EATel’s fiber to move into Baton Rouge

EATel, East Ascension’s locally-owned fiber-based telecoms provider, is set to move into the Baton Rouge market and provide Cox & AT&T some real competition. This would be a tremendous change in that market, especially if the local provider was prepared to build-out beyond the sort of limited cherry-picking that Baton Rouge has seen from AT&T’s “entry.” It is conceivable that parts of Baton Rouge could actually have 3 providers for the full range of telecom services. That’s virtually unheard of.

According to the Baton Rouge Business Report EATel is anxious to get things going and objected to any further delay in granting its franchise citing in part the age of the owner:

“I will be here next time, and I will continue to come until we get the franchise. We’re a family company. Our owner is 84 years old,” Britton said, to which Addison replied, “You can tell your 84-year-old owner that you’ll get it.”

The Business Report story is misleading in at least one respect: it talks about EATel bringing “broadband” competition without mention of either the phone or the video aspects of the service. A quick read of the council agenda item in question reveals that a good bit more is at stake: 

Authorizing the Mayor-President to enter into an agreement with Eatel Video, L.L.C. d/b/a Eatel, to offer multi-protocol broadband platform of voice, data and video/television services (“broadband network”), the video/television component of which is a multi-protocol, two-way interactive, ip-enabled video/television service in the City of Baton Rouge and Parish of East Baton Rouge. By: Parish Attorney.

We’re talking voice, data, and video…the full triple play.

I’ll look forward to hearing the details; it’d be a pity if EATel’s intent was more modest than I am assuming. The company is in of East Ascension south of East Baton Rouge and in Livingston in areas southeast of parish. So it has built up networks in striking range of southern East Baton Rouge Parish. The extent of the build is unknown but it may be worth noting that the Councilman whose concern about FCC regulations appears to have derailed immediate approval represents district 2 in the historically poorer, blacker area of northwest
Baton Rouge. If his concern is that his constituents might not see much benefit from the competition EATel brings that is probably reasonably founded on how little the highly touted “competition” from AT&T reached his constituents.

LUS Fiber Financials Covered in Local Media (and more)

I posted earlier about the LUS Fiber budget hearing yesterday. There I focused on the annoying return of the idea that LUS was (somehow) being subsidized — I suspected that Patin had successfully revived a truly dumb idea. Credit where credit is due: Neither the Advertiser nor the Advocate‘s reporters chose to take the bait and emphasize that foolishness. Instead they largely reported on the issues raised by the Councillors and Tim Supple. Take a look at both articles, they are worth the read though, frankly, the Advocate is better on the technicals possibly because Burgess was here during the fiber fight and has a deeper background.

Executive Summary: LUS’ financials are confusing. Financials just are confusing. Always. But LUS Fiber, being a semi-autonomous arm of the semi-autonomous LUS utilities (which is owned by the city but semi-run by the city-parish) is especially confusing. This is exacerbated by a sick state law designed to raise the prices that customers pay that causes LUS Fiber to give money to LUS utilities so that LUS utilities can loan it back to LUS Fiber—at interest. (Which means there is a subsidy: of LUS utilities; not the other way around.) Got it? Confused yet? Anyway:

The Important Stuff: LUS Fiber is doing ok, not great but ok. The “ok” part can be seen by its more than doubling its installed base in the last year; recent statements by Huval confirm that the utility has made over the bump and has the minimum number of users to break even. The “not great” part is due to the fact that it’s not meeting the rosy projections of a 2004 feasibility report that had predicted that LUS would be doing better than just ok, that they would be doing great by this point in the rollout. (The feasibility study was always sketchy and clearly a political document. See my first two blog posts on this issue. #1, #2)

Extras from my Notes: Caution: This is for the dedicated few who’d like a little more on the two and and a half hour session than a dry newspaper article has space for or fits the newspapers’ idea of a budget meeting story.

Attendance: Theriot, Patin, Boudreaux (presiding) Shelvin (late), Castille,  Morrison Conspicuous by his absence: Don Bertrand who was a leader in the fight for fiber and certainly has a better understanding of all matters concerning LUS Fiber than any of fellow councilmen.  His participation would have really helped the rest of the council make sense of the arcane parts of the presentation—some of the questions asked showed a real lack of understanding.

Overall: Part of the confusion that reigned during the presentations was due to a new computer financials program and a new, much more extensive report format that was presented to the council. It was apparent that some had only read (at most) the summary sections and it showed in their questions. LUS Fiber is a big, new, different, retail establishment for the C-P to keep track of and understand and Toups seemed to feel that she was only just getting hold of it all.

Conservative Borrowing: A couple of times during the presentations it was apparent that part of the reason that LUS’ numbers were tight was because LUS was being…tight. One example came up when Shelvin asked whether it would all look better right now if LUS had taken the whole 125 million authorized by the voters instead of only bonding out 110 million dollars. Huval hemmed, hawed, and said that they just didn’t want to borrow more than they really needed. This was in the context of LUS having not yet taken the in-organization loan of 5.5 million that the council authorized. A lot of the noise we are hearing now is a direct consequence of LUS Fiber deciding to make do with the very least borrowing they can get by with.

Competition: LUS estimates that the citizens of the community have saved 5.7 million dollars—in part direct saving from LUS’ cheaper phone, video, and internet services and in part as a consequence of Cox lowering its prices and giving out special rates. Those special rates were discussed in the meeting with Huval pointing out that Cox had petitioned for and received permission to treat Lafayette as a “competitive” area. That meant that Cox could offer special deals to Lafayette users and, as we all know, has offered cuts to anyone who tries to leave. Those “deals.” as Huval pointed out to Patin don’t include the rural areas of the parish where Cox has no competition.

Coalitions: Intriguingly coalitions with other communities that have fiber were mentioned and Terry indicated that this was involved positive attention from the White House. I’m pretty sure that this is the US Ignite project—a project initiated by the administration that will bring together communities that have next-generation fiber projects. Conceivably this could be a “big thing” and bring ideas, financing, and lend emphasis to the movement to develop big bandwidth applications that could be used across these communities. Lafayette’s own FiberCorp has been a player in this effort.

“Subsidizing” Makes a Return Engagement—With a Twist

To begin at the end of today’s LUS Fiber budget hearing: all the old nonsense about “subsidizing” LUS Fiber returned again today. And, surprising no one, it came riding back in with Tim Supple. Supple’s long history of opposition to LUS Fiber has long included this particular falsehood. To give the devil his due Tim was definitely goaded by councilman Keith Patin after Keith and fellow rural member William Theriot failed to come up with a sufficiently news-worthy phrase during the questioning. Tim tried not to answer in the simple affirmative for a couple of rounds while Patin repeatedly pressed him to phrase his characterization of the LUS financials as being a subsidy that had to be being paid for by “somebody.” Supple finally caved and said it was, indeed, just like subsidizing Parks and Recreation as Patin suggested.

That, of course, is utter nonsense. Nonsense that Terry Huval immediately spiked. A loan that must be repaid with interest is nothing like using tax monies to support Parks and Recreations. But  Huval really shouldn’t have had to lay that out. A subsidy would illegal under state law. If LUS were breaking that law both Cox and ATT would make sure we all knew by suing us again. It’s silly to have to treat it as a sensible question.

For those who weren’t following this blog way back when the recurring issue of subsidization first arose way back in 2005 the idea was supposed to be that any publicly owned fiber utility would obviously and necessarily be subsidized by the public. The idea of a publicly-owned competitor being subsidized by taxes was promoted by BS (BellSouth, now ATT) and Cox as “unfair” and an affront to their two monopolies of phone and cable service—which they characterized as “free enterprise.” That was nonsense from the beginning—plenty of utilities are run without subsidies, including LUS’ electrical and water divisions and plenty of private companies are actually subsidized. LUS never, at any point, planned on using Lafayette taxes to subsidize the new utility. But the idea that some municpality might was one of the tools that BS/ATT and Cox used to convince the Louisiana legistlature to pass what would become known as the Municipal Fair Competition Act (or as I prefer: the (Un)Fair act). That state law outlawed any cross-subsidy. But only for LUS–Cox is free to subsidize from its extensive newspaper holdings and ATT from its wireless division.—Hence my preference for (un)Fair. There has been no subsidy, and if there was any half-rational way to characterize anything that has happened as a subsidy Cox and ATT would be happily suing Lafayette—yet again.

Subsidy with a Twist

But as a by-blow to all this an interesting subsidy did emerge. But it runs the other way…LUS Fiber is subsidizing LUS’ other divisions and through that, indirectly, Lafayette city-parish government.

Again it all goes back to the (un)Fair Competion Act. One of the things put in that act during negotiations is a concession that LUS Fiber would be able to borrow from LUS’ other utilities just like any other corporation could set up internal borrowing arrangements. This is not a subsidy, it’s a loan—with real interest. One of the efforts to raise an issue by Messrs Patin and Theriot centered around “imputed” taxes. Those are extra costs that Cox and ATT got the state to require that LUS include in order to force LUS to raise their price to customers (you!) above the actual cost. (Yes, really. See this. And these.) The idea was that LUS should have to pretend to pay taxes that it doesn’t actually pay when setting its pricing—and include those fake costs when competing against Cox or ATT. PSC regulations (not the law) requires LUS Fiber to send those monies to the larger LUS. So LUS utilities is holding money LUS Fiber earned. LUS electricty, water, and sewer loans it back to LUS Fiber—at interest. The net effect of this is to subsidize LUS’ other utilities on the back of the new utility, LUS Fiber.

That’s the only subsidy uncovered today.

You can’t make this stuff up. Only in Louisiana.

Lafayette delegation kills anti-LUS bill

The Advertiser carries a nifty little story that illustrates a basic principle of legislative strategy seldom covered in civics texts; let’s call it: “Killing with Kindness” or KWK

Now the more usual strategy is to kill a bad bill by, you know, arguing against it. That’s in all the civics books. Debate, rational argumentation—you’ve heard of it. But using the standard strategy depends upon your opponent having actually putting forward the real purpose of the bill. If instead he has disguised his real purpose by using some Mom and Apple Pie (MAP) strategy disguise its true purpose—well then, things get a bit harder for opponents of the true bill. After all who wants to vote against Mom or Apple Pie? Or, in this case, for “porn.”

Now faced with MAP you’ve got two choices: 1) Argue against the real purpose and count on your fellow legislators to be smart enough to see through the deception and brave enough to vote against Mom. (intelligence+courage: not available in Louisiana) 2) KWK—Kill it with Kindness, a sort of legislative jiujitsu which turns the strength of the deceptive MAP bill against it in a way that damages the real interests behind the bad bill and so causes its advocates to turn against it. (slyness: something Louisiana has in abundance)

Sooo…now we are in a position to understand the story in the Advertiser report more fully. Franklin house member Sam Jones puts forward an obviously pointless MAP bill—one which he pretends is needed to outlaw something that is already illegal (buying porn on a government credit card.) From the story:

Jones originally explained HB142 as banning the use of public credit cards by state and local officials visiting strip clubs or purchasing pay-per-view movies while traveling,

One of the sly points of a MAP strategy is that it isn’t as clear as with an honest bill whose interests are actually served. So anyone intending to counter it with a KWK (Kill it With Kindess) strategy has to accurately scope out the real intent behind the bill. Michot thought he knew who was behind the bill:

“Lafayette is the only public utility that offers cable service,” Michot said. He said singling out Lafayette would put it at an unfair disadvantage against competitors like Cox and AT&T.

So the Lafayette contingent had to figure out how to kill Cox and AT&T with kindness. If they were right they could kill the bill by causing the incumbents’ agents to withdraw it rather than suffer the consequences. (If they were wrong they’d lose—if the real interest was just some sort of simple silly prudery then the bill’s author would welcome make it more prudish and silly.) The most obvious thing to try is to include Cox in the same trap that Smith & Cox were trying to put the Lafayette legislators and LUS in: include them in the bill:

Michot and Rep. Joel Robideaux of Lafayette were appointed to a conference committee to try to reach a compromise. Michot and other Senate appointees, as well as Robideaux, who was a House delegate to the panel, wanted to make the ban apply to all cable TV providers in Louisiana.

This is the crucial moment in the story—if Lafayette is right and the real interests behind the bill were the incumbents then they’d tell their agent (Smith) to drop the thing; after all this sort of strategy is supposed to use the power of the state to create a disadvantage for your competitor, not “level the playing field.” Apparently Lafayette was right:

Since he couldn’t get Michot to pull his amendment, he decided to allow the bill to die without action.

Robideaux said that to him, Jones’ unwillingness to work on a compromise “tells me it was always about trying to put LUS at a disadvantage. If he would have worked with us, he had every opportunity to have his bill passed and signed.

There you have it: An advanced lesson in civics as she is played out in the Gret State.

Extra Credit: Decide whether the real point of this exercise was purely PR — was it never intended to pass, only to try and lay on LUS (again–this ploy fizzled badly during the fiber fight) the onus of selling “porn?” Or was the hope to impose another long, embarrassing and distracting lawsuit on Lafayette? (This worked pretty well during the fiber fight.) Show your work….

Why no Google Fiber for Baton Rouge? (Updated)

The folks in Baton Rouge are probably asking themselves why they didn’t get Google’s gigabit fiber network. After all for a while the Facebook page “Bring Google Fiber to Baton Rouge” had more fans than any in the country and there seemed a pretty large groundswell of support. There was a heavily rewritten AP article in the Advocate that interviewed a BR Chamber officer and recounted the history of local public involvement. (Unfortunately not online check p. B-6 of 3/31/11 paper.) It all seemed so hopeful. The Chamber held out hope that Baton Rouge might get in on the second round.

I don’t think so. At least not until we put our own house in order.

Here’s at least one reason that Google avoided Louisiana:

See Kansas? It’s Green. Texas and Arkansas are Red. Louisiana is a sickly Orange. Google is only going to green states. This map has nothing to do with solar energy or recycling. The green denotes a place where there are no state-wide legal barriers to a community building and owning its own fiber-optic network. Red states absolutely forbid it. Louisiana is among those who are hostile but do not completely outlaw the idea. (Witness Lafayette’s ongoing battle.)

Google wants to strike out and do something truly different. They are frank about thinking the Cox’s and AT&T’s of this nation haven’t done a good job and that local communities can do better and should be helped to do so. Google has no reason in the world to go to a state that tries to make the sort of community involvement they count on illegal.

They aren’t coming to Louisiana until the “(un)fair competition act” is abolished. If Baton Rouge (or New Orleans, or Shreveport or Bossier, or any of the other Louisiana cities that applied) want to have a shot at Google’s second round the first thing they have to do is get their own house in order.

Repeal Louisiana’s (un)fair competition act…

(Check out the great map at from which I grabbed the above illustration. It chock full of valuable, if depressing, information.)

Update 4/1/11: Stacy Higginbotham, tech journalist extraordinaire over at GigaOm, covers the Texas version of this story. Apparently Austin had a very credible, widely supported effort to get their city picked. The local organizer thinks:

“Austin caught their eye for all the right reasons, and we had support at the highest levels with the involvement of the mayor and the city manager, but given the Texas limitations on municipalities getting involved in network, there was only so far we could go,” Rosenthal said. “So I look at the Texas Legislature, because they really put us in a box with regard to Google, and every response the city gave had to be measured within that box.”

Yup, I expect he’s exactly right. Texas forbids muni networks. Google is doing this to encourage muni networks. The are NOT going to pick a city in a state with lousy laws that forbid what they are trying to get other municipalities to do. That’s only common sense.

Update 4/4/11: Take a look at what the paper in Kansas City, Kansas thinks were the reasons that its city made the cut. The story, understandably, tends to focus on drama and secrecy but there are some very interesting nuggets in there about the underlying factors that might have favored KCK once the first cuts were made.

Update 4/4/11, 8:15 PM: As part of the ongoing discussion in the comments I reviewed the Louisiana law constraining muni networks. There I found what I thought I remembered: The law explicitly includes the sort of public-private partnership that Google is undertaking in Kansas City. So anyone who is murmuring that Google could do a project similar to the KCK one in Louisiana simply has not read the law. You can bet that Google has. See the element of the law which defines a public-private partnership as one that must adhere to all aspects of the law at RS 45:844.47 B(3): “Through a partnership or joint venture.” If Baton Rouge wants Google to consider them in the second round they’ll want to repeal this law first.

How Things Work: AT&T and the Jindals

It’s not like we really need to have the New York Times tell us about Louisiana politics.

It really is not all that complicated:

Louisiana’s biggest corporate players, many with long agendas before the state government, are restricted in making campaign contributions to Gov. Bobby Jindal. But they can give whatever they like to the foundation set up by his wife months after he took office.

AT&T, which needed Mr. Jindal, a Republican, to sign off on legislation allowing the company to sell cable television services without having to negotiate with individual parishes, has pledged at least $250,000 to the Supriya Jindal Foundation for Louisiana’s Children.

Supra Jindal’s foundation has attracted a surprisingly fervent following among those corporations that are regulated by the state but are unhappy that they can only give 5000 dollars as corporations to support their governor. Chief among them is AT&T who, as the story notes, was thrilled to get Jindal to sign off on the so-called “Consumer Choice for Television Act.”

That law was touted by AT&T who wanted the state to take control of the local rights of way away from the communities that own and maintain them and move that control to the state which basically promised to provide no oversight. The whole campaign to pass this law  was pretty sordid and resulted in outrage from and lawsuits by Louisiana municipalities—You can check out Lafayette Pro Fiber’s ongoing coverage at the keyword label “state video franchise.” Start at the bottom of that long page.

Nobody in Louisiana is fooled by such “generous donations” but the New York Times, after noting that Jindal’s top fund raiser is listed as the treasurer for Supra’s foundation—just in case a generous donor wanted to be sure that the “right” people knew about their donation— closed the story with the following paragraph:

“Foundations tied to politicians see their donations dry up when the politician is no longer in power,” Ms. Sloan said. “That demonstrates the real reason the charities get the donations is their political position, not because of the good works they do.”

While the focus in these pages is on local telecom issues and policy Lafayette readers will want to link into the story. The list of oil companies and a local ambulance firm are also of interest.

Pat Ottinger, City Attorney, Steps down

Pat Ottinger, the city attorney through the entire (successful!) fiber fight is stepping down. The media are all carrying the story; you can look at fleshed out versions from The Independent, The Advertiser, and The Advocate.

Ottinger is the unsung hero of the fiber fight. He worked long hours and fought tirelessly to make sure that Lafayette got the chance to make its own future in spite of well-funded corporate lawyers, Cox, BellSouth and their stooges in the state legislature. His work was instrumental in defending what we had won after the referendum battle. Lawyers don’t get much glory; that’s not the sort of profession you go into if glory and adulation are what makes you run. We’ll surely get a more complete run-down on his accomplishments in the coming weeks as editors put together their stories and in that larger history the legal battles that swirled around Lafayette’s decision to build its own future will be far from the only story. But that is the one I’ve watched closely and I can say without reservation that Lafayette was well-served.

The city has lost a real public servant, one whose earnestness and self-evident competence should serve as a standing rebuke to those who’d disparage those among us who choose to serve.

Lagniappe: I spent a few minutes looking through old LPF stories…the first one to mention Ottinger by name is worth your review as an example of the value of having an Ottinger on your side: The City replies to the BellSouth lawsuit

Revised LUS Fiber Budget

Both the Advertiser and the Advocate have articles today on last night’s council meeting and LUS’ revised budget. The big news was that LUS will not meet its own revenue projections; in fact they are off by about half…a disturbing shortfall.

Huval’s explanation cites two factors: the lack of initial marketing and defensive budgeting that was designed to make sure that a worse case scenario of having too many customers wouldn’t “break” the budget.

Defensive Budgeting
This is one of those cases where the Advertiser has the better quote:

“We made projections based on the most optimistic approach,” LUS Director Terry Huval said. “We didn’t want to get into a situation where we might have budgeted too conservatively and we don’t have the materials and supplies for the customers.”

To understand what Huval is worrying about requires some background. LUS is in the odd position of having a brand new service that needs to be cautious about growing too fast. Hooking up and initially provisioning each household is a VERY large expense. The labor and materials costs — especially the set of three boxes that sit on the side of the house and the set top box inside the house—are all very costly. It will, in many cases, take several years to recover that initial investment. While the profit margin is good, even with LUS’ reduced prices, you have to invest substantially in each customer. On the books you will typically lose money for a time on every new customer you bring on. As a consequence you might have to look at borrowing more money. For most businesses this would not be something to worry about very much. Any bank could see that you were a better risk for capturing a larger share of your market than you initially anticipated. You’d get your “float” loan.

But LUS is not like other businesses. LUS cannot, practically, go back and get a bridging loan. They have borrowed all their money upfront in the form of bonded indebtedness. Budgeting in this situation is, in part, a way of projecting the “draw” the business will be making against that loan. What Huval is saying is that they originally projected the most “optimistic” draw against the loan so that they would be sure that they had enough money at the ready to buy the equipment they needed to complete the budgetary period without going back to well…So budgeting for the most extreme case was, in this case, “conservative” budgeting. A typical business would typically borrow for its most optimistic realistic case in order to have a little reserve and to avoid having to go back and borrow money again—usually at higher rates. This maneuver is LUS’ equivalent.

The tendency to be conservative here is aggravated by a state law that shapes the way LUS has to assess the risks to its business. And we have Cox and AT&T to that for that: Long-time readers will recall my inveighing against the (un)Fair Competition Act. This is one of the places where that incumbent-written law comes into play. One of the provisions of that law is that LUS is forbidden to loose money for any year. If they do, the law mandates a fire sale of the business. Given that law, you’ll notice that once you understand that LUS is actually investing in each customer that it is entirely possible to be successful too quickly. Suppose LUS took 50% of the market in a single four month period…and then, having saturated the local market it would have to endure a year or two or three of losing money just to pay off that initial investment before the income from the bulge of new customers turned positive. It is far safer to grow at a steady rate as long as you get above the break-even point before the bond money runs out. Losing money too fast is always a problem. But the (un)Fair Act makes being successful too fast a problem too. State lawmakers piously claim that they are just protecting the citizens of Lafayette from losing money. This case makes it obvious that the people that wrote the bill, AT&T and Cox, are the ones being protected. Lafayette doesn’t need or want Baton Rouge’s protection.

LUS also acknowledges that it hasn’t run much of a marketing campaign, saying that it doesn’t make sense to gear up a large and expensive campaign if you aren’t yet ready to sell your product to all the people you’re paying to reach. From the Advocate:

Revenues for LUS Fiber this year might have been more in line with the initial projections had the city pushed a more-aggressive marketing campaign, Huval said.

But he said the decision was made to hold back on intensive marketing of the service until it was available to most residents, so as to get the most out of the marketing dollars.

That does make a certain amount of sense. But that excuse is already effectively over—LUS is currently finishing off its build-out. The vast majority of the citizenry is now ready to receive service. So we should now begin to see a much more aggressive campaign. —Though, of course, not sooo aggressive as to run afoul of the (un)Fair Act’s penalty on gaining customer share too quickly. (sigh)

In all fairness, LUS also has another reason not to want to sell too much of its cable product too soon. also been wrestling with the set top box software—the initial software was simply not up to snuff…it provided the fundamental functions in that it would change channels and record material but the interface was outdated and it was clumsily designed. It was even worse than most cable providers interface and that is saying something. With the new Microsoft Mediaroom LUS has come out on the other side–the interface is very slick, it works well and there are obvious hooks left for the development of innovative features. But until that mess was settled and LUS knew that Alcatel was going to step up and make good on its promises LUS Fiber was looking at a situation in which it very strongly suspected that each and every video customer was going to upgraded to a new box and software platform in the very near future. They had little desire to put the whole city on a solution that they would have to turn around and dump.

The most reassuring part of the story is that the Advocate reports that Huval is saying that they are making their break-even rate—that is, they are getting the 23% of the population they need to win over to break-even and pay back the dedicated bonds. That, frankly, is the only important number—

[Huval] said that even though LUS Fiber is not meeting the early revenue projections, he feels confident the venture is building a solid foundation and will be successful.

LUS Fiber can break even with a 23 percent market penetration, Huval said, and that percentage has been “handily” reached in most areas where the service has been available for more than a few months.

What’s interesting is that while LUS will doubtless get some flack for not meeting its defensive budget estimates nobody is asking what LUS achieving its break-even rate means for the other actors in this little drama: Cox and ATT. Leaving aside ATT for the moment since it is not selling a cable product let’s look at Cox. Nationally the take-rate for cable video is supposed to be about 50%. I don’t have any reason to think Lafayette would be much different. If LUS is taking more than 23% of the local market “after a few months” that would imply that in just a few months—without a very credible set top box arrangement and with very little marketing—LUS can take about half of Cox’s well-established cable video market. That makes LUS, by any reasonable assessment, a very successful competitor.

Cox: Costs too high for high-speed service

Our neighbors in Franklin are being told that it’d be too expensive for Cox or AT&T to serve them all with real broadband. It’s not that the incumbents wouldn’t earn money…they just wouldn’t earn it as easily or as quickly as they want.

A story in the Advocate shows that the nub of the matter is well-understood by Franklin’s Councilmen:

“I think everyone should have it and you all should bend a little, especially if you will be making a profit in 10 years,” Foulcard said.

Councilman Logan Fromenthal argued there are many areas of the parish where Cox is making a good profit.

What Foulcard and Fromenthal have in mind is treating telecommunications as a utility in the same manner that your residential telephone service was understood in years: the company that was granted the right to use our public right of ways for private profit was supposed to serve everyone (not just the low-hanging fruit) and it was well-understood that they weren’t supposed to be making the same high rate of profit that was available to businesses that weren’t dependent upon getting favored use of public resources.

The councilmen are right: That is the way it should be.

Unfortunately, the federal government long ago exempted the telephone companies from any local control and our state legislators have spent the last few years passing a series of bills that transfer most of the power to say how local rights of way are used up to the state level and put up barriers to the local communities that own and maintain the land providing these services themselves. The consequence is that communities like Franklin can’t easily do much more than complain and ask politely.

There is an alternative and Lafayette has shown the way. Do it yourself. Build a world class fiber-optic network yourself. Don’t wait for someone else to do it for you. Yes, it would be costly, but yes, it could pay for itself in a perfectly doable period of time if it didn’t have to pay for itself in a short 2-4 year period as the private companies demand.

There are possibilities out there besides “asking politely.”

Apply for some of the federal broadband stimulus money from RUS (the rural utilies service). Look to Google’s recent offer to supply 1 gig of broadband to up to 500,000 people and make your case. Or just make up your mind to do it yourself.

You do have one advantage in making such an effort: Lafayette. Lafayette just up the road has its own publicly-owned state of the art fiber optic network with a brand new head-end that is the technical heart of the system. If St. Mary were to set up their own network they could farm the head-end work out to LUS and avoid the problems associated with building and maintaining that highly technical facility. And I’d bet that an intergovernmental agreement there would be a lot cheaper than any private alternative. (LUS is already a utility, it doesn’t have to make its money back fast. But would surely welcome any additional revenue.) There is already fiber running down the railroad track between the two cities.

Just light it up.

Lagniappe: A lot of people in Lafayette think that owning its own utilities was the key to Lafayette becoming Acadiana’s “hub city.” Awareness of that history was one good reason the community supported extending the idea to LUS Fiber. Ownership made sure that modern electricity and clean water was reliably available when that was what made a city “modern” and livable. Owning those facilities meant that the city was not dependent on any outside force to provide the necessities and attract new citizens and businesses. And it meant that all those dollars of profit stayed and circulated in the city. There was a day when both New Iberia and Opelousas were bigger and more important than Lafayette…but those days passed. Any community that wants grow and prosper needs to own its own local resources. Owning your own telecom utility is today’s equivalent of electricity. Now is the moment.

Curtis, Cox, and LUS

Today’s “Curtis” syndicated comic, found in this morning’s Advertiser could easily have been inspired by the marketing tactics we’re seeing Lafayette… (The story line involves young Curtis hoping to con his dad into a special cable “deal.”)

A friend tells me he was recently offered 3 months of free cable service when he called to cancel his Cox service and move to LUS. That, apparently, is just how desperate Cox is beginning to get as LUS continues to roll out its service—ahead of schedule. The incumbents have repeatedly insisted that “goverment-owned” LUS would never be able to meet its ambitious roll-out goals but that particular canard hasn’t been repeated recently as it became obvious that the service would not only achieve its goal but that our community-owned utility is actually ahead of schedule (LUS recently announced that it would finish its roll-out in July, about six months early.)

Incidentally, LUS’ is a great service and my friend (IMHO) was right to spurn the short range savings for the long-term savings, no-nonsense, no “deals” package the hometown alternative offers. Not to mention: our money stays here and it builds infrastructure we own.