As the threat to network neutrality seems imminent, an increasing number of local people are organizing grassroots groups and are looking for the best steps to start local initiatives. When you decide that your community needs to make a change that isn’t happening organically, it’s time to nudge that change along. Starting a grassroots movement with like-minded citizens will help educate the community, build support, and generate ideas as you all consider what is the best solution for your unique situation. We’ve talked with local folks over the years who have shared lessons learned with us and we’ve gathered together some of the best grassroots stories with resources to share.
Seek Out The Masters
Of course, there’s nothing better than getting tips from some one who’s already climbed the mountain. John St. Julien from Lafayette passed away in 2016, but his voice and work lives on. We interviewed him in the early days of the Community Broadband Bits podcast for episode 94 in 2014and he had some great advice on engaging other people in the community and keeping the momentum positive.
We also obtained permission to archive and preserve some of the writings on the Lafyette Pro Fiber Blog, John’s brainchild he developed as Lafayette struggled against the many challenges by incumbents who wanted to preserve their monopoly.
Hanging’ With Buds
Often it is a mutual and familiar need that brings grassroots organizations together. In North Carolina, NC Hearts Gigabit started as a way to connect to each other when they don’t feel connected to the current political process, want better Internet connectivity in North Carolina, and need to get out from behind a desk. They organize their meetings around lunch and, hey, we all need to eat amiright? Christopher spoke with the people who got the group off the ground, with Economic Development Consultant Christa Wagner Vinson, CEO of Open Broadband Alan Fitzpatrick, and Partner of Broadband Catalysts Deborah Watts. Listen to episode 280 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.
Necessity Is The Mother of (Grassroots) Invention
In Lyndon Township, Michigan, organizers took the reins out of the own need for better Internet access. This community isn’t far from Ann Arbor, where the University of Michigan drives the economy. Even though they are so close to an academic center, Lyndon Township’s rural character put off incumbents. Ben Fineman volunteers as the president of the Michigan Broadband Cooperative, Marc Keezer is the Lyndon Township Supervisor, and Gary Munce who is also a board member of the Michigan Broadband Cooperative spoke with Christopher about their education campaign which eventually led to a ballot initiative that passed 2 to 1. The campaign received significant support from the Cooperative, which is a regional grassroots group. Listen to the conversation in episode 272 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.
Keeping Your Group Motivated
Once you've formed your group, you'll need to stay diligent, possibly for an extended period of time. In Episode 153 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, a group from Upgrade Seattle, who's been working on better connectivity and reducing the digital divide for several years now, offer advice on how to stay on track. Sabrina Roach, Devin Glaser, and Karen Toering discuss their strategy, reactions, and what motivates them. More Seattle stories here.
David And Goliath
In Fort Collins, Colorado, Comcast feared competition from a municipal network that might emerge if the city changed its charter to allow Internet network infrastructure investment. Comcast invested $451,000 into efforts to buy the results they wanted but lost anyway. Glen Akins and Colin Garfield, who headed up a local grassroots group to pass the initiative, joined Christopher for episode 282 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast to describe the referendum and how they managed to beat the giant ISP with just a fraction of the resources.
For another David vs. Goliath broadband story, one must consider Lafayette, Louisiana. John St. Julien was one of the primary movers and shakers in the local movement that started their municipal network. They recently reported take rates of around 45 percent, which reveals how the network is revered in the community. Without successful grassroots organizing, LUSFiber would not have happened. John visited with Christopher in 2012 about the network and the grassroots movement in in episode 19 of the Community Broadband Bits.
Host A Screening
The communities of Wilson and Pinetops in North Carolina have worked together over the past few years to expand high-quality Internet access from Wilson's municipal network, Greenlight, to Pinetops small population. It was a difficult journey and in order to preserve service from Greenlight, residents and businesses had to organize and present their case to the state legislature. You can schedule a screening of Cullen Hoback's documentary Do Not Pass Go in your community. Watching this story together will give you group inspiration. Contact Deb Socia at Next Century Cities to schedule a screening in your community. Check out the trailer:
Education Is Key; Press Is Powerful
When your group is ready to start getting the word out, whether you want people in the community to contact local officials or to spread education, the press is one of the strongest tools you have at your disposal. When the Friends of Municipal Broadband needed to get the word out about a bad bill in the state capitol, they developed a press kit, which included a list of supports, bill commentary, and “Fast Facts” sheet. This is a great example of education and action in one package.
Get Creative, Get Social
Social media as emerged as a powerful organizing tool for ending the reach of grassroots organizers. In addition to Facebook and Twitter, organizers are thinking outside the box with other forms of media, including online town halls like this one from MAG-Net.
MAG-Net also hosted this community conversation online about broadband back in 2014 and it still rings true.
We’ve also created a Social Media Hotlist on Twitter. Follow the lists to get the latest from the sources we think are worth following.
More than ever, local residents, businesses, and elected officials are banding together to create stronger groups and emphasize their policy concerns at the state and federal level. If you've considered establishing a local group to support network neutrality, convince your state lawmakers to better support local broadband infrastructure investment, or dig deeper into the possibilities of a publicly owned network, use these resources to help get started.