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Informer: Municipal Internet system a costly prospect

Last Modified: Saturday, October 27, 2012 3:59 PM

By Andrew Perzo / American Press

A recent news story on NPR compared the U.S. with other developed nations. In general, we both pay more and get less for Internet, phone and cable TV.

The story specifically cited Lafayette as a community that built a municipal Internet provider to address this problem.

Is a municipal system a possibility for Lake Charles? Has it been considered? What would be involved?

Lafayette’s fiber network Internet service, provided by a division of long-established municipal utility Lafayette Utilities System, owes its existence to the Local Government Fair Competition Act, which former Gov. Kathleen Blanco signed into law in 2004.

According to an April report by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, the law was initially drafted to scuttle Lafayette’s plans to improve Internet service. But lawmakers, LUS, existing service providers and municipal groups worked out a compromise. Still, the resulting measure contains myriad requirements and restrictions.

“Most notable is the restriction on the use of the city’s general obligation bonding capacity and/or revenue from other enterprise funds to finance the construction and operation of the project,” Mike Vanchiere, the city’s information technology director, wrote in an email.

“This restriction makes it difficult for communities to offer such services unless they are already in the electric utility business.”

The law, he said, allows cities that now furnish utilities such as sewer and water service to branch out and build a fiber optic/broadband network for their residents.

But the move would be costly — especially when taking into account “the physical attributes of those services,” which, Vanchiere said, “have little compatibility with fiber optic/broadband service.”

The differences between the one set of services and the other “would make it more difficult for a city without an electric utility company to develop a fiber optic/broadband project,” he said.

“The reason is primarily economic — sewer and water services are in need of major upgrades and related improvements. The revenue from those services is needed to help pay for the cost of those improvements.”

Still, he said, cities can partner with private companies or other political subdivisions to provide such a service. The law requires that those involved conduct a feasibility study before embarking on a project.

Incidentally, one NPR segment on the topic, a “Fresh Air” interview broadcast toward the end of September, included an error. During the interview, David Cay Johnston, author of “The Fine Print,” said Pixar had opened an office in Lafayette because of the city’s fast Internet speeds.

Pixar has no office in Lafayette, but Pixel Magic, a special effects company, does.

Online: www.ilsr.org; www.pixelmagicfx.com.

Constitution requires amendment for town

Why is there a constitutional amendment on the Nov. 6 ballot that only has to do with one town, a New Iberia property tax exemption for land annexed after Jan. 1, 2013?

“Municipalities and parishes do not have their own authority to grant an exemption,” reads a guide to the amendments published by the Public Affairs Research Council.

“In order to exercise sole authority to use this type of property tax abatement program, local officials must ask for an amendment to the Constitution.”

Online: www.parlouisiana.org.

•••

The Informer answers questions from readers each Sunday, Monday and Wednesday. It is researched and written by Andrew Perzo, an American Press staff writer. To ask a question, call 494-4098, press 5 and leave voice mail, or email informer@americanpress.com

Posted By: Michael On: 10/29/2012

Title: Municipal Internet

A city owned fiber network for the city. It's called vision.
Imagine building an infrastructure to attract hi tech businesses, serve the citizens and the educational institutions...
Bah humbug, lets concentrate on flower beds, high rent apartments for downtown, beautification projects and a rusty old battleship.

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