Sunday, October 31, 2004

Advertiser Promotes Attending Fiber Hearings

The Advertiser in its Sunday editorial, Public should attend fiber-home hearings, promotes attending the city-parish council meetings that will discuss LUS' fiber plan.

The Advertiser is right in calling for public participation. There has been little real discussion of the idea beyond the most basic generalities and a discussion of the details of the implementation would go a long way toward establishing a give and take between the community and LUS. .....However I don't really expect a lot of this sort of detail to come out in the context of a council meeting. The format just isn't right. The presentation is to the council and only the council can effectively ask hard questions. Public input is effectively limited to less useful condemnations or endorsements of the idea or the few specifics placed before them. Of real discussion, of the back and forth dialog that fosters real understanding and new ideas I expect none.

That Lafayette will simply not have the opportunity to have a real conversation on this with LUS is a direct product of how Cox and BellSouth have chosen to conduct themselves and the bulk of the blame lies at their door. Neither Cox nor BellSouth would benefit from a lowkey, honest, practical, nonideological discussion of the issue. That is because the honest, practical, ideology-free fact of the matter is that this decision is almost all upside and the downside is very small. A reasonable discussion would have started and ended with taking a good look at the issue of electrification. Has LUS' electrical utility been good for the city? The honest answer is yes. Is the fiber optic initiative similar? The practical answer is yes. The conclusion (after much discussion, no doubt) would be inevitable: going forward would be in the city's best interest. Cox and BellSouth know that. And since Lafayette's best interest has nothing to do with their decision making they decided to throw a fit that deprived us all of the very valuable discussion about how to do it. That is why we should really be mad at BellSouth and Cox.

LUS could have done more, however. It isn't at all clear that the defensive crouch forced on the public utility by incumbent misbehavior is still necessary. In LUS' favor it has to be said that they have been willing to meet privately with concerned citizens and have been responsive to questioning. But that does not substitute for public hearings with diverse groups (like neighborhoods, entrepreneurs, teachers, and techy types) where a back and forth flow of ideas could develop. As it stands now few know the details and only a few can adequately prepare for what is coming. We certainly hope that will change as the plan goes forward. If Lafayette is to gain maximum benefit from the fiber network ongoing conversation will be necessary.

All that said, and with minimal expectations for the hearings to produce the conversation that is most desirable, I still think we all ought to go.

First, of course, to hear what details we can. But also to show support for the larger idea. Rest assured that the Corporations will turn out their paid-for troops for these events. Be certain that the public response time will be full of mean-spirited and pointless sound bites meant to make the council and the public fearful and uncertain. With passage appearing assured supporters will be tempted to stay home. Please don't.

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