Broadband survey 'a lie'

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By DAN CHANZIT
reprinted by permission from the Kane County Chronicle
© 2003 Kane County Chronicle

GENEVA —Comcast and SBC lied to residents and misrepresented themselves in recent telephone surveys that asked about broadband services, Tri-Cities officials charged Thursday.

The telephone survey comes just more than one month before Tri-Cities residents will consider allowing Batavia, Geneva and St. Charles to borrow more than $53 million to create their own broadband company to compete with Comcast and SBC.

Pollsters this week asked Batavia, Geneva and St. Charles residents to rate the quality of their local government officials and their satisfaction with Internet services. Some callers said the Tri-Cities paid for the survey.

"That is a lie," Geneva Mayor Kevin Burns said. "I expect a written explanation. Someone is misleading our community."

Broadband is a general term for Internet, telephone and cable television service. The Tri-Cities believe they can offer better service and more choices for less money than private industry.

St. Charles Fifth Ward Alderman David Richards said he took the survey. Richards, who works in marketing communications and advertising, said it was designed to sway his opinion.

"The questions were very, very loaded ," Richards said. "If you listen to them, there's only one way you can respond to them. It's a very well-constructed survey."

SBC and Comcast officials said they launched independent studies to gather voter information for the April 1 election. They denied the questions were misleading and written to elicit a specific response.

Both companies refused to provide copies of the survey.

"We are trying to get some demographic information, and the likelihood of customers subscribing to our services and intent to participate in the upcoming election," said Pat Andrews-Keenan, Comcast vice president of communications.

SBC spokeswoman Andrea Brands said her company is trying to protect its business.
She said the company spent $62 million to bring broadband service to 62 percent of Batavia, 93 percent of St. Charles and 100 percent of Geneva.

"We have quite a bit of saturation, but the take from consumers has not been that great," Brands said. "We are puzzled. Like any good business, we want to know what's going on."

However, Tri-Cities officials charged the telecommunication giants intentionally worded the questions and timed the survey to confuse voters.

"People are being totally misinformed about the entire issue because of this survey," Richards said. "Obviously, somebody doesn't want the competition."

Batavia City Administrator Bill McGrath said the city received numerous complaints.
"Some of our residents are concerned with the tone of some of the questions asked, and some were led to believe the survey was being conducted by one or all of the three cities," McGrath said.

Batavia Mayor Jeff Schielke was contacted for the survey at his home.
"They asked me what I thought of the mayor and city council," Schielke said. "I rated myself very high.

"By asking about the mayor and the council, they obviously are trying to find out who they have out there in their corner," he said.

"There was never any identification offered as to who it was doing the survey. My caller ID on the telephone showed nothing, which made me think somebody had control over that technology."

Burns said Geneva City Council members called him after they answered surveys.
"They stupidly told the council members they were doing the survey for Mayor Kevin Burns and the Geneva City Council," Burns said.

Officials for the company conducting the Comcast survey refused comment.

"We have confidentiality agreements with our clients, and we are not allowed to discuss our surveys," said Jill Lemke, a senior analyst for C&R Research of Chicago.

Operators for Solutions in Surveys of Phoenixville, Pa., placed the calls.

"We really have no idea what the survey is about," said Ellen Ruppe, who manages the Phoenixville office. "We are just a phone room. We get the phone numbers at random, and the calls are going to Geneva and Batavia."

Brands said the SBC study was conducted by a different Chicago firm, but she declined to identify which one. The calls were placed by a call center in suburban Chicago, she said.

Contributing: Mark Foster and Janna Smallwood.

HERE ARE SOME OF THE QUESTIONS:

The following are questions one survey company asks about the broadband initiative. The call emanated from Spokane, Wash.

What is your opinion on the following statements:

Are the following reasons persuasive to vote "Yes" in the upcoming referendum:

Are the following reasons persuasive to vote "No" in the upcoming referendum:

Would the following questions make you more or less likely to support Tri-Cities broadband:

Now after listening to the previous questions, do you support or oppose the government broadband plan?

The questions also include inquiries about your age, political party affiliation, and if you describe yourself as a liberal, conservative or moderate.

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