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Lafayette City Residents Approve Broadband Network in a Landslide
[July 18, 2005]

Lafayette City Residents Approve Broadband Network in a Landslide


Registered voters of Lafayette, La., on Saturday approved up to $125 million in bonding for the Lafayette Utilities System (LUS) to build a municipal fiber-to-the-home project.

By TED GLANZER
TMCnet Communications and Broadband Columnist

Score one for municipalities seeking to offer low-cost broadband services to their residents and small businesses.

Registered voters of Lafayette, La., on Saturday approved up to $125 million in bonding for the Lafayette Utilities System (LUS) to build a municipal fiber-to-the-home project.

The referendum was marked by high voter turnout - 27 percent of the 116,000 residents showed up at the polls - and overwhelming support for the city-owned broadband network (62 percent vote for and 38 percent voted against).

"That's a pretty darned broad and decisive mandate," Jim Baller, one of several attorneys representing Lafayette, told TMCnet.com. "[The issue] has been the subject of excruciating debate."

Indeed, the referendum has been closely monitored by, among others, legislators and industry insiders because of the vigorous opposition generated by incumbents BellSouth and Cox Communications as well as third party organizations, such as The Heartland Institute.



For example, on June 20, Heartland, a nonprofit research organization, issued a press release that called into question the Lafayette project's proposed costs.

"[It] is likely to cost more to operate and run bigger deficits for a longer period of time than its proponents claim," the release states. "Based on numbers from other municipal operations, as well as other industry trends, Lafayette citizens and leaders should question whether [the consultant's plan] . . . is achievable."


On June 23, LUS issued a 19 page, point-by-point response to Heartland's claims, in which it called Heartland's numbers into question, stating that "LUS's motivations are significantly different than commercial (investor-owned) utility companies that view consumers only as opportunities to generate maximum value to distant shareholders."

Regardless, city leaders on both sides of the aisle embraced, rather than questioned, the necessity for constructing a city-owned fiber optic broadband network.

"We had a truly extraordinary phenomenon in which Democrats and Republicans [endorsed the project], said Baller, of The Baller Herbst Law Group in Washington, D.C.

City leaders, obviously, applauded the referendum's result, going so far as to state that the result is meaningful in an even larger context nationwide.

"Today, we did what our predecessors did 109 years ago - we took our future into our hands," Lafayette Utilities System Director Terry Hoval said today in a press release."BellSouth and Cox wanted the people of Lafayette to speak, and now the people of Lafayette have spoken loud and clear.Now it's time for BellSouth and Cox to accept what the people have said and stop throwing hurdles in our way."

Lafayette City/Parish President (the equivalent of a mayor) Joey Durel added in the release: "This is a huge moment for Lafayette and America.Our citizens have sent a powerful message - Americans want their local governments to do what's necessary to be 21st century cities second to none."

According to the statement, attorney Baller stated that "[t]he voters of Lafayette have sent a wake-up call to incumbents and legislators across America.It's time for the public and private sectors to put conflicts like this aside and get American broadband moving again."

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Ted Glanzer is assistant editor for TMCnet. For more articles by Ted Glanzer, please visit:

http://www.tmcnet.com/tmcnet/columnists/columnist.aspx?id=100033&nm=Ted%20Gl
anzer

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