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The Misleading Fliers Comcast Used To Kill Off a Local Internet Competitor 250

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the muni-broadband-madness! dept.
Jason Koebler (3528235) writes In the months and weeks leading up to a referendum vote that would have established a locally owned fiber network in three small Illinois cities, Comcast and SBC (now AT&T) bombarded residents and city council members with disinformation, exaggerations, and outright lies to ensure the measure failed. The series of two-sided postcards painted municipal broadband as a foolhardy endeavor unfit for adults, responsible people, and perhaps as not something a smart woman would do. Municipal fiber was a gamble, a high-wire act, a game, something as "SCARY" as a ghost. Why build a municipal fiber network, one asked, when "internet service [is] already offered by two respectable private businesses?" In the corner, in tiny print, each postcard said "paid for by SBC" or "paid for by Comcast." The postcards are pretty absurd and worth a look.
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The Misleading Fliers Comcast Used To Kill Off a Local Internet Competitor

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  • by Kenja (541830) on Monday July 28, 2014 @05:13PM (#47553081)
    These sort of things are legal now. Corporations are people, and people have free speech, and spending money is speech.
    • by pushing-robot (1037830) on Monday July 28, 2014 @05:31PM (#47553229)

      Making wildly exaggerated claims always has been legal. Imagine if it were otherwise: you'd have to arrest whole advertising companies, and political parties, and organized religions, and the people who send me forwarded emails...

      ...

      ...What? Oh, sorry, I guess I kind of drifted off there.

      • My only issue is that we haven't heard of this, though it has been happening for months.

        The damage is done, it's too late to do much other than complain.

        And, this was 2004. This is an eternity in business years. I can't even complain to SBC because they don't exist as of 2005 legally, I think.

        What is the action here? Should I hate Comcast because they did something a decade ago? Do I oppose something that Time Warner wants because their partner to be blames a nonexistent company? Do I complain about som

    • The rights of corporations to put out fliers has never been in question. It has nothing to do with corporate personhood, nothing to do with spending money as speech.

      If you don't want corporations to be considered people in terms of freedom of speech, fine, lets pretend that's the case. Only real people have freedom of speech, done. What a roadblock for comcast! Why, they would have to give money to some real person in order to have THAT person exercise their freedom of speech in the form of misleadin
    • by Darinbob (1142669)

      Besides, you don't want to run the risk of getting cancer from municipal broadband.

    • by towermac (752159)

      Assuming you're against that notion, let's carry it to some logical conclusions, shall we?

      One thing that corporations cannot do is vote. And yet they are taxed heavily, at the Federal level. Is that not taxation without representation? Yes, I know; they get all the representation they are due, and then some, as per TFA. I'm against that; are you? Every time you tax them more, you empower them more in this way.

      Now, the politician *MUST* take the corporation's "views" into account when she is voting on legisl

      • by rtb61 (674572)

        No matter how much space you take up with your PR waffle it is still PR waffle. Corporations are owned by shareholders and the shareholders have representation for the business vehicle they own, the corporation and thus taxes should be paid. If corporations do not pay taxes then every rich shit head will shift all their income into a corporation and not pay any tax (their PR=B$ plan). Another tax bracket is required for income in excess of 1 million dollars a 50% tax bracket. All taxes should be charged on

    • by Jawnn (445279)

      These sort of things are legal now. Corporations are people, and people have free speech, and spending money is speech.

      More fundamental than that, this is an example of the free market at work. The natural monopolies are "free" to do anything they fucking want to make sure that their monopoly is protected. So shut up all you whining communists. This is a great day for American capitalism. U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!

  • by viperidaenz (2515578) on Monday July 28, 2014 @05:15PM (#47553093)

    A fine large enough to cover the costs of rolling out fibre in the 3 cities involved.

    The money from the fine can then be used to roll out fibre to the 3 cities.

    Everyone wins, except SBC and Comcast.

    • by wisnoskij (1206448) on Monday July 28, 2014 @05:28PM (#47553201) Homepage
      How do you intend for them to fine a company for buying advertisement space, and using it?
      • by sstamps (39313) on Monday July 28, 2014 @05:40PM (#47553297) Homepage

        Fraudulent advertising, perhaps?

        I'm sure some highly-paid lawyer type could find something to stick on them.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        It's not about "advertisement space." It is about slander and libel. You can, in fact, sue people for making untrue statements that negatively effect you.

        • by tsqr (808554)

          It is about slander and libel. You can, in fact, sue people for making untrue statements that negatively effect you.

          In general, you can sue anybody for pretty much anything. Winning a lawsuit is another matter. And neither slander nor libel is applicable in this particular instance.

          Slander is the action or crime of making a false spoken statement damaging to a person's reputation. Libel is the action of publishing a false statement damaging to a person's reputation. Whose reputation was damaged in this case?

  • by WaffleMonster (969671) on Monday July 28, 2014 @05:34PM (#47553259)

    The only broadband nightmare I have is the reality of continuous non-stop rate hikes of 10-15% every 6 months. No other "utility" even comes close.

    • by _anomaly_ (127254)

      No other "utility" even comes close.

      No, but my health insurance (individual, not through my small-business employer) goes up about 30% per annum... but I digress...

      • by Wildclaw (15718)

        No, but my health insurance (individual, not through my small-business employer) goes up about 30% per annum...

        That would be about a 400% increase in a 6 year period..

  • Works fine (Score:4, Informative)

    by GWBasic (900357) <{slashdot} {at} {andrewrondeau.com}> on Monday July 28, 2014 @05:45PM (#47553329) Homepage
    My hometown has municipal broadband, it's had it since 2000. It works much better than Comcast, and they're much easier to work with.
    • by Krishnoid (984597) on Monday July 28, 2014 @06:07PM (#47553469) Journal

      My hometown has municipal broadband, it's had it since 2000.

      Your ideas are intriguing to me and I wish to subscribe to your postcards.

      • by GWBasic (900357)

        My hometown has municipal broadband, it's had it since 2000.

        Your ideas are intriguing to me and I wish to subscribe to your postcards.

        When I finally moved back a few months ago, the technicians who set me up kept raving about how awesome it is to work for my town's municipal broadband. We have municipal electricity, TV, and phone too!

        • by Lehk228 (705449)
          are you a communist?

          is that what communism is really like?
          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward

            are you a communist?

            is that what communism is really like?

            No. This is socialism. The community provides services, but we still can own our own businesses.

    • On the other hand, you have touched the damned dirty communism, and now have cooties.

  • Explains some things (Score:5, Interesting)

    by nine-times (778537) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Monday July 28, 2014 @05:47PM (#47553351) Homepage

    Maybe these fliers were honest, and Comcast just believes the investing in an ISP is a money-losing venture. It would explain some things.

    I guess the only sensible response is to sell your stock in Comcast. They view their own business as a money-pit and a disaster waiting to happen.

    • They were honest: comcast is very scared of it. And those cities WERE failed experiments in the sense that they weren't very experimental. What's the hypothesis here being tested? That the city can offer a municipal service... involving computers?
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      From one of the postcards:

      "What private investors will spend money on a project that has only one stated financial goal- to break even?"

      The audacity of the government to try and do something for what it costs and no more! Why I never!

  • by Touvan (868256) on Monday July 28, 2014 @05:48PM (#47553355) Homepage

    This highlights the need for citizens who would set up municipal broadband to better understand the techniques of propaganda (marketing in the US) and communication - and to not forget to utilize those techniques to further their own agendas. A technique isn't evil or good - it's just a technique, and an advantage if it's a good one.

    Some understanding of cognitive science and political science wouldn't hurt either.

  • by Virtucon (127420) on Monday July 28, 2014 @06:12PM (#47553495)

    FUD works folks, that's why you have spin doctors constantly shaping news headlines with press releases and carefully worded speeches. Couple that with a litany of non-profit organizations to get the word out and you have your own fact machine. Really, facts don't matter because people's perceptions are more important than mere facts. This might have been a great idea, a municipally based service without all the baggage that a big carrier brings to the table but hey, why let facts get in the way of myth?

    Dirty tricks in business have been around for centuries and nobody should be surprised that Comcast and SBC(AT&T) did this.

    • by turp182 (1020263)

      Perception is reality. Sucks sometimes because "the truth is out there" (my son's middle name is Fox for a reason, primarily because I got to name him, my wife named his twin sister...).

    • by guruevi (827432)

      It's not necessarily the FUD that worked. Read the presentation - the proposals were killed by a State senator that was bribed to make a law that said "no office in this state can sell high speed Internet"

      • by Virtucon (127420)

        I was referring to FUD/Spin in general and yes it is associated with TFA. All you have to do is watch Sunday morning news programs and it's full of shit talkers who have nothing better to do than try and convince you that their position is correct. Likewise DC is full of lobbyists whose job it is to cloud the issues with FUD to the point that you and I, much less the lawmakers, can figure out what the truth is. Couple that to 24 Hr. News programs who don't do journalism but just 5 to 6 minute sound bites

  • by soft_guy (534437) * on Monday July 28, 2014 @06:27PM (#47553577)
    The questions raised in the advertising are pretty good ones. If the city bungles the fibre network and loses a lot of money, you'll be forced to pay for it in taxes. If Comcast fucks up and their costs go out of control, you at least have a choice to opt out. As much as I don't like Comcast and AT&T, I have no faith in government to be an ISP.
    • The government of Chattanooga [chattanoogagig.com] seems to be doing just fine. Probably more fair to say that it's the people who run government that is the issue, not government in general.

    • by mcrbids (148650)

      We paid Comcast to bring broadband to us in the first place. That they haven't done it yet means we'd only have to pay twice to get it if we went the municipal route, whereas we won't get it at all from Comcast.

      Even if we did "get" the broadband, they've shown perfect willingness to simply refuse to upgrade their networks to allow bandwidth to flow from Internet companies they don't like. (*cough*Netflix*/cough*)

    • The questions raised in the advertising are pretty good ones. If the city bungles the fibre network and loses a lot of money, you'll be forced to pay for it in taxes. If Comcast fucks up and their costs go out of control, you at least have a choice to opt out. As much as I don't like Comcast and AT&T, I have no faith in government to be an ISP.

      Opting out means living without internet access for several years. Is that a realistic option?

    • by dtmancom (925636) <gordon2 AT dtman DOT com> on Monday July 28, 2014 @09:33PM (#47554545) Homepage
      "I have no faith in government to be an ISP."

      I have no faith in the federal government to run an ISP. They would be worse than Comcast, and would probably never get it running until they have spent a year's GDP.

      I have slightly more faith in a state government to run one. Not as many people to pay-off around most state capitols as there are around DC.

      I would have a lot of faith in a local or city government to get it done. They live right there amongst their customers, typically have to work within a budget, and have a vested interest in doing it right the first time.
  • Batavia, Geneva and St. Charles Illinois. I was a member of the committee that worked on getting this initiative through each community. One of the members posted this interview with Broadband Reports back in the day....

    http://www.dslreports.com/show... [dslreports.com]

  • by roc97007 (608802) on Monday July 28, 2014 @07:10PM (#47553839) Journal

    > ...when "internet service [is] already offered by two respectable private businesses?"

    Because it's not. Respectable, that is. And I could make arguments against "private", as they're a government enforced duopoly.

  • Nah, why go through all that bother of making speeches, kissing babies, and politicking? Just buy the candidates and then yank on their shorthairs so they vote for you, mischief managed!

  • by Gothmolly (148874) on Monday July 28, 2014 @07:56PM (#47554069)

    People didn't look, or think, they just reacted from their gut. Sounds like perfectly trained American voters/consumers.

    Who's the villain here?

  • If you believe double sided postcards from unknown people that are put in your mailbox, you are a fool and you reap the benefits. Been that way since postcards were invented.
  • by PeteCollins (3768355) <pcollins@geneva.il.us> on Monday July 28, 2014 @09:18PM (#47554505)
    All: Feel free to hit me up with any questions. Either here, via email, or phone. Pete Collins I.T. Manager City of Geneva, Illinois pcollins@geneva.il.us 630.232.1743
    • by godrik (1287354)

      Nice of you to offer your knowledge! A few question since I did not know about that effort.
      1/ Was a local ISP ever created?
      2/ What would be your advice in creating a local (either city funded or privately funded) ISP?
      3/ Are there other communities that managed to pull it of?
      4/ A major argument at the time appeared to be that a tax-payer funded ISP was anti-competitive, is there a easy way around it? What about one time city grants to fund a non profit?

      Thanks for your expertise!

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by PeteCollins (3768355)
        Much of the data is over 10 years old, but here's how we answered the bulk of questions in 2004: http://www.geneva.il.us/index.... [geneva.il.us] 1. No local ISP was created as the referenda did not pass at the polls. 2. See this write up: http://www.dslreports.com/show... [dslreports.com] 3. Yes. See here for current info - http://www.muninetworks.org/ [muninetworks.org] 4. The first time around in 2003, the build was to be backed using General Obligation bonds (tax-payer backed) and was put on the ballot by the elected officials. When the issue went to
    • Thanks, Pete. I lived in Geneva when this went down and it really really sucked. The post cards that came in the mail (I don't remember the Comcast ones, but the SBC ones were AWFUL - really? a guy eating a rat?) fed on people's worst fears. The kicker is that the referendum came up on an "off-year", so turnout was horribly low, old, and uninformed. I really think it would have had a better shot if it had come up during a presidential year when turnout was better.

  • and if the government wanted to start up a tax funded competitor to my business, I would be fighting that tooth and nail too.
  • Call the FTC. [ftc.gov]

    Not that they can actually do anything about it.

  • By allowing only two competitors to serve the municipality, our own local governments are engaging in the violation of one or many anti-trust laws.
    If the competitors serving said market are doing an awful job, it is up to the municipality to allow more competition to come in. Instead, since
    they effectively own the market, they are wanting to compete in it as an effort to handle their own legislative ineptitude.

    http://www.wired.com/2013/07/w... [wired.com]

    http://arstechnica.com/tech-po... [arstechnica.com]

    Google received stunning regulatory concessions and incentives from local governments, including free access to virtually everything the city owns or controls: rights of way, central office space, power, interconnections with anchor institutions, marketing and direct mail, and office space for Google employees. City officials also expedited the permitting process and assigned staff specifically to help Google. One county even offered to allow Google to hang its wires on parts of utility poles—for free—that are usually off-limits to communications companies.

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