Earth to Cox: Denial is not a river in Africa

The Advertiser posts excerpts from a recent Cox Press Release to their website under the title “Cox: LUS court decision ‘changes nothing’

The full quote from which the phrase is pulled:

“Yesterday’s decision changes nothing in terms of Cox’s ability and willingness to compete in the city of Lafayette and throughout the Acadiana and Baton Rouge regions,”

That’s either denial or bluster. Yesterday’s decision changes everything for Cox. It dramatically effects their ability to compete. It means that in less than 2 years Cox will go from having the most capable network in Lafayette to being an also-ran with a technology decades behind a homeboy competitor that has already received a majority endorsement by the citizenry.

The bluster that this “changes nothing” is belied by phrases used in the very press release that denies any changes are taking place: Cox is now describing its perfectly conventional Hybrid Fiber-Coax as–and I qoute–an: “existing state-of-the-art fiber network.” That goes beyond bluster and marketing to the flat-out deception that we grew used to during the height of the battle in the year before the referendum. HFC is NOT a state-of-the-art fiber network. No one uses the terminology that way. Cox’s technicians know better. Only some advanced version of Fiber To The Home (FTTH) can qualify for the title. What is revealing about this pitable attempt to cover itself in undeserved glory is that it demonstrates that Cox knows 1) that the people of Lafayette want a state-of-the-art fiber-optic network and 2) knows that since it doesn’t have one to offer it needs to pretend that it does. Cox spent several years trying to convince us that we didn’t need fiber and now it deceptively claims that is what it had all along.

That is a lie, and an obvious one.

That the current market-leader Cox feels the need to make it is all the evidence one needs that things have, indeed, changed.

The AP & the T-P pick up the story

The Times-Picayune in New Oreans has picked up an AP story on Lafayette’s win in the fiber-optic battle.

Pull Quote:

The court also threw out a large portion of Naquin’s arguments, saying her suit had been filed past the 60-day hard and fast deadline to challenge bond issuances passed through an election.

That’s the first reaction beyond our media market. I expect many more….this is news far beyond our borders.

“LUS wins fiber-optic fight”

“Lafayette Utilities System is free to begin its much-debated and long-delayed plan to bring low-cost phone, cable and high-speed Internet to homes and businesses in the city, the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled Thursday.”

That is the way the Advocate story this morning opens up. Its coverage focuses on decision itself, the history of the lawsuit, and the distinctions the Court made in overturing the 3rd Circuit. On the Appeals Court mistake:

The 3rd Circuit should have ruled that the cross-subsidization prohibitions in the Fair Competition Act should be viewed separately from other provisions that allow governments to pledge those resources to secure bonds, according to the ruling.

The Legislature meant the cross-subsidization rules to apply only after LUS had started providing services, the court ruled.

How to pay off the bonds is dealt with in a separate section of the law and one portion of the law allows for LUS to help pay for its system with loans, as long as those loans are paid back with “market-rate” interest, the court ruled.

“The opinion fully embraces all of the arguments which we have advanced from day one,” City-Parish Attorney Pat Ottinger said in a news release.

On the path forward:

LUS has been preparing for months for this day, Huval said. It will be meeting with its financial and bond experts today to lay the groundwork for proceeding, Huval said.

The delays have been frustrating, but they’ve not hurt the nuts and bolts of the project first laid out in a 2004 feasibility study, Huval said.

The cost of technology has decreased significantly since then and interest rates are lower than what was initially projected, Huval said.

On the technology decision; the first of the points which need to be settled to begin concrete planning:

LUS will also start finalizing its decisions on exactly what specific type of technology it will use for the project, so that it can hire an engineer to lay out the system in preparation for construction, Huval said.

That’s an interesting suggestion, and one that is due some community and not merely technical consideration. The technology used will have a strong influence on both the entreprenual and digital divide potential of the system we build. It will shape what we do with it by making some tasks easy and some harder.

We’ve seen in various interviews with public oficials a lot of (well-deserved) praise for this community and its resilience and steadiness during the fiber fight. The people of Lafayette refused to be panicked by threats; they didn’t allow themselves to be cowed by the power of their opponents or mislead by the confident nonsense they spouted. They’ve earned the right to be talked to plainly about the positives and negatives of say PON architectures–and proved they can be counted on to grasp the essentials.

We are, at this moment, beyond the defensive stage of this project. It will be hard to shift gears (least of all for me!) but now is the moment for openness, inclusion, and conversation.

Let’s get on with it: time’s a wasting.

“LUS wins fiber fight”

The Advertiser, in “LUS wins fiber fight,” focuses its coverage this morning on reaction, both public and official, to yesterday’s victory at the state Supreme Court.

The story also offers a succinct overview of the decision itself, highlighting the crucial error made by the 3rd Circuit of failing to separate the building and operating stages of the fiber project. The Court held that the 3rd Circuit erred in applying constraints set on cross-subsidization of operating expenses to the building phase.

Reaction included the note that the ruling in favor of Lafayette’s project means an end to bond challenges according to City Attorney Ottinger:

…Ottinger said Thursday that no additional lawsuits challenging the bond ordinance can be filed because the time for doing so has expired.

Greg Gautreaux, of LEDA, naturally enough emphasizes economic development promoting Lafayette as testbed for new ideas and projects.

Reaction from beyond downtown came from Stephen Handwerk who said that Lafayette would become “branch location” for Hollywood and that “They’re going to come here now.”

Walter Guillory insisted that digital divide issues, a central selling point in planning for a fiber-optic network not be forgotten saying “he plans on holding officials to those promises.”

Richard Warren was qouted as a member of the Lafayette grassroots organization central to the referendum battle, Lafayette Coming Together (Stephen Handwerk and Walter Guillory were members as well) focused on opportunity:

[Warren] said he hopes entrepreneurs benefit from the fiber initiative.

But more importantly is that low-income residents have affordable access to high-speed Internet, particularly for educational purposes, Warren said.

Its’ a new day. The next task is to decide how to build and what to do with our new system. That sounds like a lot more fun than the battle we’ve been engaged in.

Media Roundup on Supreme Court Win (2-22)


“It means that Lafayette gets to lead Louisiana into the future,” said City-Parish President Joey Durel.


LUS successfully defended its plan at the state district court level but lost when Naquin appealed to the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals.

LUS appealed to the state Supreme Court, which issued a unanimous ruling Thursday that the 3rd Circuit had erred in its decision.

City-Parish President Joey Durel said his administration is still studying the ruling, but at first glance it appears that “we get to finally start doing what we started three years ago.”


“We get to start putting our packet together to go sell bonds and bring the greatest communication technology available in the world to the citizens of Lafayette,” said City-Parish President Joey Durel.

Both KLFY and KATC promised more at 10:00—–


Thursday may be called one the most important days in the history of Lafayette.”

The KLFY page has a link to a movie. If you are a Mac or Linux user the weird, broken, proprietary javascript (NOT your system) prevents you from using their video. Unwrapping the stuff it calls reveals the real URL Pasting the URL directly into Windows Media Player works best. (The tech guys at KLFY really ought to be embarassed. Fixes for this are as simple as giving the users you refuse to adequately serve a direct link.)

City Attorney Ottinger on the Decision

Congratulations where congratulations are due: Lafayette’s legal team pulled this one out for the home team. The unanimity and strength of the court’s decision in favor of Lafayette’s legal arguments has made it clear that it was the 3rd Circuit, not Lafayette’s legal eagles, that were out of the loop.

Here’s a relevant extract from Pat Ottinger’s press release:

“We are obviously elated by the unanimous decision of the Louisiana Supreme Court. The opinion fully embraces all of the arguments which we have advanced from day one. As we have argued before, most of the arguments were brought too late, but the Court went further than that and held that those arguments, even if considered, were not valid. The Court held that the city’s bond ordinance comported fully with applicable law.”

It’s a good day for Lafayette! (And a bad day for corporate shysters.)

FLASH: LUS WINS!!!! Supreme Court Rules in Lafayette’s favor!


A unanimous ruling from the Louisiana Supreme Court allows Lafayette to get its long delayed project underway.

This was the last legal impediment to Lafayette selling the bonds that will allow the project to begin. The deadline for challenging the present ordinance has passed. Once bond sales are made constitutional provisions make the basic project unstoppable.

We have won!

(Media roundups and LPF analysis to follow!)

Time Out: Carnival in Lafayette

Occasionally, often around Mardi Gras (1, 2) or Festival (1, 2) I take a little time-out from fiber and tech-related issues to post a little something about the community and culture for which we are fighting. While Lafayette Pro Fiber is an unreservedly local outlet, our “battle of the bayous” has attracted a loyal and helpful readership with regular correspondents strung between California and Amsterdam. They put up with our no-doubt obscure references and tediously involved local stories to get to the information that is meaningful to them. Every so often it seem fair to let ’em in on some of the exciting and interesting local stuff. This entry is dedicated to them and, of course, those folks who make the Mardi Gras.

Yes, Mardi Gras. I’ve never tried depict Mardi Gras here. Not the real Mardi Gras. That thing you see on MTV and Fox News and that all America and the world knows all about because they’ve seen on TV it is faux. Whatever expression of a genuine cultural moment that Mardi Gras in the Quarter once had (as late-adolescent ritual moment of time-bounded “wildness” in a culture that is fundamentally more Creole than American) has been absorbed into an American fantasy of licentiousness. As a fantasy it is disturbingly revealing of a persistent puritan psyche and a mass media shaped by what products of that psyche finds fascinating. But it doesn’t tell you much about Louisiana’s native cultures or the role a real Mardi Gras plays in them.

I can’t do that either.

I could natter on about traditions of mocking the powerful and satirizing power and sexual roles by inverting them. I could point to the idea that a cycle of excess and restoration once seemed as natural as spring being followed by summer. I could claim that the suppression of the idea that everything had a season and its replacement by the belief that self-control is an absolute virtue is one peculiarly Puritan idea that is both unattainable and arrogantly unattractive. But that wouldn’t tell you much either.

Luckily the Advertiser has posted an amazingly rich body of material to their website that gives the patient reader-viewer a chance at generating a little insight.

What’s more pouring through the archives is fun and a bit challenging — and challenging our self-perception is what Mardi Gras really does best. I’ve linked to some suggestive material in my brief rambling on Mardi Gras below. I think most folks who aren’t from Southern Louisiana will find them…alien… and a lot harder to understand than drunkenness and voyeurism.

Real Mardi Gras marks a transition from the revelry of Mardi Gras to the reflection of Ash Wednesday. The ending is inevitable and community leaders, even in cities like Lafayette are expected to ritually acknowledge it. The parades are a tradition–not just a spectacle. But they are far from the only tradition. The rural run, the courir, is storied and over-analyzed but the medieval resonances and the overtones of something more than mere mischievousness are real. Making private resources communal points to something the dominant modern economic ideologies find quite strange. Costuming is an essential part of the season. Being someone or something else, losing your “real” self is part of the moment. Costuming traditions are very local–sometimes as local as the family itself. In my neighborhood in North Lafayette a distinctive masking tradition in the black community is “the Mardi Gras“–“tribes” of people who dress in very distinctive and concealing suits made of cardboard boxes and crepe paper, usually in two colors. That tradition is often associated with the more famous New Orleans Mardi Gras Indians and the flash and feathers of that tradition has come to Lafayette in recent years.

There’s more to explore, much more–have fun with the index. (Scroll down the page, look to the right, the material is there, just not very well organized.) Try to grok the balls. Take a look a the Krewe des Cheins. There’s a world of weirdness down here. And we hope to keep it that way.

Thanks to all that have supported us in the fight.

“Fiber costs city $3.5M”

Well the Advertiser has decided to write up the story that Durel announced last week: that the cost of supporting the fiber to the home project against the opposition of Cox, BellSouth, and those few citizens that supported the corporations has accounted for most of the 3.5 million spent to date.

Lafayette Pro Fiber reported on this last week, when Durel included the basic information in his state of city address. The Advertiser story on the address didn’t mention this topic then; presumably they didn’t want to dilute the dramatic effect of this story.

The article also covers savings due to lower Cox rates and benefits due to new jobs already gained but neglects to add up the results for the reader. Those gains would mean putting the 3.5 million in costs to the city against the 13.4 million in savings and new salaries injected into the community. That comparison, available only to readers who did the math, is pretty convincing in making Durel’s basic point. Beyond that the Advertiser neglects to mention Durel’s larger claim that to get the true value of the new income it should be multiplied (as is common when talking about private investments). That would have raised the contrast to a surprising “30, 40, 50 million” in yearly gains against a one-time 3.5 million in costs. Of course, thinking it through like that doesn’t make for nearly as dramatic a front-page story.

Durel’s claims transform the story into one in which the real issue is not about costs–that was story the Advertiser had intended with it breathless “Not a strand of fiber-optic line has been buried. Not a single customer is receiving Internet, telephone or television service” introduction. Such an introduction is intended to set up the interpretation that we got nothing for our money. That was the “exciting” story that was originally intended. Unfortunately for the paper Durel nicely moved the story to a cost-benefit analysis and took the punch out of the story. He got his defining licks in before they went to press and if you read the story carefully you can see that the author is a bit irked by how it all played out. The author lays out the timeline very carefully laid out; the reader is told exactly when each player made their move and the clear implication is that the city and LUS are engaged in defensive maneuvering. (Frankly, I don’t doubt that is the case. There seems to be a pretty deep unwillingness on the part of LCG and LUS to engage in public discussion of potentially uncomfortable issues. That makes them vulnerable to suspicions like the one this article tries to raise. Given the nature of the opposition that is understandable. But not wise.)

But the media story is a sidelight, really.

What the current article usefully adds to our understanding of the city project is a list of who received the money, which is quite interesting–but not particularly surprising if you’ve followed the fight closely. The list can be roughly divided into engineering-planning, legal, and political costs. What is interesting is the relative size of those pies and the way the players divided them up.

Engineering-Planning: $1,646,720
The R. W. Beck consultancy has been the big, quite, behind-the-scenes player through all this. They do engineering and planning specializing in electric utilities–they were involved in developing the electrical plant that went online in 2005. Their engineering expertise is not all they sell and in this instance may not be the most of it. They also sell management and financial expertise–the nitty gritty of how to organize and run a new business. Beck does not appear to have much in the way of telecom expertise, hence the presence of CCG in the planning lineup. One might think that the 1.65 million in this category would have been spent regardless of the opposition. But that isn’t really true; delays and “redos” have raised these costs. Beck, for instance, did a second feasibility study to satisfy legally imposed requirements that wouldn’t have been necessary without incumbent opposition.

Legal and Political
A quick look at the list at the Advertiser reminds the reader of the various phases of the fiber fight. Baller Herbst is a national firm that gives both political and legal advice and has been “in” since the beginning. Spiegel and McDiarmid are national and deal with federal regulatory matters. (Remember when there was some talk of Lafayette opposing the BellSouth/AT&T merger–but that got dropped in return for BellSouth promising not to sue–which only got us the Eastin-Naquin suit…hmmn.) Kean Miller defended LUS when the incumbents tried the “cross-subsidization” argument at the Public Service Commission and lost. (This is the same logic that the Supreme Court is currently reviewing. It is something of a pattern for the incumbents to ‘shop venues’ for their nutty interpretations.) The Graham Group handled the money for the television “air war” during the fiber referendum and hired political consultants at that time. Haynie and Associates is the famous lobbyist Randy Haynie, hired to defend Lafayette from further attack in the legislature. That, and fees for the election all seem “political” to me, even when it is law firms doing the legislative and regulatory lobbying.

Legal affairs evoke a similar story of the lawsuit portion of the fiber fight with various firms involved in different of the myriad lawsuits filed by the incumbents or their minions. It’s been a long row to hoe, folks.

And whose fault is it?
An implicit question is how should “blame” for all these costs be accessed. The article implies that some of the legal and political costs are assignable to Lafayette and some to the incumbents. As I read it those costs should all be assigned to the incumbents. The first move in all this was theirs: they went down to Baton Rouge in the middle of the legislative session, gutted a bill that would have done something good and inserted a lobbyist-written bill in its place. That bill eventually became the Local Government (un)Fair Competition act and NONE of the ensuing lawsuits, jockeying at the legislature, or battles in the Public Service Commission would have been necessary without it. Before that law Lafayette, and every other Louisiana city could have made its own decision about starting a telecom utility without the “help” of their big brothers in the state house.

Cox and BellSouth wanted to block competition and they went to the Louisiana Legislature to pursue that goal. Without that anti-competitive urge to involve the state in supporting their monopoly profits there would have been NO further cost to the people of Lafayette.

Every penny of the subsequent 2 million or so in costs should be laid to their feet.

The Advertiser Does Video–and more

Sometimes what you are looking for appears right under your feet. The Advertiser is quietly takng real steps to implement downloadable video. Right chere in river city, cher. And they are doing a pretty credible job of it too, even if the bandwidth and the interface to the material is pretty seriously lacking. They’re even smart enough to be focusing on what’s truly local (e.g. the weather and Mardi Gras).

If they get really smart they’ll rent themselves a big chunk of LUS’ forthcoming fiber to the home network, stream hi-res video and photos, hire some smart editor/designers, partner with Google’s new local advertising initiative and figure out how to make money on the internet with local content. But more on that later.

You think YouTube is last word in short video content or that Flicker is all she spoke for interesting photography? Take a look at what the Advertiser is producing and be pleasantly surprised. The recent tornadoes have kicked over a pretty amazing little series of videos on the Advertiser site. Photographic images of Mardi Gras balls and parades have been similarly impressive.

Example tornadoes: 1) 90 year old victim, no insurance; 2) low key rendition of a truly frightening experience, and there are many more available from the sidebar of a recent story. These are real, interesting, and valuable to the community. Part of what is impressive about these shorts is that they are well-composed and the audio is pretty good. Someone put some training and thought into these–they’re not just random shots or interview afterthoughts. They’re short but they are composed stories.

Example Mardi Gras: 1) The Krewe of Apollo ball (a short peek at one end of the glitterati spectrum; but there is a larger gallery), 2) the Krewe des Amis ball (a different end of the spectrum) 3) Another spectrum altogether: royalty of the Krewe des Cheins, the Krewe des Cheins on parade, and 4) The Rio Parade 5) Lafayette Mardi Gras, Inc. Now that, taken together, is a picture of Mardi Gras that is at once more realistic and more interesting than you’ll get on MTV or any of the national media.

All this media occasionally comes together in some pretty impressive ways. Even if the reader has to stretch to construct it. An example might be the recent story on Patricia Rickels. There’s the story, a set of audio pieces from a sidebar, e.g. #1, a (hard to find) photo gallery, and a full, footnoted written transcript. Very nice.

Just for Fun…Laigniappe

Great stuff, no?

But you probably didnn’t know that any of that grand material exists. In fair part that’s because they verge on impossible to get to in any consistent manner. The main access points are in boxes found on the right hand side of some stories that use teeny-tiny type to link to bare-bones video the size of business cards or MP3 bars floating on a gray field. The photos are too small to reveal interesting detail. The sidebars only point to material related to the story at hand and the one “central” location clearly doesn’t provide a path to the full library. Improving the interface, making it more attractive, making it searchable, integrating it better into stories, and providing a consistent framework would go a long way toward making this the popular community resource it deserves to be.

Now, be aware that these goodies can’t be credited to some sort of Lafayette-based tech innovation inspired by something the city fathers put in the gumbo. Gannett is, by all reports, the most aggressive of all the national paper chains in its attempt to move its paper online and to make its content “hyperlocal.”

(An aside: the nifty content this post is concerned with is but one element of the top-down changes associated with Gannett’s new corporate strategy. Have you wondered about the left wing/right wing blogs that suddenly appeared? The new crop of, well, odd commentators? The Youngsville/Duscon/Broussard weekly material? The calls for reader photos and content? All traceable to Gannett’s attempt to stem the systematic loss of readership that dailies have been plauged with for the last two decades. You can read up on it if you like: Gannett To Change Its Papers’ Approach; A Newspaper Chain Sees Its Future, And It’s Online and Hyper-Local.)

While better organization and a little inspired interface work could go a long way toward making some damn good content accessible and valuable the truth is that the small videos and the tiny photographs are not only small–they download frustratingly slowly. What is needed to make this content compelling is not simply a better interface. What is needed is enough bandwidth to use as a starting point.

The Advertiser/Gannett and LUS ought to consider a little mutual benefit pact. LUS provides some monster bandwidth for city customers and the Advertiser offers some lush monster video and photo files to match. LUS needs applications that show off its competitive advantage in bandwidth. Gannett needs to find a way to turn a pile of files into a profitable local news site before time runs out and newspapers vanish.

Their interests meet in a news application that is second to none running over a network that can’t be matched.

Wouldn’t that be fun?