Tuesday, September 18, 2007

monticelloprofiber: Minnesotans For Fiber (Update)

Light a candle for the people of Monticello, Minnesota.

The citizens of Monticello, MN are going to the polls today (Tuesday, the 18th) in order to vote on a fiber-related initiative. Monticello is at the other end of the big muddy—up near the headwaters of the Mississippi. The vote will be, not to approve the network per se, but to approve using it to provide phone services. —Apparently the Minnesota legislature hasn't been bamboozled into passing anything as draconian as Louisiana's incumbent protection law. On the other hand, the phone approval requires a super-majority vote of 65% the people. Apparently it is important to protect the phone monopoly from a mere democratic majority. So maybe Louisiana needn't be too embarrassed. The city is committed to the project so the vote will only have a negative effect on the construction if it fails to garner a majority.

As you might expect they've had the standard opposition. The incumbents say they are just worried about helping out the local taxpayer and intimate that the locals are incompetent to run their own system. But Monticello has also had its loyal defenders. And the defenders are a hardy bunch by all evidence.

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. By that measure Mike and I are flattered. The pro-fiber website's URL is MonticelloProFiber.com. Nifty—may a thousand "X___ProFiber.com" bloom! Their front page right now points to two incidents that will sound familiar to Lafayette citizens and to the citizens of across the country who've faced similar opposition. In one the local cable incumbent has threatened a local business (shades of the Cingular call center) and in the other they've had to endure phone calls that lie about the project's funding (like Lafayette's, no tax dollars are involved; it will be paid for by revenue bonds). Our series of push polls was similarly misleading.

There are other parallels: The mayor is willing to slug it out toe to toe; such leadership was essential here and the people of Monticello are well served by their mayor:
Make no mistake; this citywide project is a war to the current providers. They don’t want competition. Current providers of telecommunications will use scare tactics and disinformation in communities where municipalities are forward thinking and look to build their own fiber network....

Now this is funny if it wasn’t so sad. Last week I received a phone call at my home from an anti-fiber group caller. They told me two lies. The first was that the City of Monticello was building a fiber network which duplicated services by TDS. Secondly, they told me the fiber network was going to cost the taxpayers of Monticello $25 million. Both of these statements were lies and the spread of misinformation. I told the caller that I read in the local newspaper that revenue bonds were paying for the fiber network and asked if they knew about that? They said, “No.” I told them the fiber network is not going to cost the taxpayers a single dollar because revenue bonds don’t raise taxes. I finally asked where this person was calling from and they told me, “Nebraska.” Obviously, this person was not a concerned citizen of Monticello. They were hired by the big guns to make these calls.

I caution the citizens of Monticello, beware of the lies told in the newspaper ads from cable companies fronting as “Concerned Citizens Against Fiber” and Web site called Monticello Fiber Mistake Coalition when they are supported by industry groups outside of our community. Don’t be concerned with phone calls you receive that are propaganda from the anti-fiber group who is uneducated about the facts here in Monticello.
That kind of forthrightness would do a Durel or Huval proud.

There is also, clearly, an aroused citizenry. Richard Van Allen says:
If you read last week's Times, you saw a half page ad authorized and placed by Mike Martin of Saint Paul as Treasurer for the “Monticello Fiber Mistake” folks, a coalition comprised of state associations for the Telecom and Cable TV industry. These are not local citizens who live in the Monticello community. He is speaking for the Telco and cable industry which does not want local competition for better services or better prices. Mike is obviously not a citizen of Monticello and speaks for an industry that has fiercely attacked any new services coming into the communities they serve. Why should citizens of Monticello be persuaded by the paid spokesman of the Telco and cable industries?

At the September 18 referendum-Vote YES for Choice; say No to a monopoly.
James B. Fleming:
All I ask is that you take the time to find out the facts before you vote. Don’t be scared into a “No” vote by inaccurate information being pumped into the community by greedy corporations with no interest in Monticello’s future other than their own pocketbooks.
The city also has an informational pro-fiber website.

It's reassuring to know that the battle is the same all over.

So light a candle for the good guys.

UPDATE: The city fiber site heralds the victory: 1,055 Voted YES • 354 Voted NO. That's more than enough to win the super majority vote and assure that the city will be able to offer a triple play package that includes phone service.


MonticelloProFiber said...

My name is Lynne Dahl-Fleming and I served as the Education and Informational Coordinator for the Monticello City Referendum held Sept. 18th.

At the onset of our referendum I was provided with John St. Julien's contact information as a resource for information. He provided me with great insight, suggestions and advice for moving forward with our efforts to launch a city-wide fiber optic network for our community in light of the upcoming referendum. He was "right on target" in all he said. This provided an excellent reference point for heading into the battle with the current provider who had a monopoly for phone service in our city.

I can only hope that now that the City of Monticello's referendum has passed, that we can return the favor to other cities who will venture down the same path. We would be happy to support others as John did for us. We all need to stick together and fight hard the battle which can be won. Together we are stronger through our sharing and networking.

Here's to more communities nationwide with the vision for fiber . . . may we accomplsih this together!

John said...

Congratulations Lynne!

You guys did a great job drawing the right contrasts for you community.

I'm happy that we could be of service here and I do think that a model for succeeding against incumbent FUD and lies is emerging. I hope you will sit down and try and distill your experience while it is still fresh.

In truth the incumbent talking points are getting stale and, in communities where the citizens know and trust each other, easy to counter. Monticello has added it efforts to the emerging recipe: 1) When they lie, call it a lie. When they try to make a community distrust itself, make it clear that it is the self-interested outsiders who are to be distrusted. Respond instantly, forcefully, and consistently. 2) Make sure the city leadership is willing to be the point of the sword — they must say that the incumbents are not the peoples' friends and are monopolies that are seeking to sustain their profit level at the expense of the community. 3) Inform and arouse the citizenry and give them an outlet to express their outrage. Organize a real grassroots organization. The contrast with the faux, astroturf, "grassroots" will be painfully revealing of the incumbents lack of real support—as it was in your case (and ours).

That's not a complicated recipe and if you've got the ingredients and are willing to work you can win. The flavors that spice up your gumbo will be local. But having the base notes make it a success.

The ranks of those that have won in this fight are growing. Let's hang together and see if we can help others. (Perhaps there should be an alumnus organization. :-) )

[Side note: Louisiana readers will be interested to know that there is a local connection. Jim Fleming, Lynne's husband, says they have "relatives living on Bayou Terrabone down by Houma." So they know what gradu is. It's a small world; and not only because of broadband.]