Friday, May 06, 2005

Absence Of Malice

It’s been tough for me to keep up with what’s going on lately. It’s required all my spare time just trying to keep up with the Michael Jackson trial. I mean there’s the real news about the real trial on all the broadcast and cable networks and there’s all those real-life re-enactments courtesy of E! News Presentations.

This distraction has caused me to miss the monumental struggle going on in Lafayette Louisiana over the municipal Fiber to the Premises plan. And it’s been hard for me to get up to speed given that Cox and BellSouth are rolling out some creative new tactics.

Backed by the Louisiana Cable Telecommunications Association, the cable and phone folks have been able to get a Democratic State Senator, Sharon Weston Broome, to introduce legislation that forces a city to hold a referendum to get citizen approval before they can build municipal FTTP. Now that’s nothing new, that’s straight out of the playbook. But what is new is language in the bill that would suspend operator obligations to provide PEG access, I-Nets, system re-build demands and other monetary requirements if the municipality does build its own plant. The suspension of obligations would remain in force until the local government has spent as much on these obligations as the commercial providers have paid in the previous decade.

I can’t be sure if that is straight up blackmail or legislative genius. And I have a huge urge to call up Senator Broome and ask her how she sleeps at night.

But I am reminded not to “attribute to malice what can adequately be explained by stupidity." Like the phone poll of Lafayette residents that was conducted by a marketing firm out of Florida just this week.

One of the things that “dumbfounded” resident Debbey Ryan was the pollster’s claim that the municipal system could ration TV just like water.

“They said that if the government controls the cable TV that you may not be able to watch TV except on Monday, Wednesday and Friday ‘cause they could ration your TV watching.”

Now I think I am a smart woman and I’ve been around the political block a couple of times, but never, not even on my best day could I have thought that one up! That is a talking-point that would make any K-Street lobbyist proud.

Of course Cox was dodgy when questioned by reporters and Gary Cassard, the Veep of operations in Lafayette claimed that his company had no direct part in planning the questions of the poll. And the BellSouth guy, John Williams said the poll did not originate out of his office in Lafayette. He even went on to give his phone number for anyone who wanted to call him and talk about it. The number is 261-2800, you’ll have to look up the area code yourself.

Malice v. Stupidity. Malice v. Stupidity. My vote is for Stupidity. You spend thousands of dollars to hire a marketing firm to conduct a poll for you and you don’t even know what the questions will be? And you convince yourself that anyone is going to buy that you didn’t know?

Thank goodness the residents of Lafayette are not the rubes Cox and BellSouth have taken them for. But it’s easy to understand the lack of judgment demonstrated by Cox and their buddy BellSouth. These are the same media companies who actually believe the majority of the American people want all Michael Jackson all the time.

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Anonymous said...

Is it enough to chock up it up to stupidity? Our elected officials are entrusted with protecting the public good -- maximizing the benefits to the constituencies who reside in their districts. This isn't so much about "stupidity" as it is about "egregious violations of the public trust". It's not enough for a legislator to claim ignorance -- they should be held accountable when they blantantly disregard the public interest. In any other job, a total disregard for the responsibilities you took on when you were hired would get you fired -- yet somehow, some politicians feel exempted from this most basic of expectations. And we should hold them accountable when they sell us all down the river. This is a case where local residents may potentially be harmed/ripped off by the actions of this legislator.

John said...

I worry that phrasing the question as "malice v. stupidity" gets us caught up in a false dichotomy.

I see no reason to make a choice between these attributes when applied to BellSouth or Cox. They seem perfectly capable of being both. In this instance I would vote for stupidly malicious over maliciously stupid.

By the way: The area code for BellSouth's John Williams' phone number is 337. That's 337 261-2800