Wednesday, June 29, 2005

"Durel says 'scare tactics' likely before July 16 vote"

Durel spoke, eleqouently by all the accounts I hear, to the Oil Center Renaissance Association. The association is an alliance of businesses located in and around the oil center. The Advocate has an interesting review of the luncheon.

On the account presented there Durel dealt with four major issues: the theme of doubt in upcoming incumbent disinformation, the issue lower prices for telecom services in this city, the upcoming interview with Sun CEO Scott McNealy, and equity in the buildout. It appears that he is sounding all the right notes.

Doubt is a part of the incumbent's FUD strategy and the fact that the mayor can refer to it in a public address indexes the growing sophistication of our community about the way the incumbents have fought this battle. Most places don't have our experience with corporations that try and introduce fear of the future and doubt about valuable projects they oppose only because it reduces the profits they will be able to take out of Lafayette. (The incumbents don't doubt the value of a fiber to the home system. Their long-term plans call for one. What they don't want is our owning it instead of one of them.)Durel gets it exactly right:
City-Parish President Joey Durel said the closer "D-Day" nears on the July 16 fiber-optic initiative election, the more private telecommunications companies will use "scare tactics."

These "scare tactics," such as negative advertising, false information and promotion of current technology, are geared to create doubt, he said.

"They are desperately trying to defend a horse-and-buggy technology in a supersonic age," Durel said...

An odd tactic adopted by the opponents of this is to either deny that LUS can lower prices 20% or to worry that they will. (Of course they can lower prices--prices in markets with 2 cable providers are 17% lower on average, LUS is just admitting the inevitable and arranging to get credit for it) Worrying that LUS will actually lower price is utterly bizarre. That was the point last time I checked. Somehow being successful in this is supposed to be a bad thing! The rationale has something to do with cutting LUS' profits. This is either incredibly dense or incredibly duplicitous after all this time. LUS doesn't exist to extract the maximum amount of profit from each individual it serves. That is the role of private companies. LUS is supposed to serve its customers. The best way and the accepted way to do that is to offer the lowest possible prices. If it makes a big profit it has failed in its mission. Again, Durel gets it:

Even if the fiber-optic network just breaks even, Durel said his goal, lower prices, would be accomplished.

"You win," Durel said simply. "It's a dream come true. I could hope for nothing more. It's a dream come true if there's a price war. Our citizens win."

And showing that tradmarked fiesty spirit we've all come to love:
"If they lower their rates that much [$30], I'll take a full ad out in Baton Rouge and say, 'You, too, can have these rates,' " Durel said. "I've talked to people around town, and if they can lower your rates by $30, what do you think they've been doing to you for 15 or 20 years?"
What a wonderful double bind for the Mayor to put the incumbents in: If they lower prices radically they are either engaging in unfair preditory pricing today or the last 20 years of prices have way too high.

The threat to take out a full page ad in the Advocate may sound like bravado. And it is, a little. But I take it very seriously. The best protection against preditory pricing is publicity. That, and that alone, has driven the incumbents back to fair pricing in other locales. Joey is serving notice that he is willing to wreak havoc in major local markets if they try and abuse their market power and size against "little" Lafayette. Here in Lafayette we'd have the added advantage, an advantage Joey occasionally alludes to, of having all the very expensive and robust front-end equipment already in place and being paid for. If Opelousas (or Alexandria, or Baton Rouge) wanted to build their own fiber network we can, over the very ultra-fast fiber that enabled the network in the first place, provide "front-end" services at very reasonable prices to our neighbors. (We already do this with electricity). It would be cheaper to get started in other cities if Lafayette helped and if Lafayette were sitting down the road paying a lot less because they had the gumption to get up and do this others might be a lot more likely to build their own network. The corporations are boxed. If they don't lower rates they lose market share in Lafayette. If they do lower rates radically they risk encouraging regional cities to follow Lafayette's lead. Damned if you do and damned if you don't. Don't think that the executives at these corporations haven't figured this out. They have. And they don't like it, you may rest assured. (This alone is why I still look to a desperation last minute incumbent campaign of disinformation if their polls show the least chance of winning. They must be desparate to avoid the box we are about to put them in.)

The Mayor teased the crowd with hints about the Sun interview tomorrow morning. I'll be listening. Maybe I can figure out how to get my TiVo to record it...

Durel also again promised equity in the initial build out--it will not go first and only to wealthy parts of town. (If you doubt this, think politics...having made the promise so forcefully, so often it mustnow happen. If you think it won't you are willfully ignoring local politics.) But Joey went on to say the obvious right out loud: only the city will make this pledge. The incumbenst WILL NOT do this. Their focus, fairly enough, is on profit. They will go to the wealthy areas first. If you don't want to believe me, believe BellSouth who under the heaviest pressure imaginable would only pledge to our public that they would provide advanced services to 80% of our community. Who do you think will be left out? Yes, you are right....BellSouth plans to leave 20% of us out unless we bribe them. Even at a time whent they are faced with the most dramatic competitive challenge imaginable. Again, Joey gets it:
"We're not going to find the most densely populated, wealthiest part of town to bring it to first," Durel said. "I guarantee you if we were talking about our businesses today, that's exactly where we would go, because that would give us the ability to then bring it to the poorer part of Lafayette. But because we are a publicly owned utility owned by all the citizens of Lafayette, we're going to do it a little differently."
And we ought to get it too. Go to the polls on July 16th and vote yes for fiber...for our community. All of our community.

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