Wednesday, December 14, 2005

eWeek Columnist Links BellSouth's "jumping ugly" New Orleans and Lafayette Behaviors

eWeek columnist Chris Gonsalves calls more attention to the core questions about BellSouth's recent 'take back' snit in New Orleans and their on-going lawsuits against Lafayette.

Gonsalves nails the issue thusly:
But at the heart of the story, which, admittedly, is getting more traction in the blogosphere than it is in the mainstream press, lies a fundamental debate pitting business ethics and social responsibility against fair trade and capitalism.
He, like other writers, links the BellSouth snit to the ongoing legal war on Lafayette that BellSouth has launched in the wake of the LUS fiber win this past summer:
The loss of goodwill aside, jumping ugly with municipalities is not an unfamiliar tactic to telcos, including BellSouth itself. The carrier has been papering Lafayette, La., with lawsuits for the better part of a year trying to stop that city from rolling out its own broadband service.

The city has won most of its legal battles thus far, but the suits have kept the public utility commission in court rather than in the streets installing fiber. So, despite the backing of 70 percent of the voters and a $125 million bond issue for the project, BellSouth maintains its upper hand in Lafayette.
Gonsalves points out that BellSouth is not alone in this kind of behavior, that it has plenty of company in the telephone and cable industries.

Which raises the question: What is the role of shareholders and boards in response to the behavior of company management that runs counter to, say, stated company values or raises other questions involving corporate ethics?

Would one be incorrect to interpret the silence of BellSouth's directors or large shareholders regarding this behavior as approval of that behavior? Or, are they even aware of the wars these companies are waging against what communities have determined to be their own best interests?

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