Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Cowboys and Indians

Kevin Blanchard has a fun opinion piece in today's Advocate called "Fiber-optics plan might not be safe from attack" which leans suggestively on the metaphor of a night time sneak attack by the (Incumbent) Indians on a band of (LUS) cowboys.

Given the history of the Battle of Lafayette to date it might be more appropriate to turn that metaphor around. If any group was caught off-guard by a well-planned move executed under the cover of darkness it was the incumbents, not LUS.

Be that as it may, the article reviews the road ahead for LUS' new telecom utility and identifies places where the Indians might ambush the cattle drive. Most fun to be worried about is the possibility that the incumbents might yet decide to launch a petition drive to force a referendum. I've got a small (10¢) side bet going that won't happen. I don't think it even close to likely. This is one place where corporate mentality is likely to serve us. No executive will want to be the go-to guy on a venture all but sure to fail publicly, expensively, embarrassingly, and potentially dangerously.

Consider: The rules under which a petition drive would take place are daunting. Fifteen percent of the registered voters of Lafayette would have to sign a petition asking for a vote to discourage the city from providing them with a 20% break off their outrageous cable and phone bills. (Rest assured that this would be the interpretation LUS would trumpet.) The six month deadline would force them invest real money in a paid, door-to-door campaign to sign up voters—it's not the sort of thing that you could hope to succeed at by setting up a table at the mall. Such a campaign would be an expensive undertaking as it would require large numbers of canvassers and a considerable overcount to survive the inevitable challenges to signatures. Shooting for at least 20% and more likely 25% of voting population would be a likely necessity. The media campaign that would have to be waged to give the referendum a hope of succeeding would have to be along the same lines as the one that has already failed in Lafayette and exposed a large amount of anti-incumbent sentiment.

Finally, I for one would be hesitant to stir up too much LUS anger. Those emerging alternative technologies that the incumbents have talked about incessantly in an attempt to introduce doubt about LUS' plan really do not come close to threatening a plan built on fiber optic technologies. But the incumbents are familiar with the threat they do pose—to their own, considerably less capable, technologies. WiMax may not threaten fiber but it does compete rather easily with the more limited capacities of DSL. As I understand it a sheath of dark fiber runs down the railroad track beside the Evangeline Thruway on its way to New Orleans. On the way there it runs to within about three blocks of Broussard's city hall. Toss up a couple of WiMax towers along Main street and Lafayette could help Mayor Langlinais cut internet costs for his constituents in half. A little Voice Over Internet Protocol Phone system wouldn't be hard either. Several years of good revenue flow from that might make a little fiber build in Broussard quite attractive for a re-elected Mayor, don't you think? Getting that sort of thing started as model for servicing the outlying municipalities might be bad for the cowboy's business in career-destroying ways.

Don't mess with the Indians. Remember Custer? All it took for him to march singing into Little Big Horn was a little arrogance and a plan that dismissed the real strengths of his opponents. I doubt the incumbents, having lost their initial skirmishes with our local Indians will make the same mistake. But it might be entertaining if they do.

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