Lafayette Utilities System’s ultimately successful bid to create LUS Fiber is used an example of municipalities triumphing over powerful corporate tele-communications companies working through the American Legislative Exchange Council, a Washington lobbying group that has gotten a lot of bad press recently.
In an article headlined “ALEC Wants You To Pay 750 Percent More For High-Speed Internet,” writer Zaid Jilani offers a compelling account of how ALEC, working through elected officials at the state level and backed by a king’s ransom in corporate money lavished on those lawmakers in the form of campaign donations, throws up roadblocks to prevent projects like LUS Fiber from ever getting off the ground:
ALEC also unsuccessfully worked to undercut a public broadband system proposed by the city of Lafayette, Lousiana. ALEC’s Louisiana state chair (a legislator) introduced a bill that would’ve placed onerous restrictions on how the city could use fiber-optic cables to provide cheap broadband. The broadband-undercutting bill “almost word for word, matched a piece of legislation kept in the library of the American Legislative Exchange Council.” The most damaging provisions of the bill were removed before it was passed, and major telecom companies sued to try to stop Lafeyette from building its system anyway. Fortunately, they lost.
The “Louisiana state chair” of ALEC cited in the article was state Rep. Noble Ellington, a Dem-turned-Republican from Winnsboro who was term-limited out of office after last year. This week the current (actually, recently former) state chair of ALEC, state Rep. Greg Cromer, R-Slidell, resigned from the group.
ALEC widened its mission in recent years to promote, among other things, laws purportedly aimed at combatting election fraud — legislation critics argue is really aimed at suppressing voting blocs that typically vote Democratic — as well as so-called “stand your ground” gun laws. The group recently announced it will pull away from such extraneous efforts and focus on “pro-business” legislation after major players like Coke, Pepsi, Kraft Foods and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation withdrew their membership.
Published on the website PublicReport.org, the reporting arm of the nonprofit, nonpartisan United Republic, the article peels away the layers on legislation from ALEC’s bag of bills that, at the behest of major, for-profit telecom companies, is designed to make it practically impossible for municipalities like Lafayette to create their own broadband networks. Essentially, ALEC provides model legislation that state lawmakers then customize to their own states. ALEC’s raison d’etre could be succinctly be characterized as “Just Privatize It Already!”
In a revealing and lengthy article from Bloomberg Businessweek published last December — an article that begins with the sentence, “Joey Durel likes to describe himself as a private-sector guy.” — reporters Brendan Greeley and Alison Fitzgerald chronicle the fight to establish LUS Fiber against the strong resistance of ALEC and its corporate masters.
The Businessweek story, titled “Pssst ... Wanna Buy a Law?” can be read here.
Click here to read the PublicReport story published this week.