Tuesday, December 21, 2004

"Acadiana government officials unite"

The Advocate carries an interesting story on regional cooperation "Acadiana government officials unite." As a simple political story it's interesting. The regional town fathers have been getting together at Durel's behest and have formalized their relationship as the "Acadiana Regional Council of Governments." They are set to collaborate on some things that are obvious, like ganging up to get more state money and to coordinate in attracting tourists. They are also talking about things that should be but usually aren't dealt with regionally, for instance drainage, and one has to suspect after recent arsenic revelations and Broussard's ongoing problems, drinking water. All good government and newsworthy in a man bites dog sorta way (Look Ma: Good Government!).

But what brings the story to this blog is the fiber-optic angle.

One of the hidden dangers to Lafayette's ambitions was that regional towns would regard it as a threat. Some folks have a tendency to regard regional development as a zero sum game when it is, in almost all cases, the opposite: a boost to its neighbors. Durel and his posse have apparently done a good job of convincing the mayors of that and his leadership in developing this regional cooperative group has no doubt contributed to their trust. That and the fact that being able to offer a way out from under the lash of the telecos and especially the cable company has got to be attractive to any mayor, city council, or police jury that has had to negotiate with them. (See, for instance, the recent contretemps in Ascension parish.)

The bit in the story that occasions such reflections is this:
[Crowley Mayor] "Dela Houssaye said she appreciates the work Lafayette Utilities System is doing to establish a fiber-optic network -- and hopes that network can one day be expanded throughout Acadiana. 'Every ripple starts in the center and works its way out,' Durel said."
Now I've long had fantasies about LUS' telecom utility reaching beyond the utilities current borders. Broussard's mayor Langlinias has, for one, made his desires plain along with his support for Lafayette's venture. But Crowley's desire is a little different; Crowley is not in Lafayette parish and expansion there would make the new utility a regional matter. Luckily the compromises that went into making up the "Local Government [un]Fair Competition Act" allows for this. Lafayette is legally enabled to offer it services state-wide. Somebody was thinking ahead.

I hope someone is corralling the region's state legislators. The incumbent providers have demonstrated their willingness and ability to go over the top to prevent local self-determination. (And make no mistake, that is the root issue.) Making sure the legislators know clearly what the mayors in their district want can prove crucial. Lafayette's Senator Mouton was arguably slow off the mark in allowing his first author, "Noble" Ellington, to hand the docket number for their Senate version of their rural broadband bill over to BellSouth to be replaced with a bill submitted by BellSouth after the deadline for the introduction of new bills had passed. Without the ensuing compromises, including the one that freed up the municipality to provide services beyond its border, LUS would have never had the chance to even explore providing cable, internet, and phone service over fiber to its citizens. Vigilance!

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