Byline: Lisa Smith Daily Herald Staff Writer
Her grass-roots efforts promoting the creation of a municipal broadband network in the Tri-Cities could be considered a double- edged sword for Annie Collins.
It gave the 39-year-old stay-at-home Batavia mom the opportunity to address the issue from a citizen activist standpoint at broadband conferences and other gatherings across the country, quenching her thirsts for travel and community outreach.
It also pushed the political newcomer to run for political office. She's challenging county Clerk Jack Cunningham because she was dissatisfied with a 2004 election ballot mix-up under Cunningham that allowed voters in unincorporated areas to vote on her municipal broadband referendum, even though the issue would not affect them.
But Collins' drive for a city-owned Internet utility never came to fruition - voters rejected the measure in 2003 and 2004.
It isn't easy running for political office when your biggest claim to fame was a failure.
Collins, however, sees things differently.
"I will never be disappointed in my effort," said Collins, chairwoman of Fiber For Our Future, the group that led the effort. "I like to think we won."
Fiber For Our Future won, Collins likes to say, because the grass-roots group with its small budget fought the deep-pocketed giants of telecommunications.
The fact that the companies spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in advertising and direct marketing asking voters to defeat the 2004 proposal showed Collins they were worried about losing customers. And the threat of competition, Collins believes, pushed SBC and Comcast to expand their local broadband service area and improve customer service.
Her time in the trenches taught Collins a lot about the referendum process - so much that she now offers advice to groups in other communities about how to file referendum petitions and drum up support for municipal broadband networks.
With her dark red hair, long fingernails and high-heeled shoes, Collins isn't the typical techno geek. But she wasn't as interested in the technical aspects of fiber to the home as much as the potential community benefits.
A municipal broadband network, she realized after doing some research on the topic, could serve as an economic development engine, drawing high-tech companies - and with them, high-tech jobs - to the area.
Collins has a core of supporters in the Tri-Cities, including the Republican mayors of Batavia and Geneva, who were impressed by her work on the broadband campaign and her other work in the community.
The Batavia Chamber of Commerce supported Fiber For Our Future's municipal broadband push as a way to improve Internet availability in downtown Batavia.
Roger Breisch, the chamber's executive director, nominated Collins for a 2004 "hometown hero" award through the American Red Cross for her work not only on the broadband issue but also for her other volunteer service in the community.
"She's just put her heart and soul into these things," Breisch said. "She does what she truly believes is important work."
Batavia Mayor Jeff Schielke praised Collins' "ingenuity and her personal drive."
"She's got a tenacity about her that she's not going to let anybody fool her or push her around. …