Advertiser Misses the Point, yet again

The Advertiser introduces a pernicuous bit of misinformation in its article “Consumers still guessing about fiber-optic costs.” This reads a whole lot like a story that an editor asigned the intern and then forgot to review. As nearly as I can tell, however, the author is the business editor. Oh well…

The author conflates fiber optics networks with triple play offerings in both the title and the closing sentence of the story. The fact that she recites the technical differences in the middle of the story is only evidence that she profoundly misses the point and has no idea as to what the significance of these differences are.

Truth is, what is hidden from the reader of this piece is that triple play plans are not all created equal and that he difference lies precisely in what is conflated: an all fiber network will simply have the headroom to supply more services and enhanced services over its network. By offering more services an all-fiber network will be able to defray its costs over a larger number of products and, all things being equal, will be able to offer any one of the services for less money. It can offer ehanced services that simply will not be possible over the hybrid coax or twisted pair networks with which it competes. For instance: it is extremely doubtful that BellSouth can supply HDTV over its lines. Given its current architecture Cox will have a lot of trouble supplying many more HDTV channels that it currently does—an issue that looming regulation deadlines concerning local HDTV broadcasts of multiple HDTV streams and the cablecos’ obligation to carry those makes very real. A full fiber optic system will have no such constraints and will not need to pray for new technology or regulatory relief to offer a full array of high-end services.

The article does a desultory job of listing, without totaling for the reader, the likely costs of independent elements of the triple play drawn from Cox and BellSouth figures in the region. It would make considerably more sense as an article about the triple play if it added up those figures and compared the services offered with the projected prices. After failing to let the reader know the likely totals for BellSouth or Cox it mentions the widely bandied about 85 dollar price for LUS services and signs off without informing the reader of the most salient point such an article about prices could have made: that LUS has firmly promised to undercut any triple play package in the market by 20%. If the story was supposed to help the consumer guess about triple play costs, as the title indicates, then missing that was to miss the presumed point of the story.

All in all, a sad display.

Advertiser Promotes Attending Fiber Hearings

The Advertiser in its Sunday editorial, Public should attend fiber-home hearings, promotes attending the city-parish council meetings that will discuss LUS’ fiber plan.

The Advertiser is right in calling for public participation. There has been little real discussion of the idea beyond the most basic generalities and a discussion of the details of the implementation would go a long way toward establishing a give and take between the community and LUS. …..However I don’t really expect a lot of this sort of detail to come out in the context of a council meeting. The format just isn’t right. The presentation is to the council and only the council can effectively ask hard questions. Public input is effectively limited to less useful condemnations or endorsements of the idea or the few specifics placed before them. Of real discussion, of the back and forth dialog that fosters real understanding and new ideas I expect none.

That Lafayette will simply not have the opportunity to have a real conversation on this with LUS is a direct product of how Cox and BellSouth have chosen to conduct themselves and the bulk of the blame lies at their door. Neither Cox nor BellSouth would benefit from a lowkey, honest, practical, nonideological discussion of the issue. That is because the honest, practical, ideology-free fact of the matter is that this decision is almost all upside and the downside is very small. A reasonable discussion would have started and ended with taking a good look at the issue of electrification. Has LUS’ electrical utility been good for the city? The honest answer is yes. Is the fiber optic initiative similar? The practical answer is yes. The conclusion (after much discussion, no doubt) would be inevitable: going forward would be in the city’s best interest. Cox and BellSouth know that. And since Lafayette’s best interest has nothing to do with their decision making they decided to throw a fit that deprived us all of the very valuable discussion about how to do it. That is why we should really be mad at BellSouth and Cox.

LUS could have done more, however. It isn’t at all clear that the defensive crouch forced on the public utility by incumbent misbehavior is still necessary. In LUS’ favor it has to be said that they have been willing to meet privately with concerned citizens and have been responsive to questioning. But that does not substitute for public hearings with diverse groups (like neighborhoods, entrepreneurs, teachers, and techy types) where a back and forth flow of ideas could develop. As it stands now few know the details and only a few can adequately prepare for what is coming. We certainly hope that will change as the plan goes forward. If Lafayette is to gain maximum benefit from the fiber network ongoing conversation will be necessary.

All that said, and with minimal expectations for the hearings to produce the conversation that is most desirable, I still think we all ought to go.

First, of course, to hear what details we can. But also to show support for the larger idea. Rest assured that the Corporations will turn out their paid-for troops for these events. Be certain that the public response time will be full of mean-spirited and pointless sound bites meant to make the council and the public fearful and uncertain. With passage appearing assured supporters will be tempted to stay home. Please don’t.

Louisiana Governor Makes Big Appointments

Bayou Buzz reports that the Governor has made her appointments to the Broadband Council. Readers with a long memory will recall the law that established the Broadband Council. The Council is tasked with developing a plan for providing broadband in rural areas of the state.

There is a story behind this simple BayouBuzz listing. The establishing law, as is common, was originally introduced in parallel form in both the house and the senate. Co-sponsors in the Senate were Noble Ellington and Lafayette’s Michot.

If Noble Ellington seems familiar it probably wasn’t because he co-sponsored what was originally a pretty good bill. More likely it is because you vaugely recall something about a Louisiana senator saying “tolerance is tearing down the foundation of this country” and getting a lot of great publicity for our state in the national media. Now this Noble fellow from Winnsboro took that bill, which was intended to promote rural broadband and handed it over to BellSouth’s lobbyists to be refashioned into a bill that would forbid local governments from providing broadband for themselves. Seems a little….odd, contradictory, hypocritical? I think so too. Blanco, the Louisiana Municipal Association and the Police Jury Association of Louisiana wrangled a less onerous version that allowed the project to go ahead but made it much harder for municipal utilities to provide such services. Now this guy Noble is put on the Broadband Advisory Council. Makes some sort of twisted Louisiana-style sense—after all if you are going to actually do something sensible you need to make sure that it has a fair chance of failure. Only in Louisiana.

But the fun doesn’t end there: Terry Huval is also appointed a member. Yes, LUS’ Huval.

It should make for interesting conversation, don’t you think?

Here’s the full list of appointees to the Broadband Advisory Council:

Carlo MacDonald, Baton Rouge; Gordon Polozola, Baton Rouge; Terry Huval, Scott; Tommy Williams, Baton Rouge; Senator Noble Ellington, Winnsboro; Representative Francis Thompson, Delhi; Bob Manuel, Ville Platte; Emile Cordaro, Prairieville; Larry Henning, Baton Rouge; Gene Dry, New Orleans; Ted Miller, Arnaudville; Sherman Tate, Little Rock, AR; Cheryl McCormick, Baton Rouge; John Pat Bullock, Shreveport; Roger Stouff, Jeanerette; Judy Brown, Homer

Don’t Believe Everything You Hear

Smartmoney runs an article that raises real questions about whether the Bells can hold onto their core business while investing heavily in wireless and fiber. The implication for Lafayette lies in the fact that the Bells are focusing on expanding in those areas where their investment yields the greatest return. But post-LUS Lafayette cannot be seen as a profit center relative to most locales. Residents of Lafayette should be very cautious about believing that any Bell, BellSouth included, will make a business decision to compete just to compete; what they are seeking is maximum profit.

Here’s the gist of the article:

Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ), the nation’s largest phone company, said Thursday it would consider selling off as much as one-third of its nearly 54 million local phone lines as it reported third-quarter financial results that showed strong growth in less traditional areas like wireless and Internet services.

That’s astonishing news even if it never comes to pass. Giving up lines voluntary is like giving up your bread and butter; it just doesn’t happen. But what is apparent is that Verizon is willing to consider giving up their crusty, reliable “bread” for the richer fat of their “butter.” It isn’t that the lower yield (mostly rural) 1/3 of their base isn’t profitable. No. It is that the wireless and fiber-feed “sheep” yield more lucrative and profitable “butter.” I’m sure that they’d like to keep it all but Verizion in particular has invested heavily in both wireless and fiber (Verizon is the only teleco with real fiber to the home) and they have to finance that in some way. Confidence in the telecom’s has been falling as many analyists show concern that they are having their lines taken by wireless phones and more recently by cabelcos like Cox (who, not incidentally, leads the cableco pack in this regard and is introducing telephony in Lafayette). Consequently, investment monies get more expensive or simply become unavailable. They will need to pay for some of this themselves and be willing to demonstrate their own confidence in the new technologies.

Here’s the nut: they don’t have the money to do it all. They just don’t. Not even the very largest and most progressive, which Verizon is. They will not be able to invest in any but the most profitable tier and will even consider losing huge chunks of their legacy to bridge the gap.

Places like Lafayette were never at the top of that list. And we will be even less likely to raise to that level when we have a fiber optic network of our own that both takes real market share and establishes a cap on the price of the most lucrative services.

Don’t expect BellSouth to be able to carry through with any promises it makes in the next two weeks. Reality is closing in on them as it is on all the Bells. They just don’t have the resources to do it all and will, inevitably, focus on what yields the greatest return.

Lafayette ordinances step toward fiber-optic plan

In a move apparently required by the interaction of state and city-parish law two ordinances that will be discussed on November 9th and 16th—and voted on on the 16th will be introduced November 2nd. City-parish rules require a two week span between introduction and vote on ordinances. One would officially “adopt” the feasibility study (as required by state law.) The other would create the LUS structure that is necessary to provide the firewall between LUS’ new functions and its old services that will meet the requirements that old functions not subsidize the new business.

Blanchard closes his story by noting that “The council will have the option of defeating the introduction of the ordinance, which would effectively defer the matter.” That might bear watching. I can’t imagine that LUS would introduce this unless they knew the council was willing to put it on the agenda but Blanchard is easily the best-informed reporter on this beat and isn’t given to including nonsequiters into his articles.

Ready to get your fiber?

The AP story, Ready to get your fiber?, runs a informative, clear, educational story on the telecom issues of the day. It focuses on fiber deployment (natch) and the author has done his homework on delving into the intricacies of the regulation, differing strategies for using fiber, and the history-based cynicism of some observing the teleco’s new promises. (Fiber has been promised for over a decade.) Where a strategy requires technology not yet in place, such as the advanced DSL that will make BellSouth’s fiber to the curb strategy tenable, he says so. The story also explores the competitive environment which may well make further telco delay too risky and some of the empirical signs in terms of bids let and equipment ordered that indicate the logjam is actually breaking this time. Nor does it miss the possible change in regulatory environment that regime change in Washington would bring. Tying this all together in a newswire story is a quite a feat. Click on over.

Good reporting and an excellent example of the difference between faux, publicity-release scribbling and intelligent, informed commentary. The author deserves a byline he or she did not get.

[The Advertiser Notices that] Cox rolls out telephone service

The Advertiser has queued up a story, Cox rolls out telephone service, for tomorrow that is focused on Cox and BellSouth offering new services. The isn’t exactly news since Cox has been saying it was going to roll out VOIP in Lafayette in November for quite some time—as we have reported here repeatedly—see the CNET report. The story also let us know that BellSouth has “recently” begun offering DirecTV service. Really? Recently?

It would be interesting to have a little overview piece on all the changes coming to the telecom market in Lafayette. But something like this really doesn’t do the job and its desultory focus on triple play items, without actually mentioning LUS, just seems strange. There is a good story in all the changes, however. Cox is about to tie up its capital in merging with itself; BellSouth is getting monopoly control of its landlines back: and Cingular just became the nations largest cell phone company. How do all the changes effect Lafayette? Now that would be a story worth telling.

I do hope this version makes it to an editor before it hits the paper.

Update: 8:00 am 10/28/04

The version of this story that makes the paper: Cox hopes customers take its calls is quite an improvement over the one (still available at this writing) that we saw last night. It shapes the basics into an actual story by seeking reaction from all the potential purveyors of “triple play” options. It still errs in leaving the impression that this is a new announcement and in leaving unremarked the Cox claim to have spent 150 million to “prepare our network here for this service.” Had Cox actually done so it would certainly prove the wisdom of LUS which is building a whole new fiber optic system for 110 million. I guess private enterprise is just plain inefficient and we can’t expect anything better…. Seriously, a simple question like asking the length of time over which this amount was spent and the the geographical boundaries it refers to would have gone a long way toward helping the reader make sense of a nonsensical factoid thrown out by Cox’s Cassard.

But then the educational functions of a newspaper, the idea that a newspaper is to actually inform and help readers understand the world it reports on seem far from what we actually see in the Advertiser. This little bit of uncritical repetition is small in itself but is all too indicative of what we regularly see in reporting on the fiber issue from the Advertiser. It is really unfortunate to again recognize that we have to look to the Baton Rouge paper or the Wednesday publication of a still-new weekly to get decent reporting on this critical issue.

AT&T Wireless, Cingular merger bad news for consumers

Consumer’s Union responds to the FCC’s approval of the merger of AT&T Wireless and Cingular in AT&T Wireless, Cingular merger bad news for consumers.

What we are looking at here is a further FCC-sponsored erosion of competition in voice communications. Between the recent willingness to allow the telecos to price competition off their network and this decision which locks up large chunks of spectrum in the hands of a single competitor look for a shrinking market in alternatives not just for landline phones but for their major alternative: cell phones.

Mark Cooper, director of research at the Consumer Federation of America, added “no matter how you cut it, this merger is anti-competitive. In major cities across the nation, such as Dallas, Orlando, San Francisco, Memphis, Indianapolis, and New Orleans, this merger will allow the dominant local phone company to control 40 percent or more of wireless customers, in markets where they also control 90 percent of residential wireline customers.”

…the merger sets a dangerous precedent that makes it virtually impossible to block future mergers involving Verizon Wireless and the remaining wireless companies. By allowing Cingular to control up to 70 out of 189 megahertz of available spectrum in a market, the FCC is signaling that Verizon can bulk up in the same manner, leaving only enough spectrum for one potential competitor – even with current plans to auction off new spectrum.

With BellSouth/Cingular as the dominant local supplier Lafayette will be at the center of this drift back toward monopoly provision of telephony. If you thought Cox’s ownership of the cable monopoly was bad (suppose Cox were buying DirecTV) get ready for her mean sister…

Now more than ever: I want my wifi/wireless CityCell phone from LUS.

Broadband in [Wealthy] Suburbia

The Washington Post article, Broadband in Suburbia illustrates both the promise and the problem of fiber optic networking.

The promise is nicely outlined by the ways in which people are finding to benefit from a speedy broadband connection (and the cable, VOIP and wireless netoworking that will almost inevitably go with it.) From the story:

…their network may fundamentally change the way people think not only about the Internet but also about television and telephone service. Instead of changing channels and getting stuck with whatever is on, viewers in the future may search for shows in the same way they find Web sites.

Some of Brambleton’s residents have already found their own television programming online. Zakir Kahn, 30, has used the Internet to download more than two dozen religious movies.

Ashley D. Campolattaro, 33, a stay-at-home mom, the super-fast connection has become more important than her television or telephone. She uses it to schedule play dates for her children and dinners with neighbors and to check references for babysitters. The Internet has become a lifeline for Campolattaro, particularly on days when caring for her two young sons leaves her feeling isolated from the grown-up world.

Of course the problem is that the reporter had to go to a wealthy “designed” community to find such examples because that is where the fiber currently is; and, as the article makes clear, the majority of fiber to be run soon by corporations like Verizon will also be to compact, wealthy locales where the payoff will be quick and lucrative. Unfortunately, it is not only wealthy stay-at-home moms that are isolated by their day-to-day circumstances; lots of not-so-wealthy moms (and their spouses!) feel the same way.

Should BellSouth actually build a fiber network here (not simply talk about it vaugely) they will, without a doubt, run it first to River Ranch. And only maybe and later to the rest of the town. We’ve got something better going on here. We’re damned lucky.

New Content: Q&A with Jim Baller

We’ve posted a new Question and Answer piece in our interview series with fiber newsmakers:

Monday Conversation: Jim Baller

Baller, drawing on his extensive legal background regarding municipal telecommunications networks remarks on the value of fiber networks, the law, and incumbent strategies. Baller represents LUS and is one of the leaders, perhaps the leader, in the field of telecommuncations law.