Wednesday, December 21, 2005

BellSouth in New Orleans

A reader points to the latest from the phone company that opposes New Orleans using its own wireless network to give minimal communications connectivity to its own citizens. (You recall that, right?)

The Times-Picayune reviews the state of utility repair in the city and after a review of Entergy's response -- who, incidentally, is hindered by being in bankruptcy -- and concludes that while significant outages still remain Entergy is jury-rigging temporary fixes in an apparent all-out effort to make it possible for people to come home. Electricity is available to about 88% of the population.

On the other hand, BellSouth is taking a different approach:
Phone service

BellSouth has taken a different approach.

About 59 percent of BellSouth's customers in New Orleans have service, according to a mid-November company report. But rather than restoring services through temporary telephone line repairs, the company is leaving many of its customers without a dial tone while workers make a major upgrade to the company's local network by replacing flooded underground copper wires with fiber-optic cables. The new lines, which use light beams to send calls, computer data and other communications signals, will boost the speed and capacity of the network, and likely improve BellSouth's competitive position in the New Orleans telecommunications market.
Now I would be the last to say that this is not ultimately a good thing. For New Orleans and for BellSouth. We ALL need as much fiber as we can get. But its impossible not to notice the difference in the ethos, and ethics, of the two companies. One acts like a utility with public responsibilities; one does not. One, though bankrupt, is working hard get service back on line in hopes that the population of New Orleans will have something to return to--even thought that's not most cost-efficient for its strapped company. The other has made a cold calculation that in the conflict between what the public needs and what might be most efficient for its ultimate competitive position it needs fiber...and the people of New Orleans can wait.

Utility companies really ought to act like utilities. An exclusive lock on an essential service makes them public utilities regardless of their ownership structure. For many and especially for the stalled business sector a reliable phone is essential to reopening. A story a while back made the point that New Orleans might need to municipalize Entergy to make it financially viable (and to make rates in New Orleans halfway sane). I'm a fan of public ownership of public utilities as regular readers will know. And how I believe they will be motivated to act in a crunch is a big part of the judgment on my part.


Lagniappe
Ok I really can't resist: Is anybody besides me offended by the utter hypocrisy of BS using FIBER and the long-term value of fiber as an excuse for its slow restoration of service in N.O. after its wild claims that fiber was a "risky" technology in Lafayette? Does anyone ever notice these things? Where's the press when such contradictions arise? A question or two of the spokesperson please. A phone call to Bill Oliver, how about. Is the press leaving such things to bloggers? I hope not. The future of cities are at stake. This is not a "business piece" people.)

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