Fidelity Communications Caught Astroturfing Muni-Broadband -

02-09 19:40

A small cable company named Fidelity Communications has been caught covertly attacking community run broadband efforts in the Midwest. Terrified of additional competition and disruption, ISPs have long engaged in sleazy attacks on municipal broadband, some going so far as to claim that allowing such networks will result in the government rationing your TV viewing , or will result in taxpayer dollars going tofund pornography. ISPs often try to distance themselves from these attacks by using hired third parties and refusing to comment, which speak volumes about the quality of their arguments.

In the MidWest, somebody has been operating a website dubbed Stop City Funded Internet

in the apparent hopes of stopping municipal broadband efforts in West Plains, Missouri. The website claims the organization is just a "collection of fiscally conservative Missourians" worried about the impact of the city's plan.

West Plains, Missouri is contemplating an expansion of their local municipal broadband network, constructed back in 2015 due to immense local frustration with the lack of speed and high prices of regional offerings (you can read more about that here ). But the "Stop City Funded Internet" campaign (which also has this Facebook page ) has been trying to stop the expansion, telling locals that "money for an internet network means less money for other important things like police and important infrastructure."

The idea that municipal broadband is an automatic pothole-creating boondoggle is a narrative that has been pushed by the telecom sector for twenty years. But such efforts aren't automatic failures, they depend on the quality of the under-riding business model.

And again, such network builds wouldn't be occurring if locals weren't upset by the failure of the private sector. Often, public/private partnerships are the only creative solution for ISPs with no competitive incentive to expand or improve service due to regional monopolies. One only needs to watch how cities tripped over themselves to win Google Fiber's affections to see this broad dissatisfaction at play.

In more than 21 states, ISPs have literally bought laws banning towns and cities from building such networks, even if nobody else will. Knowing that telling locals what they can and can't do with their own taxpayer money isn't popular, so again, companies like Comcast and AT&T often hide their involvement in such efforts, and refuse to speak candidly on the record about it.

But in West Plains, one astute local discovered that a company named Fidelity Communications was behind the PR campaign , and had employed an Arizona PR firm to run it. The discovery forced Fidelity to come clean and admit it funded the PR campaign as part of what it calls at attempt to tell the "other side of the story."

"Our goal is to foster positive, productive conversations among our community while providing an opportunity for diverse perspectives to be considered," claims Fidelity.

But the Register notes that the city's broadband efforts have been completely on board about what the network will cost, with numerous opportunities for locals to provide feedback on the plan. Locals have been attacking the cable company at Facebook for misrepresenting data about municipal broadband, falsely claiming locals will lose essential services if they support the alternative network, and hiding behind an Arizona PR firm.

If Fidelity was truly interested in a "positive, productive" conversation, why hide their involvement in the PR effort to sink the network? And if municipal broadband is just an organic reaction to poor service, why not spend the money paid to an Arizona PR firm back into the network to ensure locals aren't incentivized to build their own?

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