Tuesday, February 01, 2005

"LUS fiber plan may yet prove a wrong number"

Blanchard of the Advocate produces an analytical piece that is less interesting than it could be. The article focuses on the current petition/referendum drive and the probable consequences should the incumbents force a referendum. The really essential point is nicely underlined:
"Since April, when LUS announced its plans, an election is exactly what Lafayette officials have hoped to avoid -- and just what private companies have craved."
But the reason for the craving and avoidance was pitched as simply money. It's clear BellSouth and Cox will be able to run ad campaigns that the city-parish will in no way be able to match. That really isn't all of it--or even the heart of it. The city rightly fears the dishonesty that BellSouth and Cox have demonstrated they will use. BellSouth and Cox crave the platform in order to run a disinformation campaign of the sort that they have had success with across the country: a campaign which we saw previewed in the late summer and early fall series of "academic" forums, manipulative push polls, and PR releases that showed contempt for the people and leadership of Lafayette. What surprised the big corporations was that Lafayette fought back. We can be proud that our leaders didn't allow the war of words to go unanswered. The incumbents retreated--something they have not done elsewhere. We'd likely not have a suit now were it not for our own quislings who have been serving the interests of the monopolies while, in a deceptive manner no doubt learned from their mentors, pretending that their purpose is something other than stopping LUS--thereby making sure that the incumbents can continue to extract the bandwidth tax that places Lafayette at a competitive disadvantage.

Lafayette Pro Fiber readers are cautioned not to take the polls mentioned in the piece too seriously. Treating oppo, "push" polling as a credible indicator of what "the people" want--and, for that matter, using marketing polling as the other leg of what "the people" want, is simply a methodological mistake. Neither sort of polling is a reliable indicator of political attitude or intensity. I think the city would win a ground war fairly easily; but it would be exceedingly ugly on both sides and would leave scars and resentments in our community that BellSouth and Cox would not have to live with--though they would be the only possible beneficiaries.

But my disappointment with what is a journeyman piece of work is less in the misuse of polling data--that is so common that it is almost unremarkable--than in the missed opportunity to dig into the really crucial legal principles upon which the suit now turns. What is the history of similar issues? What are standard bonding procedures for revenue bonds? What principles are at work when a court decides which sections of the bulky legal code apply to specific situations? Does a law specifically written to control municipal telecom last year, one which specifies the city's referendum procedure, express the will of the legislature on this matter, or can a corporation cherry-pick some law other than the one it backed for this purpose? Answering those kinds of questions and giving the reader some legal background would have made this a truly interesting piece.

Update 4:00 Kevin writes to note that he's not referring to Cox's push polls, but to the Verne Kennedy poll. My bad. The number does come from that poll and I should have caught it. That takes most of the sting out of my critique...but a little reader caution is still in order. I'd regard the poll done by Kennedy, whose fame comes from his political work, as a "candidate poll." It had public and private portions. The public portion is framed to result in good candidate numbers. In this instance, for example, framing the issue in terms of whether government "should be in business competing with private business." One can be assured that had the city-parish purchased the survey, the framing would have read something along the lines of whether "local goverment should be allowed provide telecommunications infrastructure." Having a different question upfront will produce a different public response at the end. It's the private part of such surveys that is interesting; that's where the pollster tries out different framings--including the opponent's anticipated frames. Now that would be truly interesting to see.

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