“Lafayette’s Christmas Carol Retort to BellSouth”

Broadband reports does one of its short pieces on the hubbub over the Christmas Carols recently released from the “North Pole” the story, titled: “Lafayette’s Christmas Carol Retort to BellSouth – Locals have fun with BellSouth & Cox lawsuits” gives links to the songs and chooses a favorite.

What’s always intriguing about the Broadband Reports shorts are the replies. This was no exception. Folks across the country clearly empathized with our plight here in Lafayette. After all, they have their own incumbents to deal with. But, for me at least, the most fun was in the brief discussion of which song was the favorite. A crowd pleaser there seemed to be Jingle Bells, with the lyrics:

‘Copper’s great, Copper’s great, Copper’s here to stay!
Fiber is to good for you, it’s Dial-Up all the way!’

For my part, I like Silver Bells with the refrain “We don’t, we don’t care” –the contrast between the sweetness of the delivery and the sentiments expressed really get me.

What’s your favorite?

“Pro-fiber group gets creative with song”

The Advertiser has a good story on the recent release of a series of satirically reworded Christmas carols by Lafayette Coming Together.

The story hits the highlights:

The group is circulating “fiber carols,” in which they wrote new lyrics to old holiday tunes, poking fun at BellSouth for its continued legal challenges to the proposed Lafayette Utilities System’s fiber-to-the-home project.

It points, as well, toward the ultimate goal of the new project: Repeal of the “Local Fair Competition Act.”

Despite the vote, BellSouth pushed the Public Service Commission for rules that limit LUS’ project and filed a lawsuit, which they lost, challenging the bond ordinance to pay for the project. An appeals court in Lake Charles is hearing BellSouth’s appeal next week.

A member of the Louisiana Broadband Advisory Council, Huval recently spearheaded an effort to ask the state Legislature to repeal the Local Government Fair Competition Act, which was ironed out between LUS, BellSouth and others to prevent municipalities from having an unfair advantage in telecom matters over private companies. The broadband council deferred action, Huval said.

Lafayette Coming Together is urging citizens on an “Action Page” to contact their state senators and representatives to ask for its repeal.

BellSouth Lawyers Concientious or Contentious ?

Happily, the Advocate this morning posted a story that keeps us abreast of the evolving tale of BellSouth’s legal attempts to keep Lafayette from building its fiber-optic telecommunications utility.

It’s upbeat; Lafayette is still winning. This time by default. The two take-home messages seem to be that 1) BellSouth did not, after all, file an appeal of the PSC regulatory ruling as they had promised, and 2) that the city is going to argue, on December 29th, that among other things, BellSouth filed late before the court trial and so should never had been heard them and should be dismissed now.

So, in both cases, Lafayette wins by default.

I wish I was as confident as the city seems to be. The good news from the story:

Louisiana Public Service Commission rules that would govern Lafayette Utilities Systems’ telecommunications project were not challenged in court by the deadline, meaning one more hurdle has been passed for the project to move forward, LUS Director Terry Huval said.

And, about the two lawsuits (now joined) that are coming up for review:

Anyone who disagreed with the proposition should have filed suit within 60 days of the election, Lafayette argues in its briefs to the 3rd Circuit.

Instead, BellSouth waited to file suit against the bond ordinance.

State law says that should no suit be brought within 60 days of an election, “the authority to incur or assume debt … or issue the bonds, the legality thereof … shall be conclusively presumed to be valid, and no court shall have authority to inquire into such matters.”

It does sound good, and I’d like to believe our troubles are almost over. But. Maybe it’s once burned twice shy but I can’t help but notice that BellSouth has filed late before and gotten away with it. That’s the only reason we now have that argument to use during the appeal.

If you look back over the history of court deadlines and filings one thing that jumps out is that at every turn BellSouth has filed as late as the law could possibly allow and, often, just a little bit later. The no doubt intended result is to stretch the process out for as long as is humanly possible. So you have to ask is there any way that BellSouth could be trying to manipulate the system to buy more time?

Unhappily, I’ve asked around and it turns out that there is. Remember the evil sisters Katrina and Rita? Well with the courts in New Orleans and Lake Charles out of commission and with clients and their lawyers scattered to the four corners of the country something needed to be done. The Governor issued an executive order (well three, actually) and the legislature followed up with a law that “suspended” legal deadlines. There are serious questions as to whether these were truly legal, and more questions about whether the legislature broke new, questionable ground in going beyond “suspense” and into “extension.” The Supreme Court stepped in to note that, in any case, they intend to try to honor the intent of the Governor and the Lege. The consequence of all this, legal eagles mutter quietly, is that responsible lawyers are queasy about relying on the suspension for any case that matters to their clients (that is to say for any case). However, since the suspension is manifestly justified in many individual instances, especially where the court is in a hard-hit area, lawyers really do not want to challenge the suspension…it does too much good and the state Supreme Court has indicated that it understands all this.

Now both those motivations, for avoiding using the extension, and at the same time for not challenging it, the alert reader will note, apply to concientious, not contentious lawyers. Lawyers who are motivated simply to stretch out time and expensively tie up the other side might not be so ready to help out by avoiding the mess altogether.

Contentious lawyers might view this as an opportunity to work the system yet again. Even though both Lafayette and Atlanta are nowhere near venues that were knocked out by the sisters–the courts in Lafayette and the lawyers in Atlanta and Lafayette scarcely missed a beat–they might still argue that they should be allowed to wait until January the third. I think our BellSouth law department is contentious rather than concientious and so expect to hear from them on the third (or maybe the fourth). Their history so far is to wait to the last minute, to try run out the clock, and I don’t expect that to change.

I could be wrong; if I am it will be an indication that BellSouth has decided to start playing fair–and that would be good news indeed. I’ll have to wait till January the fourth, though, to find out for sure.

BellSouth in New Orleans

A reader points to the latest from the phone company that opposes New Orleans using its own wireless network to give minimal communications connectivity to its own citizens. (You recall that, right?)

The Times-Picayune reviews the state of utility repair in the city and after a review of Entergy’s response — who, incidentally, is hindered by being in bankruptcy — and concludes that while significant outages still remain Entergy is jury-rigging temporary fixes in an apparent all-out effort to make it possible for people to come home. Electricity is available to about 88% of the population.

On the other hand, BellSouth is taking a different approach:

Phone service

BellSouth has taken a different approach.

About 59 percent of BellSouth’s customers in New Orleans have service, according to a mid-November company report. But rather than restoring services through temporary telephone line repairs, the company is leaving many of its customers without a dial tone while workers make a major upgrade to the company’s local network by replacing flooded underground copper wires with fiber-optic cables. The new lines, which use light beams to send calls, computer data and other communications signals, will boost the speed and capacity of the network, and likely improve BellSouth’s competitive position in the New Orleans telecommunications market.

Now I would be the last to say that this is not ultimately a good thing. For New Orleans and for BellSouth. We ALL need as much fiber as we can get. But its impossible not to notice the difference in the ethos, and ethics, of the two companies. One acts like a utility with public responsibilities; one does not. One, though bankrupt, is working hard get service back on line in hopes that the population of New Orleans will have something to return to–even thought that’s not most cost-efficient for its strapped company. The other has made a cold calculation that in the conflict between what the public needs and what might be most efficient for its ultimate competitive position it needs fiber…and the people of New Orleans can wait.

Utility companies really ought to act like utilities. An exclusive lock on an essential service makes them public utilities regardless of their ownership structure. For many and especially for the stalled business sector a reliable phone is essential to reopening. A story a while back made the point that New Orleans might need to municipalize Entergy to make it financially viable (and to make rates in New Orleans halfway sane). I’m a fan of public ownership of public utilities as regular readers will know. And how I believe they will be motivated to act in a crunch is a big part of the judgment on my part.

Ok I really can’t resist: Is anybody besides me offended by the utter hypocrisy of BS using FIBER and the long-term value of fiber as an excuse for its slow restoration of service in N.O. after its wild claims that fiber was a “risky” technology in Lafayette? Does anyone ever notice these things? Where’s the press when such contradictions arise? A question or two of the spokesperson please. A phone call to Bill Oliver, how about. Is the press leaving such things to bloggers? I hope not. The future of cities are at stake. This is not a “business piece” people.)

You Got to Fight for the Right to Redline (and ruin the Internet)!

OK, they are all out in the open now. The National Journal reports that BellSouth, AT&T and Verizon, fighting for the right to create walled garden variety networks and pass them off as ‘the Internet’. Thus far, the cable companies are content to stand back and let the phone companies do the heavy lifting and take the hits.

All of this is part of a big push by network owners to claim the Internet as theirs. They apparently believe in Lenin‘s notion that freedom of the press belongs to those that own the presses, substituting networks for the presses.

If you pay close attention to the phone companies, in particular, they want to be able to jump into an entirely new area of business practice: redlining. That is, they want the legal authority to discriminate in the deployment of their shiny new networks. That is, they want to deploy those new networks only in those neighborhoods and communities where they can’t get the highest rate of return on their investments. That is, they want to be able to make second class network citizens of those who don’t have the ability to pay their exorbitant fees.

That is, they want the legal authority to perpetuate the digital divide. Not surprisingly, the Republican-controlled U.S. House, Senate and FCC appear inclined to grant them their wish.

Christmas Humor

Lafayette Coming Together announced a new campaign today aimed at getting the incumbents but especially BellSouth to leave us alone and let us go about our buiness. The idea is to turn a little bit of the at frustration and anger over BellSouth’s continued attempts to block what the people of Lafayette have decided to do into humor. And the humor into letters to BellSouth and our legislators asking them to give us a break.

The first round of the campaingn is a series of virtual “Christmas Cards” ostensibly from BellSouth. They songs are hilarious and depict BellSouth saying what it means. You can imagine. But why imagine? Sing along:

(To the Tune of Dashing through the snow)

Pushing through the polls,
in a most disgusting way,
through the voter rolls,
saying what we may.
Spreading fear and lies,
is what we’re all about,
hoping you’re not smart or wise
enough to know our shout:
Fear and Dread! Fear and Dread!
Doomsday will be here!
If you vote for fiber then,
your city we will smear.

And it gets better after that.

Inspiring, No?
A Poet? Send in your lyrics! Or post ’em in the comments. (I’m looking for some from our point of view!)

Christmas not your thing? Surely someone can do something good with the tune from Jolie Blonde or Greensleaves or something truly whacky.

They’ll be posted to Kris Kingle’s site as they are released. And you can get some background on the campaign at the LCT site.

Collect all seven canille little films.

“BellSouth, city spar over fiber appeal”

The Advertiser today carries a story on the city’s appeal that the Advocate had yesterday; I commented on the basic tale then but Advertiser has some significant new information:

BellSouth’s shenanigans are costing you money. And you can begin to estimate the cost:

LUS has spent more than $125,000 on legal fees since the July 16 election defending the fiber project in court and before the Public Service Commission, said LUS Director Terry Huval. Some invoices also are outstanding, so the legal cost will be even higher, he said.

125,000 dollars and counting.


Spring Time in New Orleans for Dial Tone!

No, this isn’t a post-Katrina version of the Mel Brooks movie/play/movie.

It is the actual time frame that beloved BellSouth is telling customers that it will be before they get dial tone again!

My brother who works in New Orleans told me last week that the agencies in his Canal Street office building have been told it would be March before they got phone service restored there.

The Times-Picayune reports they should consider themselves lucky!

“Merry Christmas, Employees” From BellSouth

From Lightreading, without further comment:

“Timing is everything, the saying goes. So what better time of year — the run-up to the holiday season — for BellSouth Corp. to tell 1,500 people they’ll be out of a job in about 20 weeks’ time. (See BellSouth Cuts 1,500 .)

OK, so there’s never a good time to impart that sort of news, but still…”

Mike noticed this phenomena earlier.

“BellSouth case ‘hypertechnical'”–Repeal!

The city of Lafayette filed its answer to BellSouth’s appeal yesterday and Blanchard at the Advocate has done his usual commendable job of making the arcane aspects of the fiber issue at least accessible if not actually easy to understand. (He’s laboring under the difficulty of explaining a case that even lawyers characterize as “hypertechnical.”)

I’ve looked at the city’s documents and they ARE very technical. The reporter does a great job of stating the basic points:

In July, Lafayette voters approved by a 62 to 38 percent margin a bond proposition authorizing LUS to issue the bonds

BellSouth has argued that the bond ordinance does not comply with state law passed last year to protect private companies from unfair competition from government: the so-called Local Government Fair Competition Act. District Judge Durwood Conque disagreed with BellSouth’s argument, saying LUS had complied with state law as intended by the Legislature.

Various technical and even hypertechnical details are well-covered in the story and the filings contain even more. (I got to look up some Latin…it’s been a long while since I had to do that.)

But what came through in reading the documents for me was the increasing level of frustration of the city attorneys. It’s clear to me, reading between the lines, that they believe that BellSouth is trying to push each and every point just a little beyond the acceptable line. Many of the “technical” points deal with BellSouth’s trying to shift deadlines, introduce new lines of argument illegitimately, and express its pique with the courts’ actually following the law as written and intended instead of allowing BellSouth to reinterpret every line in the way that most benefits its profit margin. There is an unmistakably rancid stench rising from those crisp Xeroxed pages. The whole things stinks. BellSouth lost. Enough is enough; let us get about our business.

This all comes in the wake of an expanded sense of frustration among the people of Lafayette, and now, New Orleans, with the consequences of BellSouth’s continued determination to prevent Louisiana cities from doing what they think best for their communities. Lafayette voted and this sort of legal obstructionism turns the courts, much against their will, into an instrument for frustrating the expressed desire of the people.

It isn’t really the courts, however; if anything, the root problem lies in a mistake made by our legislature. That mistake was twofold. First, the legislature passed a law so technically flawed and fundamentally misconceived that it made itself an instrument of the incumbents’ ill will. (Harsh? What would you call a law that acted to impose state limits on a single local government on behalf of well-heeled out-of-state corporations? One which desired to accomplish ends so contrary to established practice and the state constitution that it had to draft the legislative auditor (the legislative auditor!) to impose video regulations on the city of Lafayette that were constitutionally forbidden to the state’s real regulatory body, the PSC? Regulations which NO other cable company has to concern itself with?) The second problem was that, implicitly, they trusted BellSouth. A law so convoluted and ground-breaking was enacted only after arduous line-by-line compromises by legislators and lawyers from both sides of the issue. BellSouth knows it isn’t playing fair by pursuing litigation on the central question of a “pledge.” It’s not only the city that says so. Astonishingly, BellSouth’s legislator, the “honorable” “Noble” Ellington. agrees with Lafayette. Ellington gutted a rural broadband bill to squeeze BellSouth’s bill in after the filing deadline and put himself on the line by “authoring” a law written by corporate lawyers. Even he, even he, in a hearing of the Rural Broadband Council, admitted that he’d thought the matters over which BellSouth had been suing were dealt with in conferences and that he wished the lawsuits had not been filed. That’s astonishing.

BellSouth has abused the legislature and the people of Louisiana. A misconceived law has been used to thwart the clearly expressed will of the people of Louisiana. While never intended to make life more difficult for New Orleans in its distress, it has had that effect. And BellSouth has shown no sign that it will step aside for larger interests; it has in fact made it clear that it will use its economic power against the city to achieve its narrow ends.

The Municipal Fair Competition Act should be repealed. It was badly conceived, has had absurd unintended consequences in New Orleans, and has been used by BellSouth and Cox to abuse the regulatory and legal bodies of the state. If we must have a state law about what local governments do, then let the state follow the well-understood, long-tested, and clearly workable pattern established to govern cooperative and municipal electrical utilities. They work and they do not lend themselves to abuse by legions of corporate lobbyists and lawyers. There IS a decent alternative to the current foolishness. Folks have suggested writing the legislators; that would make a good New Year’s resolution.

Sometimes we make mistakes. And the legislature ought to admit this is one. It ought to take this gift away from BellSouth.