July 17, 2005 5:40 PM PDT

Voters approve citywide fiber project

Voters in Lafayette, La., on Saturday approved a bond offering to fund a citywide fiber-optic project, an issue that was the source of considerable friction during the past year.

Voters approved the measure 12,290 to 7,507, or 62 percent to 38 percent, according to the Lafayette Daily Advertiser.

The city of 116,000 residents known for its vibrant Cajun culture has been planning to build its own fiber-optic network for more than a year. But local phone company BellSouth and cable operator Cox Communications challenged the city-owned utility, which plans to build and operate the network.

After a legal tussle earlier this year, a special election was called to decide whether the city could issue $125 million worth of bonds to fund the project.

Fiber 411, the citizens group that opposed the project, characterized the loss as a victory.

"I think we won," Tim Supple of Fiber 411 told the Lafayette Daily Advertiser. "We started off wanting to get people the right to vote. We accomplished that. We tried to get people to understand the issue. We accomplished that, I hope. We won."

Lafayette's approval of the project could help rally citizens in the 14 states where municipal networks have already been banned or limited, said Joey Durel, president of Lafayette Parish.

"What the cable and phone companies do a lot better than provide service to customers is work politicians," he said. "Unless towns like Lafayette get moving, I'm afraid that more states could pass laws limiting these kinds of networks. If this referendum passes here in Lafayette, I think we'll start to see some states undoing those laws."

Lafayette isn't the only city that has faced resistance from incumbent phone and cable providers when it wanted to build its own communications network. City officials across the country including some in Provo, Utah; Palo Alto, Calif.; and Philadelphia also have faced strong opposition from local phone and cable companies when they proposed building their own networks.

These cities view building their own network as a way to bring their citizens faster broadband connections at cheaper rates, narrowing the so-called digital divide. But the Bell phone companies and cable operators argue that government intervention in their business is not justified and say they are far better equipped to operate complex and far-flung data networks.

"We believe Lafayette is already well-served by Cox and BellSouth," said David Grabert, a spokesman for Cox.

Millions of dollars have been spent lobbying state legislators and fighting court battles on both sides of the debate.

The issue has become so heated in recent months that two separate bills have been introduced at the federal level. U.S. Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., have introduced a bill that would guarantee cities the right to build municipal communications networks.

On the other side of the debate, U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, recently introduced a bill that would ban cities from running communications networks that compete against private-sector telecom companies. Sessions, a former SBC executive, argues that local governments should not compete with private companies.

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governments and the people
A government is to assist /our tribe/, it it NOT to favour an
arbitrary business or minority over the people. Air is free, clean
water is free -- certainly cheap -- and communications is, or is
becoming, a necessity for normal productive life.

We should assist local governments in doing the /right/ thing,
and NOT some arbitrary, capitalistic fat-cat. Communication
flow is the requirement for good social justice, fair governments
and for people to educate themselves! It is the antithesis of (I
forgot the word) rule by a few.

Hopefully our /tribe/ is ethically encompassing more of the
world.

My philosophical perspective.
Posted by (2 comments )
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Democracy in America works - Sometimes
Democracy in America works - sometimes. And we are trying to export the same to the world. What a mess we are going to create, if not already done so!
Posted by kmguru (12 comments )
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This is good news
This decision should keep the cablecos and telcos on their toes. Government shouldn't necessarily be competing with these two groups, but sometimes that's what it takes to win for the consumer.
Posted by Simon_Said (5 comments )
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They scent the danger!
I am neither American nor do I live in the States, but I am a frequent visitor and observer of what is going on in your country. In short, I find the Philadelphia idea great, because leaving it to the so called "market forces" would leave you country in the broadband doldrums for much longer, Why? Because the market forces do not work right in an oligopolistic market. The US is still one of the most expensive industrialized countries in this field, but compared to the paradise that we have got here in Japan; my country of residence, the service, private operators in the US offer is lousy. Here in Japan it started out the same as in the US, with the fat cat NTT, the "Ma Bell" of Japan, offering ADSL with 8MB for some 60 bucks. They looked at a rosy sky with plenty of Yen signs on it, until maverick Soong of Softbank founded Yahoo BB and offered the same service at 20 bucks - flat rate for the connection including IPS. I was one of the first to subscribe, which was difficult, because my name could not be written in Kanji (Chinese characters), but the service worked like a charm. Boy, you should have seen the market scramble. Yahoo BB has some 6 Million subscribers now, and thanks to "BB Phone", which offers country-wide connection at 6 Cents for 3 minutes, my phone bill shrunk from some 1000 bucks to under 100. Now the next revolution is on the horizon, Mr. Horie of the company Livedoor, an Internet "shop", will cover the whole central Tokyo until the end of September with WiFi at a flat rate of 5 bucks a month. This is how market forces should work! He wants to cover all Japan by the end of 2006. Imagine! We can all throw away our expensive cell phones and use a small hand held device that looks like a cell phone but is in reality a mini-computer that allows to log into the WiFi net and use SKYPE or some other VoIP provider and talk for free or very little money like on our cell phone. Such devices are already on the market now. And this is, what the oligopolistic telecommunication companies in the States are afraid of - loosing further ground in their core markets AND loosing the fat revenues from broadband. But it is good for the consumer, so if the market forces do not work, cities have all the right to do it better as a service to their citizens. Philadelphia and other cities - Go, Go, Go!
Posted by hamako (2 comments )
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