UPDATE: This post is badly out of date. Why not go read the latest version?
I get asked on a fairly regular basis how a regular citizen can manage to get UTOPIA rolling in their area. While there’s no magic bullet, this How To should put you on the right track.
- Put together a strong proposal to make your case. Make a 10-minute presentation that covers why your city needs to join UTOPIA and summarize those remarks in a 1-2 page letter. It’s better to have your arguments together first and then find someone to present them to. Don’t know where to start? Grab this PowerPoint presentation and replace [My City] with the name of your city: UTOPIA Presentation
- Identify city council members who would be interested. Look for those with a background in data-intensive fields such as technology, research, real estate or construction. They’ve likely had to work with sending or receiving large amounts of data that took forever to finish. As much as I don’t like to get partisan over here, my experience has shown that Democrats are more likely than Republicans to be interested in broadband policy. Make contact with those most likely to support membership in UTOPIA before presenting to the city council as a whole. Don’t forget the try the mayor’s office while you’re at it.
- Ask for an agenda item at your next city council meeting. Believe it or not, you too can speak to the city council about whatever you want. Find out who’s in charge of city council agenda items in your city and ask them if you can do a presentation on UTOPIA. More often than not, you can get about 10 minutes to speak. I’ve managed to get a slot at a legislative committee hearing, so it’s not that big of a deal.
- Get prepared for your meeting. Tell friends and family about the meeting and encourage them to attend. The best people to have there are ones that will speak about how UTOPIA will help their businesses. Also make sure you get the word out to UTOPIA supporters in other cities so that you can have them testify about the benefits of UTOPIA. I’m happy to post any UTOPIA-related news or announcement here and I’m sure the folks on the Pro-UTOPIA e-mail list would be equally interested.
- Be ready for an intense Q&A session. The city council will hammer you with financial questions. Make sure you’ve prepared by reading up on when UTOPIA expects to go revenue-positive (2012) and how much it costs the city to join (a feasibility study, no cost for non-pledging, a trust fund for pledging). Above all, don’t be afraid to defer questions to a UTOPIA representative if you don’t know the specifics. Feasibility studies are priced on a case-by-case basis and will contain information on how much sales tax revenue would need to be set aside for pledging status. Some Q&A sessions can last a half hour or longer depending on the council.
- Plan for follow-up presentations. Cities don’t jump into these things based on a single presentation no matter how slick it might be. Plan for future city council meetings as representatives from UTOPIA, Qwest and Comcast may be invited. Make good use of the public comment periods and make sure as many supporters as possible do so as well.
- Above all, thank the council for their time. They’re pretty busy folks who are sacrificing as much time as you are to hear what you have to say. You’re also asking them to put some money (and their future election prospects) on the line. They need to know what you appreciate their hard work and sacrifice.
Still getting stuck? Feel free to e-mail me for help. I’m glad to put together and even conduct presentations to help spread UTOPIA as far as possible. I can also put you in touch with some representatives at UTOPIA who are happy to give your council members a tour of the facilities and provide their own presentations.