Monday, January 31, 2005

Lafayette Chamber Declines to Oppose Self-Reliance

The Lafayette Chamber of Commerce has issued a new position paper, Public vs. Private Sector Investmen (PDF), that joins its earlier Broadband Position Statement (Word doc) to flesh out previously unknown category of public position statements: The "We are gratified to announce that we do not condemn that which we should endorse."

It comes in 5 clauses marked by roman numerals for which, even though they are not in Latin, translation into standard English may prove useful and efficient:

1. Private is good.
2. Public support of private companies is good provided that the benefit is of the sort that can be measured, that outside people think its worthwhile, and the company can make good money.
3. It's ok to give money to private companies and it is ok for public entities to partner with private ones.
4. If private companies won't do it then the people can do it for themselves.

Between this document and the Broadband document the good news is that the Chamber is taking the stalwart position that it will not actively and as a matter of principle oppose Lafayette's Fiber For the Future Initiative.

What it does not exemplify is community spirit, rational self-interest, or leadership.

Community Spirit: Building a true broadband network is the development opportunity of a lifetime--or several. There is no single investment in ourselves more likely to propel Lafayette and her people from game players in the middle of the pack to clear and proud leaders. A cheap, high-quality telecom sector can serve to equalize opportunity between this community's haves and have nots. It's sad that community spirit alone is not enough to move the chamber.

Rational Self-interest: The people in the community that are most likely to benefit first and most directly are local business (new and not yet formed) that will get cheap bandwidth on our version of information super highway that will equal the resources available to the worlds largest corporations at a tiny fraction of the cost. It is our businesses (as opposed to Atlanta's) that are bearing the brunt of what MIke correctly calls the "Incumbent Bandwidth Tax:" that additional cost that locals pay for being in Lafayette that their competitors, headquartered in places where big broadband is available less expensively, do not pay. It's sad that the "leadership" cannot see what the benefit of cheap fiber to every corner of this town could mean for local businesses.

Leadership: I do not believe that many, no most, of the chamber membership doesn't get this--or couldn't be easily lead to see what is so clear and so much a part of their business life. The failure is at the leadership level where there appears to be an unwillingness to risk power and position in pursuit of what is right for the community in the face of the few, who ideologically or through personal ties and ambitions, are committed to the cause of corporations that do not care about Lafayette or her people. The problem here is that while folks may believe that they are preserving power and position for later use the truth is that influence unexercised atrophies. Use it or lose it. Exercise makes not only muscles stronger. The chamber may emerge from this without offending any fraction of it membership only to discover that the community no longer believes it can count on the chamber for leadership that puts the community first. Leadership is a precious commodity in any community; it is sad to see it squandered on mere personal self-interest.

All that said, there is a part of me that is gratified for anything I can get from this quarter and the assurance that LUS and the City will not be blindsided by Picard's Chamber is substantial comfort.

And that is the saddest comment of all.


Anonymous said...

One important note. No one has asked the chamber to take an official position. As pointed out in an earlier post the technology committee did make one request to present the broadband policy (didn't happen), but no committee has forwarded a motion to the board with a recommendation. For this to happen someone would need to go to a committee meeting and make the appropriate motions. LUS, nor Cox, nor BellSouth, nor fiber411, nor anyone else has asked the chamber to move forward on an official position.

I think that now that they have a broadband policy in place and some guidelines to evaluate public vs. private there could be some movement, but we will see. I have heard that it is a topic at almost every committee meeting, and pretty much an even divide among active participants. Who knows!

Mike Stagg said...

To Anonymous:

"The Chamber has not been asked to take a postion"?

This is the lamest excuse for inaction ever offered for an organization that has, in the past, shown no hesitancy whatsoever to interject itself in issues — whether an invitation was issued or not!

The Chamber is failing the test of community leadership on the LUS project. Their silence and their failure to acknowledge — and then act on behalf of — the clear interest of businesses and consumers in getting access to the world class technology that LUS alone offers to bring here are powerful indictments of the failure of nerve that characterizes the Chamber today. This failure will result in a loss of credibility that will haunt the organization for years to come.

Since when does an organization truly interested in the well-being of a community need an invitation or a formal request to get involved in an issue of great community import.

Shame on the Chamber for hiding behind empty statements like the one issued today on public/private initiatives. And shame, too, on those who would attempt to make excuses for them.

Anonymous said...

On reflection, what is most interesting about the "nobody has asked defense" is just the bare fact of it: Nobody has asked.

No one, public or private, is confident that a debate in the chamber will break their way and no one, apparently, is willing to risk it.

Of course the bottom line is not the asking part. No one has to ask the chamber to express an opinion about anything. Certainly not the school board for instance. The Chamber with its two position papers is carefully positioning itself to not have to take a stand. No one reading them would think the Chamber would want to be asked.

To make it clear that the chamber does not want to be asked is the chief practical function of these documents.

And they are very effective at that.