TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Municipal Report: Fiber Kung-Fu in the Bayou

Municipal Report: Fiber Kung-Fu in the Bayou

Jack Decker (jack-yahoogroups@withheld_on_request)
Sat, 07 May 2005 21:35:21 -0400

I'm passing this along only to highlight the sort of dirty tricks and
deceptive tactics that the phone and cable companies will resort to
when trying to keep out municipal broadband.

Municipal Report
Fiber Kung-Fu in the Bayou
Written by Karl Bode

When Comcast and SBC wanted to convince three Illinois cities to vote
against running their own fiber, they conducted "push polls" designed
to shape voter perception, not gauge it. This, combined with more than
a quarter million dollars in often misleading local marketing, helped
"educate" voters that they should stay out of the broadband
business. That public relations victory was a model for a battle
that's now brewing in Lafayette, Louisiana.

The Illinois surveys, which we were the only outlet to get a copy of,
contained questions like "Should tax money be allowed to provide
pornographic movies for residents?" As explored by Mother Jones
recently, they played an integral part in defeating the initiative
twice (See our interview with local leader Ed Hodges).

It later turned out that SBC spent $192,324 on defeating the ballot
measure, while Comcast spent $89,740. Fiber for our Future, the
community group pushing the initiative, spent $4,325. Not months after
the first vote failed, the Illinois area in question saw Comcast rate
hikes as high as 33% in some neighborhoods.

Now the city of Lafayette, Louisiana is preparing to vote on a non-tax
(revenue bonds) based fiber network. Cox and Bellsouth, as recently
explored by USAToday, have been fighting this plan tooth and nail.

Their efforts have included not-so-veiled threats (the Independent)
that BellSouth could pull a local wireless call-center (1,300 local
employees) if the plan moved forward. They've also trotted out
not-so-independent policy groups like the Heartland Institute (also a
big player in killing the Illinois project) to try and convince locals
that the enterprise is akin to capitalistic cancer.

Heartland's warning comes despite the fact the Lafayette Chamber of
Commerce, some 2,400 businesses strong (ironically including Cox),
studied the local impact of the plan for a year and came out in favor
of it.

After considerable legal wrangling, BellSouth and Cox managed to get
the fiber plan put to a vote. There's no great love of Democratic
process here; the providers wisely know that they can easily win in
public relations politics, usually by outmanning and outfunding their

As the incumbent PR campaign ramps up in Lafayette ahead of the July
vote, push polls have again emerged as a tactic of choice. According
to the Advocate, locals are amazed at some of the questions being

One local Louisiana television channel quotes several local residents,
one of whom claims they were told by a pollster: "if the government
controls the cable TV, you may not be able to watch TV except on
Monday, Wednesday, and Friday 'cause they could ration your TV

Lafayette's fiber plan goes to a vote on July 16. The Lafayette
Chamber of Commerce research into the plan is available here for those
interested. Arguments for the project can be found at the Lafayette
Pro-Fiber website. Arguments against the project can be found at the
Fiber411 website.

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