Since LUS announced its intentions to deliver phone, cable and Internet service to Lafayette residents nearly 16 months ago, the public utility has been engulfed in extensive legal battles with BellSouth and Cox Communications over the project. LUS has spent approximately $1.4 million on consultants, lawyers and marketing expenses related to the initiative, which was approved by a 24 percent margin in a public referendum July 16.
But Huval sees light at the end of the tunnel. LUS hits another milestone Sept. 1 when the Public Service Commission meets to adopt financing rules for the new venture. The PSC could be LUS' final hurdle before issuing bonds for the project. Opponents to the plan have until mid-October to contest the July 16 referendum, LUS' bond ordinance or the PSC ruling. Huval hopes that deadline will pass without further challenges to the LUS initiative, and the fiber build-out could begin in earnest in early 2006.
"This is a complicated process," Huval says. "There's a lot of work in the background that took place for this to happen."
The PSC staff has been working since last September on developing the accounting rules for LUS' new telecommunications division. The rules are based on state law and designed to create a level playing field for a public entity to compete with private telecom providers. LUS and the incumbent private providers, Cox Communications and BellSouth, have gone back and forth with the PSC and its staff to negotiate the rules. The staff's final recommendations, released last Wednesday, Aug. 24, appear to be a compromise that meets LUS approval.
"I think we have everything in the recommendation that LUS can live with," says Public Service Commissioner Jimmy Field, whose district covers Lafayette and Baton Rouge. "I'm not saying it's ideal," he adds. "But [LUS] understands that our responsibility was to set rules to make the competition fair given that this is the first time a government entity will be engaged in competition with private entities."
BellSouth and Cox Communications representatives did not return calls for comment on the PSC recommendations by press time. Cox has requested the chance to make oral arguments before the commission prior to the final ruling. (An amendment to the proposed rules requires the approval of three commissioners.)
Field has been a key ally for LUS and helped set up meetings between LUS representatives and public service commissioners.
"Jimmy has been on the commission for quite some time," Huval says. "And he knows the process better than we do. We know what it's like to deal with our [city-parish] council. Our biggest concern was not being as familiar with the PSC."
LUS also employed lobbyist Randy Haynie and several attorneys for the PSC negotiations, which recently turned in LUS' favor. The PSC staff's initial draft of rules in June followed an interpretation of the law advocated by BellSouth and would have prohibited LUS from using any utility revenues in paying off up to $125 million in bonds for the project. The staff's final recommendations for the rules ' released last Wednesday ' reversed that opinion and allow LUS' utilities division to cover the communications division should the bonds go into default. Without that change, it would have been very difficult to obtain a favorable interest rate on its loan.
"It was just a mistake for our recommendation to come out and say that you couldn't pledge the assets," says Field. The new rules also side with LUS' plea to allow money from its utility division to be loaned to its communications division at fair market rates. LUS has agreed with BellSouth and the commission's request to make an in-lieu of tax payment ' equal to what private providers pay ' during each year of operation.
Commissioner Dale Sittig, who represents several Acadiana parishes surrounding Lafayette, including St. Landry and Acadia, says he feels the final rules are fair to both sides.
"The rules are not set in favor of anybody or against anybody," he says. "The commission has no dog in this fight. We're doing exactly what the law says. Hopefully, everybody can get on board."
While only three votes are needed to approve the rules, Field says he is hoping for a unanimous decision. "I think to some degree they will give me some deference because it's in my area, and I know the situation very well, but in the end [the commissioners] will vote their own conscience."
Last week, Commissioner Foster Campbell reserved any comment on the staff's final rule recommendations because he had not yet had a chance to fully review them. Commissioners Jay Blossman and Lambert Bossiere did not return calls for comment.
Field says that LUS' plan has been selling itself.
"I've always felt like as a public service commission that we should be an instrument of economic development," he says. "We should help the state of Louisiana attract industry. We ought to open the door and allow them to try to do this and take the heat, so to speak, from the private entities, because we're losing a lot of industry in Louisiana. This might be a way we can attract high-tech jobs, and for that reason, because of the economic development angle, I believe the other commissioners realize that. We need to take that risk and go ahead and let LUS start this whenever they feel comfortable."
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.
President Barack Obama is turning to black radio listeners to plead for midterm votes, a targeted approach to drum up Democratic support at a time when many candidates don't want him around in person.
"I am extremely disheartened by the political machines that are attempting to hijack my efforts along with others that advocate for children."
Landrieu, who is fighting to keep her seat for a fourth term, said that Ebola is serious and precautions should be taken, but she accused Republicans of using the virus outbreak in West Africa to "create fear" here at home.
Law enforcement agencies are participating in a "Louisiana Heroin Summit," designed to address the recent rise in heroin use and drug-related deaths around the state.
State education officials are preparing to release performance scores for public schools and public school districts.
Saints coach Sean Payton is starting a new week by emphasizing, repeatedly, the many good things he noticed during New Orleans' latest loss.
We will be offering our recommendations on the constitutional amendments tomorrow.
The justices did not comment in leaving in place lower court rulings that dismissed the lawsuits against BP and other companies involved in the worst U.S. offshore oil spill.
White registration is down by 7,700 voters while black registration has shot up by 7,100 voters.