Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Cox: New Building, Old Line

Cox Communications has opened its new headquarters for what is left of its operations on our side of the Atchafalaya basin. (Cox shed its former holdings to the north and west back in 2005) It's a serious investment in the region and looks like a nice building—complete with meditation rooms. The Advertiser's tone is in the traditional laudatory vein that local newspapers inevitably adopt whenever a company opens a new building or invests in the area. It's a welcome relief, I am sure, from the usual grind of the news beat where "good" news usually means "no news" and I'm pleased that Cox, its employees, and the area have a new building.

But I can't help but be annoyed by Cox continuing to run out its silly "Me too!" line about it having fiber and nobody knowing about it. [Note that the online version has a final "press release" paragraph on fiber that didn't make it into the print version.] This is smoke and mirrors and it is intended to confuse the public about the difference between Lafayette's new system and its older one. It also reveals that Cox still doesn't understand what happened during the fiber referendum fight and why it lost that fight.

Cox has tried, in its press releases and its advertising to say that it has "a fiber network." This article, to its credit, doesn't repeat the silliness of using that phrase—whether that is due to the good judgment of the writer or the fact that Cox has quit trying to run that particular form of misinformation is not clear. Just for the record: the implication that Cox has anything like the fiber to the home network that LUS is currently building is just silly and Lafayette is now sophisticated enough to both understand that and to understand why Cox would want to obscure the difference. Every network in town has a fiber core: Lafayette's ring, AT&T's network, Cox's, and the miscellaneous national networks that also have terminations in our city. Cox, like all its competition uses fiber's massive capacity as a the cheapest way to handle massive amounts of bandwidth where it has to have that capacity: in the backbone that supplies the less capable copper leading to homes. Having a fiber backbone just isn't noteworthy—what is noteworthy is how close you bring that fiber to your final customer. Only LUS will bring that massive capacity all the way to your home or business.

What's more interesting to me than that old story is that telling it seems to mean that Cox actually believes that it lost the vote in Lafayette because the people believed that they wanted "fiber." So Cox is determined to pretend that it will give us fiber (not quite to the home) too.... But "fiber" is not the reason that Cox lost that election. It lost because it tried to deceive us about fiber to the home—something it is still trying to do with its current PR double-talk. In the end it all came down to trust. And Cox proved itself, through deceptive PR, silly "academic forums," insulting push polls, threats to our jobs, and endless rhetoric about the dangers of a trusted local utility providing local services cheaply that it couldn't be trusted. Every time its PR personnel try pass off some half-true claim about fiber networks Cox reminds us why we didn't trust them back then. Until it figures out why it lost in 05 Cox will continue to lose in Lafayette.

-----on reflection------
Truth is that fiber isn't all that Lafayette wanted by the time we got to the end of the fiber fight. By the time we voted we knew we wanted to control our own destiny and the fiber fight just proved the context for coming to that decision. As our national history has played itself out telecommunications has turned out to be an essential, and a monopoly business. Those sorts of businesses ought to be public utilities, not private monopolies. It took our wanting fiber and the ugly battle to win it to get Lafayette to realize that. But now we understand that every community should own its own network. Even if it isn't fiber. The social and economic benefits of controlling that locally and keeping that economic stimulus entirely in local hands is enormous and every community that can ought to do the same.

It isn't fiber.....it is trust...and local control.

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