Cox Communications has its own watchdog to track the progress of Lafayette Utilities System’s entry into the telecommunications business. The company has hired Kevin Blanchard, a reporter with The Advocate’s Acadiana bureau, for a newly created “competitive analyst” contract position. Blanchard is a veteran of the city-parish government beat who’s covered LUS’ fiber-to-the-home initiative since its inception. “Basically, we’re traveling in uncharted waters competing with a government entity,” says Sharon Kleinpeter, Cox’s vice president of governmental and public affairs. “He’s just going to help us navigate through those waters as we move forward in the process.” Blanchard starts the new job next Monday.

Blanchard says he was already preparing to leave The Advocate for LSU law school this fall. The new part-time job with Cox, which he has cleared with LSU, is flexible enough to allow him to also attend law school. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for my family and an opportunity to do something different and hopefully help further my career and my law studies,” he says. “My understanding of the job is that I’ll be checking in on meetings and going through public records. In a way, sort of the same thing I would be doing as a reporter.”

Blanchard will be reporting to Cox on public documents and regulations related to LUS’ telecommunications venture. Kleinpeter says one of his first assignments will involve reviewing the Local Government Fair Competition Act – a state law hammered out in 2004 that both enables and restricts LUS’ fiber initiative – and additional regulations set by the Public Service Commission. “In any competitive environment, we study our competition,” Kleinpeter says. “It’s just a new type of competition for us. We’re going to have him look at the Local Government Fair Competition Act and the rules that were given by the Public Service Commission, and he’s just going to make sure that everyone’s familiar with them and that LUS is in compliance with those laws and rules.

"As you know,” Kleinpeter continues, “transparency is the rule of the day here in Louisiana, and this is an attempt at transparency. He has a background and knowledge of the issue, and I think he’s always been very fair and balanced in his reporting and that’s what we’re about.”

LUS is scheduled to begin offering phone, Internet and cable services in January 2009.

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