Tuesday, April 25, 2006

BellSouth and Cox Sue Again

The Advocate reports that BellSouth and Cox have joined in a suit--and a law firm out of Houma has also filed its class action suit-- to stop Lafayette from issuing its fiber to the home bonds. Kevin Blanchard does his usual excellent job of breathing history and clear explanation into a murky and important moment. I recommend traveling to the Advocate and reading his article carefully...this is going to be important enough to take a few extra moments out of your morning to fully absorb.

There are two things to notice and reflect upon. First Cox has joined this suit. Don't be deceived by the LCTA moniker; the "association" would do nothing that Cox doesn't desire. This is a reformation of the united front between the incumbents. Also take a minute to reflect on the obvious purpose of what the incumbents are insisting on when you get down to the description of the lawsuit. They want to make it impossible to ever lose a penny during the course of LUS doing business. They want that to trigger a bankruptcy. This is what they want to say the law says. I don't think it does--and this is the point over which there was supposed to have been a gentleman's agreement as to what the law meant. BellSouth and Cox have repeatedly betrayed that agreement and much of the anger on the Lafayette side is due to that. Lafayette would never have agreed to a bill that made such an absurd requirement if that was really what they thought law would be interpreted to mean.

Go on, take a look the Advocate's story and come back and think about it with me. Go on. It's worth the read.

The lesson of this story and the history of the conflict should be clear: you cannot trust the incumbents. You can't "deal" with folks who don't deal honestly. We all know what to do with bullies. What you do is take away the tools they are using to hurt you and try to make it so painful to abuse you that they go away and leave you alone. Lafayette, and potential allies like New Orleans and the Louisiana Municipal Association have plenty of ways to at least attempt that. Repeal the tool that the incumbents have used to frustrate the voters of Lafayette and eliminate municipal competition everywhere in the state: the Local Government Fair Competition Act. Oppose Hurricane relief for BellSouth and Cox. BellSouth already has its hand out for rate relief. Oppose the merger of BellSouth and AT&T at the PSC. Back plans to protect New Orleans' wireless system from BellSouth's strong arm tactics. Insist that emergency telecommunications projects are not crippled by clauses that are only meant to protect the profits of incumbents who failed their communities after the storms. (Half of New Orleans is still without phone service.) Local governments should be allowed to defray the costs of their emergency systems in any way that they can. Including sharing them with the citizens that paid for them. Raise a vigorous hue and cry in opposition to truly scary state-wide franchise bills that BellSouth/AT&T are trying to sneak through the legislature. The Louisiana Municipal Association should be up on the barricades about a law that will constitute a huge expropriation of local property by the state, cut local communities out of control of franchise fees they rely on, place all those monies in the control of a appointed board of three at the state level who will dole what is now "state money" out to local communities. That same law will forbid local governments from requiring that AT&T serve all the people of a community in return for the use of community-owned rights of way. Rally those in the development community that believe that the only way to remain competitive in a big broadband, high tech world is to do for ourselves what the incumbents refuse to do for us.

In a word: Fight!

If there was ever a moment in Louisiana history that we could inflict a little pain on the bully that the giant phone company is, now is that moment. Big bullies can be forced to back off by a little guy who fights back hard--that's what happened during the fiber referendum in Lafayette. But if you back away they just find new ways to take advantage of you. Anyone who has survived in a middle-school schoolyard knows that. You really have no choice, in the end, but to fight. And in Louisiana now is the moment when that is most likely to be successful.

That's what ought to happen. We'll see....

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