EATel, The little locally-owned East Ascension Telecomms company that could, is having a good week. Their bid for an East Baton Rouge parish-wide franchise agreement that will move them into the large capital city market was approved last night. They announced the pending acquisition of Vision Communications, an adjacent Lafourche Parish telecommunications company, whose customer base will increase their size by more than a third. And, wait for it: they announced that their first 4G cell towers became operational this week.
Now, on to the inevitable caveats:
1) Re: The EBR franchise. While this is an undeniably good thing for Baton Rouge generally (EATel is building a FTTH network that gets rave reviews) it isn’t at all clear that it will be widely available. According to the Advocate story the firm fought suggestions that it should be required to adhere to the sort of build-out requirements that Cox (but not AT&T) was required sign. Generally build-out requirements mean that the company would be required to serve everyone—not just the most profitable (read wealthy) customers. The only reason that EATel and other telecomm companies have to bother with franchises is that they want to use the public’s resources—the rights of way along roads that the community owns and maintains. The council’s failure to insist on some, eventual, conditioned, form of universal access means that it is unlikely that the full benefits of fiber-based competition will reach the poorer and/or rural parts of the parish.
2) Re: The expansion down Bayou Lafourche. EATel won’t be building an new network in this area. According to the Daily Comet:
While Eatel has no immediate plans to convert Vision’s network to faster fiber optic, Russell says Vision customers can expect “an upgrade of the network to improve current services.” Those details are not solidified, but Russell said adding high-definition channels and improving Internet speeds are among the possible improvements.
No fiber. That’s sad. On the other hand the local family-owned company is bound to provide better service and more timely upgrades than the current “venture fund” owners could be bothered with. Note: The Advocate also has a nice story with some additional details.
3) Re: The ongoing upgrade to 4G LTE in their footprint. No caveats needed. This is an unabashedly good thing—especially as AT&T is notably late to the 4G LTE party. (What AT&T is passing off as 4G is not, by most accounts, the real deal…their HSPA+ version lacks much of what is supposed to come with a real shift to the next generation of wireless—not that AT&T isn’t going to move to LTE…just not quite yet.