Saturday, June 25, 2005

"Study finds fault with LUS fiber plan"

Yesterday's Advertiser story on a report criticizing the business judgment of LUS promoted by the Heartland Institute turned into another disappointing "He said, she said" story. What makes it particularly disappointing is that the Advertiser has experience with the author, Stephen Titch. Titch is the fellow who wrote the "Advertorial" in the Advertiser a while back that condemned the LUS project as unworkable and that the Advertiser ran as a simple expert opinion editorial. In fact, Titch owns "Expert Editorials, Inc., a for-hire firm that advertises its desire to sell its "third party,""analytical perspective" that "supports, yet remains detached" from the company that hires them. (Translation: we'll gin up any opinion you want and pass it off as the judgment of an expert with no ties to your company.) Titch advertises his willingness to sell his judgments on the internet. When this was pointed out to the Advertiser, I presume they found printing an "expert editorial" by a man whose business is to write them embarrassing. Titch, they had every reason to know before publishing this article, cannot be trusted to be objective and at the very least had taken a editorial position on their own pages in opposition to the project that predicted its failure long before he began the "research" for the short paper that prompted the story. It would appear to a easonable observer that, at a minimum, Titch's local history should have been noted in the paper's coverage of the current piece. This will make the second time he has successfully gamed our local paper by representing himself as an objective expert and gotten away without being adequately challenged.

The paper does note that:
BellSouth spokesman John Williams said the corporation has contributed to The Heartland Institute. He declined to comment on the study, saying he had not had time to analyze the conclusions.
But allows Titch to respond without further query:
Titch said BellSouth did not fund the Heartland Institute study.
Not only is that more than a little disingenuous on Titch's part, it appears to be substantially untrue: an earlier version of the Heartland study was presented before the state bond commission in an attempt to persuade the commission that it should not authorize bonds in support of the project. The bond commission didn't buy it. But my guess is that the Heartless institute didn't do its research to present there for free. They did it to benefit their clients. Maybe those clients didn't fund the final revision. Maybe. But the bond commission appearance should give the lie to the idea that this is some sort of independent study. And those connections are something that the paper should notice.

The astute reader will note that neither John Williams nor Neal Breakfield was willing to defend the report. That should tell you what you need to know. Putting out negative and confusing information that you are not willing to actually defend is a sign of the sort of FUD strategy intended to simply leave the listener with the vague sense that someone, someone that nobody knows or will defend, has said something bad about LUS' plan. It the way gossips try to smear people, but all dressed up in academic clothing. And the best way to handle baseless gossip is to ignore it.

My frustrations with reportorial issues aside, the responses of LUS to Titch's misinformation are powerful. Titch has to strain hard to even begin to make a case and it easy to knock the props out from underneath arguments that simply don't have the facts on their side. Read the story carefully, or even better, go to the sources, spend the time reading the short article that Titch passes off as research and LUS' point by point response. The current article hardly does the response justice.

Here is the simple truth that should have been evident after reading a local article on the report: Bristol is well ahead of its business plan and on the road to success. This is in spite of delaying lawsuits by the local incumbents that prevented it from delivering the triple play of services for one of the meager three years Titch examines, and in spite of political interference from the local council that set the initial price of the service below that which the business plan recommended. When the full suite of services at the originally recommended price (a price that still saved the community 15%) was brought online, the utility took off and is well ahead of where the business plan said it would be--this in spite of the delays and political interference. The utility is further down the road to paying off the loans it took out to build its plant than it thought it would be.

That's pretty good evidence that the plan is sound and conservative. The tortured effort to twist that around into something negative is simply evidence of Titch's bias. A bias we all should have been made aware of before the story began.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Mother Jones" magazine latest issue has an article, "Giga Fight" that focuses on exactly this issue---the Heartland's Institutes nation-wide effort to prevent the establishment of community-owned fiber-optic utilities. The article quickly points out that a think tank that is funded Comcast, SBC, and ExxonMobile can hardly be a credible, un-biased source of information on the feasability of such community-owned utilities. The Advocate's failure to mention who exactly the Heartland Institute represents when it stated the think tank's gloomy predictions was a complete failure of journalism.