More than a year after Lafayette Utilities System first introduced its initiative to provide fiber-to-the-home to Lafayette residents, the issue goes to a vote this Saturday, July 16. It's a landmark project that could have a profound effect on Lafayette's future ' and The Independent Weekly endorses the project and urges all Lafayette residents to vote "Yes" for fiber.

Even after months of city-parish council meetings, press conferences, public rallies and non-stop media coverage of the project throughout Acadiana, there still seems to be a significant amount of apathy in the community about the LUS project. The technology associated with LUS' proposal is complex and high-tech, and it's understandable that buzzwords like "fiber-to-the-home," "megahertz" and "gigabyte" aren't standard dinner-table conversation. Voter turnout in this Saturday's election is expected to be extremely low, and your vote is crucial.

Opponents of the plan consistently return to the same message: government should not compete with private businesses. We agree with that general philosophy, but this is a case where the incumbent telecom providers are not providing the kind of services and progressive thinking required for today's fast-changing digital society. LUS and Lafayette Consolidated Government repeatedly asked BellSouth and Cox Communications to provide and administer the technological benefits available to Lafayette through the city's existing fiber loop, and the companies refused. LCG and LUS' business plan promises lower or competitive prices for phone, cable and Internet services; it's that simple.

That's just one component of the plan. City-Parish President Joey Durel and LUS Director Terry Huval recognize that this fiber initiative can be a giant economic development tool for Lafayette and make our city ' and eventually the surrounding parishes ' a leader in embracing technology's benefits. If the fiber plan becomes reality, the possibilities are endless: students in our university and public education system will have an incredibly powerful resource for research at their fingertips. The health care community can use the program for everything from fast retrieval of electronic medical records to telemedicine. And out-of-state technology companies ranging from software and computer giants to video game developers have all expressed interest in doing business in Lafayette.

It's important to dispel one oft-repeated misconception about the plan. There will be NO NEW TAXES associated with the project. The vote this Saturday is to allow LUS to borrow bonds to fund the project ' a routine government procedure. Yes, there are still unanswered questions on the bond interest rates, and there is a remote possibility that utility rates could be raised slightly in a worst-case scenario if LUS' business plan doesn't meet expectations. Still, LUS has repeatedly stated that the plan will be implemented incrementally, allowing LUS to adjust its plan or abandon it entirely if necessary. With that reassurance, we believe the proposal's risk is miniscule.

Don't just take our word for it. The overwhelming community support and endorsements of the plan speak volumes. A partial list of organizations officially endorsing fiber-to-the-home include the Realtors Association of Acadiana, the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce, Lafayette Economic Development Authority, Rebuild Lafayette North Committee, Downtown Development Authority, The Daily Advertiser and Downtown Lafayette Unlimited. Even the Lafayette Parish Democratic Party and the Lafayette Parish Republican Party jointly endorsed the project. In today's politically polarized climate, when's the last time Democrats and Republicans agreed on anything?

Vote Yes on July 16 and send the message that we're ready to take a visionary step for Lafayette's future.

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