Fiber For Our Future supporting Tri-City Broadband for Batavia, Geneva, and St. Charles, Illinois

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Election spectrum analysis, by Greg Rivara
KANE COUNTY CHRONICLE 4-5-03
Reprinted by permission

The elections are over, but numbers only tell part of the story. Here is a bit more insight on issues touching each end of the spectrum — broadband and the north Batavia dam.

That the broadband referendum failed should surprise no one. As was said in this very space in February: "Take an unfamiliar concept, put six zeros behind it, and watch voters punch 'No.'"

However, what is surprising is that 40 percent of Tri-Cities voters support the municipally owned concept. It does not matter whether their support is rooted in the belief the cities can provide better service or based on a simple dislike for Comcast and SBC. Forty percent is big enough to reach service thresholds needed for profitability. Given that half of the voters did not participate in the election, the broadband support only will grow.

Comcast and SBC waged an expensive campaign because they could not afford to lose. A defeat would have signaled to other communities the concept has merit. It also would have undermined legislative efforts at the state and federal levels designed to make their companies more profitable. Together, both affect the companies' bottom lines and, therefore, their stock prices.

Broadband is not dead. It is vital for economic interests and an attractive tool in recruiting proactive companies. Look for the Tri-Cities to do nothing in the near future. To do so could encourage catcalls that they are ignoring the will of the people.

St. Charles and Batavia eventually will move forward slowly, possibly starting with businesses. St. Charles can move now because they are a home-rule community. Batavia is expected to become a home rule community. Together, their shared success, combined with continued efforts to grow more grass-roots support, will lay the foundation for broadband and give Geneva enough cover to come on board.

Meanwhile, there will be further research into funding, including if state law allows non-home rule communities to fund such an effort through tax-backed bonds or revenue bonds. Currently, state law allows for revenue bonds for municipal utility ventures such as water, electric sewer and gas. The lawyers will argue if broadband is included. Or, a slight change in the law specifying broadband could be considered, a move to be vehemently opposed by SBC, Comcast and others.

On the opposite side of the spectrum is the north Batavia dam. An advisory referendum recommended the dam not be removed by 62 percent.

Two critical points lost in the debate: Batavia does not own the dam and the dam must be removed. The real question is should the Illinois Department of Natural Resources allow the dam to crumble or remove it safely. As is custom, they sought local advice.

Batavia politicians gave mixed reviews, largely because sentimental issues such as a dam bring out voters. Look for nothing to happen with the dam because the IDNR is not going to make waves over an $8.5 million project without local support.

Here is what will happen: The dam will continue to be neglected and will crumble away. IDNR again will ask for advice, conflicting answers will be given, and nothing will happen — no new dam and no state funding.

More immediate: There are few hydro-electric dams in Illinois, and none are located on a river that you can walk across most months of the year.

* Greg Rivara is the Kane County Chronicle Managing Editor.


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