The bill faced an uphill battle. Incumbent cable companies, largely represented by Cox Communications, adamantly opposed the new law and said it would unfairly tilt the playing field in BellSouth's favor. The Louisiana Municipal Association, the state landowner's association, the state conference of mayors and the Police Jury Association all actively opposed it, claiming it threatened to end local government franchise fees and would erode property rights and service requirements.
Last week, the state Senate passed the bill. After lengthy debates, intense lobbying and a whopping 142 amendments, neither side seemed sure of what the bill accomplished. In a classic case of playing both sides of the fence, famed state lobbyist and Lafayette native Randy Haynie worked for BellSouth to get the bill passed, andÂ also for the city of Lafayette to ensureÂ it qualified as one of the areas exempt from the bill's provisions. When the bill passed in the Senate, BellSouth reps at the Capitol were quoted as saying they needed to thoroughly review the senate's amendments before asking for House concurrence. Bellsouth did not return calls or e-mails for comment by press time.
The Police Jury Association and the Louisiana Conference of Mayors were the only organizations that steadfastly opposed the bill through the end, calling the legislation fundamentally flawed.
"Any bill amended this much was poorly drafted to begin with," says Garrett. "And that's the whole point. They had to continue to slap coats and coats of paint on it so that you couldn't see the rotten wood underneath."
The final bill creates a statewide franchise, though all of the state's major cities and media markets (with the exception of Monroe) are excluded. The bill also requires BellSouth to match any existing franchise fee agreements already being paid by other cable operators. A Senate floor amendment also protects landowners from having a company "construct facilities on private property" without the property owner's permission.
Opponents of the bill question why BellSouth wants to eliminate the need to negotiate franchise agreements in small municipalities and rural areas. The most cumbersome franchise agreements typically come from larger cities, which have greater leverage in negotiating the agreements. Skeptics also questioned how cost-effective it will be for BellSouth to build infrastructure and service to areas outside the major media markets. Neither BellSouth, nor any other phone company, has yet to specify any plans for rolling out services under the state franchise.
Lafayette Sen. Don Cravins Sr., who frequently took to the Senate floor in opposition to the new law, asked why the state needs to assist a huge company like BellSouth, soon to be merged with AT&T, negotiate franchises with small towns across Louisiana.
"I think a multinational company should have the means to do that," said Cravins, who is now also running for mayor of Opelousas. "It doesn't matter how you couch it, this is an AT&T multi-national conglomerate bill that is ultimately going to Wal-Mart the entire cable industry in Louisiana."
Lafayette City-Parish President Joey Durel concurs with Cravins. "What I keep saying," Durel says, "is that people trust local government more than they trust state government, just like they trust state government more than they trust the federal government. And so once again the state government has chosen to get involved in local policy, and this will ultimately have a negative effect on local government, which will obviously have a negative effect on the people that we try to serve."
Based on Lafayette's own contentious history with BellSouth, where the company has repeatedly sued the city in order to block Lafayette Utilities System's efforts to get involved in the phone, Internet and cable business, Durel is wary of the company's intentions.
"We kept hearing for the past two years: level playing field," Durel says, "and now what you're seeing is the huge conglomerates trying to not play on a level playing field with each other."
Both Garrett and Durel say BellSouth (or AT&T) is trying to use state franchise bills in multiple states as leverage for a national franchise, which they are already pushing in Congress.
"This is a national priority for them," Garrett says. "I don't think they have any intentions of ever operating under these agreements. I think their intention is to get the agreements adopted in as many states as they can and then push their national franchise."
Eventually, he says, this will mean the end of rural service area requirements and franchise fees that cable companies pay to local governments for right-of-way access.
"If the language of this bill were in a contract, I'd feel very secure," Garrett says, noting all the protections provided by the bill's amendments. "But it's merely in a state law, which means when the federal law gets passed, it goes away."
Garrett says the Police Jury Association and other opponents of the bill offered a compromise to BellSouth early on in the negotiations. The proposal ' which BellSouth rejected ' would have allowed any telephone company to opt into existing cable franchise agreements anywhere in the state by simply writing a letter of intent to the local governing body.
"What can be more fair than that?" Garrett asks. "They do not want to be under any contractual obligation to local government whatsoever. Under contract you can actually guarantee some things. This statute doesn't guarantee anything."
Durel hopes it will ultimately be a moot issue. He says once LUS begins offering its telecommunications package (the plan is currently tied up in lawsuits brought by two Lafayette residents), it won't matter how the incumbent cable and telephone companies are delivering their services.
"Our technology," Durel says, "is going to be so far superior to what either one of the companies has to offer that we are going to be the competition."
Is Mary fading as Vitter solidifies his lock on the fourth floor?
Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration has renegotiated contracts for six LSU hospital privatization deals, hoping to reach a compromise with federal health officials that will keep Medicaid dollars flowing to the privatized patient services.
Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu is defending her record on gun rights, seeking to rebut sharp criticism from the NRA in a state where the right to bear arms is given special constitutional protection.
Citizens, you have less than a week to register to vote in the Nov. 4 election. Remember, if you don’t vote you can’t complain about the outcome. Well, you can but it’s kind of hypocritical.
After being forced out by its former landlords last year, the community garden has a new location and a 10-year lease.
The party says it has hit a milestone, reaching 10,000 registered voters in the state.
Defensive captain Junior Galette is disgusted by the Saints' sluggish start.
The use of $60 million in Louisiana's public school financing formula to pay for nearly three dozen charter schools violates the state constitution, a statewide teachers' union claimed Monday in a lawsuit.
Security breach at White House; Bejing won't back down from protesters; pressure on third-graders and more national and international news for Tuesday, September 30, 2014.
Tuesday's Blogs from the Bog!
February trial date indicates parties were unable to negotiate a settlement.
Gov. Bobby Jindal has been viewed as a health care policy wonk, and he's tried to build on that image ahead of a likely 2016 presidential campaign, positioning himself as the candidate with substantive ideas.
Jerry Jones watched what he called the best effort he's seen in 25 years as owner of the Dallas Cowboys in the first half, and that was before Tony Romo had the longest scramble of his career and DeMarco Murray finished off yet another 100-yard game.
Two of the most recognizable women in Republican politics, Sarah Palin and Mary Matalin, have been heavily involved in Louisiana’s current election cycle.
Even though the Louisiana Democratic Party has thrown its support behind former Gov. Edwin Edwards’ congressional bid, national Democrats are not expected to follow suit.
“[Mike] is no longer the energetic ADA that his recent ad is trying to portray. I just think Mike needs to get the hell out.” — Kermit Harson, DA Mike Harson’s brother
The New Orleans Saints have listed Jonathan Goodwin as questionable for Sunday night's game in Dallas, raising the prospect that second-year pro Tim Lelito will start at center for the first time.
The endorsements keep coming for District 9 LPSB candidate Jeremy Hidalgo, who picked up his fifth vow of support Thursday, this time from the Chamber’s political action committee.
Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter will be out knocking on doors this weekend with anti-abortion activists encouraging people to vote against his colleague, Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu.
The ACLU of Louisiana has sued Abbeville's mayor and police chief over a policy barring police from any social media use showing the city in a bad light.
Prospective Republican presidential candidates are expected to promote "religious liberty" at home and abroad at a gathering of religious conservatives Friday, with anti-Obama speeches from the likes of Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.
The American Zombie blog by New Orleans independent journalist Jason Berry has a photograph of U.S. District Court Judge Carl Barbier having dinner with Lafayette attorney Pat Juneau — yeah, that Pat Juneau, the BP claims administrator whose fate Barbier will soon decide.
But retirees and employees who face the higher deductibles and out-of-pocket costs responded angrily, telling lawmakers that they shouldn't be held responsible for what they consider the Jindal administration's mismanagement of the Office of Group Benefits.
Indictment accuses ‘chef’ who claims to work for the needy of stealing from a disabled man in his care.
Gov. Bobby Jindal's top budget adviser says the state employee health insurance program will face a dire financial scenario without the heavily criticized changes planned by the administration.