“Telecoms fight to curb public competition” —USATODAY

USATODAY has an infromative article available: Telecoms fight to curb public competition.
From the text:

Cities and towns from San Francisco to Philadelphia, viewing access to advanced telecommunications as pivotal to prosperity, are aggressively seeking ways to provide high-speed Internet connections, wired or wireless, for citizens and local businesses.

But telephone and cable TV companies have responded by flexing political and financial muscle at the state level, arguing that government has no business getting into their business

That’t the gist; but they give lots of examples and recount arguments for both sides. I do think it worth underlining that it is the states to which the corporations are turning. Rather than fight the battle on a local level, as they are forced to do here in Lafayette, they are getting their kept legislators to simply make sure that no battle is possible.

Again, we should be familiar with this, after all a referendum was BellSouth’s second choice: its first was to simply outlaw local government from offering any competition in any form. The incumbents would much prefer not to give any of us any choice. Only when they failed to pass that law did the incumbents come up with a plan to try and force a referendum—and then they decided they needn’t bother with the procedures that they had agreed to in the compromise law that resulted. The referendum is only a tactic for the incumbents to get what they really want: freedom from competition with LUS.

Advertiser poll on fiber

[Inserted 3/1/05 @ 10:31 this obnoxious Advertiser poll on a bond vote is at 54.4 for fiber and 44.7 against fiber. I still think both sides ought to denounce this poll and demand that it be pulled down. I’ve done that already; the fiber411 guys should do the same. It’s poison and the sort of thing that causes folks to say what they later regret. I see over at the fiber411 site that Bill is saying [Chatbox: Tuesday 01 March 2005 – 18:01:21] that the profiber boys are rigging the vote. Come on. We’ve been making a little progress here. This is a dumb, divisive poll. It can’t be trusted by either side. And no side can legitimately take any comfort from a positive result for their cause.

The only thing served by this “poll” is the Advertiser’s page counts. Popularity polls are promotional devices for the websites that post them. Notice all the obnoxious pop ups/pop unders? My bet is that the Advertiser is being paid for each and every “pop.” If we were smart we wouldn’t play their game.

Lafayette Pro Fiber has denounced it. LUSFTTH has ignored it (probably smarter.) Fiber 411 has promoted it. Guys who ignore it and who denounce it aren’t likely to have much motive to rig it since they would look a little strange promoting a good outcome for the home team.

Doug, Tim, Bill, Neal, (gumbofile, baycock, whoever) feel free to actively denounce this in the comments. Let’s neuter this thing.

Note: why the change? Not at all sure but I do know that profiber folks like myself have given up on getting it taken down and have hit their email address book and listservs. I don’t like promoting this thing in any way and held off hoping first that it would come down and then that the fiber411 guys would join me in denouncing it in order to build their good government credits. Hasn’t happened. Still should.]

The Daily Advertiser has a “poll” on the bond vote on its front page. All you profiber folks ought to get yourself over there and vote.

First go over to: http://www.acadiananow.com/apps/pbcs.dll/frontpage and vote.

Now come back here and let’s talk about it.

Update 2:18 pm

Unscientific popularity polls of this sort are a bad thing and debase the political process. I hate ’em and have complained to Juli Metzger about using them in reference to the political process before—entirely outside the context of the fiber battle.

This “poll” is particularly bad because it is vulnerable to tampering and anyone with a rudimentary sense of how these polls work can figure it out quickly. I did so in less than five minutes of effort. So have others who have emailed me.

This one is particularly bad because it is published on the day when Bill Decker, who posted the poll in his guise as online editor, also published a column attacking the fiber-to-the-home plan in his guise as a columnist.

No one will be able to rely on its results honestly once this is known. It only measures two things: the level of enthusiasm of the partisans involved and different levels of dishonesty to which the two camps are willing to go. Which will be the more influential in the final outcome is impossible to know.

It is only divisive at this point.

I call on both sides to urge Juli Metzger to take it down.

Just for the record: when I first emailed the editor the numbers were running at 60-40 pro fiber. (Ask Bill @ 411 how it was running when he posted.) I didn’t post to this blog at that time because I didn’t want it up at all, even if my side was winning. I only posted after it appeared at fiber411. I have a history of being against this sort of thing and the politics of the moment are not the reason I oppose these polls.

Here is my larger reasoning about why all such polls, and not just this one (which is also bad for the special reasons stated above) are a bad idea when used in reference to serious political issues.

These polls do not measure public opinion, they measure “popularity.” This is true of any poll that allows people to vote. Even if it weren’t possible to vote multiple times, this would remain a problem. The results don’t tell anyone anything about how a real vote on the bond issue would go. Nevertheless, it will be used by one side or the other to infer “the opinion of the people.” That will be a serious misuse. That fact alone should be reason for both sides to want it taken down, and failing that, for both sides to condemn it. I do so here and now.

My objection goes deeper than the fact that such polls are inaccurate and prone to misuse. To the extent anyone is interested in them it is because, by simply using the term “poll,” it dishonestly trades on the popular understanding of real polls. As people come to understand that these polls do not tell you anything about public opinion, they will come to distrust real polls–which give you real information. This type of thing debases the process of a real conversation; to have a conversation we must be able to trust what is being said and to know the true opinion of people. Putting up such polls will inevitably result in people coming to distrust honest polls. And our polity does not need more paranoiac distrust than we already have.

This is not a new problem.

Let’s agree that this is a bad idea that ought to go away.

“Why our broadband policy’s still a mess” — CNET

CNET shares an interesting and informative interview with Michael Copps, a member of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The FCC is the enormously powerful regulatory agency that covers all telecommunications. Its regulations have the effect of law and the FCC, rather than congress, is (unfortunately in my judgment) the actual policy-maker for our nation.
Copps is in the minority on the FCC right now and that makes his frustration all the more visible.

From the story:

CNET: Looking at the state of broadband from the consumer perspective, is adoption at a good point right now?

Copps: Well, if I was a consumer I would say, ‘Why in the hell is the United States No. 13 and heading south in broadband deployment? Why are folks in Korea and Japan maybe getting 10 times the capacity at a half or a third or a quarter of the price? I am paying for the slow setup I’ve got–that is called high-speed broadband?’

There is also excellent stuff to think about on the topics of universal service, municipal broadband (that’s us, folks) and the digital divide.

Worth the read.

In fight against fiber, does Bell wear black hat?

In the Daily Advertiser we find this in a column:

If the fight over the Lafayette Utilities System’s fiber telecom plan were ‘Lord of the Rings,’ Cox Communications would be the hacking, slashing orcs. The real dark force, the flaming orange eyeball in the evil tower, would be BellSouth.

And it starts out so well…..

Of course for Decker, our daily’s online editor, this is only the florid lead-in to another of his pieces in which he exhibits a profound ignorance of basic economics and political science wherever LUS and the city’s fiber optic initiative is concerned. Decker is currently the “online editor;” when his first screed was published he was also listed as business editor but they seem to have given that job to someone more qualified. He really wasn’t qualified for that position, as his attempts at economic analysis here show.

I’ve tried in the past to acknowledge Decker’s growth (1,2) but this is some pretty serious backsliding; it is a return to the days immediately following the city’s announcement that it wanted to study providing fiber, during which Decker said, and I quote: “What’s next? A five-year plan? A hall of socialist labor heroes?” This article is a reversion to the days when Decker couldn’t distinguish between a popularly elected local government and a Stalinist Soviet Union.

My quarrel with this essay? It’s ignorant.

Decker writes as if he actually believes the sort of spew that calls correctly labeling public utilities as “publicly owned” “Orwellian legalese.” This is sheerest nonsense. Of course public utilities are publicly owned. That is a simple fact. What he is trying to do is point away from that simple fact and to the sort of stuff you hear these days from the ultra far right: the implication that government is always and in all ways an imposition on the people. That’s just crazy. Your local public water utility is no communist, Orwellian nightmare. It is, simply, a public utility. Decker lives in a world in which the mere existence of public utilities is prima facie evidence of some some socialist plot, and indeed evidence that our little city government is a socialist one. That this is a fantasy world of fear and resentment without much grounding in the world the rest of us live in is evident.

Decker then spends some time torturously trying to establish something I have never seen anyone dispute: that LUS is a legal component of the local government. He does, glancingly, notice that it is insulated from the rest of city government and that the money it takes in can’t be raided by politicians at their discretion. But the real point is to “tar” LUS with the title of government.

Allow me to quote the most egregious of all resentment-fueled ignorance:

As conceived, the LUS fiber proposal could mean advanced service at low prices, a bridge over the digital divide and a promising lure for new employers looking for a tech-savvy place to call home. But it also would be a tax increase under the guise of a fee for services, and without voter approval.

You can feel him straining for balance in this statement. And I am grateful for the effort. But Decker’s ideologically-fueled ignorance of the actual political and economic structures we all live in distorts his view here.

He is calling fees for service a tax, apparently because any money a government takes in must be called a tax and it must always be “bad.” But he is wrong on a common-sense basis and even on the basis of his own ideology.

A fee-for-service is a fee charged for a service. Seem simple? It is. We send water to your home and you pay for the quantity of service you use. Same for electricity. Or to rent a public hall like the one at the Clifton Chenier center, or to use one of the cabins at the state park, or to enter a national park.

You will notice that it is the opposite of a tax. A tax is used to charge everyone for basic public services that, generally, everyone benefits from equally or nearly equally. To prevent freeloading, the charge is mandatory. A fee, on the other hand, is charged only to those who use it; there is no “coercion” involved.

Why is it important to Decker and other opponents of the fiber plan to nonsensically insist that fees are somehow taxes? Because they lose their basis for moral outrage if they admit the simple truth: you don’t want it, it you don’t pay for it. If you don’t want to use the cabins at a state park, or the telecom services that are provided by LUS, you don’t have to. No tax is being imposed on anyone and the service will be funded by fees willingly provided by the people who value it.

What is disconcerting about the ploy of claiming that fees are taxes is its intellectual dishonesty. It is a core “conservative” position to prefer to reserve taxes for only those most basic of all public services and to charge for everything that can be construed to benefit any smaller group more than the public at large. It was one of Ronald Regean’s favorite strategies. Fees are not secret taxes. They are simply a charge for those that use a valuable service for that service, and not charging the general taxpayer to benefit the few.

The Non-Denial Denial

The Advertiser has, at least online, published Bill Oliver’s letter to Linda Lightfoot as a news article. And it’s an odd little piece that as news, rather than documentation, calls for a different sort of interpretation than regular news articles. You’ve gotta read it as an advocacy piece without even the usual constraints that one would place on an advocacy essay published as an op-ed piece.

What strikes me about it is less what Oliver says and denies than what he doesn’t say and doesn’t deny.

He doesn’t say the reporter lied about his words as quoted. He doesn’t deny saying anything that is attributed to him. He only denies having “threatened” Lafayette. A casual reader might think he was claiming to have been misquoted. But the casual reader would need to read more carefully. He doesn’t. And if he felt he had been misquoted he surely would say so. Of course, were he to do so he might well have to face a transcript or tape or reporter’s notes that would show that he did. You can be sure that he is speaking carefully and walking a thin line. He wants to leave the impression that he has been wronged without actually saying so. Take a look at the article. Most of it reads like an apology. (There’s been a lot of that around lately, but Oliver’s is the self-serving kind.)

So what’s the evidence? Let’s look at both his letter to the Advocate and his undenied words as quoted in the Advocate.

In the letter, Oliver, after he gets through apologizing to the editorial board and his employees, explains:

My objective during the editorial board meeting was to explain the make up of BellSouth Telecommunications and Cingular – our employee structure, the way we provide service in this state, our investment in Louisiana – in an effort to educate the paper about the complexities of the issue of government competing against private enterprise. We talked about a lot of issues, including the general effect that competition by a government entity would have on the operations, employee structures or investments of private companies.

So why include that information in a short letter complaining, apparently, about a headline? It’s basically an admission that he did tell the editorial board a lot about one business that is not a subsidary of BellSouth and which, in fact, his company does not even own a majority share in: Cingular. That discussion about Cingular is interpreted in the letter as being part of just a general background discussion about the effect of “government competing.” His example was not deliberate, it was only used to illustrate the effect that such competition “would have” on “operations, employee structures, and investments of private companies.” So he is not denying (but is trying put his own spin on) the fact that he did talk about Cingular and the effect such competition “would have” on investment, jobs, and the continued operation of the call center.

So when Oliver says he wants to “make it perfectly clear,” you should be aware that what is clear is that he talked about Cingular in terms of the jobs that were there, and the continued operation of the facility, and that he thought the fiber optic plan would have an negative effect on all that. What Oliver apparently wants to say is that when he talked about all that, he didn’t intend to “threaten” Lafayette.

Okay, so now what is the evidence from the quotes he did not deny in the Advocate? I quote:

Oliver said a successful LUS venture could create a monopoly in the parish.

Why would BellSouth want to keep all its operations in a parish where it had no other significant business interest, Oliver asked rhetorically.

The call center, which handles customer service tasks for Cingular, could be located in “Timbuktu” and still perform the same services, Oliver said.

“Would you still keep people there?” Oliver said

That last question has an official name: it’s known as a “rhetorical question.” What that means is that you aren’t supposed to treat it as a real question.

You are already supposed to know the answer. And the obvious answer is “No.”

That is a threat. The Advocate editorial board was supposed to regard it as a credible one and it was intended to change their behavior.

I think, if you go through it and look at it, that the letter (which was produced just in time for it to be distributed before a City-Parish response) was an attempt at damage control on the part of Oliver and BellSouth when a series of comments made by Oliver in what is usually treated as a semi-confidential setting were made public. The Advertiser, in its first write up on the media story which is no longer online, hinted at the same sorts of insinuations during a presentation to its editorial board.

The real loser in this business is the writer, Kevin Blanchard. Oliver’s little bit of damage control, probably without any (additional) malicious attempt, would leave a not-very-careful reader to wonder if the writer had lied about what Oliver said. But Oliver never does deny to have said what Blanchard said he did. That unfair implication is intensified by the Advocate’s decision to say it shouldn’t have said “threatened” in the headline. Very few people will know that writers generally do not write their own headlines. That’s usually done as the paper is dummied up by an entirely different group of people. But it leaves the impression with those who don’t know that such separation is usually the case, that the paper doesn’t fully support its writer in this. Reporters will know differently. But the Advocate should make it clear that it stands by the story and that the words quoted are accurate. The evidence is that the story is accurately and professionally written. The Advocate should be equally professional in protecting its own.

Durel says BellSouth threat is ‘economic blackmail’

In the story with the long title “Durel says BellSouth threat is ‘economic blackmail’; BellSouth exec denies he threatened anything” the Advertiser publishes an early story on BellSouth’s response to getting cited for threatening (or at least implying so strongly that no one could be left with a grain of doubt as Mike reported earlier) Lafayette with the loss of Cingular jobs.

As I noted earlier earlier what was different about this “rapid respone” press conference was that LEDA came along for the first time. Mike reports that Gothreaux outlined 18 million dollars in government support for building that call center and promised that it would keep it open and staff it with at least 750 jobs for 10 years. The Advertiser doesn’t mention this salient fact and barely mentions LEDA’s attendence. In fairness the Advertiser has taken to publishing early drafts of major stories on the day that the break and updating them to more complete status when the full story publishes the next morning.

But as unaccountable as that ommission seems the Advertiser does provide us with direct acces to both Bill Oliver’s letter to the Advocate and the text of Joey Durel’s prepared statements on the issue. Adding supporting documents like these are a real service to the community by allowing for independent interpretation by readers of crucial documents. I hope the Advertiser continues the practice–its a good one and its worth congratulating them for doing so.

Update 8:30 2/27/05: the new version of the story, located at the same URL as the original linked to above does a good job of bringing out what I had found absent in the first version: Greg Gouthreaux’s and LEDA’s participation, the amount Louisiana and Lafayette “invested” in the center and BellSouth’s legal and financial obligations.

Fiber411 apologizes, Doug accepts

On Thursday, Bill of Fiber411 wrote a testy letter to Doug Menefee, a letter Doug published to his blog under the tongue-in-cheek title, “Kind words to me from Bill L.“. Today the three Fiber411 fellows write Doug an apology and Doug accepts.

LPF had been CC’ed on the email; Fiber411 asked that we publish the apology. I thought it appropriate to let Doug, the injured party, respond before posting anything here but now that Doug has responded I’m happy to honor their request:

From: “Tim Supple”
Cc: ,
Date: Fri, 25 Feb 2005 14:04:57 -0600


To: Doug Menefee

From: Fiber 411

Dear Mr. Menefee: Yesterday you received a letter from a member of Fiber 411 for which we would all like to apologize. There was no excuse for the heavy-handed manner in which the letter was written. The letter was laced with innuendo, threats and accusations. It was wrong. For all of it, we apologize.

We hope all that read or took offense to the letter will grant some compassion and understanding. The day before the letter was written, the following took place:
1. During the court proceeding, a member of the city council told members of Fiber 411 that he “knew” that they were being paid by Bell South.
2. In the power point presentation made by the city’s attorney, included in the slides shown to the Judge and to the public, was the statement that Fiber 411 is an agent of Bell South.
3. That night the city implied that somehow this was about big corporations from Atlanta dictating to the future of Lafayette. The statement seemed to ignore the rule of law, the Judges ruling, the citizens that put their lives on hold, the citizens that signed the petition and all the other citizens who are asking for the right to vote.

None of that gives anyone the right to send that letter.

Unfortunately, one of the weaknesses of our human nature is to try to defend ourselves when we have been attacked. Since beginning the campaign to get the city to follow the law, we feel we have been personally attacked by LUS, Mr. Durel, City Councilmen, pro LUS bloggers, the press and members of the community that do not know us. Our motivations, integrity and reputations have been called into question. Our family members have had to endure insults and have been ostracized from much of the community. But, that is our problem, not yours. The letter was wrong.

Again, we ask everyone, especially ourselves and those who support us, to keep the discussion to the issues and not lower ourselves or our cause, to personal attacks. If we do, then we have all lost. Someone very important once said, “For what shall it profit a man to gain the whole world, and lose his own soul”.

I hope you will post this apology on your website.

Fiber 411
Tim Supple
Neal Breakfield
Bill Leblanc