Tag: "referendum"

Posted April 2, 2013 by Christopher Mitchell

Opelika Mayor Gary Fuller and Jennifer McCain, partner of the Motive Group discuss why this Alabama town is the first to build its own fiber optic network in the state.

In short, Opelika had long been fed up with the services offered by Charter Cable and Charter was not amenable to meeting the community's needs. They decided to build a FTTH network that would meet Smart Grid needs as well as delivering telephone, television, and Internet access. Due to state law, they had to hold a referendum to offer television services. Despite a misinformation campaign, the community overwhelmingly supported building a community owned network.

Toward the end of our discussion, Mayor Fuller offers some thoughts on what it takes for an elected official to commit to an expensive investment where one has to pay all the costs and stand for re-election before the benefits start to accrue. In short, it takes courage. And having the unanimous support of the City Council is helpful also!

Read the transcript from our conversation here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below. Also, feel free to suggest other guests, topics, or questions you want us to address.

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Listen to previous episodes here. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

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Thanks to D. Charles Speer & the Helix for the music, licensed using Creative Commons.

Posted December 10, 2012 by Christopher Mitchell

Earlier this year, we published a case study that examined the LUS Fiber network and its origins. In it, we noted that both Republicans and Democrats backed the plan but here we focus on their resolutions in support.

Back in early 2005, Lafayette was preparing for a referendum on whether the city owned utility should issue bonds to build a FTTH network. Though Cox cable and BellSouth (now AT&T) were running a fierce campaign to scare voters, both Republican and Democrat parties in the community came together to support the community owned network -- both found ways of incorporating this important investment into their political philosophies.

In February, the Democrats were the first to pass a resolution supporting the city's fiber optic plan [pdf]. Recall that Joey Durel (the mayor then and now) is an ardent Republican.

We, the members of the Lafayette Democratic Parish Executive Committee, believe the project will enhance businesses, enrich our lives, and prepare our children for the future. With proper planning, future generations will see profits generated by this project stay in this community and improve businesses and lives for generations to come.

Improving local communities has been the traditional purpose of the Democratic Party. With that in mind, we commend City-Parish President Joey Durel for his bold initiative to make this plan a success.

A few weeks later, the Lafayette Republican Party endorsed the network [pdf] as well:

Lafayette Republican Party seal

... Whereas, the “Fibre Optic to the Home” service would create the potential for new economic opportunity for Lafayette, and in our opinion far exceeding the financial risk,

Whereas, we believe the LUS Plan represents an investment in infrastructure as opposed to direct competition between government and private business, which would violate a basic principle of Republican Philosophy,

Be it Resolved this 10th day of March, 2005, the Lafayette Parish...

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Posted November 9, 2012 by Lisa Gonzalez

We have covered developments in the town of Indianola, Iowa, where the community decided to build their own network in 1998. The original purpose for investment was to use the network to enhance public safety and increase efficiency with SCADA applications. In 2005, however, the network began offering telecommunications services to local businesses. As of October, Indianola Municipal Utilities (IMU) began offering fiber-to-the-home to residents as it gradually begins expanding the use of its fiber asset.

You can now hear firsthand about the network, its history, and how the municipal utility navigated the journey to its next-generation open access network. Craig Settles interviewed Todd Kielkopf, General Manager of IMU, in an August Gigabit Nation podcast. The two discuss IMU's evolution since 1998. They also talked about the unique advantages that exist when a community considering network infrastructure investment already has a municipal utility in place.

Kielkopf tells how the driving factor for the fiber installation was to allow easier management and communication between utilities. When a 1990 franchise agreement with MediaCom was about to expire, the city investigated options. Hopes were that that the city could build a fiber network and MediaCom would offer services over that network, but that vision was never embraced by MediaCom.

Iowa law allowed the city to hold a referendum asking residents for permission to provide telecommunications services through the municipal utility's network. The referendum passed and they created a five year financial plan. Financing was with taxable and tax exempt bonds. The electric utility would build and own the network and a new telecommunications utility would license to a private partner that would offer retail services. Now, IMU and Mahaska Communication Group (MCG) have an agreement whereby MCG provides retail services over the network. While the agreement is not exclusive, no other providers currently use the network.

Kielkopf discusses three distinct phases in the development of the network's current status. First the network connected schools, libraries, government entities, and other anchor...

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Posted October 29, 2012 by Christopher Mitchell

We sometimes fail to communicate the great lengths to which big cable and telecommunications companies will go to intimidate and scare voters into opposing a community broadband projects. They have deployed a variety of dirty tricks and we have done a poor job of cataloging them.

But a recent phone call with John St. Julien in Lafayette, Louisiana, reminded me of a push poll that an alert citizen recorded back when Cox, Bellsouth (now AT&T), and/or other opponents of the municipal broadband project commissioned a "push poll" to scare voters into opposing a referendum on whether the City should build its own network. We tell the full story about this campaign in our Broadband at the Speed of Light report.

But in anticipation of our interview with John St Julien tomorrow, we thought we should make sure our readers/listeners had a chance to hear this 30 minute call. In it, a pollster is asking a series of questions commissioned by opponents to the community broadband network and responding to it. The audio is sometimes hard to make out, but well worth it as the person recording it has some pretty funny responses to some of the questions being posed.

This is just one of the reasons that referenda are a poor tool for measuring community support of a project. While the big companies can dump unlimited funds into their self-interested "vote no" campaigns, the city itself cannot encourage voters to go one way or another. And local groups supporting a community broadband network have far fewer resources.

For instance, when Longmont, Colorado, had its first referendum, Comcast blitzed the community with something like $250,000 in ads and misinformation (setting a local record for expenditures) -- resulting in a pretty significant majority for the "nay" voters. After citizens realized they'd been had, they clamored for another vote. Two years later, Comcast dropped $400,000 on Longmont but the grassroots successfully out-organized the cash-dump.

If you want to know more about how your community can win a fight like this, read more about Lafayette and listen to our conversation with John St. Julien tomorrow (the first of several).

Here is the push poll and response.

Posted August 28, 2012 by Christopher Mitchell

The tenth episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast features Vince Jordan, Telecom Manager for Longmont Power and Communication in Colorado. We have long followed the trials and tribulations of this community as they fought through two referenda against Comcast's deep pockets. Now they are expanding their network to connect businesses and residents.

You can learn more about Longmont's approach on its website for the project. Our interview discusses some of the history behind the network, reflections on referenda, and the interesting approach Longmont has taken to avoid getting involved in the cable television business while still making sure everyone can view the content they want.

Read the transcript of this episode here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below. Also, feel free to suggest other guests, topics, or questions you want us to address.

This show is 25 minutes long and can be downloaded here, played below on this page, or subscribe via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed. Search for us in iTunes and leave a positive comment!

Listen to previous episodes here. Find more episodes in our podcast index.

Thanks to Fit and the Conniptions for the music, licensed using Creative Commons.

Posted May 31, 2012 by Christopher Mitchell

In an unsurprising result, voters in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, chose not to build their own FTTH network. The margin was 58% against, 42% for. According to that article, the opponents (bankrolled largely by national cable company Cox) outspent proponents by 3:1.

We previously covered this plan and were concerned that the number one reason identified for proposing the network was to diversify revenue for the local government. Quite frankly, that is a poor reason to go head to head against massive companies like Cox and CenturyLink.

The biggest benefits of community networks tend to be the hard to quantify -- aggregate savings to the community from lower prices from all providers in a competitive environment, increased economic development, better customer service from a local provider, etc. These networks are built to be financially self-sufficient, but we caution against expecting them to be a piggy bank for the local government.

Unlike the successful Longmont approach, where those advocating for the community network engaged others who had been through similar fights elsewhere, it seemed like Siloam Springs preferred not to ask for help. Meanwhile, Cox tapped its nationwide resources to oppose the network, with misinformation like this:

Siloam Springs Opposition

Download the full size flyer here.

Communities that want to build community networks should engage the wider community of community broadband supporters and be prepared for flyers like this one. And when seeking local support, make sure you find messages that resonate. Make sure you read about the grassroots movement in Lafayette in our recent report or how Chattanooga had hundreds of community meetings to explain its plan.

These networks face stiff opposition from entrenched opponents that want to be the sole gatekeepers to the Internet -- ensuring a real choice means doing real organizing.

Posted May 15, 2012 by Lisa Gonzalez

Recently, we let you know about the situation in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, population 15,039. The town is now investigating the possibility of building their own fiber network. They have had several community meetings and a "vote of the people" is set for May 22, 2012.

Pamela Hill is investigating the twists and turrns in a series of articles about the vote. In one of her articles, Hill looked into another Arkansas community, Paragould, home of the annual "Loose Caboose" Festival.  This community, located in the northeast corner of the state, has successfully operated their own cable network since 1991. Unlike Siloam Springs, the people of Paragould weren't focused first on generating new revenue for the local government, they just wanted to be able to watch tv for a reasonable price.

Back in 1986, Cablevision was the only provider in Paragould. Hill spoke with Rhonda Davis, CFO of Paragould Light, Water & Cable:

"The public wasn’t happy with Cablevision’s service or rates,” Davis said. “We took it to a public vote and did it.”

Prior to Paragould's decision to build their own network, the City had a nonexclusive franchise agreement with Cablevision. The town was dissatisfied by the service they received and, in 1986, Paragould voters approved an ordinance authorizing the Paragould Light and Water to construct and operate a municipal cable system. Three years later, there was a referendum that authorized the city to issue a little over $3 million in municipal bonds to finance the system.

That same month, Cablevision filed suit alleging antitrust violations, breach of contract, and infringement of first and fourteenth amendment rights. The district court dismissed the antitrust and constitutional claims and Cablevision appealed unsuccessfully. The case attracted attention from lawyers and business scholars across the country.

By 1998, the City had purchased Cablevision's remaining service and began offering Internet service. The City has continually upgraded their investment, which now consists of fiber lines that run to nodes throughout the city. Coaxial cable delivers signal and data...

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Posted May 2, 2012 by Lisa Gonzalez

Not long ago, we told you about Leverett, Massachusetts, the small town of 1,851, that has been discussing the possibility of building a community network. Residents and businesses currently use a combination of satellite, dial-up, DSL, and wireless, and about 6% of the population has no Internet access at all. People are tired of lost opportunities in a town strategically situated near several colleges. The town just approved the proposal to invest in a municipal network.

Last Saturday, April 28th, the measure to build the network was approved at Leverett's Annual Town Meeting. The needed two-thirds vote came easily, with 306-33 in favor, at the packed meeting at the Leverett Elementary School auditorium. Enthusiasm and expectations are high. From a Fran Ryan article in the Gazettenet.com:

For many, the lack of adequate Internet access has created problems with work, school and even the ability to sell their homes.

"Right now we have hopeless telephone service, useless cellphone service, and no internet service," said resident Raymond Bradley. "This will completely change our lives,"

The current plan is to borrow $3.6 million to create a fiber-optic network that will connect every home and provide triple play services across town. As you may recall from our earlier article, Internet access is only part of the problem - Leverett has had longstanding difficulties with telephone service due to decaying infrastructure. The situation is so bad, the State Department of Communications ordered Verizon to make repairs in over 100 towns in western Massachusetts. With this vote, however, Leverett has decided to take control of its own fate.

Leverett received a $40,000.00 planning grant from the Massachussetts Broadband Institute and benefited from the expertise and efforts of the Wired West group. Leverett's last mile project will connect with MBI's middle mile project.

According to the Leverett Broadband Committee, the investment will pay off rather quickly. This from an April 18th Ben Storrow GazetteNet.com article:

Savings on monthly phone and Internet...

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Posted April 5, 2012 by Christopher Mitchell

Siloam Springs, sporting 15,000 people in the northwestern corner of Arkansas, could be the next community to build its own community fiber network. But first they have to pass a referendum in May in the face of stiff opposition from Cox Cable, which would prefer not to face real competition.

For over 100 years, the city has provided its own electricity via its electrical department. Now, it wants to join the more than 150 other communities that have done so. After last year's changes to Arkansas law, Siloam Springs has the authority to move forward if it so chooses.

Pamela Hill at the City Wire has covered the situation with a series of stories, starting with an explanation of why they are moving forward:

David Cameron, city administrator, said the proposal is not so much about dissatisfaction with current providers as it is about finding new revenue for the city. Cameron said revenue from electric services has been a key source of funding for various projects and necessities for the city. That “enterprise” fund is getting smaller, Cameron said, and an alternative funding source is needed.

“We have done a good job managing accounts, building a reserve,” Cameron said. “We want to keep building on the programs we have. It takes money and funds to do that.”

City officials discussed the issue for the last 18 months and decided to put it to a referendum. Voters will decide the issue May 22.

That is a fairly unique reason. Most communities want to build these networks to encourage economic development and other indirect benefits to the community. Given the challenge of building and operating networks, few set a primary goal of boosting city revenue.

Map of Siloam Springs

If approved by voters, the city plans to spend $8.3 million to install 100 miles of fiber optic cable directly to homes and businesses. The city should be able to repay the debt in 12 years, if things go according to a feasibility study presented to the city’s board of directors in January. Cameron said projections show the system could begin making a profit...

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Posted January 27, 2012 by Christopher Mitchell

A rural Fiber-to-the-Farm project that started in Sibley County has added three new towns to its potential territory due to the extremely high interest in fast, affordable, and reliable connections to the Internet. The current providers aren't getting the job done and few expect that to change given the cost of improving services.

An article last year reported on present difficulties for many in Sibley:

Soeffker, who farms with her husband in rural Sibley County, said the dish receiver they must use works fine in good weather but balks during heavy rain and snowstorms.

Meantime, her husband struggles with a lagging Internet speed of .6 megabits a second that falls short of meeting his business needs when he’s selling commodities.

The committee organizing the network set a goal for demonstrating the interest of something like 50% of the population in the target area. There has been some confusion as to exactly how many they should have before committing to the project but with just two mass mailings, they have received nearly 3,000 positive responses (of the over 8000 households that could be served). This is a very strong response.

To keep the public informed, they have had numerous public meetings in each of the communities that will be involved. To be as open as possible, they would often have three meetings in a town per day -- a morning, afternoon, and evening meeting to accomodate everyone's schedule. As this project moves forward, no one can claim the group has been anything but open with the plan.

On January 19, they had a major meeting with over 100 people attending, including many elected officials from the towns. For over two and a half hours, they had five presentations and numerous questions. MPR's Jennifer Vogel was there and wrote about the project shortly afterward.

Participating communities--which include Renville County, Sibley County, Fairfax, Gibbon, Winthrop, Gaylord, Arlington, New Auburn, Green Isle, Buffalo Lake, Steward, Brownton and Lafayette--have been asked to decide by early March whether to...

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