Lafayette has benefited from a municipal fiber network that delivers high-speed internet service, but that is not the same as the proposal for a fiber network now being discussed in East Baton Rouge Parish. In the capital city, there is no city-owned utility system to create the same service as in Lafayette, but city-parish officials want to build out fiber connections through construction work on roads or other projects that the city would be doing anyway.
That’s a reasonable plan, and we commend the city-parish officials and the Metro Council for hiring a consultant to flesh out the idea.
The information technology director, Eric Romero, said the city would like to lay conduits along all area roads and have schools and libraries serve as broadband hubs. What the plan would not do is compete with private-sector providers AT&T and Cox, which have invested huge amounts of money into the IT infrastructure in the capital region.
“We don’t want to be in the communication business,” Chief Administrative Officer William Daniel told the Metro Council, and he’s making a sensible commitment about that.
It is not just a matter of building “pipes” for digital services. Providing content is a complicated business and an ever-growing expenditure for the providers and thus their customers.
While we see the Lafayette system as working well, in different circumstances in Baton Rouge, the division of labor between the public sector’s conduits and the private providers’ expertise should be a good fit.
Because the private sector is deeply involved in service delivery and invested in infrastructure, we believe it is important that as the study develops and plans are laid, the city-parish maintains the closest possible liaison with providers.
Romero said the city-parish can lease the conduits to private companies, which can thread cables through them to bring service to businesses and homes along the line.
The city doesn’t know how many properties have access to high-speed internet, and that will be one aspect of the study, which will be conducted by the Washington, D.C.-based Columbia Telecommunications Corp. President Joanne Hovis told the Metro Council her company works exclusively for government agencies and nonprofits, so it doesn’t have any conflicts of interest with private internet providers.
Some telecommunications companies, specifically Cox, have been resistant to the city’s plan, Romero said. However, he believes they may have softened upon learning the city-parish isn’t trying to set up a competing business.
We urge the city-parish to seek more than grudging acceptance but work closely with the concerns of the private sector. The existing companies have obvious interests, but they are partners with government in the larger enterprise of providing high-speed internet services, and they involve private investors and employers in our community.
“It is 2016, guys. It’s time to bring Baton Rouge into the 21st century,” Councilman John Delgado said.
True, but this long-term project requires collaboration to meet the specific needs of the capital region.