Friday, October 15, 2004

BellSouth's little bit of handwaving: An Analysis

A set of stories in the Advocate and the Advertiser preempts a blog article analyzing the new FCC ruling I was just working on. The Advocate story: Ruling opens door to BellSouth and the Advertisers': BellSouth broadband just got easier will no doubt really roil the waters on LUS' fiber optic plan.

Here's the exciting lead paragraph in the Advocate's version:
A Thursday ruling by the Federal Communications Commission will open the door for BellSouth to begin building out its fiber-optics system in Lafayette, a BellSouth spokesman said.
And here's the more mundane facts of the matter:

It doesn't make any difference at all.

And the authors of those articles ought to be in a position to see why.

That lead paragraph is actually pretty misleading, and only technically true, as the following paragraph makes clear: Mr. Williams is speaking hypothetically, and really about all of BellSouth's enourmous geographic area. There isn't anything special about Lafayette (nor is there likely to be).

The back story is that the FCC, pretty cravenly in this writer's judgment, extended the regulatory relief intended for fiber to the home projects to fiber to the "curb" projects. BellSouth and the other baby bell operating companies won't have to share their lines with the likes of EATEL or ATT if they can get their fiber closeto homes and businesses and divide it up between users over copper and pretend it's as good as a real fiber to the home connection. Nonsense. Of course the FCC had already effectively let BellSouth run companies like that off their lines by allowing them to raise their lease prices so high that such companies could not compete. Competition is already all but dead. So its hard to see just how much difference this makes practically speaking.

No, as far as I can tell, it changes exactly nothing in regard to building a fiber to the home network in Lafayette. No one but LUS is offering to do to build Lafayette a modern fiber to the home system. BellSouth is not announcing a build in Lafayette—or anywhere actually. I don't expect them to. This decision was widely anticipated and SBC used the opportunity to announce a speedup in its fiber build out. BellSouth is noticeably silent. Mike calls the sort of noise we hear from Williams in the Advocate story the roar of the cowardly lion. He's dead on.

Cox's hybrid system is already in place and is already tightly closed to competition. You'll notice that not having to open their networks to competition has not led Cox and other cablecos to develop fiber to the home systems. No, the FCC is being a bit disingenious about this. They actually hope to encourage competition between networks (rather than within the current phone network via leasing) and to give the Bells additional incentive to catch up in a race they are losing.

Cox remains the more likely candidate to provide real head-to-head competition with LUS. BellSouth's tactical disadvantage vis-a-vis Cox remains. BellSouth wants to shut out the competition as tightly as Cox does and now they can but that has not resulted in Cox building an all-fiber, modern network here or elsewhere. And it will be even less likely to result in BellSouth doing so.

Happily, if the remarks by LUS and city-parish officials are any evidence, they recognize this.

Their serene response is justified: Nothing has changed.

Let's hope the council is equally difficult to stampede.

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