YES carried the day in Decorah and Vinton on November 3rd as voters approved the establishment of municipal communications utilities by overwhelming margins.
In Decorah, 93% voted yes to Measure A to establish a municipal communications utility. 92% voted yes for Measure B, which places the governance of the communications utility under a new utility board. In Vinton, Measure A to establish a municipal communications utility passed with a yes vote of 88%. Measure B, to place the new utility under the Vinton Municipal Electric Board, received 83% approval. A simple majority was required to approve the measures. All of the results are considered unofficial until certified by their local county auditors offices.
In each community, active local grassroots groups promoted the concept. While past municipal telecommunications referenda have faced fierce opposition from incumbent telecommunications companies, there was little or no organized opposition in either community.
Decorah Fast Fiber
The overwhelming approval of the referendum was the result of hard work by Decorah Fast Fiber, a citizen group that organized this summer and petitioned the Decorah City Council to get the referendum on the ballot. Jim Fritz, one of the chairs of Decorah Fast Fiber, says they felt good about the outcome but that the final results were even better than they hoped. Fritz says that door-knocking efforts by volunteers showed the citizens were looking for the opportunity for better service and access to new technologies that local control could achieve.
iVinton-Third Time’s a Charm
This was not the first municipal communications referendum in Vinton. The concept was defeated at the polls twice before, the last time in 2005 when just 47% of voters cast “yes” ballots. Kurt Karr, one of the leaders of iVinton, the grassroots group promoting the referendum, says the organization’s motto-“We’ve Waited Long Enough”-tells the story. “People in Vinton think that access to fast, reliable, and affordable internet service is crucial to our community’s future, and they feel that access is best left in the hands of local citizens and not large corporations,” says Karr. Among the strongest supporters in Vinton this time around were older citizens. Karr credits the older generation’s value on public service for their support.