Wednesday, April 13, 2005

It's Not Easy Watching Green

Shortly after 10 p.m. on Monday, Richard Warren called me to say that BellSouth Louisiana President Bill Oliver was on the Ray Green Show on AOC.

I couldn't bring myself to watch the entire program. Green was reading questions obviously given to him by someone (BellSouth?). Oliver pretty much was regurgitating what has become the standard tripe he's been spouting for about a year here, with one possible exception: I didn't catch the lead in, but he said something about "the plan we presented to the Mayor five months ago."

Does anyone know which plan BellSouth proposed to the city? I don't think I've ever heard about this before. My guess is that it would by typical BellSouth vaporware, or, as it's known when BellSouth uses the tactic: 'BS BS.'

Oliver resumed his by now familiar, patronizing tone; down-playing the value of fiber to the home. The fact that BellSouth technologists and scientists out of Atlanta brag about the fact that BellSouth has more than one million fiber to the home customers does not exist in Oliver's world. And, when he's on a program like Green's, where his claims will not be challenged, Oliver can try to convince Lafayette residents that this fiber to the home deal is some kind of 'transport obsession'.

Once again, Oliver need only look at his own company, at larger RBOCs Verizon and SBC see where they are putting their infrastructure dollars in the markets they value most: They are investing in fiber to the premises. Oliver won't admit that, because he can't. It will then reveal his argument to be the empty rhetoric that it truly is.

It is this ability and willingness to shade, evade and obscure the truth that put Oliver and BellSouth, in some ways, in the catbird seat in this election. Ray Green asked if people would be able to choose the channels they'd be able to get over an alleged BellSouth cable network. Green noted that Terry Huval had told a caller during another show that this would not be possible. Oliver said it might be, depending on the programming service.

Now, this ability to pick and choose channel offerings is known in the industry as "a la carte". NO PROVIDER OFFERS IT NOW. In fact, they are all fighting furiously to prevent the FCC from mandating a la carte programming.

Because: a) BellSouth has no cable offering; and B) Oliver doesn't know anything about cable, he can say, in effect, anything is possible. Terry Huval and LUS, decent folks that they are, are bound by the truth and, so, tell people up front what is possible on things like channel offerings.

BellSouth, in general, and Bill Oliver, in particular, are in an all-out battle mode in which they CAN and WILL say ANYTHING that they think raises doubts about the LUS plan or in anyway makes BellSouth look like a favorable alternative.

Oliver also said that, should the LUS election fail, "there would be new bundling of services" in Lafayette. Note what he did not say: Specifically, he did not say that BellSouth would upgrade their infrastructure here. He specifically avoided saying that BellSouth's DSL speeds would be bumped up from what he said are their current upper limits of 3 megabits per second.

So, while the BellSouth honchos in Atlanta will spring for a plane ticket from Atlanta to let Oliver appear on a cable access program in Lafayette, they still will not commit to any substantial upgrade of network infrastructure in Lafayette.

This drives home the point that has become evident: If LUS does not invest in fiber to the home here, no one else will. This is a clear cut case of government stepping in where the private sector refuses to go. Fiber to the premises IS the Infrastructure of the future. It IS the essential economic infrastructure of the first half of the 21st Century.

Bill Oliver can't convince his bosses in Atlanta to make any new infrastructure investments in Lafayette because Cox is already eating Bell's market lunch here and they don't have a clue as to where the bottom of their marketshare is. With LUS potentially moving into that market as well, Oliver is confronted with the total loss of the Lafayette market within two years — just about the time that he will retire.

Take a good look at Bill Oliver in the coming months. He'll be spending a LOT of time in Lafayette. He will be desperation personified.

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