she said it was volunteers. I asked who was paying for the equipment and got the runaround. I asked if the call center was in Longmont and she hung up. I dialed back and got a fax tone. The phone is a land line in south metro Denver.
Hard to imagine why anyone is volunteering to call people in another town and lie to them about a referendum.
The letter writer goes on to discuss the absurdity of Comcast's position that a yes vote is a risk for the community:
If I have a building that is paid for (as is the fiber-optic network) and is one-third rented and have the opportunity to rent the empty space and the renter goes bust, I have made money with little expense.
The grassroots groups supporting the initiative seem to have spent substantially less -- far less than even 1% of what Comcast is dropping to maintain its monopoly on fast broadband. But they are springing for pizza at a Vote Yes on 2A event next Friday.
We have an event scheduled for Friday, October 21st, from 3:00pm to 8:00pm at Left Hand Brewery in Longmont. We want to encourage the public to stop by and see high-tech displays showing what YES on ballot issue 2A COULD mean to them.
There is also a meeting tonight where the Longmont Tea Party will discuss the referendum. It will be curious to see who they side with -- the distant mega-corporations overcharging them for telecom or the local government that is directly accountable to the voters.