Lawsuit #1

The Advertiser, in a story titled: “Lawsuit: LUS overstated bills,” covers a lawsuit filed in the 15th judicial district by attorneys from Baton Rouge and Plaquemine. There’s no one, I trust, who believes this filing is unrelated to the current fight with BellSouth and Cox?

I think the antis are starting to look a little desperate. Maybe it is just to my eyes, but when the article claims that the class action lawsuit uses “harsh language” and talks about a “scheme” and “monopoly,” it raises flags. TV show dialog not withstanding, that is not legal language and using it suggests that the filers are playing this for TV rather than the court. When you have to rely on lawyers from Baton Rouge to carry your message that the people should be suspicious of LUS and consider themselves overcharged, you really are clutching at straws. With the previous tempest this week being a law prefiled by a Baton Rouge legislator that would penalize Lafayette if should it dare to vote against the corporations by “suspending” its contract with Cox, you have to suspect that the incumbents are calling in the capital city irregulars because they are pretty much out of effective ways to pursue their plaint.

Lawsuits have been a feature of the municipal telecom battles in other places as well and their use here has long been anticipated. It will be interesting to see just how long the details of the funding of this and the connections of the principals to BellSouth and Cox take to emerge.


TechSouth will begin tomorrow and today is your last chance to avoid a charge at the door by registering online as a “tech enthusiast.” The food-related events are sold out (congratulations organizers!.) But the online registration for tech enthusiast was still working this morning.

Here are three reasons to attend:

  • 1) The citizen’s group Lafayette Coming Together (DBA “For Fiber”) will be there with a splashy new booth, a big screen TV and Barcaloungers, or so I am told. Also push cards, informative packets, and the like. Come, hang out, and talk.
  • 2) The tech seminars. Too many to list here, but if you are interested in fiber, the creative side of technology, mobility applications, or GIS, there are whole tracks of presentations for you — enough so that I suspect that many folks will be conflicted as to what to attend.
  • 3) A special attraction–and one that they might not have suspected will be available–is the “Broadband and Digital Divide” track. Wanna know what the big fiber pipe will be used for? Attend “What can you do with Fiber-to-the-Home That is Better Than the Alternatives?” Curious about fiber basics?: “What Is Fiber to the Home?” Or go listen to Jim Baller talk about “The Battle for Municipal Broadband” (hey folks, that’s us).

Take a look at the seminar schedule and decide for yourself. Very few folks nationally have access to an event like this, certainly not for free. Take advantage!

Blanco touts benefits of fiber-optic program

Page 2B of today’s Acadiana edition of the Advocate (the story is not online) carries a story that interviews Kathleen Blanco on Lafayette’s fiber-optic project and overviews the bond issue to come before the council this Tuesday.

In the article, Blanco says “it will place the city in an incredibly important place to have an infrastructure that sophisticated,” and that the “community itself needs to make that decision.” It’s nice to know that the governor continues to support the project and Lafayette’s right to self-determination, especially in light of legislative ally Broome’s anti-LUS bill in the Senate (Broome was a floor leader for Blanco when she was in the house).

Because I had the scanner all set up for a Tax-Day project (of which no more need be said–harrumph), you get a quick jpeg image of the story. Enjoy!

“LUS bill called a ‘delay tactic'”

Both the Advocate and the Advertiser run stories on Sharon Weston Broome’s anti-LUS bill. Both headline an unattributed quote by a Lafayette public official that the bill is a “delay tactic.” But it sounds more like it is, to be generous, “ill considered” from the point of view of the sponsor. Broome, a former TV personality, was approached by someone from the Louisiana Cable and Telecommunications Association (LCTA) and she just went ahead and posted the bill they asked for. She says she didn’t really intend for there to be two elections though that is the clear meaning of the bill. Broome also claims that this bill is not about Lafayette–even though no place else in the state is considering such a move. Of course it is about Lafayette. Not understanding your own legislation is apparently not something to be embarrassed about in today’s legislature. It seems pretty likely that she’s just being used (albeit with her consent) and didn’t consider the implications. On the other hand, the LCTA surely knows what effect this would have.

The Advertiser’s story contents itself with the new elections aspect of the story but the Advocate goes on to explore the “punishment” side of the bill and a little history. It’s pretty simple: if the people approve the fiber project the state would let Cox walk away from its contract with the city (money, AOC, and service guarantees are all involved). I’d love to see some reporting on why this law proposes to only “suspend” the contract with the city. Could it be to ensure that LUS will still be required to “match” the deal with the city that Cox would be able to back out of?

The good news is that local reps are not deceived. The Advocate reports:

State Rep. Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette, said he thinks the Legislature should stay out of the issue. The proposed bill serves the interests of private companies, Robideaux said.

“It’s just simply out-of-state companies using politics and lobbying to accomplish their mission for them,” Robideaux said. “It effectively lets a bunch of legislators tell Lafayette what it can do and what it can’t do.”

He’s got that right.

The Advocate also notes:

The bill has been forwarded to the Senate Commerce, Consumer Protection and International Affairs Committee, of which State Sen. Mike Michot, R-Lafayette, is co-chairman.

Michot got caught flat-footed last year when the original anti-LUS bill—the one that would have prevented LUS from even studying the issue—bore his signature. He did some good work with the compromise bill but this is his chance to make up for the initial misstep. This bill should never see the light of day. Robideaux is right. The bill is all about out of state companies using the state legislature to try and control what local, and specifically Lafayette, people are allowed to do with city property. Our legislature is supposed to represent the people, not out-of-state corporations. The bill’s death should be swift, sure, and public: an execution that would serve as an example to other state lawmakers similarly inclined to meddle with the local rights of the people to the benefit of outsiders.

“Legislature to tackle LUS issue”

Kevin Blanchard of the Advocate has the story on the anti-LUS bill prefiled in the legislature by Sharon Weston Broome. Kevin catches something I had missed in my earlier post on this law: it would apparently require a second vote on the issue. The text of the proposed law reads (text that is struck through is eliminated; bold text is added to the law):

A local governing authority by a majority vote may shall call an election on whether or not the local government shall provide the proposed covered services, before engaging or offering to engage in providing such services.

It certainly looks like a second election would be required. Amazing.

The story also covers the history of the law, and details on the money and services that Cox would no longer have to supply should this ever make it into law. It’s a good read.

On reading this story it occurs to me that the state might not actually have the power to affect the “public, educational, and governmental” (PEG) requirements of local franchise agreements, though the odd language about “suspending” the local obligations of cable companies offended by locals asserting their rights to build their own local infrastructure might be aimed at placating the feds as well as evading the laws forbidding abrogating contracts. The law establishing the FCC explicitly grants such rights to municipalities (see page 251) and over the years the Feds have taken almost all rights to regulate cable companies out of state hands and made them solely a federal issue. This is why the Louisiana Public Service Commission regulates the rates and services of BellSouth but not Cox. The state may simply not have the right to overrun federal law in this instance.

It’s all very interesting. And you can be assured that the dirty tricks won’t end here.

Louisiana Anti-Muni Bill prefiled: Fright and spite

Well we get our first anti-municipal telecom bill of the season a combination of fright and spite bill. Surely written by BellSouth or Cox lobbyists in the finest tradition of lobbyist-inked legislation, it proposes to amend the “compromise” law passed last summer with the Orwellian name “The Local Fair competition Act.”

This law would amend RS 45:844.50(A) by adding a clause in which the state forces a referendum on the issue on local governments and imposing draconian penalties on any community that has the temerity to vote for public competition for the private corporations that hold a monopoly on local cable service. If a municipality should vote for such a law, the state would reach down in its majesty and “suspend” the contract the corporation made with the local owners of rights of way and poles. No franchise fees; now you get rights of way and pole attachments for free. No public access channels. No nothing, the law makes clear. Not until the new entity has provided the same amount of money to the local Louisiana government that the incumbent provided over the last 10 years.

Fright and spite. Apparently the incumbents have take the lessons of the battle of Lafayette to heart and are now hesitant to expose themselves to a battle in which they have to try to frighten the public about a broadband plan before the last few weeks of a forced election. If you spend all your little lies and deceptions just trying to get a vote, the people have time to figure out that they are being manipulated. That’s pretty much what we have seen here in Lafayette. But the spite is the real kicker here. Voiding contracts and allowing the user to “take” the city’s property and services for free is nothing less than madness and the gall it takes to even propose it is shocking. If you were tempted to forget what the incumbents taught us about their character at the end of last summer, this should serve as a salutary reminder.

Why do such a thing? Why, to fix their biggest ‘mistake’ in last summer’s (Un)Fair competition Act, I warrant. In that act, you may recall, the incumbents required the PSC to force a municipality (they meant LUS) to raise their prices to the same level they would be if they were renting their own rights of ways and were paying pole fees for maintenance (on top of actually paying to do the real maintenance!). The idea was to force you, dear customer, to pay higher prices rather than to allow the new competitor (LUS) to drive prices as low as they might otherwise. Clever, eh? No. Too clever by half. They had started to believe their own propaganda that utilities got by for free and apparently didn’t realize that utilities like LUS actually already pay more back in lieu of taxes to the city-parish than do private corporations even while keeping rates low. So the law doesn’t currently have its intended effect of raising LUS’ rates.


So this season they can fix that and use the government to eliminate their own, but not their competition’s, obligation to the local community. More of that infamous “good citizenship” and “your friend in the digital age” stuff you hear about in their ads. The new state law would relieve the out of state corporations from any local obligations to pay for the local resources they use while effectively forcing the local, publicly owned entity to pretend to pay twice for pole maintenance and to pretend to rent its own land land when setting rates. (Check out R.S. 45:844.53 for the gory details.)

The whole idea? You pay more so that Cox and BellSouth can tote more money out of the state without facing real competition. It really is that simple.

Get on the stick, folks. If you think we can make better decisons about our future than some people in Baton Rouge who are ventriloquating BellSouth and Cox, you’ll have to speak up. Write your representatives. Write the sponsor, Sharon Weston Broome. If you know people in her Baton Rouge District (Kip Holden’s old senatorial district), ask them to put a bug in her ear. Stuff like this should be nipped in the bud. Dropping a letter to the Governor might be a good idea too. After all, this character was a floor leader for her in the house.

(Incidentally, there’s an odd and interesting pattern of the incumbents using legislators that are slightly “off,” as my mother used to say. The sponsor of the original “Local (un)fair competition bill was Noble Ellington–the fellow who got us national publicity by saying on the floor of the legislature that “tolerance is tearing down the foundation of this country” and Sharon Weston Broome can be found all over the internet as the woman who tried to get the Louisiana legislature to pass a resolution affirming that Darwin’s theory of evolution is racist. Racist?! Isn’t there anyone a little bit more…sane that BellSouth and Cox can find to front their crazy bills? …Oh. Yeah. I guess that was obvious.)

West Virginia bill dies Honorably

You’ll recall that a while back I wrote with some pleasure of a West Virginia legislator who actually wrote his own legislation, much to the distress of the teleco lobbyists who regard that as their job. The law in question broke from the tradition of state telecommunication laws in other ways as well. It would have actually benefited the legislator’s constituents and not his contributers. The law in question would have actually encouraged municipalities to enter into providing broadband services and would have helped provide a little competition in a state with a grand total of two broadband providers. What a great idea.

Well, apparently I spoke too soon. Muniwireless reports that after being amended into a competition-killing form by the industry ammendments, it was dragged back into a less onerous form by proponents but was so battered that it was graciously allowed to die in committee. With it died a real possibility for some state, any state, writing a new law that actually encourages competition.

“Interview With Lafayette CIO Keith Thibodeaux”

Here’s a quick one in the vein of recent posts that have insisted, contrary to most of our self-image, that Lafayette is already a leader in technology. BayouBuzz, a Louisiana news site focusing on politics, development, and technology with a penchant for interviews has one with Lafayette CIO Keith Thibodaux. It’s mostly about LITE and TechSouth (both of which we covered recently if those names are unfamiliar –LITE-, –TechSouth-).

I’ve got a soft spot for BayouBuzz interviews. BayouBuzz gave Lafayette Pro Fiber its first media hit last August when the site owner did an interview with us that still sounds pretty good.

Lafayette already a leader

The morning’s papers bring stories that, while mostly peripheral to the Lafayette’s fight for fiber, remind me that we certainly shouldn’t be surprised that Lafayette has taken up the challenge of fiber to the home. I think, as I talk to some folks—even those who are vaguely in favor of the plan—that I hear an echo of the old: “If this is so good then why are we about to get it? Why doesn’t Baton Rouge (Austin..whatever the image of a place that is ‘ahead’ of little ole Lafayette) do it?”

That contrasts with recent conversations with people around the state (some actually living in, say, Baton Rouge) that open up with questions about the fiber issue in Lafayette and close with wistful comments about how much they wish their place was so progressive about these issues. I was told recently about a statewide conference call to work on putting in place a “green” home organization, that got off into a 15-minute conversation about the issue and how progressive a place Lafayette is, especially in regard to technology.

I confess to having a touch of this disease myself to the extent that I am surprised that outsiders admire Lafayette for its technology and its willingness to push the community forward.

Which brings me back to this morning’s papers. Looking at articles in the Advertiser and the Advocate on the newly named “LITE” project, and then running across an Advertiser article on consolidating medical databases (the importance of which the article considerably underplays) in our part of Acadiana, reminded me that I should not be surprised at the respect accorded Lafayette by those who keep up with such matters. Both of these projects put Lafayette well ahead of the curve, not only in Louisiana but nationally.

A successful fiber project would put an enormous exclamation point on it but the citizens of Lafayette should be aware that Lafayette is already ahead of the curve. In a real sense we are better prepared to take the leap than most communities. We really shouldn’t be surprised that we’re out in front on this too.

It’s Not Easy Watching Green

Shortly after 10 p.m. on Monday, Richard Warren called me to say that BellSouth Louisiana President Bill Oliver was on the Ray Green Show on AOC.

I couldn’t bring myself to watch the entire program. Green was reading questions obviously given to him by someone (BellSouth?). Oliver pretty much was regurgitating what has become the standard tripe he’s been spouting for about a year here, with one possible exception: I didn’t catch the lead in, but he said something about “the plan we presented to the Mayor five months ago.”

Does anyone know which plan BellSouth proposed to the city? I don’t think I’ve ever heard about this before. My guess is that it would by typical BellSouth vaporware, or, as it’s known when BellSouth uses the tactic: ‘BS BS.’

Oliver resumed his by now familiar, patronizing tone; down-playing the value of fiber to the home. The fact that BellSouth technologists and scientists out of Atlanta brag about the fact that BellSouth has more than one million fiber to the home customers does not exist in Oliver’s world. And, when he’s on a program like Green’s, where his claims will not be challenged, Oliver can try to convince Lafayette residents that this fiber to the home deal is some kind of ‘transport obsession’.

Once again, Oliver need only look at his own company, at larger RBOCs Verizon and SBC see where they are putting their infrastructure dollars in the markets they value most: They are investing in fiber to the premises. Oliver won’t admit that, because he can’t. It will then reveal his argument to be the empty rhetoric that it truly is.

It is this ability and willingness to shade, evade and obscure the truth that put Oliver and BellSouth, in some ways, in the catbird seat in this election. Ray Green asked if people would be able to choose the channels they’d be able to get over an alleged BellSouth cable network. Green noted that Terry Huval had told a caller during another show that this would not be possible. Oliver said it might be, depending on the programming service.

Now, this ability to pick and choose channel offerings is known in the industry as “a la carte”. NO PROVIDER OFFERS IT NOW. In fact, they are all fighting furiously to prevent the FCC from mandating a la carte programming.

Because: a) BellSouth has no cable offering; and B) Oliver doesn’t know anything about cable, he can say, in effect, anything is possible. Terry Huval and LUS, decent folks that they are, are bound by the truth and, so, tell people up front what is possible on things like channel offerings.

BellSouth, in general, and Bill Oliver, in particular, are in an all-out battle mode in which they CAN and WILL say ANYTHING that they think raises doubts about the LUS plan or in anyway makes BellSouth look like a favorable alternative.

Oliver also said that, should the LUS election fail, “there would be new bundling of services” in Lafayette. Note what he did not say: Specifically, he did not say that BellSouth would upgrade their infrastructure here. He specifically avoided saying that BellSouth’s DSL speeds would be bumped up from what he said are their current upper limits of 3 megabits per second.

So, while the BellSouth honchos in Atlanta will spring for a plane ticket from Atlanta to let Oliver appear on a cable access program in Lafayette, they still will not commit to any substantial upgrade of network infrastructure in Lafayette.

This drives home the point that has become evident: If LUS does not invest in fiber to the home here, no one else will. This is a clear cut case of government stepping in where the private sector refuses to go. Fiber to the premises IS the Infrastructure of the future. It IS the essential economic infrastructure of the first half of the 21st Century.

Bill Oliver can’t convince his bosses in Atlanta to make any new infrastructure investments in Lafayette because Cox is already eating Bell’s market lunch here and they don’t have a clue as to where the bottom of their marketshare is. With LUS potentially moving into that market as well, Oliver is confronted with the total loss of the Lafayette market within two years — just about the time that he will retire.

Take a good look at Bill Oliver in the coming months. He’ll be spending a LOT of time in Lafayette. He will be desperation personified.