Thursday, June 23, 2005

Bipartisanship—It's not only for Lafayette!

Occasionally there's that cause which is so obviously to the benefit of the people that both the Democrats and the Republicans back it. In Lafayette the Fiber to the Home (FTTH) project is such a cause, and both local parties have come out in favor of it. A broad-based coalition of civic groups and businesses have added their voices to the chorus of individual endorsers as well. Naysayers are few and the most prominent are employees of BellSouth and Cox.

The claim has been made that the FTTH initiative puts Lafayette in the forefront of American cities in terms of technology. It's beginning to look like we might be out ahead of country in making this issue the focus of a broad-based bipartisan coalition as well.

Today sees the introduction of the Lautenberg-McCain Bill which would "amend the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to preserve and protect the ability of local governments to provide broadband capability and services." Lautenberg is a Democrat and McCain a Republican, yet they've joined together to make common cause with the people of this country. A large coalition of more than 40 organizations ranging from the American Association of Law Libraries to the Consumers Union has joined them. As residents of Lafayette might expect, the most prominent voice on the other side is associated with the private telecom companies. A bill introduces by Sessions, a Texas Republican, and 16 year veteran of SBC hopes to accomplish the opposite: using the power of the federal government, not to preserve the rights of localities but impose, by federal fiat, a ban on the construction of any new municipal broadband systems.

So Lafayette is out ahead again. That's the gist of it.

Want a little more? Here's the way the federal fiber partisans think about it.

From Lautenberg's speech on the floor of the senate:
A century ago, there were efforts to prevent local governments from offering electricity. Opponents argued that local governments didn't have the expertise to offer something as complex as electricity. They also argued that businesses would suffer if they faced competition from cities and towns. But local community leaders recognized that their economic survival depended on electrifying their communities. They knew that it would take both private investment and public investment to bring electricity to all Americans. We face a similar situation today.
The following quote is particularly poignant considering BellSouth's recent revelation that its plan is to leave 20%, not 10%, of Lafayette out of the provision of advanced services:
There are also underserved urban areas, where private providers may exist, but many in the community simply cannot afford the high prices. Dianah Neff, Philadelphia's chief information officer, knows this all too well. "The digital divide is local," Neff has said, commenting that while 90 percent Philadelphia's affluent neighborhoods have broadband, just 25 percent in low-income areas have broadband.
You may rest assured that if BellSouth has its way in Lafayette those that would be left out would be even more dramatically to be found among the low-income areas of our city.

From McCain's speech on the floor of the senate:
This bill is needed if we are to meet President Bush's call for "universal, affordable access for broadband technology by the year 2007." When President Bush announced this nationwide goal in 2004, the country was ranked 10 th in the world for high speed Internet penetration. Today, the country is ranked 16 th. This is unacceptable for a country that should lead the world in technical innovation, economic development, and international competitiveness.
And he adds, in a little bit of that satisfying laigniappe:
Several newspapers have endorsed the concept of allowing municipalities to choose whether to offer high speed Internet services. USA Today rightfully questioned in an editorial, "Why shouldn't citizens be able to use their own resources to help themselves?"
Sound familiar? It should. It was Lafayette that USAToday article was referring to.

All in all, the US would be wise to follow Lafayette's lead.

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