Thursday, November 24, 2005

A "Happy Holidays" from BellSouth and its Agents

In this season of Thanksgiving in Lafayette--acutely conscious of having been largely spared by two storms that devastated it neighbors--does not need to feel any gratitude in relation to its phone provider.

An Advocate story this morning confirms that which was reported here yesterday: BellSouth and its allies have filed appeals to the state 3rd Circuit seeking to further delay LUS' publicly approved fiber-optic project. It will be decided soon according to the story filed in the Advocate:
Because of the specific deadlines set out in state law, the appeals should be heard by the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal, at the latest, by Christmas Day -- and decided by New Year's Day.
And the next..and final..level will be an appeal to the State Supreme Court, according to the article:
An appeal of the 3rd Circuit's decision would be heard by the Louisiana Supreme Court following the same deadlines.
That would put the end of this piece of the delaying strategy somewhere about the middle of January.

Hmmn. There is discussion of a second hurricane-related special session in January; let's keep a sharp eye out for BellSouth's lobbyists when that special session is defined. We don't want to see any special pleading that would allow the state to "help out" poor, pitiful, storm-ravaged BellSouth (cough) by damaging Lafayette. Lafayette and Acadiana representatives should oppose leaving open any door to "help" BellSouth in the special session. They have proven that they can't be trusted to stick to deals they make in the legislature. (Remember their reneging on the "compromises" contained in the (un)fair competition act from the summer before last? Lots of us do.)

Of course, opposing any definition of the special session that would allow BellSouth to bring up its own relief is only an issue only if they appeal again. If they don't LUS will have sold their bonds and room for BellSouth to do damage to the project will be significantly reduced. And, of course, if they don't appeal it will be the first concrete sign that they plan to let the people's decision stand.

The continuing strategy of BellSouth since it lost the referendum on July 16th has been to abuse the regulatory and legal systems of our state in hopes of delaying the onset of local competition and driving up the cost to the consumer when that competition from LUS finally appears. Standing down on these lawsuits would allow LUS and Acadiana representatives to avoid the temptation to see BellSouth as a declared and bitter enemy in all things. To date BellSouth has set itself up to frustrate Lafayette at every turn. We should return the favor. Until they back off we should encourage our representatives to form an implacable voting block that is dedicated to frustrating BellSouth's every desire. The Louisiana Police Jury and both organizations of mayors in Louisiana endorsed Lafayette's position in the last battle; maybe they'd join us again. If BellSouth thinks it would be hard to whip up resentment against the phone company they really are living in a different state.

The corporation makes it easy. Consider a little quote from BellSouth's local face John Williams found in the Advertiser after BellSouth's PSC loss:
The extensive devastation to government infrastructure by Hurricane Katrina should make residents reconsider whether they want to entrust government with their telecommunications services, he said."In light of all the recovery efforts local government must undertake, how high of a priority would telecommunications be?" Williams wrote.
Come on! This sort of stuff just proves that Williams and BellSouth don't have a grain of sensitivity about how Lafayette will regard their trying to turn every damned thing to their greedy, self-centered advantage--even the biggest set of tragedies to hit our state in living memory. We knew what we wanted before BellSouth tried to tell us otherwise and we know it even better after the election. A local telecom utility will provide us with competition, better services, and lower prices. These things are even more valuable now than before the tragedies of Katrina and Rita. And the people this program will most help now include in their number evacuees from those two storms. People with any sense of decency wouldn't go there. But BellSouth and John Williams will.

I honestly think that Lafayette is reaching a level of resentment that is unrivaled even during the referendum campaign. During the campaign some opposition was expected and some citizens, thinking that after all this is Louisiana politics, were willing to put up with shenanigans that wouldn't be considered honest in other contexts. But now that the people have spoken its hard to avoid the bitter taste of spoiled milk when we consider BellSouth's attempts to overturn Lafayette's recent vote. Part of Louisiana's and especially south Louisiana's willingness to tolerate stuff that other places don't is the joie de vivre culture--you are not supposed to be tolerant and not hang onto resentments. People from elsewhere don't understand that this isn't blanket license; its part of the socially accepted rules of the local game. You violate that social understanding if you continue to act as if the contest is still on after the game is over. People who continue to act self-indulgently after the big party is over and to treat tolerance during the party as license to continue to act like jerks after it are not forgiven. They are quietly excluded from the group. Once you get on the wrong side of that it is very hard to get back in. BellSouth should be warned...our famous tolerance only goes so far and is only extended to those that play the game fairly and recognize when the game is over.

BellSouth is already over the line. When the people recognize just how far it won't go well for BellSouth. If you'd like a little evidence I can only say that the tone of people I talk to regularly has shifted. Now I grant that I mostly talk to supporters of LUS (after all that's most of the population), but the recent Sunday Advertiser editorial should give BellSouth pause. Anyone who watched the campaign knows that the Advertiser was never an opinion leader on the telecom issue. They were always behind the movement of opinion and followed what they were hearing on the streets and in the boardrooms. Sunday's editorial was not a pro-local, pro-LUS editorial of the sort we used to see. It was a weary, "enough is enough" essay. It was an anti-BellSouth essay.

The tide has moved in an ugly direction and BellSouth doesn't have forever to halt the growing sense that they are simply the enemy. And should be treated as such.

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