Tuesday, January 11, 2005

From the Archives: What a Local Endorsement Looks Like

USAToday's endorsement awakened my longing to see more local endorsements. Aside from the Independent's supportive talk (which hasn't quite gotten full-throated) we don't have the sorts of endorsements that you would expect.

That hasn't always been the case. There was an earlier fiber fight in Lafayette and if LUS hadn't won that one we'd not likely be seeing a FTTH plan in Lafayette today.

In that fight we saw visionary courage from at least one Lafayette institution: Zydetech. Back then Zydetech, a semi-independent offshoot of the chamber, whole-heartedly endorsed fiber. And in no uncertain terms either:
'Zydetech officially announced its endorsement today for the Lafayette Utility System's plan for utilizing its existing fiber optic cable network to open up more telecommunications offerings for Lafayette.'

'Zydetech members believe that by making the citys' fiber network available Lafayette will have a leg up on other communities in the race for connectivity."
Doug Menefee, then president, closed out the two page endorsement saying:
"Tuesday, August 22 will be remembered as a watershed moment in the forward progress of Lafayette. The time is now to build on the foundation already in place in order to secure our techno-future in the new millennium."
I don't see anything in that statement that wouldn't apply equally today. Where is the old Zydetech? I can't imagine why we've yet to see a similar statement in this round.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I a couple of thoughts about your endorsement post that I thought I would share.

1) On this go around LUS never went to Zydetech and asked for an endorsement. I can still remember sitting in a room at LEDA and having Terry Huval make the pitch. LUS didn't go to the media and announce their plans back then. They went to Zydetech, LEDA, and the chamber and asked for support.

2) Menefee was a “nobody” at the time of the original endorsement compared to his credibility today. He was a dreamer (still is from time to time). I've had a few conversations with him about this subject. There are days when he finished chamber meetings and would get calls from board members asking if he was going to stay on the board. Apparently, he was pushed by the technology committee to try and move the executive committee, but the process never got out of chamber bureaucracy. I remember him talking about Fiber to the Home when people were still trying to figure out their AOL dial-up connections.

3) The chamber's technology committee was able to pass a broadband policy, but another committee was unable to pass a government v. private policy. Doug has shown me how the LUS plan to roll out fiber meets the criteria outlined in the broadband policy. He’s gone on to explain that the technology side is only one part of the equation. I feel confident that the chamber supports fiber networks. But, they can’t come to grips on the government roll out of a network. I’m on the technology committee and remember receiving an email from Doug about the executive committee’s request to read the broadband policy at a council meeting. Again, it didn’t move out of committee. I’ll look to see if I still have the email on file.

4) I think that the chamber is probably evenly divided on this issue. I believe that individuals support it, but the membership as a whole may or may not. Maybe the chamber needs to do a poll of their membership. Gary McGoffin indicated to me that no one has formally requested the chamber to take a position for or against LUS. Our conversation this past summer indicated that neither entity wanted to take a risk on being on the wrong side. The loophole that the chamber leadership kept using was that there was never anything on the table. The feasibility study wasn't accepted until late last year. When it was accepted most of the committee's had finished up their work for the year.

5) Now that there is a bond and a referendum issue on the table, the chamber could be asked to take a position. The chamber's cop-out to date has been that nothing has come up through the committee process. Maybe some committee will get some guts to address the issue. I too am confused on how the chamber can’t take a position on a $125,000,000 bond issue.

6) I asked the other day where Zydetech was on this issue. I was surprised to learn that Zydetech is working on establishing a separation from the chamber of commerce. Apparently, over the years the organization became less of a hybrid and more of a formal committee which limited its abilities to respond to issues. Blind leading the blind!

7) Another conflict is that much of Zydetech’s go-to people served on the LUS advisory committee, thus rendering an outcry from Cox and Bellsouth as being un-fair.

I do believe that we need to see more endorsements from community organizations. With Tyron Picard of Acadian Ambulance in the main leadership role of the chamber, I doubt that we will see it appear on this year’s agenda. Like most things the chamber will let it get passed and then take credit for passing it.

Who knows what is going to happen with Zydetech. I attend meetings when they have speakers, but somewhere along the way the Zydetech club (leadership) lost the call for discussion. Today’s Zydetech seems to be about pushing information out, rather than developing information for the community to use. Only about 25 people will understand what I’m talking about here, but I’m sure that they will nod their heads.

All in all I believe that there are a lot of people who are in tight spots on this issue. I just hope that we can keep it from tearing apart our community.

John said...

Anon,

Thanks for a very well considered comment! Some stuff I knew; more importantly--some stuff I didn't know; and most importantly--I hadn't put even what I did know together so usefully.

Good stuff.

Fairly directionless reactions...

I didn't know that support had never been asked for. And I didn't know that it was necessary to formally ask for such support.

I know Menefee to be a supporter. I know others, prominent in the community to be as well. My concern is that it would be hard for someone unlike you or me to know the depth of support that this project has. As you say, now may be the time.

An explanation of the Chamber's inaction based on bureaucratic entanglement is pretty fascinating to this former student of sociology. But that can't possibly be all. You also suggest that both the Chamber leadership and the city/lus chose to avoid the possibility of a split vote at the Chamber. That makes sense on the surface. But what happened to good old-fashioned leadership? I saw no sign and your insider perspective gives no hint that the leadership engaged in any sort of education of its membership. I wouldn't think, given the enormous objective benefits, and the easily controllable risks that a good, business-oriented conversation, delivered with honest enthusiasm wouldn't have taken the membership by storm. We needed that. And still do, as you note.

You mention a broadband policy and the possibility that Menefee announced that at a council meeting. My memory is that it did happen. The problem with the broadband policy is that it bears almost no relation to what we usually call broadband and certainly no noticeable relation to what LUS is offering. It basically defines each and every commercial service (except POTS dialup) as broadband, says that its a good thing to have, they hope someone does it, and washes its hands of the issue. That's not helpful; thats taking a powder on the issue. (I do recognize that they managed to define broadband in such a way as to not exclude public provision. As far as I can see that's no accomplishment since 1) public/private has nothing to do with an objective definition of broadband and 2) it would have been just crazy to come up with a statement that excluded the only really big broadband this city is likely to see for a decade.)

Getting Zydetec back on track has been subterranean news for months. I can't imagine what the trouble is. I know you're right about the current leadership and wish that weren't so.


I guess, all in all, that I look for the Chamber to be a booster, a councilor in favor of what is good for the city. I really think that in this instance they chose loyalty to some sort of idea that the natural role of a businessman's organization is that it just has to be anti-government to be pro-business. There was a day when people weren't so narrow-minded.

It is in absolutely no one's interest in Lafayette, least of all small, local businessmen, to support the continued monopolies of the large, out-of-state monopolies that are BellSouth and Cox.

I have to think that small businessmen are sensible folks. They'd have to be to survive in their tough environment. It shouldn't take much to convince them. Someone just needs to point out the obvious.


Again, thanks a lot. There was a lot there I needed to hear.

Anonymous said...

I too am disappointed that the chamber failed to take a position last year. I don't think that there is any chance in hell that they will even address the issue this year.


//-----------------EMAIL TO TECH COM------------------//

At the last week’s Technology Committee meeting a motion was carried, during new business, which requested that a member of the GLCC Executive Committee be present and read the Chamber’s “Broadband Policy” at this evening’s LUS public hearing.

I presented the motion to the executive committee. After much discussion and a split vote it was decided that a formal presentation of the broadband policy will not happen at tonight’s Public Hearing.

Conclusions of discussion to be shared with the committee:

- See no benefit/upside to the Chamber of Commerce for making such a presentation

- No new information to presented to the public

- It is encouraged for the committee to continue to study the feasibility study and plan – and to establish and document how the feasibility study compliments or counters the broadband policy. There will be continued discussion of this issue when the bonding issue comes up for public input

- The Public Policy division has not completed its work on the Private vs. Public Policy and the E.C. would like to see this completed prior to addressing such complicated issues.

- There are fears that the reading of the broadband policy will be interpreted as an endorsement when in fact an endorsement “FOR” or “AGAINST” has not been made, nor discussed

- The Broadband Policy is a public document – ANYONE who wishes to reference the document may do so and is encouraged to do so

ON A PERSONAL NOTE – I am encouraging anyone who may be FOR or AGAINST this issue to attend tonight’s public hearing. Public hearings are important to gaining feedback from the community. Council members need to hear the voice of supporters and opponents so that they can accurately make the appropriate vote for their district. Even if you do not wish to speak – you can submit a “blue card” which indicates a “FOR” or “AGAINST” position.

Sincerely,

Douglas S. Menefee
Vice Chair, Technology
//----------------- END EMAIL ------------------//