Tuesday, November 20, 2007

LUS Franchise Goes to Council Vote

LUS' cable franchise agreement is on the agenda to be approved this evening during the 4:30 LPUA meeting before the regular council meeting.

Now this little story doesn't rate so much as a mention in local media since various tempest in a teapot issues are distracting us from this more fundamentally important issue. (The Redflex and the Settlers Trace Boulevard controversies will have been forgotten when the money rolling into consolidated government from this contract are a central portion of every year's budget.) I've earlier gone on at some length about why this is a big deal, and how state and federal shenanigens play into the unhappy need to write this franchise contract in a way that helps Cox and AT&T avoid full price competition. You can get the sad story in my November 3rd post.

If you poke around a bit and use Google you can actually find the text of the agreement on the council website. (The links in the agenda document do not work...a common problem, I have found. Someone needs to show the folks uploading them how to redirect the links.)

It makes for interesting reading. Well, ok, maybe not really interesting reading. But it makes interesting points. For instance here's my top ten (in no particular order):

1) No Censorship. LCG denies itself the right to censor any content that flows over the LUS system:
8.12 Selection of Programming.
During the term of this Franchise, and consistent with 47 U.S.C. § 533(e)(2)[Link], LCG shall neither prohibit LUS Communications from providing nor require LUS Communications to provide any program or otherwise censor communications over the Cable and Telecommunications System; except that, nothing in this section shall be read to authorize LUS Communications to engage in communications which are prohibited by law.
This writes into the local ordinance a reassuring portion of the Federal Code that forbids a local franchising authority from exercising any editorial control over programming. Good. This firmly eliminates any stupid attempt to tamper with programming that has a paying audience in order to satisfy the self-righteousness of those who would like to control the tastes of others. With the passage of this ordinance it would be against Federal law, local ordinance, and LUS' franchise contract with the city-parish to mess with programming. Endless pointless and silly debates in our city-parish council are thereby avoided. Kudos to the drafters of this ordinance.

2) Yearly Surveys. Consolidated government reserves the right to do yearly surveys of LUS' telecommunications.
B. LCG at its sole option and expense may undertake an annual survey of community views of cable operations in the City, including but not limited to technical quality, response to community needs, and customer service. LCG shall provide thirty (30) days advance written notice to LUS Communications of such a survey and shall, upon thirty (30) days written request, report the results of the survey to LUS Communications.
That's a good thing as well—and has ramifications well beyond asking the obvious question "Is LUS doing a good job." Lafayette is going to be way ahead of the curve with its fiber-optic network and some elements of the project will be unique, like the 100 meg intranet. We really should be tracking the sorts of changes that grow up in our community. It would be invaluable to other communities, essential to our finding grant funding for all sorts of nifty experiments, and crucial in justifying the expense when the project is inevitably challenged down the road. (If you think Cox and AT&T will quit badmouthing the project and trying to convince people it is worthless after it starts cutting into their market share you really ought to rethink.) We need a series of good broadband surveys. This has been suggested before...AndrĂ© Comeaux had made a project of this. The idea should be incorporated into a yearly survey. Done right we could get national groups that would like to get their hands on such unique data to help us pay for it. But with or without help we should get on the stick about this. A baseline survey done before LUS offers its first services is absolutely essential to being able to prove that the project has helped Lafayette.

3) In the Public Interest
1.9 Public Interest Promoted.
The provisions of this Franchise shall be liberally construed in favor of the promotion of the public interest.
Perfect. 'Nuff said.

4) Updating the Agreement
SECTION 6. AMENDMENTS TO FRANCHISE
LCG may amend this Franchise upon the application of LUS Communications to provide services in addition to those authorized by Section 8, subject to appropriate additional conditions to protect the public interest. LCG may also amend the Franchise upon the application of LUS Communications when necessary to enable LUS Communications to take advantage of technological advancements in Cable Services and/or Telecommunications Services that, in the opinion of LCG, will afford LUS Communications an opportunity to serve its customers more efficiently, effectively, and economically. Such amendments shall be subject to such conditions as LCG determines are appropriate to protect the public interest.
It's nice that someone is being proactive about anticipating technological changes that will drive new services. A clause like this will make it easier to work such changes into the services lineup.

5) Privacy
7.2 Privacy.
B. LUS Communications shall not use the two-way communications capability of the Cable and Telecommunications System for unauthorized or illegal subscriber surveillance of any kind. For purposes of this subsection, tenants who occupy premises where LUS Communications provides Cable Service and/or Telecommunications Service shall be deemed to be subscribers, regardless of who actually pays for the service.
That's probably should be obvious. But given the loosey-goosey way that phone providers, including our dear AT&T have played loose with the wiretapping laws during this administration this clause clearly directs LUS to make sure that surveillance is legal. That is, to wait for a court to order it. Good.

6) Universal Service
1. Within Franchise Area. For requests from persons within 300 feet of an existing distribution line, LUS Communications shall provide service within seven (7) business days for no charge other than the then-prevailing normal installation charge, unless LUS Communications demonstrates to LCG’s satisfaction that extraordinary circumstances justify a waiver of this requirement or the customer requests that service commence at a later time.
The clauses for those outside the 300 feet area will apply to very few if any folks --since the current franchise area is the well-built-up city of Lafayette. But even there LUS is obligated to offer service at a reasonable cost. Universal service is assured.

7) Public Service
E. Requested School and Public Building Service Drops. LUS Communications shall provide upon request and without charge one cable television service outlet activated for Basic Cable Service to each police station, fire station, School, public library and LCG office building...
That's only basic, and there are some conditions on service more than 300 feet from a line, but its still pretty sweet. A public utility should provide public services.

8) PEG Channels (aka AOC)
8.9 Public Educational and Governmental Use.
A. PEG Access Channel Capacity. Within six (6) months of the date service begins under this Franchise, LUS CommunicatioLCG two (2) downstream channels solely for PEG access use.
Another 3 channels can be earned by the community if they an fill up the first two.

9) AOC support
G. Equipment and Facilities. Each year during the term of this Franchise, LUS Communications shall provide an annual grant for the PEG access equipment and facilities to LCG or, as directed by LCG, to the Access Corporation(s) designated by LCG, in an amount equal to $50,000. Beginning on the Effective Date, the payment shall be made monthly in an amount of $4,167. LUS Communications shall be permitted to recover all such payments in its monthly Basic Cable Service charges or as otherwise permitted by LCG.
This is support for AOC. I'd be happier if it went directly to the designee rather than passing through the fingers of the council but it cements support for the valuable local institution even in the face of looming federal rules that would put its existance in danger.

10) 21st Century Public Access
L. On-Demand PEG Access Programming. In addition to therequirements of this Section 8.9, LUS Communications may make PEG Access programming available to Subscribers on-demand, or may permit any designated Access Corporation(s) to make programming available on-demand. On-Demand PEG Access programming shall not be required to be carried on a Basic Cable Service tier.
This hints at the beginings of a 21st century vision for what AOC could become. Even niftier would be access to net bandwidth and support for high bandwidth, on-network storage. Maybe we can negotiate for that at a later date.


Parting Thoughts:
All in all not a bad document. Not the document of my dreams however. That one would have had glorious clauses pushing a real digital divide program, extended public obligations, funding for a commons portal and a 21st century version of AOC. Sigh. Still, I have to say not a bad document. Just not worthy of the full vision I think most of Lafayette shares.

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