"I feel a bit like the guy that's studying for a final when he hasn't been to class in about two months," Robideaux jokingly says.
A calm, unassuming CPA with slicked-back dark hair, Robideaux has been a behind the scenes proponent of Lafayette Utilities System's controversial fiber-to-the-home project since he was first elected to the Legislature in 2003. But now the first-term legislator is front and center in the ongoing saga to allow LUS to directly compete with Cox and BellSouth by selling its own phone, Internet and cable service.
Two weeks ago, Robideaux pre-filed three bills that throw down the gauntlet to LUS' opposition. The bills not only seek to clear the way for LUS' project, but also to broaden other municipalities' right to develop their own telecommunications infrastructure.
Cox Communications spokeswoman Sharon Kleinpeter says her company was a bit taken aback by Robideaux's bills.
"We don't mind competing," she says. "We just like a level playing field. We're fine with the law as it is now. We believe that everybody needs to play by the rules. I don't know what their issues are. Nobody's come to us directly."
Robideaux nonchalantly insists he's only acting in the interests of City-Parish President Joey Durel and Lafayette Utilities System Director Terry Huval, and he expects the entire Lafayette delegation to line up behind the bills.
"As a legislator," he says, "when we're asked to do something to benefit the city, there's only a few of us that can handle the legislation. As it stands, right now I'm just the one that's handling the bills for the administration."
But Robideaux's also not shy about taking a spokesman's role on the issue.
"You know it's going to be a battle," he says, recognizing that his bills will attract fierce opposition from Cox, BellSouth and a stable of telecom industry lobbyists. "But I feel like we're Lafayette, La. Whatever we do here and whatever we're able to accomplish is not going to shut BellSouth down. BellSouth's going to fight it because they need to fight it, and I understand they have to answer to their shareholders. But this is good for Lafayette, so we're going to try to accomplish what we set out to do and let the chips fall where they may."
Robideaux's bills, jointly filed by LUS ally in the state Senate, Mike Michot, take aim at a state law known as the Local Government Fair Competition Act ' a law Robideaux calls "a nice name for an unfair bill."
Passed in 2004, the 21-page law was touted as a compromise agreement between LUS and private telecom providers, enacting detailed guidelines and scrutiny over any public entity's bid to offer telecommunications services to the general public. Last year, BellSouth used the law to file a lawsuit that tied up LUS' bond ordinance in court. LUS and city leaders felt burned, claiming BellSouth was underhanded about its intentions during the bill's negotiations. BellSouth Rep. John Williams did not return calls for comment for this story.
One of Robideaux's proposed bills, HB 245, would repeal the Local Government Fair Competition Act.
"It's a very restrictive bill," Robideaux says. "I'm not a lawyer, but the way I read it, it basically gives BellSouth or any telecommunications company the ability to sue at every turn. I'm just not so sure that it's meant to be anything other than a device to go to court."
Kleinpeter says Cox is firmly opposed to repealing any or all of the Fair Competition Act and suggests such a move could stifle economic development in the state. "If that law is repealed, local government is going to get a sweetheart deal that will discourage future investment from the private sector, the engine of economic development."
Another bill, HB 244, would require any private telecommunications company that receives public funds to adhere to all of the regulations in the Local Government Fair Competition Act. Telecom companies have received government assistance in the past, in the form of tax incentives and grants for opening new offices and expanding services into rural areas. Robideaux won't be surprised if BellSouth or Cox look to capitalize on federal funds or tax incentives now being offered to spark rebuilding in the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
"If they see this as an opportunity to put down some infrastructure in the state, which is not necessarily a bad thing, [under this bill] they would then be subjected to the same rules and regulations that any other governmental entity would be, since they're receiving government money to do it," says Robideaux.
While Robideaux lays it out as a common sense measure, the bill appears to be a long shot. If enacted, it would open the door to placing unprecedented government auditing and financing restraints on private telecom companies. Cox's Kleinpeter says public and private businesses are different animals that can't be covered by blanket guidelines.
"I think you're comparing apples and oranges, and those two things could not ever be put in the same basket," she says. "All of us in business have to follow rules and guidelines from the FCC, the SEC and anti-trust laws."
Robideaux's third bill, HB 257, would make Lafayette completely exempt from the Fair Competition Act. It would also exempt municipal wireless Internet networks, such as the one New Orleans started as a free service following Hurricane Katrina. And it would exempt disaster-affected areas from the law for a period of five years.
Robideaux insists all of these bills are a means of encouraging infrastructure development during a critical rebuilding period in south Louisiana.
The triple-threat political gambit could not come at a more auspicious time for LUS. Last Wednesday, the city-parish council approved the public utility's latest bond ordinance for the project, starting a 30-day window for anyone to issue another legal challenge to the bond ordinance. The benefit of having a fresh debate on the Fair Competition Act opening at the same time as the window for a new legal challenge to LUS isn't lost on Robideaux, who smiles and says, "It just happened to work out that way."
Registered independent Robideaux says a lot of lawmakers have been emboldened by the recent hurricanes to rethink progress in the state. He hopes this may give his bills a fighting chance.
"The hurricane changed a whole lot of things about the need for rebuilding and infrastructure in certain areas. The landscape is completely different for the south part of Louisiana than it was back then. What if Erath wants to do wireless, and they want to be able do some things, maybe get some of this Go Zone money? The whole need to rebuild is completely different."
The bills prompted the scheduling of a pre-session meeting with all interested parties to talk about possible compromises ' a meeting that was abruptly canceled late last week. Even before that development, Robideaux wasn't holding out too much hope that everyone would come to a friendly agreement.
"They had these meetings before the [Local Government Fair Competition Act], and Lafayette thought it would be allowed to progress, and that wasn't the case. So I'm not sure what could come out of this meeting that everybody would feel like, 'OK, good, we know exactly what's going to happen after this point.' But, I'm an optimist, so we'll see."
Local and state agents Thursday night raided The Keg, the popular college bar located in the area known as The Strip, leading to the (at least) temporary closure of the venue.
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Friday, April 18, 2014:
Friday's Blogs from the Bog!
Time and time again, the Lafayette Parish School Board shows an overwhelming tendency toward idiocy, but Wednesday night’s contentious discussion over Northside High School’s teen mother program tops the list of dumb discussions.
“The accomplishment of this goal within the next ten years is not only critical for the region to effectively compete with other regions for residents and businesses, but also to provide an amenity for everyone in Acadiana to enjoy.”
Education Superintendent John White says a continued push to try to keep Louisiana from using tests associated with the Common Core education standards are creating "a state of chaos" for public school teachers.
Gov. Bobby Jindal's plan to use $210 million in surplus and one-time money to help balance next year's budget received the backing Thursday of the State Bond Commission, support that was needed for the maneuver to work.
State wildlife and fisheries agents have arrested a 39-year-old man accused of stealing crawfish.
An East Feliciana Parish lawmaker has jettisoned his proposal to make it harder for a condemned prisoner to appeal a death sentence.
Senators advanced a proposal Wednesday that would let the governor remove New Orleans-area levee board members for violating what he considers to be public policy, despite concerns it would introduce political meddling into state flood protection.
The Lafayette City-Parish Council on Tuesday will vote on a resolution that if approved would clear the way for a December ballot proposition asking voters to approve a 1-cent sales tax parishwide to help fund the construction of a new terminal at Lafayette Regional Airport.
Just days before the fourth anniversary of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster and oil spill, the Coast Guard has moved cleanup of Louisiana's coast to a new phase, allowing BP to end its "active" efforts in the area.
Legislators still must leave their guns at the door of the Louisiana Capitol.
Sen. Fred Mills may have an "R" behind his name, but his actions in the Louisiana Legislature transcend the established boundaries of his party.
The Louisiana House overwhelmingly rejected a repeal of the state's unconstitutional anti-sodomy law Tuesday.
The Louisiana Senate sided with Gov. Bobby Jindal and the oil industry Tuesday, agreeing to void a lawsuit that a south Louisiana flood board filed against more than 90 oil and gas companies for coastal damage.
Acadian rep notifies would-be supporters that an April 25 fundraiser for the embattled U.S. rep won’t go on as planned.
While it isn’t all too unusual for public bodies to have hired security present during meetings, the LPSB’s push to do so is arguably a response to the antics of one board member.
“I’m running. Why would I be raising all this money? Just to have to return it to people?”
With incumbent U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu watching from afar, and with a united Democratic Party in her corner, the fight to get the GOP officially behind Congressman Bill Cassidy is gaining just as much momentum as it is hushed controversy.
15th Judicial District Judge Durwood Conque has announced that he will not seek re-election after 27 years on the bench.
The controversial standardized tests are set to be used in third-grade through eighth-grade public school classrooms next year.
The Louisiana Senate has agreed to prohibit unmanned aircraft from flying over chemical plants, water treatment systems, telecommunications networks and other items considered "critical infrastructure" in Louisiana.
It didn’t take long for KATC TV 3 to jump all over the news of a dead body found in Girard Park, but in its rush to produce headlines, the local TV station got sloppy.
An unholy trinity of civil-society upheavalers whose first names are not Conner, Tanner or Logan are facing charges in Eunice.