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.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Legislative Session Summary

Here's our final legislative overview for the 06 regular session of the Louisiana Legislature.

The votes are in and the extent of the damage can almost be fully assessed. HB 699,the state-wide cable franchise bill was by far the most important telecommunications bill of the session. It still awaits the governors signature; she has 60 days from the close of session to ponder her choices. The original bill was horrifically bad. The current, massively amended, version remains extremely bad legislation. What remains most objectionable about the bill is that it explicitly forbids local governments to use their ownership of public rights of way to force telecom providers to offer service to the whole community. By making cherry-picking a state-sanctioned activity this bill all but assures a continued divide between rural-urban areas and between wealthy and poor areas within a community. The state simply should not be stepping in to preempt a local decision on this matter in order to increase the profitability of a monopoly incumbent. With luck, and the loud objection of the citizenry (hey that's you), Blanco still might veto it as she vetoed the health care perk for legislators. An aroused citizenry can make a difference.

The various bills that offered repeal of the Local Government (un)Fair Competition act that at one time seemed to be shaping up to be a dramatic battleground fizzeled badly when Lafayette and BellSouth cut a deal: BellSouth promised to not sue to prevent the fiber optic bond issue and Lafayette agreed to withdraw its repeal bills and to not oppose BellSouth's merger with AT&T -- those seems to have been the major issues though the full text of the agreement hasn't been disclosed. Part of that agreement was to have been a bill to help thwart frivolous lawsuits--that bill never materialized.

New Orleans which had pushed for repeal of the wireless portions of the (un)Fair Act in order to keep its heralded free wi-fi system up and running in New Orleans. BellSouth still has not returned service to all of the city. BellSouth and Cox opposed it. A very watered-down version that would have only given the city an extra year and up the speeds legally possible to 512k passed in the house. That died without being heard in Senate Commerce. A truly irresponsible position to take and an embarrassment to the state.


Repeal or anti-repeal in various degrees and flavors:

  • HB 244, Robideaux -in House Commerce, SB 192, Michot--Withdrawn, Poison Pill. These bills would apply most of the rules that apply to municipal telecom entrants under the Local Government Fair Competition Act to "subsidized" private telecom providers.
  • HB 245, Robideaux-in House Commerce; SB 495, Michot--Withdrawn, Repeal!! These bills would have repealed the Local Government Fair Competition Act.
  • HB 257, Robideaux-in House Commerce; SB 243, Michot--Withdrawn, Exemptions. These bills would have exempted Lafayette from the Fair Competition Act and have exempted all wireless technologies. Both these bills were to be withdrawn as a consequences of a deal cut between Lafayette and BellSouth.
  • HB 537, Robideaux--Died in House Commerce; Exemptions Redux. This bill would have repealed all the restrictive clauses of the fair competition act except the feasibility study and referendum provisions. It would have exempted all wireless technologies. This bill is among those to be withdrawn as a consequences of a deal cut between Lafayette and BellSouth. [This version of repeal had several Acadiana co-sponsors: Representatives, Robideaux, Pierre, Trahan, and Alexander as well as Senator Michot]
  • SB 395, Ellington----Withdrawn, Blank Check, A placeholder bill that would have allowed the incumbents to come in after the filing deadline and introduce by amendment any changes to the (un)Fair Competition Act they might desire.
  • SB 585, Ellington--Died in Senate Commerce Blank Check Too Without making much discernable difference in the meaning of the Fair Competition Act SB 585 emphasizes that municipalities may buy a network if it leases it to private corporations. Functions as a placeholder.
Wireless-only Repeal Bills
  • SB 211, Murray--died in Senate Commerce, Wireless Exemption, Would exempt all wireless technologies from the Fair Competition Act.
  • HB 1174, LaFonta--killed by House Commerce. Wireless Exemption for Parish Executives, Would have exempted all wireless technologies from the Fair Competition Act and vested decision-making power in elected parish executives.
  • HB 1188, LaFonta--died in Senate Commerce, Wireless Disaster Recovery. The original version of this bill would have repealed the Fair Competition Act with respect to wireless technologies. Following the defeat of the similar HB 1174 LaFonta offered a series of amendments in committee that fundamentally altered the bill. It would have extended the life of an emergency WiFi system to one year after a declared disaster ends. The network must be free and not supported by advertising; that is, it cannot be self-supporting. The original law allowed networks with speeds of less than 144 k to be built without regulation. The altered version of the bill would raised that to 512 k. It was bottled up in Senate Commerce (a killing field for rational telecom bills) and died there. New Orleans gets nothing.
Bills that would move cable franchises from local to state control
  • SB 386, Ellington--died in Senate Commerce. No action since 3/27. Was scheduled for hearing on May 1st in Committee but withdrawn from the day's schedule.
  • HB 699, Montgomery--awaiting the governor's signature. State Video Franchise, Would eliminate local video franchises and vest control in the state. This bill has been extensively modified since its introduction. In its current form it would eliminate local franchising for both BellSouth/AT&T and incumbent cable providers. The last version made a mighty effort to obligate AT&T to provide franchise fees regardless of its status as an information service. (But state law cannot override federal preemption, leaving the security of this money at issue.) Vehemetly opposed by local governments till the final days the LMA went neutral at the last minute, apparently against advice of staff. The left the police juries, and the mayors' organization fighting on. A final set of amendments attempted to protect private property rights. Governor Blanco has expressed concern over the bill and is being pressed to veto it by opponents.
  • HB 258, Farrar--died in House Commerce. State Video Franchise-PSC, Would have eliminated local video franchises and vest control in the Public Service Commission.
Emergency Telecommunications bills with implications for municipal broadband
  • HB 540, Burns--died in Senate Commerce. Emergency Preparedness, Would have mandated the development of a an emergency preparedness system. Lightly amended on the floor of the house.
  • HB 619, Burns--died in Senate Commerce. Emergency Preparedness-Coastal, Would have mandated the development of a an emergency preparedness system in coastal regions. Amended by the house to limit the capacity of a new emergency network to an opt-in, text-based system.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Sunday Fun

I spend some time trying to track what fun sorts of new things are emerging that a community with the really big broadband Lafayette will soon have could turn to its advantage. One of the most interesting things to emerge from the new online world is the ability to make things--the web has never been as solely passive medium. Making web pages was only the start. Blogging now seems obvious and you've been able build whole websites online for awhile now. Recently I've been fascinated with the recent "web 2.0" online applications that take that further, making it possible to work collaboratively on word processing, spreadsheets, and "to do" lists--to name merely a few examples--that never exist on any individual's computer.

You have to wonder how far that trend can go...surely, you'd think, there are some things that are just too processor and storage intensive to make doing them online really sensible. Apparently you'd be wrong to think so. The most obvious candidate for being the last bastion of offline creation would be video editing: it requires tons of processing and massive storage. Even so several companies are offering simple online video editing.

Jumpcut, VideoEgg, and EyeSpot all offer free video services--you upload your raw video and then editing, storage, and distribution are all done online. It is changing the way that people make videos. Here's what a New York Times article (since gone behind the pay wall) had to say about that:

The sites make possible new kinds of collaborative editing. A group of parents attending a school play can upload all their video, and then edit a single version of the play that makes use of the best shots. Or a vacationer who returns with a shaky shot of the Grand Canyon can incorporate another person’s river shot into the video — the home-movie equivalent of stock footage.

And later:

Many of the earliest users of the online editing services report two changes in the way they capture and assemble video. First, they tend not to use their camcorders as much, because the tendency with a camcorder is to record long, meandering stretches of birthday parties and parades, which are time-consuming to import to a computer and edit. Instead, they record more impressionistic scenes of a few seconds or a few minutes, using a digital still camera or a cellphone.

Second, even if they have experience using more powerful, PC-based editing software, they find themselves using the online services more often when they are working with the shorter snippets — and trying to assemble them quickly for a grandparent in a distant city.

Jan McLaughlin of North Passaic, N.J., makes three or four short movies a week, often using her Nokia cellphone. She spends only about 5 or 10 minutes, on average, refining her video with Eyespot.

"It's the difference between making a gourmet meal that takes days, or throwing something in the microwave," Ms. McLaughlin said.
If you travel to the sites you'll see that people are pushing into some very different places. The little videos you find there are mostly don't feel like movies at all. "Moving pictures" have pretty much been stuck in the patterns established by the written short story genres--pretty much all video tells a story with a beginning, middle, and end. That takes time and tight planning. You can't tell a good story quickly. The devices of cinema--jump cuts, flashbacks, and multiple story lines were all first devices used to enhance written stories. But these little videos aren't about stories. They are atmospheric. They share a little bit of the way that their creators experienced something. They have a very impressionistic feel. They are something new and hence hard to describe.

Worth thinking about though: collaborative impressionistic short pieces. The seed of a new truly video-oriented model of what to do with moving pictures?

Worth thinking about. My new cell phone takes 15 second videos...hmmn. Anybody have any experience with this. Love to hear about it.

Dumb

It's painful to read those well-meaning letters to the editor whose authors reveal themselves somewhere in the letter to be too ignorant to be taken seriously.

Today's example takes place in the very first bullet point of a letter about traffic problems. The sentence:
  • Scrap the idea of the $125,000,000 fiber optic plan. Use this money to possibly looking at overpasses on the following streets: Congress, Johnston, Kaliste Saloom, and plan for the extension of Ambassador to Hwy. 90.
That's wrong on so many levels that it makes a reasonable person wonder about the rest of the letter:
  1. The money for the fiber-optic build-out we voted in last year are bonds; no 125 mill pot of money exists today. If we don't build the system we don't get the money.
  2. The bonds will be dedicated; nobody can use the money for anything else after the bonds are sold.
  3. They will be revenue bonds--we're counting on sales of service to pay back investors in the bonds.
The author, of course, just finds it handy to promote his expensive ideas --which might be good ones-- by pretending the money to fund them can come from some magical pot that doesn't involve the citizens paying for them. He doesn't want to start his letter with the following considerably less punchy opening suggestion:
  • "Scrap the idea of doing much of anything else next year, andraise taxes. Use this money to possibly looking at overpasses on the following streets: Congress, Johnston, Kaliste Saloom, and plan for the extension of Ambassador to Hwy. 90."
On the other hand it wouldn't look half so dumb as the formulation he chose and it would have the virtue of being honest. As a bonus playing it straight wouldn't discredit the rest of the letter.

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.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

WBS: Multichannel News on HB 699

Multichannel news runs a short article on the passage of HB 699. It is always interesting to see what outsiders emphasize about a local issue. Louisianaians have to appreciate the whiff of doubt about the clause in the bill that supposedly prohibits discrimination.
The bill seeks to prevent discrimination in service deployment, based on the average income for an area, but it also said a provider can consider technology issues and construction costs when deciding whether to serve an area. Discrimination complaints are to be directed to the state Attorney General.
In fact, the bill goes considerably beyond making exceptions for technology and construction issues: a provider can use also "commercial limitations" as an excuse. So it's explicitly legal to cherry-pick the most profitable areas. It's a legal loophole you could drive a truck through--the law is not meant to prohibit discrimination; it is meant to give a clear definition to the conditions under which discrimination is legal in Louisiana.

Multichannel News is a cable industry magazine, it's no surprise that goes to a cable rep for interpretation of the bill. But there's one cable-specific bit that bears watching:

Although the bill would give incumbents the ability to apply for state franchises immediately, McCormick expressed doubt that any current provider would pursue one.

"I know of no one who's expressed interest," she said.

Hmmn. That's odd. If cable providers do not expect to make use of the provisions of the bill why did they support it only after they got included during early senate amendments? Telco entry is gonna hurt them, at least some, and BellSouth being allowed to enter and skim the cream off the cable companies current markets without having to meet the universal build-out requirements embedded in cable's current contracts with local communities must seem very unfair to the cable guys. What cable gets out of supporting this law has always been opaque, at least in the short term. You've gotta wonder what the deeper game is.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

AT&T rewrites rules: Your data isn't yours

Big Ma will soon officially enter into a business partnership with Big Brother. The announcement was not made overtly; rather, it came in the form of a privacy policy change that AT&T will make official on Friday.

David Lazarus of the San Francisco Chronicle has the details:
AT&T has issued an updated privacy policy that takes effect Friday. The changes are significant because they appear to give the telecom giant more latitude when it comes to sharing customers' personal data with government officials.

The new policy says that AT&T -- not customers -- owns customers' confidential info and can use it "to protect its legitimate business interests, safeguard others, or respond to legal process."

The policy also indicates that AT&T will track the viewing habits of customers of its new video service -- something that cable and satellite providers are prohibited from doing.

Moreover, AT&T (formerly known as SBC) is requiring customers to agree to its updated privacy policy as a condition for service -- a new move that legal experts say will reduce customers' recourse for any future data sharing with government authorities or others.

The company's policy overhaul follows recent reports that AT&T was one of several leading telecom providers that allowed the National Security Agency warrantless access to its voice and data networks as part of the Bush administration's war on terror.
A pretty novel approach: when privacy concerns rear their pesky head, do away with customer rights! Here's more:
The new version, which is specifically for Internet and video customers, is much more explicit about the company's right to cooperate with government agencies in any security-related matters -- and AT&T's belief that customers' data belongs to the company, not customers.

"While your account information may be personal to you, these records constitute business records that are owned by AT&T," the new policy declares. "As such, AT&T may disclose such records to protect its legitimate business interests, safeguard others, or respond to legal process."

It says the company "may disclose your information in response to subpoenas, court orders, or other legal process," omitting the earlier language about such processes being "required and/or permitted by law."

The new policy states that AT&T "may also use your information in order to investigate, prevent or take action regarding illegal activities, suspected fraud (or) situations involving potential threats to the physical safety of any person" -- conditions that would appear to embrace any terror-related circumstance.

Ray Everett-Church, a Silicon Valley privacy consultant, said it seems clear that AT&T has substantially modified its privacy policy in light of revelations about the government's domestic spying program.

"It's obvious that they are trying to stretch their blanket pretty tightly to cover as many exposed bits as possible," he said.

Gail Hillebrand, a staff attorney at Consumers Union in San Francisco, said the declaration that AT&T owns customers' data represents the most significant departure from the company's previous policy.

"It creates the impression that they can do whatever they want," she said. "This is the real heart of AT&T's new policy and is a pretty fundamental difference from how most customers probably see things."
AT&T also makes use of a legal classification that is familiar to anyone who's followed the company's fight to elude payment of cable franchise agreements: the company says it can turn consumer viewing and Internet records over to the goverment because it is an "information service."
In a section on "usage information," the privacy policy says AT&T will collect "information about viewing, game, recording and other navigation choices that you and those in your household make when using Homezone or AT&T U-verse TV Services."

The Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984 stipulates that cable and satellite companies can't collect or disclose information about customers' viewing habits.

The law is silent on video services offered by phone companies via the Internet, basically because legislators never anticipated such technology would be available.

AT&T's Britton said the 1984 law doesn't apply to his company's video service because AT&T isn't a cable provider. "We are not building a cable TV network," he said. "We're building an Internet protocol television network."
Meet the new Ma; meaner than the Ole Ma!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Statewide Franchises: The right to Cherry-pick and Red-line

Lightwave reports that AT&T has announced a big fiber to the premises project in the Houston area -- and it confirms the worst about what all this statewide video franchise hoopla is all about. It's about the right of the phone giants (and, under the pending version of Louisiana's HB 699, the cable companies, too) to cherry-pick and red-line neighborhoods either into or out of the high-speed network services world.

The first couple of paragraphs in the Lightwave story spell it out:
June 21, 2006 San Antonio, TX -- AT&T Inc. announced an agreement with General Growth Properties to build a fiber-to-the- premises (FTTP) network to deliver the AT&T U-verse suite of services -- which includes integrated digital TV, high-speed Internet, and voice services -- to a 20,000-home master-planned community near Houston.

The agreement, AT&T's largest such contract to date, underscores one of the company's key strategic initiatives for connecting customers to its Project Lightspeed fiber footprint. It will enable AT&T to make Internet Protocol-based communications and entertainment services available to the estimated 65,000 residents who will move into Bridgeland, a 10,000-acre residential development currently under construction.
Yep, AT&T is ALL about skimming the cream off the market top and leaving the rest of the area gasping for bandwidth. This is the AT&T target: green field (that is, spanking new), upscale developments. I wonder how easy it will be for, say, a cable company to get permission to run their fiber and/or coax lines in that development? Reads like AT&T has gotten themselves an exclusive agreement with the developer.

So much for the company's hunger for competition.

Governor Blanco should read this article and think long and hard about signing HB 699.

HB 699 will make the digital divide the official state policy in Louisiana. It's already AT&T's official corporate policy.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

In Case You Weren't Clear On How...

...The Telcos Screwed Everyone"

Techdirt is willing to put you onto a source which will give you the low-down in book-length form.

Bruce Kushnick, the author of The $200 Billion BroadbandScandal has decided to give his book away in PDF form for a week--you've got till next Monday to download it for free. It's really a pretty amazing read. The phone companies have run a number on state and federal legislators ever since the breakup of AT&T--they've been promising fiber-based service for years (45 megs up and down in some cases!) in order to get price hikes and other regulatory breaks (like the ability to kick CLECs off their network) for years and have yet to keep their promises --obviously.

Kushnick claims it adds up to $200 billion dollars scammed from the public. And nobodyis holding them to their word. Painful stuff.

Go get your own copy.

--tip o' the hat for the link to a reader who doesn't trust the telecos either--

LUS Wins In Court on Bond Issue

Wonderful!

According to postings in both the Advertiser and the Advocate LUS won the initial round in its latest legal fight to implement what we voted for last July 16th. From the Advocate:
District Judge Ed Rubin ruled Monday that Lafayette Utilities System has complied with the law and an appeals court ruling in its latest attempt to issue bonds to fund its telecommunications business.

The ruling came during a hearing that took less than 30 minutes before Rubin, who cut through a series of procedural arguments and went straight to the issue.

Attorneys for both sides spent as much time packing and unpacking boxes full of documents and charts than they did making arguments.

Apparently the judge cut back the class-action suit lawyers complaints to the one which claimed that LUS hadn't met the 3rd ciruit's standards and tossed all the others as complaints that shouldn't even has been brought before him before deciding emphatically in favor of LUS and Lafayette.

With multiple appeals over the lawsuit's handling already in place and with an appeal of today's ruling a certainty we're not out of the woods yet. But this is subtantial progress and even with the anticipated appeals the basic issues of this lawsuit should be settled by mid-August at the latest.

I certainly hope that those boxes of legal documents with charts, graphs and the "twenty seven eight-by-ten colour glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one" cost the plantiffs and their lawyers a bunch of money and wasn't just boxes full of stuff from the BellSouth warehouse. They are angling for a little extortion here and a big win on a long shot gamble. They really ought to have something to lose besides the respect of their community and their legal colleagues.

For those keeping track of how much the obstructionism of the plantiffs and these lawyers is costing the people of city be advised that the Feds appear ready to raise the prime rate yet again. These people's greed and subservience to outside corporate interests is costing the people of Lafayette real money.

Action Alert: Blanco Considers 699 Veto!

The Advocate reports, in a staff-filed brief, that Governor Blanco is considering not signing off on HB 699, BellSouth's state-wide franchise bill. The conference committee amended bill was given final approval yesterday, the last day of the session.

Even the possibility of a veto is exciting and surprising. Get out your phones and call the governors office (1-866.310.7617) to ask that the governor not sign onto a bill that strips local governments of their right to control its local property.
Gov. Kathleen Blanco said Monday she has not decided whether to sign legislation that would allow telecommunications companies to get a statewide franchise to provide television service

“Local communities are asking me to take a second look,” she said.
The proposed law is classically bad legislation. It is offered by a single well-heeled special interest, BellSouth, and favors BellSouth's business interests in opposition to the best interests of local people and local communities.

While the first and most basic reason to oppose the bill is that it involves the state in legislating in favor of the business plan of a single lobbyist-rich corporation the really important issue is the way that the bill strips local governments of the tool that it has always used to force any corporation that wants to use community property to offer service to all at the same price. HB 699 explicitly forbids local governments to make such "build-out" requirements. It is the rural areas of parishes and the poorer areas of cities and towns that will inevitably be judged not good enough to serve with modern phone, TV, and internet services. Local governments have long been the only level of government willing to stand up to the powerful telecom lobbies and demand service for all--this bill strips local people of that last defense.

This might be a moment when Blanco would be able to hear Louisiana citizens and some home-town voices. Help give her an excuse to block this bill.
Toll-free: 1-866.310.7617 (update: I've been told that @ 11:00 nobody is picking 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
(update: the webmail script does not appear to execute correctly on my setup--it certainly doesn't complete; the embedded email address is: contact@gov.state.la.us --it would probably be wiser to use that than to trust the webmail form.)
And when you finish encourage your friends to do the same.

Thought of the day

An excellent overview of the net neutrality debate and the history behind it was published in the San Francisco Chronicle. The overview is well worth the read.

But what really captured this reader's attention was the final point:
But as the Senate weighs whether or how to intervene on net neutrality, Andrew Odlyzko, a former Bell Laboratories scientist who now directs the University of Minnesota's Digital Technology Center, noted that the last time network expansion was driven solely by the market, things did not turn out so well. The irony, he said, is that we might not be having this debate if corporations had not overinvested in backbone expansion in the 1990s.

'The largely wasted investment in long-haul fiber during the bubble was about $100 billion,'' he said. 'If you took that hundred billion, that would probably be enough to pay for fiber-to-the-home for two-thirds of the United States.'
Some too-big corporations made some lousy business decisions. And now the biggest of them want us to bail them out by allowing them find new revenue sources by killing net neutrality. Let's not reward incompetence.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

The Orange $100 Laptop

Dreaming Dept.

Here's something to think about on a cloudy Sunday morning: A great, cheap laptop for the world's kids. The latest iteration of the "One Laptop per Child Project" is an orange plastic laptop with stubby bunny ears and a big handle. (Image @ left is from the OPLC website). Target price is $100 dollars or less and the target audience is third world kids who'd otherwise never have access to the technology. The project originated as the brainchild of Nicholas Negreponte, the head of the MIT Media Lab, an interesting institution in its own right. The project has gathered a wide range of advocates and participants who have designed and developed it using the classic open source model.

The not-for-profit collaboration is a great example of what might be possible if people decide to push for what's possible and valuable about new technologies without getting to involved with what makes for big profits.

The developers are having a lot of fun building in sensible features that commercial developers don't see how they can make money off--and hence haven't pursued. They're looking at new-style screens that have both color and a black and white, low power, readable in the sunlight, e-book mode. Each one will be capable of participating together a "spontaneous" mesh WiFi network. The screen swivels to show your neighbors what's going on, and folds down for use as a tablet or e-book. There's no hard drive--only flash memory. It is being put together to making hardware hacking easy and it's built on an all open-source basis. The list could go on--and interested readers are encouraged to dig in and fantasize about what they are their community could do with such a device at a $100 price point.

You have to think that an off-shoot of this project would make a great addition to American schools. As a former teacher and ed tech prof I can say with fair confidence that one of the major reasons that newer technologies aren't integrated into US schools is that no teacher can assume their students have ready access to the technologies involved. Something like this is cheap enough and useful enough to be worth making truly ubiquitous--and that would allow free teachers to make really creative use of information technologies.

And yes, as always, Lafayette will make a good place to start. The missing piece in this equation so far is net connectivity and adequate bandwidth to supply the implied large percentage of users in a population. Much of what anyone would want to do or teach is web-based. It's easy to see how that ubiquitous connectivity to such laptops for kids could be supplied in Lafayette as part of the school system--if we chose to exert our imagination and efforts in that direction.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

State Cable Franchise Law Conference Amendments

HB 699, the state-wide cable franchise law, went to conference and emerged with yet another set of amendments. They don't make any fundamental changes in what will be a very bad law when it passes on the hurried last day of the legislative session.

This bill has been a lesson in the intricacies of legislative procedure. The bill originated in the House (hence "HB") and was heavily amended in committee. It was further amended in the Senate. The House chose to reject the version with the Senate amendments and so it went to a conference committee made up of three members of each house. That group, å with pro-BellSouth legislators, came up with a further amended bill which goes before both bodies for an up or down vote--no floor amendments are allowed. So we are now at the last moment with what is finally, after more than a 130 amendments, a final bill.

There's the good, the bad, and the mixed in these last changes.

From a purely local point of view the most feared product of a conference was avoided: the revised bill preserves Mike Michot's single-letter amendment that sponsors hope will allow Lafayette to join the roster of cities that are exempted from the worst effects of the law.

Several other amendments, reportedly urged by the DOTD, preserve the ability of the state's road-builders to set engineering standards and issue permits. One small clause seems to also preserve some similar authority for local governments by restricting the removal of local government's rights to set standards on the use of its property to build-out requirements only. Build-out refers to the practice of local governments of requiring any company that wants to use the public's property to provide their services to the whole of the public. (This law is really mostly motivated by BellSouth's desire to remove that single requirement.) The part in red shows how that amendment alters the proposed law:
No franchising authority, state agency, or political subdivision of the statemay impose any build-out requirements for construction of a cable system or wireline facilities used to distribute video programming services or for cable or video service deployment on a holder of a certificate.
That is worth focusing on for a minute. A bill passes both houses of the legislature which strips both the state and local communities of any ability to set any standards--engineering, location in right of way, depth, place and nature of pole attachments, etcetera on how a corporation thinks its use of public property would best serve its profit and nobody understands that leaving the corporation free to do anything it wants is not a good idea?! The only place it is caught and fixed is at the very last minute when someone from the DOTD perks up and notices that, hey, this is just crazy and would give telecoms and only telecoms the right to "cherry-pick" all the best locations in the right of way and run over all other providers who have to abide by rational rules? It's stuff like this--more than big cases of obvious corruption--that should give citizens pause about their government. It's clear that the only way that something so wrong-headed as this can pass over the complaints of local officials is if the legislators have a servile confidence in the idea that anything a big corporation wants to do is "right" and mindlessly agree with corporations that any objection by local governments is just a self-interested smokescreen. The presumption should be precisely the opposite. Corporations are happy to admit their self-interest and local government officials are in that office precisely because their citizens trusted their judgment. That we have a legislature that doesn't even need to be bought to sell-out local communities in this way is more appalling than if we saw checks being handed out the floor of the state legislature again. (Notice, please, that state government is still all about roads--those that build them and say which projects are feasible and worthy and which not still trump even BellSouth. What has changed is that the united opposition of cities, towns, and police juries no longer does.)

On the downside another amendment seems to limit the ability to get any fees at all for the use of rights-of-way by telecom corporations to local governments. Meaning that state governments can't charge such fees. That's not much of an issue now, since federal law prohibits such. But since the 1996 telecommunications act is up for revision maybe some forward-looking BellSouth lawyer is worried that the prohibition might be abolished.

I expect that this bill will pass in one of those periods when the speaker or a surrogate gets up and in his best rapid fire, sing-song auctioneer's voice calls out the bare title of the bill, its status, and calls for a vote--"selling" bill after bill as rapidly as possible.

This time what is being sold out is the people of the state.

This bill, even after endless amendments, preserves the basic defect it began with: It is a bill written to satisfy the desires of essentially one company, BellSouth, to profit off the use of public property without taking on any responsibility to serve all that own the property it wants to use. By prohibiting such "build-out" requirements the law makes it certain that no company in the future will feel obligated to serve any but the most profitable with new services and makes it state policy to discriminate against rural and poor citizens. There's a laundry-list of other serious problems, any one of which would probably sink a bill backed by anyone other than BellSouth, but it all comes down to that single "taking" of public property for private profit.

You can still tell your legislators you think they should vote against this travesty and demand a roll-call vote on this legislation. Or even engage in a little slowdown that might leave the ill-begotten thing on the table as the session ends. They ought to at least know that someone out there watching. (Find your legislators, Represenatives' addresses, Senators' addresses)

Friday, June 16, 2006

Advertiser TV-Media Converges!

Anybody else notice the Advertiser video on the Hundley affair this morning? Yep, the Advertiser is offering us "TV." Advertiser Online Editor Bill Decker has posted a very straightforward news video on the web--one that actually has some pretty interesting "news" in it that isn't available in the written story.

It's all part of a larger movement toward digital convergence. The fact that almost everything these days is encoded into a sort of digital lingua franca means that media once restricted to one media--like broadcast TV or Radio or Newspapers-- can show up almost anywhere.

If you're living pretty solidly on the web a lot of this has crept up on you slowly. We're used to seeing little stories that look like news briefs in the newspapers on the the TV stations KATC and KLFY. We're not surprised to see fragments of the newscasts available as downloadble video on those same sites. Over in Baton Rouge the Manship family owns both the daily and WBRZ so they've always gestured toward a mixed media website though I notice that integration has picked up recently with more TV originated content showing up on the news portal. AOC, our own community access channel, has had classes in podcasting and is talking about a download portal as it recognizes the world shifting around it--and away from the classic broadcast model of shows in regular slots on a defined channel. (A model that never worked very well for community television anyway.) Some AOC shows are already found resident on the web--like the "Meet the Democrats" interview and news show.

Today's Hundley video is part of the Advertiser's tentative-feeling foray into fuller on-line participation. So far they've been putting up blogs, questionable discussion groups, some podcasts, and occasional web-only features. They pretty clearly know that something is going on out there and that they'd better get aboard. Just as clearly they're not quite sure what it is or what to do with it. That's true of the media (and not just locally).

We're seeing an evolutionary process at work. One of these days we'll wake up and drink our cuppa Community (ok, or Mello Joy) and be reading the news just like always. And it will take us several minutes of discussion with our significant other to decide just when it was that we quit bringing the newspaper to the table in order to read the news. The process is under way at our house. At least once a week one of us brings the laptop to the table. (Morning always starts off with the download of email and quick online news check of stories we are following; so the laptop is up and running already.)

Folks would be well repaid to pay close attention to how this more open and diverse information-gathering actually works. Online readers don't limit themselves to one source at a time--the paper or the TV channel. Instead they follow stories into whatever media or source they need jumping, for instance, from a reference to a story about wetlands to an encyclopedia entry on a technical topic, to googling the names of scientists mentioned. You might zip over to a specialty blog or click through to a discussion group that is likely to deal with the story in a more sophisticated way. Most significantly, if the story is one you know a friend would be interested in, you can also send them a comment or question along with a link. People are starting to be a lot more diverse in their information sources and more actively reactive about what they read. It feels a lot different that just reading the newspaper or passively watching even the best TV shows.

Once you've gotten started directing your own inquiry about a topic instead of letting others do it for you it will be hard to go back. Nobody will "own" the reader or viewer even for a short while. Portal sites or attempts at walled garden's where everything is gathered in one place are doomed, in my humble opinion. A web presence will need to be designed to be an attractive node that people want to go to often. Trying to hold people there will only make the flighty new reader fly off. Understanding that you shouldn't be trying to hold onto the user will be awfully hard--it flies in the face of how all current media is designed. It should be interesting to watch in our little local laboratory.

That fabled media "convergence" you hear about--it's coming to Lafayette. Fitfully, and maybe a little early as we anticipate our community-owned fiber optic network. Hopefully local institutions will be doing especially interesting things.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Flash: HB 699 Goes To Conference Comittee

Just a fast update. HB 699 was heard and the Senate amendments rejected. It is hard at this moment to say what that will mean for the state or Lafayette. The floor vote doesn't give much of a clue since no one voted to accept the amendments.

It has to mean that BellSouth-soon-to-be-AT&T isn't satisfied that it's got everything it wanted out of the bill and thinks it can squeeze a bit more. That is unlikely to mean anything good for Lafayette or for the State.

Having rammed the bill through it is possible that BellSouth just has something else it wants to sneak in or, more likely, that it wants to strip out at least some of the Senate amendments and thinks it has the muscle to force the Senate to back down.

One of those amendments would have built a better case for Lafayette being having a pre-74 status that makes the changes the bill enforces less immediate. It would let Lafayette keep its current cable franchise intact for instance. Cox might not like that.

Another Senate amendment concerning private owners and rights of way is, we are told, similar to the one that Michot offered in Senate committee. That one, the pro-BellSouth commerce committee chair Pinac said would "gut" the bill. That was not the prevailing sentiment on the floor of the senate where the sponsor had a hard time saying what was wrong with it. Frankly, upon reading it, it seems more favorable to BellSouth than not.

The whole thing has to be done by 6 pm on June the 19th--next Monday. The Senate conferees have already been appointed. In the best of all possible worlds the bill would die in conference. But I wouldn't bet on it. Once it comes out of committee both the house and the Senate will have to vote again.

[Update--The Advertiser has posted an informative brief:
The intent of the action is not to change Senate amendments, but to address an issue raised at the last moment by the state Department of Transportation and Development, said Rep. Billy Montgomery, D-Haughton.

The issue concerns DOTD rights-of-way over private property and require a technical change in the bill, he said. But with overwhelming support in the House and Senate, a compromise version should be approved before the Legislature must adjourn at 6 p.m. Monday.
Apparently the move to a conference committee is based on the right of way issue discussed above. Exactly what the DOTD wants addressed and whether the committee will restrain itself to that issue remains to be seen.]

Commentary on Endless Lawsuits parts 29-33

Kevin Blanchard has a commentary piece in the Advocate this morning, trying and mostly failing to make sense of the mess of lawsuits filed against Lafayette.

There are probably 3 or 4 points to be made: 1) itsa mess. 2) it's nothing new, 3) a nice chunk of the delay is due to Judge Rubin, 4) it's costing us money.

There are some nice highpoints:
If the latest slew of legal filings surrounding Lafayette Utilities System’s funding of its planned communications business seems confusing, that’s because it is — sometimes even to lawyers handling the matters.
and:

Rubin’s sending the case to the authority was not something either party in the case had asked for and appeared to take each side by surprise.

The plaintiffs’ appealed the authority’s ruling to a separate judge. Another judge is hearing an appeal of the plaintiffs’ complaint that LUS overcharges for electricity.

The 3rd Circuit will decide an appeal from the same plaintiffs on a mostly procedural matter decided by yet another 15th Judicial District judge.

Lafayette’s attorneys have argued this mish-mash of filings and judges and appeals is exactly what the Legislature was trying to avoid when it enacted the bond validation statutes.

It's getting to be a tired story. Folks are frustrated and vaugely angry.

The proper target of their anger is BellSouth and Cox. If the two corporations would back off and acknowledge the outcome of a referendum they demanded this could all be over. --No one is deceived by the "front" lawsuits that don't bear their names. (Except, possibly, LCG.) The history of the lawsuits and they way they were completely dependent on incumbent filings initially makes that plain.

Attempting to thwart the express will of the people ought to be enough to excite citizens to anger. If that's not enough the fact that these delays are intended to cost the community money is a legitimate part of the story. As the story correctly notes this is costing us money in legal fees and in (and this is the main point) interest rates that have risen in the neighborhood of two points since the legal obstructionism took hold. Put that on 125 million over 25 years and you are talking, oh...really a lot of money.

Blanchard notes at the end of the story that Lafayette's legal fees will eventually be paid by the citizens...sure. But he fails to note that the incumbents costs will be borne by the ratepayers as well. That's what makes this more obscene (were that possible): we'll be billed by these guys to cover their expenses incurred to raise our rates and frustrate or democratically expressed will. Geez. There oughta be a law.

I'm looking for a new cellular service provider today. I think maybe Sprint, though Verizon gets good reviews too. Advice?

TheInd on BellSouth's Law

This week's Independent picks up the story of BellSouth's state-wide cable franchise law just as it is about to come to a close. (The bill is on the House agenda today and the Senate-amended version should be voted on there by the end of the week at the latest.)

The story is pretty good as far as it goes. The quotes from local leaders are great, for instance with Don Cravins, the senator who gave a great speech on Senate floor, complaining that it shouldn't be a hardship for a company of the size of AT&T to negotiate with municipalities:

“I think a multinational company should have the means to do that,” said Cravins, who is now also running for mayor of Opelousas. “It doesn’t matter how you couch it, this is an AT&T multi-national conglomerate bill that is ultimately going to Wal-Mart the entire cable industry in Louisiana.”

And:

Lafayette City-Parish President Joey Durel concurs with Cravins. “What I keep saying,” Durel says, “is that people trust local government more than they trust state government, just like they trust state government more than they trust the federal government. And so once again the state government has chosen to get involved in local policy, and this will ultimately have a negative effect on local government, which will obviously have a negative effect on the people that we try to serve.”

Based on Lafayette’s own contentious history with BellSouth, where the company has repeatedly sued the city in order to block Lafayette Utilities System’s efforts to get involved in the phone, Internet and cable business, Durel is wary of the company’s intentions.

“We kept hearing for the past two years: level playing field,” Durel says, “and now what you’re seeing is the huge conglomerates trying to not play on a level playing field with each other.”

Durel is right, of course, as with the Local Government (un)Fair Competition Act, the real purpose is to make sure that the incumbent monopolists have an unfair advantage over any possible competition. Read the story and you'll see that getting services out speedily and having parity with the cable companies have nothing to do with: the local governments offered to make sure that the phone companies could compete within 30 days of expressing a desire--all they had to do was accept the same contract conditions that the local cable company was already operating under. NO way said BellSouth/AT&T. The real story here is about eliminating the "irritant" of local governments who demand that all be served if a company is going to use community property. It's irritating when the owners of property all ask to be served if what you want is to use their property to only serve the most profitable. It's irritating to be held accountable by all those little police jurors and city councilmen if you don't live up to your agreements (its much easier to snooker state or federal legislators as history clearly shows). BellSouth can now decided to serve once side of street but not the other, to serve River Ranch but not North Lafayette, to run lines to fancy new subdivisions but let other areas they pass over on the way to those glitzy new places wait forever while they pump up their profits while using public property.

There's nothing in the new law--as there are in current cable contracts--that would force BellSouth/AT&T to charge the residents of different areas of town differently for the same service. The companies could conceivably ask for block by block "state franchises" and charge whatever they thought would be to their advantage. Nothing legal prevents them from offering different prices where they have competition than across the street where they don't. Welcome to a "level playing field" and the benefits of competition.

Since cable, in the end, got themselves written into the law (on dubious constitutional grounds) they'll have the same privileges. State law now lets cable companies (and only cable companies) break their contracts with communities whenever they want. Over time you'll see the same discrimination shown by Cox -- just as soon as it becomes more profitable to use their upgrade money elsewhere they'll be free to abandon the poorer parts of communities. Note that it won't necessarily be that those areas will be unprofitable--only that it will be more profitable to move their money to a higher yield area.

Can you say "digital divide?" I knew you could.

Durel's remarks close the story. He's got a point about Lafayette. But there will be real suffering in the rest of the state.
Durel hopes it will ultimately be a moot issue. He says once LUS begins offering its telecommunications package (the plan is currently tied up in lawsuits brought by two Lafayette residents), it won’t matter how the incumbent cable and telephone companies are delivering their services.

“Our technology,” Durel says, “is going to be so far superior to what either one of the companies has to offer that we are going to be the competition.”

Monday, June 12, 2006

GameCamp is back!

GameCamp is back! The Advertiser has a nice article on it this morning.
Kids itching to get a feel for the video game industry can rejoice - GameCamp! is returning to the University of Louisiana on July 9-16.

For the second year, GameCamp! will educate kids on the inner workings of the video game industry through experienced guest speakers and hands-on development.

Gaming is serious business as well as serious fun. Some estimates have the game market worth more than the movie market these days and with Lafayette is uniquely positioned to take advantage of an industry that is still coming together.
Last year, GameCamp! media consultant and Lafayette native Joe Castille pitched his hometown as a potential host city to Zuzolo. After one visit, the president decided GameCamp! could form quite a symbiotic relationship with the city.

"Lafayette is like a mini-Austin," Castille said. "There's all this incredible culture, there's great nightlife, they're trying to do something with fiber and there's a good body of tech-savvy people."

I'm not all that thrilled at being compared to Austin. (Have you been to Austin recently?) But I do understand the point being made: Lafayette's got a lot going for it--these days you've got to have both the culture and the technology to make a place attractive to creative types. Lafayette has a shot a developing a real industry nucleus.

If you know a kid that would like to get into this -- and its hard to find kids today that wouldn't--I understand they've still got a few slots they're willing to fill. At least that's what a casual conversation with Joe Castille at a local coffee shop over the weekend revealed. It should be a great experience.

You can get more info at:

WWW.GAMECAMP.ORG

OR CALL SPENCER ZUZOLO @ 512-796-4363

OR EMAIL: SPENCER@GAMECAMP.ORG


Sunday, June 11, 2006

AT&T's Project Lightspeed: Bolshoi ain't just a Russian ballet company

The Los Angeles Times takes a closer look at AT&T's much ballyhooed Project Lightspeed -- the project that AT&T and BellSouth are using to justify eliminating local franchise laws in Louisiana.

What a scam!

Let's go to the core issue of the technology:
But industry analysts are skeptical about the network, dubbed Project Lightspeed, and the TV service, called U-verse.

"This is a complicated product launch on a scale that is pretty much unprecedented," said analyst Adi Kishore of the Yankee Group research firm in Boston. "They're going to have problems, especially given the relatively tight time frame to get things done."

Experts question the wisdom of creating a network that's likely to be technologically out of date by the time it's complete. Lightspeed is designed to send data at an average of 25 megabits per second by extending high-capacity fiber optic lines to within 3,000 feet of homes. To cover the remaining distance, AT&T plans to rely on new DSL gear to send data humming over existing copper lines.
OK, so it's obsolete technology that is going to cost AT&T something in the neighborhood of $5 Billion to deploy.

And what might consumers get (at least those customers of AT&T/BellSouth that might actually see Lightspeed deployed)?
AT&T won't reveal its TV package prices yet. But Internet information company Broadband Reports said users of its online forums learned that the basic bundle of 170-channel TV service plus 1.5-megabit-per-second Internet access would cost $85 a month. The top tier of more than 200 channels with 6-megabit-per-second access would cost $114 a month.
That deal loses to Cox right now. It'll won't pose any threat to whatever the package LUS brings to market next year (yes, that's a prediction).

But, might that be a good deal in other parts of the state and, thus, justify ripping out the local franchise laws? Well, it might be, but Lightspeed is probably not coming to Louisiana -- or, if it is, it's only going to faster growing places like Baton Rouge and maybe Shreveport and St. Tammany Parish.

Why?

Well, as John has spent a good bit of effort trying to explain, Lightspeed represents the ultimate cherry-pick by AT&T. That is, the company only figures to bring Lightspeed to about 50 percent of their existing customer base:
AT&T's strategy is to bring Lightspeed to 19 million homes in 41 of its markets by the end of 2008 — a little more than half the homes in its 13-state territory, including California. The rollout is expected to cost $4.6 billion. Other customers can get Homezone, a combination of satellite TV and high-speed Internet access, which will be available in the next few months.
Now, the deal is that Louisiana is not a fast growing market. We've been one of the slow growth markets in BellSouth's nine-state service area. Once the purchase of BellSouth by AT&T closes, we'll be a slow growth market in AT&T's 22-state market.

Bottom line: the DirecTV/DSL combo that BellSouth offers now is going to be the dominant package offered by AT&T in Louisiana after this deal closes -- regardless of what BellSouth's lobbyists are saying in the Legislature.

So, why are legislators ignoring the facts and buying into the BellSouth/AT&T B.S.? A lobbyist for the Police Jury Association of Louisiana quotes one lawmaker as explaining it this way: "False hope is better than no hope at all."

That is, BellSouth may well be lying to legislators, but the prospect of relief from high cable bills is worth the risk. And it is based on that reasoning that the Legislature is preparing to make the Digital Divide the official policy of the State of Louisiana.

Our Korean Future?

Here's three tools for kicking back and thinking about the future.
  • The Future Boy Column in Business 2.0 this week focuses on the South Korea's status as the place to go to look at the consequences of providing a whole population with cheap, fast broadband. The South Koreans are integrating connectivity into their culture in fascinating and suggestive ways--ways that the author suggests make Korea's future dominance in the area probable.
  • In an complementary essay Susan Crawford uses the Korean (and Japanese experience) as an excuse for focusing on getting more competition in the US market. There are only a few basic choices and each has its problems.
(Here's a caveat on the first two stories: both authors as Americans find it easy to take a look at a desirable situation that has any element of competition in it and identify competition as the cause of the desirable situation--and that's enough to "be" the answer. I suspect Koreans wouldn't make that mistake. The most striking difference between the American and Korean experiences is that the Koreans government funded a huge modern backbone, heavily subsidized companies building last mile solutions, and pushed most of its competition by regulatory means. Korean competition is based on something like the US CLEC model (which the FCC has abandoned)--the network owners are forced to sell their access at favorable wholesale rates to third-party providers. The Koreans had a clear goal: get high speed bandwidth to everyone--and they ruthlessly, without our regard for ideology, did what was necessary to make that happen.)
  • The third story, an older one from Wired, takes a less economic tack. It focuses on cultural issues and cultural assumptions. In it the story is that the South Koreans have figured out that big broadband is most readily driven by social interaction; not by the solitary, couch-potato vision of consumption that drives the dreams of American providers. From the article:
    "South Korea's broadband commons challenges North American assumptions about what bandwidth is for and why it's relevant. In the US, cable, telephone, and media companies spin visions of set-top boxes and online jukeboxes, trying to "leverage content" and turn old archives into new media streams. There is a profound fear of empowering consumers to share media in a self-organizing way on a mass scale. Yet this is precisely what makes South Korea the broadband capital of the world. It's not a futuristic fantasy that caters to alienated couch potatoes; it's a present-day reality that meets the needs of a culture of joiners a place where physical and virtual are not mutually exclusive categories ..."
All worth thinking about. What will shape Lafayette's broadband future? How will economics and the unusual economic structure we will have hear interact with our unique cultures?

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Cravins' and Romero's Speeches

I mentioned Senators Cravins' and Romero's passionate speeches in an earlier post and quoted a few bits from them at that point. They were offered up in opposition to HB 699, the so-called "Competitive Cable and Video Services Act," whose real purpose was to strip local governments of their control of community-owned rights of way in order to benefit BellSouth, soon to be AT&T.

The speeches really deserve to be heard in their fullness. We live in times when there's not much respect given to anger. But anger-- when controlled, righteous, and well-directed--can be a noble emotion. These are angry speeches. But the outrage they convey is entirely appropriate.

There's something old school about the defense of the little guy and local leaders. It rings of another era to be angry at soulless conglomerates, to be shocked at the suggestion by proponents of the bill that state senators understand the import of this law better than the local leaders whose contracts with outsiders the state is destroying. It rings of another era to hear men speak who assume that constituents are citizens instead of consumers and whose stance makes it clear that they understand that the real interests of multinational corporations and local citizens diverge. It makes one nostalgic to hear the repetitions, pauses, and cadences of classic rhetorical delivery. I think it no accident that the two most passionate defenders of the people and localism come from senators who speak in the accents of and and represent the heartlands of Creole and Cajun culture in Louisiana.

Worth the the time it takes to listen...

Both speeches can be accessed via the Lafayette Pro Fiber audio download page.

Peter Collins' Interview at BroadBand Reports

Broadband Reports (BBR) has an interview with Peter Collins, IS Manager for Geneva, Illinois that should be interesting for those of us in Louisiana and Lafayette. The TriCities in Illinois continue to be just ahead of Lafayette in dealing with telecommunications issues. Their experience with AT&T (then named SBC) prefigured our own fight for fiber here in Lafayette and their struggles helped inform Lafayette as to what we could expect. We reported on the conflict and the Independent ran a cover story on their experience, so Peter Collins' name is likely familiar to followers of our conflict. (Collins briefly compares Lafayette and the TriCities experience and that is excerpted below.)

With Lousiana well on the road to a state-wide cable franchise that strips local communities of their ability to control their own property, Illinois' disagreements with AT&T can give us a sense of what sorts of fights AT&T wants to avoid by getting a state franchise.

Teasers from the interview:
BBR: With it behind you, what do you think Batavia, St. Charles, and Geneva could have done differently?

PC: As I mentioned earlier, once the issue has been placed on a ballot, the cities themselves are prohibited from spending taxpayer funds to push a "yes" or "no" vote. All the cities can do is inform: "this is what the project is and here's what it aims to achieve." Elected officials and citizen's groups are obviously allowed to voice their views as they see fit. They are free to call press conferences to dispute misinformation. This is an area in which Lafayette, LA and their citizen's groups really played, and continue to play, the game right.

When the incumbents say something outlandish to confuse your citizenry, I think you've got to come right back and tell your community, "Actually, here's the real deal". You have to keep coming back again and again with the truth, not "truthiness", because you certainly can't outspend the incumbents. I think Lafayette might have known the "Chicago way" better than we did.
On the likelihood of AT&T's latest attempts to provide cable over telephone lines:
BBR: Historically, Comcast and AT&T have a long backstory in your neck of the woods, could you elaborate on that?

PC:
The current AT&T was made up of the merger of SBC and AT&T. In our area, SBC was the result of the absorption of Ameritech into the SBC family. Remember the Ameritech has already had a venture into the video arena with their Americast offering and failed.

Likewise, the former AT&T also gave up and sold of all of its local AT&T Broadband holdings to Comcast.

Now that the two companies - that have both failed in video delivery in the past - have merged to become the "new at&t", are we supposed to believe they'll get it right this time?

Friday, June 09, 2006

Louisiana U.S. House delegation unanimously votes against Net Neutrality

This is a bit off topic for this blog as it addresses a national issue, but it has local implications.

When the U.S. House of Representatives voted to defeat Rep. Ed Markey's (D-Mass) Network Neutrality amendment on Thursday evening, EVERY member of the Louisiana Congressional delegation voted against Markey's amendment.

That is, Reps. Charles Boustany, Charles Melancon, Bobby Jindal, Richard Baker, William Jefferson, Rodney Alexander and James McCrery voted in favor of giving AT&T and Verizon the legal cover to manipulate access to content on the Internet.

One thing that can now be said about our House delegation without regard to party affiliation: They really just don't get this Internet thing!

Good News: Less Absurd Delays [Update]

Update: The Advocate prints a piece on the change to an earlier date for hearing the bond case and gives a clear explanation. In a separate email I'm told that not all the onus for the mixup should be placed on the clerk's office--apparently the judge was supposed to file some special piece of paperwork which didn't come through.
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Oopps!

I've been told that the Advocate was wrong in thinking that Judge Rubin was going to wait until July the 31st to hear the hear the bond issue that is the current block to selling the bonds that Lafayette needs to build the system if voted for last summer. An earlier post here was based on that assumption.

Instead the judge will hear the issue the next time he comes around, June 19th. That's still a long time to hold a hearing open for reasons that were never adequately explained but it isn't nearly as bad as forcing the community to wait till August.

Folks are supposing the mistake occurred at the Clerk's Office. Workers there routinely fill up the available time slots and place the new cases at the end of the line. Presumeably that was July 31st. But, since this is an expedited case it will be heard the next time the judge is in town.

Good. I want something to celebrate on July 16th, Lafayette Telecom Independence Day. Here's to hoping that Judge Rubin will give us that.

Media Roundup: HB 699

The Gannett papers--like the Advertiser, as well as the Advocate and the Time-Picayune all carry stories on yesterday's battle in the Senate over HB 699. If you're a news junkie you'll want to read all three. (Though I immodestly suggest my coverage of the debate and its implications is more complete.)

If you just have time for one try John Hill's story in the Gannett papers. He has some particularly juicy bits about what BellSouth's lobbyists think ought to happen next with their bill. But he focuses, at this late date, on giving a full background for understanding the bill and what it means. He looks at what the bill means to local communities, examines the technologies involved, explains the politics of pre and post '74 home rule communities, and has the juiciest quotes from participants in the debate. He also is the only writer to pick up on the "one letter" amendment Michot hopes will exempt Lafayette from the law. Very nicely done, but don't take too seriously his belief that IPTV, the underlying video technology AT&T uses, belongs to or was created by Microsoft. Not true--and they've yet to make their version work acceptably, contrary to the glowing picture painted in the article.

The Advocate's Millhollon does the best job of understanding the crucial Senate amendments concern "information services" that have the lobbyists in John Hill's story were likely worried about and provides intriguing detail on the debate itself.

By comparison the T-P article is pretty mundane. Thought Jefferson and St. Tammany parishes were hotbeds of opposition to the bill the Times-Picayune hasn't done enough reporting on telecom issues to have a good background on the story.

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The Advertiser article has an interesting sidebar that contains the following info:

Acadiana votes:

Heels: Sens. Butch Gautreaux, Nick Gautreaux, Mike Michot*, Donald Hines and Gerald Theunissen

Heros: Sens. Donald Cravins Sr. and Craig Romero

*Michot's vote may well have been in trade for the amendment he hopes will exempt Lafyette from the bill, so he gets an asterisk. However, it is far from certain that even if the law passes with that intact it won't still allow BellSouth/AT&T to entangle all the big municipalities through language forbidding the exempted municipalities from passing any ordinances which run contrary to the bill. That's a nice, juicy target for harrassing lawsuits. The Bell companies have a long history of suing their opponents into submission and I, for one, am not reassured.

Outrageous

You know Senators Ellington and Hollis were at great pains to say that HB 699, the state-wide cable franchising bill that won Senate approval yesterday, was not a BellSouth bill. No, they claimed, that just wasn't fair. Repeatedly. Loudly. And in mildly aggrieved tones. Cravins and other opponents were caustic in their replies.

Senate watchers know the truth. John Hill, writing for the Gannett chain, knew who he should ask about the future of the bill: John Sutton, BellSouth lobbyist, not Montgomery or Ellington who authored the bills. Here's what Hill reports without any apologies whatsoever in the the story's lead paragraphs:
The bill that would make it easier for telephone companies to compete with cable communications firms for television services through broadband lines cleared the state Senate 27-10 Thursday afternoon after a two-hour debate.

But lobbyists for BellSouth, the prime backer of the legislation, said they would have to study the Senate changes to House Bill 699 by Rep. Billy Montgomery, D-Haughton, before asking for the necessary House concurrence.

"We just don't know yet. We have to study these amendments," said George Sutton, BellSouth's chief lobbyist on the bill that has been fought by the Louisiana Police Juries Association, cable communications firms and mayors.
Now it was obvious that Ellington didn't understand the bill before him during the debate. Or at least wasn't sure what he could admit about particular clauses. Under close and extended questioning by Willy Mount, for instance, he would occasionally go off camera to try and get requested information. I'd have given a dollar to have been able to see who he was talking to but I bet it wasn't some other senator. (Comments by attendees welcomed!)

I don't like that the special interests write the bills that give them, in this instance, unbridled abilities to run over the rights of local governments for their own advantage, but I find it absurd that their agents don't at least know the bill well enough to defend it and and find it absolutely outrageous that no, no one --not the lobbyist, not a senator, and not the reporters-- seems to question that it is BellSouth who will make the decision about whether or not to seek concurrence in the House or fight the Senate changes in conference committee.

Of course it was BellSouth's bill. And it will be BellSouth's law...

That's just plain outrageous.