In a letter mailed to LUSFTTH Natalie Newman stands up to defend Doug, to endorse the legitimate role of government in development, and to raise questions about Fiber411’s first petition. It’s not particularly part of our easy-going culture down here to rise up and howl. But that’s what’s needed now. Kudos to Natalie.
BellSouth Louisiana boss Bill Oliver, fresh from delivering an economic blackmail threat to Lafayette via the editorial board of the Baton Rouge Advocate, had his folks out scurrying Friday afternoon trying to cover his tracks.
Lafayette Mayor-President Joey Durel called a 3 p.m. press conference at the Lafayette Economic Development Authority offices on Friday afternoon. BellSouth regional rep John Williams was there early with copies of a letter from to The Advocate’s Executive Editor Linda Lightfoot. The letter was distributed prior to the start of the press conference, which drew a significant contingent of the area’s media.
In his letter, Oliver essentially calls reporter Kevin Blanchard a liar, as well as any and everyone one at The Advocate who sat in on the editorial board meeting with him and allowed Blanchard’s story to run.
After three paragraphs of hemming and hawing about his intent during his two-hour meeting with The Advocate editorial board, Oliver goes into full denial mode:
In closing, let me make it perfectly clear I did not threaten a pullout or a closure of any BellSouth or Cingular center in Louisiana. I am deeply concerned that interpretations of my comments have caused any distress for our employees or our customers. BellSouth values all of our employees and customers, and we want to continue to provide outstanding service to the citizens of Lafayette. We have done so for more than 100 years, and we expect to do so for many years to come.
Let’s see, in the story, there are the following relevant paragraphs:
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.
Imagine, interpreting that as a threat! That’s just standard Fortune 500 lingo for the facts: “Do it our way or we hit the highway.”
No threat. Just fact.
When Kevin Blanchard read Oliver’s letter, I happened to be sitting behind him. He turned to Claire Taylor from The Advertiser and said with some incredulity, “He’s saying he didn’t say what I reported he said!”
In the press conference, Durel said that he was forced to choose between the credibility of Bill Oliver and The Advocate. He said he had to go with The Advocate on this one, based on the record of BellSouth’s behavior in response to the LUS fiber plan.
Durel said he believed The Advocate article because the city has been under attack by BellSouth since the fiber plan was first announced. Durel said that BellSouth had first gone to the Legislature to try to kill the effort. Failing there, they proceeded with their partners Cox (and their posse of Sock Puppets) to wage a disinformation campaign against the effort. Failing that, BellSouth, Cox went to court where they won a measure of victory by forcing Consolidated Government to pursue another route towards bond sales.
“This threat is nothing but economic blackmail against the people of Lafayette,” Durel declared.
“It is now clear that BellSouth will stop at nothing to try to intimidate the citizens of our community,” LUS director Terry Huval said.
The most interesting part of the press conference was LEDA CEO Gregg Gothreaux’s description of the approximately $18 million in concessions local and state governments gave Cingular to get that call center here. They include about $10 million in workforce training money under the incumbent Quality Jobs Program, a public ownership bond (without a public vote!) of $1 million for construction of the building, 14 acres of land and, get this, discounted utility rates from LUS!
Gothreaux said these are part of a 10-year contract signed by Cingular with LEDA and the State of Louisiana in 2001. That contract binds Cingular to provide at least 750 jobs at the call center (which is located in LEDA’s industrial park off Pointe de Mouton Road) for the duration of the contract. There are currently 1,300 jobs at the call center.
So, BellSouth’s backtrackin’ Bill Oliver has opened up a new front in his war against the LUS plan. Not content to competing with an inferior network against Cox and other cable providers in the metro markets of the state, Oliver has now provoked a war against the best newspaper in the state.
To believe Oliver, you have to believe everyone else he’s taken on is lying.
Broadband Reports is yet another national venue that is following Lafayette’s fight for fiber.
As is the usual case what is really interesting is the string of responese by its national audience.
After promising they’d aid the effort, BellSouth and Cox filed suit against the city of Lafayette to prevent it from pursuing $125 million in revenue bonds to fund a triple-play fiber network. Despite the city informing a Judge 60 other governing bodies have used the same procedure to obtain funds, the Judge sided with the incumbents in the suit, forcing the city to backtrack on its plans. The plan may now face a public vote, which as we’ve seen in these muni battles, is rarely a balanced and democratic affair.
One of the original Sock Puppets of the Incumbents has a letter to the editor of The Advertiser that matches well with the public pose of humility he and his fellow Atlanta boosters have assumed in the wake of Judge Byron Hebert’s decision requiring Consolidated Government to treat the LUS fiber plan as a traditional capital outlay bond issue.
Contrast that to this braying by the same author to a supporter of the LUS plan:
Lafayette Consolidated government is going to regret using its powers to persuade well know groups in Lafayette to back its risky plan. Groups such as The Advertiser, The democratic party, and others will also come to regret selling there souls to LCG. Now this risky fiber optic plan is going to go to a vote and the truth is going to come out. What the administration feared most all alone was the citizens of Lafayette being given the right to vote. Because the citizens are going to learn that there government was not honest with them and there going to learn that there local government that they trusted was trying to deceive them. Like the old saying goes the truth hurts, and when the truth comes out there is going to be a lot of hurting people including the 8 members of the city council that did no home work on this plan and voted on it. At the end of the day, IM afraid that Lafayette’s citizens are going to loose its credibility for LCG and many others.
It’s good to see that the court win has done nothing to diminish the delusions which lie at the heart of this group’s opposition to the LUS plan.
LUS and Consolidated Government have no “powers” to use to steer those groups or any other supporters wrong. While Sock Puppet #1 (let’s call him this for reference purposes in order to distinguish him from the rest of the ‘Drawer’ of Sock Puppets, as one of their members now proclaims themselves) refers to the Lafayette Democratic Party as a so influenced group, it just ain’t so. The party came out in support of the LUS project as a result of internal discussions among its members, without input from LUS. They just happen to think this project will be a good thing for Lafayette.
As does The Advertiser.
But, the threats don’t stop with Sock Puppet #1. Now, the entire Drawer is in full bray. They have now dropped the major pretense of their charade: namely, that their call for a vote is not a call to kill the project.
Note the comments on our blog on the original court decision, particularly like this one from Sock Puppet Drawer member “Baycock”:
I am fundamentally against the current fiber plan. Now that the first item on my priority list seems to be a done deal, I will cross it out and move to the to the next item on the list. Defeating the bond issue as we now understand it.
I intend to keep crossing off items on my priority list until I get to the last item. Campaigning against and defeating Joey Durel and Marc Mouton.
Apparently intoxicated by the victory BellSouth won them in the Hebert decision, the Sock Puppets’ have lost the ability to conceal their hypocrisy or maybe they just don’t feel the need to do so any longer.
Their effort IS about killing the LUS project nothing more or less than that. It always has been. The only difference is that now they feel free to admit it. They have used a plea for referendum to shield their intent. Now that their wish will apparently be granted, the pose has been exposed to be the lie that it was all along.
“BellSouth threatens pullout” is the headline in a story which could have been about Bill Oliver scuttling down to the capital paper to try and get an endorsement from some newspaper after the Advertiser’s stunning 4-part endorsement of the city-parish/LUS fiber plan.
BellSouth in a bit of calculated rage threatens to pull its low-wage job center, built with substantial public give-backs out of Lafayette if LUS should become successful. What they don’t threaten (because that is the more “realistic” likelihood) is that they might cease developing their system in Lafayette in the face of real competition that shrinks their profit-margin. Instead they try and threaten to take away that which the don’t own (they are a 40% shareholder in Cingular with SBC owning the other 60%). There are those who think that the sorts of low-level, poorly paid jobs that are characteristic of call centers is the best that the people of Lafayette can hope for. Except for a few, those people live outside Lafayette.
The people who live in Lafayette, and their representatives, think we can do better than counting on just the sorts of jobs that are regularly outsourced to third world companies for our community’s future. And lots of folks don’t like to be threatened. It’s no accident, I feel sure, that this off-the-cuff remark was made in a closed editorial meeting that would normally be immune to reporting. My guess is that Oliver won’t be too happy that his threat is being reported. He has better strategic sense than to bandy about in public something that is more useful in impressing “influentials.” Another indication that he didn’t really think he was talking to the public is that he reiterated a claim that got him in to hot water early in the fight for fiber here in Lafayette: that the people of Lafayette don’t really need any more than we’ve got in the way of telecommunications. Now there is a classic little bit of arrogance.
Kudo’s to the Advocate for reporting the sorts of unsupportable claims and threats that are usually made behind closed doors.
Update 3:24 (from Baltimore’s Inner Harbor) –I got a call from Lafayette this morning reporting that the folks at the Lafayette call center are pretty POed at being treated like expendable munition in BellSouth’s fight with Lafayette. Apparently an email is making the rounds complaining about BellSouth’t presumptions. (These folks don’t feel like they are working for BellSouth.) Apparently it’s being “discussed” up the management line…
I also see an announcement of a joint LUS/City-Parish/LEDA conference to respond to the BellSouth threat set for 3:00 pm. Not being in the fair city I can’t make it. I’d be curious to get a report filling me/us in here. What’s new and unique is the inclusion of LEDA in the repsonse. LEDA’s been one of the folks that reason and scuttlebut tell us have been in favor of the fiber plan but haven’t come out clearly and publicly for “relationship” reasons. Maybe this will prove the final offense that leads to the marriage coming unglued. It would be good for LEDA to stand up and come out of the closet.
Anyway…it sure isn’t looking like threatening Lafayette is turning out well for Oliver. Or BellSouth
Subtitle: “Telecom toadies (ahem, state officials) stifle competition to keep prices high.”
Lawerence Lessing, writing in Wired rips into the sort of nonsense we’ve seen in Lafayette and around the country:
The telcos’ argument isn’t much more subtle than that of the simpleton who began this column: Businesses shouldn’t have to compete against their governments. What the market can do, the government shouldn’t. Or so the fall of the Soviet Union should have taught us.
Although this principle is true enough in most cases, it is obviously not true in all. The government should certainly not do what private enterprise can do better (e.g., make computers). And the government should not prohibit private enterprise from competing against it (e.g., FedEx). But the government also should not act as the cat’s paw for one of the most powerful industries in the nation by making competition against that industry illegal, whether from government or not. This is true, at least, when it is unclear just what kind of “good” such competition might produce.
Broadband is the perfect example. The private market has failed the US so far. At the beginning, we led the world in broadband deployment. But by 2004, we ranked an embarrassing 13th. There are many places, like Philadelphia, where service is lacking. And there are many places, like San Francisco, where competition is lacking. The result of the duopoly that currently defines “competition” is that prices and service suck. We’re the world’s leader in Internet technology – except that we’re not.
This is the second article this week that has turned a heavy dose of irony and sarcasm to good effect. I gotta say I find it bracing.
Take a look, its pretty much reportorial coverage but the writer does a much more even-handed report on the matter that we got early in this fight. It looks like reporters at every level are beginning to educate themselves as to the national implications of our local fight:
Lafayette is just one of many cities trying to build its own broadband network. Proposals have already sprung up all over the country in cities such as Provo, Utah; Chaska, Minn.; and Palo Alto, Calif. Larger cities, such as Philadelphia and Los Angeles have also started looking into building their own broadband networks.
These projects have ignited a firestorm of opposition from the Baby Bell phone companies and cable operators, who view the existence of these networks as threats to their businesses. As a result, they have spent millions of dollars lobbying state legislators and fighting court battles to make sure these networks aren’t built.
What happens in Lafayette is important, and not only to our local community.
(Thanks Ricky, for the pointer.)
It was a pretty ugly day for LUS in Judge Byron Hebert’s 15th Judicial District Court.
At blog time (1:30 a.m. or so), The Daily Advertiser had only posted one story on it, this one a wrap up of the decision in the time-honored Gannett style: short and tight.
UPDATE: Later Thursday, The Advertiser posted this story by Claire Taylor on Wednesday’s court ruling and the reaction of the direct participants.
As Durel said at his press conference, this was a setback.
It appears that this all could be heading to a public vote. If so, the number of public backers of the project appears to be growing. The Advocate (again!) reports that Lafayette’s Democratic Parish Executive Committee has passed a resolution in support of the project and that their Republican counter-parts will consider a similar resolution which was introduced at their meeting on Wednesday. This comes on the heels of The Advertiser‘s strong editorial series in support of the LUS effort earlier this week.
Oddly, the Lafayette Chamber remains sidelined at this point, although efforts reportedly continue to move the organization off the fence and into the fray hopefully, on the side of cheaper bandwidth for the community (and you know there’s only one place that will come from LUS). The issue is, apparently, money: having lost BellSouth as a member several years ago over the Chamber’s support of the LUS fiber loop plan, the Chamber can ill afford (literally) to lose Cox as a member. So, the delicate organizational dance continues. It may look necessary from the inside, but it is taking on near Nero-ian (fiddling while Rome burns) proportions from the outside.
In every endeavor, there is an ebb and flow of events. Yesterday, things broke against those of us who favor the LUS plan (maybe the Sock Puppets of the Incumbents will finally have the courage to admit that they are fundamentally opposed to the plan, that the idea of a vote is merely a possible path to killing the plan). But, the fight is far from over; in fact, it is now on in earnest.
The prospect of a contested election is no longer a hypothetical. The question now becomes: Which side are you on?
The ability of this city and parish to assert control over its own economic destiny hangs in the balance. It is no longer possible to excuse yourself from the debate.
The question is on the table. The future is at stake. It’s time to declare your allegiance. Which side are you on? Atlanta’s? Or, Lafayette’s?
The Vermillion over at UL lashes BellSouth and Cox. It’s good to hear from campus. Few people will benefit more from a fiber network than students and few institutions will benefit more than the University of Lafayette.
It’s also nice to see that irony isn’t dead. Today is a good day to hear a little humor.
Well worth the read. Go get it at the Vermillion online: Dear Cox Communications and BellSouth…: “Dear Cox Communications and BellSouth…
(Thanks to Doug at LUSFTTH for the pointer.)
A sad day. Judge Hebert has ruled for the plantiffs in court early this afternoon. No reliable news on the reasoning behind his ruling is yet available. And no news, of course, on whether or not the city will appeal though I am assuming that it will barring a ruling whose logic seems irrefutable.