It feels good to be back…
Politics of all kinds seem to be more driven by opposing what the “opposition” supports rather than by what we ourselves hold to be true and in the greater interest of citizens. This environmental-scanning governance and advocate-based approach is incrementally eating away at our future.
Take the recent Fort Collins election, where just more than half (57 percent) of the roughly 38,000 voters supported bonding up to $150 million to support the city pursuing broadband as a public utility.
It’s an extremely complex issue that fundamentally became a referendum on Comcast as a corporate entity with a well-earned reputation for terrible business and residential services. Oh, and of course, a first-world want for faster and allegedly lower cost internet services. Who wouldn’t want this?
Essentially, municipal broadband — with potentially significant impacts, good and bad for Fort Collins’ residents and our city’s future — was significantly boosted by voters casting their ballots primarily, if not exclusively, on an “anti”-provider basis.
Where this can become potentially harmful is when “anti”-minded voters don’t take the time to understand the broader context and then quickly fade away during implementation because they seemingly got what they wanted.
In this case, voters said “we trust government over corporations” to provide quality broadband services. But will those same people now ensure that this newly entrusted provider will be able to live up to the promise of better and cheaper?
If not, are Fort Collins’ staff and elected leaders truly prepared to deliver on this promise, along with their promise to have this new service improve the business environment?
In my humble opinion, if our leaders and staff don’t fully embrace broadband as something much different than our current utilities, they are going to jeopardize their ability to be viewed more positively than corporate providers.
Offering or approaching broadband as just another municipal utility, like water or electricity, would ignore hundreds of years of history regarding how critically consumers have viewed all electronic information providers. And there’s a reason for this: These services are far more top-of-mind, subjective, personal and emotional to end users than any other current utility.
Americans have been vilifying electronic information providers since the advent of the telegram. I wasn’t around for that but certainly recall national frustrations with Bell Systems, MCI and the other telecom providers.
Moreover, there is an additional challenge of not appearing invasive or controlling regarding users’ access and data/information. Right now, there are major concerns developing around how providers might respond if net neutrality rules are lifted, allowing providers to control speed, access and costs.
Some might point to this as a strength of moving to a city-run broadband, but don’t forget: It’s elected officials who are changing the rules to begin with. As for Fort Collins’ part, they must build systems and establish policies, and then communicate them in a way that assures accountability to citizens for these types of controls.
The opportunity for citizens and our city’s leaders to get it right moving forward is upon us. For the betterment of business and our community, I hope that broadband turns out to be a love story and not a drama.
Clint Skutchan is the CEO and collaboration specialist at Two Way C3. Reach him at 970-402-0852 or 2WayC3@gmail.com.