Thursday, February 25, 2010

Cox: Costs too high for high-speed service

Our neighbors in Franklin are being told that it'd be too expensive for Cox or AT&T to serve them all with real broadband. It's not that the incumbents wouldn't earn money...they just wouldn't earn it as easily or as quickly as they want.

A story in the Advocate shows that the nub of the matter is well-understood by Franklin's Councilmen:

“I think everyone should have it and you all should bend a little, especially if you will be making a profit in 10 years,” Foulcard said.

Councilman Logan Fromenthal argued there are many areas of the parish where Cox is making a good profit.

What Foulcard and Fromenthal have in mind is treating telecommunications as a utility in the same manner that your residential telephone service was understood in years: the company that was granted the right to use our public right of ways for private profit was supposed to serve everyone (not just the low-hanging fruit) and it was well-understood that they weren't supposed to be making the same high rate of profit that was available to businesses that weren't dependent upon getting favored use of public resources.

The councilmen are right: That is the way it should be.

Unfortunately, the federal government long ago exempted the telephone companies from any local control and our state legislators have spent the last few years passing a series of bills that transfer most of the power to say how local rights of way are used up to the state level and put up barriers to the local communities that own and maintain the land providing these services themselves. The consequence is that communities like Franklin can't easily do much more than complain and ask politely.

There is an alternative and Lafayette has shown the way. Do it yourself. Build a world class fiber-optic network yourself. Don't wait for someone else to do it for you. Yes, it would be costly, but yes, it could pay for itself in a perfectly doable period of time if it didn't have to pay for itself in a short 2-4 year period as the private companies demand.

There are possibilities out there besides "asking politely."

Apply for some of the federal broadband stimulus money from RUS (the rural utilies service). Look to Google's recent offer to supply 1 gig of broadband to up to 500,000 people and make your case. Or just make up your mind to do it yourself.

You do have one advantage in making such an effort: Lafayette. Lafayette just up the road has its own publicly-owned state of the art fiber optic network with a brand new head-end that is the technical heart of the system. If St. Mary were to set up their own network they could farm the head-end work out to LUS and avoid the problems associated with building and maintaining that highly technical facility. And I'd bet that an intergovernmental agreement there would be a lot cheaper than any private alternative. (LUS is already a utility, it doesn't have to make its money back fast. But would surely welcome any additional revenue.) There is already fiber running down the railroad track between the two cities.

Just light it up.

Lagniappe: A lot of people in Lafayette think that owning its own utilities was the key to Lafayette becoming Acadiana's "hub city." Awareness of that history was one good reason the community supported extending the idea to LUS Fiber. Ownership made sure that modern electricity and clean water was reliably available when that was what made a city "modern" and livable. Owning those facilities meant that the city was not dependent on any outside force to provide the necessities and attract new citizens and businesses. And it meant that all those dollars of profit stayed and circulated in the city. There was a day when both New Iberia and Opelousas were bigger and more important than Lafayette...but those days passed. Any community that wants grow and prosper needs to own its own local resources. Owning your own telecom utility is today's equivalent of electricity. Now is the moment.

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