Tuesday, December 27, 2005

BayouBuzz picks up on LCT carols and muni-broadband fight

Steve Sabludowsky's BayouBuzz.com carries a story today about Lafayette Coming Together's use of altered Christmas carols as a tool for zeroing in on the obstructionist tactics being employed by BellSouth to delay the deployment of the LUS fiber system.

After commenting on the carols, Steve makes some observations that highlight the nature of the fight between municipalities like Lafayette and New Orleans are having with incumbent providers.
Telecoms have claimed that for the municipalities to get into the telecommunications business, it would be unfair competition and costly to the companies and against the system of free enterprise. Lafayette is not the only Louisiana city to compete with the telecommunication companies. Recently, New Orleans has unveiled its free wireless Internet to the city starting first with the Central Business District, French Quarter and downtown warehouse districts.

After New Orleans made the announcement of the free wireless Internet, the city alleged that BellSouth threatened to revoke an agreement by BellSouth to provide a building that the city would use for its emergency needs. BellSouth has denied that threat and those version of the facts.
The issue is not only about bandwidth. It also involves community sovereignty. That is, do communities have the right to provide the infrastructure and services needed to provide for the development of their community at large and their economy? Historically, communities have had that freedom. The incumbent telecommunication companies have been actively working to deny communities that option through the FCC, through the Congress, through state legislatures and through the courts.

Steve also includes a link to an earlier story on the New Orleans Wi-Fi controversy with BellSouth that includes some great quotes from New Orleans' Chief Technology Officer Greg Meffert on the role the city sees their Wi-Fi network playing in the Crescent City's recovery.

In that piece, Steve makes another on-the-money comment:
BellSouth can be a partner in this rebuild and if it is saddened by the City’s free Internet by threatening to renege on an offer of substantial importance to the city, then it should state its position as clearly and as transparently so all of us know exactly where the company stands on this issue.
Of course, BellSouth could do that, but that would imply that the company has some interest other than its own at heart. It doesn't. It won't.

As folks in Lafayette have known; as folks in Alexandria have known; as folks in Houma have known; and as folks in Lake Charles and New Orleans are now learning, BellSouth serves only its own interests. When the interests of the company and the interests of the community diverge, BellSouth must choose to act in their own interests.

Fine. I have no problem with that. What I do have a problem with is when BellSouth actively works to prevent communities from acting in their own interests — as the company continues to do in the case of Lafayette and New Orleans.

This obstinate obstructionism to communities acting in their own interests would seem to contradict what the company claims to be their corporate values. Among them are:
Our Customers: We are driven by the needs of our customers. We understand our customers' needs and deliver innovative products and services to meet those needs.
• • •
Our Communities: Everywhere we do business we strive to make our communities a better place to live, work and grow.
• • •
Integrity: Every action we take reflects the highest ethical standards. We interact with our customers, our employees and our shareholders with honesty and integrity.
BellSouth's actions in Lafayette and in New Orleans fly in the face of those declared corporate values. Either the statement of values is a sham or BellSouth Louisiana is operating in bad faith.

I've been working on information technology issues in Louisiana since 1997. I've had the opportunity to observe BellSouth work to stifle competition in this state throughout that time. First, they worked relentlessly to eliminate competition from the competitive local exchange carriers. Then, they worked to drive independent Internet service providers (ISPs) off of their networks. They have a captive customer in the state of Lousiana, which is (depending on the source) either the largest or second largest customer (roughly $60 million in taxpayer dollars annually!) BellSouth has in its nine-state service area.

When Bill Oliver was a member of the Louisiana Board of Regents for Higher Education, the company tried to capture the Louisiana Optical Network Initiative (LONI) Project, the scientific research network the Board of Regents is creating, in part, out of the fiber network assets the state has obtained along interstate highway rights of way. Let none call that using a public position for private gain!

At every step along the way, BellSouth has fought change, fought innovation, fought to preserve its dominance. That might be good for its stockholders, but it's been bad for Louisiana. Their tactics in Lafayette have been bad for this city. Their tactics in New Orleans are, again, running counter to the interests of that city.

The last bastion of the company's hold on Louisiana is the Legislature where legislators know a hell of a lot more about getting re-elected than they do about the role of technology in economic development.

Katrina and Rita shattered the status quo in Louisiana. I believe the impact of those storms was so powerful that they even shattered the bubble that has protected BellSouth in Baton Rouge. That's why John and I and the folks at Lafayette Coming Together have decided to join with LUS in working to repeal the so-called Municipal Fair Competition Act that BellSouth has used as a tool to block progress on the LUS fiber project.

LUS negotiated that law with BellSouth believing they were dealing with an honorable opponent that would abide by the outcome of the negotiations. They were not. It's time, then, to dismantle the legal structure that was built on that false premise of good faith bargaining. It's time for New Orleans, Lafayette and other communities to stand up and say to BellSouth, "Enough is Enough!"

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