Petition Stories in Print

Both the Advocate and the Advertiser have their fiber-optic petition stories up today. As we have unhappily learned to expect, the Advocate’s story is the one to go to.

The Advocate report includes the details on additional ways to block LUS considered by the group (a second petition and lawsuit)–that make it clearer that the intent it to simply block LUS and the current petition idea is simply one means to that end. The language used to describe the mysterious state law they are relying on indicates that it is not the petition provision of Act 736 but some other law that links a petition to voting numbers in a recent election. (That could be crucial. If any reader has an idea about which law this might be or even better, access to the relevant text, please drop me a line or let us all know in the comments section.) The Advocate article also makes it clear that the group is aware that the active support of Cox and BellSouth will be essential if their petition drive is to have a prayer of success.

When I first heard from LeBlanc that they wanted to start a petition drive I immediately wondered if they realized how difficult it would be to do this if they kept to the positions “We are not associated with BellSouth and Cox” and “We favor LUS building a fiber optic network—but only selling its use to wholesalers.” I had told myself that those foundational principles, which I could admire if not support, would go fast. Sadly, I was wrong. They principles they were originally working from didn’t make it to the first press conference. At their news conference we hear only that they are against LUS building the network; They are now simply echoing the Cox and BellSouth’s line that the people of Lafayette don’t need fiber-optics. The desire for a wholesale network? Invisible. Similarly, the passionate declaration of independence from the incumbents they started with gives way to their sending a signal that they recognize that they need incumbent support and that they are willing to accept it. These two new positions are clearly linked. The reality is that the incumbent monopolies are no more prepared to accept a wholesale network than they are to accept LUS’ retail model. They point for these companies is, as it has been all along, to eliminate competition. So if fiber411 wants incumbent money and manpower they have to shut up about liking the wholesale model.

The silence at yesterday’s press conference about the wholesale principle both Breakfield and LeBlanc profess to hold speaks volumes about just how quickly their movement has been coopted by the realities of our situation. I warned LeBlanc that a petition drive would quickly become a creature of the incumbents. I didn’t realize just how rapidly that process would work.

Anti-Fiber Group Announces Petition Drive

Beyond the bare fact that the folks at fiber411 have held a press conference to announce their intention to start a petion drive to halt the LUS fiber-fiber optic initiative not much more is known.

KATC ran a short at the begining of the hour that I caught with a fast TiVo save finger but nothing is on the web yet. They promise more “after the football game.” KLFY has a story online, Residents Protesting LUS Fiber Plan, and the Advertiser has a brief breaking news story up under the title: Group begins drive to put LUS telecom plan on ballot.

Take a look yourself, it’s pretty thin and nothing you haven’t heard before. Chiefly: “it’s dangerious;” and: “Guberment competing is bad” (subtext: government is bad) Like I said, nothing new.

The crew is continuing to claim that a petition can succeed with 5% of the voters but the reporting was too sketchy to see what they could be referring to. The recent “Fair Competition” bill is pretty explicit about this and would seem to be controlling legislation. This tidbit is worth following up.

Nor does anyone explain how the petition will be worded. They claim on their website to be for LUS building a wholesale network without any retail offering. Will the petition ask for this? Or simply be against LUS doing the work?

We are in favor of Lafayette Consolidated Government moving forward with an OPEN fiber optic system that would allow for true competition, not a closed GOVERNMENT OWNED AND OPERATED system that would either stifle competition and consumer choice or expose the taxpayer to excessive risk in a very risky industry.

Just how LUS could build and operate an open fiber optic system that would allow for true competition without it being owned and operated by GOVERNMENT is really confusing to this observer. I’d love a little clarification.

Expect updates…..

Update, 1:20: KATC story is now online: Group Against LUS Fiber Plan

The evening news story on that channel was much more interesting than the write-up. Huval mounted a point by point defense, saying that some of their claims were “a bunch of bunk — and they know it.” He’s right of course. Plenty of communities have succeeded at similar ventures and I for one have pointed it out to Mr. Leblanc.

Cable Industry Still Fighting Competition

This story from the Washington Post almost got lost in the Christmas rush, but is pretty significant for what it reveals about the industry.

The significance of the story is that it confirms that cable companies continue to resist any and all efforts that would result in other companies and/or services having access to their networks.

This story brings the quiet little war over essentially making cable boxes open source that is being fought by high-priced lobbyists in the corridors of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). This fight is over a requirement to have all cable boxes run off of a standard card. The cable companies are loathe to give up any shred of the lock that they have on their networks which, you may recall, were created under the guise of regulated monopoly conditions. Cable has since been deregulated but, like the phone companies, cable companies want to maintain the ability to lock Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) companies off their networks.

The cable company fight against the ISPs is going to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court during this term. But, the fight goes back to at least 1999, when the City of Spokane, Washington, tried to force cable giant TCI (which was purchased by AT&T, which later sold its cable assets to ComCast). TCI fought then to block independent (that is, ISPs not owned by cable companies) from offering ISP service over its network in Spokane. The city fought to force TCI to open the network. The case went to court. The city lost.

The FCC, though, ruled in 2002 that cable was an information service and ordered the cable systems open to competing ISPs. The suit brought by the cable industry to overturn this ruling and, thus, keep a strangle hold on their networks, is the case the Supreme Court will decide next year.

So, what is the significance of this to Lafayette? Well, the fact of the matter is that Cox, BellSouth, and some local opponents of the LUS fiber plan have attempted to make a big deal about the fact that guv’mnt will have a monopoly on infrastructure and service over this new network that they are going to build.

NEWSFLASH! Cox would have a tighter monopoly if it decided to build a fiber to the home network. BellSouth would have one just as tight as that of Cox.

Why do I say a Cox or BellSouth monopoly (and make no mistake about it, only one fiber network will be built in Lafayette) would be tighter than LUS? Because of local control in the case of LUS and the lack of it in the case of the networks built by either Cox or BellSouth. That is, we — the citizens of Lafayette — have the ability to influence and even control the behavior of LUS through our ability to elect the Mayor-President and the Parish Council. We have no similar ability to influence either Cox or BellSouth.

In fact, the natural order of these monopolist-community relationships is that communities take what the monopolists give them and be damned thankful they’re getting that! Cox and BellSouth have made a big show of their concern for the well-being for the citizens of this community in recent months as they have fought to stop the LUS plan. But, their initial response to the initiative illustrates clearly about what they think of us and how they think the world should work. Opposing this project on the merits has never been part of the plan. No, the first instinct was to try to kill the initiative using the Louisiana Legislature as an accomplice. Failing that, they fought to ensure that LUS would have to wander into the regulatory tangle that is the Louisiana Public Service Commission.

They loaded the regulatory wagon with provisions that they would not allow to be placed on their respective companies — specifically the provision that telecom services can’t be subsidized by other LUS revenue streams. Had that provision been in effect against either Cox or BellSouth, we’d still be stuck with technology from the 1960s.

So, ‘the people’ have been used as human shields for the narrow financial interests of Cox and BellSouth as they tried to kill the LUS initiative.

Neither Cox nor BellSouth has ANY interest in allowing consumers in Lafayette or anywhere else to have ANY choice in terms of service providers. Both companies and their industries have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on lawyers and lobbyists fighting efforts to force competition into their sectors since the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. They are still fighting those fights. And they have not made ANY commitment to make the investment in Lafayette that LUS has made.

There is irony and cynicism at work in this process. The irony is that those Lafayette citizens who think the LUS project is too risky have pushed LUS on a course that ensures the fastest economic return on its fiber investment. That just happens to be via a closed network that affords no other providers access — although, as long as the fat Internet pipe remains unfettered, open access will be available to all here. The cynicism is on the part of the incumbent providers who attempt to position themselves as ‘little guys’ cringing in fear of a government onslaught.

The reality is that in recent months Cox and BellSouth have each spent multiples of what it will cost LUS to build its fiber to the premises on other projects that they have deemed to be a higher priority than the future of this community. LUS is focused exactly on our future and, with the Parish Council’s blessing, has decided to invest in us.

That is precisely how this city was built and that is why it will prosper in this century.

As a citizen of Lafayette, you and I can contact Joey Durel or a member of the Parish Council with a phone call, email, or even drop by their offices. Try that with Duane Ackerman or James Kennedy.

Broadband? What’s the use?

USA Today publishes yet another story that is ostensibly about broadband, always on, connects becoming more prevelant. Actually the story, Broadband leads dial-up in use, frequency and duration is considerably more interesting than its title. It actually focuses on the ways that peoples lives are begining to change as broadband becomes a part of the social fabric. It makes for a fascinating read. And remember they are talking about speeds here that are generally no more than a tenth of what an fiber-optic system should serve up. Some suggestive excerpts:

Telephone books? Gathering dust on the shelf.

Atlases? What are they?

Communal behavior also is tempered by the broadband effect.

Family members arguing a point over dinner are more apt, if they have broadband, to “look it up online rather than continue to yell at each other,” said Lee Rainie, Pew’s director.

Or, in the absence of verbal interaction, families can have heated discussions in Internet chat rooms — individual members each sitting in separate rooms in front of computer screens.

My wife and I do google up answers to disagreements about fact and its nice to get it settled quickly–try Wiki if you’ve never messed around there and like finding things out you’re in for a treat. Our kids know we have pretty much constant connectivity at home and call us up from their cells for driving directions, the addresses of businesses, phone numbers of contacts that theyv’e lost and the like. Little email blizzards blow around containing the latest cute kid pics and humorous videos. I seldom use a telephone book or an atlas anymore. And we’ve gotten to the point where we get most of our news, even local news, over the web. My newspaper subscriptions begin to function like backups, sustained just in case something hasn’t made it onto the web. (Well, I also like the comics.) I trouble shoot other folks computers and do Photoshop manipulations for friends over the web. I did the majority of work for a book I was editing with several other people over the web. We had, I think, three face to face meetings. And I designed and submitted the cover the same way. All that is very different from the way I acted as recently as 5 years ago and none of it would have been possible without the web.

There’s more in the story and it’s worth thinking a little about how people’s day to day lives might change when broadband that dwarfs what the people in this story has comes in. It’s something that it looks like will happen in Louisiana first. We ought to be gearing up.


Laigniappe (Don’t like their take on it? See the comments. You can fix it yourself if you want.)

Media Covers the Council Meeting

Both the Advertiser and the Advocate cover last night’s council meeting. The Advocate’s “Council grants request” and The Advertiser’s “LUS’ fiber plan clears another hurdle” nicely review the basic procedures and just how much (and by implication how little) the vote moves the project ahead. Boiled down: every step is a commitment but no final commitment has been made. LUS is engaged but not yet married to this project; however, the longer the engagement lasts the less likely the groom is to back out.

The Advocate’s Blanchard also has the rumor I reported last night about the possibility of a petition drive, and from the same source. LeBlanc certainly intends to help mount such a drive, that much is not a rumor. But the real question is whether that intent will be realized; that, at least in my judgment, is still to be seen. The petition task set by Lafayette’s home rule charter is daunting. 15% of all voters is a large number. Practically speaking the number will need to be larger to account for spoiled signatures and good signatures by folks who just don’t happen to be voters. Getting a petition signed by 20% of the voters entails a door to door campaign and without deep voter outrage you won’t be getting volunteers to carry anything like the number of petitions necessary. Sixty days isn’t all that long a time; you’ll need a lot of people, all day every day. Volunteers on Saturday won’t cut it. A serious drive will require the deep pockets of the incumbents; it will, in short order belong to them.

I’m not at all sure the proponents really see the difficulties (Mr. LeBlanc was under the impression that 5% was the number needed, for instance) and who they will have to be in alliance with. Some people may doubt LUS in this town. But very few trust BellSouth or Cox; standing with them throws doubt on the groups independence.

What threatens to go unnoticed in this is that this group is NOT against municipal fiber. They want LUS to be a wholesaler only. I continue to be amazed at how thoroughly LUS has carried the day. Even their most visible opponents only want to tweak the business plan. Even they accept that a municipal network is the only way to get fiber.

And that may be the lasting lesson of this episode.

Council Meeting December 21st…and Rumors

I went to the council meeting earlier tonight and enjoyed watching LUS take one more step toward Lafayette’s fiber-optic future. The council gave them permission to move one more step, the step of applying to the state bond commission for their permission to issue the bonds. It was clear that it will still have to come before the council again to approve the actual issue. (Lord, this is a drawn out procedure.)

Rumor #1

There was an odd little vignette during the approval project when councilman Williams asked a series of sympathetic questions, got his answers and showed what appeared to an outside observer as general good will toward the project. Smiles on both sides. But he made an excuse and got up before the actual vote and wasn’t there when the vote was taken. I heard the rumor tonight, for the second time that, Williams is being careful because he wants to run for Cravin’s seat when it comes open. BellSouth does pack a wallop on the state level…. ‘ Course this bit of rumor could be all wrong; and honestly it seems a little far fetched. What difference could this minor absence make. But it makes a kind of sense out of an odd moment.

Rumor #2

But by far the most significant rumor came from Bill LeBlanc who says that he and group of people including his fellow council presenter Neal Breakfield are about to launch a petition drive to put the fiber proposal on the ballot. I am not sure they realize what they are getting into. A petition of the sort the charter envisions requires 15% of the voters. That requires an army of folks walking the streets to get at least 20% of the number of registered voters. (You have to account for the inevitable spoiled signatures and signatures by folks who are registered to vote.) The task has to be completed in six months. It think it extremely unlikely to succeed. And it will be costly–so costly that I do not believe that it can be done without a big investment from the incumbents. A small crew of good-hearted men won’t be able get it started in any real way. In short order any petition drive will be the creature of Cox and/or BellSouth. And then the real ugliness will begin. If you think that the initial round of incumbent ugliness was bad with its push polls, public tantrums, intimations that our elected leaders were incompetent rubes, and an utterly offensive “academic” forum were bad just wait…..

And just for the record I talked to Bill LeBlanc for a while in the parking lot. For long enough that I am sure his wife was as miffed as mine at his tardiness. —But Mr. LeBlanc struck me as good-hearted and upright. I do think he is wrong. And that he has badly misinterpreted some of the technical material he has presented to the council–for instance on wireless technologies–but I think he’s well-motivated. I just wish he hadn’t thrown in with the big corporations on this one. He’s the kind of fellow you’d enjoy having a good conversation with over lunch. Know what I mean?

They’ve got a website at Give it a look.

This story will be in Advocate tomorrow. More when I see that….. and think a little.

“Acadiana government officials unite”

The Advocate carries an interesting story on regional cooperation “Acadiana government officials unite.” As a simple political story it’s interesting. The regional town fathers have been getting together at Durel’s behest and have formalized their relationship as the “Acadiana Regional Council of Governments.” They are set to collaborate on some things that are obvious, like ganging up to get more state money and to coordinate in attracting tourists. They are also talking about things that should be but usually aren’t dealt with regionally, for instance drainage, and one has to suspect after recent arsenic revelations and Broussard’s ongoing problems, drinking water. All good government and newsworthy in a man bites dog sorta way (Look Ma: Good Government!).

But what brings the story to this blog is the fiber-optic angle.

One of the hidden dangers to Lafayette’s ambitions was that regional towns would regard it as a threat. Some folks have a tendency to regard regional development as a zero sum game when it is, in almost all cases, the opposite: a boost to its neighbors. Durel and his posse have apparently done a good job of convincing the mayors of that and his leadership in developing this regional cooperative group has no doubt contributed to their trust. That and the fact that being able to offer a way out from under the lash of the telecos and especially the cable company has got to be attractive to any mayor, city council, or police jury that has had to negotiate with them. (See, for instance, the recent contretemps in Ascension parish.)

The bit in the story that occasions such reflections is this:

[Crowley Mayor] “Dela Houssaye said she appreciates the work Lafayette Utilities System is doing to establish a fiber-optic network — and hopes that network can one day be expanded throughout Acadiana. ‘Every ripple starts in the center and works its way out,’ Durel said.”

Now I’ve long had fantasies about LUS’ telecom utility reaching beyond the utilities current borders. Broussard’s mayor Langlinias has, for one, made his desires plain along with his support for Lafayette’s venture. But Crowley’s desire is a little different; Crowley is not in Lafayette parish and expansion there would make the new utility a regional matter. Luckily the compromises that went into making up the “Local Government [un]Fair Competition Act” allows for this. Lafayette is legally enabled to offer it services state-wide. Somebody was thinking ahead.

I hope someone is corralling the region’s state legislators. The incumbent providers have demonstrated their willingness and ability to go over the top to prevent local self-determination. (And make no mistake, that is the root issue.) Making sure the legislators know clearly what the mayors in their district want can prove crucial. Lafayette’s Senator Mouton was arguably slow off the mark in allowing his first author, “Noble” Ellington, to hand the docket number for their Senate version of their rural broadband bill over to BellSouth to be replaced with a bill submitted by BellSouth after the deadline for the introduction of new bills had passed. Without the ensuing compromises, including the one that freed up the municipality to provide services beyond its border, LUS would have never had the chance to even explore providing cable, internet, and phone service over fiber to its citizens. Vigilance!

Two Stories: Council to Vote on LUS Bonds

I blogged the Council’s online announcement of next Tuesday’s bond issue a bit earlier. Now both the Advertiser and the Advocate have come out with articles giving roughly the same background information except that the Advocate’s hit the streets two days ago. LUS is asking for final permission to go ahead with bond sales when the moment is right. They’ll have to get permission from the state (watch for incumbent delaying tactics there), finalize the engineering plan and put it out for bids. No doubt LUS will want permission in place so that they can quickly take advantage of any changes in the bond market. As I understand it the bond market is becoming generally more expensive so there is the feeling that every extra day is costing the project long-term money. And interest, as always–think about a house mortgage, is the largest single expense in any construction project paid for over a long stretch. They’ll be asking for the rights to bond 125 million, more than the base 110.5 million that has been discussed to date in order to cover the possibility that bids will come in higher than expected. Both papers discuss examples of the process where the money actually bonded came in considerably lower than the authorizing authority LUS had been granted. Apparently this is pretty common practice and makes sense especially in those eras when the bond market is volatile.


On stories like this, where the event reported is in parallel ways by several media outlets I often recommend one to readers as doing a better job–that’s the little efficiency demon in me, just trying to help folks get things done. But today I find that the teacher in me has control. I recommend that you spare a little lazy Sunday time to develop an epicurean taste in news reporting. Read them both and look at what is said, what each author considers worth informing the public of, and in what order the bones of the story are laid out and articulated.

I’ll back off the usual teacher thing enough to tell you what I think upfront. I prefer the advocate writer Blanchard’s more instructional model to the Advertiser reporter Taylor’s strictly reportorial style. The introductory paragraphs in both are interchangeable and establish the basic reportorial facts. But thereafter the stories about the same issue, with much the same questions about the 110.5 vs. 125 million “cost,” differ widely. Blanchard briefly reports issue history and informs the reader as to what the procedure will be turn an approval before the board into money LUS can spend. That includes two more landmark votes before the council and the very tasty little fact that to get it on the agenda for the next state bond commission meeting LUS will have to ask that body for a one-day deadline extension. The Blanchard story then goes on to explain the difference between the 110 and 125 figures basically in terms of interest costs on the bonds. Take a look at Taylor’s story, and you’ll see that the Advertiser version goes straight for the cost difference and then backtracks to explain its meaning. That style puts the importance of getting to the big, exciting facts early connected story telling. In the end I think you might agree, you come out with a better understanding of the issue if the story is treated as story.

But you be the judge. Its an interesting thing to think about on a lazy Sunday, nonetheless.

The Heartland Institute Attempts a Defense

The Heartland Institute, the same “institute” that the advertorial writer Titch tried to draw credibility from, attempts a defense of recent criticism in the odd venue of the Fiber for the Future message boards. Bast, the director, takes on Annie Collins and me by name and tries to mount a defense of his organization and of Titch.

An Illinois tech writer takes him on in response in Carlini’s Comments” an online column. There you can see Bast’s original letter and Calini’s response. Bast is responding, in part, to my posts concerning the Heartland Institute and Titch’s editorials-for-pay company.

My own response to Bast’s letter can be summarized by saying that almost the whole of Bast’s defense misses the point. The first objection to this work is that these folks are bought and paid for…and that is what leads to the distorted reasoning and cherry picking of only the most confirmatory “facts” that are symptoms of this basic issue. Bast’s defense never gets to this crucial point.