Fast, affordable Internet access for all.
Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 439
This is the transcript for Episode 439 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. In this episode, Christopher speaks with Michelle Barber and Andre Lortz about the recent vote for municipal fiber in Kaysville. Listen to the episode, or read the transcript.
Michelle Barber: I think it's about more than fiber optic technology. It's about more than fast Internet speeds. It's about community. It's about taking care of people beyond the walls of my house. It's about looking towards the future.
Ry Marcattilio-McCracken: Welcome to Episode 439 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. This is Ry Marcattilio-McCracken here at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Today, Christopher talks with
Michelle Barber: and Andre Lortz. Both serve on the Kaysville City Council, and are members of the group, Citizens for Kaysville Fiber. But today, they join us to talk as regular citizens of the city of 30,000 in Utah. Kaysville has been working to improve Internet access for years. Some people have good connectivity, but other parts of town are very poorly served. Michelle and Andre share the history of efforts to make forward progress, and moves to create a municipal fiber network.
Ry Marcattilio-McCracken: The city originally considered a model with a utility fee, but in the face of opposition ultimately decided for a bond approach which just saw a vote where the measure was narrowly defeated. Michelle, Andre and Christopher talk about how it happened, including how major providers funded public relations campaign to scare people away, and the project's continued support, and what it means for the future. Now here's Christopher, talking with Michelle and Andre.
Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another episode of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. I'm Christopher Mitchell at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in St. Paul Minnesota. Today I'm speaking with two folks who are probably significantly warmer than I am, and probably a bit sunnier too. Two folks from Kaysville, Utah. Let me introduce
Michelle Barber: from the city council, welcome to the show.
Michelle Barber: Well, thank you for having me.
Christopher Mitchell: And we also have Andre Lortz, who is also on the city council. Welcome to the show.
Andre Lortz: Great to be here with you.
Christopher Mitchell: Thank you both for joining. And I know that there's a number of folks from... a number of local activists from the city council, people that have been engaged in this, and we weren't able to find a time that worked for everyone. But, we want to make sure that we acknowledge just how much work has been put into this by everyone. So, I really appreciate the two of you being able to join us to go over what's been going on in Kaysville, and a sense of what the future may bring. But let me actually start quick, Michelle, I know that you have a bit of a technical background. Just tell us briefly about yourself, and what brought you to your position on the city council.
Michelle Barber: Yes, thanks. So, I have lived in Kaysville for quite a while, and was actually born here, lived in different places then came back, raising my family and have four young kids right now. I've worked in technology, web design, end user experience specifically for my whole career. I started with things like HTML like everybody else, and I've just moved on from there. And it's been a great career. I've always had a passion for technology. And then about three years ago, I had young kids, and a young baby, and somehow found myself campaigning for city council in our little town. And it's been quite the ride. It's been a good experience. I'd always wanted to be involved in civic leadership in some way. And this has been a really great opportunity to serve my city and get to know a lot of people.
Christopher Mitchell: That's excellent, and also energizing. When I had my son, I definitely took a step back from everything else.
Michelle Barber: Yeah. Some go back, some go forwards, who knows?
Christopher Mitchell: So, Andre, same question for you. How did you find yourself on the City Council?
Andre Lortz: Well, I was invited by Michelle and the Mayor about a little over two years ago to join what they had as a technical advisory committee to explore fiber in the city. And from there it transformed into running for city council last year, and started service this year.
Christopher Mitchell: Oh, that's interesting. I mean, I was not aware of that in your background. But we've heard this from several people who have made this an issue that has launched them into a career of serving the community. So, it's great to have your perspective on it as someone who's done that.
Andre Lortz: I don't know if it's going to be a career, but I love to help out community.
Christopher Mitchell: Sure. Well, I think it's just interesting, and it's a reminder that at the local level, particularly in towns that are less than, say, 50,000 people, you can organize for change or you can go ahead and put your hat in the ring. So salute both of you for that. Let's go back to perhaps even before that, when you were starting, Andre. And so let me ask you, Michelle, what was the beginning for you of where the Kaysville fiber effort has started from?
Michelle Barber: For me, I've got to go fairly quite far back actually, probably about 10 years ago. From my personal experience is, we moved, we bought a brand new house in Kaysville. Were were really excited. We'd come from just a neighboring city, just a few miles away. Came in and found, what a lot of new homeowners find, and which they had investigated earlier when they get a brand new house, that I had almost zero options for broadband connectivity in my new house.
Christopher Mitchell: That's a problem for your career.
Michelle Barber: Real huge problem for my career. And I've been working from home for a really long time, at least hybrid, home and in the office. And so, like I said, I have young kids, young family, and it was really hard. I'm fortunate, we went through about a year of lots of different satellite options, and finally we were able to get a wired connection to come to our house. And it was helpful, but it was just an experience that I'll never forget of, "Oh my gosh, what have I done bringing my family here?" And anyway, it turned out fairly okay for me. But I always have known that that broadband is number one, essential, and number two, our area had limited options and that it was a really mixed bag of what you found, depending on where you lived in our little town.
Michelle Barber: So, fast forward a little bit, I'm campaigning. And one of the big questions I would hear from people is, "When are we going to get better options for this? Lots of cities around us are having better options. We're falling behind. What can we do?" Then I was elected in 2017, started serving at the very beginning of 2018. And my very first meeting at city council. One of the things we were working on was approving our city's own fiber ring that had been in the process well before I started saying, "We need to connect all of our city services somehow." It actually had fiber decades before, and they worked with our county to put it in and it worked really well.
Michelle Barber: But they just wanted to connect more things, substations, all sorts of ideas. And it also had that option, the idea, someday we could extend this to fiber to the home. And so day one started working on that. I was excited about the vision, but also saying, "Let's be really cautious how we go about this." Because our area, our state had known some really successful fiber optic projects, and much more popularly we had known some really difficult ones that had a really hard time getting started. And so, the political side of it was a challenge.
Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, I want to get into that to get a sense. In part because, most of my interactions are with people that go much deeper on fiber than the common person does. So we'll talk about that in a second. But I'm curious, Andre, when was the first time that you started thinking about municipal fiber?
Andre Lortz: Probably when I was invited to join the technical advisory committee. [crosstalk 00:07:48].
Christopher Mitchell: I'm sensing a pattern.
Andre Lortz: ... activity, we had some challenges, but yeah. When I was invited, I think the first conversation I had with the mayor and with the IT manager was, "Okay. You're going to have to really get me to understand why the city should do this." I was like, "I'm going to say you should stay out of it." And it wasn't until we started going through understanding what was the challenges within the city, and how many people within the city had very, very poor options. And I mean, really, the separation between some neighborhoods having 90-year-old copper cable and couldn't get DSL, to people that had brand new fiber connections.
Andre Lortz: And clearly the people that had what they thought was adequate, could care less about the people that had nothing else. And so seeing that disparity in the city was like, "Oh my goodness, we've got to help solve this." Because the businesses weren't solving it. The commercial providers would cherry-pick what they want to do and where they'd invest money. And I said, "You know, this is not something that an individual homeowner can go solve." So that's when I kind of flipped over and said, "This is definitely something the city's got to jump into to help solve the competition problem, the infrastructure problem."
Christopher Mitchell: Now, as a marker, I should've noted, Kaysville has about 30,000 people, a little bit less than that I think. And so this is a... it's a big enough city that you're going to have some good connectivity, and then it's small enough that the providers are not going to extend that border-to-border generally it feels like. Now, you also, Michelle, as you eluded to, I mean, we've talked a lot about Spanish Fork which has been frankly, one of the sleeper, really successful municipal networks. And we've talked a lot with Utopia. I've had Kim McKinley on, Roger on, several times.
Christopher Mitchell: And I guess I'm curious, because I get a sense that people do have kind of a split feeling in that, there's still a sense among some about the history of the financial problems. And among other folks there's just a sense of the fact that you have such great service at such low prices for those who have it available. So, what do people in Kaysville know about that in terms of what nearby communities are dealing with?
Michelle Barber: I can answer from my perspective, going back to what I was talking about before, campaigning. When I was mentioning how much I wanted better broadband Internet options, and I'd love a fiber network, I personally was really careful to never say the word, Utopia, when I was campaigning. Because... And this is four years ago, I really associated it in my mind with just the failed projects, and in my mind, failed projects. Because I had seen in the early... Oh, what was it? Probably like 2006-ish time, I worked in a neighboring city where Utopia came in. I saw both the business owner and homeowners, they put a lot of money upfront.
Michelle Barber: And then it took a really long time for the project to get going. And I have admitted lots of time publicly, that that's kind of where my knowledge of the projects ended. I just had a bad experience, that bad taste, and I was really cautious. But since then I've learned about how successful, their projects have turned around, how their newer models have worked really well. I knew about Spanish Fork, but not thoroughly. And so, it's taken me a long time to realize, "Oh, there was so much more than just that initial bad impression that I had." And I think that's probably representative of a lot of residents that felt the same way.
Michelle Barber: They heard one thing, or it only takes knowing one person, or one family member that had a bad experience. And then that's where it ended in your mind. What I was happy to learn since then is, yeah, even if they had a hard time getting off the ground initially, they've had much more success since then. And that's what should be talked about, at least as much as the early on troubles.
Christopher Mitchell: And, Andre, you had mentioned that you came in deeply skeptical. I think a lot of people associate a kind of skepticism of government with almost anyone from Utah, just as as stereotype. And I'm curious if that was sort of the general sense, or if it was a sense of Utopia and how it had struggled for so long that informed that at all? Or, what made you so skeptical initially?
Andre Lortz: No, I really didn't have a negative impression of Utopia or other projects related to fiber. I guess having a financial background, being a CPA, chief financial officer for companies, I was able to get through financial information pretty quickly. For me the skepticism was more of, what's the city's role in this? Why should they be providing a communications service. And I think there was a little bit of a naïve approach, that I didn't really separate the ISP from the network operator or network owner. And that was part of the processes.
Andre Lortz: I learned the different components and parts, but I said, "Oh, I can see the city's role and how they can be part of this and make it successful, versus it's an all-in-one type of thing that they have to do everything." Because what I think everybody's afraid of, the government doesn't have the expertise, they're not going to hire the best people, they don't pay the best. And so you're going to get a bad result, because you don't get the best out of it. Versus a company that specializes in it, they're going to put the right expertise and the effort to make sure it's successful.
Christopher Mitchell: Sure, yeah. I mean, that's something that, I think even some of the strong supporters of municipal networks should be giving greater thought to. One of the things that we try to do is to both be supportive of the right of cities to do this, and also make sure that they're taking it very seriously for all those reasons. Because, I just with Utopia, if you get some things wrong, and there were some things that were out of their control, but it takes a long time to dig out of... So let's move into the history then of... So that's the sense of how you approached it, and a sense of how people were thinking about it. But, what was the process then of city council starting to make decisions around this?
Michelle Barber: I think one of the best things we did early on in 2018, which is crazy, it seems like a lifetime ago... But one of the best things we did, and actually I have to acknowledge we had some great help from some residents who got involved as well, was, instead of trying to tackle the entire thing all at one time and say, "Let's build this fiber ring, and also build out fiber in every single person's home all at once, right now. Let's take a step back. Let's say this ring is needed for city purposes, but let's build it to scale. But eventually we can utilize it for other purposes once we're building it, it's so much cheaper to add some extra fiber strands right then, when you're already in the construction mode. Let's do that, and then let's take a big step back and decide how we want to approach fiber to the home." And so, I went back and forth with the IT manager several times on different options. We had some different proposals come in.
Michelle Barber: And that's when we said, "Actually, we need help from the outside. Let's bring in some experts from our community who can help lead and guide this project." And Andre being one of them, I've joked many, many times, he probably wishes he had not answered my phone call that day. Because it's been a wild ride since then. But anyway, I think that was a good thing to do. Even though it seemed like it's been a long time, and that we're still very much in the middle of it. I think that was the right thing to do. I think if we had jumped into it right then in 2018, I think we would've been doing what you caution people against. Just jumping in without really knowing what to do, maybe having a partnership with a company that we didn't quite [inaudible 00:15:36] out really well. And most importantly, not educating our residents and businesses about the opportunity.
Christopher Mitchell: And so, that's also where you got pulled in, Andre. So what happened next?
Andre Lortz: As Michelle said, we did skill an RFP and requested proposals, but it was really generic about, how do we bring fiber to Kaysville City? And we really ended up with the three different models. A public private partnership, an outsourced model, and a fully city-owned and operated utility model. And for me it was like, "Wait a minute. These are totally different solutions. I don't know that we're prepared to pick each one. Let's understand the details better." And so we spent a lot of time trying to dig through all those, and basically set aside the RFP to go through a learning process as Michelle said. And brought in some expertise, got some consultants, and tried to say, "Let's really dig this apart."
Andre Lortz: And I think one of things for us is that Kaysville owns its own power department. And so we have all the power pulls, we have some of the infrastructure. And so that is a unique position of, utility model is the absolute best way. There's very little risk, very low cost, and we have all the infrastructure to be able to make that happen. The thing that then happened was, the community did not like the idea of being forced into a new utility, and there was a big debate about inactivity, broadband, even a utility, is it essential services? And that fired up a lot of the conservative base within Utah, which has a very large conservative base. And it was all about, "You're taking away my freedoms, my choice, my options." And so there was a lot of angst in discussion as we went through proposals and process to discuss it and have public meetings.
Andre Lortz: And eventually as the city council approved an initial plan to do a utility, the citizens began a referendum process to stop it. And so that really began the next stage of, "What do we do here?" So the city council set aside the utility model and said, "Okay, we hear the residents, that they don't like this model." And we said, "We'll step back again and reconfigure it based upon all the feedback, and the public meetings and interactions that we had. And that's when we came to the proposal that we did here in 2020, which changed it to really be a subscriber-based model that was going to be put to a vote of the citizens. Because that was the other thing. They said, "Give us a choice." It's such a big deal, and it's a big commitment. It has a bond associated to it. So that let's the citizens have their voice heard on this issue.
Christopher Mitchell: I want to pull back just for a second to talk about that utility model. Because I was so excited when I first learned that you were pursuing that. Because it's such an elegant solution in terms of, being able to make sure that every person has a reasonable cost service. I mean, if everyone's paying some amount, I mean, I feel like the sweet spot is often around $20 a month. Which certainly will, for people on fixed income, I would love to find a solution. Because it is a lot of money. But you know, I pay a lot more than that for school, and I don't have as much control over that. There's a lot of things that I pay money for in the city that I don't get nearly as much, perhaps, perceived value from.
Christopher Mitchell: And so I really like this model. And I honestly have thought for a while that Utah would be the first state to have it. Because there's so many people in Utah that really value that community spirit and working together. I mean, often it's not within government. But I was hoping that it was still the sense of, we're all in this together, would lead to the utility tax working, and it being the shining light that would then lead hundreds of other communities in that direction. Because, one of my goals is obviously to have everyone connected. And it's so hard to do that if you don't have that income guaranteed from the population.
Andre Lortz: The one thing, when we first started the utility discussion was, the price is going to be like 12 bucks a month, and you got a basic Internet service included with that. And so you're talking about the fixed income people, they'd essentially get the Internet for that. Which everybody was paying way more than 12 bucks a month for service that may be even worse than what we were going to provide. And so that's where it was a little bit surprising that people were so against it when the price was very low. I mean, they spend more than that on a lunch in one day, and yet this seemed to be an astronomical number. And I think it's more about the choice. It's taking-
Michelle Barber: Yeah, I think that-
Andre Lortz: ... away the freedom of choice.
Michelle Barber: Yeah, I think that's what it comes down to. And like you said, with the low-income model, what I hope our community and more communities can realize, is that this is a tool to benefit your low-income residents, or residents in need. And you can get creative. If your city has the power, you can... We put out low-income options, where we can have very reduced rates, where we can work out payment plans, whatever it would take. But we're allowing people to have a wonderful broadband connection at their home for affordable rates that will hopefully benefit their lives and help them move to better circumstances. And I think even more the demographic that came up a lot was, par fixed income senior community that I think we also need to be very sensitive to.
Michelle Barber: But I think, like Andre said, most that we talked to, they're already paying for broadband service at some point. We found very, very few who had zero service at their home. Almost everyone was paying. And usually they're overpaying and under utilizing what the Internet could really do for them and their families, and connectivity, and safety. I mean, we could on and on about that. But I think anyone listening to this, I would probably just share the principle commitment that you have is probably the hardest battle. To educate on that, and people don't want to be told what to do. They don't want to have their choices taken away. And it's going to be a difficult road, I think it's a worthy one, but it's not easy to get everyone to catch that vision.
Christopher Mitchell: So as Andre left it, you were then approaching different models in order to deal with that, to allow people to opt out. One of the things that I had seen at one point suggested that I think you were going to try to pursue the utility fee, but have a certain number of opt-outs. But there was a concern that it just would lead to enough people opting out that it wouldn't work. And I think, is that what then pressed you to a whole different approach?
Andre Lortz: No, I don't think it was that we thought that we'd have too many people opt out. The issue again was that they didn't have a choice. "Okay, so what happens in the future? I opted out, how do I get back in?" And of course all the worst case scenarios were always played, "Wow, they're going to charge you way more, and your going to be disadvantaged." And, "Oh, you're now going to make me disclose it on my sale of my house. Now my house is going to be devalued because I don't have fiber connected to it." It was just kind of like, all the fear, the uncertainty and the doubt that was just pushed out about it, that got a lot of emotions stirred up.
Michelle Barber: I would just interject on that. We made mistake as well, you know? Looking back, we could've better explained that as well. I think our, my mistake that I would cautionary tale, is assuming everyone was understanding as much as we were. While we were just barely learning about it, it's quick to make assumptions. And that was something I wish I could've done better, is taking more time to educate the big populous of residents.
Christopher Mitchell: Let me ask you, Michelle, because when I say this, I don't want to de-legitimize honest opposition. No matter what a city does, there's always going to be people who honestly oppose it.
Michelle Barber: Absolutely, yeah.
Christopher Mitchell: But what worry about is, that there's sort of a whipped up opposition from a cynical group that pay public relation folks to really just overly dramatize it. And there's a challenge in which I feel like, city council wants to have an honest discussion. And it's difficult to do if some of the opposition is not interested in an honest discussion. I wondering if that was a dynamic.
Michelle Barber: Yeah. And what I was trying to say before is, I tried to also be respectful. Because like you said, it's okay to have opposition. And it's okay to have differing views. But it is really difficult when we're not all trying to see the same information in the same way. When we look at this past year, 2020, when we look at our opposition, we had it coming form multiple groups. We had multiple different forces of opposition coming against this project. And that was one of the hard parts of it. And yes, there were some that had outside sources, that had outside funding, and I guess marketing projects... Or, sorry, [inaudible 00:24:57], I don't know all the details of it. We had just residents, who some of them and Audrey and I's good friends, who just philosophically opposed.
Michelle Barber: Or like I said before, they had had a bad experience, or knew of someone who had had a bad experience. And they thought they were saving our city from having our own bad experience, and our own cautionary tale. That's just where we're at. That's okay. But it was very, very... There was lots of different opposition. Everything from just, "Government should never be involved in this, let the private sector take care of it from now on forever," to, "There should never be a bond. Bonds are always bad. Debt is bad, [crosstalk 00:25:38]." To, taking away choice, which we talked about, even though we feel like we accommodated that. People didn't like that. And technology, we probably heard the technology argument a million times. That fiber technology would be outdated.
Christopher Mitchell: I've been hearing that for 15 years, [crosstalk 00:26:03].
Michelle Barber: Yeah, yes. I'm trying to be respectful, but it also, it's a difficult argument. Because I think even those that we really would press on it, they realized that fiber will not be outdated. But their argument was, you know, maybe something new will come 30 years, the length of the bond is so long, and technology emerges so fast. Which is true, very, very true. That something else will come along that will make it obsolete. And it was a really hard argument to argue with. Because as we've seen, technology does change really fast. But the roadways that we connect with, they don't change as fast. [crosstalk 00:26:47] enables that.
Christopher Mitchell: The roads that you build, they accommodate the internal combustion engine just as well as they do the electronic, electric car. Andre, it looked like you had a reaction to that as well.
Andre Lortz: When you feel you're trying to be transparent and provide a objective outline of facts and information to let people learn and make their own decision, and then you have opposition, that is emotionally charging the facts with a slanted view, it's hard to overcome. It's hard to get past that one. I had somebody that I had met, that just moved into the city before the election, and was talking with them. And they mentioned how somebody just impassionately told them how bad this project was, and how it was going to destroy the city, and sink us into debt forever. And so I started asking them some questions and talked to them. And they said, "Well, I guess I just didn't really understand it."
Andre Lortz: But they were so impassioned, I figured I had to listen to them. And unfortunately, they voted against the project without really understanding it, you know? So that's frustrating when you get that. I think you know, as Michelle talked about, things we wish we could've done better, I think it's the ground game. If we could've talked to more people one-on-one and interacted with them on a personal level, I think it would've made a difference. And when we look at the results, I mean, there were over 600 residents who didn't select yes or no on the fiber vote, but they voted. And so clearly they were the middle of the road people, that if you just got them to say, "Well, it doesn't negatively impact you if you vote yes," it would've been the other way.
Andre Lortz: And the other thing, ironically, is that there's one HOA in the city that has a fiber... or, not a fiber, but a connectivity broadband contact for every home in their HOA. Whether each home wants that service provider or not, they're forced to use them. And that was our most negative vote, was that area. And just the margin difference in that one voting precinct out of 22, was almost the total difference in failure on the project.
Christopher Mitchell: What was the total vote? We haven't covered it yet. But the vote did fail.
Andre Lortz: Yeah. So we had basically 17,425 votes cast out of 19,500 registered voters. So 90% vote rate.
Christopher Mitchell: I mean, for a local government, that's terrific. It's disappointing, the total results, but kudos on engagement.
Michelle Barber: 90%, that's... 92%. [crosstalk 00:29:24].
Christopher Mitchell: I'm coming from Minnesota so I'm jealous.
Andre Lortz: Now, 90% on fiber, 93% overall voting in the city.
Christopher Mitchell: We have to get our game together. I think Minnesota's legendary for the strongest turnout. But I don't think our cities hit that necessarily, I'd have to check.
Michelle Barber: Yes. I think that's going to be hard to beat. And it was a presidential election year, which we thought about like the most fair way to do it as well. We'll get everybody out, and no one will be able to say that we didn't get every opportunity to voice. And so I think, Andre, the final tally, did you say that yet?
Andre Lortz: Yeah. So it was 8855 against and 8570 for, a 285 vote difference. So basically 49.2% said yes, and 50.8 said no. So, really, really skinny difference.
Christopher Mitchell: so a couple reactions. One is that, Andre, the story about the person that had just moved to town. One of the things I find fascinating is, my organization works on a number of different issues. And one of the things that we really oppose for a variety of reasons I won't go into, is incinerators. When cities build incinerators, or counties, they are so costly that when they go bad, they have taken entire towns with them, bankruptcy. Effectively, Harrisburg, Detroit, there's a lot of places that have really struggled because of incinerator financing. Municipal networks have gone bad. And I've tried to become an expert on all the ways in which they have.
Christopher Mitchell: And it's certainly a distinct minority, not very many of them. But there's not one that's threatened the finances of the city. I mean, these things, they cost less than a bridge in some places. They certainly cost less than the annual road construction budget. And so, that's one of the things I find interesting, is people act like... If we assumed the city would be mistaken to move in this direction, it's not existential as it's sometimes portrayed. And I don't think that's a great argument, but it's worthy context.
Andre Lortz: Well, the interesting thing is, one of the arguments the opposition made was, this bond is a 130% of the city's annual budget. And it's like, why does that matter? I mean, the payment is only 6% of the city's budget. Because that where we had the obligation each year was just the payment, not the full bond. But they played it as though you had to pay it off every year. And said, "How is the city going to handle 130% obligation?"
Christopher Mitchell: Yes. And then the other piece of it, Michelle, I'm curious about this. And again I don't want to suggest that people that oppose the project were all wrong. And I want to respect that people have different reasons. But one of the things we've seen in places, is that an initial vote, even in the days or week after, people start learning more about it. And they think, "Wow, I was kind of suckered by misinformation, and I kind of wish I could do that again."
Michelle Barber: Yeah. I can't tell you how many people have come out of the woodwork and contacted Andre and I and say, "Hey, I wish I would've understood better. I met someone across town who was just relying on this. They're kind of thinking they're going to have to move. Because they have kids going to school, they have college, they want to work from home. If I would've better realized the impact of my vote, or just where it was so close. If I would've made a different choice, or..." And we didn't really get into this. But, once seeing that we had 49+% interested, it took out any question of that the project would be successful. I mean, we were 35% of the high end of what we would need to be self-sustaining. And that didn't even include businesses, and schools, and other utility functions.
Michelle Barber: And so, everyone saw that and went, "Oh. Well, it really would've been successful. I guess is shouldn't have been so cautious. But it's hard because we didn't know that at the time." And so there's been a lot of that. And there's also been, I would say, I've had quite a few people reach out and say, "You know, I kind of voted no out of principle, but I kind of wanted it to pass. Because sure I'd love to save money and have better technology. Greats, I would've subscribed. But you know, I had a principle because I..." Whatever their principle values are, I don't want to speak for them. "But now I realize, oh, darn." And that was too bad. And so, I'm doing better now. But those first couple of weeks, getting those phone calls was probably the hardest part for me.
Andre Lortz: That's one of the things that we heard quite often was that, almost everybody that we've talked to was surprised about the result. The opposition thought it was going to pass and that they were just fighting against the wind. And almost everybody says, "I can't believe it didn't pass. I thought for sure it was going to pass. And as Michelle said, some people voted no, even though they thought it would pass, and said, "That's okay, but I could say I stood by my principle."
Michelle Barber: Yeah. And to that I had a really good conversation with a local leader in our community that was on the opposing side. And I told him, you know, I think a lot of people were surprised. I'm not sure about him personally. But I said, a lot of people were. And just as a cautionary tale, I think we should not underestimate how effectively fear spreads. The motto I gave our team at the end is, it's so much easier to tear something down than it is to build something up.
Christopher Mitchell: It's totally true. And one of the things that I really respect about people who put themselves out there, to run for elected office is, is the ability to keep moving forward after that. Because I can only imagine how disspiriting it is. So I think, both for you and anyone else who's listening, to hold that in respect for people who are on city councils. I appreciate that.
Michelle Barber: I think part of leadership is taking the losses, but also realizing there's still more to do. And I'm not just talking just about the fiber project as a whole. But there's always progress to be had in a city. And sometimes you have to adjust what your vision is based on what other people are going to expect moving forward, it is the epitome of leadership. Like I said, it's hard for a couple weeks, but here we are, we're back at it. Andre and I were both working on other projects in the city too, that's kind of been revitalizing as well.
Christopher Mitchell: Obviously there is a significant number of people that still need a solution. And so, what are the final steps... not the final steps, but what are the next steps? And let's hope that it results in a solution for a lot of people.
Michelle Barber: I don't think we can say final, for sure I wouldn't say that. My first thing that I felt like we really needed to do, I tried to really effectively communicate. We have several different channels in our city. I tried to make sure they all had the information about what happened on the vote. And so, I think the way I coined it was, Kaysville fiber is so close, but not close enough, or still a no-go. To was so close, but it did not pass. And so, we needed to respect that. We had everything lined up to issue the bonds as soon as the yes vote came.
Christopher Mitchell: You would've been able to turn people on next year, which would have been remarkable.
Michelle Barber: Yeah. We would have. We were all lined up to go. And so I wanted to send a very clear message to our city and say, "We are not doing that. We are not going out to the bond market, we're not taking those out." We dissolved the technical advisory committee that Andre talked about. We dissolved, because I felt like part of leadership is also recognizing and listening. And that was a message, as hard as it was to hear from our residents. You know, this didn't pass. That bond is not being taken out. That project in the exact form that we presented is not happening. Because that's important. And so we put it out there, we put the exact vote count.
Michelle Barber: I wanted everybody to know this did not pass, it was defeated by 285 votes. That number, everybody should know. It was funny, one of our friends was saying that, "You realize, you only had to get 140 something more to turn this thing." And you put that to two voters per household, that's really not very many, 2+ voters per household, it's really not very many. But anyway, that was step one. Step number two is, we look at it, and we're a representative body. We represent the entire city. So we have to look at the quantified need that we have, 49% plus of our city are saying, "My Internet solutions are not adequate. What can you do for me?" So that's the process that we're in right now.
Christopher Mitchell: And, Andre, as we're heading closing comments I think, so let me ask if there's anything else you wanted to make sure we got on the record for this interview?
Andre Lortz: Well, I would say that, the results, even though the proposition failed at the ballot, it did as Michelle indicated solidify what was the interest in the city. And because of that interest we've had several parties reach out to us to say, "Hey, let's talk about other solutions and options to still bring a fiber optic network, and hopefully an open access fiber optic network into the city." So I don't think that the vote was the end. And it some ways it may be the beginning of a new future.
Christopher Mitchell: Excellent. And, Michelle, any wrap up comments?
Michelle Barber: Obviously you have an audience far and wide. I would just say, I think that the endeavor that we're about, to me at the very closing of this, I realized, I think it's about more than fiber optic technology. It's about more than fast Internet speeds. Going back to what you said at the very beginning. And I think this is something I'll champion forever, is that it's about community. It's about taking care of people beyond the walls of my house. It's about looking towards the future. It's about making sure that we're equipped to do the things we need to thrive in our homes, and in our societies, and jobs, and school. Let that be a framework, a foundation that we use to build our communities on. And so, I would say, take this as one tool in our tool belts to really make ourselves leaders in better communities for all.
Christopher Mitchell: Yes. I think we can spread that message far and wide. And thank you both. I really appreciate the insight, and going over fresh wounds so quickly.
Michelle Barber: Thanks for having us.
Andre Lortz: Thank you.
Ry Marcattilio-McCracken: That was Christopher talking with
Michelle Barber: and Andre Lortz. We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at muninetworks.org/broadband bits. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @communitynets. Follow muninetworks.org stories on Twitter. The handle is @muninetworks. Subscribe to this and other podcasts from ILSR, including building local power, local energy rules, and the Composting for Community podcast. You can access them anywhere you get your podcasts.
Ry Marcattilio-McCracken: You can catch the latest important research from all of our initiatives if you subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ILSR.org. While you're there, please take a moment to donate. Your support in any amount keeps us going. Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song, Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through Creative Commons. This was episode 439 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. Thanks for listening.
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