Monday, March 06, 2006

BellSouth Opposes Wireless Emergency Communications

Atuned readers will recall the dustup over wireless emergency communications in the recent special session of the Louisiana legislature. In that session, specially called to deal with Katrina/Rita issues, two bills designed in part to provide for better telecommunications during an emergency went down in defeat. With issues like levee construction and housing on the plate it wasn't surprising that we didn't hear much about what happened to these bills.

The author of one--the relatively inoffensive one which did nothing to undo the legislature's earlier mistake of crippling local communities' ability to do the job themselves--now reveals who killed the bills. You'll be surprised, I know: "The telecommunications industry," AKA BellSouth, of course. He wants to reintroduce the bill in the upcoming regular session:
During the February special session, the bill ran into opposition from the telecommunications industry, which was concerned about public entities entering into the telecommunication industry, Burns said.

The legislator said the system he is proposing could have benefited communications among emergency personnel during Katrina, which he described as Â"severely lacking."

"With the 2006 hurricane season less than three months away, we don't have time for any more studies," Burns said. " We need to implement an emergency communication system now and not wait for a federal grant."

Burns is right about the need for a better, and better integrated, emergency system (I've said as much in these pages). He's also right about who stands in the way. And finally he's right that we can't afford to wait on someone else to provide it for us.

The people of Louisiana need to understand clearly that BellSouth, soon to be ATT, does NOT operate with their best interests at heart or even in mind. They are perfectly happy to stand in the way of not only legitimate desires (as in the case of Lafayette fiber optic network) but also demonstrable emergency needs (as in the case of these emergency communications bills).

If BellSouth/ATT has to stand in the way of public safety to secure their "right" to some downstream profit and freedom from competition from local folks then, well, they'll just chuck public safety right out the window.

These are not the sorts of companies for which any citizen needs to show any sympathy--they show none for us. These guys take care of themselves, first, foremost, and always.

We ought to get behind simply repealing BellSouth's law that blocks local communities from building whatever form of telecom infrastructure they think will best serve their communities without the interference of state legislators. Repeal is the solution.

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