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Campbell: Internet a top priority for Vidalia, Louisiana

VIDALIA — The City of Vidalia’s efforts to get high-speed Internet in the area are on the right course for the future, Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell said.

“Everywhere I go, people pull my shirttail off about high speed Internet,” Campbell said. “Everybody would benefit from it — schools, churches, hospitals, they are all intertwined on the Internet.”

Campbell, D-Elm Grove, made his comments in Vidalia Wednesday, where Campbell was hosting his annual town hall meeting for the area as the District 5 public service commissioner.

While Vidalia is working to get ahead of the curve on high-speed Internet, Campbell said the State of Louisiana is dropping the ball.

“We lost an $80 million grant for high-speed Internet — a gift — because (Gov.) Bobby Jindal didn’t want to take any money from the federal government,” he said.

“Of the states that got the grant, in Louisiana, we were the only ones who lost it. Nothing is more important for the rural parts of Louisiana than getting high-speed Internet, and we just gave it up.”

Rural areas still wouldn’t have electricity if federal funds hadn’t been involved at some point, Campbell said, and federal funds will be needed to run high-speed Internet to rural Louisiana because the start-up costs are too high for Internet providers.

“We are willing to do our share, but when you turn down $80 million dollars, you are not just feeling philosophically good because you’re a right-wing fellow, you’re hurting other folks,” he said. “(Jindal’s) kids have high-speed Internet. Kids in places like Jena and Monterey don’t, and that’s hurting them.”

Campbell also spoke about public utility laws, of which he believes the public should be aware, including one that allows victims of domestic violence trying to escape their situation to move without having to pay utility deposits.

Campbell likewise discussed a public service commission rule that disallows utility companies to turn off the power when the heat index is above 105 or below 32 degrees.

“I am not telling these people they don’t have to pay their bills, but if they have children or older people in the house, we want them to have a decent place to live,” he said.

The commissioner also spoke about a rule that requires power companies to buy back power generated by houses using solar or other alternative energy.

“The companies are saying (solar power) is going to get out of hand, and if it reaches (a certain) percentage we will have to stop – I don’t want it to stop,” Campbell said.

“The companies have a monopoly — if someone wants to put solar on their roof, that is going to generate some electricity and keeps them from having to build a new power plant down the road.”

The meeting ended after Campbell expressed support for a lawsuit filed against nearly 100 oil companies by the East Bank levee board. The lawsuit seeks damages for coastal erosion the lawsuit claims was caused by dredging and pipelines.

“The BP oil spill is miniscule compared to all the damage coastal erosion has done,” he said. “I don’t think there is one soul in this room who thinks it is reasonable that if you have a neighbor who is eroding your land, how long is it going to be before you call him and say we are going to do something or we are going to court?”

Campbell said most government officials have reacted negatively against the lawsuit because oil companies write big checks during the election cycle.

“That’s a sad state of affairs for the State of Louisiana,” he said.

“You can’t run (oil companies) out of Louisiana because we have what they want. We have 50,000 miles of pipeline and it is growing every day. They can’t rip those pipelines out, but what we need in the state of Louisiana is some politicians with some backbone.

“The oil companies will come in and get what they want. When they get what they want, they will be out of here and leave us with the mess.”

The Louisiana Public Service Commission regulates privately and investor-owned utilities and certain segments of the transportation industry. Public service commissioners serve six-year terms.

Campbell was elected District 5 commissioner in 2002.