Foster Campbell

Louisiana Public Service Commissioner

Campbell Says Jindal’s ‘Nut-ism’ Cost State $80-million Broadband Network

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It is beyond belief that Governor Bobby Jindal would refuse to do everything possible to reverse his administration’s loss of an $80-million federal grant for high-speed Internet service to 21 rural Louisiana parishes and 400,000 people.
In the wake of this blunder by the Jindal Administration, I called on the Governor to “put his hat in his hand” and request a meeting with President Obama to restore the funding. He declined.

Gov. Jindal is showing his true colors. He is putting special interests and an extreme political philosophy before the needs of the people. It is absolute “nut-ism” (more on that later).

This month the Public Service Commission, at my request, questioned Gov. Jindal’s commissioner of administration, Paul Rainwater, on the state’s loss of the $80-million U.S. Commerce Department grant. The money was awarded in 2010 to build 900 miles of broadband in 21 rural parishes, from Lake Charles to Lake Providence.
The “Louisiana Broadband Alliance” project, headed by the state Board of Regents, was the only broadband grant of 230 actually revoked by the federal government. Commerce officials cited mismanagement by the state and lengthy delays for the cancellation.
I told Mr. Rainwater the Governor should catch a plane to Washington, D.C., to personally ask the President to restore the grant. I said the Governor should bring Senators Mary Landrieu and David Vitter with him because this matter is bigger than partisan politics.
In response a Jindal spokesman told the Baton Rouge Advocate the Governor would not contact the President. He said: “This grant called for a heavy-handed approach from the federal government that would have undermined and taken over private business.”

The Governor’s response reminded me of a famous Louisiana political saying from some years back. The speaker said he disliked communism, fascism and socialism, but “the worst ‘ism’ of all is ‘nut-ism.’”

What you are seeing in Bobby Jindal is straight nut-ism. He favors an extreme political stance over the need for jobs and opportunity that broadband would bring to the rural parishes.

I conduct town meetings throughout my 24-parish North Louisiana PSC district each year. Everywhere I go people complain about their lack of access to high-speed Internet service. So when I learned of this terrible mistake by the Governor, I dug into it.
I found more than 80 letters of support for the Broadband Alliance project. Support came from members of Congress, local governments, school boards, health centers and businesses across the state. There were even letters from high officials of the Jindal Administration.
I also found four Internet companies in support: AT&T, CenturyLink of Monroe, Nexus Systems of Monroe and Northeast Telephone of Collinston.
AT&T acknowledged that the rural areas to be served were unlikely to get broadband fiber built. In a January 2010 letter to the Board of Regents, AT&T Vice President Debbie Griffith wrote:

“We understand these parishes may be less likely to see fiber upgrades without an anchor tenant such as the Board of Regents.”
Translation: AT&T is not going to spend money to lay Internet cable in these less-populated rural areas. The company’s president told an industry conference this summer that AT&T considered broadband by DSL (“digital subscriber line,” or wired broadband) to be outdated technology.
So who exactly is the “private business” that Gov. Jindal says would be undermined by the Board of Regents broadband project? I uncovered two Internet companies that questioned it. The companies, Network USA of Carencro and Detel Wireless of Baton Rouge, both were rejected for federal broadband grants. The companies and/or their owners and associates have both given generously to Gov. Jindal’s campaigns.

Gov. Jindal appointed Network USA owner Ed Antie to the Board of Regents in December 2010. Mr. Antie resigned six months later after legislators questioned his apparent conflict of interest in doing business with the board.

This is what makes you cynical about government, especially when you hear Gov. Jindal bragging about ethics. He appears more focused on raising campaign cash from cronies than helping Louisiana people.

Making it hypocritical is that Gov. Jindal plugged $3 billion of federal stimulus dollars into his fiscal 2010 and 2011 state budgets. I guess his philosophy against federal spending has its limits.

Government support for broadband in rural areas is like the formation of electric cooperatives during the Depression.
In the 1930s investor-owned electric companies ignored rural America, so President Franklin Roosevelt developed rural electric co-ops with government support. Louisiana has 10 co-ops today, and they provide good service with some of the lowest electric rates in America.
I made this point to Commissioner of Administration Rainwater but it fell on deaf ears. He oversaw the broadband project when the Jindal team changed it from its original plan, building 900 miles of broadband service, to a hastily drawn alternative of leasing broadband service. This helped kill the project.
The $80-million broadband network would have helped 400,000 people, 150 schools and countless businesses, health-care centers and institutions in 21 rural parishes. It would have done more good in those areas than anything Bobby Jindal has accomplished. His administration dropped the ball and he’s refused to correct the error. It’s inexcusable.