Repeal!! The Battle is Joined

The fight for fiber in Lafayette is being taken to Baton Rouge. In a move sure to cause ripples across the country a counterattack on BellSouth took place at the Louisiana Broadband (LBAC) Advisory Council Thursday. Huval declared Lafayette’s intent to seek repeal of the (un)Fair Competition act that has been the basis of recent lawsuits against LUS.

The lead in Blanchard’s Advocate piece tells the story:

The Louisiana Broadband Advisory Council tabled Thursday a proposed resolution to ask the Legislature to repeal a law passed last summer that was intended to set up rules governmental entities must follow when deciding to enter the competitive telecommunications market.

The motion was made by council member Terry Huval, who is director of Lafayette Utilities System — whose own communications plan has been under fire from lawsuits brought by BellSouth and another group of plaintiffs.

Huval said that the law — called the Local Government Fair Competition Act — was heavily negotiated, word by word, by private companies and public entities in an attempt to lay out “fair rules.”

Instead, Huval said, BellSouth is “misusing” the act to “delay” and “discourage competition.”

That’s the story in a nutshell. But read on folks, it gets juicy. First off, this is a courageous place to launch the initiative:

The motion for a resolution was tabled, but not before it caused uncomfortable moments for the council — which also contains representatives of communications companies, including BellSouth, an attorney who represents LUS in front of the Louisiana Public Service Commission and the legislator who authored the measure, State Sen. Noble Ellington, D-Winnsboro.

Courageous, but appropriate, the Broadband Advisory Council supposedly exist with the express purpose of promoting broadband state wide….and the most effective possible action to promote that goal would be to get the “incumbent protection act” off the books. Until that happens the people of this state will be effectively forbidden to act in their own behalf.

Huval said it’s only natural for the council to do away with barriers to more competition in the market place — like the law passed last year — by lifting restrictions on any potential competitors, even government.

Here’s a bit of irony on the score of the Broadband Council that makes declaring the opening of a new front in them particularly apt: the Senate version of the bill that was to establish the Council is the very bill that Noble allowed to be gutted and filled with a BellSouth-written law that eventually became the law under attack by Huval. Rich.

The core complaint of Huval and Lafayette is that the law, as onerous as it is on its face, has been made intolerable as a result of BellSouth and Cox misusing the law.

“If the parties would have acted pursuant to the act and tried to achieve a level playing field, that would have been one thing,” Polozola said. “(But) the act is being used to either delay or attempt to impede getting into the marketplace.”

BellSouth ally “Noble” Ellington was a surprise supporter of LUS’ claim that BellSouth is betraying compromises it made in legislative conference:

LUS representatives have said the law allows for such an arrangement and that during negotiations all parties understood that was acceptable…

Ellington said he thought the matter had been settled in the negotiations and said he wished the lawsuits “were not happening.”

The motion was eventually tabled. It may never be endorsed by the Council regardless of how obviously an endorsement would be one of the best ways to advance the council’s purposes. The Chair tried to contain the dissension by noting this:

“We all have competitive interests at this table,” Young said. “There are too many important tasks ahead of us to start any kind of finger pointing and acrimony,” Young said.

Actually there are no more important tasks than the repeal Huval suggests. Acrimony on the topic of this anti-competitive incumbent protection act is warranted. And Huval has opened a new front in war BellSouth has declared on Louisiana consumers.

Good for LUS. We ought all try and think about how we can help out with the fight. This is well worth fighting for.

Lagniappe: Remember John Williams? He’s the Lafayette BellSouth rep who had the nerve to self-servingly suggest that the Katrina and Rita disasters somehow meant that Lafayette shouldn’t bother to do what the people of the city overwhelming voted to do. He’s a “legacy” member of the BellSouth team. His daddy is Tommy Williams BS VP who had the good sense not to put his foot in his mouth:

BellSouth Louisiana Vice-President Tommy Williams, who is a member of the council and present Thursday, did not comment on the proposed resolution.

You gotta smile. Louisiana is Louisiana.

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