Benjamin, Fiber 411 and thoughts on “Why?” and “Why now?”

Lord, Eric Benjamin’s latest disjointed attack deserves several posts worth of responses, mostly along several versions of calling attention to the absurdity of the pot calling the kettle black.

Here’s the gist of the story: Fiber 411 principals Bill LeBlanc and Neil Breakfield have filed ethics complaints against the city alleging that Durel and other LCG officials overstepped their bounds. It’s the classic sore loser syndrome/sour grapes.

..some on the side that lost the referendum wonder whether, in fact, they were beaten fairly — or even legally. The Fiber 411 folks have not seemed a happy lot and wonder if the good fight they fought wasn’t, perhaps, undermined by some city, Lafayette Utilities System and Political Action Committee actions that overstepped legal boundaries.

(Full disclosure: some of the complaints appear to relate to activities of Lafayette Coming Together, of which both writers of this blog are members.)

And I expect that obvious response: the kettle coming back and calling the pot black, will now surely play out in due time. But my real question is why? And why now? These folks want to encourage ethics complaints? NOT wise. And why go to press with this now—or actually, why go to the press at all when doing so will make success less likely? The two questions, coupled with the extra that the charges seem silly or just demonstrably wrong, add up to: Why? This seems dumb.

Really: Raising charges and opening wounds is pretty demonstrably not in the Triumvirate’s best interest, and if they want to do it anyway this is not the rational moment to announce it to the press. And all that makes it seem dumb — in all but one circumstance that I can think of.

Without even going into specific charges about campaign events of the sort that Benjamin carelessly assays, it seems odd to bring the claims that others have broken rules to an ethics commission whose own most basic rules you’ve demonstrated you can’t follow yourself. Fiber 411 spent a lot of time claiming first, that they didn’t have to become a PAC, then, under pressure, finally incorporated as a PAC. Unfortunately that incorporation occurred after they spent money (wrong order — a very basic problem). Then that organization “filed” a letter by fax (which the Advertiser happily reported as if it were legitimate, but it appears not to have been and the letter still hasn’t appeared on the Ethics Commission website long after the 10 day grace period expired). Then Neil Breakfield talked to the press about the complaint, which I understand is itself illegal.Unless, of course, no complaint has actually been received…in which case the story is inaccurate. And all this is only about the clearly defined procedures of the Ethics Commission. Imagine the real mess guys so cavalier about their ethical responsibilities could get themselves into out in the messy real world. No, getting people started thinking about ethics violations is most definitely not in these guys’ best interests.

Ok, so it’s not a good idea, maybe they have their reasons (spite or nobility, you got your choices though I think going to the press with it probably tilts the scales in favor of spite ). But whatever their reasons, if they really want their ethics complaint to succeed, now is an excessively odd moment to pursue filing it. The final reports aren’t in yet and aren’t even due until late August. These are the reporst that cover all the interesting last days’ stuff. A sensible person waits. After all, you don’t want to tip your hand and let people put together a credible defense by forewarning them, or so offend the ethics commission by talking out of turn (it’s illegal to talk about your ethics complaint, recall) that they just refuse to take up your complaint. It would be much smarter to wait until all the paperwork was in and not to tell those who you are complaining about what you are up to. So, really, going to the commission at this moment doesn’t appear to make sense. And it certainly is foolish to talk to the press—on both legal and tactical grounds.

Even odder is that these charges just don’t hold water. Durel is supposed to have coerced people by having a town hall meeting? Really? A big sidebar to the story confidently attributes the billboards around town to “Lafayette Pro Fiber”—a blog, hey this blog, instead of to Lafayette Coming Together—a properly registered PAC (more of that famous research). And we get the claim that city buses were used, when the (actually submitted and posted) PAC report makes it clear that the only buses involved were rented from a private provider. This is awfully sloppy research and reporting. But I guess that’s the kind of reporting you get when you make the opponents of fiber your co-authors rather than treat them as potentially fallible sources.

You’ve got Benjamin uncritically reporting on a Fiber 411 complaint that “has made its way to” the Attorney General, but that he apparently isn’t aware of (but Benjamin makes hay just alluding to it). Fiber 411 has an improperly filed expenditure report with the ethics commission that apparently wasn’t accepted and hence they don’t have any legal commitment to what it contained. (But the Advertiser reported it as if it were as valid as reports legally filed.)

I did a little research today down in Baton Rouge and on the web. The process Fiber 411 is involved in is one in which if you don’t “swear” to your complaint, the person who supposedly did something wrong is never even notified. And if your unsworn complaint is found to be without merit, no word is ever released to anyone who was accused or to the public, since no one is supposed to know that the complaint even existed. This is intended to protect folks from having the ethics procedures used to intimidate or smear them. But it works in just the opposite way if folks like Fiber411 go to the press and announce their complaints—which, to repeat, is illegal if you’ve already filed a legal, valid complaint (and it’s not news, nor gist for Benjamin’s mill, if you haven’t actually filed such a complaint). Once the complaint is made public in the press, these procedures work to make sure you simply cannot be cleared publicly. The Ethics Commission is bound by law not to say a word. Even if their actual judgment is that the complaint was frivolous and spiteful, the only way you will ever get an inkling is by their silence. And looking at Benjamin’s diatribe, I don’t see anything that comes close to being true. So if the Commission does a little calling around, my guess is that the complaint will be dismissed. But Benjamin’s latest little essay will sit on the web semi-permanently and be useful one day as a last-minute full page ad…like the equally inaccurate one he wrote just before the referendum.

Inaccuracies and mistakes and sloppy reporting; they seem suspiciously prevalent. Each “mistake” is one more little knock against the fiber campaign or Joey Durel, accurate or not.

This whole endeavor seems just plain dumb and spiteful. The most generous possible interpretation is that thy boys think they’re being noble but are actually naïve and just don’t, poor things, understand the process they started. But this would be the sort of nobility that lets them feel free to level charges in the press — not my brand of nobility. Frankly, I’m not buying the naive pose that the trio has so often trotted out. I’ve seen it too often. So what would make this not dumb? I’ve thought about it and thought about it, and I admit that spite does seem plausible. Sour grapes and all that. But there is another scenario that also makes a little sense.

First you have to be aware of how FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt—the consistent strategy of the incumbent coalition throughout the fight) works: it operates precisely by making unsubstantiated and unsustainable charges. You just say whatever you want and then when somebody bats that down, you go on to the next one. The idea is to create the impression that something is wrong, even if nobody can remember just what it was. But the doubt about the idea or person remains. Then you have to recall that for all that the gentlemen three have protested verbally that they don’t like BellSouth or Cox, their actions seem to speak differently. When someone local was needed to speak against fiber in the council, they were there. When the council voted yes and Cox started a “let the people vote campaign,” who started a petition drive? Supple, Breakfield, & Leblanc When the petition failed, even with BellSouth employees carrying petitions in their trucks, the noble three joined BellSouth and Cox in suing the City of Lafayette. When it actually came to a vote, who was the sole local, non-corporate opposition? You guessed it. Fiber 411.

Now the next hurdle for LUS is turning back the whacky regulations suggested by a consultant to the PSC. Things, I hear, look good, and the overwhelming vote of the people in favor of fiber is probably the best tool that LUS has had with the elected commission. When a little tarnish on the election victory might be good for BellSouth and Cox, who shows up to sling a little mud in Benjamin’s column? The boys from Fiber 411.

That particular explanation is the only one that accounts for why they want to see the ethics charges in the paper now, before the final ethics reports are filed. The dirt is needed now. BEFORE the PSC meeting.

So the reades can take their choices as to what is motivating all this: nobility, naiveté (aka dumbness), spite, or helping BellSouth and Cox. Not a one of them seems a reasonable explanation to me.

Texas Legislature Eliminates Municipal Franchise Agreements for Phone Companies

RBOCs have friends in Texas!

The Legislature that Tom DeLay bought back in Texas state elections in 2003 continues to pay dividends for big corporations.

According to this article from The Austin American Statesman, the Texas Legislature rolled over for the RBOCs and did away with municipal franchise fees for video services. The bill now goes to Governor Rick Perry for his signature, which is a formality, since his administration has been pushing this legislation over the course of a couple of (regular and special) legislative sessions this year.

Understand what is at stake here.

Yes, it will save the telcos some money and that is surely important to them. But, it will also relieve them of the key requirement of municipal franchise agreements: universal service.

Relieved of the ‘burdens’ imposed on them by municipal franchise agreements, the telephone companies will be free to deliver video services only to those segments of the community where they believe they can make the big bucks that video services deliver. The concept of “Red Lining” comes immediately to mind. Only, now it will be legal.

Don’t think for a second that it will end with the phone companies. The hot topic in regulatory circles these days is “parity” between phone and cable companies. This was made explicit earlier this week when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) declared phone company DSL lines to be “information services” similar to the designation it gave cable companies high-speed internet lines. As a result, using the concept of parity, the FCC allowed phone companies to bar independent ISPs and carriers from accessing their DSL networks.

Look for cable companies in Texas to demand equal treatment from government there. There is already talk at the federal level of eliminating the local franchise agreement.

Once again, lawmakers (and regulators) prove themselves to be focused like lasers on servicing the interests of the giant cable and telephone companies. Make no mistake about it, this slavish fealty to these corporate interests exact a cost from consumers, businesses and local governments.

The Louisiana Public Service Commission will soon get its opportunity to prove whose interests its serves, when on September 1, it meets to consider the internal finance rules that will serve as the operating parameters of the LUS Telecommunications division.

Does the will of the people count anywhere any more? We’ll get some indication shortly in Baton Rouge.

Closer to Home

The man who invented the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee, tells the BBC that blogging has become what he originally envisioned the web being all about. He’s also got some other insights that are relevant to the transformation we have launched here in Lafayette through our approval of the LUS fiber to the premises initiative.

Here’s a sampling of his comments:

I think it’s a more complicated question we have to; first of all, make it a universal medium, and secondly we have to work to make sure that that it supports the sort of society that we want to build on top of it.

* * * * *•

It’s a new medium, it’s a universal medium and it’s not itself a medium which inherently makes people do good things, or bad things. It allows people to do what they want to do more efficiently. It allows people to exist in an information space which doesn’t know geographical boundaries. My hope is that it’ll be very positive in bringing people together around the planet, because it’ll make communication between different countries more possible.

But on the other hand I see it as a substrate for humanity, I see it as something on which humanity will do what humanity does and the questions as to what we as individuals and we collectively do, are still just as important and just as much as before, up to us.

* * * * *•
The idea was that anybody who used the web would have a space where they could write and so the first browser was an editor, it was a writer as well as a reader. Every person who used the web had the ability to write something. It was very easy to make a new web page and comment on what somebody else had written, which is very much what blogging is about.

For years I had been trying to address the fact that the web for most people wasn’t a creative space; there were other editors, but editing web pages became difficult and complicated for people. What happened with blogs and with wikis, these editable web spaces, was that they became much more simple.

When you write a blog, you don’t write complicated hypertext, you just write text, so I’m very, very happy to see that now it’s gone in the direction of becoming more of a creative medium.

* * * * *•

When you say there are a lot of lies out there, if you go randomly picking up pieces of paper in the street or leafing through garbage at the garbage dump what are the chances you’ll find something reliable written on the paper that you find there? Very small. When you go onto the internet, if you really rummage around randomly then how do you hope to find something of any of value?

But when you use the web, you follow links and you should keep bookmarks of the places where following links turns out to be a good idea. When you go to a site and it gives you pointers to places that you find are horrible or unreliable, then don’t go there again.

You see out there right now, for example, when you look at bloggers some of them are very careful. A good blogger when he says that something’s happened will have a point to back, and there’s a certain ethos within the blogging community, you always point to your source, you point all the way back to the original article. If you’re looking at something and you don’t know where it comes from, if there’s no pointer to the source, you can ignore it.

* * * * *•

People often quite successfully compare the web with a growing person, and it’s certainly had its years of adolescence when it’s been trying to push the boundaries, see how far we can go, and I think some of these things, with spam and phishing that we see at the moment are examples of that. And people have been pushing backwards and forwards about piracy, and I think a lot of those things will settle down.

When it’s 30, I expect it to be much more stable, something that people don’t talk about. Really when you talk about an article, you don’t say, “Oh, I’m going to write an article on paper!” The fact that we use pen and paper is sort of rather understood.

Similarly the web will be, hopefully, will be something which is sunk into the background as an assumption. Now, if as technologists develop, we’ve done our job well, the web will be this universal medium, which will be very, very flexible. It won’t, itself, have any preconceived notions about what’s built on top.

One of the reasons that I want to keep it open like that, is partly because I want humanity to have it as a clean slate. My goal for the web in 30 years is to be the platform which has led to the building of something very new and special, which we can’t imagine now

I think Berners-Lee is correct to observe that the world wide web is “something on which humanity will do what humanity does.” I also believe that the LUS fiber system will enable us to be Lafayette, only more so.

That’s a good thing!

“Intel throws weight behind US municipal metrozones”

For those of us following the wireless side of the muni broadband issue the Register runs a story that has some local implications. The Register runs a interesting story about growing support for “metrozones” (apparently a European term for municipal wireless). The Register’s reporting can be spotty but this is one of its good articles, written by someone who clearly understands both the underlying technology (e.g. WiMax’s current limits) and the importance of political issues. It overviews concerns about technologies, costs and legal restrictions. (For the wary reader: the concerns in the case of muni wireless can be real and real research by commercial but reputable research firms are the basis. Wireless is not as cheap as some of its proponents, consultants, and the hardware resellers have sometimes said.)

Intel has taken a keen interest in the burgeoning market for “digital cities” — metro areas blanketed in broadband wireless coverage, sometimes privately run, increasingly frequently supported by municipal authorities. It is now stepping up its activities to promote these deployments, seeing them as a key early market not just for Wi-Fi but also for WiMAX, and therefore a means to gain ubiquity for the technologies that is stands the best chance of dominating. Support from influential players, combined with the increasingly flexible approach of the world’s regulators, could put core telecoms activities once again into the hands of the public sector…

As well as offering free consultancy, Intel sometimes helps fund municipal roll-outs, such as Houston, Georgia, which claims it will be the first “WiMAX county”…

What might prove most important for municipal broadband, however, is that Intel has decided to openly promote municipal broadband in the corridors of power. A similar move by Dell Computer in Texas is credited with turning the tide on extending Texas’ munibroadband restrictions to WiFi and WiMax.

…it is using its lobbying power to counter anti-municipal legislation. “They’ve been a great ally,” said Jim Baller, a Washington, DC attorney who was in the forefront of pro-municipality lobbying. “They have written statements of support; they have sent people out into the hallways; they have rallied support among the other members of the high technology industries.”Intel is now supporting a Congress bill introduced by the Republican Senator for Arizona, John McCain, promoting local authorities’ rights to launch wireless networks in direct competition with incumbent telcos. The Community Broadband Act of 2005 adds provisions to the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to allow a municipality to offer high speed access to its citizens. If you’ll read through the story you’ll see that Intel is unabashed in admitting that its motives are self-interested: it hopes to drive the WiMax chip market in the same way that it now drives the pc processor market. Still, the break in the corporate ranks is heartening. All too often a business simply won’t speak up, no matter how much it and the communities it serves would benefit, if even one corporation would be damaged. (We saw a touch of this syndrome early on in Lafayette but eventually got over it.) Overall businesses should back muni broadband –it means the development of new markets and expanded demand for services. Almost all businesses and every local economy will benefit.

As lagniappe (though, sadly, this British-based site does not use the concept) the story gives us a mini-story on the possibility being considered in Britian that portions of newly available spectrum, a public resource, be reserved for local, public, use. Shocking concept, that. Apparently the hope is that local bodies can use the spectrum as they see fit–most likely to provide the equivalent of municipal cell phone service.

The US is trying hard to free up some spectrum but the plan is to sell it commercially in hopes that putting it into private hands will spur more and more useful product. Allow me to dissent from the idea that this is obviously the best idea. Consider: Cell Phone companies have fallen into the pattern of their Telephone company big brothers: they’ve grown, not through service and innovation but by consolidation; by pouring their profit not into research and network construction but into buying, at a hefty premium their competitors. Why encourage these guys? Where has the innovation and explosive economic growth in the wireless sector actually come from? Not the cell phone guys. (Sorry, I just can’t count making ringtones into a profit center as innovation.) Its all come from unlicensed “trash” spectrum, spectrum that they, that no corporation owns: spectrum that we can all use for free. Wifi not some 3G, 3D, EVDO, thingy is what is driving the wireless expansion. Let’s give a hefty chunk to that..and low power radio…and, yes, some to communities to organize for specifically community level needs–like wireless broadband and municipal cell phones. Such community-owned, licensed spectrum would be free from predatory practices and crowding by commercial competitors in the unlicensed spectrum. (Don’t think BellSouth would do such a thing? Wouldn’t attempt to wreck the competition by any means that came to hand? Surely, cher, you jest. Where were you during the last year?)

Lafayette City Limits?

To grow, companies need to break out of a vicious cycle of competitive benchmarking and imitation.”

—W. Chan Kim & Rena Mauborgne,
“Think for Yourself —Stop Copying a Rival,” Financial Times/08.11.03

Substitute “communities” for “companies” in this quote I found in a slide presentation I found on Tom Peters’ website, and you’ve got the recipe for Lafayette successfully capitalizing on the opportunities ahead of it thanks to the LUS fiber initiative.

This article from the Los Angeles Times points to an area of music downloads that the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) doesn’t care about: live recordings of concerts!

Well, Lafayette has a plethora of live music venues and, in a few months, they’ll all be hooked up to a fiber network. Wonder what that might lead to? Wonder if some consortium or partnership of clubs and bands might emerge that would enable an archive of ‘live’ music recorded in Lafayette venues to be created for download. No reason it has to always be free, but it’s easy to see where there would be occasions where it would make sense to be so (like in advance to the return of a previously recorded band to a Lafayette venue).

Austin City Limits has been a staple on public television for just about 30 years. They started out by recording bands that played venues Austin during their swing through town.

Lafayette could build a ‘live’ music jukebox that would be available world wide, any time. Eventually, acts might want to come to Lafayette for the express purpose of getting their music on our jukebox. Being the largest city in North America with a citywide, fiber optic, internet protocol network, create huge opportunities for innovation and entrepreneurship.

Like the LUS information ads during the recent campaign said: “Use Your Imagination!”

Yeah You Right

A letter to the editor today is short enough to reproduce in full:

Durel was right in citing ‘delay tactic’

We elect a City-Parish Council to represent its citizens and to evaluate and vote on matters such as the Fiber issue. The election was just what Durel said, “a delay tactic” and I commend him for calling it like it is. Now that the issue has passed with a huge margin, the sad news is that the opposition will continue to fight Fiber through the legislature and the courts which will continue to delay the project and increase the cost to the citizens of Lafayette.

Richard E. Orgeron


Mr. Orgeron is, unfortunately, right.

“Fighting Big Cable (and why it matters)”

Following up on a point made in the previous post by Mike, Harold Feld over WetMachine is also up in arms about the relentless advance of telecom monopolization in recent years. But, complementing Mike’s broadside blast against the Phone companies, his target is the cablecos. His particular point of departure is the continuing regional consolidation of the cablecos:

Comcast (the nation’s biggest cable company) and Time Warner (the second biggest) are dividing up the bankrupt corpse of Adelphia. At the same time, they are swapping their own systems so that in cities where Time Warner and Comcast compete against each other (like New York and Los Angeles) they won’t compete anymore.

It makes a difference who owns your cableco; monopoly control of cable is a threat to the democratic process; not merely theoretically but actually:

…the behavior of Comcast and Time Warner in the recent fight over state-wide franchising in TX should raise eyebrows. During the recent tussle in TX on legislation to abolish local franchising for phone companies offering video, Comcast and Time Warner refused to run SBC political ads. OTOH, they ran free advertisements opposing the legislation… So, for free speech purposes, national concentration and regional concentration matter.

Texas, for the moment, has managed to turn back further restrictions–but not because SBC was able to run inexpensive supporting ads in the most effective forum for targeting specific populations. Comcast wouldn’t allow that. Just for the record: when Lafayette Coming Together (LCT) called for advertising rates on Cox Cable during the recent referendum battle we never got a call-back. On the other hand, we got plenty (trust me, plenty) of cold calls from the free media. Hmmmnnn. I know Lafayette Yes!, who bought all the TV advertising (including the time for one LCT-produced ad from its Fiber Film Fest) ran it all on local broadcast TV–a more costly, less targeted buy than cable. My guess is that they got the same response. Notice that in Lafayette’s case it would not have helped at all if BellSouth had offered “competing” cable: the two corporations would have undoubtedly joined hands in the effort to keep pro-fiber advertising off the air just as the joined hands in the “academic” broadband conference and the last push poll. We need real regulation folks, “competition” demonstrably does not cover all instances of situations in which the interests of the community are at stake. Blocking the advertising of new competitors is only one instance of the abuse of power by corporations that a healthy community would not allow.

It all goes back to economic reality: Monopoly Power. And Feld gets it:

As the D.C. Circuit put it in United States v. Microsoft, if a company can raise prices above the competitive level profitably, and if barriers exist that keep consumers from easily switching, you have market power and the basis for a monopolization claim.

The DC Circuit, the most economically conservative in the land, is not just making stuff up. Price constraint is the essence of competition; and lack of it is the core economic definition of monopoly.

Feld notes that the ability to dominate regions of the country and to control access to the major markets in the region puts both suppliers of content and consumers at increasing disadvantages as regional consolidations solidifies. The more unchecked power a regional monopoly wields the less power the only effective check on the cable companies, the local franchise, is able to exert. (Readers will recall that Cox got a real shock when EATEL announced that it would move into Gonzales with a video offering: the town council, (so shockingly!) decided that Cox had to actually fulfill its contract. And they didn’t back down when threatened. Cox finally had to buckle. My…)

The economic power wielded by regional monopolies means you’ll pay more and get less variety in your viewing if this process continues unchecked. And your local government will have even fewer realistic choices. (If you don’t live in Lafayette…you’ll bet we’ll get no threats to suspend service if the council decides not to kowtow to Cox.)

All in all it’s not a pretty picture. Telephone or Cable, our federal telecommunications policy is worthless. It may be easier to see from the vantage point of Lafayette, but really, it should be obvious to folks anywhere in this great land. We’re being taken for a ride.

That Giant Sucking Sound You’re Hearing is the Sound of the FCC Removing Competition from the Telecommunications Landscape

Well, that didn’t take long, did it?

About a month after the U.S. Supreme Court validated the FCC’s earlier decision to allow cable companies to bar independent Internet service providers (ISPs) from their high-speed networks, on Friday the commission moved to close off phone companies’ digital subscriber lines (DSLs) to competitors as well.

Mark your calendars, competition in the telecommunications industry will officially end a year from now when the Regional Bell Operating Companies (RBOCs) can bar competing ISPs (Earthlink, NetZero, AOL, etc.) from their DSL networks.

While it will mark the end of consumer choice, it will also be the beginning of the end of the Internet as we’ve known it. That is, heretofore, the Internet has been an open network and this openness has been the primary source of innovation on it. Can anyone name a single network innovation that has originated with either an RBOC or a cable company? None immediately comes to mind.

Now, with cable and phone companies having the ability to close off their networks to those pesky, innovative competitors, consumers will be stuck with the best and brightest ideas emanating from the minds of bureaucrats within companies like Cox and BellSouth.

The problem with this ruling and its predecessor dealing with cable networks as information services is that the FCC has forgotten who its employers are. These commissioners don’t work for the phone and cable companies; they are, in fact, supposed to serve the public’s interest. Yet, read the words of new FCC chairman Kevin Martin and tell me who you think he works for:

“It ends the regulatory inequities that currently exist between cable companies and telephone companies in their provision of broadband Internet services,” Martin said, adding the vote is an “implicit recognition that the telecommunications marketplace that exists today is vastly different from the one governed by regulators over 30 years ago.”

He’s completely wrong! Together these rulings come closer to restoring the non-competitive telecommunications landscape that existed 30 years ago (when there was AT&T and a handful of rural telephone companies) than anything done since.

Think about it! There were at least eight RBOCs after AT&T was broken up as a result of the anti-trust ruling in 1984. There were hundreds of telecommunications company driving innovation in the phone and internet business after passage of the Telecommunication Act of 1996.

In a year, there will be a handful of big cable companies and four RBOCs. The odds are that this ruling will provide the financial basis for SBC and Verizon to buy either Qwest or BellSouth.

Meanwhile, the telecommunication industry will be returning to the vertically integrated business model that resisted innovation for decades.

James Crowe of Level 3 Communications pointed out a few years ago at the last SuperComm show in Atlanta, that innovation in the computer industry has been aided by the fact that it is a horizontally segmented industry. That is, companies excel and dominate various segments of the industry, with competition in each of those segments driving improvements, resulting in a robust culture of innovation which has come to characterize the industry.

Crowe said that the telecommunications industry has been resistant to innovation because companies owned the entire industry from top to bottom. As a result of that vertical integration, companies had little incentive to innovate because they had a lock on each segment of the market, whether it was infrastructure, services, or devices.

Thanks to the FCC’s decision today, innovation in telecommunications in this country is preparing to enter another dark age.

“Locating company takes blame for one cut phone line”

A new story on the cut fiber-optic cable incident with the company employed by BellSouth to locate lines, UtiliQuest, admitting culpability on the first cut–that took out River Ranch and an area hospital–but laying the blame for the second cut on “the out-of-state contractor working for LUS.” (Both BellSouth and UtiliQuest are quartered in Atlanta.) LUS continues to assert that the second cut was also due to marking problems.

But the real story is no surprise at all:

UtiliQuest is still employed by BellSouth, Mangum said. He declined to elaborate on the incident Thursday, saying it will likely be the subject of legal action.

See “Sue ’em into submission.”

How LUS Beat the Big Guys

Of all places by far, by FAR, the best retrospective piece on the election published so far appeared in the Times of Acadiana. The source of endless inaccuracies and disinformation during the campaign becomes, in the aftermath, the most accurate and comprehensive reteller of the story. Go figure.

The story was split into to sections: “How LUS Beat the Big Guys” and a sidebar, “Where Fiber Failed.” For a wonder they are both imminently sensible.

In “How LUS Beat the Big Guys” Pittman thematizes, for the first time in the media, how thoroughly the pro-fiber side dominated the election. This is a useful corrective to the misleading way most of the media covered the referendum.*

Leading up to Saturday, July 16, Lafayette was in the throes of a full-blown blitz of mostly pro-fiber campaigning. LUS held six town hall meetings…Some 2,000 black signs with vibrant fire-truck red check marks [ahem, see the accompanying photo-jstj] encouraged voters to flick the “yes” switch in the booth. Direct mail from LUS, while legally unable to encourage a “yes” vote, provided information on the benefits of fiber to the home. Civic groups, more than a dozen in number, told their members and the general citizenry that a “yes” vote was the vote for the future. Media from 5 o’clock newscasts to early morning papers detailed the latest developments and build up to the election. Eight billboards detracted drivers with a story-high “Yes.”

All totaled, the yes camps spent into the six-figures to win the election, not counting priceless endorsements.

In contrast:

By comparison, the opposition’s stream of influence was a trickle, with only one local group making a significant detraction. That group, Fiber 411, used $22,000 to provide signs and a direct mail campaign paid for by its Bill Leblanc, a local contractor.

That’s accurate reporting–and a quite different picture than that an out of town consumer of our media would have gotten. There was little that was symmetrical about local support.

Another gratifying corrective to the standard narrative was the inclusion of Lafayette Coming Together (LCT) as a major player on the pro-fiber side. Deliberately constructed by its founders** as a bipartisan, cross-town organization, the new, large, and independent citizen-based activist group developed and orchestrated the most visible parts of the campaign outside TV and its members defended fiber in debates and on several online websites. Its black and red “For Fiber” logo and “for our future, for our children” slogan graced the podium wherever pro-fiber speakers went. Its ‘paid for’ tag was on ads, flyers, and radio spots. Yet, unaccountably, it, with its 500 member list of supporters and overwhelming presence on the ground, was mentioned in the Advertiser 3 times while Fiber 411 and its 3 avowed members were mentioned 49 times. In this case “symmetry” and “equal time” led to a truly outlandish distortion of the truth. The Times story puts LCT’s role in the proper context. History and the members of LCT are gratified.

The article also highlights the local theme of the successful campaign which proved crucial:

Playing into the us and against them mentality of Lafayette voters, the pro-fiber camp were wise to employ a live phone bank to solicit voters on election day. A bipartisan effort — which involved both Democrat and Republican party members, Huval, Durel, St. Julien and more volunteers — rang city voters urging them to vote. BellSouth, on the other hand, used an automated pre-recorded message to reach voters.

I’d liked to have seen more emphasis on the massive role a courageous leadership played in the results as well as the theme they and LCT played out that criticized corporate tactics and motives (a populist theme played shockingly well in supposedly conservative Lafayette). But this is the most useful story yet on what actually happened duing the campaign that led to the win we saw on July 16th.

Where Fiber Failed

The sidebar story that tried to look at the flip side of the success was gratifyingly accurate as well. Fiber actually failed nowhere:

The July 16 “yes” vote rang out across town, winning each district. Only 782 voters in 12 voting precincts stopped the election from being a clean sweep.

In only five precincts did the “no” vote lead with a 10-point margin or greater. The widest “no” majority occurring at Pinhook’s W.A. Lerosen Alternative School and Southpark, both recording 36 to 64 percent. However, the 782 “no” votes cast at these precincts seem minuscule in the more than 20,000 total votes in the election.

That’s putting things in perspective. Yes, there were systematic differences in the vote, given our history and the issue it would be strange if there were not. But my sense is that these differences followed fault lines well-established in our community and that the degree of difference was 1) much less than in other elections (e.g. the presidential elections where the contrast betwee these same areas was huge) and 2) that some of even the reduced difference was attibutable to the effects of lower turnout in the “no” areas rather than directly to voter opinion in the preciencts. (Apathy and distrust are particularly high in these areas of the community for historically valid reasons.) [I’ve looked at the factors in the no-vote/low-turnout areas in an earlier reflective post.]

*I’ve complained, bitterly, that the “He said, She said” framework, used in most reporting during the recent referendum, that gives both sides equal space and equal respect in the name of objectivity only serves to mislead the public about the quality of the argument and support for the contending sides. In fact, as this article uniquely and accurately reports, almost everyone who looked at the issue seriously came down on the side of LUS and the city. Reporting the contest between the two sides as one in which the support, the quality of the arguments, and the type of arguments offered were written up as if there were no differences was, and is, fundamentally misleading. (Ironically, the disparaging phrase, “He Said, She Said” that I used to point to this issue during the campaign was lifted from the title of a series of columns in Pittman’s Times that featured that I thought were forced and gratuitously contrasting views on each movie reviewed. The format tended to distort the content. Pittman here redeems his paper and demonstrates to his print media colleagues that accurate and blindly symmetrical reporting is not the same thing.)

** The story inaccurately depicts me (John St. Julien) as the “head of LCT.” There was no head in the usual sense. There were three founders of Lafayette Coming Together: Mike Stagg, Don Bertrand, and myself and we did proabably give the group its initial direction. But the campaign itself was organized and run by a “working committee” which was made up of about a dozen people who met weekly and, well, worked: they ramrodded “projects” in the campaign like the phone bank or the fiber film festival. No executive committee in the usual sense was involved and there was certainly no chaiman. The loosely coupled aspect aspect of the organization, in which people took independent responsibilty, was deliberate and in the opinion of the participants, I think, contributed substantially to our ability to organize quickly, creatively, and effectively.