Well the Advertiser has decided to write up the story that Durel announced last week: that the cost of supporting the fiber to the home project against the opposition of Cox, BellSouth, and those few citizens that supported the corporations has accounted for most of the 3.5 million spent to date.
Lafayette Pro Fiber reported on this last week, when Durel included the basic information in his state of city address. The Advertiser story on the address didn't mention this topic then; presumably they didn't want to dilute the dramatic effect of this story.
The article also covers savings due to lower Cox rates and benefits due to new jobs already gained but neglects to add up the results for the reader. Those gains would mean putting the 3.5 million in costs to the city against the 13.4 million in savings and new salaries injected into the community. That comparison, available only to readers who did the math, is pretty convincing in making Durel's basic point. Beyond that the Advertiser neglects to mention Durel's larger claim that to get the true value of the new income it should be multiplied (as is common when talking about private investments). That would have raised the contrast to a surprising "30, 40, 50 million" in yearly gains against a one-time 3.5 million in costs. Of course, thinking it through like that doesn't make for nearly as dramatic a front-page story.
Durel's claims transform the story into one in which the real issue is not about costs--that was story the Advertiser had intended with it breathless "Not a strand of fiber-optic line has been buried. Not a single customer is receiving Internet, telephone or television service" introduction. Such an introduction is intended to set up the interpretation that we got nothing for our money. That was the "exciting" story that was originally intended. Unfortunately for the paper Durel nicely moved the story to a cost-benefit analysis and took the punch out of the story. He got his defining licks in before they went to press and if you read the story carefully you can see that the author is a bit irked by how it all played out. The author lays out the timeline very carefully laid out; the reader is told exactly when each player made their move and the clear implication is that the city and LUS are engaged in defensive maneuvering. (Frankly, I don't doubt that is the case. There seems to be a pretty deep unwillingness on the part of LCG and LUS to engage in public discussion of potentially uncomfortable issues. That makes them vulnerable to suspicions like the one this article tries to raise. Given the nature of the opposition that is understandable. But not wise.)
But the media story is a sidelight, really.
What the current article usefully adds to our understanding of the city project is a list of who received the money, which is quite interesting--but not particularly surprising if you've followed the fight closely. The list can be roughly divided into engineering-planning, legal, and political costs. What is interesting is the relative size of those pies and the way the players divided them up.
The R. W. Beck consultancy has been the big, quite, behind-the-scenes player through all this. They do engineering and planning specializing in electric utilities--they were involved in developing the electrical plant that went online in 2005. Their engineering expertise is not all they sell and in this instance may not be the most of it. They also sell management and financial expertise--the nitty gritty of how to organize and run a new business. Beck does not appear to have much in the way of telecom expertise, hence the presence of CCG in the planning lineup. One might think that the 1.65 million in this category would have been spent regardless of the opposition. But that isn't really true; delays and "redos" have raised these costs. Beck, for instance, did a second feasibility study to satisfy legally imposed requirements that wouldn't have been necessary without incumbent opposition.
Legal and Political
A quick look at the list at the Advertiser reminds the reader of the various phases of the fiber fight. Baller Herbst is a national firm that gives both political and legal advice and has been "in" since the beginning. Spiegel and McDiarmid are national and deal with federal regulatory matters. (Remember when there was some talk of Lafayette opposing the BellSouth/AT&T merger--but that got dropped in return for BellSouth promising not to sue--which only got us the Eastin-Naquin suit...hmmn.) Kean Miller defended LUS when the incumbents tried the "cross-subsidization" argument at the Public Service Commission and lost. (This is the same logic that the Supreme Court is currently reviewing. It is something of a pattern for the incumbents to 'shop venues' for their nutty interpretations.) The Graham Group handled the money for the television "air war" during the fiber referendum and hired political consultants at that time. Haynie and Associates is the famous lobbyist Randy Haynie, hired to defend Lafayette from further attack in the legislature. That, and fees for the election all seem "political" to me, even when it is law firms doing the legislative and regulatory lobbying.
Legal affairs evoke a similar story of the lawsuit portion of the fiber fight with various firms involved in different of the myriad lawsuits filed by the incumbents or their minions. It's been a long row to hoe, folks.
And whose fault is it?
An implicit question is how should "blame" for all these costs be accessed. The article implies that some of the legal and political costs are assignable to Lafayette and some to the incumbents. As I read it those costs should all be assigned to the incumbents. The first move in all this was theirs: they went down to Baton Rouge in the middle of the legislative session, gutted a bill that would have done something good and inserted a lobbyist-written bill in its place. That bill eventually became the Local Government (un)Fair Competition act and NONE of the ensuing lawsuits, jockeying at the legislature, or battles in the Public Service Commission would have been necessary without it. Before that law Lafayette, and every other Louisiana city could have made its own decision about starting a telecom utility without the "help" of their big brothers in the state house.
Cox and BellSouth wanted to block competition and they went to the Louisiana Legislature to pursue that goal. Without that anti-competitive urge to involve the state in supporting their monopoly profits there would have been NO further cost to the people of Lafayette.
Every penny of the subsequent 2 million or so in costs should be laid to their feet.