Tuesday, December 06, 2005

BellSouth Changes Its Tune..And Sings an Old One

Well folks we've got good news and bad news...

The good news is that BellSouth has seen the light (hallelujah, Brother!) and now finds huge value in the fiber optic technology they tried to convince Lafayette we didn't need. BellSouth says it is planning to build out fiber in New Orleans and is citing all the same sane reasons Joey Durel and Terry Huval have been calling on for two years.

The bad news is that you can't trust 'em. (You had to know there was a catch.)

BellSouth joins SBC/ATT in finding the light--ATT recently came out with a glowing endorsement of fiber the Chicago region following after years of telling the people of Illinois that they didn't need it, didn't want it, and that, anyway, it was "unproven." BellSouth has been telling Lafayette the same. Actually, Bill Oliver, has been doing so.

But now Bill seems to have changed his mind. Or so BellSouth seems to be claiming the Times Picayune.

Understand, BellSouth is in trouble in New Orleans...all the other utilities are basically restored but phone service is lagging (complaints occupy much of the T-P story). They've also taken a major PR hit when Oliver's wayward words got accurately reported by the Washington Post. New Orleans can't be happy that a building "generously" promised the city as a new home for its police actually turned out to involve some sort of quid pro quo that the city not build any infrastructure that BellSouth didn't approve. The city's wireless plan didn't meet with President Oliver's approval and the building seems to have gone away.

The Good News
So BellSouth needs a good story...and the story is good. To hear BS tell it the fiber-optics is the wave of the future; it can be installed quickly; it's cheaper; its easier to upgrade; it's easier to maintain; it provides better quality signal; and, hey, it sets up BellSouth to provide New Orleans with bandwidth for a wide array of future services. Listen up:
BellSouth Corp. is taking a technological leap in New Orleans by ripping out flood-soaked copper wires and replacing them with fiber-optic lines...BellSouth managers say the pace of service restoration isn't being slowed by the technology improvements...The glass lines are less expensive than their copper counterparts, take up less space, are less susceptible to interference and can transport more information at faster speeds. Once in place, fiber-optic lines let phone networks offer a wider range of services, such as television and higher-speed Internet connections.
And it's true, all absolutely true. But surely folks from Lafayette will be forgiven for being struck dumb with wonder: That's what we've been saying, and what BellSouth has been denying for the last two years. Without a doubt getting more fiber will be good for New Orleans--and is the sensible, almost inevitable route for the telecom to take given the state of its salt-corroded copper. I hope Oliver follows through.

The Bad News: The bad news is that BellSouth has a bad history with good news. BellSouth under Oliver has not played it altogether straight. BellSouth is going to build out fiber in New Orleans. Great.

But what, exactly, does he mean? New Orleans would do well to learn from Lafayette's experience with this particular bearer of good news. Right before LUS went before the board to ask for approval of its fiber to the home plan Oliver showed up in town with a plan. BellSouth asked, loudly and publicly, for a meeting about a public-private partnership that would leapfrog Lafayette into the future. They actually showed up with a technology presentation that suggested that maybe a 24 meg version of DSL would be trialed here. In some parts of town. The big plan turned out to be nothing more than what BellSouth had been telling the analysts about its DSL roll-out all year and involved nothing special for Lafayette. A later version of this turned out to be intended for about 80% of the population if the city was willing to give in to a laundry list of demands that included subsidizing BellSouth. It wasn't new, and as New Orleans is now discovering, BellSouth's proposed "gifts" aren't free. You gotta look the gift horse in the mouth.

Were I a New Orleans reporter I'd look closely into the way BellSouth is planning to roll out its fiber. We see no mention of fiber to the home and that is what New Orleans should want if BellSouth's rebuilding process is to help differentiate the lady from the pack. This article seems to suggest that BellSouth is replacing all its copper but BellSouth doesn't do more than suggest it. If BS was planning fiber to the home we'd have heard about it. To add insult to being mislead we don't even see any pledge to do what BellSouth is doing in some wealthy new suburbs where it is building its infrastructure out from scratch: its infamous "fiber to the curb" strategy. We do see pictures of workers digging up old BellSouth infrastructure and putting in new. How much of that was already fiber? (Most backbones,--telco, cable, and municipal--are already fiber.) How much copper will be changed out for fiber? What services and what speeds can New Orleans count on--now, not in some mystical future? Crucially: Will what BellSouth does in New Orleans in ANY way distinguish her from every other city in BellSouth's territory? Unless BellSouth can say yes, and say how, and say why it's reasonable to suspect that this is another of Oliver's little games of word play.

BellSouth might have changed its tune on fiber; but Oliver is singing the same old song.

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