Thursday, July 07, 2005

"PSC: LUS protests can be worked out"

Today's Advertiser story tries to back off some of the firestorm that its sensationalistic Sunday story on the PSC produced. I have to suspect that some push back has been felt at the Advertiser offices though I have no way of knowing for sure. The Lafayette Coming Together response to that story circulated widely throughout the community not only to its own mailing lists but more significantly in the form of viral email redistributed on major local tech and political lists—when email starts coming back to you after being forwarded via several links you know folks are hot about something.

This title, "PSC: LUS protests can be worked out" reflects the tone of the story; it highlights the tentative nature of the proposed (and contradictory) rules and suggests that at least one of the difficulties thrown up is so obviously in contradiction to the law that Public Service Commissioner Jimmy Field is willing to dismiss it out of hand. He believes, as well, that others can be worked out. The one blindingly obvious one is the bond argument:

A recommendation that would prohibit LUS from pledging assets of its other utility divisions to secure bonds for the fiber project is one that Field said he feels comfortable will be resolved.

"It looked like they had a pretty good argument that that was not contemplated by the (Local Government Fair Competition) Act," Field said.

There is a clause in the law that specifically, specifically, allows this. How a staffer could be induced to suggest that it not be allowed is hard to understand.

Another candidate for the blindingly obvious category is that the in lieu of tax payments AND the "imputed" taxes would have to be paid. ("Imputed taxes" is not a real tax it is an imaginary figure invented in BellSouth's (un)fair competition act and used solely by the PSC to raise customer's rates; LUS keeps the money...they just are not allowed to use it to lower your rates.) Asking LUS to "pay" both "imputed" taxes and in lieu of taxes is massively nuts, is in complete contradiction to the purpose of the compromise and the direct language of the law which allows the in lieu of tax payments to be applied to the imputed taxes. Now BellSouth and Cox may not have grasped that it meant that LUS would end up not raising rates to compensate for "imputed" taxes but the fact that things didn't work out the way they wanted them to (with you paying higher rates, let me emphasize) isn't cause to renege on a deal they agreed to.

In fact, an underappreciated and completely unreported aspect of this story is the way BellSouth and Cox have not only chosen to not only not play by "the rules" but to not even play by their rules. They have no shame, and apparently no one expects a corporation to show any. I've talked to people who negotiated those agreements at the capital last summer and read accounts of the same and it is clear that at least on the pr0-fiber side the feeling was that a real compromise based on on clear principles was being hashed out--a good-faith compromise that would stick. The principle was actually supposed to be a level playing field and to restrict LUS from doing things a private company could not. BellSouth and Cox play in different fields and the agreement was supposed to be that LUS could play by the least restrictive rule that applied to either of it competitors. Understand that this was a much greater "compromise" for LUS than the incumbents who actually conceeded nothing of substance...except their word. LUS gave up huge swaths of rights in excahnge for....what? All LUS got was the deal alone: the Promise that they could go ahead obstructed by no more than the rules mutually agreed to.

That promise has been broken repeatedly. Cox wrote the Broome bill this season that attempted to impose two elections and a huge fine on Lafayette if it had the courage to defy Cox's judgment about what is best for Lafayette and approved the referendum. The worst of that got beaten back. But Cox clearly felt no compunction about changing the rules before they ever got a chance to be put in play. They thought of something more they could get and went after it. Last years promises: gone with the wind.

This thing with the PSC is BellSouth's version of the same disregard. They go in and try and ignore the deal they made earlier on numerous parts of the law. They sat there and know what the deal was and what principles governed it. Getting advantage at the moment is all that matters apparently; it speaks poorly of their ability or willingness to work as trusted partners. I feel free to tell you that feeling among those who were privy to the conversation on the Lafayette side in Baton Rouge last year runs high. There is a sense of real betrayal.

These two corporations will undoubtably trumpet their willingness to make a "risk-free" deal to "partner" with the people of Lafayette in the waning days of this campaign. It's the only new card they have to put on the table. None of the old ploys have worked.

But they've demonstrated vividly what sorts of partners they are and how they honor their agreements. No partnership with these guys is viable because they are not trustworthy.

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We citizens have a way to effect the outcome of the upcoming battle at the PSC. Turn out and vote. Shoot not just for a victory but for an overwhelming victory. Run up the score onn BellSouth, Cox, and the naysayers. The PSC is an elected board. They are politicians. The only reason that BellSouth has any traction with the PSC lies in their role as Louisiana's largest single contributer to election campaigns. Money talks. But in politics votes talk louder.

Don't just vote Yes! Get yourself in gear and turn out the vote. Volunteer at Lafayette Coming Together. Or do it yourself. Treat your grandmother to a ride to the polls. Knock on a few doors in your neighborhood on July 16th. Call up your notoriously disorganized sister who you know is For Fiber but....and urge her to go vote. Buy her lunch. 1 vote is all we need but a 40 point spread would be much more convincing at the PSC.

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