Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Be Careful What You Wish For

"Broussard businesses keen on going wireless" reads the title of an article posted to the web and running in the Broussard-Youngsville weekly supplement to the Advertiser. The article documents the benefit this would bring to Broussard's Main Street businesses.

"Be careful what you wish for, lest it come true" is a wise old cautionary saying that Mayor Langlinais and the citizens of Broussard need to consider.

They're asking for a whole heap of trouble.

I'm all for Broussard (and Lafayette! and Duson!) getting a cheap wireless system for the use of its citizens. But, you always have to be careful when what you wish for is illegal. Care is especially needed when large and powerful corporations have made your desires illegal for the express purpose of protecting their profits. You can bet they'll defend their laws.

Here's what happened just up the road from Broussard when Lafayette decided that it wanted to build a fiber-optic network that the incumbents, Cox and BellSouth, refused to build: Cox and BellSouth set out to make their desires illegal.

Some history for the residents of Brousssard that may not have followed the little war in Lafayette very closely: The incumbents went to the legislature with a proposed law that would have made Lafayette's plan impossible. After the governor threatened a veto of any law the parties couldn't agree to a confused and internally contradictory law known as the "Local Government Fair Competition Act" passed. It was a bad compromise, one to which Lafayette, in retrospect, should never have agreed. The law, and a subsequent amendment which made it worse, imposes all but prohibitive conditions on the creation of such a utility. Other clauses make it unnecessarily expensive to run and still others deliberately try to increase the chance the new business will have to default by creating artificial barriers to loan repayments that no private business has to put up with.

That law prohibits Broussard from just opening up a system its citizens have already paid for to public use if it offers them anything more than 200K of speed. Broussard cannot legally offer broadband service. So if the people of the city wish for a service that is not outdated and inadequate from the first day it is offered they'll have to go through the whole rigamorale of studies and hearings and a referendum vote--all the stuff they saw their larger brethren to the north going through last year.

And then when they succeed they can count on delaying tactics similar to the ones Lafayette is now going through.

And should they get through that they need to know that the costs of their system will still be inflated by a law that exists to prop up the profit of two large monopolies headquartered in Atlanta.

Frankly, one of the worst features of the "fair" Competition Act is that the small towns that will never be adequately served by the megacorporations will almost certainly not have the resources to get into the sort of legal and political battle that a larger city like Lafayette can manage. It's been hugely difficult for Lafayette--which has many times the resources of Broussard--to engage in the fight.

The (un)Fair Competition Act needs to be repealed. It's anti-competitive and anti-democratic. If the people and businesses of Broussard want something better for themselves they ought to go down to the legislature and demand repeal of a law that is designed to prevent them from helping themselves.

If you want wireless the battle-cry ought to be: Repeal!!!

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