Saturday, February 26, 2005 Newsflash - Lafayette accuses BellSouth of economic blackmail

The Times-Picayune again stirs itself to notice things going on in Lafayette. This one is a reworking of the Advocate's material as the tagline for the article itself notes. Hence the only news here is that your friends in New Orleans might have questions...


baycock said...

The following is an editorial by Mr. Bill Decker, On-line Editor of The Daily Advertiser, February 28, 2005.

If the fight over the Lafayette Utilities System's fiber telecom plan were "Lord of the Rings," Cox Communications would be the hacking, slashing orcs. The real dark force, the flaming orange eyeball in the evil tower, would be BellSouth.

Of course, that analogy assumes the opponents of the LUS plan are the bad guys. In the real-life drama, the role of heavy has yet to be cast.

LUS announced its plan to offer fiber-optic phone, TV and Internet service last spring. At first, Cox was the loudest opponent. The cable company set up a "Let the People Vote" Web site.

Then came Fiber 411, one of those collections of slightly obsessed citizens who remind us how vibrant and annoying democracy can be. They're demanding a public vote on the $125 million in bonds that LUS must sell to make fiber fly.

But it was BellSouth that scored the first opposition victory last week. Cox and Fiber 411 hopped on the wagon, but BellSouth filed the lawsuit to challenge the way LUS began the bonding process.

Does that make BellSouth the bad guy?

Fifteenth District Judge Byron Hebert doesn't think BellSouth is evil. On Wednesday, Hebert agreed with the phone company that LUS used the wrong set of laws to begin work on the $125 million in bonds. To Fiber 411's joy, the ruling seems to allow citizens to petition for an election on the bond issue.

BellSouth Louisiana President William Oliver looks less evil now than he did Friday. A local news story, or a headline at least, quoted Oliver as saying BellSouth might move the Cingular Call Center from Lafayette if LUS succeeds in the consumer telecom arena.

Lafayette city-parish government and LUS responded with a quick press release containing the phrases "company's assault on every citizen," "threat," "irresponsible and offensive," "jeopardizes the livelihood," "outraged," "threat" again, "economic blackmail," "held hostage," "greed of the corporate officials," "Atlanta-based company," "last straw," "threat" again, "dirty tactics," "derail the future," "stop at nothing," "intimidate the citizens," "battle lines," "threat" one more time, "outrage" in the noun form, "tactics to squash the future," "out-of-state companies," and "interference."

The press release was four paragraphs long.

Oliver made public a letter in which he denied making even one threat, let alone four.

In any case, no one has been evil enough to hit LUS where it would really hurt: the City-Parish Council and the Orwellian legalese that classifies LUS as a "customer-owned" or "publicly owned" utility.

The LUS director is a city department head. Rank-and-file LUS employees are covered by civil service rules. And the Lafayette Public Utility Authority, which governs LUS, is composed of City-Parish Council members. LUS is, in effect, a big city agency with a big pile of money, most of which is off limits to the council for anything except utility use.

But the "customer-owned utility" dodge gives consolidated government an opening. It allows the government to feel injured because it misses out on the taxes it would receive if someone else provided traditional utilities here.
These wounded feelings justify the $17 million the consolidated government takes from LUS each year. That total surely will go up if LUS expands into consumer telecom service.

As conceived, the LUS fiber proposal could mean advanced service at low prices, a bridge over the digital divide and a promising lure for new employers looking for a tech-savvy place to call home. But it also would be a tax increase under the guise of a fee for services, and without voter approval.

Now voters might have a say after all. Democracy just gets more and more annoying.

John said...

I'm about to delete a long reposting by Baycock that, in my judgment, abuses the comment function of the blog.

It posts someone else's words (Decker's) not in support of the speaker's opinion and not in reaction to the posting itself but simply because that post was at the top when the commenter wanted to hijack the post for another purpose.

I have no problem with making a statement and providing a reference--in an on-topic comment on a post.

In fact here is the URL to the Decker article that once occupied this spot:

We recently had a big to-do over this in the comments, a to-do for which Neal has graciously apologized. I'm not going to let it get started again. To be as generous as I can I think this is, in part, a symptom of the differning style of interaction encouraged by the desing of the various "blog" sites dealing with this issue. This is something I have done some research on and I will post more on it when I get some time.

The basic rule is simple: it has to be on topic and your own thoughts. I like the civil discourse that has started to emerge here and want to encourage it. In my judgment allowing huge, taunting, off-topic posts would encourage a different and poorer conversation.