New Orleans vs. BellSouth

(Cross-posted from Phone Watch)

This story is getting way too much attention for how completely stupid it is. I wasn’t even going to comment on it, but after seeing it all over the net, I think at this point I have to say something.

The story goes like this: BellSouth was offering to allow the city of New Orleans to use one of its old buildings which only sustained minor damage during Hurricane Katrina, to house the police department. New Orleans police headquarters was destroyed in the hurricane.

But once New Orleans turned up its free Wi-Fi network in downtown and the French Quarter, city officials claim BellSouth rescinded its offer.

According to the officials, the head of BellSouth’s Louisiana operations, Bill Oliver, angrily rescinded the offer of the building in a conversation with New Orleans homeland security director Terry Ebbert, who oversees the roughly 1,650-member police force.

City officials said BellSouth was upset about the plan to bring high-speed Internet access for free to homes and businesses to help stimulate resettlement and relocation to the devastated city. Around the country, large telephone companies have aggressively lobbied against localities launching their own Internet networks, arguing that they amount to taxpayer-funded competition. Some states have laws prohibiting them.

BellSouth spokesman Jeff Battcher disputed the city’s version of events.

“Our willingness to work with the mayor and the city is still on the table,” Battcher said. “We’ve been working for over two months on this building . . . we are a little surprised by these comments.”

Battcher said Oliver spoke directly with the mayor on Tuesday after the WiFi announcement and told him they needed to continue to work through issues regarding the building. He said BellSouth is awaiting the mayor’s response. — Washington Post

“Frankly, I hope they did rescind the offer, or at least make it contingent on the city ceasing their taxpayer funded competition with local internet companies. Taking BellSouth’s charity, and then stabbing them in the back like this: not cool,” said Mark Jaquith.

Stephen VanDyke commented, “As much as I think BellSouth is the spawn of Satan with their crap service, they don’t deserve to get stabbed in the back by Nagin over donations in good faith. Withdrawing may be a bit harsh though over the cockamamie free WiFi scheme that may die due to bad publicity.”

The free Wi-Fi scheme limits users to 512Kbps downstream bandwidth, and once the state of emergency ends, it will be scaled back to 128Kbps, in accordance with a Louisiana law that prohibits municipalities from offering broadband Internet service, that is, anything over 128Kbps.

And I don’t think it’s going to die, due to bad publicity or anything else.

Now, New Orleans officials have a long history of blowing things way out of proportion, and having some experience working with BellSouth, I suspect that what they are doing here is trying to generate bad publicity for BellSouth.

I don’t think that the city “stabbed BellSouth in the back.” The company is busy rolling out very high speed broadband connections, taking focus off of lower speed connections. And its network in New Orleans still isn’t entirely up to where it was before the hurricane.

There’s no good reason for BellSouth to object to this particular Wi-Fi network at this particular time.

In other words, I don’t believe a word coming out of the city officials’ mouths.

One thought on “New Orleans vs. BellSouth

  • August 27, 2007 at 11:15 am

    (In my opinion) While some may say it was a bit insensitive for the City to make such a move it shows a lot of insincerity on the part of BellSouth. They made this gesture to look big and kind but when they thought that the City was stepping on their revenue they cried and whined. Now they look like no more than influence buyers.

    Odds are this building was of no immediate use and to “loan it out” not an inconvenience but an opportunity to look like a caring hand. NOPE! It’s apparently all about image and money.

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