Under most circumstances, we support the argument that government should not compete for business with private companies. There have always been exceptions, however. There is nothing new or sinister about government competing in the private sector when it fills a public need that private companies are unwilling or unable to address. The Lafayette Utilities System came into existence because private companies were not interested in serving what was then a small, rural community.Strong stuff. I would add only this: The Advertiser's editorial is based on the understanding that the central purpose of government is to promote and protect the well-being of its citizens. But they choose to apply this principle only in the negative—they focus on the fact that BellSouth and Cox do not intend to provide needed infrastructure and that this fact alone provides the needed excuse for the city-parish to enter the field. It is good reasoning; based on sound principles and the facts on the ground. They need go no further.
Instead of reaching out to the community, they reached for their big guns - heavy political influence and deep pockets - and launched a battle to scuttle the LUS proposal.
Because our city officials are willing and able to think outside the box, we have an opportunity to build an infrastructure that will move Lafayette far ahead of other cities. We can become a leader in this, the Information Age. Cox and BellSouth are not only unwilling to help, but are determined to block our progress. Should government enter into competition with these private-sector companies? There is no other choice.
But there is a stronger, more positive, line of reasoning available: Government has the right and even the obligation to step in to protect its citizens when, in fact, there is no "free enterprise" to respect and no prospect of such emerging. That is the case here. We have the spectacle of two wireline monopolies that have no effective competition for their basic services because of their exclusive ownership of the only network over which those services may be offered. The economic framework for understanding for the situation is that they are natural monopolies. —Natural monopolies because no one can afford to build a network which will compete with their already largerly paid-for systems. The evils of monopolies are well know. Monopolies inevitably exploit their advantage by overcharging, providing poor service, and resisiting innovation. (Innovations like fiber optics, for instance.) The Federal Communications Commission made herculean efforts to encourage "overbuilding" of new networks which ignored the basic economic principles of natural monopolies and failed miserably. Our opportunity comes because a new wireline technology, fiber optics, is now available which can more efficiently deliver the services formerly offered by the monopolies and many, many more. By seizing the day the city-parish effectively breaks the grip of the monopolies and turns this potential new natural monopoly network into a utility owned the people it serves. This is exactly the same situation as any the earlier decisions to make water, roads, and electricity city utilities. The people have unquestionably benefited and providing that benefit and preserving its citizens freedom from economic tyranny is a perfectly reasonable way for a vigorous, in-touch government to behave.