Thursday, September 30, 2004

Good Letter

Doug posts a well-reasoned letter from Bryan Wade that takes Cox and especially BellSouth to task for comments printed in InForum, the chamber newsletter. If you missed it you really should go take a look.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

New Fiber Group Forming!

Lafayette Pro Fiber has been asked to announce that there is a new fiber group forming. Jon Fitzgerald is organizing the first meeting at Mellow Joy on Ambassador Caffery this coming Saturday at 10:00 am. The agenda is deliberately sparse and will be driven by the participants. Initial topic for the day: Why have a citizen's group; What can we contribute? The participants will take it from there.

The basic idea, as we understand it, is to meet and discuss the potential offered by the modern, high-bandwidth fiber network that LUS is hoping to offer the citizens of Lafayette. What can be done with that kind of bandwidth? What opportunities are there for business, education, or the arts?

We are happy to announce the meeting--and hope that it will be one among many. There is a conversation that needs to be happening about what we can do with all that we hope is coming. There's the old Boy Scout Motto: Be Prepared. It has always been a good principle. And fiber should be fun to discuss and dream about. Not to mention that the coffee is good.

TJCrawdad Emerges Into the Light

TJCrawdad aka Tom Cantrell has emerged from behind his mask over at his Let the People Vote Blog. He hit several local blogs where folks have written about his shenanigans (LUSFTTH, Timshel, LafayetteProFiber) making comments in response to particular posts.

The most extensive discussion took place at Timshel where I had guest blogged a summary of the week's fiber news and included material on Crawdad/Cantrell that I had posted at Lafayette Pro Fiber that week.

I am happy to see this out in the open. It had really irritated me that Cantrell so happily took potshots at folks who were trying to do their jobs while being shielded by the annonymity of blogger from any real consequence. Oh--he is absolutely right that I got his title wrong. I am not sure where that crept in but it's my mistake.

I'll make a few comments at the end but in all fairness you oughta get a chance to read what he says before I weigh in. Here is the exchange that took place in the comments:
Bonjour. Thanks for all of the recognition on your blog, but I must set the record straight. First, I am not a Vice President, I am but a lowly director, but thanks for the promotion. Second, all of the stuff in the profile is true. I was born in La Rochelle, France so I do love all things french, the Pelican Brief is among my favorite movies (I listed it because I thought it was apropos), etc... As for living in Lafayette, I've spent about as much time there since May as I have in Tyler... It's my "home away from home." There are no lies sorry to say. Finally, I agree with you completely on the silliness... That was my intent. If we were all a little sillier about this, we'd all be better served. I hope you've had as much fun with it as I have. With that, I bid you goodbye.

TJCrawdad | Email | Homepage | 09.28.04 - 2:06 pm | #

Ah, you know how it is. There are all these people who think a lie is a lie. They are sooo unfun to have around. They tend to think that the word "resident" has some particular meaning. It's so irritating and unreasonable. They are the same annoying sort that tend to think that hiding behind a mask while you punch your legitimate opposition is, well, dishonest. You know, because they can’t punch back.

Such fun to take a little shot from the dark. Wink, Wink, Nudge, Nudge, Tee Hee....

If you don't want folks to say ugly things about you then you could always try being open and aboveboard. You could say who you are on the blog and who pays for the bread on your the table. You could try not lying about being a neighbor of the folks you are speaking to. This wasn’t some quiet little blog where someone wanted to muse in anonymity. This blog was advertised around the clock on channel 14 for weeks. Its intent was to deceive.
John | Email | Homepage | 09.28.04 - 10:48 pm | #

Did you really watch channel 14 for weeks around the clock? That should win you some kind of record.

Let me be clear about something; I blog for those who are my friends and who ARE your neighbors and for whom you have so little regard. They are the Cox employees who don't have the luxury of "blogging" like you do because they have real jobs. They work incredibly hard to try to provide quality services to their fellow residents. In the meantime, they have to listen to you and those of your ilk pontificate about things you know nothing about.

Tom Cantrell
a.k.a. TJCrawdad
TJCrawdad | Email | Homepage | 09.28.04 - 11:59 pm | #

Behind my "mask", as you call it, are over a hundred decent residents of Lafayette that work for our company that you have no qualms about dissing if they dare to have an opinion and express it in the letters to the editor. Incidently, it is not "my mask", it is "our mask"; I am our collective voice.

OK, I'll come clean; I get paid by Cox Communications to tell our side of the story and to stick up for our folks - to give a voice to people you clearly distain.

Now it's your turn; what are you in it for - glory, fame, money - your turn to come clean - and please don't give me that technology of the future jazz - you don't have a crystal ball and obviously you are no businessman.

Tom Cantrell
a.k.a. TJCrawdad
| 09.29.04 - 12:00 am | #

Honest injun Mr. Cantrell? I'm in it for my community and my grandchildren. I doubt that is actually so hard to understand.

There are values beyond glory, fame, or money. They don't appeal to everyone but they appeal to me.

I do appreciate your coming clean. Thanks.
| 09.29.04 - 12:53 am | #

Mr. Cantrell says: "I get paid by Cox Communications to tell our side of the story." Yes, and that is understandable. What I objected to and still object to is not simply saying that plainly. My guess is that he worries that saying so on his blog might impair his effectiveness--with the general population of Lafayette he hopes to sway and with the governmental officials that it is his day job to deal with. Secrecy is not an accident; it serves real, corporate purposes.

I don't buy the idea that Cantrell imposes on his employees out when he says: "I am our collective voice." I was a carpenter for nearly a decade and know what it's like to sweat all afternoon in the July sun and come home with salt crusted in the creases of my t-shirt. My experience leads me to guess that this executive doesn't speak for the linemen. If I were in their shoes I wouldn't like it. Maybe I'm wrong. But this "I am our collective voice." bit sounds awfully arrogant to me--and hardly gives him license to pretend to be a resident of Lafayette. For the record: I respect the folks who do the work and maintain the cable and internet connections that I use everyday. Its not hard to see they do a real job under tough conditions. I don't always find it possible to respect their bosses.

Finally, it's revealing to me that the possible motives for wanting a fiber network for Lafayette and fighting for it seem limited in Cantrell's view to "glory, fame, money." There is no glory, fame, or money in what I am doing on this website and no prospect of any. I am an educator--or at least that is what I have spent the largest part of my life doing. There was no glory, fame, or money in that either. My wife and I came back to Lafayette because we love Louisiana and our people and want to be with our children and grandchildren. I want the very best for Lafayette and those six small children. Nobody needs to pay me.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Why We Don't Have Fiber to the Home

David Isenberg in his VON Magazine column, The Edge-Centric, lays out in a direct and readable form the reasons behind the US being stuck without a fiber to the home infrastructure. Isenberg blames incumbent self-interest (my favorite explanation) and the unhealthy willingness of our lawmakers to go along with their demands. —Isenberg makes the increasingly common point that:
FTTH is a political no-no in the US because the interests of incumbent telcos and cablecos inordinately drive public policy. FTTH eliminates the scarcity of connectivity that makes what telcos sell valuable. It’s even worse for the cablecos–TV over IP, which FTTH would make possible, would decimate the cablecos just as VoIP is gutting the telcos today. Terrence McGarty of the Merton Group says that today’s practical FTTH architectures destroy monopoly control. Telcos and cablecos, realizing this, have erected political barriers to FTTH; for example, the fiber exemption in the most recent FCC Triennial Review.
Regular readers of our site will not be surprised at that conclusion but what might further interest you is his reporting on the rapidly falling expense of installing fiber optic networks; a factor that makes fiber even more economically advantageous than it has been to date. Even factoring out the wrong-headed temptation to drop universal service in favor of easy bucks (which won't tempt our utility) that's great.

That the price of connecting homes has been dropping rapidly can be nothing but good news for our local utility.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Giant Sucking Sounds

America's Network has a story that validates a major point we've been making here for a while: the Cox/BellSouth alliance against LUS is artificial and cannot last.

As this article points out, cable companies like Cox are poised to take major market share from incumbent local exchange carriers (ILECs) like BellSouth by rolling out internet-based telephony in the form of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP).

The LUS fiber project is something of a welcomed distraction for BellSouth. The fact is that Cox is about to take a huge bite out of BellSouth's customer and revenue bases with this new initiative and, because BellSouth has no entertainment package and no network infrastructure robust enough to match the Cox offerings, they are going to be at a competitive disadvantage in south Louisiana for years to come.

That first giant sucking sound you hear will be Cox taking market share away from BellSouth. The second could be LUS doing the same to both of those companies once its system is up and running, and beyond the legal challenges which are as sure to come as the sun morning.

Six universities board high-tech superhighway

The LONI (Louisiana Optical Network Initiative) fiber optic network connecting state universities was recently promoted to the legislature as a potential engine of economic development according to an Advertiser article. Its nice to see folks talking about the benefits of fiber, even if it isn't our own (yet).

Lafayette's university, UL will be one of the chief beneficiaries of LONI and its connection to Lambda, the next generation high-speed internet testbed that will run through Louisiana. LONI will hook into Lambda in Baton Rouge and arc out to New Orleans with a loop around the rest of Louisiana that includes Lafayette. Part of what's great about this is that by hooking directly into Lambda LONI users will be able to participate as peers in their interactions with the most prestisious schools in the nation. They will have as fast a connection as anyone—they will be equals in that important regard. Crucial to the success of LONI is the ability to push a huge amount of bandwidth. But to do that it is important not only that it be technically possible, it is also essential that it be affordable. Lots of bandwidth can be lots of expense. Technical feasibility is not enough. Lambda makes it affordable as well because there is no intermediary between the internet and user that charges a fortune to access the internet. LONI is like an interstate onramp--it allows users to get on the high speed, interconnected, essentially free, internet without driving on a toll road to get there.

Most of us are in the situation of paying for a toll road in order to access the free highway. But the LONI/Lambda connection cuts out the middleman. By relying entirely on themselves the universities and the state have created a system where no outsider has to be paid. Without that none of the universities could afford to use the nifty new system. And the best system would go unused or underutilized.

LONI and Lambda will light up some of that dark fiber running along I-10. But there is plenty more. You have to wonder if LUS can't pick up on some of that mojo too; and cut a deal with the state to light up a bit more and pick up its own direct connection into a national backbone. Sure would save a bundle of money. And, like the LONI/Lambda system, it would mean that only local capacity, not external costs, would limit the amount of bandwidth that could be affordably made available to local users. Now that is an end to be devoutly wished.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Cingular Merger with AT&T Threatens Cingular Jobs — including those in Lafayette!

If you can, think back to those days of late spring/early summer, when BellSouth and Cox Communications were floundering about for effective arguments against the proposed LUS fiber to the premises project. (At last report, they were still floundering, but had given up on the effective arguments piece.)

If you can recall those early days of this struggle, you may recall that a sometimes whispered threat coming off the lips of the BellSouth folks was that the LUS project could somehow jeopardize the thousand or so jobs at the Cingular call center in Lafayette.

Those threats were subtle; something like, "gee, it would be terrible if something happened to those Cingular jobs if the company's owners (BellSouth owns 40 percent of Cingular, while SBC owns 60 percent) no longer felt welcome here."

Well, Monday's New York Times confirms the bad news: Cingular's call center jobs like those in Lafayette are, in fact, "in play." But, the threat has nothing to do with LUS.

No, according to this New York Times story on the pending merger between Cingular Wireless and AT&T Wireless, those jobs are in play because of that merger itself.

A paragraph near the end of the story lays out the likely places where opportunities for 'efficiencies' may be found:

Given that Cingular and AT&T Wireless combined will have nearly 70,000 employees, analysts expect thousands of workers to be laid off. The first jobs to go may be the roughly 10,000 contract workers the two companies employ, including those technicians working remotely and operators at call centers. Staff reductions at the headquarters of both companies are also likely.

So, the BellSouth boys weren't bluffing: those Cingular call center jobs may well be in jeopardy. The fact that they are in jeopardy due to the actions of the company itself — and not LUS — must have just been a little detail that somehow slipped the BellSouth machine's attention.

Not that there was any intent to mislead or anything like that — honest! It was all just an innocent mistake! Right! And Saddam Hussein is still developing weapons of mass destruction.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Disinfo Alert: Echo Chamber

Disinformation Alert: Echo Chamber Strategy Emerges. We continue at Code: Yellow

The unlamented TJCrawdad has risen from the dead and is blogging his little brand of lies and innuendo yet again. TJCrawdad is better known by the name his momma gave him and his bosses at Cox call him by: Tom Cantrell and is vice president "governmental relations" at Cox.

This guy had been blogging as TJCrawdad and using the anonymity of Blogger to lie to folks about being a resident of Lafayette. I'll bet dollars to donuts the rest of his all-too-cute blogger profile where he claims his favorite novel is "The Pelican Brief" and his favorite music is Zydeco and Cajun and his favorite authors are classic French novelists. (Victor Hugo and Alexander Dumas. Really?) is all lies too. Not only is this just disgusting it's also arrogant and condescending. He thinks we are all rubes and will fall for the most transparent of lies.

Since TJCrawdad was exposed as Cantrell his blog had gone decently offline but today he returns with an innovation: the anonymous echo chamber. The still concealed Cox vice president quotes, with gleeful satisfaction a letter to the editor by an employee whose conspicuously leaves out his employment. Surprise, the employee agrees with the boss. Hey, the boss approves of the letter. Nobody has to mention any thing about their real role in life. All very chummy, all very funny, wink, wink, nod, nod. How clever we are... God, how I hate this stuff.

If Cox had any honor and any desire to be respected they would pull this guy down and hide him in a closet somewhere. But they do not. Because honor and truth aren't in them. They are not interested in that stuff, no profit in it. They are just interested in winning by laying out a little more fear, uncertainty and doubt.

The next time you see a little piece of Cox propaganda remember that they can't be trusted; they are just not honest. Caught in a lie they repeat the lie. It doesn't matter to people like this.

The Vice President's latest little piece of misinformation. HERE
The Vice President's all-too-cute Blogger Profile. HERE
The Employee Letter and why it is hogwash. HERE

How we know that TJCrawdad is the vice president. HERE
How we know that letter writer is a Cox Employee. HERE

I have a hard time getting over stuff like this. Sleeze.

I've pretty obviously lost patience with these guys. I've discovered that I feel differently about different classes of liars. Some folks lie in order to get something and you can tell it bothers them because they trouble themselves to tell a good lie and to tell as few as possible. I really don't like that but it doesn't make the bile rise. You oppose those guys and watch 'em like hawks. Other folks lie becaues they want to put something over on you in order to take what they shouldn't have. They'd like to feel a contempt for you because it makes them feel superior and in some twisted way justifies their deception. Those folks make my bile rise. Cox has managed to make my bile rise. - Small towns tired of slow rollout create own high-speed networks

My friend Skip Picou brought this USA Today story from yesterday's paper to my attention.

Danville, Virginia, is bringing gigabit Ethernet to every home and business in their community using the same technology as that being deployed in Provo, Utah.

It's a pretty comprehensive article, looking at the broader municipal fiber movement (including our friends in the Tri-Cities of Illinois) as well as the particulars of the Danville, VA, deal.

Viewed in this context, the still cooking LUS plan is part of a broad movement of municipalities to bring to their communities the 21st century infrastructure that private sector providers either can not or will not bring.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Broussard Mayor Redux

Feisty Mayor Langlinais of Broussard has entered the fiber fray again. In a letter published in today's Advertiser the Mayor takes a critic to task for saying that telecom isn't a utility that local governments should provide—and to set the record straight on the state of Broussard's water problems. He reiterates his, and other local mayor's hope that LUS will expand its service into the surrounding areas. The idea that local governments cooperate in that way was lent substrance by the story he recounts of the way Lafayette and Youngsville helped Broussard out during its water troubles. Its good to have friends.

One portion of Mayor Langlinais's letter gives me a chance to help him out a bit. He says that he suspects the letter writer of having ties to Cox or BellSouth. He need suspect no longer: the writer, Steve Plukett, is indeed a Cox employee as I reported shortly after his letter appeared.

I've waited to post this today because I'd like to post a link to the Advertiser. One of the better things about the net is that you don't have to take my word for what an online document says. You can go look at it yourself. But the letter refuses to show up. Now this is odd because the same thing happened the last time the good mayor stepped into our local fiber fray. His letter appeared in the print version but never made it online. Considering the spotty nature of the Advertiser's site I have a hard time giving into any little paranoid fantasies. But really they ought to get more consistent with their updating.

But there is no reason to wait. In the interest of full documentation of the Lafayette Fiber Battle I've scanned the letter in for your reading pleasure:

Image of Broussard's Mayor's 2nd Letter

Exhibit Sidebar, pictures of a possible future

Mike posted reactions to our visit to the Broadband Trailer yesterday earlier and it is well worth scrolling down to or taking the jump to its stand-alone page. For those of us who simply hunger to see a few concrete images of our much-anticipated future I've snapped a few pics to pass on.

The broadband trailer against the magnificent background of the Cajundome:

The next image is of the "LUS" labled Network Interface Device sitting beside your power meter with the emergency power module that would hold a small battery to power the system during short power outages is below the power meter.

With the interface box open you can see the yellow fiber going into the box's electronics with video coax, 2 ethernet ports, and 4 plain old telephone plugs coming out. We'll likely be seeing something very like this in Lafayette if Mike and I are reading the tea leaves correctly. It would be possible to unplug your existing phone and coax drops, run a patch cord from them to your new LUS box and continue on as if nothing had really happened—if you've stuck to basic, analog cable TV and haven't switched over to VOIP (or dropped your landline) by the time LUS gets to your house.

How long it will all be useful is the issue Mike raises in his post. My concerns parallel but don't entirely spring from the same place as Mike's. My tech background is via education and design and so I have less of a technical emphasis. Education and design are applications, things that are done with technology. So I worry about what one can do with technology and through both experience in those fields and native inclination I am inclined to push for anything that enhances the ability of the user and disinclined to think that limits of any sort are smart. Students and creatives, in my experience, always have a way of finding and smacking into any barrier that's available. The better way is always to get out of the way. IMHO. On the other hand I've made many a compromise with that principle. You can't teach unless you set limits. (The trick is to make sure none of the limits are ones that keep a student from going where they end up needing to go.) I'm sympathetic to neccessary limits but easily irritated by unnessary ones.

They way that sort of thinking applies here is that I want to be reassured that any limits put in place are really necessary, for solid, practical reasons and that it can be easily, and inexpensively removed when it becomes unnecessary or counterproductive.

I'm begining to suspect that the PR battle for Lafayette is over and that LUS has won. Cox and BellSouth. Cox and BellSouth did their worst and it didn't seem to disturb the people of Lafayette very much. They haven't tried to misrepresent the recent feasibility study; something I find shocking. Apparently Lafayette has decided to trust local folks and to opt for hope instead of fear. I get the sense that LUS thinks so to. If that is true it might just be possible to reciprocate that trust and start talking with the people of Lafayette about the real choices that have to be made. Trying to make sense of common problems is what a strong community does. And participating in the process is what makes a community strong.

None of these issues raised here lessen our support for LUS and a publicly-owned fiber optic network for Lafayette. It's more that we've grown fond of LUS' baby even though we've never really met the fella. But we'd sure like to. We've been willing to fight to see him given a chance to be born. And we'd like to see him grow up strong and tall.

Exhibit showcases how fiber optics works

The Daily Advertiser has posted a story on the ADC fiber trailer which stopped in Lafayette on Tuesday. John and I made it there for what we thought would be a brief visit. Almost two hours later, we went our separate ways, carrying with us more questions than we had when we arrived.

We spoke with Pat Sims of ADC who also happens to be a member of the Fiber To The Home Council, a trade group of companies involved in various aspects of this national technology infrastructure movement.

Mr. Sims was a wealth of information and tolerated our many questions focused on various approaches to fiber network architecture and configuration.

One of the major things that I took away from this session is the confirmation of points we've made with varying degrees of effectiveness here: specifically, that EVERYTHING is migrating to Internet Protocol-based services — voice and cable video included (data is already there).

The source for most of the new questions we have is the information contained in the draft feasibility study released by LUS last week when viewed from the perspective of where the technology is heading versus the direction LUS hints that it is heading in the pages of its feasibility study.

The session with Pat Sims confirmed my fears that the LUS team is not looking far enough "down the field" to see where the technology is heading. Or, perhaps worse, sees where the technology is heading but does not recognize the implications of that on network architecture and bandwidth usage.

The danger from this, as I see it, is that LUS might deploy a compromised system that will have more limited value to the community than might be feasible if a clearer-eyed view of trends were applied. It seems to me that LUS has been paying too much attention to BellSouth and others at the expense of heeding Carter Mead's advice of "listening to the technology." Mead has played a critical role in the development of digital technology. You can learn more about him in George Gilder's 1989 book Microcosm: The Quantum Revolution in Economics and Technology, which details the history of the science which led to the development of the microchip and assesses the impact of things like Moore's Law.

Again, speaking only for myself, this concern is compounded by the fact that it appears that the LUS plan is not going to meet the rough deployment timeline which LUS Director Terry Huval laid out for the Consolidated Government Council and the public in a hearing before the council in June. At that meeting, Huval said that it was possible that LUS could beginning to deploy its system as early as the end of 2005. That no longer appears to be likely, as now appears that LUS will not even present its plan to the Council for action until October — at the earliest.

Based on the construction schedule of iProvo in Utah, rollout of the entire system could take at least 18 months. So, it is reasonable to assume that LUS is three — maybe four — years away from full deployment of its fiber to the premises system. The applications that will drive bandwidth demand at that point in the future probably don't exist now; they're being developed or are being tested in other fiber-rich environments like South Korea or Japan.

What is worrisome about the information contained in the draft feasibility study is that LUS appears to be inclined to deploy a system that is better suited for a provider seeking to preserve investments in legacy technologies, such as that of telephone or even less advanced cable companies. I heavily qualify this statement because the draft feasibility is a work in progress, so we don't really know what the details of the LUS proposal will ultimately look like.

For instance, in its feasibility study, LUS says it will buy a telephone switch. With Cox, BellSouth and other providers having announced their intentions to (eventually) migrate all of their voice services to Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), why is LUS — which has no investments in copper infrastructure or switching capacity to protect — considering investing millions of dollars in switching technology? That technology only has relevance in systems burdened by legacy infrastructure. LUS has no such legacy technologies in place, yet the draft feasibility study has them considering equipment purchases that would make sense only if they did.

At one point during the visit in the trailer, I told Pat Sims that it looked to me that LUS was contemplating retrofitting essentially obsolete technologies onto a fiber system in order to make the transition more palatable for customers. He said that's exactly what they appear to be doing. He based this on the fact that the technology deployed in the demonstration box that LUS is including in its public show and tells was actually specified by BellSouth, SBC and the other Regional Bell Operating Companies (RBOCs). This equipment was specifically designed to help maximize existing RBOC investments in plain old telephone service (POTS) and legacy (i.e., obsolete technologies) such as asynchronous transfer mode (ATM) switching technologies.

None of this is necessary (nor, some would argue, even desirable) in a modern, fiber-based system being built from the ground up. None of it is present in the iProvo model touted by Mayor Lewis Billings in his speech at The IndExpo last week. iProvo's system is going to deliver 100 megabits of data capacity to every customer location in that city. The approach backed by the RBOCs (and, it appears, by LUS) will deliver much less bandwidth to customers.

Pat Sims said yesterday that the thinking behind this RBOC-oriented approach is that "customers will not need more" than the 24 megabits or so of data that this approach affords customers.

This strikes me a just flat wrong.

This is a clear example of the RBOC mindset of managing bandwidth scarcity. The purpose of moving to fiber optic systems is to enable customers to operate within the context of bandwidth abundance.

The notion that an RBOC or LUS "knows" with any degree of certainty how much bandwidth customers will "need" flies in the face of the fact that bandwidth usage continues to grow exponentially. Driving that growth is a steady stream of new applications, none of which existed a few years ago. This stream shows no sign of abating. If the experience of places like South Korea, where fiber is being deployed to every home and business, is any indication, ubiquitous access to fiber speeds the growth of bandwidth demand even faster. Erring on the low side of bandwidth provision is what RBOCs have consistently done — much to the chagrin of customers. For LUS to adopt this same approach when building a spanking new network would be unforgivable.

Recognizing that the feasibility study was a draft — a work in progress — John and I had agreed that it would be best to refrain from expressing our concerns pending either clarification from LUS or our gaining access to better information.

Thanks to the fact that ADC brought their trailer to town and we had the opportunity to benefit from our discussions with Pat Sims, I now believe that reservations about what appears to be the overly conservative LUS approach to be this network investment (from a technological, if not a financial standpoint) are more pronounced — and possibly more substantive — than the were before we spent time in the ADC trailer.

My questions have nothing to do with the advisability of the fiber project itself, but rather what the architecture of the network will be. The decisions made now are going to impact the development and evolution of that network — and this city — for decades to come. We should not undershoot what is possible and certainly should not rush to embrace an approach that is based on the concept of limiting the utilization of the network assets. Having taken the audacious step of announcing its intent to pursue a fiber to the premises strategy, for LUS to lose its nerve now and deploy a system that is only incrementally better than systems currently in place would be a tragedy.

I make no bones about it. I view our role here to play the role of maximalists — to point to what is possible and to make the case for pursuing that goal in a vigorous, but realistic manner. Looks like we are going to have to assume that role in earnest now.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Palo Alto Update; quintuple play revisited

LPF posted a note yesterday pointing to Palo Alto's community meeting and expressing support for their project. Today they have an update which announces that their guest speaker developed the feasibility study for Lompoc City in California.

Now that would be enough alone to pique our interest, considering the recent landing (with a considerable though muffled thud) of our utility's feasibility study. Its worthwhile to look at another feasibility study and see what others do with the idea. The comparison is instructive. Lompoc's, for instance, is clearly intended to be widely read and is designed for public consumption.

What might interest close readers of this blog (and certainly intersts this writer) is that the feasibility study suggests that Lompoc go for a "quadruple" play: Voice, Video, Telephony...and Wireless. You will recall that I posted on that earlier in a piece called "Philly's WiFi Cloud and the Quituple Play." Philly is considering a double play: wireless internet and WiFi phones. At that point I fanatasized that Lafayette could turn its triple play into a quintuple by adding in a simple, cheap wifi network to provide Lafayette with a pervasive "cloud" of connectivity.

Snippets from that post:

But what makes it interesting is that it leads you to realize how easy it would be to turn a triple play in Lafayette in a quintuple play by adopting Philly's plan. Imagine: superfast internet in the home, a WiFi blanket that covers the city with more speed than you can currently buy from the incumbents for home use, a phone in the home that has the same number as the one that you carry out to the mall, and gobs of digital HD TV. All for one low, low utility price.

It could happen; neither startup cost nor technology would be much, if any, barrier.

The incremental costs of adding a WiFi net to the fiber net would be small. (Or maybe WiMax if it actually matures.) Five percent of the fiber? I haven't done the numbers but I'd bet no more and probably less. The costs of adding voice (VOIP) to that would be nil. All that needs is software which is already available—some of it is already there in free form .... The monster bandwidth of fiber makes the additional cost of bandwith barely visible.

From Lompoc's feasibility study:

An economically viable data-only service based on unlicensed spectrum using the 802.11 (Wi-Fi) standard could be deployed throughout the City of Lompoc within weeks or months for....aproximately 5% of the cost of a fiber optic network.

Isn't it nice to be right once in awhile?

Let's continue to dream here folks. Boldness has been a recent theme here. For my money (and it will be my money) pushing hard and presenting a very attractive, unique, nay visionary plan to the people is the way to excite the public and their representatives and ensure construction of a viable network. I worry about the current quietist approach...Acadians go for a little flavor, a little zest. Slow, gray, and safe is less popular here than in the rest of the world. (Ok, there is no fair way to present our current plan as slow, grey, or safe...but hey why not kick it up an notch?)

Broadband Trailer

From an LUS email; should be interesting.
But it certainly raises questions. What's the story behind this road show trailer coming to Lafayette right now? What is the role of ADC? Of other vendors we've seen lately like Wave7. Don't know. Would like to...

This looks like a fun thing to go visit though—so go and ask your own questions. But don't expect to get an answer to my questions. (Said with smiles and a little rueful shake of the head.) Still, the technical should be a lot of fun for the gearheads among us.

ADC The Broadband Company

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Visit the mobile exhibit trailer to learn more about:

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Monday, September 20, 2004

Worthwhile reading at LUS Fiber To The Home (FTTH)

Doug over at LUS Fiber To The Home (FTTH) has several worthwhile reads posted.

Most interesting to readers who have been following our "chat" is Doug's response to a question posted here regarding the value of fiber optics. Take a look.

Also worth taking a gander at: an article from PC world detailing the services some telecos are rolling out and a nifty article illustrating the disinformation principle of lying by telling the truth. In the latter article you will discover that criticism of new IP-based phone systems (like Vonage or LUS projected phone service) for failing when the electricity fails are perfectly accurate. Only the focus really shouldn't be IP-based systems but rather on fiber-based systems. Why misdirect our attention? Because as BellSouth improves its own system to be more thoroughly fiber-based it encounters the same problem—as is being uncomfortably and dramatically demonstrated by their current problems in bringing Florida's phone system all the way back up.

Fiber To The Home; towards an FTTH utility

Just wanted to post a brief note of support for the folks in Palo Alto who are trying to get their FTTH project back on line. Good luck at your community meeting

New Content: The Pro Fiber Disinformation Advisory System Launch

Lafayette Pro Fiber launched the Lafayette Pro Fiber Disinformation Advisory System today. It's a tounge-in-cheek, sly little bit of fun and naughtiness that may prove useful as well. Canille, ya might say.

The threat advisory system launches with a Code Yellow: Elevated alert due to the likelihood of a major disinformation attack on LUS' recent feasibility study.

Modeled on the national threat advisory system, the Lafayette Pro Fiber Disinformation Advisory System pokes fun at the disingeneous disinformation served up to our community by the incumbent providers.

More info on our front page; the system is described on the Threat System page, and information on what our citizens can do to defend themselves is provided on the Citizen Guidance page.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

What makes it feasible? Part 1

We've heard that LUS's recently released feasibility study showed that their entering the telecommunications market as utility can succeed. But what does that mean? I've been trying to figure that out myself while I read over the admittedly thin study.

Stripped down to the bare essentials feasibility is all about competitive advantage. A idea is feasible if it exploits your opponents weakness and builds on your strengths in ways that make it possible for you to get into the game and succeed.

So what are LUS' competitive advantages? What makes them think they can get into the game and succeed?

The somewhat paradoxical answer is that we can be confident LUS is in a position to succeed against Cox and BellSouth because our local utility is not playing their game. The incumbents want us to believe they are so panicky because somehow the playing field is not "level." Not so, that idea is just intended to distract us and motivate their troops. The truth is the incumbents are playing a game—largely against each other—that LUS does not want to succeed in, does not need to succeed in, and just won't bother to play. And that is what really so frightens BellSouth and Cox. The incumbent's fear is reasonable for they cannot hope to win in the game LUS actually will pursue.

The game Cox and BellSouth are playing is about maximizing profit, short term profit, quarterly reports, meeting earnings expectations and, ultimately, showing a steady growth in share price. That is the game in which they must succeed. It rough going out there. Both telcos and cablecos are actually loosing subscribers to their bread & butter services to similar services offered by cell phone companies and satellite TV. Their advantage is the greater capacity and reliability of their hardwired connection to the home. But to maximize that advantage and continue to grow they must take on each other. In the larger scheme of things we are witnessing a battle field truce between mortal enemies in which they join to try an swat a third party that threatens to reshape the game each expects to win.

LUS is by contrast wants to succeed at a different game. Their game is about maximizing service, creating long term value, gaining and maintaining the confidence of their owner/customers, saving the public and the city money, and ultimately, returning increasing value to their owners--the citizens of Lafayette.

LUS' central and crucial competitive advantage is that it is owned by its customers. BellSouth and Cox, rightly, seek to transfer customer money to owners in exchange for services. They do seek to maximize the profit they make here in order to send it off. That is right and proper—for them and is part of the game they play. But LUS does not need and is not particularly motivated to gather as much profit in as it can. It just needs to get enough to maintain itself and continue to improve service. It does need to benefit its owners. But they don't have to charge more for their services to do so. They can (and this must seem bizarre to BellSouth and Cox) decide to give more to their "owners" by charging their "customers" less. They can choose a plan that is most cost-efficient over the next 2o or 25 years instead of needing to show a profit in the next couple of quarters because their owners are less interested in current profit-taking than building long-term value in the community. LUS is motivated by its owners to serve them all...even in those areas of town that aren't "low-hanging fruit." It can sacrifice immediate profit-taking in order to provide universal service--and will. Any good economist will tell you that this long-term value-oriented approach leads to high "take" levels and ultimately makes for long-term profitability and market dominance. But the incumbents simply cannot do the smart thing here. .....They are playing a different, weaker, game.

LUS can play a longer, smarter game. Not because they are richer or smarter. But because it is in the interests of their owners that they do so.

And that, my friends, is the basic reason why LUS can succeed and why the idea of a publicly-owned fiber optic network is feasible.

Just how that principle plays out in practice, and in the feasibility study is interesting. And future installments of "What makes it feasible?" will explore just that.Check back.

More Boldness

Before I even get started on this post let me directly declare, for reasons that will become clear shortly, my own position on LUS providing a fiber optic network clearly: I am a full-throated supporter of LUS building Lafayette's fiber optic network. I support the idea before I see a detailed plan because I think it obvious that a true, high-capacity broadband network would hugely benefit Lafayette and that this essential and unique piece of infrastructure should be owned by the people of Lafayette—chiefly because that is the only way to assure that it will be operated in their interests. I reserve the right to dissent from various details (and fully expect to so dissent) while continuing to be a full-throated supporter of the basic idea and LUS.

On to the substance..........

Doug, speaking only for himself, at LUSFTTH has written a response to my "A Very Bold and Needed Step" posting where I called for more boldness among the business and tech community in visibly supporting LUS. I am happy to "chat" about this; In fact I have been hoping for a wider discussion of fiber issues, and a especially a wider discussion among supporters of the "idea" of an LUS fiber initiative. (If not of every detail suggested by LUS.) We've reached a point where open conversation about real issues would benefit all—LUS and the public at large; we are in the final two month run and really can't wait any longer to start talking if we are to have a conversation at all.

I'd love to see others join in and urge readers to "catch up" on the conversation by taking a look at my post and Doug's response.

A brief recap for those who prefer the Cliff Notes: I talked about an incident after the recent INDExpo breakfast during which I was uncomfortable discussing the tepid support of the Chamber, LEDA, and Zydetech for LUS' idea. I closed by asking for a little more boldness from our business leadership. Doug responds (or so I say, check this for yourself) by defending LEDA and the Chamber's actions as ones which legitimated the concept of broadband, got the facts out, and established that their "membership was not adamantly opposed to the exploration of LUS doing a feasibility study" among other points.

My post only vaguely alluded to old positions; I was looking to the future and was worried about the visibility of business and technology leaders during the two month window we are now in leading up to the formal presentation to the City-Parish Council of a plan for their vote. It was a plea for business and tech leaders who have not already done so to put aside caution and short-term self-protection in support of the larger interests of the community—and their own longer-term interests as well.

I want to return to a focus on what to do in the future. Here is what seems to me both possible and valuable:

More business leaders (and not only business leaders) need to step forward together and visibly and forcefully endorse the idea—and only the idea—of LUS building a fiber to the home and business network. That is all; no approval is required of a particular plan that isn't yet created. The endorsement would be simple: Lafayette needs and LUS should build a fiber optic network to its homes and businesses. The chorus the community need to hear is simple: Go LUS!

We are at a crossroads right now. The next two months will be crucial in shaping the future of Lafayette. The incumbent's tactics haven't left us with the luxury of dotting every i and crossing every t before we take a firm position. We won't have time to nail down details before the plan hits the council. We must act now or forfeit our ability to act at all.

Honestly, waiting for some detailed "plan" of pointedly unspecified quality is both unnessary and unusual. We regularly endorse ideas--for a new park to serve an expanding area, building a new high school, or extending Ambassador Caffery long before the details are or even can be known. Widespread support is considered necessary before we go to the work and expense of detailed plans. Business support is necessary in this instance because a united front on this issue would go far to put to rest the incumbent's drumbeat that there is something wrong with a public utility even thinking about providing communications services. Waiting for a plan is a red herring. It distracts attention from the fact that the actual decision that has been made is to do nothing visible until it is safer and more comfortable. But what the community needs now is for its leadership to be bold.

I suggest that only two things need to be widely agreed upon to allow folks to be bold in support of the idea:
1) That the benefits of a fiber optic network far outweigh the benefits of any alternative. (Not building it or the practical technological alternatives.)
2) That it would be best if LUS built and controlled Lafayette's fiber network on behalf of the community'
If we can agree on these simple points then boldness in support of the idea of LUS providing a fiber optic network would not be imprudent. It would be only sensible. What would be imprudent would be to not watchdog the development and implementation of the eventual plan. And, frankly, it would be much easier to be a prudent watchdog if you were clearly understood to be a supporter of the basic idea. Real watchdogs, after all, are members of the households they defend.

Let's look to the future, let's talk about these issues.

Comments, everyone?

To be both concrete and bold myself let me ask the first question: Doug, acknowledging upfront that you've been a clear and effective advocate of broadband, what about the rest of point one: Do you agree that fiber optics is clearly superior to any practical alternative? Let's get the ball rolling.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Lightwave Magazine on iProvo

Lightwave magazine — as it name hints — covers the fiber optic networking industry. The September edition of the PenWell magazine contains a pretty detailed article on the technologies involved being used in the iProvo system that Provo, Utah, Mayor Lewis Billings talked about in his appearance at The IndExpo in Lafayette on Thursday morning.

Friday, September 17, 2004

A Very Bold and Needed Step

Doug over at LUSFTTH blogged a point I shamefacedly admit I missed during the breakfast, musta been sopping up my grits and grillades. Neither of the papers reports it either. But it is worth considering what he reports took place during the awards ceremony:
I would be [remiss] if I didn't point out that Chuck Vincent took a very bold and needed step during his 2 minutes at the microphone. He adamantly showed support for this community to deploy a FTTH network. (link)
I really wish my attention hadn't wavered because I needed the reference point a little later. One of the guys from Wave7 who was clearly trying to get up to speed on the local scene asked about the business community. My response was to the effect that many of the strongest supporters were from the business sector but that the organizations had stood pat. He'd done his web research and carefully listed the major tech/business organizations: LEDA, the Chamber, and Zydetech, and asked which ones had endorsed the LUS project. I squirmed a bit...none. LEDA and the Chamber, I had to inform him, had come out for "fiber" as a nifty idea in the abstract but not for the only possible realistic source of fiber: LUS. He seemed shocked. He had every right. I was embarassed.

We need a little more Boldness from those who see themselves as courageous visionaries and fearless entrepreneurs. Now is the time to step up to the plate and risk a little something for the sake of the community—and everyone's long-term self-interest.

(By the way...the business scene wasn't the only scene that interested the Wave7 guys. They'd been to the Blue Moon the night before and had that scene covered--he and his partner were copying down the name of local bands off borrowed CD's during the breakfast. For a bit there it was hard to get 'em to talk fiber...)

Content Update: LPF Posts Billings Article

There's new content in Fact Check: Provo Mayor Billings: Fiber Debate About Economic Future of Cities. A pull quote from the story:
"Every city will ultimately have to decide whether it will step up to the plate," Billings said. "This is about whether we want to do what we've always done, which is, essentially, mark time. Or do we want to step up to the plate and make the investments that will produce jobs and a better future for our communities?"
Get it while it's hot.

Two Three Doses of Fiber

Update: 8:50—an earlier version of this story written in the wee hours of the morning missed the Advocate's separate story on the Utah mayor's speech. Blanchard and the Advocate sensibly decided these were separate stories and reported them as such. But they have yet to put the Mayoral story online leaving me to think that they'd not covered Billings' speech until I saw the hard copy. Ooops. I'll link to the second one when it goes up.

Both the Advertiser and the Advocate cover yesterday's fiber events.

Our local paper, the Advertiser, ran "Utah mayor talks about future of fiber optics" and in the Advertiser's version the story was about the Mayor of Provo, the differences and similarities between the communities of Provo and Lafayette and the plans they offer for fiber to the home.

The Advocate, in a story that has not made it online, "Provo, Utah mayor lauds LUS fiber-optic network," focuses on the Mayor's speech and recounts stories of how earlier doubters of technological innovation were proved wrong and Mayor Billings recitation of the mistakes the incumbents in Provo made that angered the community. (Sound familiar? I am sure Mayor Billings thought it might.)

Kevin Blanchard over at the Advocate in "Study: Fiber-optic plan can work" does his usual craftsmanlike job of reporting the feasibility study, giving you the necessary background in recent law to understand why it was done and citing Cox's public records' request so you know why it came out just now. It rolls out lots of the relevant data: on launch date (first customers in 2006), projected return to the city (69 million in lieu of taxes), low price pledge (20% savings averaged over all services) break-even market penetration (30%) and estimated citizen savings (190 million).

(Check out Mike's fuller story on Mayor Billings' speech. Good stuff.)

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Looking at the Feasibility study

An earlier post promised more after we'd secured a copy of the feasibility study that LUS was forced to turn over to Cox. Now that the study is in hand I can report its most outstanding quality. It is....thin.

Deliberately so, I have no doubt. Nothing appears that isn't the bare bones of what is required to report a responsible feasibility study. In all honesty that makes perfect sense.

LUS is in a battle, one not of its own making. They've been attacked, and attacked unfairly. They expect it to continue—with good reason. From that standpoint it makes no sense to hand your opponents any ammunition. You don't expose anything that you don't want shot up.

And it leaves folks like me, folks who'd like to see a good, spirited, public conversation about Lafayette's fiber plan frustrated and angry, even if we are sympathetic. The very worse thing about the incumbent's strategy is that it denies the people of Lafayette a chance to have a full, real, honest and open, discussion about our future fiber network. A discussion that could build our community's vision of itself, and bring it together as few investments could.

I've said it before and I say it again now. BellSouth and Cox are not members of the Lafayette Community. They are Atlanta-based conglomerates. Their interest in Lafayette is limited to the Return On Investment they can make here. Nobody does, or nobody should, take their protestations about being concerned for our well-being seriously. From push polls to throwing tantrums about the Fiber Forum to gratiously insulting those we elect to patronizingly telling us what we really want to lying about who they are on websites and blogs they have amply demonstrated that they are not members of the Lafayette community and deserve only to be ignored.

But with BellSouth and especially Cox shouting we can't have a decent conversation.

And we really ought to be very angry about that.

......ok, I feel just a little better. There is lots of interest in and lots to think about in the feasibility study. Even if it is thin. We'll give the real media a crack at it, blog their responses and fill in the gaps. You'll hear more from this location.

And Now it Begins Again

There are two sizable stories to cover today but the bottom line on both is the same: the Fiber To The Home conflict is about to heat up again.

One story is contained in today's Advertiser article "Study favorable to fiber plan" and the other is the presentations of Leonard Ray of the Fiber to the Home Council and Mayor Billings of Provo, Utah at this morning's IndExpo LUS sponsored "Bytes Before Breakfast" event. You'll get more here today on the presentations this morning.

But without doubt the feasibility study that is the focus of the Advertiser article will be more talked about over the next two months and will be the target of incumbent attack that are sure to follow. The article is short on detail but describes a feasibility study that is generally very favorable to LUS' fiber plan. It projects "take rates" (the percentage of the market that "takes" the service) that are 40% higher than is needed to pay the project off in a timely manner. All in all, good news for those who favor, as we do here, a publicly owned fiber optic network in Lafayette.

Caveats: The feasibility study is based on a tentative business plan; one that LUS is releasing only because it (unlike any private corporation) was forced to release the feasibility study by Cox and the Louisiana Cable Television Association demanding the study under freedom of information laws. They want it simply because they want 1) to have something to attack and 2) to have enough lead time to try and undercut LUS' advantages wherever the can. Yes, this is unfair, and no, no other business would have to tolerate the competition prying into their planning process. Recall all this when Cox tells you they are only fighting this fight for your benefit. NO, they are doing it for their own profit.

  • The battle royal will last at least about two months; that is the length of time LUS is projecting that it will be before the plan is finalized and presented to the City-Parish Council for a vote.
  • The new cost is projected to be about 119 million; about 20 percent higher than earlier estimates. Expect this to be the first line of attack.
  • Bottom line of the study: this is very feasible. Based on what I've looked at their numbers are very conservative.
  • Look for changes. The plan has not been finalized.
We are getting a copy of the feasibility study. More when we have some time to digest it.

Blogging the Bytes Before Business Event

This is a first for us. Blogging a live event!

John and I are at The IndExpo "Bytes Before Business" event. They're handing out the Dr. Ray Authement Business Awards. The award winners are: Nicholas Pugh of Datacomm/Stratos; Chuck Vincent of Global Data Systems; and C&C Technologies for, among other things, their work with CajunBot — the UL-Lafayette remote-controlled ATV that took part in the DARPA artificial intelligence competition earlier this year. They've also got an autonomous underwater vehicle program that found a WW II German uboat off the coast of Louisiana. That discovery was the feature of a documentary that has run on a number of cable channels in recent months.

We're sitting at a table with a couple of guys from Wave 7, an Atlanta-based company that provides the technology to make fiber-to-the-premises services possible. Uh, the breakfast is sponsored by LUS's Fiber is the Future project. Wonder if there's a connection? :-)

The main speaker for this shindig is the mayor of Provo Utah. He's being introduced by Leonard Ray of the Fiber to the Home Council. He's VP of that council, which is the industry association that encompasses companies and municipalities that are in various stages of deployment of FTTH projects. He's doing show and tell with old technology toys. He's got a Fischer-Price portable record player that he had as a child. His kids don't know what LPs or vinyl records are. Communications and entertainment devices are changing rapidly.

Pushing and pulling information across networks "that my grandfather and father used." Legacy networks are the past. "The future is fiber and this is what we need to compete in the future," he says. He notes the decline of the US in relative levels of broadband usage as compared to other countries. Last month in Japan, they connected 100,000 homes in one month. We put a man on the moon; we should not be last in broadband.

Paraphrases quote: The candle industry did not bring us the light bulb. It was brought to us by visionaries, innovators, by risk takers.

We'll put a separate story out on the speech later in the day.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Letter Alert

If you read the letters in this morning's Advertiser may have wondered why Mr. Evitt, a resident of Duson, is so quick to supply (dis)information to the citizens of Lafayette. Why? You guessed it. He works for Cox, a discomfiting fact he neglected to mention. (He testified for Cox at a city-parish council meeting in March.)

The disinformation:
  1. He tries to direct attention away from the Cox monopoly over cable TV with red herrings about contracts, LUS, and housing choices. (No, I don't quite understand it either, but that's what he says.)
  2. He likes competition, except when it is with the company that pays his check. In that case he decides that the false claim that the City-Parish "regulates" Cox should let it out of any competitive challenge. In fact, the City-Parish does not regulate Cox as it has repeatedly pointed out. It does have a contract with Cox. The difference? Regulators have the legal authority to force pricing and service plans on companies without their consent. Contracts are entered into by mutual consent. Sorry Cox, no matter what you are feeding your employees that pig won't fly.
  3. Then there is a little disjointed bit of vague fear about who is going to be serviced by LUS thrown in to complete the distasteful stew.

This sad thing is that this misleading approach is so common now that a letter like this hardly gets noticed as it does its little bit to poison the atmosphere with Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Not all Fiber Optic Networks Are Created Equal

Lafayette Pro Fiber has recently reflected on the difficulties that the Telco's short-sighted allegiance to short-term profit and a constantly rising share price produce for the user. (Open/closed Systems, The Road to Innovation, and Fiber, Who builds it Matters) The worry there was that the divergence of interests between share-holder owners, concerned chiefly for near-term share prices, and customer, concerned chiefly for service and price, produces dynamics in private, monopoly-owned networks that lead to poor service, high prices, and throttling bandwidth among others problems.

TelephonyOnline in ETHERNET GETS ACTIVE IN ITS PITCH AGAINST PON reviews a consequence of this issue as it effects hardware choices: the choice between PON and active, ethernet fiber architectures. BellSouth, Verizon, and SBC, have issued a request for proposal centered on PON architectures. But is PON the best, or merely the cheapest way to go in the short term? Here's the chunk that raises the question:
“The more subscribers you put on a passive network, the less bandwidth you're delivering to the user,” said Kantner. “This is kind of the dirty little secret of passive optical networks. To be the most cost effective, you have to have the maximum number of users, which is the worst case from a bandwidth perspective. At some point you have so many subscribers, you can't throw any more bandwidth at it.”

Indeed, much of the argument for PON rests largely on economics. In an effort to keep down civil engineering costs (the digging of the trench and actual construction elements), PON shares the most expensive network elements among all users. In areas where telcos want to minimize the amount of fiber deployed, PON architectures call for one fiber to be brought to a neighborhood node or optical line terminal where the signal is split up to 32 ways and sent to each home over another fiber.

In an active Ethernet network, carriers deploy significantly more fiber to neighborhood nodes, run all services over an Ethernet protocol and do an optical-to-electrical-to-optical conversion and include other active elements in the access network. By nature, active Ethernet architectures are point-to-point.In an active Ethernet network, carriers deploy significantly more fiber to neighborhood nodes, run all services over an Ethernet protocol and do an optical-to-electrical-to-optical conversion and include other active elements in the access network. By nature, active Ethernet architectures are point-to-point.
BellSouth is committing, again—as it has done with DSL and its flavors—to an incremental, limited, architecture that will require costly field upgrades to make available the full capacity of fiber optic networks. Given the demands of their ownership and the burden of a legacy system that choice may make sense for BellSouth. (Or not... it certainly does not acknowledge the impending bandwidth demands of HDTV which argue that those costly field upgrades will have to come sooner rather than later if they are to stand against Cox locally.)

We could do better for ourselves; and we should.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Lafayette Joins the Ranks of Cities Misrepresented by PFF

Wired has a story on the increasing resistence of cablecos and phone companies to municipal competition. It's a worthwhile story in its own right, giving a national overview of the problem and the preferred tactics of the corporations. But the bit of the tale that will most interest those of us in Lafayette is the habit of misrepresentation betrayed by Tom Lenard of the Progress and Freedom Foundation. Lenard traveled to Louisiana to tell us at the "academic forum" (LPF analysis, report) that municipal telecom utilities could not succeed. Apparently he has now decided that Lafayette has already failed. He is on tour again for the corporations, telling Wired that:
"All the empirical evidence has been that they are losing propositions," Lenard said. He said case studies of fiber-to-the-home projects in Ashland, Oregon and Lafayette, Louisiana, show that "telecom is a tough business" for private ventures who have more expertise than municipal agencies.
Of course there is no, and can be no, "case study" providing "empirical evidence" that telecom is either "tough" or a "losing proposition" in Lafayette since there has been no fiber-to-the-home project in Lafayette to study. This is the sort of thing that passes as evidence for Lenard and the Freedom and Progress Foundation, something well worth considering when their dog and pony show revisits Lafayette.

These guys are shameless.

Lafayette Pro Fiber interviews Andrew Cohill

Lafayette Pro Fiber posts its interview with Andrew Cohill, the former director of the ground-breaking Blacksburg Electronic Village in Virginia. C0hill, and the Blacksburg Electronic Village project, focused on community education about and community building using new communications technologies.

NYT on top of Ole Stodgy

Monday's New York Times carries a story on BellSouth that includes a look at the challenges and opportunities the company faces.

Cable is identified as the big threat. And it's being pressed across BellSouth's nine-state service area by the likes of Cox, Comcast and Charter. The story notes that BellSouth, like its Regional Bell Operating Company brethren SBC and Verizon, is scrambling to develop a video offering so that they can compete more directly with cable companies which are moving into telephony.

The infrastructure they will deploy to enter this business? Fiber optic networks. This tracks the BellSouth network road map presented a couple of weeks ago in Baton Rouge at the Louisiana Optical Network (LONI) conference.

The article also highlights the importance of Cingular to BellSouth's financial wellbeing. And mentions the possibility that the company may pursue a merger with AT&T that it passed on earlier.

The overall theme of the article is that BellSouth is beginning to shed some of its reputation for stodginess. It calls to mind that advertising campaign for that GM line of autos: "Not your father's Oldsmobile." Worked well for them, didn't it?

Actually, changing corporate culture is one of the toughest challenges in business. It's made all the more difficult by a rapidly evolving market place like BellSouth finds itself in now. The degree to which BellSouth is able to succeed at this transformation will determine whether the company prospers, declines into a takeover prospect, or goes the way of Oldsmobile.

LUS's fiber to the premises project is both emblematic of the challenges BellSouth faces, and the least of the company's worries. It's companies like Cox that pose the true threat. That's why this Lafayette alliance between these two corporate adversaries is so unnatural.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Baby Bells See Rivals Taking Fewer Phones

A Reuters story surveys the Baby Bells, including our own BellSouth, and find that they are pleased to report that competition is down since an FCC ruling that promises to allow them to raise rates on new leased lines. The juicy parts:
Industry executives and analysts have said due to the rule changes, the Baby Bells could recapture most of the 17 million local lines that competitors now lease under federal rules, boosting earnings.

Toben said Verizon was having an internal debate about how many of the roughly 3.6 million residential lines leased by its competitors it might be able to eventually win back over the next several years, with some estimates running as high as 80 percent.

Morgan Stanley's Dykes said BellSouth had also seen an impact "from AT&T, with their visible withdrawal, as well as MCI with their less visible withdrawal."
To that Louisiana residents should add EATEL, a major local reseller who recently got out of the market.

The loss of competition and the return to more nearly pure monopoly control over the phone network should be of concern not only for those who will soon be paying more for phone service than they would if ATT, MCI and EATEL were continuing to compete but also to those considering the implications for future telecom, data, and video services over those lines. Competition will exist only between network owners (e.g. Cox and BellSouth) with no competitors allowed on their lines.

Friday, September 10, 2004

A Competitive Elixer: Unbuilt Louisiana project brings progress

This Broadband Reports story notices that Lafayette is the only location in the Middle America Cox (MAC) district of Cox to get the upgrade that Cox has supplied to both coasts. The implication: Lafayette gets the upgrade because it is considering a municipal fiber network and Cox is trying to clean up its act.

Middle America Cox subscribers have long complained on discussion boards that they pay the same amount for their broadband connections that the more privleged sections of the country pay for much higher speeds. A major complaint is that most recent three upgrades applied in other Cox districts has not been seen in the less wealthy, less densely populated MAC district.

A CNET story covers some of the same ground. Alert readers of this earlier story will note two things: 1) at press time for this story Lafayette was not among the areas supposed to get the upgrade and in fact it was announced for Lafayette only later. 2) The speed everyone else got was to 4 Megs. Lafayette was told it was getting 3. 3 Megs is what the other districts got upgraded from. If the 3 megs story hasn't changed then Lafayette really hasn't caught up, it's just not as far behind as the rest of MAC. Note: I am not seeing anywhere near 3 megs at my house. (I wonder if we could ask for a 25% discount on their "free" upgrade.)

Thanks LUS! The fruits of competition, even threatened competition, are sweet.

Fiber, Who builds it Matters; Getting Tough-Minded About It

As I discuss fiber politics with folks here in Lafayette I often hear that it doesn't matter who builds the fiber network as long as it gets built. Most of those people concede that only LUS will do so in the foreseeable future but want to make it clear that there is no in-principle reason to want our inevitable fiber network to be built as a public utility.

I, as readers might guess, think differently: a better price and universal service are excellent reasons to prefer a public utility.

But those aren't the only reasons, and they flow from what is the central reason: A public utility is, in the end, motivated by service. Not merely as a result of noble ideals, but simply because in the utility game good service at a cheap prices is what defines success. And the successful career of its personnel depends upon succeeding using that definition of success.

A private company is playing in a different game and in their game it is all about profit. Yes, we are used to understanding that a healthy respect for profit usually leads to good service and cheap prices. And when you are looking at your local grocery store that is true. They've got competition.

But it is not true when you are looking at monopolies. As we are in Lafayette. It has been argued that BellSouth and Cox are not monopolies. But they are, at least in terms of their own networks. There may be some indirect competition for the services they offer. Cell phones and satellite TV are both eating into the established companies' base. But that does not change the fact that they hold a monopoly stranglehold over their own networks and that recent FCC rulings have tightened that stranglehold. They can, and do, manage their own networks to maximize their profit. It's only logical—they serve their owners well.

The problem here is that the private providers of monopoly networks often have good reason to deny the public valuable services that would eat into their private profit.

That brings us (finally) to the story that occasioned this bit of reflection, a short piece in the Cnet broadband blog: SBC: We're fiberlicious. Really which is a good example of how this works.

All that the story really amounts to is a little bit of cynical musing about whether or not commercially provided fiber really makes the sort of difference in user experience that one would hope for. The heart of the entry:
In San Francisco's Mission Bay development, SBC also provides fiber directly to apartments. But when Jim Hu and I visited, we were surprised to find that consumers still only had the option to get Internet download speeds equivalent to DSL--for the same price as DSL. To the consumer, the fiber made no difference at all. There might be video-on-demand services, but the technology's blazing broadband potential was being virtually ignored. (emphasis mine)
The author merely notes the lack of much of a speed improvement. But we need to ask ourselves why this is true. Why should SBC throttle down the capacities of fiber? The sentence contains at least one answer—video-on-demand. Recent blogs and articles on this site have focused on the danger posed by IP networks for conventional telephony and video. (Skype, Open/closed Systems, The Road to Innovation) Both the telephone and the cable companies are banking on cable TV to pay the bills—and they should, profits are huge in that sector, contrasting dramatically with the margin in providing bandwidth for data and telephony. But that means that to protect their profit center they cannot allow download speeds to reach a level that would allow a Starz-RealNetwork or TiVo-Netflix deal to be practical. According to a graphic which accompanied only the printed version of a recent Advocate article downloading a DVD movie would take 13 days by fast dialup modem, 11 hours and 36 minutes by cable modem and 1 minute via fiber optics. 11 hours is way too long a time to tie up your internet connection; it simply won't happen. But if the download time were 1 minute (or even 10) downloading would rapidly become the preferred way to watch video.

And that scenario—where people gradually abandon the cable model in favor of ordering a la carte from a list of movies or shows would not result in the owners of the networks making a profit off selling content, they would be reduced to simply providing transport—an increasingly low-margin commodity.

For a private, profit-making corporation this will always be true. They will always find it more profitable to use their monopoly control of the network hardware to set themselves up as sole providers of content over the network they own for a simple if brutal reason: In fact it will always be more profitable to take all the profit available for a product rather than share it with anyone. A company answers first to it owners. Making the best (meaning most profitable) use of their resources is a legal obligation for any manager.

A privately-owned monopoly network will always be closed. It's just that simple.

Here some hard truths that we are having a hard time acknowledging and dealing with:

A fiber optic network, like the twisted pair phone and the coaxial networks that preceded it will always be a monopoly. Monopolies, like any profit-seeking business, will always strive to please their owners and this will always mean that private corporations will be obligated to act in the best interests of owners rather than customers. Their network will always be closed unless government forces competition on them. Throttling bandwidth to preserve the profits of cable TV is only one example.

The good, free-enterprise solution is to be an owner yourself. And that is exactly what a municipally-owned telecom utility will allow the citizens of Lafayette to be. It will be a locally—controlled, locally-owned business who will have to please its owners. The difference will be that pleasing the owners will be identical to pleasing its customers since they will be the same people. Its primary goal will be service, not profit. Such a business could, and such businesses regularly do, choose to forgo extracting the highest possible profit in favor of other values like low cost for customers or investing in ultra-reliable systems or choosing to use local providers rather than slightly lower cost outsider providers.

With a municipal utility the grounds for debating issues like how open a network would be to competing providers would be concrete and based on a simple principle: what is best for the citizen-owners. It makes sense to ask questions like the following: Would it be best to milk the huge margins of cable to secure funding for the build? Is that too risky considering the coming bandwidth/IP storm? Is there a way to build transitions between open and closed models into the network? Should we, in effect, subsidize pure communications between citizens (Data communications, Telephony) by lowering the margin on that portion and keeping it higher on entertainment (cable TV). None of these, and more that are similar, are comfortable questions. But they are real questions that can only be raised with a publicly-owned provider. No private provider will ever take such issues into account.

It matters who builds and owns the fiber network.

It isn't a simple matter of supporting anyone willing to build the local monopoly fiber network. Only a locally-owned, public utility will ever have any rational motive for caring about universal provision, low prices, expanded bandwidth at the expense of profit, and a dozen other similar issues. It's simple and painful: only if the public is the owner will we be assured that what is best for the public will be considered. It will then be up to us as citizen-owners to make sure it is. But if the provider is private we will simply never have a real right to an opinion. We will have to leave those decisions to Atlanta and knowingly concede that they will not be made with our best interests at heart.

That's hard to look at. But shorn of any soft-hearted evasions that is simply the way it is. We should want to own the fiber network monopoly so that it will be operated to our advantage and not someone else's.