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."
The Lafayette superintendent insists the budget is illegal and vows to fight on.
"I am not a scientist," Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has said numerous times, a response that other members of his party have parroted.
Republicans are running strong races against endangered Democratic incumbents in states such as North Carolina, Colorado, Arkansas, Louisiana and Alaska. Republicans are also looking to replace retiring Democrats in Iowa and West Virginia with a GOP lawmaker.
Republican congressman Vance McAllister is trying to make up to Louisiana voters for getting too close to a married former employee.
You may not like all of “it,” but U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, unlike many of her colleagues, isn't sitting around twiddling her thumbs in Congress.
Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro says he "can't wait" to play against Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
The heat keeps rising for Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal as a new slate of corruption allegations surfaced this week.
If opposing defenses sell out to stop the Packers' passing game, they risk being gashed by powerful running back Eddie Lacy, a New Orleans-area native.
At the horn the officiating crew trotted to the tunnel and left security personnel to clean up after them.
Friday's Blogs from the Bog!
Sign "ninjas" cleaning up clutter; NYC doctor positive for Ebola; Ferguson grand jury decision nears; and more national and international news for Friday, October 24, 2014.
We can safely assume incumbent Chief K.P. Gibson isn’t too worried about this challenger.
Nationally, Republicans must gain six seats to win Senate control. The most competitive races, many in states where Obama lost in 2012, remain too close to call.
The Baton Rouge Republican has repeatedly battled a perception within his own party that he perhaps wasn't the best choice to carry the GOP banner.
Even if Jimmy Graham's production dips while the star tight end recovers from a shoulder injury, it looks like Drew Brees won't have much trouble finding other targets.
A former campaign manager for Senate candidate Rob Maness is striking at the Republican contender's tea party support, saying Maness only sought to appeal to conservative organizations because he needed money for his campaign.
Ninety-two percent of public school teachers were rated either effective or highly effective in a report the state issued marking the second year of a new statewide evaluation process.
School board members Mark Babineaux, Hunter Beasley and Tehmi Chassion can vote to fire Cooper — because we all know that’s exactly what they’ll do.
District 2 school board candidate Simon Mahan is hoping to unseat first-term incumbent and former Carencro Mayor Tommy Angelle in the Nov. 4 election.
District Attorney Mike Harson is showing his desperation by falsely attributing quotes to his opponent and blocking journalists from his social media.
The governor is traveling the country laying the groundwork for a possible 2016 presidential campaign, but his approval ratings at home hover well below 50 percent.
State District Judge Bob Downing extended the order and delayed a planned Wednesday hearing about a permanent injunction while negotiations continue between Attorney General Buddy Caldwell and the waste disposal site operator.
New Louisiana higher education commissioner Joseph Rallo will be paid more than his predecessor.
Elijah McGuire and Alonzo Harris each had four rushing touchdowns, and Louisiana-Lafayette rolled to 419 yards on the ground in a 55-40 victory over Arkansas State on Tuesday night.
Bill and Hillary Clinton are the validators-in-chief for Democrats struggling through a bleak campaign season in states where President Barack Obama is deeply unpopular.