Wednesday, August 25, 2004

National Attention for "the Battle of Lafayette!"

Two new national articles examine the fiber fight in Lafayette—and both tear into BellSouth and Cox. It does a fiber partisan's heart good. I've noted before that the Lafayette fight for fiber has become the headline fight in a spreading battle between incumbent telcos like Cox and BellSouth and Municipal providers like LUS. What we are seeing now is that people across the country are recognizing that the sleazy tactics arrayed by the incumbents in any one locale is not an aberration or an indication that something is somehow really wrong with the local project. No, what LUS and the City-Parish are being put through here is repeated across the country and is an indication not of local problems but of the greed, and weakness, of the incumbent providers.

Both Broadband Reports (Playing Louisiana fiber keep-away) and Fiber Optics Forecast (The FTTx Battle In The Bayous) carry stories on the issue. (links via LUSFTTH, good going Doug!)

I'll not try and summarize these two articles, I'll just feed you a few tidbits to and urge you to jump to the sources themselves. Both of them are well worth the time on Wednesday morning, I assure you.

BroadBand Reports:
In 2002, Cox Louisiana was one of the few cable markets in the country that saw three rate hikes in one year; a luxury afforded companies with little competition. Regional Cox customers are part of a forgotten Cox division that has been excluded from a series of speed increases customers in coastal markets have enjoyed. Cox is only now starting to provide these customers with connections faster than 1Mbps, yet they're sure fiber is a bad idea.
On our "Academic" Broadband Forum:
We're guessing the experts didn't mention that in markets with more than one cable operation (muni or otherwise) consumers usually see rates 17% lower on average, according to data from the General Accounting Office. Also likely omitted was how the 16,000 residents of Newnan, Georgia receive broadband for $25 a month, discussion of how one Minnesota suburb now enjoys $16 3Mbps wireless service, or the growing number of other communities enjoying less expensive alternatives.
(Broadband forum is guessing right, they didn't mention that, in fact they were at some pains to assert that municipal competition never caused incumbents to lower their prices. A position contradicted by both common sense and the facts.)

Finally:
These aren't honest debates over the viability of municipal operations occurring in dozens of states across America. These are not corporate executives seriously concerned with the Democratic process and the quality of service communities receive. These are tactical corporate disinformation campaigns, designed to protect bottom lines and keep competition from arising in the service vacuums these companies have helped to create.
(Oh, and if you thought that was vigorous writing--don't miss the comments....)

Fiber Optics Forecast
Telephone and cable companies, fearful of losing as much as 50 percent of their customer bases, have been opposing just about every one of the municipal projects. Until now, most of the battles have been fought behind the scenes, with only the tip of the iceberg showing at the occasional city council or other hearings. In Lafayette, the battle has escalated well-beyond that, into an acrimonious public debate that rivals the 1863 Civil War Battle of Vermillionville (as Lafayette was named back then, after the nearby Vermillion Bayou).
After expressing concern at the cost per customer of the LUS project FOF notes:
...Meanwhile, for BellSouth and Cox, the Battle of Lafayette really is a lose-lose situation, one that is reflected in smaller municipalities around the country. If Lafayette goes ahead with its project, the two incumbents could lose as many as half of their customers. If that happens, the economic underpinnings of the networks the phone and cable companies have built start to look quite shaky.

...Initially Bell South senior PR folks tried to convince us at Fiber Optics Forecast that it already has fiber to a million homes and that it is adding new fiber at the pace of a quarter-million homes per year. After just a couple of questions, that claim collapsed with the admission that the fiber passes all those homes, but doesn't actually go to a single one of them. To be quite frank, our initial reaction was similar to Lafayette Mayor Durel's comment to us that "they want to treat us and south Louisiana like we were a bunch of idiots." At press time, BellSouth still had not produced promised executives to discuss the Lafayette situation. Similarly, Cox failed to respond to requests for interviews. The bottom line is that, in small towns like Lafayette, BellSouth and other CLECs might want to consider biting the bullet and abandoning most of their own lines, instead negotiating for a franchise as the voice carrier in any triple-play system offered via the LUS FTTx system. Half a loaf, after all, is better than none.
They close out with:
In any case, the Battle of Lafayette is sure to be studied by municipalities all over the country, with the eventual outcome helping to set the pattern for rural FTTx deployment all over the United States.

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