“Fiber battle could get ugly”

Claire Taylor of the Advertiser talks to our friend Annie Collins (see our interview with Annie) about what Lafayette can expect during a fiber referendum based on her experience during a referendum battle in the Tri-Cities area of Illinois.

Annie was outspent at least 56 to 1 (which we analyzed in a recent post); she spent $4,000 and the incumbents spent in the $300,000 dollar range at latest count. Annie tells an ugly story of the incumbents’ FUD-based campaign of misinformation. The Bell/Cable campaign, its volume racheted up by its ability to spend effectively unlimited amounts of money, drowned out the voices of pro-fiber activists.

From the story:

Collins said Lafayette residents should prepare for a barrage of newspaper ads, television ads, billboards, flyers, postcards and messages on answering machines opposing the project.

“They started about 60 days out. They started sending people – retirees – door to door, telling people they were going to lose their pensions. They said they would lose their jobs,” she said.

The incumbent telephone and cable TV providers cited alleged failures of broadband utilities across the country, paying for full-page newspaper ads – 28 in one week – Collins said.

They distributed coffee mugs at train stations and brought in trailers of fiber-to-the-home equipment showing the latest products they could offer, Collins said.

Comcast, the cable provider, even mailed to its customers a special greeting card created for them that read: “We’re proud to be a part of life in this community.” It was signed, “Your Friends at Comcast.”

The companies gave out yard signs, bought TV commercials, mailed flyers to homes, probably as many at 10 mailers to everyone in three towns. SBC, the telephone provider, sent two company presidents to debate Collins, a homemaker

It’s hard to know how to react to that litany. A little wry humor helps. That greeting card? SBC commissioned Hallmark to make it. The sugary contrast to the bitter battle to defeat local interests has to be seen as funny.

The article goes on to say:

Collins said residents who support the Lafayette Utilities System fiber project must form grassroots groups to campaign for the project because government cannot spend money to promote a yes vote.

“The deep pockets are a formidable foe,” she said. “It’s tough to face that kind of money. If we could have afforded some advertising and a way to get into people’s mailboxes, that’s the way we would have gone, too.”

“You need to talk to your neighbors. You need to go door to door. It needs to be a grassroots campaign and it needs to be run efficiently,” Collins said.

She’s right about all that. We need a citizens’ group (or several) and Political Action Committtees (PACs) if we are going to be able to fight on anything like a level playing field.

Root around– I’m sure you can find access to one of the forming PACs. But if your interest is in doing the work of talking to neighbors and friends, find a citizens’ group. Emails will get you in touch with forming citizens’ groups at two addresses: fiber@lus.org or StandingUp@ Lafayette ProFiber.com (The link to StandingUp in the article is bad. This one works. I’ll post a note here when it is corrected.)

This story sends a valuable warning shot across the bow…it’s time to strap down and get to work if we are to defend ourselves against incumbent misinformation and money.

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