Friday, August 20, 2004

Not in Your Front Yard!

CED magazine has an article examing the question of whether DSL (the phone companies' digital subscriber line technology) can handle the bandwidth requirements of High Definition television (HDTV).

The answer is a definite maybe — depending on the technological paths chosen by the respective providers. Hit the headline of this story to view that article. It's pretty interesting.

However, the most interesting part of the article was this paragraph which brings us back to the heart of the matter here in Lafayette:

"Though some of the major RBOCs — Verizon, SBC Communications and BellSouth, among them — are pushing ahead with fiber plans that will provide plenty of bandwidth for HD, there are still questions about whether DSL will pack enough punch for telcos that don't have the bucks to make a big upgrade and, instead, will need to rely on their legacy copper networks."

Got that?

BellSouth has made a corporate decision that fiber is the future of the company and its services.

The problem for Lafayette is that BellSouth does not now consider us worthy of the fiber to the premises technology.

Every company and every institution has its own hierarchy of priorities which guide its moves. For companies like BellSouth and Cox, these hierarchies help them decide where they will make their infrastructure investments and when they'll do it.

There is no question that BellSouth and Cox intend to build a fiber to the premises infrastructure in Lafayette. Both companies, left to their own priorities, would one day ensure that their respective fiber systems got to almost every business and home in Lafayette. That's fine. I have no problem with them moving at a pace which suits their corporate mindset and corporate priorities.

For the foreseeable future, they've decided that they are not going to deploy a fiber network through your front yard.

This is the essence of the issue: who has established Lafayette's interest as its top priority. By their respective decisions not to make the requesite investments in fiber infrastructure in Lafayette, BellSouth and Cox have announced that Lafayette is a nice little market, but they each have higher priorities elsewhere.

This has significant implications for the economic viability of Lafayette. If we accept the judgments of BellSouth and Cox, we are accepting their decisions to relegate Lafayette to a third tier city.

But, there are people in both the public and private sectors here who have higher aspirations for our community. We believe it can thrive. We believe it can grow wisely by harnessing the creative capacities of our people, our businesses, and our institutions through the enlightened use of information technology.

The LUS fiber to the premises proposal taps into and feeds off of that vision of a greater Lafayette.

I believe that this vision flows naturally from the strong entrepreneurial base in Lafayette's economy. Lafayette is a community dominated by an ownership mindset — at least, our leaders are. Those communities dominated by a managerial mindset fare differently.

Let me explain.

I grew up in Eunice, LA. It's a small town that has not grown much since about 1970. In the time prior to 1970s, Eunice was dominated by small business owners. While there were undeniable social problems in the town, primarily the relations among the races, the fact is that the business leaders of the community had a sense of a community which was greater than their own personal and business interests, though, no doubt they figured to profit if the local market grew.

In the decades since the 1970s, main street has been decimated and retail activities shifted to malls. Stores in those malls are chains which install managers to run them. Those managers are accountable to the expectations of the home office where ever that may be. That is the case whether the store they manage is in Eunice or in Atlanta.

I think it is difficult to appreciate the impact of this disappearance of the local ownership class on community leadership. But, managers are caretakers; they tend not to be into 'the vision thing.'

The vision thing, though, is alive and well in Lafayette. It is, in my view, inseperable from entrepreneurship which is by definition forward looking. That is, it is not focused so much on where we are now, but where we might be able to go as a community. Lafayette's entrepreneurial base fuels the vision of what our community can become.

It is the difference between what LUS sees as the potential of Lafayette and how BellSouth and Cox see that same community.

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