If you are considering a municipal fiber and/or wireless investment, you may find your community deluged with claims of muni broadband failures, particularly from outside groups you had not heard of before. Below, we have collected some of the common claims and reports opposing municipal networks. This resource sets the record straight.
Keeping the community well informed can prevent confusion and derail misinformation campaigns before they get started. Sometimes, despite best efforts, rumors and misinformation can still spread.
We’ll go over the many refutations to past industry studies and then consider responses to common claims. Below, we’ll discuss how misinformation starts and the 7 Do’s and Dont’s of correcting misinformation. Finally, check out the further reading on why misinformation is such a problem.
These are several great examples of how to respond to common claims about municipal broadband failures. We’ve compiled them all into one place for you too easily find what you need.
...to the 2017 Report from Professor Yoo at University of Pennsylvania
Community Fiber Fallacies: Yoo Discredits UPenn, Not Municipal Networks
By the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and Next Century Cities
In this report, we debunk an academic study from a University of Pennsylvania law school professor who used a poor methodology and purposefully ignored many benefits of municipal networks to critique municipal networks’ financial viability.
Professor Yoo’s Flawed Study Flunks Test on Municipal Broadband
By Joanne Hovis and Jim Baller of the Coalition for Local Internet Choice
In a short blog post, two industry experts dissect the anti-municipal broadband study from Professor Yoo at University of Pennsylvania. It is a brief overview of the most egregious errors in the paper.
New Report Swings and Misses on Communities and Next Generation Broadband
By Blair Levin at the Brookings Institution
The Former Executive Director of the National Broadband Plan, Blair Levin, also penned a response to Yoo's paper. Levin draws attention to the methodology and what the authors ignored, including past studies on property values and GDP.
New Report Attacking Municipal Broadband Thin on Facts, Heavy on Hypocrisy
By Phillip Dampier at Stop the Cap!
This article describes the controversy around the paper from Professor Yoo at the University of Pennsylvania. Phil Dampier encourages readers to follow the money to see who actually funds these criticisms of community networks.
Christopher Yoo's Municipal Broadband Report Misleads on Viability, Success of Municipal Fiber Networks
By Eric Null and Amir Nasr at New America
Null and Nasr focus on how the study's limitations lead to shaky conclusions and statistical insignificance. They further draw attention to the economic and social impact of these municipal networks, particularly the gains made in Lafayette, Louisiana.
...to the 2014 Davidson & Santorelli Report
By the Institute for Local Self-Reliance
This short piece identifies major errors and bias in a paper commonly cited as proof municipal networks regularly fail. Davidson and Santorelli get basic facts wrong, leave out crucial information, and seemed to have started with a strong bias against municipal networks. Our brief response summarizes the worst errors and explains why this paper is not a credible critique.
...to the 2016 Taxpayers Protection Alliance Map
Community Fiber Fallacies: Taxpayers Protection Alliance Edition
By the Institute for Local Self-Reliance
The Taxpayers Protection Alliance released a map full of questionable data on the supposed debt associated with each network. Our report breaks down the errors and shows how they got it all wrong. But worth noting, they ultimately admit fewer than 10 percent of networks failed.
Setting the Record Straight
By Mayor Gary Fuller of Opelika, Alabama
In a press release, Mayor Fuller tears apart the false claims of a news report based on the Taxpayers Protection Alliance map. “In summary, we are extremely proud of OPS ONE and are confident that it is well positioned for the future. The system is offering the fastest Internet service in the country at competitive prices.”
Broadband Facts: Cedar Falls’ Response to Taxpayers Protection Alliance
By Cedar Falls Utility in Iowa
Using a Frequently Asked Questions webpage format, Cedar Falls Utility explains where the misinformation is coming from and what the truth is. The utility describes how the municipal network benefits the community and has the numbers to prove it.
Anti-Muni Broadband Website: Fake News At Its Finest
By Curtis Dean, President of SmartSource Consulting
In a short article on the Broadband Bytes blog, Dean tackle some of the glaring problems on the Taxpayer Protection Alliance Foundation's map.
... to the 2014 Reason Foundation Report about Lafayette, Louisiana
Community Fiber Fallacies: The Reality of Lafayette’s Gigabit Network
By Institute for Local Self-Reliance
This report provides a side-by-side comparison of an academic study full of false claims and misleading statements. Christopher Mitchell annotates each page as he explains how the municipal network has improved quality of life and economic development in Lafayette, Louisiana. See how we respond to common misinformation about municipal networks.
Lafayette Pro Fiber Blog (Archived)
By John St. Julien in Lafayette, Louisiana
2004 – 2011
This blog presents information on the grassroots efforts that supported the municipal network Lafayette, Louisiana. The best way to combat misinformation is for the community to be empowered to make decisions on their own connected future.
... to general rumors
Oops! Comcast Called Out For Fabrications Concerning NextLight
By Lisa Gonzalez
This article points to an email exchange between the General Manager at NextLight in Longmont, Colorado, and the Senior Director of Government & Regulatory Affairs at Comcast. The General Manager refutes Comcast's claims out in the open.
Baller’s Library Responses to Industry Claims
By Baller, Stokes, & Lide
The law firm, Baller, Stokes, & Lide maintains a small collection of rebuttals. The work, but nevertheless provides excellent examples on how to respond to common misinformation.
Telco Lies and the Truth about Municipal Broadband Networks
By Ben Scott and Frannie Wellings at Free Press
This short report presents fact versus fiction on several municipal networks throughout the country. They don’t mince words in explaining how Big Telecom spreads misinformation among legislators.
Responses to Common Misinformation
“Is it a success/failure?”
To respond, take a moment to define what success and failure look like for a municipal network. When they claim that all municipal networks are failures, bring attention to how narrowly they define success and point to how the network accomplished community goals. Also, don’t assume the numbers used by critics are correct when discussing another community.
Example: In a press release, Setting the Record Straight, the Opelika mayor defended the community’s network from ridiculous claims by pointing to how Opelika has become a success thanks to the network encouraging economic development and job growth.
Example: TPA claimed that Rockport, Maine, had used $2.5 million taxpayer dollars to build the network. A total fabrication – they had spent $60,000 and consider it a very successful investment.
“What about the money?”
Another common complaint against municipal networks is taxpayer funding. Many municipal networks, however, do not rely on taxpayer dollars. But most use financing mechanisms without taxpayer subsidies, such as revenue bonds, small bank loans, or Tax Increment Financing.
Example: In Cedar Falls, Iowa, the utility responded to claims of financial failure with a quick statement: “The municipal electric, gas and water utilities did not take on debt to finance the broadband system upgrade.” They then dived into the details of how they actually financed their network.
Studies critiquing municipal networks are rarely peer-reviewed or reviewed in any sense. In fact, their methodology and arguments are often full of holes, and it’s quick to discredit them by pointing to just a few of the most egregious flaws in their papers.
Example: In Community Fiber Fallacies: the Reality of Lafayette’s Gigabit Network, the first thing we point out is that the author is unreliable: “... the sheer number of factual errors suggest that he is not an actual expert on this subject so much as someone who can appear to be an expert in order to fool media and policymakers.”
“The maps show…”
Maps are only as good as the data behind them, and the quality of much broadband data is pretty dismal. The Internet service providers themselves often supply the data. Most maps overstate the situation. Many maps don’t even touch on pricing information.
Example: We responded to a “boondoggle” map that was created by the Taxpayers Protection Alliance. He pointed out how the map was visually deceptive and overstated its findings. The map had 213 communities on it, but only 14 were actually “failures” according to the criteria.
Misinformation usually spreads in two ways. The local grapevine may misconstrue the details as folks debate the major investment. Meanwhile, big telephone and cable companies may deliberately encourage false information and rumors through “astroturfing.” Here’s how to avoid these problems.
The Local Grapevine
This misinformation is based on people’s perception and previous knowledge. Keeping the community involved in the process of developing a network is a good remedy. Local folks spreading this misinformation often mean well, but they don’t’ have all the facts.
You don’t have to be an advocate for one particular policy, but be clear that you are available to answer questions. Stop the confusion with facts.
Astroturfing from Big Telecom
This is when a large organization presents information as if it’s coming from the local community. One example of this was a group in Longmont, Colorado, called Look Before We Leap. They maintained a website full of misinformation up until the day of the election. Big telecom lobbyists spent more than $400,000 trying to oppose Longmont’s network. The community, however, recognized that this was coming from outside and didn’t have local support.
Misinformation can be beaten. Longmont, Colorado, is now home to a high-speed Fiber-to-the-Home network after defeating an astroturf campaign in 2011.
1. Don’t repeat the false information, especially without context
Studies have debated whether there is any value in repeating incorrect information in order to refute it. There’s concern about the “continued influence effect,” the idea that a fact still impacts how we perceive a situation even after it’s been discredited. Repetition also can lodge the false fact further into memory than the newly-introduced truth: the truth is then more easily forgotten. Instead, reframe it.
Claim: All municipal networks fail.
Response: Most of the communities that have built their own networks have seen tremendous benefits, from job growth to lower prices and more investment from providers.
2. Don’t be dismissive
Explain what is actually happening without being confrontational. Psychologists have called attention to a “backfire effect.” People cling to a misguided belief even more strongly after being presented with evidence to the contrary. We readily accept information that already fits within our belief and value system, and we reject evidence that undermines our value system. Try not to trigger this backfire effect when engaging with people by finding ways that the truth already supports their values.
Claim: Local governments shouldn’t be in this private business.
Response: I can see why you would say that and I agree that there are proper limits for government. However, in the face of major market failure when it comes to an essential utility, we have to do something. 100 years of municipal electricity have led to better markets overall and demonstrated that the right investments can be very helpful.
3. Don’t stretch the truth
It should go without saying that you should also avoid giving out false or misleading information. When correcting others, you also need to maintain your own credibility. If you stretch the truth now, then few will be likely to believe you in the future. If you don’t know the answer to something, feel free to refer to Next Century Cities or MuniNetworks.org for more information. Let us know if you don’t know how to answer specific questions.
4. Don’t give false information a bigger platform
If no one is talking about some incorrect piece of information, chances are that you shouldn’t talk about it either. Respond to false claims that are getting a lot of press coverage or are derailing your work, but you don’t have to respond to everything.
5. Do be a resource
Know what you are talking about and be clear that you are willing to share. The more forthcoming you are, the more people will be able to approach you with questions that they may have developed from all the rumors and false claims.
6. Do be clear and concise
It’s important that you make your point in a way that everyone around you can understand. The longer you drone on, the less people will listen.
7. Do focus on your own narrative
Offer a counter-narrative to the false claims. Although it’s important to debunk specific rumors and false claims, it’s also important that your message does not get lost.
Those are the 7 do's and don'ts of correcting misinformation.
Now, this is an advanced move:
Don’t shy away from controversy, but exercise caution when weighing in on an argument. Make sure all your facts are in order and that you can handle this. Controversy can lead to more people becoming aware of the issue and getting involved.
“Why We Fall Prey to Misinformation.” Northwestern University. August 2016.
“Can Repeating False Information Help People Remember True Information.” NPR. May 2017, based on “Reminders & Repetition of Misinformation: Helping or Hindering its Retraction?” Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition. March 2017.
“Winning Arguments: Interaction Dynamics and Persuasion Strategies in Good-faith Online Discussions.” Cornell University. February 2016.
Image of Communication Network from Gerd Altmann on Pixabay. Creative Commons CC0 Public Domain.
Image of tree roots from Linda Roy Photography on Public Domain Pictures. Creative Commons CC0 Public Domain.