Monday, February 28, 2005

"Louisiana Fiber and 'Economic Blackmail' "—Broadband Reports

Every so often I point toward Broadband reports for the interesting take it provides on the reaction to our battle against BellSouth and Cox from citizens across the country.

They are out there talking about the latest bit in "Louisiana Fiber and 'Economic Blackmail'?" Take a look.

"Telecoms fight to curb public competition" —USATODAY

USATODAY has an infromative article available: "Telecoms fight to curb public competition."
From the text:
Cities and towns from San Francisco to Philadelphia, viewing access to advanced telecommunications as pivotal to prosperity, are aggressively seeking ways to provide high-speed Internet connections, wired or wireless, for citizens and local businesses.

But telephone and cable TV companies have responded by flexing political and financial muscle at the state level, arguing that government has no business getting into their business
That't the gist; but they give lots of examples and recount arguments for both sides. I do think it worth underlining that it is the states to which the corporations are turning. Rather than fight the battle on a local level, as they are forced to do here in Lafayette, they are getting their kept legislators to simply make sure that no battle is possible.

Again, we should be familiar with this, after all a referendum was BellSouth's second choice: its first was to simply outlaw local government from offering any competition in any form. The incumbents would much prefer not to give any of us any choice. Only when they failed to pass that law did the incumbents come up with a plan to try and force a referendum—and then they decided they needn't bother with the procedures that they had agreed to in the compromise law that resulted. The referendum is only a tactic for the incumbents to get what they really want: freedom from competition with LUS.

Advertiser poll on fiber

[Inserted 3/1/05 @ 10:31 this obnoxious Advertiser poll on a bond vote is at 54.4 for fiber and 44.7 against fiber. I still think both sides ought to denounce this poll and demand that it be pulled down. I've done that already; the fiber411 guys should do the same. It's poison and the sort of thing that causes folks to say what they later regret. I see over at the fiber411 site that Bill is saying [Chatbox: Tuesday 01 March 2005 - 18:01:21] that the profiber boys are rigging the vote. Come on. We've been making a little progress here. This is a dumb, divisive poll. It can't be trusted by either side. And no side can legitimately take any comfort from a positive result for their cause.

The only thing served by this "poll" is the Advertiser's page counts. Popularity polls are promotional devices for the websites that post them. Notice all the obnoxious pop ups/pop unders? My bet is that the Advertiser is being paid for each and every "pop." If we were smart we wouldn't play their game.

Lafayette Pro Fiber has denounced it. LUSFTTH has ignored it (probably smarter.) Fiber 411 has promoted it. Guys who ignore it and who denounce it aren't likely to have much motive to rig it since they would look a little strange promoting a good outcome for the home team.

Doug, Tim, Bill, Neal, (gumbofile, baycock, whoever) feel free to actively denounce this in the comments. Let's neuter this thing.

Note: why the change? Not at all sure but I do know that profiber folks like myself have given up on getting it taken down and have hit their email address book and listservs. I don't like promoting this thing in any way and held off hoping first that it would come down and then that the fiber411 guys would join me in denouncing it in order to build their good government credits. Hasn't happened. Still should.]
-----

The Daily Advertiser has a "poll" on the bond vote on its front page. All you profiber folks ought to get yourself over there and vote.

First go over to: http://www.acadiananow.com/apps/pbcs.dll/frontpage and vote.

Now come back here and let's talk about it.

Update 2:18 pm

Unscientific popularity polls of this sort are a bad thing and debase the political process. I hate 'em and have complained to Juli Metzger about using them in reference to the political process before—entirely outside the context of the fiber battle.

This "poll" is particularly bad because it is vulnerable to tampering and anyone with a rudimentary sense of how these polls work can figure it out quickly. I did so in less than five minutes of effort. So have others who have emailed me.

This one is particularly bad because it is published on the day when Bill Decker, who posted the poll in his guise as online editor, also published a column attacking the fiber-to-the-home plan in his guise as a columnist.

No one will be able to rely on its results honestly once this is known. It only measures two things: the level of enthusiasm of the partisans involved and different levels of dishonesty to which the two camps are willing to go. Which will be the more influential in the final outcome is impossible to know.

It is only divisive at this point.

I call on both sides to urge Juli Metzger to take it down.

Just for the record: when I first emailed the editor the numbers were running at 60-40 pro fiber. (Ask Bill @ 411 how it was running when he posted.) I didn't post to this blog at that time because I didn't want it up at all, even if my side was winning. I only posted after it appeared at fiber411. I have a history of being against this sort of thing and the politics of the moment are not the reason I oppose these polls.

Here is my larger reasoning about why all such polls, and not just this one (which is also bad for the special reasons stated above) are a bad idea when used in reference to serious political issues.

These polls do not measure public opinion, they measure "popularity." This is true of any poll that allows people to vote. Even if it weren't possible to vote multiple times, this would remain a problem. The results don't tell anyone anything about how a real vote on the bond issue would go. Nevertheless, it will be used by one side or the other to infer "the opinion of the people." That will be a serious misuse. That fact alone should be reason for both sides to want it taken down, and failing that, for both sides to condemn it. I do so here and now.

My objection goes deeper than the fact that such polls are inaccurate and prone to misuse. To the extent anyone is interested in them it is because, by simply using the term "poll," it dishonestly trades on the popular understanding of real polls. As people come to understand that these polls do not tell you anything about public opinion, they will come to distrust real polls--which give you real information. This type of thing debases the process of a real conversation; to have a conversation we must be able to trust what is being said and to know the true opinion of people. Putting up such polls will inevitably result in people coming to distrust honest polls. And our polity does not need more paranoiac distrust than we already have.

This is not a new problem.

Let's agree that this is a bad idea that ought to go away.

"Why our broadband policy's still a mess" — CNET

CNET shares an interesting and informative interview with Michael Copps, a member of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The FCC is the enormously powerful regulatory agency that covers all telecommunications. Its regulations have the effect of law and the FCC, rather than congress, is (unfortunately in my judgment) the actual policy-maker for our nation.
Copps is in the minority on the FCC right now and that makes his frustration all the more visible.

From the story:
CNET: Looking at the state of broadband from the consumer perspective, is adoption at a good point right now?

Copps: Well, if I was a consumer I would say, 'Why in the hell is the United States No. 13 and heading south in broadband deployment? Why are folks in Korea and Japan maybe getting 10 times the capacity at a half or a third or a quarter of the price? I am paying for the slow setup I've got--that is called high-speed broadband?'
There is also excellent stuff to think about on the topics of universal service, municipal broadband (that's us, folks) and the digital divide.

Worth the read.

In fight against fiber, does Bell wear black hat?

In the Daily Advertiser we find this in a column:
If the fight over the Lafayette Utilities System's fiber telecom plan were 'Lord of the Rings,' Cox Communications would be the hacking, slashing orcs. The real dark force, the flaming orange eyeball in the evil tower, would be BellSouth.
And it starts out so well.....

Of course for Decker, our daily's online editor, this is only the florid lead-in to another of his pieces in which he exhibits a profound ignorance of basic economics and political science wherever LUS and the city's fiber optic initiative is concerned. Decker is currently the "online editor;" when his first screed was published he was also listed as business editor but they seem to have given that job to someone more qualified. He really wasn't qualified for that position, as his attempts at economic analysis here show.

I've tried in the past to acknowledge Decker's growth (1,2) but this is some pretty serious backsliding; it is a return to the days immediately following the city's announcement that it wanted to study providing fiber, during which Decker said, and I quote: “What’s next? A five-year plan? A hall of socialist labor heroes?” This article is a reversion to the days when Decker couldn't distinguish between a popularly elected local government and a Stalinist Soviet Union.

My quarrel with this essay? It's ignorant.

Decker writes as if he actually believes the sort of spew that calls correctly labeling public utilities as "publicly owned" "Orwellian legalese." This is sheerest nonsense. Of course public utilities are publicly owned. That is a simple fact. What he is trying to do is point away from that simple fact and to the sort of stuff you hear these days from the ultra far right: the implication that government is always and in all ways an imposition on the people. That's just crazy. Your local public water utility is no communist, Orwellian nightmare. It is, simply, a public utility. Decker lives in a world in which the mere existence of public utilities is prima facie evidence of some some socialist plot, and indeed evidence that our little city government is a socialist one. That this is a fantasy world of fear and resentment without much grounding in the world the rest of us live in is evident.

Decker then spends some time torturously trying to establish something I have never seen anyone dispute: that LUS is a legal component of the local government. He does, glancingly, notice that it is insulated from the rest of city government and that the money it takes in can't be raided by politicians at their discretion. But the real point is to "tar" LUS with the title of government.

Allow me to quote the most egregious of all resentment-fueled ignorance:
As conceived, the LUS fiber proposal could mean advanced service at low prices, a bridge over the digital divide and a promising lure for new employers looking for a tech-savvy place to call home. But it also would be a tax increase under the guise of a fee for services, and without voter approval.
You can feel him straining for balance in this statement. And I am grateful for the effort. But Decker's ideologically-fueled ignorance of the actual political and economic structures we all live in distorts his view here.

He is calling fees for service a tax, apparently because any money a government takes in must be called a tax and it must always be "bad." But he is wrong on a common-sense basis and even on the basis of his own ideology.

A fee-for-service is a fee charged for a service. Seem simple? It is. We send water to your home and you pay for the quantity of service you use. Same for electricity. Or to rent a public hall like the one at the Clifton Chenier center, or to use one of the cabins at the state park, or to enter a national park.

You will notice that it is the opposite of a tax. A tax is used to charge everyone for basic public services that, generally, everyone benefits from equally or nearly equally. To prevent freeloading, the charge is mandatory. A fee, on the other hand, is charged only to those who use it; there is no "coercion" involved.

Why is it important to Decker and other opponents of the fiber plan to nonsensically insist that fees are somehow taxes? Because they lose their basis for moral outrage if they admit the simple truth: you don't want it, it you don't pay for it. If you don't want to use the cabins at a state park, or the telecom services that are provided by LUS, you don't have to. No tax is being imposed on anyone and the service will be funded by fees willingly provided by the people who value it.

What is disconcerting about the ploy of claiming that fees are taxes is its intellectual dishonesty. It is a core "conservative" position to prefer to reserve taxes for only those most basic of all public services and to charge for everything that can be construed to benefit any smaller group more than the public at large. It was one of Ronald Regean's favorite strategies. Fees are not secret taxes. They are simply a charge for those that use a valuable service for that service, and not charging the general taxpayer to benefit the few.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Nola.com: Newsflash - Lafayette accuses BellSouth of economic blackmail

The Times-Picayune again stirs itself to notice things going on in Lafayette. This one is a reworking of the Advocate's material as the tagline for the article itself notes. Hence the only news here is that your friends in New Orleans might have questions...

"LUS officials rap BellSouth comments"

This story reports on the LUS/City-Parish protest that Oliver was trying to level a threat with his remarks made to the Advocate's editorial board. The substance is pretty much a reprise of the Oliver story with additional remarks by Durel, Oliver, and Huval.

Its a good, clear review. If you haven't already, take a look.

The Non-Denial Denial

The Advertiser has, at least online, published Bill Oliver's letter to Linda Lightfoot as a news article. And it's an odd little piece that as news, rather than documentation, calls for a different sort of interpretation than regular news articles. You've gotta read it as an advocacy piece without even the usual constraints that one would place on an advocacy essay published as an op-ed piece.

What strikes me about it is less what Oliver says and denies than what he doesn't say and doesn't deny.

He doesn't say the reporter lied about his words as quoted. He doesn't deny saying anything that is attributed to him. He only denies having "threatened" Lafayette. A casual reader might think he was claiming to have been misquoted. But the casual reader would need to read more carefully. He doesn't. And if he felt he had been misquoted he surely would say so. Of course, were he to do so he might well have to face a transcript or tape or reporter's notes that would show that he did. You can be sure that he is speaking carefully and walking a thin line. He wants to leave the impression that he has been wronged without actually saying so. Take a look at the article. Most of it reads like an apology. (There's been a lot of that around lately, but Oliver's is the self-serving kind.)

So what's the evidence? Let's look at both his letter to the Advocate and his undenied words as quoted in the Advocate.

In the letter, Oliver, after he gets through apologizing to the editorial board and his employees, explains:
My objective during the editorial board meeting was to explain the make up of BellSouth Telecommunications and Cingular - our employee structure, the way we provide service in this state, our investment in Louisiana - in an effort to educate the paper about the complexities of the issue of government competing against private enterprise. We talked about a lot of issues, including the general effect that competition by a government entity would have on the operations, employee structures or investments of private companies.
So why include that information in a short letter complaining, apparently, about a headline? It's basically an admission that he did tell the editorial board a lot about one business that is not a subsidary of BellSouth and which, in fact, his company does not even own a majority share in: Cingular. That discussion about Cingular is interpreted in the letter as being part of just a general background discussion about the effect of "government competing." His example was not deliberate, it was only used to illustrate the effect that such competition "would have" on "operations, employee structures, and investments of private companies." So he is not denying (but is trying put his own spin on) the fact that he did talk about Cingular and the effect such competition "would have" on investment, jobs, and the continued operation of the call center.

So when Oliver says he wants to "make it perfectly clear," you should be aware that what is clear is that he talked about Cingular in terms of the jobs that were there, and the continued operation of the facility, and that he thought the fiber optic plan would have an negative effect on all that. What Oliver apparently wants to say is that when he talked about all that, he didn't intend to "threaten" Lafayette.

Okay, so now what is the evidence from the quotes he did not deny in the Advocate? I quote:

Oliver said a successful LUS venture could create a monopoly in the parish.

Why would BellSouth want to keep all its operations in a parish where it had no other significant business interest, Oliver asked rhetorically.

The call center, which handles customer service tasks for Cingular, could be located in "Timbuktu" and still perform the same services, Oliver said.

"Would you still keep people there?" Oliver said
That last question has an official name: it's known as a "rhetorical question." What that means is that you aren't supposed to treat it as a real question.

You are already supposed to know the answer. And the obvious answer is "No."

That is a threat. The Advocate editorial board was supposed to regard it as a credible one and it was intended to change their behavior.

I think, if you go through it and look at it, that the letter (which was produced just in time for it to be distributed before a City-Parish response) was an attempt at damage control on the part of Oliver and BellSouth when a series of comments made by Oliver in what is usually treated as a semi-confidential setting were made public. The Advertiser, in its first write up on the media story which is no longer online, hinted at the same sorts of insinuations during a presentation to its editorial board.

The real loser in this business is the writer, Kevin Blanchard. Oliver's little bit of damage control, probably without any (additional) malicious attempt, would leave a not-very-careful reader to wonder if the writer had lied about what Oliver said. But Oliver never does deny to have said what Blanchard said he did. That unfair implication is intensified by the Advocate's decision to say it shouldn't have said "threatened" in the headline. Very few people will know that writers generally do not write their own headlines. That's usually done as the paper is dummied up by an entirely different group of people. But it leaves the impression with those who don't know that such separation is usually the case, that the paper doesn't fully support its writer in this. Reporters will know differently. But the Advocate should make it clear that it stands by the story and that the words quoted are accurate. The evidence is that the story is accurately and professionally written. The Advocate should be equally professional in protecting its own.

Durel says BellSouth threat is 'economic blackmail'

In the story with the long title "Durel says BellSouth threat is 'economic blackmail'; BellSouth exec denies he threatened anything" the Advertiser publishes an early story on BellSouth's response to getting cited for threatening (or at least implying so strongly that no one could be left with a grain of doubt as Mike reported earlier) Lafayette with the loss of Cingular jobs.

As I noted earlier earlier what was different about this "rapid respone" press conference was that LEDA came along for the first time. Mike reports that
Gothreaux outlined 18 million dollars in government support for building that call center and promised that it would keep it open and staff it with at least 750 jobs for 10 years. The Advertiser doesn't mention this salient fact and barely mentions LEDA's attendence. In fairness the Advertiser has taken to publishing early drafts of major stories on the day that the break and updating them to more complete status when the full story publishes the next morning.

But as unaccountable as that ommission seems the Advertiser does provide us with direct acces to both Bill Oliver's letter to the Advocate and the text of Joey Durel's prepared statements on the issue. Adding supporting documents like these are a real service to the community by allowing for independent interpretation by readers of crucial documents. I hope the Advertiser continues the practice--its a good one and its worth congratulating them for doing so.

Update 8:30 2/27/05: the new version of the story, located at the same URL as the original linked to above does a good job of bringing out what I had found absent in the first version: Greg Gouthreaux's and LEDA's participation, the amount Louisiana and Lafayette "invested" in the center and BellSouth's legal and financial obligations.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Fiber411 apologizes, Doug accepts

On Thursday, Bill of Fiber411 wrote a testy letter to Doug Menefee, a letter Doug published to his blog under the tongue-in-cheek title, "Kind words to me from Bill L.". Today the three Fiber411 fellows write Doug an apology and Doug accepts.

LPF had been CC'ed on the email; Fiber411 asked that we publish the apology. I thought it appropriate to let Doug, the injured party, respond before posting anything here but now that Doug has responded I'm happy to honor their request:

From: "Tim Supple"
To:
Cc: ,
Subject: LETTER OF APPOLOGY
Date: Fri, 25 Feb 2005 14:04:57 -0600

LETTER OF APPOLOGY

To: Doug Menefee

From: Fiber 411

Dear Mr. Menefee: Yesterday you received a letter from a member of Fiber 411 for which we would all like to apologize. There was no excuse for the heavy-handed manner in which the letter was written. The letter was laced with innuendo, threats and accusations. It was wrong. For all of it, we apologize.

We hope all that read or took offense to the letter will grant some compassion and understanding. The day before the letter was written, the following took place:
1. During the court proceeding, a member of the city council told members of Fiber 411 that he “knew” that they were being paid by Bell South.
2. In the power point presentation made by the city’s attorney, included in the slides shown to the Judge and to the public, was the statement that Fiber 411 is an agent of Bell South.
3. That night the city implied that somehow this was about big corporations from Atlanta dictating to the future of Lafayette. The statement seemed to ignore the rule of law, the Judges ruling, the citizens that put their lives on hold, the citizens that signed the petition and all the other citizens who are asking for the right to vote.

None of that gives anyone the right to send that letter.

Unfortunately, one of the weaknesses of our human nature is to try to defend ourselves when we have been attacked. Since beginning the campaign to get the city to follow the law, we feel we have been personally attacked by LUS, Mr. Durel, City Councilmen, pro LUS bloggers, the press and members of the community that do not know us. Our motivations, integrity and reputations have been called into question. Our family members have had to endure insults and have been ostracized from much of the community. But, that is our problem, not yours. The letter was wrong.

Again, we ask everyone, especially ourselves and those who support us, to keep the discussion to the issues and not lower ourselves or our cause, to personal attacks. If we do, then we have all lost. Someone very important once said, “For what shall it profit a man to gain the whole world, and lose his own soul”.

I hope you will post this apology on your website.

Fiber 411
Tim Supple
Neal Breakfield
Bill Leblanc

Standing up! — Natalie Newman defends Doug

In a letter mailed to LUSFTTH Natalie Newman stands up to defend Doug, to endorse the legitimate role of government in development, and to raise questions about Fiber411's first petition. It's not particularly part of our easy-going culture down here to rise up and howl. But that's what's needed now. Kudos to Natalie.

Bill Oliver Proclaims Himself the Only Trustworthy Citizen in Louisiana

BellSouth Louisiana boss Bill Oliver, fresh from delivering an economic blackmail threat to Lafayette via the editorial board of the Baton Rouge Advocate, had his folks out scurrying Friday afternoon trying to cover his tracks.

Lafayette Mayor-President Joey Durel called a 3 p.m. press conference at the Lafayette Economic Development Authority offices on Friday afternoon. BellSouth regional rep John Williams was there early with copies of a letter from to The Advocate's Executive Editor Linda Lightfoot. The letter was distributed prior to the start of the press conference, which drew a significant contingent of the area's media.

In his letter, Oliver essentially calls reporter Kevin Blanchard a liar, as well as any and everyone one at The Advocate who sat in on the editorial board meeting with him and allowed Blanchard's story to run.

After three paragraphs of hemming and hawing about his intent during his two-hour meeting with The Advocate editorial board, Oliver goes into full denial mode:

In closing, let me make it perfectly clear — I did not threaten a pullout or a closure of any BellSouth or Cingular center in Louisiana. I am deeply concerned that interpretations of my comments have caused any distress for our employees or our customers. BellSouth values all of our employees and customers, and we want to continue to provide outstanding service to the citizens of Lafayette. We have done so for more than 100 years, and we expect to do so for many years to come.
Let's see, in the story, there are the following relevant paragraphs:
Oliver said a successful LUS venture could create a monopoly in the parish

Why would BellSouth want to keep all its operations in a parish where it had no other significant business interest, Oliver asked rhetorically.
The call center, which handles customer service tasks for Cingular, could be located in "Timbuktu" and still perform the same services, Oliver said.

"Would you still keep people there?" Oliver said.
Imagine, interpreting that as a threat! That's just standard Fortune 500 lingo for the facts: "Do it our way or we hit the highway."

No threat. Just fact.

When Kevin Blanchard read Oliver's letter, I happened to be sitting behind him. He turned to Claire Taylor from The Advertiser and said with some incredulity, "He's saying he didn't say what I reported he said!"

In the press conference, Durel said that he was forced to choose between the credibility of Bill Oliver and The Advocate. He said he had to go with The Advocate on this one, based on the record of BellSouth's behavior in response to the LUS fiber plan.

Durel said he believed The Advocate article because the city has been under attack by BellSouth since the fiber plan was first announced. Durel said that BellSouth had first gone to the Legislature to try to kill the effort. Failing there, they proceeded with their partners Cox (and their posse of Sock Puppets) to wage a disinformation campaign against the effort. Failing that, BellSouth, Cox went to court where they won a measure of victory by forcing Consolidated Government to pursue another route towards bond sales.

"This threat is nothing but economic blackmail against the people of Lafayette," Durel declared.

"It is now clear that BellSouth will stop at nothing to try to intimidate the citizens of our community," LUS director Terry Huval said.

The most interesting part of the press conference was LEDA CEO Gregg Gothreaux's description of the approximately $18 million in concessions local and state governments gave Cingular to get that call center here. They include about $10 million in workforce training money under the incumbent Quality Jobs Program, a public ownership bond (without a public vote!) of $1 million for construction of the building, 14 acres of land and, get this, discounted utility rates from LUS!

Gothreaux said these are part of a 10-year contract signed by Cingular with LEDA and the State of Louisiana in 2001. That contract binds Cingular to provide at least 750 jobs at the call center (which is located in LEDA's industrial park off Pointe de Mouton Road) for the duration of the contract. There are currently 1,300 jobs at the call center.

So, BellSouth's backtrackin' Bill Oliver has opened up a new front in his war against the LUS plan. Not content to competing with an inferior network against Cox and other cable providers in the metro markets of the state, Oliver has now provoked a war against the best newspaper in the state.

To believe Oliver, you have to believe everyone else he's taken on is lying.

"Lafayette Faces Fiber Setback" Broadband Reports

Broadband Reports is yet another national venue that is following Lafayette's fight for fiber.
As is the usual case what is really interesting is the string of responese by its national audience.

The story:
After promising they'd aid the effort, BellSouth and Cox filed suit against the city of Lafayette to prevent it from pursuing $125 million in revenue bonds to fund a triple-play fiber network. Despite the city informing a Judge 60 other governing bodies have used the same procedure to obtain funds, the Judge sided with the incumbents in the suit, forcing the city to backtrack on its plans. The plan may now face a public vote, which as we've seen in these muni battles, is rarely a balanced and democratic affair.

Sock Puppets' Pants Are on Fire

One of the original Sock Puppets of the Incumbents has a letter to the editor of The Advertiser that matches well with the public pose of humility he and his fellow Atlanta boosters have assumed in the wake of Judge Byron Hebert's decision requiring Consolidated Government to treat the LUS fiber plan as a traditional capital outlay bond issue.

Contrast that to this braying by the same author to a supporter of the LUS plan:
Lafayette Consolidated government is going to regret using its powers to persuade well know groups in Lafayette to back its risky plan. Groups such as The Advertiser, The democratic party, and others will also come to regret selling there souls to LCG. Now this risky fiber optic plan is going to go to a vote and the truth is going to come out. What the administration feared most all alone was the citizens of Lafayette being given the right to vote. Because the citizens are going to learn that there government was not honest with them and there going to learn that there local government that they trusted was trying to deceive them. Like the old saying goes the truth hurts, and when the truth comes out there is going to be a lot of hurting people including the 8 members of the city council that did no home work on this plan and voted on it. At the end of the day, IM afraid that Lafayette's citizens are going to loose its credibility for LCG and many others.
It's good to see that the court win has done nothing to diminish the delusions which lie at the heart of this group's opposition to the LUS plan.

LUS and Consolidated Government have no "powers" to use to steer those groups or any other supporters wrong. While Sock Puppet #1 (let's call him this for reference purposes in order to distinguish him from the rest of the 'Drawer' of Sock Puppets, as one of their members now proclaims themselves) refers to the Lafayette Democratic Party as a so influenced group, it just ain't so. The party came out in support of the LUS project as a result of internal discussions among its members, without input from LUS. They just happen to think this project will be a good thing for Lafayette.

As does The Advertiser.

But, the threats don't stop with Sock Puppet #1. Now, the entire Drawer is in full bray. They have now dropped the major pretense of their charade: namely, that their call for a vote is not a call to kill the project.

Note the comments on our blog on the original court decision, particularly like this one from Sock Puppet Drawer member "Baycock":

I am fundamentally against the current fiber plan. Now that the first item on my priority list seems to be a done deal, I will cross it out and move to the to the next item on the list. Defeating the bond issue as we now understand it.

I intend to keep crossing off items on my priority list until I get to the last item. Campaigning against and defeating Joey Durel and Marc Mouton.
Apparently intoxicated by the victory BellSouth won them in the Hebert decision, the Sock Puppets' have lost the ability to conceal their hypocrisy — or maybe they just don't feel the need to do so any longer.

Their effort IS about killing the LUS project — nothing more or less than that. It always has been. The only difference is that now they feel free to admit it. They have used a plea for referendum to shield their intent. Now that their wish will apparently be granted, the pose has been exposed to be the lie that it was all along.

BellSouth threatens pullout

"BellSouth threatens pullout" is the headline in a story which could have been about Bill Oliver scuttling down to the capital paper to try and get an endorsement from some newspaper after the Advertiser's stunning 4-part endorsement of the city-parish/LUS fiber plan.

BellSouth in a bit of calculated rage threatens to pull its low-wage job center, built with substantial public give-backs out of Lafayette if LUS should become successful. What they don't threaten (because that is the more "realistic" likelihood) is that they might cease developing their system in Lafayette in the face of real competition that shrinks their profit-margin. Instead they try and threaten to take away that which the don't own (they are a 40% shareholder in Cingular with SBC owning the other 60%). There are those who think that the sorts of low-level, poorly paid jobs that are characteristic of call centers is the best that the people of Lafayette can hope for. Except for a few, those people live outside Lafayette.

The people who live in Lafayette, and their representatives, think we can do better than counting on just the sorts of jobs that are regularly outsourced to third world companies for our community's future. And lots of folks don't like to be threatened. It's no accident, I feel sure, that this off-the-cuff remark was made in a closed editorial meeting that would normally be immune to reporting. My guess is that Oliver won't be too happy that his threat is being reported. He has better strategic sense than to bandy about in public something that is more useful in impressing "influentials." Another indication that he didn't really think he was talking to the public is that he reiterated a claim that got him in to hot water early in the fight for fiber here in Lafayette: that the people of Lafayette don't really need any more than we've got in the way of telecommunications. Now there is a classic little bit of arrogance.

Kudo's to the Advocate for reporting the sorts of unsupportable claims and threats that are usually made behind closed doors.

Update 3:24 (from Baltimore's Inner Harbor) --I got a call from Lafayette this morning reporting that the folks at the Lafayette call center are pretty POed at being treated like expendable munition in BellSouth's fight with Lafayette. Apparently an email is making the rounds complaining about BellSouth't presumptions. (These folks don't feel like they are working for BellSouth.) Apparently it's being "discussed" up the management line...

I also see an announcement of a joint LUS/City-Parish/LEDA conference to respond to the BellSouth threat set for 3:00 pm. Not being in the fair city I can't make it. I'd be curious to get a report filling me/us in here. What's new and unique is the inclusion of LEDA in the repsonse. LEDA's been one of the folks that reason and scuttlebut tell us have been in favor of the fiber plan but haven't come out clearly and publicly for "relationship" reasons. Maybe this will prove the final offense that leads to the marriage coming unglued. It would be good for LEDA to stand up and come out of the closet.

Anyway...it sure isn't looking like threatening Lafayette is turning out well for Oliver. Or BellSouth

"Why Your Broadband Sucks" — Wired

Subtitle: "Telecom toadies (ahem, state officials) stifle competition to keep prices high."

Lawerence Lessing, writing in Wired rips into the sort of nonsense we've seen in Lafayette and around the country:

The telcos' argument isn't much more subtle than that of the simpleton who began this column: Businesses shouldn't have to compete against their governments. What the market can do, the government shouldn't. Or so the fall of the Soviet Union should have taught us.

Although this principle is true enough in most cases, it is obviously not true in all. The government should certainly not do what private enterprise can do better (e.g., make computers). And the government should not prohibit private enterprise from competing against it (e.g., FedEx). But the government also should not act as the cat's paw for one of the most powerful industries in the nation by making competition against that industry illegal, whether from government or not. This is true, at least, when it is unclear just what kind of "good" such competition might produce.

Broadband is the perfect example. The private market has failed the US so far. At the beginning, we led the world in broadband deployment. But by 2004, we ranked an embarrassing 13th. There are many places, like Philadelphia, where service is lacking. And there are many places, like San Francisco, where competition is lacking. The result of the duopoly that currently defines "competition" is that prices and service suck. We're the world's leader in Internet technology - except that we're not.

This is the second article this week that has turned a heavy dose of irony and sarcasm to good effect. I gotta say I find it bracing.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

"Lafayette hits snag in fiber build" — CNET

National Coverage for the battle of Lafayette is found in CNET.

Take a look, its pretty much reportorial coverage but the writer does a much more even-handed report on the matter that we got early in this fight. It looks like reporters at every level are beginning to educate themselves as to the national implications of our local fight:

Lafayette is just one of many cities trying to build its own broadband network. Proposals have already sprung up all over the country in cities such as Provo, Utah; Chaska, Minn.; and Palo Alto, Calif. Larger cities, such as Philadelphia and Los Angeles have also started looking into building their own broadband networks.

These projects have ignited a firestorm of opposition from the Baby Bell phone companies and cable operators, who view the existence of these networks as threats to their businesses. As a result, they have spent millions of dollars lobbying state legislators and fighting court battles to make sure these networks aren't built.

What happens in Lafayette is important, and not only to our local community.

(Thanks Ricky, for the pointer.)


Which Side Are You On? Atlanta's? Or Lafayette's?

It was a pretty ugly day for LUS in Judge Byron Hebert's 15th Judicial District Court.

The Advocate has two stories. One on the decision. The other on the Consolidated Government press conference in response to the decision and what may be next.

At blog time (1:30 a.m. or so), The Daily Advertiser had only posted one story on it, this one a wrap up of the decision in the time-honored Gannett style: short and tight.

UPDATE: Later Thursday, The Advertiser posted this story by Claire Taylor on Wednesday's court ruling and the reaction of the direct participants.

As Durel said at his press conference, this was a setback.

It appears that this all could be heading to a public vote. If so, the number of public backers of the project appears to be growing. The Advocate (again!) reports that Lafayette's Democratic Parish Executive Committee has passed a resolution in support of the project and that their Republican counter-parts will consider a similar resolution which was introduced at their meeting on Wednesday. This comes on the heels of The Advertiser's strong editorial series in support of the LUS effort earlier this week.

Oddly, the Lafayette Chamber remains sidelined at this point, although efforts reportedly continue to move the organization off the fence and into the fray — hopefully, on the side of cheaper bandwidth for the community (and you know there's only one place that will come from — LUS). The issue is, apparently, money: having lost BellSouth as a member several years ago over the Chamber's support of the LUS fiber loop plan, the Chamber can ill afford (literally) to lose Cox as a member. So, the delicate organizational dance continues. It may look necessary from the inside, but it is taking on near Nero-ian (fiddling while Rome burns) proportions from the outside.

In every endeavor, there is an ebb and flow of events. Yesterday, things broke against those of us who favor the LUS plan (maybe the Sock Puppets of the Incumbents will finally have the courage to admit that they are fundamentally opposed to the plan, that the idea of a vote is merely a possible path to killing the plan). But, the fight is far from over; in fact, it is now on in earnest.

The prospect of a contested election is no longer a hypothetical. The question now becomes: Which side are you on?

The ability of this city and parish to assert control over its own economic destiny hangs in the balance. It is no longer possible to excuse yourself from the debate.

The question is on the table. The future is at stake. It's time to declare your allegiance. Which side are you on? Atlanta's? Or, Lafayette's?

Standing Up! — "Dear Cox Communications and BellSouth..."

The Vermillion over at UL lashes BellSouth and Cox. It's good to hear from campus. Few people will benefit more from a fiber network than students and few institutions will benefit more than the University of Lafayette.

It's also nice to see that irony isn't dead. Today is a good day to hear a little humor.

Well worth the read. Go get it at the Vermillion online: Dear Cox Communications and BellSouth...: "Dear Cox Communications and BellSouth...

(Thanks to Doug at LUSFTTH for the pointer.)

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

LUS/City Loses in District Court

A sad day. Judge Hebert has ruled for the plantiffs in court early this afternoon. No reliable news on the reasoning behind his ruling is yet available. And no news, of course, on whether or not the city will appeal though I am assuming that it will barring a ruling whose logic seems irrefutable.

The Ind covers bipartisan support

A brief in the independent covers the bipartisan political support the fiber to the home plan has garnered in response to Joey Durel's recent call to arms. Folks who can't agree about anything else can agree about this.

Let's get on with it.

GameCamp! offers teens a chance to design, play

The Advocate covers the first concrete stirrings of a what might well be a major Acadiana Industry: Gaming (no not that kind of gaming; that's in Lake Charles and the reservations).

This follows on the heels of UL's development of a gaming curriculum, the announcement that Ninjaneering was to bring significant resources to Lafayette (partly on the basis of publicly owned fiber) and Doug's notice of the formation of a Louisiana game developers association.

Digital gaming development requires the most advanced technology around and a network capable of moving lots of data around cheaply and quickly is a crucial part of that equation. What Lafayette will soon have in a municipal fiber network will seriously reduce the barriers to entry for small shops of independent developers. Large projects can be broken up and farmed out in parts to specialty shops. There will be no need to bring everyone together in a single warehouse somewhere, working for a single employer, in order to gain the benefits of a fast intranet. Lafayette will be that fast intranet. LUS' fiber net may well be fast enough to support distributed rendering over the public net at a reasonable price. That would further lower the hardware barriers to entry, allowing an savvy tech guy to put together a killer render farm to serve the entire community of developers.

This has the potential to be big business for Lafayette--by enabling a large number of small, innovative, young "garage" developers. Business that would not be available without cheap, fast, community-owned infrastructure.

From the story:
"A lot of kids out there who have started early thinking about their careers, would love to be game designers, programmers, artists, independent developers,' Zuzolo said. 'But they really don't have any idea, other than what they talk about with their friends or what's on the Internet, about how to go about that career path."

Standing Up! — "Opponents are exaggerating LUS plan risks"

The Advertiser completes its series of editorials with "Opponents are exaggerating LUS plan risks" which is supports of the fiber initiative with calm review of LUS' areas of competence, the city's prudent plan for phased rollout, and a clear understanding that the purposes of the plan do not call for raking in big profits but for benefiting the citizens of Lafayette by the saving the citizens money, improving our quality of life, and expanding the potential for economic development. From the essay:
The arguments against it are by companies seeking to protect their profits, a completely normal reaction. Their arguments, however, are less than compelling. The problems they cite in communities where government has entered the telecommunications field demand close study. In most cases, what has been called failure is no more than falling short of an overly ambitious game plan. Setbacks have been experienced by some cities, and estimates of revenue have had to be revised, but the communities remain committed and are moving forward confidently.

While generating revenue is essential to paying off the bonds and keeping up with constantly changing technology, revenue is not the basic goal. Competition will result in better rates, but as desirable as that is, it is still not the focal point of the administration vision. The vision is one of technological leadership that will result in explosive economic growth.

It is an exciting vision. We look forward eagerly to its fulfillment.
The essays, taken together, make a good brief for the project and are model of calm reason. We are lucky to have them injected into the conversation.

"Municipal Broadband: Corporate or Local Control?"

A recent Advertiser editorial mentioned the growing threat that companies like BellSouth and Cox will simply pass laws in state legislatures to make it illegal for cities and local governments to provide telecommunications services. In that editorial the paper said:
If Cox and BellSouth really believed that LUS is incapable of making the project work, they would simply stand back and watch it crash and burn. Instead, they are trying to keep it from getting off the ground with legal action and demands for a public referendum. They may well be trying to delay it until the next legislative session in which they could push for a state law banning entry of municipalities into the telecommunications field. Unfortunately, that has worked in some states. (emphasis mine)
The paper is absolutely right. I have been watching those battles from a distance and have gained a new appreciation for just how lucky/smart we were here to have dodged the bullet that BellSouth aimed at the Lafayette project at the end of the last legislative session. Be assured that they'll try again if they see the chance. Blanco promises to be a stalwart in defense of local self-determination and it will not be possible for the incumbents to finagle behind closed doors again, but it will definitely bear watching.

For an overview of the tricks that are being tried around the country see the article and links a theThe Free Press story: Municipal Broadband: Corporate or Local Control?Free Press : Community Internet it is all pretty astonishingly blatant. If you search back through our archives (go to the front page: lafayetteporfiber.com and find the search in the left hand index) and search for Philadelphia you'll find some older stories. This stuff continues all over the country.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Standing Up!—"LUS can keep pace with the advances in telecommunications"

It's a twofer! This Advertiser editorial addresses two of the complaints opponents of the fiber to the home plan have: the rapidity of technological change and the need for a referendum.

The idea that technological change is a problem for our local utility was always a not-so-subtle insult. The Advertiser responds smartly:
...it is interesting that BellSouth and Cox Communications encourage citizens to raise this question when it is LUS that is moving to the cutting edge with its fiber optic system. The private companies are doggedly clinging to older, slower technology for their customers.

We have no doubt that LUS can stay abreast of telecommunications technology. There is talk of wireless communications being the wave of the future. Because it requires fiber - and the broader the bandwidth the better the wireless delivery - the utility system is ideally positioned for that change, if and when it occurs."

Stop and think: LUS moved us far ahead of other cities our size when it developed the fiber optic system already serving local businesses. That was a giant technological move, expertly made. The question is not whether Lafayette can keep up with technological changes, but whether other communities can keep up with Lafayette.
The daily is right on target here. If keeping abreast of technology is your concern then fire the huge, slow-moving corporations that are tied to outdated networks and shaped by their monopolistic histories and hire a nimble, local firm with a history of successful technological innovation. LUS.

The second of the two essays is worth reproducing in full:
If Cox and BellSouth really believed that LUS is incapable of making the project work, they would simply stand back and watch it crash and burn. Instead, they are trying to keep it from getting off the ground with legal action and demands for a public referendum. They may well be trying to delay it until the next legislative session in which they could push for a state law banning entry of municipalities into the telecommunications field. Unfortunately, that has worked in some states.

The call for a referendum is an obvious attempt to stall the forward movement. We heard no such call when the city-parish council declared its intent to sell $200 million in bonds to fund expansion of LUS electrical generating capacity. In a representative form of government, that is the function of those we place in office. We entrust them with such decisions. If we start putting every controversial issue before the voter, we might as well relinquish the democratic system.

Because of the savings on telephone, cable television and Internet costs, we feel certain voters would - at this time - support the plan. However, we must consider the ability of Cox and BellSouth to unleash a high-powered, high-cost media campaign, while city-parish funds cannot be used in such a way.

That is not the issue, however. The real issue is whether or not the people elected by the majority of voters to make important decisions should be thrust aside - because two giant corporations want to protect their profits by blocking progress.

Again, the real reason for the demand for a referendum is that they know the LUS plan can work.

Nicely done. Is it more sensible to trust the motives of BellSouth and Cox or to trust the officials you voted into office (and can vote out agan)? The answer is clear.


Monday, February 21, 2005

Google invests in town that has invested in itself

The Oregonian announced that Google has decided to locate at least one high-tech facility with good-paying jobs in a rural Oregon town that had the guts to invest in itself. Many other places had access to some of the same tax incentives and other amenities. What Port Dulles had that set it apart was fiber....
Rural Oregon's investment in high-speed Internet access is beginning to pay dividends.

On Wednesday, Google Inc. agreed to pay $1.87 million for 30 acres of industrial-zoned land at the Port of The Dalles. Officials in Wasco County expect the Internet search engine giant to bring to the Columbia River Gorge community between 50 and 100 jobs paying an average of $60,000 annually in wages and benefits, twice the county's average income.
And they've got options on 3 other tracts in the region.

The Googles of the new economy have to have fast, cheap broadband. Communities that want to attract them have to have fiber.

Standing Up! — Lafayette Dems Endorse Fiber

A press release this afternoon carried the Lafayette Democrat's endorsement of the fiber optic issue. The question had been put before the executive committee at a recent public meeting (documented by the Indpendent) and apparently they finalized a statement of support in response to Durel's recent call. In fact, Durel comes in for a lot of praise, though his party affiliation is, not surprisingly, ignored. From the press release:
...A core principle of the Lafayette Democratic Party is to improve local businesses and the lives of local citizens. That principle drives the Lafayette Democratic Party to endorse the Lafayette Consolidated Government's plan for fiber optics.

Lafayette has embarked on a progressive plan to bring fiber optics to the homes and businesses of its citizens. With fiber optics, the Lafayette Utilities System will have the capacity to provide businesses and consumers with high-speed, low cost Internet, telephone, and cable television service.

We, the members of the Lafayette Democratic Parish Executive Committee, believe the project will enhance businesses, enrich our lives, and prepare our children for the future. With proper planning, future generations will see profits generated by this project stay in this community and improve businesses and lives for generations to come.
All the news we get here indicates that the local Republicans have also committed to formal endorsement by mid-week. Good. This isn't a partisan issue but a question of doing what's best for the people of this community. That both political parties apparrently can find good reasons to favor the plan is a testemant to just how right it is. You've got to have appeal aplenty to get these two groups to agree.

Standing Up! — Bipartisan Support?

The proverbial "reliable sources" tell Lafayette Pro Fiber that both the local Democrats and the local Republicans will endorse the fiber to the home iniative during the early part of this week. One announcement is said to be slated for as early as this afternoon.

Durel's State of the City-Parish speech has knocked things loose. A little challenge turns out to be a very good thing.

Stay tuned.

Standing Up!—"Government must compete at times with private sector"

The Advertiser editorializes in favor of government competeing with private enterprise when private companies will not provide needesd services and (this is implicit rather than directly held) when such companies prove to be actively hostile to the community's interests in the pursuit of their own. It is a tight well-written essay; here are three of the most relevant 'graphs:
Under most circumstances, we support the argument that government should not compete for business with private companies. There have always been exceptions, however. There is nothing new or sinister about government competing in the private sector when it fills a public need that private companies are unwilling or unable to address. The Lafayette Utilities System came into existence because private companies were not interested in serving what was then a small, rural community.

Instead of reaching out to the community, they reached for their big guns - heavy political influence and deep pockets - and launched a battle to scuttle the LUS proposal.

Because our city officials are willing and able to think outside the box, we have an opportunity to build an infrastructure that will move Lafayette far ahead of other cities. We can become a leader in this, the Information Age. Cox and BellSouth are not only unwilling to help, but are determined to block our progress. Should government enter into competition with these private-sector companies? There is no other choice.
Strong stuff. I would add only this: The Advertiser's editorial is based on the understanding that the central purpose of government is to promote and protect the well-being of its citizens. But they choose to apply this principle only in the negative—they focus on the fact that BellSouth and Cox do not intend to provide needed infrastructure and that this fact alone provides the needed excuse for the city-parish to enter the field. It is good reasoning; based on sound principles and the facts on the ground. They need go no further.

But there is a stronger, more positive, line of reasoning available: Government has the right and even the obligation to step in to protect its citizens when, in fact, there is no "free enterprise" to respect and no prospect of such emerging. That is the case here. We have the spectacle of two wireline monopolies that have no effective competition for their basic services because of their exclusive ownership of the only network over which those services may be offered. The economic framework for understanding for the situation is that they are natural monopolies. —Natural monopolies because no one can afford to build a network which will compete with their already largerly paid-for systems. The evils of monopolies are well know. Monopolies inevitably exploit their advantage by overcharging, providing poor service, and resisiting innovation. (Innovations like fiber optics, for instance.) The Federal Communications Commission made herculean efforts to encourage "overbuilding" of new networks which ignored the basic economic principles of natural monopolies and failed miserably. Our opportunity comes because a new wireline technology, fiber optics, is now available which can more efficiently deliver the services formerly offered by the monopolies and many, many more. By seizing the day the city-parish effectively breaks the grip of the monopolies and turns this potential new natural monopoly network into a utility owned the people it serves. This is exactly the same situation as any the earlier decisions to make water, roads, and electricity city utilities. The people have unquestionably benefited and providing that benefit and preserving its citizens freedom from economic tyranny is a perfectly reasonable way for a vigorous, in-touch government to behave.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Standing up! — The Advertiser endorses fiber

Red Letter Day -- the Advertiser says:
City should move forward on fiber- to-the-home plan

The endorsement:
Today we begin a series of commentaries on the proposed expansion of the Lafayette Utility System into the telecommunications field. We have withheld comment until now - waiting to acquire and carefully study all the information necessary for an informed opinion. We believe we are at that point.

Our conclusion is that Lafayette should go forward with the plan.
Snips from the endorsement:
What really is at stake is the competitive position of a small community in a global economy....Becoming a leader in telecommunications will position Lafayette for powerful economic progress. The LUS plan can make us a leader....Elected city-parish officials are trying, through this plan, to make good on promises to bring growth and prosperity to our community.

Why are they waging this negative battle?...Because they can...They wield enormous political clout and have very deep pockets. They are concerned about loss of customers in Lafayette, but beyond that they are fearful of the message that a victory for LUS would send across the nation



This is wonderful. A powerful endorsement. Even better—and even more praiseworthy, should that be possible—is that they will be following their endorsement with a series of analyses addressing the issue. That's the way it ought to be done and I am mightily impressed.

TOMORROW: There are numerous situations in which government does -- and should -- compete in the marketplace.

"Calling For Real Competition" (Washington Post)

Every so often a columnist actually uses the forum as it was meant to be used: to share with readers how a person who is watching a topic closely and remembers its history reasons about the implications of current events.

Stephen Pearlstein with the Washington Post shows us how it is done. From the final paragraph:
"For the past decade, the Baby Bells have talked incessantly of the glory of competitive markets while using their power and guaranteed profit to try to make sure they had no serious competitors. Now that wireless and cable competitors have come along and broken their local phone monopolies, they are scrambling to get into everyone else's businesses. Before they are allowed to buy their way in, we ought to force them to share the local networks they built at their customers' risk with their customers' money, just as Congress intended."
The lead-in to that paragraph is equally incisive. Give it a look.

Friday, February 18, 2005

"EATEL days away from offering TV service"

Readers will recall occasional posts regarding EATEL's fiber build-out in Ascension parish. They are almost ready to begin delivering services. I found the link at Doug's--and I couldn't resist treating readers here to the story's closing sentences:
"In Lafayette, the local utility this year plans to begin competing against the established players for Internet, TV and phone customers. No plans in Baton Rouge by public or private players to build a fiber-to-the-home network that would boost competition in the capital. "
Now if the Baton Rouge Business Report can figure out how this competition thing works....

(Not at the link? Try February 18th, 2005 in the archive)

The City replies to the BellSouth lawsuit

I picked up a copy of the thick city reply to the BellSouth suit Friday and "read" it last night. From my layman's perspective, and I suspect from a lawyer's perspective as well, it is dense and intricate.

The papers both carry stories on it. (The Advocate: Court urged to toss BellSouth suit; The Advertiser: Fiber lawsuit too late, city says) Both focus on the city's trump card: the suit ought to dismissed out of hand because BellSouth filed it too late. This is not merely a matter of statute, according to the reply. It is a constitutional mandate that allows for no interpretation by the judge and no modification by mere law or custom. Because it is a constitutional matter, factors which might color interpretation are simply not allowable. Since the constitution clearly states that the deadline is 30 days and does not except holidays, no judge or law can change that absolute deadline to make allowance for "holidays." The filing was not timely and must be dismissed.

That is strong stuff, and convincing, but the city-parish attorney, Ottinger, does not stop there. He goes on to assert that the constitutional clause setting a strict limit of 30 days is of a particular kind (a "peremption") which has the radical effect of destroying the possibility of any further challenge once the deadline has passed. The thirty-day limit has the effect of destroying any and all possible causes of action and "the court shall have no authority to inquire into such matters." What makes it radical is that the argument, if accepted, means that nobody can raise any question at all about the bonds; delaying tactics from this quarter would be over. The state's reason for putting bonds beyond the reach of the law after a 30-day grace period is simply to ensure that it can be trusted to pay its debts, and this purpose has been written into the constitution in a way that closes the door finally after the deadline.

So the missed filing date will likely decide the case outright. If the city is right (and it is hard to see a way around a constitutional provision of this type), then no cause for action exists or can exist and the bond issue is not open for attack.

But just in case, the city builds an intricate structure of logic that resembles nothing so much as the sort of hierarchical decision tree that you see in computer programming. Really. There is a series of "if-then" statements with a few "if-then-else" branching structures that methodically go through all the possible interpretations and close doors. There is even a portion that traps BellSouth in an endless loop where their acceptance of a law in one place critical to their argument traps them into a "judicial admission" that the law applies which has fatal results for their argument elsewhere.

All very nice, all very convincing.

A little rumination: in novels of the old days the "odd birds" of the era are usually lawyers. Eccentric, a little obsessive, and impractically logical. Today we call odd birds with these characteristics "geeks" and set them to programming computers. They are expected to operate inside a set of hierarchical rules where an upper level of laws determines rules that can't be broken and a series of if-then-else structures determines the flow of causality in particular cases. It's pretty clear that were Ottinger born a bit later, he might have become a programmer. I'd be curious to know if anyone else sees a connection or if I'm out to lunch on this one.

Another Sock Puppets of the Incumbents Chapter Surfaces

There they go again!

Our friends in the Fourth Estate (i.e., the Main Stream Media) have fallen for the bait. The Advocate reports that a "fourth party" has entered the suit against LUS. The implication is that the Louisiana Cable & Telecommunications Association is somehow separate and apart from the other parties in the suit: Cox, BellSouth and the original, local Sock Puppets of the Incumbents group.

Hardly.

Check out the leadership of the LCTA here.

Lo and behold! The president of this august body is none other than Cox honcho Gary Cassard! Oh, the past president is the president of Cox Baton Rouge! There are a couple of other Cox GMs on the board.

So, the proper perspective is that LCTA's role in this legal skirmish is that of a subsidiary of Cox. It's not like it's an independent organization or anything like that.

No, the LCTA is statewide chapter of the Sock Puppets of the Incumbents, industrial division!

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Standing Up! --Sue the B*S*****

Hey now, that really is fast!

André Comeaux emails LPF and LUSFTTH with the following inspired suggestion and request for plaintiffs in a class action suit aimed at BellSouth and its minions:
I found myself inspired yesterday listening to Joey Durel call for
supporters of FTTH to stand up. It happened that I was sharing a table
with a group of plaintiff attorneys. A light bulb went on. Now I am
thinking of filing a lawsuit against Bell and 411 for blocking the opportunity for
my family to have a better quality of life. Do you think you guys could
use your blogs to help me find other victims who may want to join me? Any
help would be appreciated.

André
[email: andrecomeaux@cox-internet.com]

Do you think BS and Cox are standing in the way of a better life for you and yours?

Stand up!

Standing up! --Advertiser Letter

Well, that was fast. Barry J. Dufour "stands up" in a letter to the Advertiser. He gets right to a central point in this whole conflict: if good customers like himself can't get service because BellSouth doesn't think his neighborhood is good enough, then why are they getting in the way of his own community providing it for him and his neighbors?

Here is Barry's final paragraph; go get the entire letter to read the story that led him to this point:
So BellSouth, stop your complaining about LUS and the fiber optic project. At least they want to serve the public where you will not. You say that you can supply it to the homeowners, yet you don't. I am researching other phone companies' options and plans at this time and will change to a carrier that will benefit me.
(Yeah, I do realize that Barry is not likely actually responding to Durel's call to arms in the state of the parish address, but he is showing exactly the fire and spirit that Durel advocates.)

"Get out of our way." Indeed.

'Time for you to stand up'

Ok, I was just wrong. The Advertiser joins the Advocate in publishing an accurate and well-written article that focuses on the the real story of the state of the parish address.

The lead paragraph:
It's time for business owners, organizations and individuals who privately support the LUS fiber optics project to say so publicly, City-Parish President Joey Durel said Wednesday.
It goes on:

Durel told several hundred people at his State of the City-Parish address that his biggest disappointment since taking office Jan. 5, 2004, is that organizations, businesses and individuals are "not standing up screaming and hollering about this project."

"Good old boy politics" is at play when relationships stop people from outwardly supporting a project like this when they secretly support it, he said.

"It's time for you to stand up," Durel told the audience, suggesting fiber supporters write letters to the editor and speak up at council meetings. "Come out strong for this project."

A damned good story. I am happy to be wrong.

The people of Lafayette now have the challenge put to them in a straight-forward manner. Let's see how they respond.

"Durel urges support of LUS plan in talk on state of parish"

Well, after all my complaining (1,2) about how the media weren't likely to handle Durel's state of the parish address very well, along comes Blanchard at the Advocate to prove me wrong. His story, Durel urges support of LUS plan in talk on state of parish, gets it exactly right. Where KATC focused entirely on emotion and KLFY missed the point entirely, from the title on out the focus in the Advocate story is on what Durel wanted to accomplish: getting quietist supporters who are afraid of offending some client or supplier to come out in active support of the project. Go get the full story. It's a good, clean read. Here is a teaser:

While not naming names, Durel referred to his disappointment in "organizations and institutions that should be standing up and hollering for this project," but are not.

The Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce and the Lafayette Economic Development Authority have made middle-of-the-road position statements on the project, while avoiding endorsement of the plan.

"When relationships stand in the way of doing the right thing for the community, that's good ol' boy politics and I don't accept that," Durel said.

Durel told the crowd, who he described as the "movers and shakers," to "come out strong. Stand up for this project."

Good stuff.

"4th group joins suit against LUS"

2theadvocate.com: News - 4th group joins suit against LUS 02/17/05:
Hey, the Louisiana Cable and Telecommunications Association has joined the suit in support of BellSouth/Cox and Fiber411. The organization is composed of cable companies, so the list of members is interesting but not significant. What did you expect?

In the story Huval notes that he doesn't think BS and Cox are prepared to play fair. The story calls to mind an earlier event that reflects on the likelihood that the incumbents would actually play by neutral rules they initially agree to (presided over by the chamber) by citing a little recent history:
"Last year, the chamber proposed a forum with Cox, BellSouth and LUS to explore the issue.

After weeks of negotiations, rules and questions for the forum were finally hammered out. But days before the forum was held, BellSouth and Cox pulled out."
It's always a good thing when people remember their history. When it came right down to it, when BellSouth and Cox failed in an attempt to blackmail the chamber into changing the rules to favor them, the incumbents went home in a huff. There is no reason to believe they'd play any fairer in this situation.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

"Fiber Wars Hit Local BLOGs"

KATC does a story on local fiber bloggers and Doug from LUSFTTH provides a goateed face for our faceless crew. Fun. See the video that accompanies the rather bland text for the good stuff: Fiber Wars Hit Local BLOGs.

Broadcast media reports the State of City-Parish

KLFY in "Durel Gives Second State of Parish Report" reports a milquetoast version of Durel's speech which exemplifies my fear about how the media might simply ignore the real passion of Durel's presentation. It's not inaccurate. It is just sucked dry of any real meaning.

KATC, on the other hand, in "Durel Takes on Good Ol' Boys " does a decent job of portraying the passions and thereby more of the meanings of the moment. Even with the low bandwidth, hurky-jerky playback available from our incumbents' broadband connections, the flavor of the occasion comes through in the video that accompanies the story.

Of course KATC, while getting the emotion right, stops way too early. Durel wouldn't have bothered to simply criticize. The criticism was used as a basis for calling people to action. That little bit of radicalism got overlooked in favor of the simple emotionalism for which TV is famous. The ovation remarked on in the video came right after his final call to action and not in reaction to his criticism.

Anyone viewing the whole video would see the full buildup and purpose of this portion of Durel's speech--just as those viewing the clip today hear the emotion in Durel's voice. It is too bad that the fuller story is not available now. The day is coming when no textual report will be presented without evidential video that will come closer to allowing an interested reader/viewer to experience enough of an event to make a good judgment.

All one needs is a big, cheap pipe. And that is coming.

The State of the City-Parish

I went to the state of the city-parish address today and sat in the seats beyond the rope. (AKA the non-eating, free seats.)

This is the event's second year and it strikes me as a good tradition to sustain. The mayor stands and delivers a review of the past year and preview of the year to come. It is, as the state of the union is for the president, a unique chance to present an overview and let the people know what ideas are driving administration policy. This is one of those good ideas that really works.

For us fans of fiber and networking, there were three interesting bits: a further affirmation of an eminent wireless component, a passionate defense of the idea of a fiber-optic network, and a moment of emotion when Durel issued a call to arms.

The wireless bit was the third time--twice in the last two weeks in the Independent and now at the luncheon--where Durel or his administration has treated a parish-wide wireless network as being in the last stages of preparation before a request for proposals. How this fits in with the fiber, and even if integration has been thought through at all, is still in question. What is true without question is that the administration intends to bring it to the whole parish. I'll only repeat what I have said before: this is a big story. Everyone should be very excited. In any other city than the apparently tech-blase Lafayette, this would be banner news. The media needs to get after it.

Durel also, amongst the talk of budget and roads, took time to present an impassioned defense of the fiber plan, saying that before he could endorse it he had to overcome three objections of his own: the public/private issue, the question of whether any other technology could displace fiber, and the concern about risk. He resolved all three. Since the private companies refused to provide what was needed, there was no reason to worry about this one. Since nothing is even close to the bandwidth capacity of fiber and since we are outstripping the current bandwidth needs, he wasn't tempted by the sirens of wireless. Since LUS was so strong and so big that it could withstand a vanishingly unlikely failure with no increase in utility fees, it really didn't seem like there was much, if any risk. He's right on all this, of course. Unless you are the utterly fretful and fearful type, this is a no-brainer.

But the bracing part of the speech and the part for which he got a standing, sustained ovation was his declaration that the only part of the fight he regretted was the unwillingness of some people and institutions to stand up and fight. He spent real political capital in front of a crowd of "movers and shakers" that contained many of those he referred to by expressing his disappointment in people and institutions that continued to do business in the "good ole boy" tradition. Durel characterized that tradition in terms of people's being unwilling to do anything that might upset those with whom they have a relationship. His claim was simple and correct: that behavior ceases being an understandable and justifiable way of doing business at the point where the narrow financial interest of an individual or group is placed above the interests of the community. It was said in a voice that at moments shook with emotion. It was something Mayor-President Durel meant. Acadiana Open Channel (AOC) is going to rebroadcast it. It's worth watching. And that was not the end of it. Durel launched into an impassioned plea for folks to get on board, to speak up, and to do the right thing for the future of the community.

I think Durel absolutely right in this, and I've said so numerous times before. A lot of people are letting others fight their battles and carry their water. Daddy taught 'em better. For those that are still hesitan,t the ensuing standing ovation should be instructive. Durel took a real risk in saying this before that particular crowd. I am certain I was not the only one scanning the crowd for a list of faces of men whose ears I knew should be burning. The ovation was an endorsement...but it was also an acknowledgement of his courage. And a salute to a real leader. There are a lot of folks who think of themselves as leaders as they ply the backwaters of influence. That might be credible when there are no real leaders around to show the sort of courage that defines the species. But that era in Lafayette is over and a new standard has emerged. If you want to be regarded as a leader now you'll have to show a little courage.

And the moment, Durel made clear, is now.

Just a tiny, irresistible footnote: The last time Durel issued a call for the people to show their anger, during the press conference following BellSouth's announcement that it had initiated "negotiations" with a lawsuit, that passionate plea was simply ignored by the local media. Apparently it doesn't feel comfortable with that sort of appropriate anger. I'll be very interested to see if they can ignore this one. After all, it got a standing ovation from the movers and shakers. Even if it was aimed directly at them.

The Hands of BellSouth & Cox

John has done a great job of posting on the events at last night's Consolidated Government Council meeting. I couldn't make it due to family responsibilities.

As luck would have it, I managed to catch the discussion on the bond issue on AOC. I say "luck" because the program was on Channel 19. I thought council meetings usually ran on Channel 5?

Anyway, I just want to focus on one part of last night's presentation by opponents of the LUS plan that I think reveals a lot about the nature of the opposition.

It came when the DULL spokesman vowed that the legal fight against the LUS project is going all the way to the Louisiana Supreme Court. What struck me was the level of rapport and cooperation that these self-proclaimed defenders of the community have developed with the Atlanta-First crowd. It's obvious that the DULL crowd is not going to pony up the bucks to ride this train to the Supreme Court. They must have gotten word from Atlanta that this is the game plan.

Another thing: was it just me, but when the light was right and the DULL speaker actually looked up from his prepared text, I thought I could see Bill Oliver's fingers moving in the speaker's mouth. Or were they Gary Cassard's?

Quiet in the house! The incumbent sock puppets are talking!

In the Advertiser

Ok, I know it's a little bit of a strange complaint coming from me since I seem to think that the fiber plan is the most interesting thing going on in Lafayette these days. So it's a little odd that I am made uncomfortable when fiber news is given headline status on the front page of the Advertiser for the first time in a long while.

Maybe giving you a little visual aid as to how that headline looked will help:

Council rejects Fiber 411 plan
Huval: LUS project nearing the point of no return

The introductory paragraph presents what sounded to me—and I was there listening closely—like a pretty hastily assembled, 'look what we did today' (oh, no, we haven't yet called Cox) sort of suggestion as THE story of the night. Granted, it was the most dramatic moment of the fiber evening and I think (as noted in a earlier post on how the issue was handled in other media outlets) that the suggestion was generally given too much credence in all the media. But this is a bit over the top. For one thing, I didn't hear and after reading the article still didn't see anyone 'rejecting' the suggestion. Surely the council was cool toward the petition and the petitioners and surely they made clear their doubt about any compromise offered by folks who just the day before had decided to sue them. Since Fiber411 has nothing to give up in this "compromise" and is suggesting only things that others could do to further their declared goals, some real doubt is justified. Our elected officials are as good politicians as any--and the self-serving part of Fiber411's suggestion is obvious to any well-schooled politician who has learned to be wary of "compromises" offered by supplicants who offer other peoples' advantages in trade for what they want without giving up anything of their own in the compromise. The phenomena is instantly recognizeable by anyone who has been involved with neighborhood organizations.

If the placement and emphasis seemed a mite sensationalistic, what made it even more surprising was that the Verot School/Ambassador Caffery road building conflict didn't make the front page at all--and I can tell you that this issue is why the real crowd was there last night. We had three mayors contending, a lot of public comment and interest, and a very uncomfortable and extended line of questioning for administration employees. Several members of the council stopped just short of saying this was a manufactured crisis. In terms of interest and passion, the fiber story was not the story of the night. Maybe it should have been--I tend to think so, given my interests--but traffic and roads were clearly the chief focus of the majority of the council and the citizenry at the meeting.

I'm not at all sure how the Advertiser editorial staff is thinking about all this....

The City CIO and Wireless

The Independent is running another tech story this week centered on actually talking to the major participants, in this case Keith Thibodaux. The story, Lafayette CIO’s high-tech push, is Good Stuff.

But what is really amazing about it is that the Independent has been allowed to carry an exclusive on Lafayette moving toward a city-wide cloud of wireless connectivity for a whole week without so much as a peep from any of the major media. They broke the story with last week's interview of Durel and this week, should anyone have missed the point, the Chief Information Officer repeats the intention and underlines it.

Here is the relevant material from the story:
Durel recently announced his intentions of pushing Lafayette ahead in the race to become the first municipality to offer citywide wireless Internet access.

Thibodeaux says this goal can realistically be achieved in one year’s time, adding LCG should be putting out a Request For Information to potential vendors in the coming months to help weigh the available options.

“The big part of course is paying for it all,” Thibodeaux says, declining to provide an early estimate for the job’s cost. “And that’s where you really have to be creative in your partnerships and other opportunities.”

Thibodeaux says a citywide wireless network should become a reality regardless of what becomes of Lafayette Utilities System’s fiber-to-the-home proposal, though the two would work especially well together.

“They are in a sense unrelated, yet there’s tremendous potential to partner them and these two technologies should marry up at some point,” he says. “Having them both is the perfect world. There are other communities that are doing fiber-to-the-home. There are certainly a lot of other communities doing wireless. It’s hard to find a community doing both. So I think that’s the magic spot.”
I have to admit that as much as I LIKE, really like, the idea and think it the perfect addition to Lafayette's advances, it sounds a little not fully baked as recounted here.

For one thing, a wireless network isn't at all unrelated to the fiber. To build a decent WiFi (or WiMax) wireless network depends completely on getting big bandwidth to the wireless transmitter. Having a fiber-to-the-home network available makes that trivial--and cheap. (If you wait for the fiber build.)

It also sounds as if LCG itself will be considering building it or partnering on it. Maybe that is a misreading on my part because LUS would be the obvious entity to operate and integrate this into the city system. A huge opportunity would be lost by separating LUS' telecom services from a wireless network. Integrated services and applications, starting with cell phone/wifi programs, are the key to providing a cutting-edge environment where the next generation of applications can grow and be field-tested. Any partnership should be to provide out-of-system cell phone service, not to dilute ownership and thereby the control to enable this. Let's not miss the boat on this one. We are doing too well.

Regardless of my musings, this is a truly big deal. The other outlets need to hop on it. It isn't clear that the Indpendent knows what it has here--in neither article have they headlined the big news their subjects released. It is a sign of how big a deal fiber is that news that would rock any other city in the nation goes almost unnoticed here. It shouldn't.

Universal fiber under a wireless cloud with a major digital divide push? Lafayette is positioned to take home all the marbles.

Media Coverage of the Bond Vote

KLFY: Lafayette Consolidated Council Passes Introductory Fiber Ordinance
KATC: No Fiber Compromise
Advocate: Rules offered for LUS to sell fiber-optic bonds

Take a read. I've given my take in the previous post. These articles all seem pretty accurate to me except for the part where they say that BellSouth has agreed to the deal. That isn't what I heard. I heard that Supple called BellSouth this afternoon and that on the spur of the moment they had agreed in principle. That is not the same thing as agreeing, even though similar words are used. Not even close. And in that case the critical modifier is "principle," which doesn't have any discernable meaning for the incumbent corporations. As Duval remarked the last time BellSouth played a publicity stunt with "negotiating" before driving the knife of a lawsuit into the city's back: I want to see it in writing, a concrete proposal on the table before "negotiations" even begin. And any proposal should be in a legally enforceable contractural form that the courts can collect, with fiscal penalties large enough that BellSouth would feel them. Real enforcement.

The incumbent's tactic is delay, obstruction, delay and more delay. I hope the city doesn't waste a single day waiting for that concrete proposal. My guess is that it will never come and not be worth considering if it does. Just another round of smoke and mirrors.