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Lafayette Fiber Costs Made Public
Taken from freepress.net External Site
Written By Claire Taylor
February 20, 2007

Not a strand of fiber-optic line has been buried. Not a single customer is receiving Internet, telephone or television service through Lafayette Utilities System.

But in the three years since city officials first proposed the controversial fiber-to-the-home project, Lafayette Consolidated Government spent $3.5 million on the project, including costs for engineers, public information and marketing.

City-Parish President Joey Durel, in his State of the Parish address last week, said, “Most of that has gone to pay fees due to the challenges brought about by obstructionists that don’t care about Lafayette or the will of the people.”
Details of city-parish government spending on the fiber-to-the-home project were released last week after The Daily Advertiser filed a public records request on Jan. 4 seeking the information.

Thirty-four percent or $1.2 million of the $3.5 million spent thus far went to R.W. Beck, an engineering consultant who was included early in the process but has had to start and stop designing the project because of lawsuits and the election, said LUS Director Terry Huval.

Steve Creeden, a former Cox Communications employee, was hired by R.W. Beck to work on the LUS fiber project. Marketing consultant Abigail Ransonet also was employed by R.W. Beck to work on the LUS project, Huval said.

The city spent $1.18 million for six law firms to steer the project through a legal and judicial maze that included several appeals court appearances and a Louisiana State Supreme Court battle. A decision by the state Supreme Court on a lawsuit by Lafayette resident Elizabeth Naquin is expected by the end of February.

How much of the $1.18 million is the result of lawsuits rather than unrelated legal matters — such as writing ordinances and an election referendum — has not been computed, said City-Parish Attorney Pat Ottinger.

“It’s understandable that people would be concerned” about legal fees, said Dee Stanley, city-parish chief administrative officer. “The administration and council would certainly rather spend the money on the project than on lawyers. We didn’t take this matter to court.”

Durel said he is disappointed about the legal costs. But the publicity Lafayette has received because of the fiber fight, including stories and editorials in USA Today and The Wall Street Journal, is free marketing.

Lafayette is benefiting in other ways from the fiber project, even though it has not been launched, Durel said.

Real Bergevin, founder and CEO of Canadian company NuComm, said his company located in Lafayette because of the city’s technology, including the fiber-to-the-home initiative, Durel said. NuComm has hired 578 new employees, he said.

“We know we have created jobs because of the controversy,” Durel said.

In addition, the price of fiber technology and hardware has dropped in the two years since the project first was proposed, Durel said.

“If the Supreme Court rules in our favor, it won’t be that it cost us $1.1 million in legal fees. It’s that the lawsuit saved us $6.9 million because the cost of the technology and hardware dropped,” he said.

On Jan. 19, after The Daily Advertiser asked city-parish officials to calculate the costs of the fiber-to-the-home project, Lafayette Utilities System issued a news release claiming that the fiber fight saved Cox Communications cable customers $3.1 million since 2004. Baton Rouge customers of Cox experienced cable rate hikes in 2004, but Lafayette customers did not experience rate hikes until 2006, the release states.

In April 2004, Durel and LUS Director Terry Huval announced plans to study the feasibility of a fiber-to-the-home initiative.

Lafayette already has miles of fiber in the city which it uses for government, education and wholesale purposes. The idea is to lay more fiber throughout the city of Lafayette and offer LUS customers high-speed Internet, telephone and television service, allegedly at prices lower than existing providers.

Voters, in July 2005, endorsed the project, voting 62 percent to 38 percent to allow the city to issue up to $125 million in bonds to pay for the initiative.

But legal tangles — some from Cox Communications and BellSouth, some from residents — have kept the project on hold.

Without the legal delays, Huval said the first fiber customers of LUS could be receiving service today.

If the Supreme Court rules in favor of LUS, bonds for the fiber project could be issued in two to three months. Within 18 months of the bond issuance, the first customers could be using fiber, he said.

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