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Coin-Operated Hypocrisy In Action: A Case Study in Monticello

Rant Warning...

Every state has at least one organization, often calling itself a think tank, that is funded by large corporations to advance their narrow interests, often at the expense of local businesses and the larger public.

Many call these "coin operated" think tanks because they take whatever positions their funders want them to take. Or, a more charitable explanation is that some massive corporations are simply channeling money to those few people who honestly believe that we would all be better off if BP or Comcast or Goldman Sachs had no regulations to worry about.

In Minnesota, one of these is called the "Freedom Foundation" of Minnesota. I tend to ignore them for a variety of reasons.

  1. There just isn't enough time.
  2. They are really, really ignorant. Their papers and posts are so filled with errors in basic fact, it would take a LOT of time to correct them - which brings me back to point 1. (Nonetheless, they are influential because the lobbyists of the companies that fund them distribute their propaganda throughout the capitol that they appear to actually live in.)
  3. Mentioning them can legitimize them.

So here I am, mentioning this group because I just noted a curious example of their utter lack of integrity.

For a few years, the "Freedom Foundation" has worked on telecommunications issues, mostly writing nasty, slanted articles twisting the words of public officials to discredit projects. Given the problems faced by Monticello (as we have covered), they have had a field day there - even tracking down a bondholder that is losing part of his investment.

The fallout from Monticello FiberNet will cost bondholders something like $19 million or about 65 percent of their investment. And the City will likely spend millions in public dollars on the network when it was originally to be paid for entirely by the revenue bonds. This is certainly disappointing. But in Monticello, FiberNet is not the only difficulty - Monticello happens to host one of Xcel Energy's nuclear power plants.

Cost overruns there are taking a $320 million project and turning it into a $640 million project, which will be paid for by ratepayers across Minnesota, including myself.

Yikes, right? I mean if the "Freedom Foundation" is incensed at how unjust it is for Monticello citizens to have to pay for a project they overwhelmingly supported in a public referendum, they must be apopletic about yet another cost overun for a nuclear power plant in the hundreds of millions!

Good luck finding any evidence of that. Maybe they are soooooo furious, they just cannot write about it. Or, more likely, their goal for "freedom" is simply the maximize the freedom of a few big corporations to rip us off because that is how they earn their paycheck. When it comes to Xcel, they seem to only find time to criticize how ratepayer money is spent when it goes to groups they don't like.

Don't worry friends, we'll almost certainly hear back from the "Freedom Foundation" if ratepayers have to spend an extra $.02 on wind turbines.

At the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, we discuss community owned networks honestly. It is a hard business and we have been frank about those communities that have struggled. It is a matter of intellectual honesty - good luck finding any from our loudest and most well-funded opponents.

Bonus Update: Here is another question - where are these supposed defenders of taxpayers when Wall Street is found to be ripping them off? Nowhere. They don't care about how much taxpayers pay, they care about unlimited corporate power for a few.

Longmont Chooses Local Self-Reliance

What a difference two years and a strong grassroots campaign makes. Two years ago, Comcast's ability to spend $245,000 on a campaign of lies was the determining factor over Longmont's decision about using publicly owned infrastructure to expand broadband competition.

Yesterday, despite Comcast spending even more by again funneling hundreds of thousands through the Colorado Cable Telecommunications Commission, voters overwhelmingly supported question 2A - reinstating local government authority to offer telecommunications services using its infrastructure.

Full congratulations must go to the Longmont citizens who organized a truly grassroots campaign that sent people out on the streets with signs, organized informational events, disseminated press releases, maintained an information web page (and Facebook page), wrote letters to the editor, commented on online news stories, and otherwise educated their peers about the opportunity 2A offered. Craig Settles is also celebrating with a post describing the victory.

Once again, the question was:

Without increasing taxes, shall the citizens of the City of Longmont, Colorado, re-establish their City's right to provide all services restricted since 2005 by Title 29, article 27 of the Colorado Revised Statutes, described as "advanced services," "telecommunications services" and "cable television services," including any new and improved high bandwidth services based on future technologies, utilizing community owned infrastructure including but not limited to the existing fiber optic network, either directly or indirectly with public or private sector partners, to potential subscribers that may include telecommunications service providers, residential or commercial users within the City and the service area of the City's electric utility enterprise?

Question 2A results

The results were 60.8% Yes, 39.2% No. 13,238 voted yes whereas 8,529 voted against.

The Times-Call has already posted a story about the results, including some curious points from the pro-Comcast group's spokesman (and Denver resident) George Merritt.

"While we remain concerned about the disappointing track record of municipal telecoms, we hope our city has learned from the mistakes made by other cities and that taxpayers are protected with whatever venture develops as a result of the passage of Question 2A," Merritt said.

Despite spending probably over $300,000 (we won't know for a few days), Comcast and allies couldn't even find a Longmont resident to be their spokesperson!!

Practically no one in Longmont supported Comcast's position, as we noted yesterday - everyone campaigning for office supported reinstating local authority to provide broadband services. The newspapers supported the effort. In debates, the only people willing to defend Comcast's position were from out of town.

For just about everyone, this was a no-brainer: The City should be free to use assets it built long ago to expand economic development and broadband access. And yet, Comcast's $300,000 still got 39% to support letting City assets go unused while local businesses and residents are overpaying Comcast and CenturyLink for those services.

One of the most unique ways Longmont's elected leaders discussed this issue occurred during a City Council meeting. During that meeting, each official approached the podium and made a public comment about why they supported the 2A initiative. Unfortunately, we have not been able to locate video or audio, but the idea may inspire other communities as they seek to educate the community about the benefits of local, community ownership.

In other good news, nearby Boulder also embraced local self-reliance by narrowly voting to consider municipalization of the electrical grid. Xcel Energy spent close to a million dollars in a similar scare-campaign to Comcast in Longmont but Boulder voters decided to trust their local government more than a distant mega-corporations. Progress.