FCC Committed to Removing Choice, Innovation From Internet

Fresh from the Supreme Court of the United States’ decision upholding the FCC’s decision to permit cable companies to deny network access to rival ISPs, the Wall Street Journal reports (subscription required) today that the Commission’s new chairman is intent on providing phone companies ‘parity’ with the cable companies.

Translated in to plain English, that means the FCC is preparing to enable phone companies to bar rival ISPs from access to their networks, too.

It is the end of the Internet as we’ve known it.

In an editorial yesterday, the San Jose Mercury News (the daily newspaper in Silicon Valley) explained the significance of the Supreme Court’s ruling and anticipated the push for ‘parity’:

But the ruling also opens the door for cable companies — and eventually their telephone rivals — to pick and choose what Internet content and services their customers get to use. Such control of Internet content by access providers would profoundly alter the nature of the Internet as an open, competitive and virtually limitless network. It’s up to Congress to ensure that it never happens.

Here’s why it matters:

The rub is that information services are not bound by rules that require them to provide unrestricted access to all content and services on the Internet. A cable company could theoretically cut a deal with an e-commerce site, say Walmart.com, and bar its customers from accessing a rival site such as Amazon.com. Or it could decide to block an online video service, such as MovieLink, because it competes with its own cable TV service.

Discrimination could take more subtle forms. A cable firm could provide speedy music downloads from a partner’s site, while slowing down those of a rival music service.

This fear isn’t just theoretical. Earlier this year, Madison River, a rural phone company that operates in four states, blocked its DSL customers from accessing Vonage, which enables people to make phone calls over the Internet. The FCC quickly intervened. It got Madison River to restore Vonage service and pay a fine.

The paper points out that the only reason the FCC was able to move on Madison River was because it was classified as a telephone service, rather than an information service.

What’s this got to do with fiber in Lafayette? It’s a core issue!

While Cox and BellSouth blather empty platitudes to competition and innovation, the fact remains that it is better to follow their actions, rather than their words. Their actions can be found in what they direct their lobbyists and attorneys to work to achieve. What they are working to achieve is the elimination of competition and, ultimately, the elimination of consumer choice.

Under specific and repeated questioning, LUS has repeatedly assured citizens that it will not engage in the kind of restrictive deals and practices that the cable and telephone companies are relentlessly angling towards.

And, back in the day, during the early phase of the Sock Puppets’ endless groping for something — anything — with which they could attempt to manufacture fear about the LUS project, they proclaimed that they wanted the network open. An Internet Protocol (IP)-based network with no restrictions on ports or restrictive commercial deals (like those that WILL be pursued by the incumbent phone and cable companies) IS an open network, because all services are migrating to Internet Protocol-based delivery.

The innovation of the Internet was driven by open access to networks by companies that were driven to differentiate themselves from the competition by driving new services to customers. As the courts and the FCC are making clear, ONLY LUS will offer Lafayette the open option!

“Durel says ‘scare tactics’ likely before July 16 vote”

Durel spoke, eleqouently by all the accounts I hear, to the Oil Center Renaissance Association. The association is an alliance of businesses located in and around the oil center. The Advocate has an interesting review of the luncheon.

On the account presented there Durel dealt with four major issues: the theme of doubt in upcoming incumbent disinformation, the issue lower prices for telecom services in this city, the upcoming interview with Sun CEO Scott McNealy, and equity in the buildout. It appears that he is sounding all the right notes.

Doubt is a part of the incumbent’s FUD strategy and the fact that the mayor can refer to it in a public address indexes the growing sophistication of our community about the way the incumbents have fought this battle. Most places don’t have our experience with corporations that try and introduce fear of the future and doubt about valuable projects they oppose only because it reduces the profits they will be able to take out of Lafayette. (The incumbents don’t doubt the value of a fiber to the home system. Their long-term plans call for one. What they don’t want is our owning it instead of one of them.)Durel gets it exactly right:

City-Parish President Joey Durel said the closer “D-Day” nears on the July 16 fiber-optic initiative election, the more private telecommunications companies will use “scare tactics.”

These “scare tactics,” such as negative advertising, false information and promotion of current technology, are geared to create doubt, he said.

“They are desperately trying to defend a horse-and-buggy technology in a supersonic age,” Durel said…

An odd tactic adopted by the opponents of this is to either deny that LUS can lower prices 20% or to worry that they will. (Of course they can lower prices–prices in markets with 2 cable providers are 17% lower on average, LUS is just admitting the inevitable and arranging to get credit for it) Worrying that LUS will actually lower price is utterly bizarre. That was the point last time I checked. Somehow being successful in this is supposed to be a bad thing! The rationale has something to do with cutting LUS’ profits. This is either incredibly dense or incredibly duplicitous after all this time. LUS doesn’t exist to extract the maximum amount of profit from each individual it serves. That is the role of private companies. LUS is supposed to serve its customers. The best way and the accepted way to do that is to offer the lowest possible prices. If it makes a big profit it has failed in its mission. Again, Durel gets it:

Even if the fiber-optic network just breaks even, Durel said his goal, lower prices, would be accomplished.

“You win,” Durel said simply. “It’s a dream come true. I could hope for nothing more. It’s a dream come true if there’s a price war. Our citizens win.”

And showing that tradmarked fiesty spirit we’ve all come to love:

“If they lower their rates that much [$30], I’ll take a full ad out in Baton Rouge and say, ‘You, too, can have these rates,’ ” Durel said. “I’ve talked to people around town, and if they can lower your rates by $30, what do you think they’ve been doing to you for 15 or 20 years?”

What a wonderful double bind for the Mayor to put the incumbents in: If they lower prices radically they are either engaging in unfair preditory pricing today or the last 20 years of prices have way too high.

The threat to take out a full page ad in the Advocate may sound like bravado. And it is, a little. But I take it very seriously. The best protection against preditory pricing is publicity. That, and that alone, has driven the incumbents back to fair pricing in other locales. Joey is serving notice that he is willing to wreak havoc in major local markets if they try and abuse their market power and size against “little” Lafayette. Here in Lafayette we’d have the added advantage, an advantage Joey occasionally alludes to, of having all the very expensive and robust front-end equipment already in place and being paid for. If Opelousas (or Alexandria, or Baton Rouge) wanted to build their own fiber network we can, over the very ultra-fast fiber that enabled the network in the first place, provide “front-end” services at very reasonable prices to our neighbors. (We already do this with electricity). It would be cheaper to get started in other cities if Lafayette helped and if Lafayette were sitting down the road paying a lot less because they had the gumption to get up and do this others might be a lot more likely to build their own network. The corporations are boxed. If they don’t lower rates they lose market share in Lafayette. If they do lower rates radically they risk encouraging regional cities to follow Lafayette’s lead. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Don’t think that the executives at these corporations haven’t figured this out. They have. And they don’t like it, you may rest assured. (This alone is why I still look to a desperation last minute incumbent campaign of disinformation if their polls show the least chance of winning. They must be desparate to avoid the box we are about to put them in.)

The Mayor teased the crowd with hints about the Sun interview tomorrow morning. I’ll be listening. Maybe I can figure out how to get my TiVo to record it…

Durel also again promised equity in the initial build out–it will not go first and only to wealthy parts of town. (If you doubt this, think politics…having made the promise so forcefully, so often it mustnow happen. If you think it won’t you are willfully ignoring local politics.) But Joey went on to say the obvious right out loud: only the city will make this pledge. The incumbenst WILL NOT do this. Their focus, fairly enough, is on profit. They will go to the wealthy areas first. If you don’t want to believe me, believe BellSouth who under the heaviest pressure imaginable would only pledge to our public that they would provide advanced services to 80% of our community. Who do you think will be left out? Yes, you are right….BellSouth plans to leave 20% of us out unless we bribe them. Even at a time whent they are faced with the most dramatic competitive challenge imaginable. Again, Joey gets it:

“We’re not going to find the most densely populated, wealthiest part of town to bring it to first,” Durel said. “I guarantee you if we were talking about our businesses today, that’s exactly where we would go, because that would give us the ability to then bring it to the poorer part of Lafayette. But because we are a publicly owned utility owned by all the citizens of Lafayette, we’re going to do it a little differently.”

And we ought to get it too. Go to the polls on July 16th and vote yes for fiber…for our community. All of our community.

Fiber 411 to vampire the town hall meeting

The Fiber411 boys have decided to leach a little publicity off the Town Hall Meeting that will occur tomorrow evening. An announcement went up at their website today piously urging their supporters to attend.

The joke here is that the town hall meetings have been beneath their notice until this one. Two of them came to one meeting but left early, later dismissing it as “Kumbaya.” All that positive energy must sicken them in the way that light sickens the vampires of story.

Why change their policy? Oh, a little thing called “positive national publicity.” They are against that sort of stuff for Lafayette in the same way that they are against fiber. They want to make sure that nobody gets the impression, as they would have if they attended every other town hall meeting, that the public is mostly interested in how it will be done and not at all interested in pursuing the fiber411/Cox/BellSouth rational de jour for opposing Lafayette’s fiber optic build. The sight of citizens who are positively engaged in their community, who are actually FOR something, and who trust their neighbors is offensive to this clan. If it’s local coverage only, well they can stay away, but if it’s national they say: “Hey look at u! We, some corporations, and some folks from out of town are against it! Look at us. Hey, over here! Come see!”

Lafayette is full of positive people who know the value of a good thing when they see one. They need to turn out in force, ask questions that reflect the real interests of the people of Lafayette, and make sure that the national attention we are gathering emphasizes what is positive about our city.

Please mark your calendars.

Clifton Chenier Center Auditorium
220 West Willow Street, Building C
6:00 pm, Wednesday, June 29th

“Sun CEO to be guest on Durel radio show” DO NOT MISS

Folks, Don’t miss this one.

Make sure you catch the Joey Durel show on KPEL 105.1 FM this coming Thursday morning at 7:30. As I understand it Joey is going to interview Scott McNealy, CEO of Sun Systems. As radio shows go this one’s got everything, digital divide, economic development, and the sheer sexiness of unfamiliar and hot technologies available ONLY to communities with ultra fast bandwidth.

Sun Systems gained fame as the developer of server systems during the early days of the internet’s commercialization. It sustained that fame with a leadership that has consistently consisted of men who are willing to think out of the box in radical ways.

Sun was an early proponent of the open software movement–before it was called that–and has recently made its own home-grown unix OS variant, solaris, pretty much open source. Open source material is 1) free, and 2) is open to being further developed and tweaked by anyone. For those of us who think that proprietary software is keeping computing expensive, bloated, and poorly designed the idea that a major player would offer up their materials, for free, for further develpment is vastly exciting.

Sun has been a consistent proponent of what is called “utility computing.” Utility computing operates on the idea that most processing time sits unused and wasted. Huge amounts of power sit idle. And all that capacity sitting idle is wasteful…and worse ridiculously expensive. The same is true of storage capacity. The solution: quit wasting money and capacity. Centralize or share processor time. Insert storage and processing power into the network. It makes both processing power and storage dirt cheap. The computers in people’s homes can be stripped down and cheap OR bulked up and costly but in either case costly programs can be provided for free or a cheap rental if run off the server’s liscense. Storage price for huge temporary files can drop toward zero. (Wanna shoot a video and massage it? Don’t want to buy some huge hard drives for a single project? Rent the capacity for a week for five bucks.) Sun’s version of this story has been pretty radical, even for my tastes–the computer hardware is anemic and not much use if not connected to the net. But with WalMart selling computers below 500 dollars and the price continuing to fall I’m not worried about hardware if the system we bargin for is not made into an exclusive for Sun and linked solely to the use of Sun’s hardware. (Linux could do most of this, not with Suns muscle or willingness to push hard to make its cherished ideas work, but Linux too is a unix variant….Sun might be easiest but this dream is shared by others…and we saw a call for a similar program in the digital divide document adopted by the council.)

Going this direction means big bandwidth internally to connect to processing power reasonably quickly and to make the storage fast enough to be useful. The fact that discussions are in play with Sun means that the bandwidth discussion taking place locally and that the pressure will be toward providing more rather than less bandwidth–at least internal to the system. (Real costs limit how much bandwidth we can afford when connecting to San Diego. Those costs don’t apply–or at least needn’t–when we are looking at internal bandwidth and connecting to local servers.

The digital divide implications are pretty obvious downstream. Sun makes some cheap, minimal equipment. Are we talking cheap enough for a business model like the cell phone model to be viable? Cheap hardware could conceivably made available as part of a contract committment. I sorta doubt it could be free. But, like fancy cell phones, the contract could drive the price of entry way down. Sub 100. Maybe. Someone will have to take a pencil to it.

The truth is, as Joey and Scott will no doubt agree, that almost all the pieces to do something really wonderful, cheap, and powerful have been in place for at least 5 years, maybe 8. All that is stopping an exciting deployment that drives speed through the roof and prices through the floor is the bandwidth bottleneck. There has been no place of sufficient size with sufficient bandwidth to put this in the market.

There will be soon. If we demonstrate our collective wisdom on July 16th. Vote Yes! For Fiber.

You think fiber is exciting? Just wait. This has barely begun. Real wireles: Fiber. Real bandwidth: Fiber. Real, shared processing power: Fiber. Unlimited storage: Fiber. Cheap, continuously refined, powerful open source software available to all for free or pennies: Fiber. We can live the dream here folks. It is in sight. It only takes a little courage and wilingness to believe in ourselves.

Standing Up—Don Bertrand, Obstructionism and Fear rejected

Not Missing Opportunities when you’ve got the chance is the main theme of Don Bertrands’ guest editorial in today’s Advertiser.

He points out how obstructionism and fear have lead to missed opportunities in the past–opportunities that we can now realize only at great cost in both the city’s funds and the community’s sense that we treat each other fairly.

Obstructionism cost us the loop around Lafayette when narrow corporate interests lead to a lawsuit, resulting in Lafayette’s population not being counted as large enough to get a loop when Lake Charles’ did. We are now talking about at toll road to try and fund an expensive project that is clearly needed as the city expands but which also gets more expensive as the expansion of the city drives both the need and the cost sky high. We, the current generations, will pay dearly for the corporate obstructionism of the past.

Fear of losing a vital downtown district lead to Lafayette forgoing a system of frontage roads that other cities built as a matter of course. The thought appears to have been, understandably perhaps, that we had a good downtown and didn’t want to lose it. So we shut off the developmental possibilities of frontage roads. But as we well know, fearing change and the changes the future brings doesn’t keep the future from happening anyway. Development moved away from downtown anyway…it just moved out to strip malls, the oil center, and downtown Johnson to Acadiana Mall. The vitality of the downtown corridor has only been bought at great expense and with the acceptance that it won’t be retail that drives the area. We could have been less fearful and managed the inevitable in a more balanced way that didn’t drive all development southward. We are paying the price for another generations fear now.

But the LUS story is one of a boldness, other city’s waited and let private obstructionists or their own fear thwart the public good. But Lafayette build a top-notch public utility that is still one of the most reliable and powerful public power entities anywhere. We have every right to be proud of those decisions and to honor our forefathers that made them.

The fiber optic story can either resemble the loop and frontage road stories or the story of the LUS electrical utility. We can wilt before obstructionism and fear or stand up for Lafayette and her future.

I’m voting YES on July 16th and urge you to do the same.

Discovering Japan*

The United States ranks somewhere in the mid-teens in access to broadband, even using the FCC’s ridiculously inadequate 200 kilobits per second definition.

Thomas Bleha, writing in the May/June edition of Foreign Affairs magazine, says this spells economic trouble. Worse still, he says current U.S. broadband policy of competition among cable and telephone companies (established under the lead of Michael Powell) has locked the country into a slow growth, slow innovation approach that will depress our economic competitiveness for years (perhaps decades) to come. The Supreme Court’s decision yesterday which said the FCC was right to allow cable companies to bar independent ISPs from their networks will only make matters worse by entrenching this mistaken approach.

Bleha, a veteran foreign service officer who spent eight years in Japan, says that country has gained significant competitive advantage over the U.S. due to its aggressive roll-out of ultra-fast, fiber-based broadband.

Here are some key passages:

Until recently, the United States led the world in Internet development. In the late 1960s and 1970s, the Department of Defense’s Advanced Research Projects Agency conceived of and then funded the Internet. In the 1980s, the National Science Foundation partially underwrote the university and college networks — and the high-speed lines supporting them — that extended the Internet across the nation. After the World Wide Web and mouse-driven browsers were developed in the early 1990s, the Internet was ready to take off. President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore showed the way by promoting the Internet’s commercialization, the National Infrastructure Initiative, the Telecommunications Act of 1996, and remarkable e-commerce, e-government, and e-education programs. The private sector did the work, but the government offered a clear vision and strong leadership that created a competitive playing field for early broadband providers. Even though these policies had their share of detractors — who claimed that excessive hype was used to sell wasteful projects and even blamed the Clinton administration for the dot-com bust — they kept the United States in the forefront of Internet innovation and deployment through the 1990s.

When Michael Powell ascended to the chairmanship of the FCC, Bleha says,

[t]he Federal Communications Commission (FCC) showed little interest in opening home telephone lines to outside competitors to drive down broadband prices and increase demand.

Recall that this policy of cutting off competition was precisely what the Regional Bell Operating Companies (RBOCs) were clamoring for when they weren’t actively working to subvert the line sharing requirements required by law and the FCC.

The results of this incumbent-friendly, competition-hostile policy quickly became evident:

When the United States dropped the Internet leadership baton, Japan picked it up. In 2001, Japan was well behind the United States in the broadband race. But thanks to top-level political leadership and ambitious goals, it soon began to move ahead. By May 2003, a higher percentage of homes in Japan than in the United States had broadband, and Japan had moved well beyond the basic connections still in use in the United States. Today, nearly all Japanese have access to “high-speed” broadband, with an average connection speed 16 times faster than in the United States — for only about $22 a month. Even faster “ultra-high-speed” broadband, which runs through fiber-optic cable, is scheduled to be available throughout the country for $30 to $40 a month by the end of 2005. And that is to say nothing of Internet access through mobile phones, an area in which Japan is even further ahead of the United States.

Let’s review that startling paragraph. It took only two years of the ‘competition between the duopolies’ of phone and cable incumbents for the U.S. to lose its edge. It’s also worth noting that $40 per month for fiber-borne connectivity is just about what LUS will offer residents; that is, if a customer bought high-speed Internet only from LUS, the monthly charges would run somewhere in the range between $40 and $45 per month. Again, we’re talking broadband speeds at least five times (maybe as much as 20 times) faster than what is currently offered by incumbents here.

Here’s Bleha’s take on the implications of the growing digital divide between the U.S. and those countries (like Japan and South Korea) that are moving aggressively to make true broadband available to all their citizens:

By dislodging the United States from the lead it commanded not so long ago, Japan and its neighbors have positioned themselves to be the first states to reap the benefits of the broadband era: economic growth, increased productivity, technological innovation, and an improved quality of life.

Japan’s accelerated broadband deployment was driven by government funding AND open access to network infrastructure for all providers. The incumbent phone and cable companies have funded legions of lawyers and lobbyists to enshrine their ability to shut competitors (and their innovatioins) from their networks. It is worth noting that incumbents continue to ‘game’ their networks in order to block even certain types of services from their customers, such as voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP).

To understand the implications of the closing off of these networks, answer this question: Name a network technology innovation developed by either the RBOCs or the cable companies over the past 20 year. This is a tough question because there is scant evidence of any such innovation. Innovation was invariably brought in by entrepreneurial innovators. Killing innovation does the country no good; it does, however, satisfy the incumbents (check your local papers for stories on the Brand X case).

In making is case for a change in national broadband policy, Bleha points out just how large an economic advantage Lafayette would have over other U.S. cities if the LUS referendum is approved by voters on July 16:

Barely more than 600,000 U.S. offices and homes had fiber connections at the end of 2003. Verizon plans to bring fiber to 3 million of the United States’ 115 million households by the end of this year, with speeds ranging from 5 to 30 megabits per second.

So, the LUS fiber to the premises project will vault Lafayette to a position of broadband access leadership in the U.S. Our 50,000 to 60,000 homes and offices will constitute a full 10 percent increase in the number of such connected entities.

Why does this matter? Because economic development is a competition focused on relative advantage. Having fiber to every home and business will give Lafayette a significant competitive advantage over much larger cities because we will have access to abundant and affordable bandwidth. Bleha explains why that is important:

By dislodging the United States from the lead it commanded not so long ago, Japan and its neighbors have positioned themselves to be the first states to reap the benefits of the broadband era: economic growth, increased productivity, technological innovation, and an improved quality of life.

Bleha also addresses the notion (expressed by opponents of the LUS plan) that the incumbents are giving us all that we need:

But these new services will probably appear only slowly, and competition between the telephone and cable companies will remain limited. The reasons are simple: cheap, high-speed broadband would lead to widespread use of Internet telephones and thus threaten the phone companies’ lucrative voice-telephone business, and more inexpensive broadband would multiply outside video and movie offerings and endanger the cable companies’ profitability. So, although both the telephone and cable companies could provide cheap, high-speed broadband if they chose to, they are not rushing to develop it.

The lack of strong incentives to encourage competition has, in other words, doomed broadband in the United States to remain much slower and more expensive than in Japan. Over the next five years, service is likely to get only marginally faster and cheaper. Meanwhile, at current transmission speeds, the next “killer” application — Internet telephone service — will remain shaky and unreliable.

The development of ultra-high-speed fiber broadband service, which is just beginning to appear in the United States, will also lag. Barely more than 600,000 U.S. offices and homes had fiber connections at the end of 2003. Verizon plans to bring fiber to 3 million of the United States’ 115 million households by the end of this year, with speeds ranging from 5 to 30 megabits per second. SBC Communications, which dominates the Midwest and Southwest markets, and BellSouth, the leader in the Southeast, are also laying fiber, although at a much slower rate. But they plan to stop the work after spending about $10 billion (the estimated cost of bringing fiber close to about 10 million U.S. homes and offices) and then examine whether further investment is justified. As a result, the pace of roll-out will be slow. And the emergence of the substantial market needed to inspire innovative new products and services for those with fiber Internet access remains years away.

The implications of this snail’s pace roll-out of fiber-based connectivity by the incumbents:

The United States is losing considerable ground to Japan and its neighbors, and they will be the first to reap the economic benefits of these technologies. It is these countries, rather than the United States, that will benefit from the enhanced productivity, economic growth, and new jobs that high-speed broadband will bring. In 2001, Robert Crandall, an economist at the Brookings Institution, and Charles Jackson, a telecommunications consultant, estimated that “widespread” adoption of basic broadband in the United States could add $500 billion to the U.S. economy and produce 1.2 million new jobs. But Washington never promoted such a policy. Last year, another Brookings economist, Charles Ferguson, argued that perhaps as much as $1 trillion might be lost over the next decade due to present constraints on broadband development. These losses, moreover, are only the economic costs of the United States’ indirection. They do not take into account the work that could have been done through telecommuting, the medical care or interactive long-distance education that might have been provided in remote areas, and unexploited entertainment possibilities.

So, the country will pay a heavy economic price for the inability of the incumbent phone and cable companies to roll-out world-class network infrastructure to communities across the country. Those communities that content themselves with waiting for the incumbents to bring them into the future will suffer economically.

Lafayette has been offered a choice on July 16. We don’t have to wait. We can choose to take our own path, one that puts our community on equal infrastructure footing with communities in countries with more aggressive network infrastructure roll-out approaches.

The choice is clear and stark: We can invest in ourselves or we can muddle along in the middle of the pack of medium-sized cities in a nation that is falling behind the rest of the world in the kind of infrastructure investments that will define economic success in the 21st century.

Forward or backward?

Progress or decline?

For Fiber or not?

LUS or nothing.

I’m voting Yes For Fiber on July 16!

* Apologies to Graham Parker for borrowing his song title.

Strange Fiber plan debate Constructed as vote nears

It’s getting pretty confusing trying to figure out what what is going on with the supposedly factual series that the Advertiser said it was going to run. It was a good idea. There are lots of basic factual material that should just be in place as part of the background for makeing an informed decision either way.

But that is not what this series is turning into. Instead we get factual questions asked–of LUS or LCG (not the best targets, when local experts are available, but still…) with pretty much straightforward answers given about facts or announced intentions. Then apparently Neal Breakfield has been appointed to say that that might not be true, because nobody really knows and this or that fantasy might interfere. The He Said, She Said format is the antithesis of fact-based reporting…instead of informing it serves to suggest that nobody is sure about anything. That format is inappropriate because about most of these issues the case is actually pretty clear cut.

The oddness of the format in relation to the announced intention of the series makes one wonder whether an editorial decision sensibly made by Julie Metzger is now being executed by someone with no real sense of what is going on. Who is in charge over there? This problem used to be limited to the Times….

Here is an example of a well understood issue that could be easily answered with some authority by an expert (go to the Chamber or the University).


LUS says it will reduce prices by 20% Cox and BellSouth says it can’t. (Neal says who knows….So why ask Neal? Ask someone who does.)

What would a knowledgeable person be able to say to clear this up? Well, anyone who’d read the studies that consistently say that in the 5% of the cable market where there is competition the communities that have a competing landline cable company have about 17% lower prices might say that LUS is not being ambitous here. Instead they are taking a calm look at the market and deciding to take the competitive hit up front and take credit for bringing to Lafayette what is a competitive inevitability. It sounds like a way to turn the inevitabilities of competition (lower prices) into a marketing strategy for LUS. They’ll be the price leaders and the ones that brought lower prices. A reasonable person could be either for or against the fiber optic utility and recognize the truth of basic, well-established economic fact. You don’t have to think LUS noble or Cox venal to see the economic and marketing reality.

I leave similar responses to the rest of the article (where the Advertiser doesn’t bother to talk to BellSouth and Cox before asking Neal Breakfield for his opinion) to the astute reader.

We need more than a he said she said constructed debae between the director and chief engineer at LUS and Neal Breakfield. We need someone to go out and ask a local, credible third party to explain the situation. Or, horrors, for the reporter to do an analytical piece that calmly states the obvious. No one is served by the unequal contrast put before the public here.

More Groups backing LUS Plan

The Advertiser carries a list of the four organizations that endorsed the fiber project this week and it is part of list that is impressively long and growing longer. I’d add the endorsement of the realty firm Van Eaton and Romero, done from the floor of the Lafayette Coming Together breakfast. In point of fact, three of the four on the Advertiser’s list were announced at that breakfast as part its unity theme: the Lafayette Economic Development Authority (LEDA), the Downtown Development Authority, and Downtown Lafayette Unlimited. LEDA’s address, pointedly delivered by Lafayette Housing Director, Walter Guillory, was the source of the quote pulled in the article:

The fiber buildout “is necessary for Lafayette to compete in the global knowledge economy,” said Walter Guillory, LEDA executive committee member. LUS has the only plan on the table to provide affordable and accessible broadband to all parts of the community, he said.

The fourth, Realtor Association of Acadiana’s, endorsement, came at a press conference Friday. The endorsement dance must be getting wearying for reporters. If you count van Eaton and Romero (and I do) then that is five impressive endorsements this week. But even if it has gotten to be old hat for the endorsers it is still worth noting. Each and every organization had to sit down and think hard about its endorsement. Debate within some was intense. Taking a stand is never easy and those that find the courage to do so, regardless of the side they pick, are always to be commended for standing up.

The businesses that have chosen to endorse are, at least in my judgment, particularly to be commended. They’ve little to directly gain and much to lose. The upside is almost purely alturistic–they want what they believe best for the communty to happen and are willing to lend the buisnesses’ reputation to the effort. The downside is the potential to lose business–their life blood.

What I’ve not seen said publicly, but which deserves real discussion is the disparity between endorsing and condeming organizations. I don’t believe any organization has condemned the plan as unwise, unworkable, or immoral. (The objections the few individuals who have been willing to lend their name to the condemnation make.) But the list of organizations who find compelling reasons to be in favor of it makes a list almost too long to read. This is NOT a case where “some people think this, other people think that” is an adequate description of what is going on in our community. It is a case where almost everyone who has seriously considered the issue, save a noticeably small number of local individuals and the out of town corporations who have the most to lose, have decided that building our own fiber optic utility is the right thing for Lafayette.

A partial roll call of those standing up for Lafayette:

Lafayette Parish Republican Executive Committee
Lafayette Parish Democrat Executive Committee
Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce
Rebuild Lafayette North
Citizens for Common Sense
Citizen Action Council
Lafayette Economic Development Authority
Downtown Development Authority
Downtown Lafayette Unlimited
Acadian Home Builders Association
Realtor Association of Acadiana

The Daily Advertiser
The Independent
Pixus Digital Printing
Laborde Diagnostics
Sir Speedy
Realtor Association of Acadiana
Expressions Unlimited, Inc.
Gauthier’s RV Center
Executan Tanning Salons
Woodworking Plus
Iberia Bank
Pineapple Hospitality
Digital Louisiana.org
Machine Tools, Inc.
Warren Computer Services
MBSB Group Architects
Synergy Information Technology Group
Van Eaton & Romero
Domingue, Szabo & Associates, Inc.
Poor Boy’s Riverside Inn
Privat General Contractors
Barras Mueschke Architects
Coldwell Banker Pelican Real Estate
Central Acadiana Tourism
Bertrand Land Service
Ntense Technologies
Ed Roy, Ltd.
Fabian Patin & Associates Architects
Saloom & Saloom
LL Fitness Inc.
Voorhies & Labbe
WOW Technologies
Caroline Signs
Nouveau Photeau
Cecil D. Trahan Enterprises, Inc.
LA Home Detention Service
Firefly Digital
Lafayette Arthritis & Endocrine Clinic
Gerald Thibodeaux Designs
Affordable Consulting
Boudreaux Web Design LLC
Comit Technologies
Fair Oaks Dev. Inc.

I am sure there are others. Please let me know if I’ve left your organization out.

“Study finds fault with LUS fiber plan”

Yesterday’s Advertiser story on a report criticizing the business judgment of LUS promoted by the Heartland Institute turned into another disappointing “He said, she said” story. What makes it particularly disappointing is that the Advertiser has experience with the author, Stephen Titch. Titch is the fellow who wrote the “Advertorial” in the Advertiser a while back that condemned the LUS project as unworkable and that the Advertiser ran as a simple expert opinion editorial. In fact, Titch owns “Expert Editorials, Inc., a for-hire firm that advertises its desire to sell its “third party,””analytical perspective” that “supports, yet remains detached” from the company that hires them. (Translation: we’ll gin up any opinion you want and pass it off as the judgment of an expert with no ties to your company.) Titch advertises his willingness to sell his judgments on the internet. When this was pointed out to the Advertiser, I presume they found printing an “expert editorial” by a man whose business is to write them embarrassing. Titch, they had every reason to know before publishing this article, cannot be trusted to be objective and at the very least had taken a editorial position on their own pages in opposition to the project that predicted its failure long before he began the “research” for the short paper that prompted the story. It would appear to a easonable observer that, at a minimum, Titch’s local history should have been noted in the paper’s coverage of the current piece. This will make the second time he has successfully gamed our local paper by representing himself as an objective expert and gotten away without being adequately challenged.

The paper does note that:

BellSouth spokesman John Williams said the corporation has contributed to The Heartland Institute. He declined to comment on the study, saying he had not had time to analyze the conclusions.

But allows Titch to respond without further query:

Titch said BellSouth did not fund the Heartland Institute study.

Not only is that more than a little disingenuous on Titch’s part, it appears to be substantially untrue: an earlier version of the Heartland study was presented before the state bond commission in an attempt to persuade the commission that it should not authorize bonds in support of the project. The bond commission didn’t buy it. But my guess is that the Heartless institute didn’t do its research to present there for free. They did it to benefit their clients. Maybe those clients didn’t fund the final revision. Maybe. But the bond commission appearance should give the lie to the idea that this is some sort of independent study. And those connections are something that the paper should notice.

The astute reader will note that neither John Williams nor Neal Breakfield was willing to defend the report. That should tell you what you need to know. Putting out negative and confusing information that you are not willing to actually defend is a sign of the sort of FUD strategy intended to simply leave the listener with the vague sense that someone, someone that nobody knows or will defend, has said something bad about LUS’ plan. It the way gossips try to smear people, but all dressed up in academic clothing. And the best way to handle baseless gossip is to ignore it.

My frustrations with reportorial issues aside, the responses of LUS to Titch’s misinformation are powerful. Titch has to strain hard to even begin to make a case and it easy to knock the props out from underneath arguments that simply don’t have the facts on their side. Read the story carefully, or even better, go to the sources, spend the time reading the short article that Titch passes off as research and LUS’ point by point response. The current article hardly does the response justice.

Here is the simple truth that should have been evident after reading a local article on the report: Bristol is well ahead of its business plan and on the road to success. This is in spite of delaying lawsuits by the local incumbents that prevented it from delivering the triple play of services for one of the meager three years Titch examines, and in spite of political interference from the local council that set the initial price of the service below that which the business plan recommended. When the full suite of services at the originally recommended price (a price that still saved the community 15%) was brought online, the utility took off and is well ahead of where the business plan said it would be–this in spite of the delays and political interference. The utility is further down the road to paying off the loans it took out to build its plant than it thought it would be.

That’s pretty good evidence that the plan is sound and conservative. The tortured effort to twist that around into something negative is simply evidence of Titch’s bias. A bias we all should have been made aware of before the story began.