East Baton Rouge Parish residents could eventually have another option when choosing cable, internet and phone service providers besides Cox Communications and AT&T.
Wednesday afternoon the Metro Council’s finance and executive committee considered an agreement with Eatel Video to expand its services into the parish.
Eatel is the leading service provider for Ascension Parish.
The committee voted to send the item to the full council, but without a recommendation because of concerns about what areas Eatel would be expected to cover in the parish.
Eatel’s franchise agreement with the city-parish does not include a “build-out agreement.”
Build-out agreements generally insist that a company serve all customers in an area, rather than cherry-pick profitable areas.
Cox spokesperson Sharon Bethea said Cox does not oppose Eatel’s entry into the parish, but wants the company to be held to the same standard as Cox, which includes a build-out agreement in its contract.
“Cox is not 100 percent built out, but we are required to build out to wherever there is a service requester,” Bethea said. “What Eatel is proposing is they don’t have to do anything. If a certain person requests service in the parish, they can say, ‘I don’t have to serve you.’ ”
Cox suggested the city-parish require Eatel to build out to the majority of the parish within 36 months, a requirement that Eatel argues is unfairly “burdensome” for a company with far less capital than its competitors, which have nationwide presences.
Eatel attorney Janet Britton argued that the Federal Communications Commission prohibits local laws from imposing requirements that would impede competitive entry, like the build-out mandates.
She added that Eatel is a 76-year-old, family-owned company headquartered in Ascension Parish that hopes to eventually reach as many people in Baton Rouge as possible, but placing burdensome financial obligations on Eatel could adversely affect business.
The agreement will go to the full council Wednesday.
If approved, Eatel could begin construction, building fiber optic networks in areas of the parish. It would likely take several years before services could be provided.
COMMITTEE UNDER SCRUTINY: In other business, the Metro Council is considering doing away with committee meetings like those held Wednesday.
The full Metro Council meets twice a month to make official votes affecting parish business.
But between the semi-monthly meetings, the council also has historically held committee meetings twice a month to vet agenda items before reaching the full council.
The committee meetings, which include the finance and executive committee and the capital improvements committee, can offer nonbinding recommendations to the full council on agenda items.
In 2009, the Metro Council decided to do away with the committee meetings, but the council later voted to bring them back.
Councilwoman C. Denise Marcelle, who sponsored the most recent measure, said she wants to do away with them again because they are a misuse of council and city-parish staff time.
“We first wanted to bring them back because we wanted to give the public another opportunity to comment and vent issues,” Marcelle said. “But there’s no audience to these things for the most part, and when they want to talk, they show up for the full council meeting.”
Councilman Trae Welch, who voted in January 2010 to bring the meetings back after they had originally been eliminated, said he’s since changed his mind about the effectiveness of the committees.
Welch said the committee meetings should have been an opportunity for the council to get information on agenda items earlier, but said council members generally get information on an individual basis from city-parish staff.
“It’s not serving the purpose it was intended to,” he said. “It was a good idea but it’s not working right.”
Councilman Joel Boé, who is responsible for the measure that re-established the committee meetings in January 2010, said he still thinks they serve an important function.
“Committee meetings should remain intact; they serve a useful purpose in the legislative process of our city,” he said. “It is an opportunity for the public to speak as well as an opportunity to vet useful information for council members to make an informed decision.”
Council Administrator Brian Mayers said there are no state or parish requirements that the council hold committee meetings.