Tuesday, November 09, 2004

November 9th Council Meeting: Atmosphere & Public comment

I went to the council meeting while Mike diligently blogged from home. It was interesting actually being there. I had attended earlier meetings where the feel was very different. Those times there were noticeable cliques of people dressed in office attire sitting in clusters and a row of Cox employees in uniform lined up across the back. This time, for all that this is a more important meeting and one that invited public input, there was no feel that the troops were lined up. The audience was sparser, the clusters smaller, and the folks that were there were mostly self-consciously dressed up in their formal suits.

Not only was there no Cox contingent lined up across the back of the chamber, there was no Cox at all. No speaker objecting for Cox, and no one to question Dawson on the details of his plan. Nor did BellSouth question Dawson.

Except for Oliver's lecture (on which more later) and one other BellSouth employee the time reserved for public comment was mostly consumed by ideologues—men lecturing the council on how it was wrong, just wrong for Government to be competing with "private enterprise." There were advocates, but they got in and out quick. Not so for these opponents. Folks stood reading from notes clearly carefully typed up before the meeting that asked questions answered in the presentation or assumed as facts ideas clearly put to rest in the council's Q and A session. That part was a little surreal. There was a strange hollow energy about the ideological presentations — almost to a man (and they were all men) they grudgingly admitted that this fiber stuff was all well-motivated, the council trying to do their job, and LUS was a well-run utility. The BellSouth employee even fumbled through an endorsement of Huval as the man he would most want to head up any project he was involved in before moving on to the standard note about how scary the telecommunications business should be for the council. They seemed to know that they were going through the motions and only the true believers felt compelled to soldier on. Any humor came from LUS and especially Huval. The night was grim for the incumbents.

Only in Oliver's lecture did we see that old incumbent fire and spirit. Oliver came out swinging, issuing dire warnings and thinly veiled threats. It was bracing. He promised competition; he changed BellSouth's triple play to a "Grand Slam" with the addition of a wireless play from Cingular. That Grand Slam play was actually interesting if a fairly obvious ploy—it is something all the Bells with wireless arms have been discussing. Shoot, even the Cableco's can see that coming and are reportedly partnering up with cell phone companies to answer that shot already (Cox included). But too much of Oliver's presentation was bluster--at one point he made the heated but clearly untrue claim that the FCC had ruled that "fiber to the curb, our plan, was functionally equivalent to fiber to the curb, our plan." This is just plain silly and the earlier LUS presentation had dealt with the differences between FTTP and FTTC explicitly. At the end he undercut his stentorian presentation (his cadenced repetition of "out-of-date because..." would have made a drama coach proud) by lashing out at a quote attributed to a former BellSouth leader by Huval. At the moment few in the room knew which quote he was referring to but his frustration and anger were clear.

One part of Oliver's lecture made sense of the rumors we'd heard of a meeting between BellSouth and Durel, a meeting which evidently included LUS as well. Apparently it was not, as Mike had speculated a meeting at which BellSouth explored possibilities with LUS as a defense against Cox. No, as Oliver informed the council, that meeting was set up to read the riot act to our local representatives, to threaten them with fiber to the curb, a Cingular cell phone bundle and the ominous promise of unrelenting competition.

I'll only say what I've said before: Fiber to the Curb is not the equivalent, functional or otherwise, of real fiber. It will never have the same capacity and it will be strained to put High Definition TV on the table beyond a very few channels. The threat is bluster. And if the incumbent's generally frustrated demeanor is evidence they know that the council knows it is bluster as well.

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