Two Stories in One: Fiber May Go Statewide!

The second very interesting story in today’s Advocate article “City’s business appeal grows” is tucked under the headline story but may be, in the end, as important a revelation (if no more certain) than the one about a new business coming to Lafayette.

That second story sounds as if it is the result of one of the Mayor’s famous riffs. Durel apparently went off on a joking tangent about how Louisiana might benefit by other states outlawing municipal broadband which is pretty clearly a major development tool (as evidenced by the headline story). He then, acknowledges that this is a bad state of affairs for the country and slides into a proclamation concerning how good what Lafayette is doing could be for the state. That’s where the story takes a pointed and very interesting turn:

He said what Lafayette is trying to do could mean hope for the state in the long run, however.

“Lafayette has the license to provide this to the entire state,” Durel said.

He said that fiber-optic-based telecommunications does represent hope for small communities across the state, but he doesn’t want to give false hope.

Durel said Lafayette must get its own system up and running before seriously considering allowing LUS to branch out service to other communities.

He said that, while the day is far off, LUS could have the legal and technical ability to provide its telecommunications services to small towns in other areas.

“If the day comes, it may be that we represent their best hope,” Durel said.

That’s a new level of ambition. I think a lot of us have always assumed, given the early endorsement of other Lafayette parish mayors and the way the debate on the council developed that an extension of services outside LUS’ home in the city was contemplated. I’ve always been aware that legally the parish line wasn’t much of a barrier and partnering with other locales, chiefly New Orleans, has occasionally been alluded to in the press. But this is a creative thought indeed…Acadiana, at least, certainly doesn’t need a lot of redundant and extremely expensive back-end equipment. And the larger the Lafayette-based system is the stronger it is both financially and, crucially, politically. Offering services like this would be very, very smart not only financially but in building a constituency for local control of telecommunications in all areas of the state. And therefore in the legislature.

But this is good in another way as well. When Durel says: “If the day comes, it may be that we represent their best hope,” his words can also be applied to concerns that come down on us from the federal level. Recent Federal Court and FCC decisions have had the consequence of tightening monopoly control of the phone and cable duopoly. That rising monopoly power, coupled with a lack of any regulatory control that would keep the network owners from favoring content they own over content owned by competitors all but assures that we’ll see a slow but consistent closing down of the open internet that we’ve come to assume is just part of the way the internet is… In the future internet access could come to look more like your cable “network” in the future with the network owners dictating what content is available–and owning, as the cable companies do now–much of the content that they make available for their customers to buy.

In concert with losing federal protections new federal legislation threatens to take even the local municipal and county-level influence represented by franchise agreements away by a huge federal “taking” of the cities ability to control the use of their own rights-of-way. Traditionally, cities have used the control of city property to force quality of service and the provision of service to all areas, be they rich or poor. If proposed laws take away that control the result will be that private company will, quite sensibly, choose to serve only the most profitable neighborhoods.

So Joey is not exaggerating when he says that Lafayette, with its legal ability to serve all of the state, may well prove to be a huge benefit to smaller communities. If nothing else Lafayette could provide the threat of real competition, keeping the monopolies from behaving too badly for fear that the local government will partner with LUS. (This is not too far-fetched, when Eatel begin offering video services over its new fiber-optic network the Ascension parish governing body was emboldened to demand that Cox actually meet its contractual obligations…Competition is not only good for prices.)

If things continue to go badly for American citizens on the telecommunications front Lafayette may well be one of the few centers of “free” networks available. And should that happen the nation’s unhappy circumstance will be Lafayette’s gain.

It’s not something to hope for. But it is a reason to vigorously protect what we’ve gotten started here.

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