EATel Expands— North, South, and “up”

EATel, The little locally-owned East Ascension Telecomms company that could, is having a good week. Their bid for an East Baton Rouge parish-wide franchise agreement that will move them into the large capital city market was approved last night. They announced the pending acquisition of Vision Communications, an adjacent Lafourche Parish telecommunications company, whose customer base will increase their size by more than a third. And, wait for it: they announced that their first 4G cell towers became operational this week.


Now, on to the inevitable caveats:

1) Re: The EBR franchise. While this is an undeniably good thing for Baton Rouge generally (EATel is building a FTTH network that gets rave reviews) it isn’t at all clear that it will be widely available. According to the Advocate story the firm fought suggestions that it should be required to adhere to the sort of build-out requirements that Cox (but not AT&T) was required sign. Generally build-out requirements mean that the company would be required to serve everyone—not just the most profitable (read wealthy) customers. The only reason that EATel and other telecomm companies have to bother with franchises is that they want to use the public’s resources—the rights of way along roads that the community owns and maintains. The council’s failure to insist on some, eventual, conditioned, form of universal access means that it is unlikely that the full benefits of fiber-based competition will  reach the poorer and/or rural parts of the parish.

2) Re: The expansion down Bayou Lafourche. EATel won’t be building an new network in this area. According to the Daily Comet:

While Eatel has no immediate plans to convert Vision’s network to faster fiber optic, Russell says Vision customers can expect “an upgrade of the network to improve current services.” Those details are not solidified, but Russell said adding high-definition channels and improving Internet speeds are among the possible improvements.

 No fiber. That’s sad. On the other hand the local family-owned company is bound to provide better service and more timely upgrades than the current “venture fund” owners could be bothered with. Note: The Advocate also has a nice story with some additional details.

3) Re: The ongoing upgrade to 4G LTE  in their footprint. No caveats needed. This is an unabashedly good thing—especially as AT&T is notably late to the 4G LTE party. (What AT&T is passing off as 4G is not, by most accounts, the real deal…their HSPA+ version lacks much of what is supposed to come with a real shift to the next generation of wireless—not that AT&T isn’t going to move to LTE…just not quite yet.

9.6% — William Theriot shouldn’t be respected as a councillor (by his own estimation)

Nice and succinct from the IND blog:

Percent of District 9 voters who sent William Theriot to the City-Parish Council in November 2007. The district had 18,452 registered voters, with 17.9 percent (or 3,307) going to the polls; of those voting, 1,773 or 54 percent went for Theriot.

Why is this significant? Because Theriot loves to question voters’ mandate for LUS Fiber, pointing out as recently as the Sept. 27 council meeting that it was “62 percent of the 18 percent that showed up to vote.” Applying that logic to Theriot’s district, 11.16 percent of city voters in Lafayette approved LUS Fiber, while fewer than 10 percent of District 9 voters sent him into office. Now that, Mr. Theriot, is anything but a mandate.

Theriot, the incumbent in the District 9 Councillors race, has long been hostile to LUS Fiber and is fond of saying that the overwhelming 62% to 38% victory for fiber after a long and bitter campaign was waged against it by the incumbent corporations wasn’t really the last word on “the people’s” judgment of the matter because the numbers didn’t add up to an absolute majority of all the people who could possibly have voted.

Elections go to those who care to show up and exercise their rights. That’s the basic democratic principle and always has been. Theriot’s (and others’) game-playing with this has always left a bitter taste in the mouth…so discovering that Theriot is less legitimate (by his own standards) than the fiber he criticizes in this way underlines just how hypocritical this line of attack is and always was.

And make no mistake, this line of reasoning—one which continues to be touted by anti-fiber crowd—has always been the height of hypocrisy. The nay-sayers wanted to force a vote on the rest of us because they, Cox, and BellSouth thought they could easily use the money and power of the huge corporations to win in the referendum. They failed, miserably, to convince the community that they were right. A vote was what what they claimed to have wanted and we can be certain that they’d have been happy to have said “the people have spoken” if they’d won. It was always hypocritical for Fiber 411 and those that said Lafayette couldn’t succeed and shouldn’t try to turn around and decide the vote they claimed to want so badly was illegitimate because they lost.

Here’s the real kicker: William Theriot shouldn’t be voting on anything to do with any of the LUS’ utilities anyway. He doesn’t represent any significant portion of the city. His ideological grandstanding over the LUS rate hikes and his snipping on fiber is a significant part of what broke the longstanding “fair-play” agreement between Lafayette Councilmen and the rest of the parish Councillors that the full council would endorse what a majority of the city Councillors thought was best when voting on purely city issues.

I wrote a detailed post on this back when it was all going down back in March of 2010.

His obstinacy—and to a slightly lesser degree, Councilor Bellard’s—is the most immediate reason that we are faced with a deconsolidation vote on October 22nd. So if you are in Mr. Theriot’s district and have discovered that you might suffer if the city of Lafayette withdrew from the current arrangement and became its own city again then you have only to look to your own councilman for the proximate reason those within the city don’t think that the present arrangement can be trusted.

“Lafayette Dealing with Expected Headaches”

What’s Being Said Dept.

Christopher Mitchell over at has picked up the recent Advertiser story on LUS’s Fiber division and various responses to it. His take is as succinct as the title: “Lafayette Dealing with Expected Headaches.”

That title is pretty much the story; the author walks carefully through the questions, starting with the fact that these “issues” were long-anticipated and were part of the community’s discussion from the very beginning. He notes that the title is not justified by the story and that which path to take at the crossroads was decided when the citizens voted to create the new utility. The story also notices that LUS Fiber came of age during the worst recession that the US has seen (and, I’d add, that this timing was largely due to delaying lawsuits initiated by the incumbents).

Most important, however, are his final words addressed directly to us in Lafayette:

But it should also make sure that someone is telling the LUS story. Where are the charts showing community savings as a result of more competition? Who is shouting out the success stories? Who is calculating how much more money stays in Cajun Country because it goes to Lafayette Utilities rather than Cox Communications?

This isn’t just LUS’s responsibility — after all, it is a community network.

That, of course, is perfectly true…So, what are we going to do about it?

LUS Fiber at a crossroads

A bevy of stories that have been in the cooker for awhile finally landed today. Check out the Advertiser for a Sunday quartet: LUS Fiber at a crossroads, Other municipalities try fiber systems. Details regarding National Cable Television Cooperative are hazy, and an editorial: Fiber system needs realistic plan. That’s a lot of ink spilled for a result that’s pretty hazy itself. There’s not much that looks like new news in the story and it seems mostly the result of researching recent remarks made by a councilman or two and insistence complaints by an old opponent of the project. That research didn’t turn up much that will surprise those of us that have followed the last couple of months of the story. The results are articles which no doubt schooled the reporter/s—and the public that hasn’t been following closely—in just how complex the issue actually is—and how unresolved matters are as they now stand. And maybe that’s not bad. It’s certainly a lot better than the hyperbolic reporting we got too often in the past.

The theme of the front page story, LUS Fiber at a crossroads, is that some sort of decision needs to be made soon about whether or not to commit to the project or dump it. But nothing in the story itself warrants such a theme. There’s nothing in the story that should make any reasonable reader think LUS Fiber is anywhere near failure and plenty of evidence that it is over the hump and is well on its way to success in what is hugely capital intensive business that nobody ever thought would make money in the first years. But more to the point: frankly the choice of whether or not to go forward has already been made: back on July 16th, 2005 when the citizens voted in the new public utility. The community now has the system that the citizens wanted. The discussion is no longer about “whether;” the discussion is now only about how to make sure it succeeds—and having succeeded how to make sure it is run so as to most fully benefit the community. Those are not trivial questions and I don’t intend to underplay them. But pretending that there might be a choice, well, it might make a better headline but it doesn’t help inform the real project at hand.

The editorial, Fiber system needs realistic plan, doesn’t quite succumb to the facile idea that some sort of choice between support and nonsupport might be offing, instead opting to advocate for the hazy idea that in light of changing conditions the plans for the system might need reworking. That’s not exactly news either. Any real enterprise that is not continually reassessing how it meets its goals isn’t doing its job.

What’s disappointing is the claim that the system is rudderless, that it lacks clear goals. That’s just silly. Of course it has a clear purpose and one that its leaders clearly honor: LUS Fiber is a public utility and its purpose is to put an essential service under the control of the community, to provide a first rate example of the service, and to provide it as cheaply as it is possible. That is i’s fundamental purpose and I submit that there is no question but that it is meeting that standard. LUS Fiber is, for every service, cheaper than the private alternative. It is available to each and every citizen of the city; something no private provider would promise. The services are high quality—the video and phone services are at least as good as the former monopolies and the internet is unarguably not only cheaper but better. Yes, it has to “make its nut” and not lose money but considering that Huval has recently said that they’ve got over 10,000 subscribers then it is clear that in a city of just short of 50,000 households they are with a few percentage points of the break-even point.

That is all our new utility needs to do to justify itself. Everything is else is lagniappe…a little something extra. Absolutely we all hope it will boost our reputation and serve as the infrastructure for vibrant new businesses…and at both ends of the economic scale it appears to have already done so: witness the NuComm call center and Pixel Magic’s video studio. Yes, it’s been great for our kids: every school in the parish now has a 100 meg connection courtesy of LUS Fiber—at speeds and prices that it private competitors could not meet. Sure I, for one, have been an advocate of using our community fiber to do more to bridge the digital divide. No, I don’t think we’ve done enough there…yet. But, honestly, I have a million times better a chance getting our community to do really great things for our community than Cox or AT&T would ever find it affordable to do. The strange idea that LUS Fiber doesn’t know what its purpose is just foolish. Especially since it is apparently doing a good job of addressing its obvious purposes.

The other two stories, Other municipalities try fiber systems and Details regarding National Cable Television Cooperative are hazy are just not very interesting. After reading them both you get the feeling that the reporters decided these would be good sidebars and set about a fair amount of work reviewing what was out there and digesting it for us. But it isn’t clear what lesson is there for the reader to take away. I can point to problems with both stories, mainly in what doesn’t seem to be understood by the writer. For instance in the municipalities section the inclusion of Marietta, Georgia is pointless. Marietta never built or intended to build a public fiber to the home network but instead failed at what LUS had already succeeded at before our current network was proposed: building a wholesale fiber network to serve regional businesses. Similarly, you come away from the NCTC story with the sense that LUS is paying more for video because Cox is a leader in the coop…what the story doesn’t bother to tell us is that Cox only joined the NCTC after LUS won the right to build its network; that Cox joining was remarkable because until that period the coop’s purpose had been specifically to unite to get the same sorts of deals a corporation like Cox could already get; that two other municpal fiber providers that applied with Lafayette were accepted after a lawsuit was threatened; and that the only difference between those cities and Lafayette was that Cox, our competitor was on the board. That’s all something the community should know—frankly, there is a notable abscence of anything that could put Cox in a bad light in all four stories but this is a particularly outstanding instance.

So do read the stories, they provide a nice if bland and somewhat incomplete summary of the current situation. But don’t bother to take too seriously the hook of the main story—and don’t believe any mutterings that LUS Fiber doesn’t know exactly what its purpose is.