LUS Fiber is key to M-P Boulet’s vision for Lafayette, but finding its next leader may be messy

LUS Fiber drive thru service center
Photo courtesy The Acadiana Advocate

LUS Fiber was a key part of Mayor-President Monique Blanco Boulet’s ascension, and it's a critical piece in her vision for Lafayette’s success. But her decision to oust Fiber Director Ryan Meche without lining up a replacement has her facing a potentially messy path to install a new leader of the city-owned telecom on her self-imposed 90-day deadline.

The new mayor-president has inherited a potentially precarious situation at LUS Fiber. The telecom’s $30 million rural expansion that Boulet championed from atop the Acadiana Planning Commission in 2022 relies on LUS Fiber to provide about $5 million in installation services, more than twice its annual expansion budget. And the city-owned telecom is now plugging a $3 million hole in the city government budget after former M-P Josh Guillory upped its contributions to the city’s general fund in 2022 from $1 million.

During her election bid last fall, Boulet said her goal was to ensure everyone in Lafayette had access to affordable, high-speed internet. LUS Fiber is the key to making that happen, she told Straight News Online in a recent interview, even if it’s not financially feasible for it to serve every home in the parish.

“[LUS Fiber] creates a competitive market where the other providers step up and provide better service at better prices. I always want to have that edge for every one of our residents so they have access to the highest level of technology at competitive prices,” says Boulet. “That's the way I see LUS Fiber, as a tool to make sure we all have access to world-class internet. To me, it doesn't matter the provider, but we have the tool with LUS Fiber to create that free market environment.”

The first step in fulfilling that vision is to assess the lack of high-speed internet within the parish and look for grant funding to reach those areas. To accomplish that while her administration searches for a long-term leader, Boulet says she has enlisted the help of longtime LUS & LUS Fiber Director Terry Huval and former interim LUS Fiber Director Teles Fremin.

Man stands in front of news of cameras
M-P Boulet enlisted Terry Huval, former director of LUS and LUS Fiber, to assess the road ahead for the city-owned telecom. Photo by Travis Gauthier

“Right now, we're in the process of doing an assessment to understand the areas that don't have fiber,” she says. “And that’s not just LUS Fiber, because there's Cox fiber and AT&T fiber, but the areas that don't have that level of service, and to look at a build out plan from that perspective.”

The pair’s return would have been unthinkable under Guillory, particularly for Huval, who Guillory’s administration effectively accusing of illegally deleting thousands of emails that were never actually missing. Huval’s abrupt retirement in 2018 came in between probes into alleged improper payments between LUS and Fiber, which he defended in public statements. After a lengthy investigation, then District Attorney Keith Stutes confirmed in September 2020 that he found no evidence any crimes had been committed, and within months state regulators shut down further scrutiny

Fremin, who left Fiber after being passed over for the top job when Guillory appointed Meche in 2021, returns as a consultant with CTC Technology & Energy, which was hired to help with the last LUS Fiber director search but was largely ignored by Guillory’s administration. Boulet’s CAO Rachel Godeaux says neither Huval nor CTC are working on the search for a new LUS Fiber director.

While Boulet’s camp is focused on finding the right candidate for that job, installing a new director presents a different set of challenges. Guillory declined City Council oversight of his appointment of Meche to the position, arguing that the council’s power to approve the LUS director did not extend to the LUS Fiber director, even though the positions were one and the same until the council voted to separate them in 2019. Guillory also made waves with Meche’s appointment by firing LUS Fiber’s consulting engineer NewGen Strategies after it raised concerns that Meche was underqualified for the leadership role.

Boulet has a chance to reset those precedents by conceding to council scrutiny and heeding any advice from Fiber’s new consulting engineer, Burns & McDonnell, but it will come at the cost of some autonomy in the selection process. In the meantime, the new mayor-president’s priority for Fiber lines up with her immediate goal for the rest of Lafayette Consolidated Government: assessing the situation and building stability.

“I see us really kind of stabilizing the business environment and looking at the elements that we need for that with our interim structure in place,” she says. “I don’t think we’re losing ground right now. I feel like we’ll hit the ground running with a new director.”