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Do we want a publicly owned utility or a private monopoly?

An Argument for an optical fiber network in Lafayette.

Lafayette will one day have a fiber optic network to the home. That is good; we will surely want one. However, any local fiber optic network will be a natural monopoly. Since there will be only one, the only real question is which of the possible alternatives Lafayette will choose. Will we have a private fiber optic network owned by either BellSouth or Cox in some indefinite future, or will we soon have a public one built by LUS? Deciding which provider we'd prefer means deciding who we want controlling our future infrastructure.

The public’s interest in this boils down to deciding who to trust to be responsive to local needs and concerns: LUS, Cox, or BellSouth.

A decision made by BellSouth or Cox will have little to do with what is best for the people of Lafayette. It will have little do with less expensive services, with dreams of a better future, or with giving our children a chance to make their futures in Acadiana. It will have little to do with getting a head start on an inevitable technology.

Instead, the large utilities’ decision will hinge almost exclusively on what is best for the bottom line of those companies. It will not hinge on whether or not it is technically feasible or profitable; companies often decide not to engage in projects that are both feasible and profitable. They do so because they have limited resources and they believe that they can easily make more money by investing elsewhere. BellSouth, for instance, has invested heavily in Central and South America, believing it to be a more profitable place to spend the profits they make in Lafayette than reinvesting here (though, in fact, this investment has not performed well). This is perfectly rational behavior for a large corporation that has an obligation to its shareholders. But the fact that they make such choices does mean that BellSouth and Cox have their own interest at heart. And that interest does not necessarily coincide with the best interests of the people of Lafayette.

LUS, on the other hand, is a public utility. As such, its motives are different from those that drive private corporations. Its basic motive is not to maximize profit but to maximize service.

Providing cheap and efficient service is the most direct way of meeting this goal—and in doing so it often looks like it is attempting to be an efficient private corporation. But a public utility takes a longer view than private corporations can. Such a utility builds for a long term future, not a near term profit. It reinvests some of its surplus (profit) in upgrading and maintaining its system and it passes on substantial amounts to the city in lieu of more conventional taxes.

A public utility, because it answers to citizens rather than stockholders, is also driven to serve all its customers, not just the most profitable ones.