Our Korean Future?

Here’s three tools for kicking back and thinking about the future.

  • The Future Boy Column in Business 2.0 this week focuses on the South Korea’s status as the place to go to look at the consequences of providing a whole population with cheap, fast broadband. The South Koreans are integrating connectivity into their culture in fascinating and suggestive ways–ways that the author suggests make Korea’s future dominance in the area probable.
  • In an complementary essay Susan Crawford uses the Korean (and Japanese experience) as an excuse for focusing on getting more competition in the US market. There are only a few basic choices and each has its problems.

(Here’s a caveat on the first two stories: both authors as Americans find it easy to take a look at a desirable situation that has any element of competition in it and identify competition as the cause of the desirable situation–and that’s enough to “be” the answer. I suspect Koreans wouldn’t make that mistake. The most striking difference between the American and Korean experiences is that the Koreans government funded a huge modern backbone, heavily subsidized companies building last mile solutions, and pushed most of its competition by regulatory means. Korean competition is based on something like the US CLEC model (which the FCC has abandoned)–the network owners are forced to sell their access at favorable wholesale rates to third-party providers. The Koreans had a clear goal: get high speed bandwidth to everyone–and they ruthlessly, without our regard for ideology, did what was necessary to make that happen.)

  • The third story, an older one from Wired, takes a less economic tack. It focuses on cultural issues and cultural assumptions. In it the story is that the South Koreans have figured out that big broadband is most readily driven by social interaction; not by the solitary, couch-potato vision of consumption that drives the dreams of American providers. From the article:

    “South Korea’s broadband commons challenges North American assumptions about what bandwidth is for and why it’s relevant. In the US, cable, telephone, and media companies spin visions of set-top boxes and online jukeboxes, trying to “leverage content” and turn old archives into new media streams. There is a profound fear of empowering consumers to share media in a self-organizing way on a mass scale. Yet this is precisely what makes South Korea the broadband capital of the world. It’s not a futuristic fantasy that caters to alienated couch potatoes; it’s a present-day reality that meets the needs of a culture of joiners a place where physical and virtual are not mutually exclusive categories …”

All worth thinking about. What will shape Lafayette’s broadband future? How will economics and the unusual economic structure we will have hear interact with our unique cultures?

Cravins’ and Romero’s Speeches

I mentioned Senators Cravins’ and Romero’s passionate speeches in an earlier post and quoted a few bits from them at that point. They were offered up in opposition to HB 699, the so-called “Competitive Cable and Video Services Act,” whose real purpose was to strip local governments of their control of community-owned rights of way in order to benefit BellSouth, soon to be AT&T.

The speeches really deserve to be heard in their fullness. We live in times when there’s not much respect given to anger. But anger– when controlled, righteous, and well-directed–can be a noble emotion. These are angry speeches. But the outrage they convey is entirely appropriate.

There’s something old school about the defense of the little guy and local leaders. It rings of another era to be angry at soulless conglomerates, to be shocked at the suggestion by proponents of the bill that state senators understand the import of this law better than the local leaders whose contracts with outsiders the state is destroying. It rings of another era to hear men speak who assume that constituents are citizens instead of consumers and whose stance makes it clear that they understand that the real interests of multinational corporations and local citizens diverge. It makes one nostalgic to hear the repetitions, pauses, and cadences of classic rhetorical delivery. I think it no accident that the two most passionate defenders of the people and localism come from senators who speak in the accents of and and represent the heartlands of Creole and Cajun culture in Louisiana.

Worth the the time it takes to listen…

Both speeches can be accessed via the Lafayette Pro Fiber audio download page.

Peter Collins’ Interview at BroadBand Reports

Broadband Reports (BBR) has an interview with Peter Collins, IS Manager for Geneva, Illinois that should be interesting for those of us in Louisiana and Lafayette. The TriCities in Illinois continue to be just ahead of Lafayette in dealing with telecommunications issues. Their experience with AT&T (then named SBC) prefigured our own fight for fiber here in Lafayette and their struggles helped inform Lafayette as to what we could expect. We reported on the conflict and the Independent ran a cover story on their experience, so Peter Collins’ name is likely familiar to followers of our conflict. (Collins briefly compares Lafayette and the TriCities experience and that is excerpted below.)

With Lousiana well on the road to a state-wide cable franchise that strips local communities of their ability to control their own property, Illinois’ disagreements with AT&T can give us a sense of what sorts of fights AT&T wants to avoid by getting a state franchise.

Teasers from the interview:

BBR: With it behind you, what do you think Batavia, St. Charles, and Geneva could have done differently?

PC: As I mentioned earlier, once the issue has been placed on a ballot, the cities themselves are prohibited from spending taxpayer funds to push a “yes” or “no” vote. All the cities can do is inform: “this is what the project is and here’s what it aims to achieve.” Elected officials and citizen’s groups are obviously allowed to voice their views as they see fit. They are free to call press conferences to dispute misinformation. This is an area in which Lafayette, LA and their citizen’s groups really played, and continue to play, the game right.

When the incumbents say something outlandish to confuse your citizenry, I think you’ve got to come right back and tell your community, “Actually, here’s the real deal”. You have to keep coming back again and again with the truth, not “truthiness”, because you certainly can’t outspend the incumbents. I think Lafayette might have known the “Chicago way” better than we did.

On the likelihood of AT&T’s latest attempts to provide cable over telephone lines:

BBR: Historically, Comcast and AT&T have a long backstory in your neck of the woods, could you elaborate on that?

PC: The current AT&T was made up of the merger of SBC and AT&T. In our area, SBC was the result of the absorption of Ameritech into the SBC family. Remember the Ameritech has already had a venture into the video arena with their Americast offering and failed.

Likewise, the former AT&T also gave up and sold of all of its local AT&T Broadband holdings to Comcast.

Now that the two companies – that have both failed in video delivery in the past – have merged to become the “new at&t”, are we supposed to believe they’ll get it right this time?

Louisiana U.S. House delegation unanimously votes against Net Neutrality

This is a bit off topic for this blog as it addresses a national issue, but it has local implications.

When the U.S. House of Representatives voted to defeat Rep. Ed Markey‘s (D-Mass) Network Neutrality amendment on Thursday evening, EVERY member of the Louisiana Congressional delegation voted against Markey’s amendment.

That is, Reps. Charles Boustany, Charles Melancon, Bobby Jindal, Richard Baker, William Jefferson, Rodney Alexander and James McCrery voted in favor of giving AT&T and Verizon the legal cover to manipulate access to content on the Internet.

One thing that can now be said about our House delegation without regard to party affiliation: They really just don’t get this Internet thing!

Good News: Less Absurd Delays [Update]

Update: The Advocate prints a piece on the change to an earlier date for hearing the bond case and gives a clear explanation. In a separate email I’m told that not all the onus for the mixup should be placed on the clerk’s office–apparently the judge was supposed to file some special piece of paperwork which didn’t come through.


I’ve been told that the Advocate was wrong in thinking that Judge Rubin was going to wait until July the 31st to hear the hear the bond issue that is the current block to selling the bonds that Lafayette needs to build the system if voted for last summer. An earlier post here was based on that assumption.

Instead the judge will hear the issue the next time he comes around, June 19th. That’s still a long time to hold a hearing open for reasons that were never adequately explained but it isn’t nearly as bad as forcing the community to wait till August.

Folks are supposing the mistake occurred at the Clerk’s Office. Workers there routinely fill up the available time slots and place the new cases at the end of the line. Presumeably that was July 31st. But, since this is an expedited case it will be heard the next time the judge is in town.

Good. I want something to celebrate on July 16th, Lafayette Telecom Independence Day. Here’s to hoping that Judge Rubin will give us that.

Media Roundup: HB 699

The Gannett papers–like the Advertiser, as well as the Advocate and the Time-Picayune all carry stories on yesterday’s battle in the Senate over HB 699. If you’re a news junkie you’ll want to read all three. (Though I immodestly suggest my coverage of the debate and its implications is more complete.)

If you just have time for one try John Hill’s story in the Gannett papers. He has some particularly juicy bits about what BellSouth’s lobbyists think ought to happen next with their bill. But he focuses, at this late date, on giving a full background for understanding the bill and what it means. He looks at what the bill means to local communities, examines the technologies involved, explains the politics of pre and post ’74 home rule communities, and has the juiciest quotes from participants in the debate. He also is the only writer to pick up on the “one letter” amendment Michot hopes will exempt Lafayette from the law. Very nicely done, but don’t take too seriously his belief that IPTV, the underlying video technology AT&T uses, belongs to or was created by Microsoft. Not true–and they’ve yet to make their version work acceptably, contrary to the glowing picture painted in the article.

The Advocate’s Millhollon does the best job of understanding the crucial Senate amendments concern “information services” that have the lobbyists in John Hill’s story were likely worried about and provides intriguing detail on the debate itself.

By comparison the T-P article is pretty mundane. Thought Jefferson and St. Tammany parishes were hotbeds of opposition to the bill the Times-Picayune hasn’t done enough reporting on telecom issues to have a good background on the story.

The Advertiser article has an interesting sidebar that contains the following info:

Acadiana votes:

Heels: Sens. Butch Gautreaux, Nick Gautreaux, Mike Michot*, Donald Hines and Gerald Theunissen

Heros: Sens. Donald Cravins Sr. and Craig Romero

*Michot’s vote may well have been in trade for the amendment he hopes will exempt Lafyette from the bill, so he gets an asterisk. However, it is far from certain that even if the law passes with that intact it won’t still allow BellSouth/AT&T to entangle all the big municipalities through language forbidding the exempted municipalities from passing any ordinances which run contrary to the bill. That’s a nice, juicy target for harrassing lawsuits. The Bell companies have a long history of suing their opponents into submission and I, for one, am not reassured.


You know Senators Ellington and Hollis were at great pains to say that HB 699, the state-wide cable franchising bill that won Senate approval yesterday, was not a BellSouth bill. No, they claimed, that just wasn’t fair. Repeatedly. Loudly. And in mildly aggrieved tones. Cravins and other opponents were caustic in their replies.

Senate watchers know the truth. John Hill, writing for the Gannett chain, knew who he should ask about the future of the bill: John Sutton, BellSouth lobbyist, not Montgomery or Ellington who authored the bills. Here’s what Hill reports without any apologies whatsoever in the the story’s lead paragraphs:

The bill that would make it easier for telephone companies to compete with cable communications firms for television services through broadband lines cleared the state Senate 27-10 Thursday afternoon after a two-hour debate.

But lobbyists for BellSouth, the prime backer of the legislation, said they would have to study the Senate changes to House Bill 699 by Rep. Billy Montgomery, D-Haughton, before asking for the necessary House concurrence.

“We just don’t know yet. We have to study these amendments,” said George Sutton, BellSouth’s chief lobbyist on the bill that has been fought by the Louisiana Police Juries Association, cable communications firms and mayors.

Now it was obvious that Ellington didn’t understand the bill before him during the debate. Or at least wasn’t sure what he could admit about particular clauses. Under close and extended questioning by Willy Mount, for instance, he would occasionally go off camera to try and get requested information. I’d have given a dollar to have been able to see who he was talking to but I bet it wasn’t some other senator. (Comments by attendees welcomed!)

I don’t like that the special interests write the bills that give them, in this instance, unbridled abilities to run over the rights of local governments for their own advantage, but I find it absurd that their agents don’t at least know the bill well enough to defend it and and find it absolutely outrageous that no, no one –not the lobbyist, not a senator, and not the reporters– seems to question that it is BellSouth who will make the decision about whether or not to seek concurrence in the House or fight the Senate changes in conference committee.

Of course it was BellSouth’s bill. And it will be BellSouth’s law…

That’s just plain outrageous.

HB 699, BellSouth’s bill, passes in Senate

HB 699 passed in the Senate, 27 to 10, today but not without a real, and heartening, fight. The bill now goes back to the house where the vote will be whether or not to accept amendments approved on the Senate floor and in the Senate Commerce Committee. Practically speaking the big fight is over. What’s left is trying to make sure that amendments that ameliorate some of the bill’s worse features don’t get stripped away.

It was interesting to watch the streaming video. There was a lot of maneuvering going on. Most noticeably the bill’s author was trying hard to shut down debate and the opponents were having none of it.

Most of the maneuvering circled around several sets of amendments.

The most significant was offered by Hollis, the chair of the Senate commerce committee who was responsible for pushing the house bill through his committee. That short set of amendments attempted to close the loophole that would have resulted from “information services” being excluded from the definition of gross revenues…since AT&T was adamant that its new video service was an “information service” it wouldn’t have been covered. Since AT&T is buying BellSouth that was a reasonable concern. The new language explicitly exempts cable and video service revenue from the definition of information services and so gives some protection to municipalities.

Senator Nevers offered a amendment which purported to protect the owners of private property from having a private company use their property. The amendment, however, specifically authorizes the private corporations to use any rights of way that were granted by the owner to any public utility. I fail to see how making sure that landowners can’t grant access to some and not other uses is doing anything except take away their rights to write contracts they way the prefer. I can see how it might be very valuable for BellSouth to be assured that they’d not to have to pay the private owners anything for the new use…

Most interesting to Lafayette was the amendment that changed a single letter. It changed “has” to “had.” Ellington made it clear that he thought a benefit to Lafayette was behind the “technical” amendment but eventually decided not to oppose it. The issue revolved around a clause that says that any community that “has” a pre-74 home rule charter is opted out of this bill. (That not really true, but for the moment let’s let it go.) Lafayette is the largest city operating under a charter granted after that date. But it “had” a pre-74 home rule charter prior to consolidation into the city-parish form of government. Michot eventually voted for the bill after having voted against a less offensive version in committee. Getting that single “d” into the bill may well be why he switched.

But all that is interesting in a relatively dry and analytic sort of way. The real fun and the real passion of afternoon came with fiery speeches given by Senators Cravins and Romero. A number of Senators rose to attack the bill but no others came close to vigor and directness with which Cravins and Romero attacked the bill.

Some bits of Cravin’s speech:
Complaining that the legislature didn’t respect local government:

We are saying to them that You have to do what this almighty legislature legislature says and what BellSouth says and what AT&T says–because that’s what the bill is it is It doesn’t matter how you couch it is an an AT&T multinational conglomerate bill–that will ultimately Walmart the entire cable system in the state of Lousiana…

Cravins complains that the bill will lead to an AT&T monopoly and higher prices in Lousiana.

I’m simply saying let’s stick with the people and not fall for this rope-a-dope that BellSouth and AT&T are …throwing at us today. We need to defeat this bill.

He notes that the phone company has brought new services only to the wealthy in Texas:

You cherry-picked in Texas. You’re gonna cheery-pick in Louisiana. You are going to take and drive the costs of cable services higher in the next ten years.

Romero worried about costing local governments revenue.

You want to hurt people back home? Vote for this bill. This is smoke and mirrors…I urge you to vote against this bill.

My guess is that all that made the self-satisfied majority a little nervous. Good.

When this thing comes back to hurt local governments communities would be well-served to remember who stood with the corporations and who decided to stand with local communities.

Absurd Delays

This morning’s Advocate brings disturbing news. Apparently Judge Rubin has little respect for either the law he is charged to interpret or for the will of the people of his community.

It is difficult to come up with any rational or half-rational explanation for the more than two month delay he imposes on hearing the bond issue associated with the LUS fiber to the home project. State law is very clear on what it charges a judge to do in reviewing lawsuits that attempt to stop the issue of bonds like ours. The article does a good job of laying it out.

Such bond validation lawsuits are governed by a special part of state law that sets out certain deadlines for such suits to be heard…

In passing the bond validation statute, the Legislature said its intent was to “provide a uniform, expeditious and equitable procedure” to settle whether a bond issuance complies with the law.

After a bond validation suit is filed, the Legislature set a number of deadlines that require a hearing on the matter within a month.

Judges are told in the statute to render a final judgment “with the least possible delay.”

The statute requires a judge to rule within 10 days “to the extent possible and practicable under the circumstances” once the hearing is “concluded.”

The law allows for a judge to make “such adjournments as will enable him properly to try and determine” questions of law and fact.

Had the hearing concluded May 22, the 10th day of the deadline for a final ruling would have been June 1.

It’s absurd.

There is a very good reason for the state to expedite such cases: interfering with the bonding process and tying it up in endless delay is a way for those who can afford such shenanigans to block the express will of the people. Without a law mandating all possible speed wealthy opponents of perfectly legal community decisions settled by a vote of the people’s representatives could delay action endlessly. –Disgruntled losers could block the sale of bonds to fund roads, for instance, extorting the city with demands that the road pass by their land or have the sort of greenspace amenities they thought suitable.

But in this case it isn’t merely representatives of our will that are thwarted. What is being casually ignored is a direct vote of the people of this community. Their will was expressed clearly on July 26th of last year when we voted 62 to 28% to approve a bond issue to pay for our fiber to the home project.

The bond issue that Rubin has to decided is a narrow point of law. It does not, repeat does not, involve him learning any of the weird new technologies of telecommunications. It is a legal issue: may the plaintiffs entangle a bond issue based on future revenue with their claim that it, somehow, would endanger their clients ability to get money off the city based on the fact that the city returns money to Lafayette Consolidated Government in the form of in lieu of tax (ILOT) payments years ago. This is not new law, nor does it call on new law, nor do either the bond validation issues or the legal history of ILOT lack for ample precident. All a judge like Rubin needs to do is to sit down and do the work he is trained to do and which the law requires him to do quickly.

The law is eminently reasonable. Judges put themselves, and the law, in a perilous position when they use their necessary power to interpret the law to evade the clearly stated intent of laws that come before them. The people of the city deserve better.

Oh, by the way, don’t give up in disgust before you reach the final paragraphs. There is some more painful amusement there. Apparently this case has already spawned three appeals before it has really been heard by any judge. One of them is an appeal of the dismissal of a case that was dismissed because the plaintiffs had already gotten what they were asking for. No matter, technically the case went against them so they could appeal. And did. This is all about manufacturing the basis for delay.

Both the judge’s delay nor the plaintiffs’ attempts at it have serious consequences. It is looking like the Feds will raise interest rates again soon. Since the delaying tactics began interest rates have gone from a level that was an historic low to one that is relatively high. That means that the delays have already cost the people of Lafayette millions of dollars in interest. The current moves come at a time when they will impose yet greater costs.

HB 699 & Cravins’ Attack

HB 699, the state-wide franchise bill, was scheduled to pass in the Senate today. But a dramatic attack on the floor of the Senate put off that fate for at least one day.

The bill came to the floor under the care of “Noble” Ellington who noted how contentious a bill it had been and thanked its supporters. He said that the oft-amended bill had gathered many compromises and that cable was now on board and that, and this was a stunner, the Louisiana Municipal Association had backed off of what had been vitrolic opposition and was now said to be “neutral” according to Vinton Mayor Riggins. Ellington claimed the Police Jury Association was still opposed but not very actively. The success of the bill seemed assured.

Then ensued a strange series of events. As Ellington got into the bill, describing its supposed sterling qualities, a crowd from the House gathered in the back of the chamber. It was the winning house ball team from a charity game that had come to collect their trophy from Senate and to gloat a bit. Ellington stood aside and a good bit of mutual ribbing and weak jokes ensued. His bill was deferred until later in the afternoon.

The fire fighters, who apparently had also won their game–against the police–were congratulated and all manner of bills were heard.

Finally, toward the evening, Ellington was back up with 699. He again presented his introduction and finished describing the bill with particular emphasis on claims that it would result in more revenue for local governments (cough) that the big home-rule charter cities would be exempted (well…) and that it would mean more broadband in rural areas (cough, sputter).

There was a question or two from the floor and then Cravins rose to address a question. Unlike others he went to the podium and faced Ellington directly. After pleading for quiet and highlighting the importance of the bill, he started asking questions. Very direct ones. The questions were ones like: Why would any small or local government want to give up its rights to negotiate against a big corporation? What happens after current franchises expire? He fretted about about BellSouth cherry-picking the rich areas. He wasn’t sure he wanted to advise the small people he represented to trust BellSouth’s word that they’d serve all. He asked whether we weren’t just creating a big monopoly. Several times.

Ellington responded to each at some length and with a touch of the old rhetorical style. He repeatedly claimed that other companies than BellSouth could take advantage of the law he proposed. But he clearly was growing irritated with having Cravins in his face with so many questions for so long. Finally Cravins sat down and a series of suggested resolutions came from the floor. Nevers had one. Hollis wants to offer an amendment that would try to deal with the “information services” issue that threatened municipal income. Michot wanted to change “has” to “had” in one place. Ellington opposed that. Discussion ensued.

Cravins got up and returned to the podium, reiterated the importance of the bill and restated some of his objections more forcefully. Finally he asked Ellington to withdraw it for the day in order to give members time to consider it. Ellington responded by noting that people were actually paying attention and that only one person was talking on the telephone. Cravins pressed the point. Ellington refused. The acting chair asked if Cravins wanted to present a motion. Finally he did giving another, if short, oration emphasizing an “all or none” opposition to cherry-picking and doubt about BellSouth/AT&T.

When the vote was called, the bill was deferred for a day, 18-17.

Somewhere in all that Hollis’s amendment was adopted, and both Nevers’ and Michot’s changes remained proposals.

It will be the Special Order of the Day and is moved up in the agenda as a consequence.

Without the LMA, it still looks as if it may pass. (You still have time to call your Senator before the Senate comes into session tomorrow afternoon.) But it won’t have gone down easy.

Thanks are due Senator Cravins.