Silly Season comes early; Bell South’s Oliver at it again

There comes a point when things just get silly.

Readers will recall that I got more than a little peeved at the spectacle of Bill Oliver, head of BellSouth in Louisiana, responding to a challenge in the Times of Acadiana on a Wednesday that wouldn’t be made public until several days later…in the Advertiser. Now we go from outrageous to just silly. Oliver is allowed to run the same letter again, this time more sensibly placed after the publication date of the letter to which it responds.

Nobody, nobody, no matter how big a corporation he works for, should be toadied to in such an obvious manner. Nobody, nobody, no matter how big a corporation he works for should get advance notice of a critical letter and be allowed to respond to it both before and after
it is published — and without even having to go to the extra labor of writing a second letter. There’s such a thing as bending over backward to be fair. And then there’s just plain letting yourself be taken advantage of. Lafayette is in the process of ceasing to let BellSouth take advantage of her. The Gannett papers should learn a little discernment and do the same.

In my previous response to this same letter I said that I’d pass on going on “a tare about the nonsense that Oliver tries to pass off on the readers of the Times that any flavor of DSL will equal fiber’s capacities.” I’m not going to pass today.

It’s nonsense. Total and complete. DSL is never, ever going to reach the capacities of pure fiber optic networks. Oliver says:

I have never said that BellSouth is planning to build a fiber-to-the-home network in Lafayette. I have shared detail about BellSouth’s fiber-to-the-curb plan, which is functionally equivalent according to an October 2004 decision by the Federal Communications Commission.

There he goes again. First he says that he’s not going to run fiber to the home. And then with a little flim-flam move, he repeats the claim that would make a reasonable reader think that he’s going to do the same thing. After all, that’s what “functional equivalent” is supposed to mean. Notice that Oliver doesn’t say HE believes that Fiber to the Curb (FTTC) is the functional equivalent of Fiber to the Home (FTTH). That would be lying– and no one really believes that. Instead he puts those words in the mouth of the FCC, which is not around to defend itself.

In fact, the FCC does NOT say anything about functional equivalence in the document to which Oliver so confidently refers. I refer you to the FCC order degregulating FTTC that was adopted October 14th, 2004.

BellSouth argued there that FTTC and FTTH were “indistinguishable” in their ability to deliver services, along with several other reasons in a petition to the FCC to allow them to shut the competition out of any FTTC loops they might build in the same way that FTTH loops were already excepted. The FCC, while allowing BellSouth to lock out competition as they requested, noticeably did NOT list “indistingusihability” as a reason for allowing BellSouth to close its system to competition. In fact, even the most cursory reader couldn’t avoid the conclusion that in both the order and in the commissioners’ individual comments, the difference continued to be something the commissioners felt they had to contend with. (They did explicitly accept other parts of BellSouth’s argument, such as the contention that locking out competitors would make it more likely that BellSouth and other incumbent phone companies would build FTTC systems.)

The reason that the commissioners didn’t fall for that one is that it isn’t true. That the marketing (and politically savvy) operatives of BellSouth want us to believe it is so doesn’t make it so. Saying it to the FCC doesn’t mean they fell for it and saying it to us doesn’t mean we believe it either.

Aside from putting BellSouth’s words in the FCC’s mouth there are two other pretty egregious errors concealed in Oliver’s very carefully crafted letter: 1) that the only difference between FTTC and FTTH is the location of the box that feeds service to your house and 2) that BellSouth has 1500 employees in Lafayette.

This deserves a post of its own but the difference between FTTC and FTTH is not about a box “at the curb” or on your house–its about how many you have to share that box’s capacity width. In FTTH you get it all–all of the fiber’s capacity comes to you. In fiber to the Curb, you share that capacity with everyone within 500 feet. Think about the block where you live. With smaller lots that could easily be 100 people. You get a LOT less if you have to share the capacity with 100 homes–or even 32! Ths is BellSouth’s “big lie” and what they are concealing when Oliver and his agents desperately try to shift the focuse to the idea that they can provide the same services that you would get from LUS.

If LUS ran its sewerage service the same way that BellSouth wants to run your telecom services LUS would put a two-hole outhouse in the middle of your block and claim they were providing the same “services” as a real sewerage company. When they wanted to do a big upgrade they’d add two holes…and expect you to be politely grateful. Luckily LUS provides our sewarage and we get real service.

The other “untruth” that really gets under my skin in Oliver’s story is the claim that he’s been making wherever he goes that BellSouth has 1500 employees in Lafayette. This is isn’t true. Cingular, a company in which BellSouth owns a minority stake in has 1300 employees in the call center north of town and about 150 in its storefront shops around town. That leaves, maybe 150 employeees in Lafayette that actually get a paycheck from BellSouth. There used to be more…but that was back when the phone company would actually help with your inside wiring and had local operators who knew where St. Antoine strreet was. That’s a long time gone.

Oliver ought to quit trying to use the employees of another company to scare Lafayette residents and to bolster his weight in town. I know Cingular employees resent it too. From their point of view they’re in a different business than BellSouth and one that is gaining rather than losing subscribers. They don’t look up to BS.

Oliver’s letter is a classic example of subtle deceptions. It’s to Lafayette’s credit, and not his, that a letter addressed to us has to be subtlely deceptive to have a hope of succes. But the careful crafting points to one sure thing: BellSouth doesn’t have a real case. If they did they’d trot it out. But they don’t so they have to try and peddle this stuff.