Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Louisiana Lege Shoots Itself in the Foot. Again

This morning's Advocate carried the news that the Legislature has again decided that giving a AT&T whatever it asks for is more important than what local communities want and what would be be good for the people of the state. The House passed Senate Bill 807 94-9. With a bit of reconciliation between the two versions it will soon be put on Jindal's desk and he will not have the scruples that lead Governor Blanco to veto "franchise reform" when faced with a similarly irresponsible bill a couple of years ago. AT&T will soon be free cherry-pick the few wealthy suburbs it would like to serve on the North Shore of Lake Ponchartrain and in places like River Ranch in Lafayette and continue to ignore serving anyone outside of the big cities (the law doesn't apply to big cities). It won't have to even talk to those little local people in towns and rural who actually own the property AT&T must use to run its lines and cart home its profits to San Antonio. Big brother in Baton Rouge has fixed things for them so that AT&T (and now all the cable companies) can just ignore local communities.

It's pitiful the way that rural legislators ask all the questions that would indicate they understand what a bill of goods Bill Oliver and the lobbyists AT&T pay are peddling and it's sad that our representatives don't seem to be inclined to learn from the mistakes of others.

Here, as in North Carolina, the big winner is going to be the cable companies. They'll get out of real commitments they made to real people in real local governments to serve all the people of a community and to return some services to those people in return for using local property.

It's not that the phone companies don't get something, even if the big winner is Cox and Time-Warner. The telephone companies get to ignore local communities about all sorts of things now. Maybe you don't like the idea of a refrigerator-sized box plopped down in your front yard in the right of way that you must maintain by law. Used to be the city could regulate that. No more. A "video franchise reform" law passed in Connecticut demonstrates how that worked. That state passed a law moving all control from the local governments that own the rights of way to the state, just like ours is preparing to do. Now, several years later AT&T is putting huge boxes in people's front yards, the communities are outraged, and the state is scrambling to figure out what to do about it. The Department of Public Utility Control (DPUC) is trying to force AT&T to deal with local owners and desperately wants to bring in local communities to help negotiate locally sensitive issues that nobody at the state level could possibly know about. (Be careful what you take on legislators...) DPUC has issued a new ruling that outlines methods for securing the cooperation of local owners and municipalities. AT&T is having none of it. And a law the legislature passed, they pointedly note, means they don't have to listen to those local guys:
In its motion, AT&T also asked the DPUC to clarify its new requirement that AT&T obtain consent of “all municipalities where equipment is placed.”
AT&T argues that existing law gives the DPUC exclusive rights over the placement of utility equipment in public rights of way, and that municipal approval is not required.
“Municipalities don’t have a place in the approval process,” Carlow said. “That’s not to say we don’t want to work with them, but Connecticut law doesn’t require their approval of our facilities.”
Carlow said gaining approval of municipalities would be difficult and time consuming and disrupt the way many utility providers in the state do business.
[emphasis mine]
What they cleverly don't mention is that they wrote that law....

So the cable companies get to dump their franchise agreements and AT&T gets to do what it pleases in your front yard.

All courtesy of your representatives down in the legislature...

The Cox, Time-Warner and AT&T have got to be laughing up their sleeves at the rubes.

They're right to laugh. It's damn embarrassing to watch.

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