Durel, BellSouth lawsuits, Repeal, and New Orleans

Blanchard over at the Advocate lays out Mayor Durel’s thoughts on a wide range of topics from the possibility of new taxes to the ULL horse farm conflict. It is a thoughtful background story that is a oddly absent much context. Was this part of an address Durel made or an interview with the reporter or some combination? Regardless the story is intriguing and a nice change of pace from purely event-driven reportage. The aspect that interests us here, though is what is labeled in the story as the “telecommunications front.” That segment is short enough and rich enough to cite in full:

On the telecommunications front, a hearing is scheduled for Thursday for the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal to decide whether or not to grant the appeal of a unsuccessful BellSouth lawsuit seeking to block funding of LUS’ fiber-optics based plan to provide cable, phone and high-speed Internet service.

Durel said he’s hopeful the appeal will be denied, the plaintiffs will decide not to appeal to the Louisiana Supreme Court and LUS can begin the actual work of building the network.

Last month, New Orleans began offering free, city-wide wireless Internet service to try to jumpstart communications.

When the state of emergency order is lifted, New Orleans’ plan might technically be against a state law passed last year that governs municipalities entry into the telecommunications business.

Durel said that’s all the more reason that law should be repealed.

Lafayette’s technology people have been talking with their New Orleans’ counterparts since before the storm — almost daily, Durel said.

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin visited Lafayette and Durel early this year and spoke about municipal telecommunications networks.

While no plans are finalized, the two cities continue to talk about a ‘potential partnership’ between the two cities using LUS’ fiber backbone, Durel said.

That short extract covers a lot of ground. We all know about the endless lawsuits and the way the city feels about that but these are the first public remarks I’ve heard reported where Durel joins Terry Huval in calling for repeal of the “Local Government Fair Competition Act” of ’94. It’s the obvious response to the way the law has been misused so its good to know our officials are on the same page about it. I’ll be very surprised if BellSouth backs off its appeals and lets Lafayette sell its bonds; so, combined with outrage that New Orleans is being prevented from making its free wifi network a feature of the long-range New Orleans redevelopment plan, I expect a battle will be in the offing down the line in the March regular session. Lobbyists are powerful, yes, but chiefly in areas where the people don’t have a real opinion. Events are educating the people of Louisiana about just how much the telecom companies need the “help” of such a law–and how they will misuse the power it gives them to block the legitimate plans of communities to help themselves.

If my recollection is correct the first place where the New Orleans-Lafayette telecom connection was made was in one of Blanchard’s think pieces in the advocate where he speculated about the possibility of a cooperative arrangement. Durel had hinted at such from time to time before the storms but with New Orleans’ telecom infrastructure a shambles and its utility companies straining to restore old levels of connectivity it is surely a more pressing issue. The exact form that the cooperation would take is an interesting question. Lafayette will be buying “big iron” in the form of central office equipment for the phone, video, and data services it will offer. It will also need a nice big pipe onto the internet backbone. A cooperative agreement with New Orleans to provide services to the Big Easy would not only make good financial sense but would also make excellent political sense. To survive what promises to be an endless assault by the unrepentant incumbents in the state legislature what is needed is a solid, dependable, and self-interested voting block. For that to form up Lafayette must spread its good fortune around. A cooperative agreement with New Orleans would be an major coup in such a campaign.

Interesting Times…