Thursday, June 29, 2006

Action Alert: Veto Urged for BellSouth's Bill

Papers across the state carry news of an extraordinary pair of meetings with the Governor to discuss a possible veto of HB 699, BellSouth's state-wide video franchise bill. The Times-Picayune, The Advocate, and the Gannett papers (Lafayette) all carry the story.

In a nutshell: About 30 mayors and local officials trooped down to the Governor's office to urge her to veto the bill. Bill Oliver, president of BellSouth Louisiana, and the bill's legislative "authors" were allowed equal time. Nobody knows what the Governor will do. But she only has until July 11th to decide; that is when the bill becomes law without her signature.

But we all know what we should do, do we not? You know the drill. Call and write the Gov; then call and write your friends and relatives--especially those across the state--to urge that they too let Blanco know that she should veto a bill designed to benefit primarily one giant corporation at the expense of local communities. The arrogant act of the state stripping local governments of their rights to control and write contracts regarding the property they own and maintain in order to make life easier for a huge out of state monopolist should make it easy to oppose the bill on the simple principle of sustaining local control. But the fact that HB 699 would make it public policy to forbid local governments to do anything to make sure that whole local community is served and not just the favored few when a corporation wants to use public property should make the law worthy of a veto on public policy grounds. It's rural areas and poorer areas of urban centers--those left out now--that will suffer. Blanco needs to hear that the public understands that a bill without "build-out" requirements is only competition for (some of) the urban rich and the shaft for everyone else.

Toll-free: 1-866.310.7617 (This toll-free number is not always picked up. Try it first but be prepared to whip out your cell and call the alternate number.)
Alternate: (225) 342-0991 (Nice lady answers the phone and takes your brief message.)
Fax: (225) 342-7099
Web-based email: Email the Governor (the webmail script does not execute correctly on my setup--though it apparently works for some; the embedded email address is: contact@gov.state.la.us --it might be wiser to use that than to trust the webmail form.
The stories are actually a lot of fun to read, at least if you have a slightly perverse taste for telecom policy maneuvers.

On the issues:
Under current law, cable providers and other video-service providers that use public rightsof-way must negotiate franchise agreements with municipalities and compensate them for the use. (T-P)
Local governments argue that House Bill 699 would erode their control over rights of way and franchise agreements. (Advocate)
Local officials said they are concerned the telecommunications companies would not provide service to rural and poor communities.
Another concern is that the bill would strip some local governments of the authority to control companies’ access to public property to put in infrastructure, said Dan Garrett of the Police Jury Association of Louisiana, Inc. (Advocate)
Gretna Mayor Ronnie Harris said a major concern is the bill does not require telephone companies to provide universal access, as cable franchise agreements do. (Gannett)
Holden conceded that the bill would not affect East Baton Rouge Parish. He said that could change later down the road, citing a push in Congress for a national franchise.
“I don’t want to start watching the snowball effect,” he said. (Advocate) [Note: A frequently expressed concern is that the Bells are using their power to ram through legislation in state legislatures to convince the Congress to pass similar legislation on the grounds that the states want it.]
Qoutes of Note:
"If you lose at two levels, that's two strikes. You still have another strike before you're out," Baton Rouge Mayor-President Kip Holden said. (T-P)

"The governor wants to hear both sides because this issue is one that has generated some strong viewpoints from both proponents and opponents," said Blanco spokesman Roderick Hawkins. (Gannett)

"
I wasn't just overjoyed," said Ellington, who accompanied BellSouth President William Oliver of New Orleans and CenturyTel representative Julia Thornton in the meeting in the governor's private office.
Oliver said Blanco was very detailed, getting down to words and phrases in the bill.
"She was as interested in that bill as any bill I've ever seen her interested in," Oliver said. (Gannett)
There is the usual qouta of misinformation: John Hill of Gannett has apparently forgotten that the cable companies signed onto the bill when they got to opt in to the bill's provisions somewhere between House and Senate markups. His claim that the bill is a battle between the cable and telephone companies was never true and certainly is not now. Similarly, pay no attention to the panicky bluster of BellSouth tool Montgomery who would have you believe that local governments hired "every" lobbyist in town. No such thing--I was at many of the meetings discussing this bill and it was the same harried folks who are always trying to keep up with legislation for the locals every time--local governments don't have the resources to hire new folks for a single piece of legislation, no matter how important. That is the province of the big guys.

A postscript--apparently the LMA is back on board after falteringly going neutral on 699 at the end of the fight in the senate. Presumeably whoever got to the
Vinton Mayor Riggins didn't have a lasting effect once the rest of the mayors really looked at the legislation. There's a reason why such organizations have staffs -- they're paid to attend to their members legislative interests and know who is to be trusted and who is handing out BS. Trusting their judgment is usually a good idea, as the LMA has found out to their embarrassment on this issue.

Ok, now write or call Blanco; and get your friends and relatives do the same.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Does the bill still contain the excemption for Lafayette?
Tim

John said...

Hi Tim,

Yes, the bill retained the language of the Michot "single letter" amendment. --The one that changed "has" to "had" when referring to the pre-74 home rule exemption--a change that presumedly puts Lafayette in category of the other pre-74 areas like Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

I take pretty cold comfort in that since the bill also still contains the clause that tells the so-called exempt cities that they can't pass any law that contradicts the provisions of the bill, That would mean, among other things, that the provision of the law explicitly forbidding a community from insisting that a telecom company that wants to use public property has to serve the whole community in exchange would remain in full force.

That "no contradiction" clause is grounds for endless harassing lawsuits--something we know from bitter experience that BellSouth is perfectly capable of if it doesn't like the decisions of a local community.

The bill also still includes all the other features that make it objectionable to the local governments. Even the big "exempt" cities like Baton Rouge are waking up to how bad the bill is--Kip Holden of BR apparently lead the veto charge.

Tim, do we have your support on this one? Will you give the Governor a call?

Anonymous said...

I believe the veto will happen but do not agree with the Gov. if it does. We the people of Louisiana should have a choice in cable providers like we have a choice in phone providers. I have cox as a phone provider because of the rate I could get with the bundle package. If telecommunications companies could offer cable we would see true competition and the consumer would win with lower rates like the long distance business and the cell phone business. Local GOvernment says anyone can negotiate a cable franchise because the agreements are non-exclusive. If that's the case why do we only have one cable provider in each service area? Now, I can tell you're Anti-BellSouth from you website but how can you expect anyone to buy into your argument. Blanco would veto this bill for 2 reasons, win Lafayette support next election and help her daughter, Carmen, who now works for Cox and wants to continue to have a monopoly in the cable business.

Anonymous said...

Remember there were only 2 Reps that voted against the bill and 4 senators that voted against the bill. This bill is all about the consumer and competition. This would not look good next election season but get ready if a campaign Manager is smart enough to put it together.
"Are you enjoying your high cable rates? Well GOOD, you can thank Gov. Blanco!!!She put the veto on the Louisiana Competitive Cable and Video Act that 90% of the Louisiana Legislature supported to give you a choice in cable providers so you could have lower rates and a choice in cable providers. WHY?? Because her daughter works for COX Cable and cable providers don't want competition.
Blanco says the hell with the people of Louisiana and the Legislators I need to help my daughter"

"My name is YOUR NEW GOVERNOR and I approve this msg"

John, I am not running so don't worry but Mike Stagg may want to keep this one in his back pocket. Have a nice day.

Anonymous said...

Here is a question for you:

Would Cox be fined for anti-competitive acts if they entered into an agreement with the Governor to back off the Competitive Cable and Video Act and not support it so she could veto the bill without looking like she is helping her daughter or is this just a political move that puts her reputation on the line?

Cox's latest anti-competitive outbreak
In Cox's latest tussel with the people of Arizona the Arizona equivalent of the Public Service Commission wants to fine Cox $2 million dollars for anti-competitive behavior.

As reported in the Arizona Republic, the basic story is that Cox entered into an illegal agreement with the developers of a huge housing tract (17,000 homes) to restrict telecom "easements" (known as rights of way when public entities are providing them) to Cox and Cox alone. Nobody in that 17,000 home would have had any choice about where to buy their phone, internet, and cable TV.

The Cox-Shea Sunbelt deal came to light after a tiny telephone company, Accipiter Communications, filed a lawsuit in Maricopa County Superior Court and a complaint with the commission saying that the arrangement made it impossible for other phone companies to sign up Vistancia customers.

Cox Communications paid Accipiter $1 million to settle the lawsuit.

Under the Cox-Shea Sunbelt arrangement, Peoria allowed the developer to take control of communications access, known as an easement, to govern which companies could provide service to the 17,000-home community.

Cox paid a $1 million "licensing fee" to the developer for the right to construct the wires and sell services to about 45,000 residents.

The ugly word is monopoly. Cox bought a monopoly. Because that is the way they prefer to do business.

What the article doesn't mention is that this isn't new behavior on the part of Cox. In 2005 they got nailed on a similar charge. Then back in 2004 the company engaged in some truly outrageous attempts to buy signed promises regarding legislators' votes on a bill (that had previously failed) to force satellite provider to pay a special tax designed to drive up the cost consumers paid for satellite. The rationale? Satellite providers didn't have to pay franchise fees to use public property and so cable wanted "a level playing field." Trouble is, the reason why satellite providers didn't pay rent for using public property is because they DON'T USE public property. Which didn't keep Cox from trying to ram through a law whose purpose would have been to force satellite providers to pay for an expense they didn't have so that Cox wouldn't have to lower its prices to compete. Awww...poor cher bebe.

If that's not monopoly behavior it'll do till a better example comes along.

This is the same Cox that has the gall to claim to be fighting for free enterprise and a "level playing field" whenever it wants to stifle competition from municipal providers like LUS.

This isn't just a problem for Arizona. The pattern is clear right here in Louisiana. Readers with a long memory will recall the way that Cox has fought to use the state to increase the costs that Lafayette consumers who choose LUS will have to pay. As in Arizona, it takes the form of getting the state to do their bidding. The first example was the passage of the Municipal (un)Fair Competition Act where, among other anticompetitive strategies, the state is forcing LUS to set its rates as if it were paying rent to itself on the right of way property Lafayette owns. (Plus, it has the expense of actually maintaining the property as well!) The idea is to make it illegal (yes, illegal) for LUS to drop its prices to just what it costs to provide the service. That would be too "competitive" for Cox. So faced with choice between lowering their prices to compete or losing business Cox, in Louisiana as in Arizona, chose the third path: demand that the government to raise the costs of your competition. (It worked in Louisiana; it failed in Arizona.)

Now admittedly, Cox shares the blame with BellSouth for the way state law will force up LUS' prices. But the Broome bill...ah, the Broome bill, written by Cox and introduced by a sponsor who later complained that she didn't understand what was in it, gives us a pure Louisiana example of Cox's unfettered anti-competitive tendencies. Among other dark intents, the Broome bill would have fined the people of Lafayette almost a million dollars if they had the courage to vote in a little competition for the monopolists.

Make no mistake, the pattern is clear, here, in Arizona and across the country. These guys are not fighting for any American ideals or for free enterprise when they try and shut out municipal and private competition; they are fighting to remain monopolies.

John said...

anono/anonos, (Lord I hate anonymous comments like this, you never know who you are talking to. Is either of the above Tim Supple? Who knows.)

First, anyone who thinks I particularly have it in for BellSouth over Cox hasn't been reading this blog for long. :-) I don't care for either of the arrogant out-of-state monopolists.

Beyond that--My (sad) guess is that Lafyette is not the reason the Governor is considering a veto. If that was sufficient motive the (un)Fair competition act would have been vetoed. (And honestly, it should have been vetoed. She made it clear that there wasn't a chance of that--work it out in conference was the demand.) --No the tune is different here because 30 mayors and local government leaders showed up and because mayors of municipalities governing the majority of the citizens of the state have made their vehement opposition known. This is purest politics: Money against local communities. In the end the issue is who influences the most votes: Big business campaign contributions or local government leaders? Blanco is beginning to wonder if it wouldn't be wiser to go with local leaders--in my judgment she'd be smarter to do so.

Those who blather on about Karmen Blanco seem to have missed the memo: FLASH: the cablecos, including Cox, SUPPORTED this bill in the Senate once they got the same free reign to abuse communities that BellSouth/AT&T did. If anything Karmen's influence would be anti-municipal and anti-veto at this point. (Sorry Charlie, but you gotta keep up. Things change and the Cablecos got bought off.)

Finally, I ought not to have to point this out again but this bill is NOT about competition: it is about driving those pesky little local governments--with their annoyingly habit of insisting on real service to all the community in exchange for using the community's property--out of the game. If it was about head to head, nose to nose REAL competition the phone companies would have no problem with meeting the same build-out requirements that cable companies already meet. THAT would be real competition and everyone that has cable now would suddenly have two choices. But that is NOT what this bill provides. IN FACT this bill PROHIBTS municipalities from insisting that this happen and that is the real point of the bill. Maybe, maybe, River Ranch, and wealthier new subdivisions will get a choice but even then AT&T's Whitacre is claiming that it won't be offering cheaper services (they intend to compete on integration and quality or some such, so they say). Look it up.

It's not about Karmen. It's not about competition, and it's not even about cheaper prices for River Ranch.

It is all about cherry-picking the richest few neighborhoods and forcing the largest possible profit out of them in order to get the most out of the pitiful little investments in system upgrades that SBC/AT&T/BellSouth can afford after taking on huge amounts of debt to buy AT&T and BellSouth. That's the reality of the current situation. The bill deploys the power of the state to rob localities of the ability to force big corporations to treat their citizens fairly to serve the short-term profit of an incompetent and tottering monopolist. It's not worthy of a state that respects its citizens and communities. And that is why Blanco ought to veto this bill.

Anonymous said...

OK Hitler, I believe you need go back to business 101.

The sure way to kill competition is to require a private corporation to deploy their network throughout an entire geographic region. We learned a valuable lesson with The Telecommunicaitons Act of 1996, let me share that lesson with you. Telecommunications companies were required to share their networks with competitors for pennies on the dollar so it would encourage competition. Well, it did, and Telecommunication Companies quit investing in their networks because of the loss in revenues. United States fell to 15th in the world in broadband deployment. I seem to remember Lafayette crying about that statistic and they fail to look at the reason for the U.S's poor performance. Now that Telecommunication companies are able to recover the cost of a broadband network and want to invest billions of dollars into their network, you are crying about that too.

Now you are concerned about cherry-picking the neighborhoods that can afford the services over those that can not? Well let me explain to you that Wireless voice, Long distance and Cable are considered luxury services and any provider who wants to provide them should not be required by the government to deploy anywhere in the United States, anywhere in the State of Louisiana, or anywhere in the Parish or City limits.

Do you want to talk about level playing field? LUS wants to deploy their services only in the city limits of Lafayette and leave the rural customers up to the current providers because the high cost of providing service to those areas. Is that what you mean by Cherry-Picking?

That's the TRUE reality of the current situation.

Anonymous said...

Oh Yea Hitler,

Carmen Blanco Didn't work for Cox when the Local Govt. Fair Competition Act was signed by the Governor. Also, I noticed you refer to the Local Govt. Fair Competition Act as the (un)Fair competition Act. Please do yourself a favor and call Mr. Terry Huval and ask him where The Act's name came from. If he takes the credit for naming it he is lying again, his high paid Washington D.C. Attorney demanded it be called The Local Governemnt Fair Competition Act. That is your tax dollars that named the Act.
Sorry to burst your bubble!!!!!

Anonymous said...

I saw the paper this morning and thought I would check out what you had to say about the press conf LUS had yesterday. Are you going share your comments? This looks like a typical event(Press Conf.) for Local officials when they are about to loose a major battle in court. I remember this to be the same tactic Terry, Joey, and Dee used last time they lost in the 3rd circut.
They tried to intiminate Cox and BellSouth so they would drop the lawsuit.

Are the local officials in trouble?
Is this a class action suit or a is it questioning the bond ordinance?
Please share your thoughts, thanks.

John said...

Third anono above,

Regarding your belief that one should be suspicious of Cox at all times--I absolutely agree. Regarding your "clever" use of my own words after paragraph 1...well I guess its nice that someone noticed that I'm not happy with Cox but I think we'd all really much rather hear another voice.

The trouble with the nefarious thesis involving Cox and the younger Blanco is that,in this instance, it doesn't hang together too well.

It is much easier to explain Cox's change of heart as the bill went to the Senate on the basis that it looked like BellSouth was going to roll over their oppostion--as they did in the House--and that it was to their advantage to sell out their municipal allies to get the same advantage over the municipals that BellSouth was about to succeed in getting. Cold calculation: when BellSouth offered them the chance to get on the winning train they took it.

No need to get all paranoid about Karmen Blanco's influence in this instance. There are more than sufficient character defects in Cox to explain their turncoat behavior without involving Blanco's daughter. (My objection to Karmen's job is that it is a not-so-subtle way to ensure that Cox's point of view always has a place at the Governor's dinner table. That's plenty enough to worry about without getting all black helicopter about trying to explain away Cox's more obvious motivations.)

John said...

You always know when you've touched a the nerve of a corporate shill: they start launching stupid ad hominen attacks.

Hitler is a great one since it is entirely inappropriate: Hitler was a fascist who loved making such nifty deals with the big corporations of his day and place. --He mostly killed off those who thought selling out to corporations was wrong. But I guess that expecting rationality from someone who is or is playing a corporate exec is just expecting too much.

So you were in the room, or were an insider when the "Fair Competition" bill was named, eh? You were among the few that knows how a bill that was supposed to be a bill to encourage rural broadband got taken over by BellSouth and turned into a bill that would have made sure that small rural municipalities wouldn't be able to start up their own telecom utilities. You must be "the man." So tell us: Who are you really?--I for one don't take anyone seriously who isn't willing to stand behind his words. Our experience in Lafayette is that such people turn out to be dishonest corporate shills. (Search this site for TJCrawdad on this site for one example.)

But even better than stupid name-calling and self-puffery is the whacky bit that passes for economic logic. Apparently the Hitler-namer is a Telecom shill. You can tell cause he blames the govt. for failures of the 1996 telecom act. How quaint. In truth the telecoms readily agreed to open their lines to competition in order to be allowed to get into the long-distance business which they thought was a pot of gold. When it didn't turn out that way the started backpedaling and trying to get out of the deal they'd made. (The phone companies had competition so all that profit on long distance they recalled making as a monopoly disappeared. gasp! shock!)

They made a stupid business decision. And they eventually got the FCC to let them out of their obligations -- without giving up their long distance business. In the last year the FCC let them shut out all local line competition. The phone companies, including BellSouth had found out that their profit center--such as they had one left-- actually lay in their monopoly control of local lines. So the got that control back. Eatel, which was a major competitor in these parts got forced out and is back in Ascension parish doing what the Bells could of been doing if they'd invested their profits in their network instead of buying into new businesses and buying each other out. EAtel is laying fiber to the home.

It's typical corporate BS to blame the government for their mistakes. The Bells had a subsidized line into every home in the land when this internet ball started. If they'd played their cards smart they'd be invincible today. Instead they're back at both the national and the state levels asking for a legally sanctioned bail-out; the corporate equivalent of a do-over. They haven't earned it.

As to shill's charge that LUS is cherry-picking by "only" serving the rich, the poor, each and every city of Lafayette citizen. The shill would know, were he from around here that the city of Lafayette is the only place where LUS owns the lines and rights-of-way necessary to offer the service. A local would know that only city of Lafayette citizens could even vote to approve the project. So its obvious that making a commitment to serve every street in the city--a promise that BellSouth wasn't willing to make even if we agreed to subsidize them as they requested--isn't cherry-picking. It is the opposite: full and complete competition, by a locally owned company that treats its services like a utility and isn't out to squeeze every penny out of locals in order to ship the profit off to distant owners.

That's the economic reality.

Anonymous said...

You forgot your RAMBELING explination about Carmen Blanco not being and Employee of Cox when the the Fair Competition Act was signed.

By the way, not an insider, just and interested citizen like you who talks to those officials who were involved in the negotiations of the legislation. Rememeber, there were negotiations and EVERYONE supported the bill, even Mr. Huval. He made the comment,"It's better than what most states have."

Anonymous said...

John: That's not me. this guy knows a lot more than I do. I only wish I knew as much as he does. If you find out his name, tell him to call me. I would enjoy having a discussion, without all the name calling. John, you really brought all that name calling on yourself.
Tim