Friday, April 15, 2005

Louisiana Anti-Muni Bill prefiled: Fright and spite

Well we get our first anti-municipal telecom bill of the season a combination of fright and spite bill. Surely written by BellSouth or Cox lobbyists in the finest tradition of lobbyist-inked legislation, it proposes to amend the "compromise" law passed last summer with the Orwellian name "The Local Fair competition Act."

This law would amend RS 45:844.50(A) by adding a clause in which the state forces a referendum on the issue on local governments and imposing draconian penalties on any community that has the temerity to vote for public competition for the private corporations that hold a monopoly on local cable service. If a municipality should vote for such a law, the state would reach down in its majesty and "suspend" the contract the corporation made with the local owners of rights of way and poles. No franchise fees; now you get rights of way and pole attachments for free. No public access channels. No nothing, the law makes clear. Not until the new entity has provided the same amount of money to the local Louisiana government that the incumbent provided over the last 10 years.

Fright and spite. Apparently the incumbents have take the lessons of the battle of Lafayette to heart and are now hesitant to expose themselves to a battle in which they have to try to frighten the public about a broadband plan before the last few weeks of a forced election. If you spend all your little lies and deceptions just trying to get a vote, the people have time to figure out that they are being manipulated. That's pretty much what we have seen here in Lafayette. But the spite is the real kicker here. Voiding contracts and allowing the user to "take" the city's property and services for free is nothing less than madness and the gall it takes to even propose it is shocking. If you were tempted to forget what the incumbents taught us about their character at the end of last summer, this should serve as a salutary reminder.

Why do such a thing? Why, to fix their biggest 'mistake' in last summer's (Un)Fair competition Act, I warrant. In that act, you may recall, the incumbents required the PSC to force a municipality (they meant LUS) to raise their prices to the same level they would be if they were renting their own rights of ways and were paying pole fees for maintenance (on top of actually paying to do the real maintenance!). The idea was to force you, dear customer, to pay higher prices rather than to allow the new competitor (LUS) to drive prices as low as they might otherwise. Clever, eh? No. Too clever by half. They had started to believe their own propaganda that utilities got by for free and apparently didn't realize that utilities like LUS actually already pay more back in lieu of taxes to the city-parish than do private corporations even while keeping rates low. So the law doesn't currently have its intended effect of raising LUS' rates.


So this season they can fix that and use the government to eliminate their own, but not their competition's, obligation to the local community. More of that infamous "good citizenship" and "your friend in the digital age" stuff you hear about in their ads. The new state law would relieve the out of state corporations from any local obligations to pay for the local resources they use while effectively forcing the local, publicly owned entity to pretend to pay twice for pole maintenance and to pretend to rent its own land land when setting rates. (Check out R.S. 45:844.53 for the gory details.)

The whole idea? You pay more so that Cox and BellSouth can tote more money out of the state without facing real competition. It really is that simple.

Get on the stick, folks. If you think we can make better decisons about our future than some people in Baton Rouge who are ventriloquating BellSouth and Cox, you'll have to speak up. Write your representatives. Write the sponsor, Sharon Weston Broome. If you know people in her Baton Rouge District (Kip Holden's old senatorial district), ask them to put a bug in her ear. Stuff like this should be nipped in the bud. Dropping a letter to the Governor might be a good idea too. After all, this character was a floor leader for her in the house.

(Incidentally, there's an odd and interesting pattern of the incumbents using legislators that are slightly "off," as my mother used to say. The sponsor of the original "Local (un)fair competition bill was Noble Ellington--the fellow who got us national publicity by saying on the floor of the legislature that "tolerance is tearing down the foundation of this country" and Sharon Weston Broome can be found all over the internet as the woman who tried to get the Louisiana legislature to pass a resolution affirming that Darwin's theory of evolution is racist. Racist?! Isn't there anyone a little bit more...sane that BellSouth and Cox can find to front their crazy bills? ...Oh. Yeah. I guess that was obvious.)

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