Truth Test: Ad against Fort Collins internet gives false choice

A week away from Election Day - all of Colorado is being bombarded by TV ads for a local issue in Fort Collins - where voters are being asked if they want to get high-speed internet as a city utility.

KUSA - A week away from Election Day - all of Colorado is being bombarded by TV ads for a local issue in Fort Collins - where voters are being asked if they want to get high-speed internet as a city utility.

You know who doesn't like that idea? The companies that sell high-speed internet, who’ve pitched in six figures from trade associations to help fight question 2B in Fort Collins.

The main theme of the ad they’re running is that Fort Collins has bigger and better things to worry about than building high-speed fiber internet-- other priorities like roads, which the actors in this ad just can't seem to pay attention to.

Almost 20 seconds of the 30-second ad feature shots of drivers in cars not paying attention to the road, one of them making the argument that “public safety” is more important than the internet as a city government focus.

TRUTH TEST: Mayor's ad ignores bond risks

OnSight public affairs (the company that made the ad) told 9NEWS “all footage of people in cars speaking to the camera was shot on closed streets, in private parking lots, or while vehicles were being towed on a flatbed truck.”
That bit of optical irony aside, the ad makes a few claims worth scrutinizing:

CLAIM: “Instead of focusing on [roads], the city wants to get into the internet business.”

VERDICT: RHETORIC

This idea is really just rhetoric. There's no "instead."

Nothing in the language of measure 2B would divert any current city resources away from roads.

It would have been fair to argue that the city should make roads a higher priority than the internet.

But they're both part of a modern city's infrastructure and cities do have to manage more than one problem at a time: trash, police, fire, water-- the list goes on.

This part of the ad tries to make it seem like a binary choice: do you want better roads or city internet instead?

In truth, the world isn't that simple.

CLAIM: “Measure 2B would spent 150 million dollars on a broadband network, with no plan for how to do it.”

VERDICT: NEEDS CONTEXT

There is a fair argument in here, but it needs a little more context.

The ballot question does, in fact, allow the city to take out up to $150 million in bonds to build a high-speed internet system.

But it's a stretch to say there's "no" plan at all-- there's just not a very detailed one yet.

If approved, the city council would be allowed to decide a lot of the details later-- basic things like whether the system should be run directly by the city or by a third party company instead.

Proponents hope to have rates of $50-70 a month depending on the speed you buy, but that's not set in stone either.

Ideally, the city would finalize a lot of these details before taking out the bond money. The investors who buy bonds like to see a plan.

But a vote for this ballot question is putting your trust in the city council to get it right.

Side note: the ballot question does give the city council the option *not* to move forward if they can't agree on a plan.

CLAIM: “If [the city internet service] loses money, our electricity bills could go up.”

VERDICT: TRUE

This is a true possibility. Like most new ventures, this proposal is not risk-free.

In the event of a spectacular failure, the bonds would still need to be paid back.

In the worst-case scenario, if the city built this system and nobody wanted it, our partners at the Ft. Collins Coloradoan figured the city could tack on $17 bucks to everybody's power bill for about the next decade.

Again, that’s the figure you could expect if the city took out the bond money and the whole plan just flat-out failed.

BOTTOM LINE:

This ad tries to distract your attention with other issues besides the one at hand. Failing that, it aims to focus you on the worst-case scenario for the internet proposal.

At the end of the day, this question comes down to whether you believe you can get a better shake on internet from the city than what you've got now.


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