In this article from Friday's Advocate, John has begun the essential work of making the case for grassroots citizen support for the LUS fiber project. It appears likely that there will be a public vote on the issue, although the details aren't certain at this point.
What this vote will do is reveal the true nature of the fight. It is about the ability of this community to control its own economic destiny. It is also about the ability of a duopoly of Atlanta-based corporations to use their dollars to try to turn public sentiment in this community against the community's own self-interest.
The Sock Puppets were out doing their "black is white" bit last night at the Republican Parish Executive Committee. All but predicting that black helicopters would be swooping down in backyards across the City any shortly after LUS would win the right to deploy its system. The Republicans weren't buying it and, an emailer informed me, voted to support the LUS project.
I had a chance to talk with Don Bertrand of the RPEC a couple of weeks ago about the project. Don is an old friend and he called to talk about the project. His core insight into the LUS proposal was this: "Unless LUS does this project, it doesn't get done." That's it in a nutshell.
BellSouth isn't going to build a fiber to the home project here, despite Bill Oliver's hinting that BellSouth would probably (at some unspecified point in the future) deploy a fiber to the curb system here. Does this guy ever come out and make a simple declarative sentence? He clearly implies things but leaves himself room for deniability, as he did with The Advocate editorial board a few weeks back with his threat/none threat that Cingular would pull out of Lafayette if LUS moved ahead with its plan.
Cox is looking to unload about 900,000 cable customers, even some in Louisiana — but not Lafayette. Lafayette's growth makes it a market that Cox wants to keep (not so for Alexandria and Lake Charles), but no commitment of the company to deliver fiber to the home technology here.
What neither BellSouth nor Cox (nor the Sock Puppets) will admit is the fact that should new investments from either of these Atlantans ever flow here, they would not serve the entire community. That is, they would, in effect, red-line sections of the community, some neighborhoods would get the investments but not all.
One major benefit of the LUS project for Lafayette as a community would be the fact that their system would indeed go to every home and business in the LUS service area.
This will do more than close the digital divide in Lafayette, it will also create a bridge across the racial divide that still plagues Lafayette and hampers our progress as a community. Forty years after the march across the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, Alabama, Lafayette remains a community that is still significantly segregated.
The fact is that the challenges and opportunities ahead of Lafayette are too great and too demanding for us to engage in the foolish notion that we can bring to be anything less that the full weight of the talent and resources of ALL of this community to bear in meeting those.
The LUS fiber project and the debate over it offers a once in a generation opportunity to develop a shared vision of what kind of community Lafayette can become. More importantly, it will get us focused on what kind of community we WANT Lafayette to become.
All the opponents have is their "No." They offer no alternative vision. Just "No." Nothing. Nada. Negative. What can you build with that?
The coming debate and vote will be a defining moment for this community. Through this process voters will be forced to choose between an essentially optimistic vision of this city and its capabilities, or if they are pessimists and believe we should not invest in our own prospects. When these moments have arisen in Lafayette's past — more than a century ago when LUS was formed and when Herbert Heyman decided to develop the Oil Center — the answer has been "yes, we're optimistic." As a result, Lafayette's growth accelerated, surpassing that of other communities in what we know as Acadiana to become the economic hub of the region that it is today.
With this election we are being asked if we are satisfied to lead a small region, or if we have greater ambitions for ourselves, for our children and those that will follow.
The moment of decision is coming. The decision we make on this project will affect the kind of community Lafayette will be for the first half of this new century.
Do we have the faith in ourselves and our prospects that those before us had in themselves?
We're about to find out.