I'm passing this along only to highlight the sort of dirty tricks and deceptive tactics that the phone and cable companies will resort to when trying to keep out municipal broadband.
When Comcast and SBC wanted to convince three Illinois cities to vote against running their own fiber, they conducted "push polls" designed to shape voter perception, not gauge it. This, combined with more than a quarter million dollars in often misleading local marketing, helped "educate" voters that they should stay out of the broadband business. That public relations victory was a model for a battle that's now brewing in Lafayette, Louisiana.
The Illinois surveys, which we were the only outlet to get a copy of, contained questions like "Should tax money be allowed to provide pornographic movies for residents?" As explored by Mother Jones recently, they played an integral part in defeating the initiative twice (See our interview with local leader Ed Hodges).
It later turned out that SBC spent $192,324 on defeating the ballot measure, while Comcast spent $89,740. Fiber for our Future, the community group pushing the initiative, spent $4,325. Not months after the first vote failed, the Illinois area in question saw Comcast rate hikes as high as 33% in some neighborhoods.
Now the city of Lafayette, Louisiana is preparing to vote on a non-tax (revenue bonds) based fiber network. Cox and Bellsouth, as recently explored by USAToday, have been fighting this plan tooth and nail.
Their efforts have included not-so-veiled threats (the Independent) that BellSouth could pull a local wireless call-center (1,300 local employees) if the plan moved forward. They've also trotted out not-so-independent policy groups like the Heartland Institute (also a big player in killing the Illinois project) to try and convince locals that the enterprise is akin to capitalistic cancer.
Heartland's warning comes despite the fact the Lafayette Chamber of Commerce, some 2,400 businesses strong (ironically including Cox), studied the local impact of the plan for a year and came out in favor of it.
After considerable legal wrangling, BellSouth and Cox managed to get the fiber plan put to a vote. There's no great love of Democratic process here; the providers wisely know that they can easily win in public relations politics, usually by outmanning and outfunding their opponents.
As the incumbent PR campaign ramps up in Lafayette ahead of the July vote, push polls have again emerged as a tactic of choice. According to the Advocate, locals are amazed at some of the questions being asked.
One local Louisiana television channel quotes several local residents, one of whom claims they were told by a pollster: "if the government controls the cable TV, you may not be able to watch TV except on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday 'cause they could ration your TV watching."
Lafayette's fiber plan goes to a vote on July 16. The Lafayette Chamber of Commerce research into the plan is available here for those interested. Arguments for the project can be found at the Lafayette Pro-Fiber website. Arguments against the project can be found at the Fiber411 website.
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