Saturday, January 14, 2006

Disarm BellSouth!

Now here's a guest editorial I almost completely agree with (tongue firmly in cheek): Repeal act that gives BellSouth leverage to delay fiber plan. The author, John St. Julien, hits the nail on the head. I can do little better than to repeat it here. 500 some-odd words.
BellSouth has kept the people of Lafayette from building their own fiber-optic utility for long enough.

It's clear that the current providers, and especially BellSouth, haven't dealt fairly with our community. They've taken compromises we made to keep the project moving and used them to increase our costs and delay our project. We need to take away the weapon they're using. Demand repeal of the Local Government Fair Competition Act.

It's a matter of bad faith on the part of these companies, who can no longer be considered good citizens of our community. BellSouth and Cox refuse to build a fiber-optic system here, yet they're trying to block us from building one ourselves. They've used a string of ugly tactics: insulting push polls, a deceptive "academic conference," a threat to move the Cingular call center out of Lafayette and more.

The Local Government Fair Competition Act, which was sold to the city as a compromise that would allow our project to go forward with some restrictions, instead has been used to delay the project and raise the costs to citizens. To make matters worse, that law has crippled New Orleans' ability to use its own wireless network to aid her people following Katrina and it blocks other Louisiana communities from taking care of themselves as well.

BellSouth, and to a lesser extent recently Cox, tried to stop the project but failed in the legislature, in the city-parish council and - most importantly - before Lafayette's voters, 62 percent of whom approved the fiber project.

A company that respected our citizens would have stopped there and decided to compete rather than litigate. But BellSouth kept pushing, lobbying for more restrictions, losing before the Public Service Commission and losing several times in court. Most recently they won a verdict before the Court of Appeals.

This is not only a matter of allowing Lafayette to do as our citizens have voted to do; it's also a matter of hard cash. The act will artificially inflate LUS' prices by requiring LUS to set rates as if its costs were greater than they really are - pretending, for instance, to be renting its own property.

BellSouth's actions already have cost us more than $125,000 in legal fees. Rising bond rates make borrowing more expensive, and we're also losing the savings that competition would bring.

BellSouth's actions defy the spirit of the compromise that Lafayette made with BellSouth and others to put the act in place. BellSouth is using the act to defy our local vote. It hasn't served its purpose as compromise legislation that would allow a fair launch of a public utility. Instead, it's being used as a weapon to prevent us from building the system we voted on.

Lafayette's great advantage is that it's a real community where friends, relatives and colleagues discuss important issues. Plead our case. We've voted, and we shouldn't have to fight BellSouth to move forward.

Let's get rid of the Local Government Fair Competition Act.

Contact your legislators, or get more information at www.lafayettecomingtogether.org/repeal.htm.

(John St. Julien is a member of Lafayette Coming Together, "a volunteer corps motivated by the vision of creating a better Lafayette by joining together to pursue common goals.")


7 comments:

Anonymous said...

What about LUS agreeing to pay the same taxes that others pay? Isn't the definition of fair is "when the rules apply to everyone equally". Do you think that would be "fair"?

Annie said...

Well, if you want to talk "fair" then we have a lot more to talk about "Anonymous".

Why it is that the Bells and Cable Cos cross subsidize their services, yet they cry "FOUL" when a muni might suggest the same thing? Seems there is a rather unlevel and unfair playing field there with the advantage going to the Bells and Cable Cos...

Anonymous said...

I'm in agreement with you annie. Its not "fair". So lets go back to the drawing board and make it the same for everyone. Same rules, same taxes, same access, same subsidies, same bond guarantees. Lets repeal the fair competition act and rewrite it without any mention of municpalities or incumbant providers. No favoritism either way. Let Municipalities and private sector compete on the exact same bases. The new act should start with this language, "Any entiy wishing to provide telecommunications shall...." Does that sound fair to you?

John said...

Person not willing to own your own judgments (aka anonymous),

Let me suggest the real leveler: We simply repeal all the Local Government (un)Fair Competition Act all together. Writen by the teleco and cablecos to advance their interests over the interests of local communities it has simply proven a tool to prevent the people of Lafayette and New Orleans from deciding their own telecom destiny.

It is simply not practical to "equalize the parties." You will never be able to erase the truth that LUS will always get a better bond rate that BellSouth (the market is well aware that the Bells cash cow is dying and that they've no proven replacement). You will never be able to erase the enormous size of BellSouth and its ownership of things like Cingular. (I trust that you realize that even if Louisiana were to pass a law forcing some division of BellSouth to act alone, accept no cross subsidies, and fund its entire startup on a shoestring it would never pass federal muster because it is clearly in restraint of trade. --It is unfortunate that the state has the power to so abuse municipalities.)

The real solution is to stop believing BellSouth's BS that it is at some sort of craven disadvantage to Lafayette's utility system and that they need state protection. BellSouth's advantages far outweigh our little municipality's and since we don't have the power to reorganize BellSouth the reasonable thing to do is to let Lafayette take advantage of its meager pluses while resting comfortable that BellSouth has done the same with its much greater advantages.

Lafyette is not asking for an equal playing field--that's an cynical ploy of the incumbents. Lafayette is asking to simply not be further disadvantaged by state interference.

Anonymous said...

I am in agreement with you and to be honest I care what bell says. But do believe that no law can be fair unless it applies to everyone. Lets repeal the law, everyone pay the same income taxes, property taxs, sales taxes and so on and be under the same regulations. Wouldn't that be fair. "Any entiy wishing to provide telecommunications shall...."

Anonymous said...

I meant to say "I don't care what bell says".

John said...

Anono,

the easiest way for a law to be fair is for it not to exist....

I repeat: Lafyette is not asking for an equal playing field--that's an cynical ploy of the incumbents. Lafayette is asking to simply not be further disadvantaged by state interference.

The state doesn't have the power to take away BellSouth's advantages so it won't. And it didn't impose a single visible disadvantage on the incumbents in the law. ANY law imposed by the state would have much more scope to restrict Lafayette and almost no scope to restrict the incumbents. ANY law the state makes has to be aimed at the city.

It is better, much better, to have no law and let the chips fall where they may than to allow the state to step in and further disadvantage the side already at a tremendous disadvantage.