Fiber 411 Story is Catching On. Group of Businessmen Challenges Local Government's Way of Doing Business.
January 19, 2005
For Immediate Release
Fiber 411 Story is Catching On
Group of Businessmen Challenges Local Government's Way of Doing Business.
(Lafayette, LA.) - What happens when local government moves to compete with the private businesses it regulates? Usually, nothing happens. A group of Lafayette businessmen and concerned citizens decided that the elected officials of the Lafayette Parish Government in Lafayette, Louisiana were about to make a huge mistake when they decided to mortgage the local municipal utility company (LUS) for $125 million.
LUS is proposing to build out its fiber optic network and connect homes and businesses in order to see telephone, cable TV and Internet services.
The group called Fiber 411, www.fiber411.com, is not opposed to fiber, they are opposed to the local government borrowing money to get into a business that directly competes with the private sector, without taxpayer approval. The group believes the issue is such a departure from what local government and LUS traditionally do that they are calling for a city wide vote of the people on the issue.
The trio of businessmen who started the effort connected when they attended public hearings and Parish Council meetings to voice their concerns about LUS' proposed fiber plan.
Bill LeBlanc, Neal Breakfield and Tim Supple found they had a lot in common and launched the Fiber 411 group when the Parish Council voted to proceed with the bond issue portion of LUS' plan.
The group has hit the streets and has collected nearly 2,500 signature in less than 3 weeks from citizens who want to vote on the issue.
"8 out of 10 people we are presenting the petition to are willing to sign the petition," said Tim Supple, one of Fiber 411's organizers. "We find that the citizens are concerned enough about the amount of money that LUS wants to borrow, that they want to see it come to the vote of the citizens of Lafayette instead of just letting the Parish Council vote on it."
"It has been very rewarding," said Bill LeBlanc, another Fiber 411 organizer, whose family went door-to-door canvassing neighborhoods.
"Most people who do not sign are in a hurry or don't want to sign because they want to know more about the project before they sign anything. The people just seem to get it. They want a vote," said LeBlanc.
"We really feel like our story is of interest not only to Lafayette and its citizens but to other municipalities in the U.S. as well," said LeBlanc.
The issue is drawing nationwide scrutiny and the latest was a article in the USA Today, which ran last week. "We are seeing a fundamental change in Government with this issue," said Supple. "This issue is allowing government owned Municipal Utility Companies to compete against private companies to provide cable, Internet, and phone service through fiber optic systems. Our concern is where does this end? What else will they decide to build or fund to compete with private industry?"
LUS proposes to borrow $125 million by pledging the assets and revenue of the utilities system. By doing this LUS continues its utility monopoly on one side and then turns around to compete against private business. "They say they are doing this all in the name of competition," said LeBlanc.
The $125 million that LUS is borrowing comes with a 25-year payback to compete against the private sector in one of the riskiest fields that there is, telecommunications and broadband services. "We are a concerned citizen group that is being railroaded by our government," said LeBlanc. "This same thing is starting to happen all around the country."
It seems like citizens want a bigger voice in how government spends its money. "Elected officials should note that just because they won an election, it does not give the carte blanche in spending the taxpayers' money," said LeBlanc.
Contact: Bill LeBlanc (337) 981-2152 or (337) 298-7825
Below are links to articles that provide insight to what is going on.
Bristol is one of many small communities having to raise utility rates due to losing fiber optic networks.
Tacoma Washington did a government owned FTTH project and now is having to keep free WiFi out to protect their investment into Broadband.
San Francisco's measure is a boondoggle-in-the making.
Below is an article from USA Today putting a bad light on BellSouth. Was this a result of Washington, D.C. attorney, Jim Ballard, who represents LUS and other municipalities to have the story written to help his clients?
Below mayor of Salt Lake City speaks on this issue.
News from KATC TV 3 about Fiber 411 petition process.