It has been interesting to see the vigor with which the national telecommunications lobby and their corporate sponsored “think tanks” and spin publications have attacked the local economic development efforts of one small Georgia municipality. It is remarkable that they must resort to half-truths and outright falsifications to make their alarmist case against this proposal.
Wednesday’s issue of The Citizen included an article (by Chris Butler of watchdog.org in Tennessee) on Peachtree City’s municipal broadband initiative. Butler first published a piece on his site in September opposing the proposal. He ran a follow-up article on Oct. 27 that incorrectly quoted the city’s consultant, Mr. Allen Davis of Community Broadband, LLC, as saying Davis claimed he “talked to 76 businesses owners in the area” and received a high level of support for the city’s initiative.
What you may not know is that the guest column by Kelly McCutchen of the benignly-named “Georgia Public Policy Foundation,” also published on Oct. 27, quoted Butler’s erroneous article about Mr. Davis’s claims. Butler also quoted McCutchen’s article in a circular appeal to authority to prop up their mutual cause.
Honest mistakes can happen in any published article. In fact, prior to publishing his October article, Butler submitted an Open Records Request to the city of Peachtree City, which certainly appeared to be an effort to conduct thorough research on the subject.
However, Mr. Butler’s request also included a demand for “information corroborating what Davis said at that meeting showing he talked with around 76 business owners about their private Internet service as well as specific information showing what the business owners told Davis,” again, misquoting Mr. Davis.
The simple fact of the matter, as supported by both minutes and audio recordings of both the Sept. 8 workshop and Sept. 17 meeting, is that Mr. Davis never said he talked to 76 businesses.
At one point in the discussion, he stated that “76 businesses had been identified as potential enterprise customers (high-end user category)” [Source: Official Minutes of the 9/17/15 City Council Meeting].”
During a different part of his presentation, Mr. Davis noted that he had attempted to contact the top 25 (of those 76), and 12 had responded, all of whom expressed an interest in the service.
I pointed out this distinction to Mr. Butler via email on Oct. 23 in direct response to his slanted question, four days before he and McCutchen simultaneously published their spin pieces with their inaccurate quotes.
Butler’s Oct. 27 article deliberately misrepresented facts to support his premise. Unfortunately, his submission to The Citizen for Dec. 12 was recycled work, complete with a now-thrice-repeated misstatement of fact.
For the record, Mr. Davis is an industry professional and Mr. Paul Salvatore has served as the Finance Director for the city of Peachtree City for over 15 years. Both have worked diligently to provide accurate information and guidance based on the highest level of accounting standards and industry norms. They have demonstrated nothing but the utmost concern (not worry, as Butler claims) for accurate data and reasonable financial projections on this project as it has been researched and reviewed over the past year.
Discussion among our community members about the merits and risks of the broadband project is important. However, those discussions should be based on correct information from reliable sources. Ben Nelms has provided both in The Citizen since this process began in early 2015. However, Mr. Butler is neither and has demonstrated he will ignore and distort facts that hurt his cause.
Please consider publishing a correction to Butler’s errors so that the public has access to the same data that Council will have when they make a final decision on whether to fund the municipal broadband project. That discussion is currently scheduled for the Jan. 7 meeting.
[Betsy Tyler is the Public Information Officer and City Clerk for Peachtree City, Ga.]