Friday, April 28, 2006

"Lafayette deal leaves others on their own"

Kevin Blanchard in one of his too-rare analysis pieces discusses the deal-making between Lafayette and the telecommunications incumbents Cox and BellSouth.

As regular readers will recall, I typically think Blanchard's work accurate and incisive. I think so today as well--and not only because he draws from this blog to make a number of points.

Few people have the luxury of being, not only able, but required to keep up with the arcane goings-on around them that might not mean a lot now but have large implications for the future. Reporters are one of group that is required to watch closely but they are faced with what must be the frustrating constraint of only reporting the immediate "event" that seems newsworthy. What too-often falls between the cracks in reporting is the background understanding that reporters and editors have that helps them determine what makes an event (out of all the things happening that day) worthy of being "news." The public sees a disconnected series of stories that in themselves contain only a small fraction of what the reporters understand about what makes each story significant. If you read closely, talk to folks, and follow themes over time you can often figure out much of what makes the daily story significant. What's nice about analysis pieces like the one published in the Advocate today is that it lets you in on the bigger meaning that ties together all the smaller stories with a whole lot less work.

Travel on over to the story. The writer does a great job of laying out the bigger story that connects a series of his articles.


A little commentary on the commentary:

I'm quoted as thinking the deal a bad one. And I do, but actually think the issue pretty complex and the officials' decisions pretty defensible from the standpoint of Lafayette. It's a very understandable even "smart" decision for the place that Lafayette finds herself in. Lafayette is is in a tight spot and needs, for several good reasons, to get down to building the network. The entire legislative strategy had been designed to put BellSouth and Cox in a tight enough spot of their own to make them back off and failing that to set things up so as to bloody them enough to perhaps actually get repeal. With it understood that playing the game out to a draw was the looked-for solution and this particular "cease fire,"-- while getting Lafayette less than they hoped for (a lawsuit still threatens the bond issue) -- does get BellSouth and Cox off their legal backs.

My basic quarrel has been with the strategy of angling for compromise. For my money a better approach is always to go for what you actually need. And what Lafayette and there rest of the state actually needs is repeal. Compromise can come if it is necessary. One day that fight will still have to be fought. Now that we understand that the incumbents intend to twist a badly written the law to their advantage it's all too apparent that a law which serves only the corporations and leaves endless room for their mischief has to go if not this year, sometime soon. This year, with a massive merger that could be opposed, the corporate desire for hurricane relief, BellSouth's PR disasters in opposing New Orelean's WiFi, loosing the referendum in Lafayette, and ugly delaying lawsuits there were a unique set of tools with which to attack. Cox weighed in with a franchise bill, that though under-reported is thoroughly repugnant to local governments, and could have been made a potent issue. Fought hard from the beginning support could have been built on the basis that post-hurricane local governments ought not to have to contend with the state stepping in to protect bad-actor corporations. This was a particularly good year to establish that picture in legislators minds, win or lose. I'm sorry we missed the opportunity.

But, in all honesty, the real problem is a lot bigger than one of strategies and not something that Lafayette can fix on its own. Blanchard hints at the bigger problem when he says:
Of course two years ago, when the state law at issue was first proposed — while the Louisiana Municipal Association backed Lafayette’s efforts — it was individual legislators from the New Orleans area who took the lead in carrying water for private providers’ interests, saying they wanted to make sure New Orleans never tried to dabble in its own communications system.
He's absolutely right. I sat in that hearing and was appalled. What is really needed is a willingness of local governments to hang together an defend the interests of local communities. New Orleans' WiFi dilemma is partly of their own making. If communities, rural and urban, had backed Lafayette the original demonstrably lousy bill need never have passed. And if Lafayette's project were in place now and the bill there would be very substantial benefits that an LUS system could lend other communities. Lafayette deciding it needs to pursue its own interests now is just one piece of this larger picture. What's really wanted is a firm coalition among local communities to support each other's best interests. We clearly don't have such now and the citizens of Lafayette and New Orleans are merely the ones that are suffering for it at the moment.

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