Both the Advocate and the Advertiser have posted stories focusing on the latest move in the Cox/NCTC versus LUS/LCG contest being gamed out in the courts. In this turn Lafayette is has filed suit to dismiss a lawsuit filed in in Kansas by the National Cable Television Cooperative (NCTC). That lawsuit was filed in an attempt to block LUS from pursuing a complaint with the FCC.
So…this is a suit to block a suit which hopes to block a filing at the FCC…there’s a legal logic in there somewhere I am sure. Or in the words of the Advocate:
Attorneys for Lafayette argued in court filings that the cooperative’s lawsuit is an attempt “to drag a Louisiana municipal public utility into court on the plaintiff’s home turf in an effort to avoid being held accountable for its conduct before the Federal Communications Commission.”
The FCC complaint by LUS Fiber argued that NCTCS engaged “in unfair, deceptive and anticompetitive conduct that has the purpose of effect of preventing LUS from becoming a member of NCTC and thereby obtaining the huge quantity discounts and other that NCTC negotiates for its members…” “We have stated in our pleadings filed today that the court should dismiss NCTC’s complaint in deference to the jurisdiction of the Federal Communications Commission, or alternatively suspend any further proceedings until the FCC has decided the case initiated by the Lafayette complaint,” city-parish attorney Pat Ottinger said.
The story closes, appropriately, with the note:
NCTC’s largest member is Cox Communications, LUS Fiber’s primary competition.
That Cox is engaging in anti-competitive behavior through its influence at the NCTC is the core of Lafayette’s public relations case; and, given Cox’s behavior here in Lafayette, it seems entirely likely. The fact that the other two cities that had initially joined Lafayette in its complaint, but were after filing suit admitted to the membership process, did not have the NCTC’s largest member as competition is damning. That these cities’ corporate competitors do not belong to the NCTC tends to clinch the argument.
In fact, that those other cities had competition that does not belong to the NCTC is a strong argument that more is at stake nationally than simply the interest of a mid-size, aggressive city somewhere along Louisiana’s cost and its huge corporate competitor. As I’ve pointed out previously, other members of the NCTC have engaged in the sort of anti-competitive blocking that Cox has used in Louisiana.
The NCTC used to be a mechanism for small, locally-owned cable networks and municipalities to get relatively fair programming prices for their customers. Over the years the market has changed and single-system mom and pop operations have all but disappeared as large and medium size “mulitple system operators” (MSOs) cable companies have grown by leveraged buyouts of smaller competitors—not by successful competition with other cable companies. Successful head-to-head competition requires building a better network and providing better services. (The route, incidentally, that Lafayette has chosen.) Buyouts only require taking on large debt burdens…burdens in fact so large that they can make finding the money to make major service upgrades very difficult.
Now the NCTC is run by debt-heavy MSOs, not mom and pop, local, cable companies. Cox is merely the biggest. Many other NCTC members are no doubt in the same structural position as Cox cable—heavily in debt—and many of those are in the smaller locales that may be actually losing population. These smaller municipalities could reasonably feel that they’ve lost the local businesses to which they felt loyalty to faceless corporations who do even fewer network upgrades than the small local businesses did. Those small cities and towns are the ones that, nationally, are most likely to consider investment in a fiber network an investment in their future.
The NCTC has a legitimate national function…lowering cable prices for the customers of small cable companies and thereby allowing local alternatives to enormous international telecommunications corporations to exist. The outcome of the current conflict over Lafayette’s membership will be a decision-point for the nation. Either the NCTC will provide that service for all small operators or it will turn itself into an exclusive cartel that uses its purchasing power to push out all competition.
That is a national problem; it is not simply a small side fight down in some damp part of Louisiana.
Correction: It’s been pointed out that Lafayette has not really filed suit in response to the suit. They’ve merely responded to the NCTC’s Kansas suit. Point taken. That is actually clear in the press release. I let a fun line get in the way of a close reading…mea culpa.