Friday, February 11, 2005

The Truth is 56 Times More Powerful than Lies

If you know anyone who harbors any doubt that asking for a referendum battle between locals and incumbents like BellSouth and Cox is anything other than inviting cities like Lafayette to a mugging, you should ask them to take a look at the Battle of the Tri-Cities. Long-term readers will recall Annie Collins and the occasional reports I posted on their battle. In the end, buried under a barrage of misinformation and deceptive advertising, the local group lost.

One part of that story that we ought to notice is that the group was only asking for permission to seek private funding for a private network funded by bonds that were purely revenue-based, and that would not have obligated any public entity. Once the bonds were paid, off the title would have settled on the cities. Private funds. No municipal obligation until it's proven self-sustaining. All upside, no downside. Only investors could lose. It won't surprise you to learn, if you've watched our incumbents with a discerning eye, that these facts didn't matter. They ran exactly the same sort of disinformation campaign we've seen in Lafayette: "Oh! Your utility bill will go up!" "Oh, It will make your taxes go up!" "Oh! It is immoral to compete with nice monopolists!" "Oh! Be fearful of the future!" "Oh! Be uncertain!" "OH, doubt your neighbors; trust us!" All of it a load of FUD. There is no way to avoid dishonest attacks like these--no matter how certainly untrue they are, because the truth or falsity of the attack is not the issue for these guys. They are interested only in winning and securing their profits for another season. That blitz of garish mail brochures, ads on cable television, full page print ads, push polls, phone calls from an Oklahoma call center, bused-in 'walkers,' hallmark cards, and sleazy stories by columnists that turned out to be on the payroll (link) drowned out the voice of the truth. Let no person believe that this can't happen here. Cox and BellSouth will act just as dishonestly here—if they are given the chance.

What was wrong with the idealistic effort in the Tri-Cities was only that it would have, if successful, resulted in a potent competitor owned by the people it served. That, and that alone was why it was attacked. No public/private morality or pious concern for the tax base of some small city motivated Comcast and SBC. Only gluttonous greed. Gormandise.

For those of us who actually love democracy, it's a sobering lesson: the truth doesn't always win, most notably when it can't be heard. Truth is powerful but not all-powerful. With enough money you can buy a megaphone large enough to drown it out. But it takes a loud and expensive megaphone because the truth actually is more powerful than lies.

The Tri-Cities case lets us put a number on just how much more powerful the truth was than lies in the Tri-Cities: 56 times more powerful.

Doubtful? I don't blame you, but it is a good number. Here's how it is figured:

There were 22,462 votes against against the fiber initiative:

SBC (the phone company) and Comcast (the cable company) spent more than $301,065 defeating the initiative. (Some mailers and all of Comcast's ads which ran on their cable channels during the fight are still to be accounted for, so the final total is not yet known.)

Cost per anti=fiber vote: $13.40.

The band of citizens that waged a grassroots campaign, the only campaign waged for the proposal, spent $4,325.

That works out to $0.24 for each pro-fiber vote.

$13.24 and $ 0.24--that means each anti-fiber vote cost 56 times what a pro-fiber vote cost.

The truth, at least in the Tri-Cities, was 56 times as powerful as lies. The truth is indeed powerful. But not all-powerful.

The outcome was disappointing but not necessarily discouraging. There is something hopeful in this: in that election a change of 2261 votes would have swung the election to the profiberistas. What would that have cost the insurgents at the going rate of 24 cents a vote? Just $542.64. That, in today's election world where money is as closely watched as an actual votes, is an astonishingly close election.

Lies impose a huge handicap on the corporations. The truth operates at a major discount. We still have to fight. But that fight is not nearly so difficult as the faint of heart might want to believe.

And we in Lafayette have advantages that the Tri-Cities could only dream of. Our municipal government is already fighting aggressively. We have a history of trusting our leadership--and a history of distrusting outsiders. We are not a suburb of a larger city but the economic and cultural center of Acadiana. BellSouth and Cox have already been beaten into retreat once, something that has not happened elsewhere. If the Tri-Cities had a 56-to-1 advantage over the incumbents, then Lafayette surely would operate at several times that figure. All that would really be necessary would be for Lafayette to decide to fight. And that is already underway.

Check it out for yourself—References:

The Kane County Chronicle: Comcast, SBC spent $300,000 to fight local broadband move
The Daily Herald: Broadband quest cost $300,000
State of Illinois: Comcast Campaign Disclosure
The above link does not work reliably (apparently the server is trying to deny external links); try cutting and pasting the following into your brower:
State of Illinois: SBC Campaign Disclosure
The above links do not work reliably (apparently the server is trying to deny external links); try cutting and pasting the following into your brower:
The details of the The Math

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