The Fundamentally Unlevel Playing Field in Referendums

A recent article from GovPro.com, "Cities make end run around data network obstructions," has a good discussion of why referendums are not a good way of ascertaining community support for a community network:

A 2005 Colorado law bans municipalities from providing any type of advanced telecommunications services unless more than 50 percent of the voters favor the plan. Longmont's ballot question asked voters to allow the city to provide services either directly or in partnership with a private company, but 57 percent of voters said no.

"Comcast decided it didn't want Longmont to go there," says Tom Roiniotis, director of Longmont Power & Communications, the city's community-owned electric utility. Comcast spent about $200,000, the largest contribution to any campaign in Longmont's history, to defeat the measure, Roiniotis says. Meanwhile, once the issue became a ballot initiative, Longmont was not allowed to spend any money to campaign for the ballot initiative because that would violate campaign financing laws. "We were walking with one arm and one leg tied behind our back when it came to this campaign," Roiniotis says.