Monday, January 31, 2005

"Power struggle pits utility, BellSouth"

The Picayune notices something is going on across basin. The story is generic and, for an initial overview, not bad.

Some parts they get right in Power struggle pits utility, BellSouth:
"The skirmish in Lafayette is part of a larger battle being waged nationwide between the nation's biggest phone and cable companies that traditionally have dominated the telecommunications market and power utilities."
Other parts they get not so right. But those are the sorts of things most reporters new to the story gets wrong.

The reporter apparently mistakenly understands deregulation--which has been the real project of the last 10 years--as a way of "breaking down the barriers that for decades prevented power, telephone and cable monopolies from competing against each other." That may have been the intent of some but it didn't happen. Competition has just barely begun with Verizon's FIOS and has little to do, unfortunately, with deregulation and everything to do with the cable and telephone monopolies converging on a single digital network architecture centered on fiber optics. The author further misunderstands "breaking down of barriers" as being the same as 'Dismantling monopolies" In truth not all of the deregulation has lead to increased competition (Ask Eatel or ATT). Much of the FCC decisions have, in fact, strengthened the monopolies' ability to prevent competition over their own ever more secure monopoly networks in the vain hope that each move to return monopoly control of their networks would finally lead to enough confidence to induce competition.

No, the convergence on a single network model doesn't change the monopoly nature of either of their network enterprises. It just means that as they converge the battle over which will die and which will live on as a single monopoly has to begin. And at the end the competition which was structurally inevitable as a result of convergence will vanish and this time we'll be left with only one natural monopoly instead of two. But with no remaining effective regulation.

Technology cannot save us from elementary economics, as Powell at the FCC (and certain local dullards) so fervently hope. Even Business Week has begun to understand that in natural monopoly situations regulation is necessary.

Or public ownership. The LUS model. There will be a few communities that won't end up at the mercy of whichever private telecom survives the battle to come. And those will be places that own their own infrastructure. That's where the real story is.

"Getting Real At The FCC"

You have to suspect that something is happening out in this country when the editorials at venerable (and notably conservative) newspapers like the USAToday and Business Week start to notice that the telecom monopolies are bad for America and bad for business. (The local chamber might take note.) In the latest instance Business Week inks: "Commentary: Getting Real At The FCC."

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) which regulates telecommunications in the United States and is charged with making sure that natural monopolies that dominate that realm act in the best interest of the country and its people. Business Week believes that under outgoing chairman Powell the balance has swung too far towards the monopolists at the expense of the competition that funds both growth and fair pricing.
"as the agency wrestles with the issues raised by these dazzling [new technological] developments, its new chairman must avoid the trap into which Powell fell: He came to hold an unshakable belief that technological advances would sweep aside the necessity for regulation."
This sort of ideological idealism is simply at odds with conditions in the real world and Business Week recognizes it.

The commentary moves through media consolidation, universal service issues, digital TV spectrum, and forcing the Cablecos' (and the Bells should be included) to not discriminate against services carried over IP that compete with services they offer (such as VOIP Quality of Service Issues). The conclusion: there's still a lot of need for regulation. It's very gratifying to see that at least one national reporter has done his homework. The final sentence serves as well to end this post as it does to end the commentary:
Maybe one day, a sufficient number of new technologies will compete vigorously enough with one another that the FCC will be free to step aside. But for now, the regulatory hand is still needed to ensure a smooth transition to that future.

Lafayette Chamber Declines to Oppose Self-Reliance

The Lafayette Chamber of Commerce has issued a new position paper, Public vs. Private Sector Investmen (PDF), that joins its earlier Broadband Position Statement (Word doc) to flesh out previously unknown category of public position statements: The "We are gratified to announce that we do not condemn that which we should endorse."

It comes in 5 clauses marked by roman numerals for which, even though they are not in Latin, translation into standard English may prove useful and efficient:

1. Private is good.
2. Public support of private companies is good provided that the benefit is of the sort that can be measured, that outside people think its worthwhile, and the company can make good money.
3. It's ok to give money to private companies and it is ok for public entities to partner with private ones.
4. If private companies won't do it then the people can do it for themselves.

Between this document and the Broadband document the good news is that the Chamber is taking the stalwart position that it will not actively and as a matter of principle oppose Lafayette's Fiber For the Future Initiative.

What it does not exemplify is community spirit, rational self-interest, or leadership.

Community Spirit: Building a true broadband network is the development opportunity of a lifetime--or several. There is no single investment in ourselves more likely to propel Lafayette and her people from game players in the middle of the pack to clear and proud leaders. A cheap, high-quality telecom sector can serve to equalize opportunity between this community's haves and have nots. It's sad that community spirit alone is not enough to move the chamber.

Rational Self-interest: The people in the community that are most likely to benefit first and most directly are local business (new and not yet formed) that will get cheap bandwidth on our version of information super highway that will equal the resources available to the worlds largest corporations at a tiny fraction of the cost. It is our businesses (as opposed to Atlanta's) that are bearing the brunt of what MIke correctly calls the "Incumbent Bandwidth Tax:" that additional cost that locals pay for being in Lafayette that their competitors, headquartered in places where big broadband is available less expensively, do not pay. It's sad that the "leadership" cannot see what the benefit of cheap fiber to every corner of this town could mean for local businesses.

Leadership: I do not believe that many, no most, of the chamber membership doesn't get this--or couldn't be easily lead to see what is so clear and so much a part of their business life. The failure is at the leadership level where there appears to be an unwillingness to risk power and position in pursuit of what is right for the community in the face of the few, who ideologically or through personal ties and ambitions, are committed to the cause of corporations that do not care about Lafayette or her people. The problem here is that while folks may believe that they are preserving power and position for later use the truth is that influence unexercised atrophies. Use it or lose it. Exercise makes not only muscles stronger. The chamber may emerge from this without offending any fraction of it membership only to discover that the community no longer believes it can count on the chamber for leadership that puts the community first. Leadership is a precious commodity in any community; it is sad to see it squandered on mere personal self-interest.

All that said, there is a part of me that is gratified for anything I can get from this quarter and the assurance that LUS and the City will not be blindsided by Picard's Chamber is substantial comfort.

And that is the saddest comment of all.

Has BellSouth Been Helping Spy on Your Email?

Friday's a good day for catching up on things. One very interesting development on the national scene recently has been the scandal over warrantless spying on Americans by the current administration and whether or not it could be justified.

That may have sounded a little familiar to readers that recall local fiber disputes. During the fiber referendum one of the sillier things that opponents brought up was a baseless fear that the local government would spy on you. The retort at the time was that LCG wasn't the level of govt. to worry about--that Joey showed no interest but the feds certainly had. Recent developments have proven that retort pretty insightful--and have implicated our phone companies. From O'Reilly:

All the warrantless wiretapping we've recently heard about required help from the telephone companies and Internet service providers. These companies knew they were not only aiding the government in breaking the law, but were themselves violating terms of service for their customers--and in the case of telephone companies, also breaking the law. One law mentioned at the public form (and submitted years ago by the forum's moderator, Congressman Ed Markey) forbids cell phone companies from revealing the location of cell phone users--except with a court warrant.

In fact, the NSA wiretapping scandal represents one of the largest conspiracies in recent years: a conspiracy between telephone companies and the government to defraud Americans out of our Fourth Amendment rights.

What didn't occur to any at the time of the referendum, but is now clear, was that in order for the Federales to spy on you they would need at least the tacit assistance of the Bells who own and maintain the big trunk lines headed across the country and overseas. What's come out recently, in dribs and drabs is that "tacit" wasn't needed: the Bells are willing to hand you over without qualm--or warrant. Mostly this has come to light through two avenues. First universities, over whose servers and trunks internet based traffic escapes the Bell networks, have put up the resistance that the Bells didn't citing old-fashioned, academic things like "illegal," "warrantless," and "the freedom of speech." The universities have been given, point blank, the old childhood excuse: "Everybody does it." Being a tad more mature, the universities aren't buying that schoolboy excuse. The second avenue, of course, has been the recent scandal that caused a few reporters to go back to those odd, underreported remarks by universities.

The administration has said that surveillance has been limited. Unfortunately, given the technologies involved, that's simply not possible. The decentralized nature of the internet, nonserial flow of packets, and the inclusion of encrypted data makes massive data mining--winnowing through all those packets the only practical way to pull coherent data out of the net. You have to look at 'em all to get to the ones you want. Targeted warrants are pretty hard to execute in the real world. There is just too much to examine. The easiest way to make the flow more manageable is to cut back what you examine--to, for instance, all of the data flowing out of the country. To do that efficiently the best bet is to have access to the Bell switches routing traffic outbound. They know where that data is coming from and so federal agents wouldn't, for instance, try and puzzle out encrypted data from the banks or calls originating and terminating overseas. Stories have made it clear that international traffic originating or terminating in the US is what is being spied upon without warrant. From an article in the Chicago Tribune:
The decentralized nature of the Internet and the multiplicity of ways to communicate further complicate the task of wholesale eavesdropping, said Daniel Berninger, a communications analyst with Tier 1 Research.

By focusing on traffic that leaves the country, government agents can tap into optical fiber lines that are buried on the oceans and on radio signals bounced off satellites in space, Berninger said.

This provides some identifiable "choke points" where communications enter and leave the country, he said, providing an easier task than trying to randomly monitor domestic traffic that flows on the Internet in all directions around the country, he said...

Looking at data such as which phone numbers are called from which numbers can provide a lot of useful information, said Paul Bradley, a consultant with Apollo Data Technologies LLC, a Chicago-based data mining software firm.

The revelation that the Bells handed over your privacy without a murmur merely give us another reason to favor having local people, answerable to local concerns is preferable to the current setup in which the corporations are effectively accountable to no one but a few buddy-buddy federal bureaucrats. Most certainly they feel no necessity to respect their customers.

If it makes life a little easier for the big corporation to give the feds warrantless, baseless access to your phone and DSL switches, well why not? Who, that the phone companies care about, cares? Surely not the FCC. Just about the only people in this country who can effect your bottom line are in the federal government. Why not please 'em?

I say we are better off trusting local institutions; especially municipalities that have to operate under the glare of Open Access laws. After all, public universities is where this story first started to surface. As the O'Reilly article points out:
One might argue that the pressure would have been even stronger if ISPs and phone companies were smaller, but size obviously hasn't helped them put up any resistance. Believe me, if we had an industry of scrappy Mom-and-Pop providers like in the 80s and 90s, word about this civil liberties horror would have come out sooner.

The Chamber's Silence on the LUS Project — Hoisted on their own Picard?

The Independent's cover story last week was on the leadership transition taking place at the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce.

But, Tyrone Picard taking the helm of the Chamber has significant implications for the ability of the organization to take a position on the LUS fiber project. The Chamber may pride itself in taking a leadership role on important issues in this community but, as an employee of Acadiana Ambulance, it will be interesting to see whether the interests of Picard's employer will trump the community interest in getting the LUS fiber project built.

What's Acadian Ambulance got to do with the LUS project? Well, Acadian Ambulance is a major customer of BellSouth's and Acadian's Richard Zuchslag is rumored to hold a substantial number of shares of BellSouth stock, and to have long pined for a seat on BellSouth's board.

Zuchslag surrounded himself with BellSouth higher-ups at his DC Mardi Gras Ball reign, according to these photographs from The Advertiser. Guess it's just a coincidence that about the only photo without a BellSouth rep in it was the one with Mayor-President Joey Durel!

Now, because Picard serves as corporate counsel for Acadian, BellSouth has, in effect, a proxy seat on the Chamber's board — even though BellSouth is no longer a member of the Lafayette Chamber.

If the Chamber couldn't bring itself to address the LUS issue when Gary McGoffin was heading the group last year, it's difficult to imagine how they'll muster the leadership to come forward on this issue this year with a staunch BellSouth ally leading the group.

The Chamber's silence on this issue is deafening.

The LUS fiber project is the single most important economic development initiative to be introduced into this community in at least 50 years (since the Oil Center) and quite possibly 100 (since LUS it self was created in the late 19th century).

Every day that Cox and BellSouth are allowed to continue their duopoly, Lafayette businesses and consumers pay more for bandwidth than their counterparts in larger cities in the service areas of either company. This is the bandwidth tax that Lafayette pays as the cost of subservience to the corporate interests in Atlanta.

The LUS project will bring direct economic benefits to EVERY business in Lafayette by driving down the cost of bandwidth. Once the LUS project is built out, businesses in Lafayette will pay less for more bandwidth than either Cox or BellSouth make available for their best customers anywhere in their respective service areas. How can this be? Well, LUS is going to make 100 megabits per second network capacity available to every business and residential customer. Neither BellSouth nor Cox can deliver that capacity now any where in Louisiana and, likely only in a handful of places in the entire operation of either company.

What this means is that the LUS fiber project will give incredible competitive advantage in the form of lower operating costs to any company that relies on the Internet to connect to suppliers and customers. In other words, it will be cheaper for any company that plans to be successful in the 21st Century (that is, depend on the flow of information between customers and suppliers) to do business in Lafayette than just about any other place in the country.

And, still the Chamber remains silent.

A few weeks ago, I found a quote from a famous American that, if you substitute "organization" for "man," applies here. Here's the quote:
"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in times of comfort and convenience, but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy."*
Now is a time of controversy in Lafayette. The Chamber would have us believe that they are leaders in this community. Leaders take stances.

Where does the Chamber stand on the LUS fiber project?

Will the Chamber have the courage to standup for the small and medium size businesses in this community who will be prime beneficiaries of the LUS project? Or are they hoisted on their own Picard?**


* Rev. Martin Luther King
** OK, it's a pun on "Hoisted on their own Petard."

Saturday, January 29, 2005

DC BS BS*

Truth is not only the first casualty in war, it is apparently also the first casualty when telecom execs talk to Louisiana business and political leaders.

The Lafayette Daily Advertiser carried a story in Saturday's paper on the economic development lunch that is part of the annual Louisiana Mardi Gras function in our nation's capitol.

While The Advertiser included only a few quotes from BellSouth Chairman Duane Ackerman in its story, let's analyze them to determine if the BS in BellSouth does, in fact, flow from the top.

Paragraph one:

WASHINGTON - BellSouth Chairman Duane Ackerman urged Louisiana's leaders Friday to avoid ignoring the state's established businesses in a push to attract new companies to the state.

While there is no quote here, if The Advertiser's Gannett reporter accurately captured the flavor of Ackerman's speech, it's safe to say that "the state's established businesses" would include things like incumbent telephone companies — even struggling Regional Bell Operating Companies. Ackerman, whose company is writhing under a market assault in Louisiana by Cox, didn't plead for help, but one can imagine that there's some behind-closed-door whining going on to state government officials that Lil' Ole BellSouth might be in a hell of a jam if the State of Louisiana decided to actually demand state-of-the-art services from its telecom vendors.

Paragraph two:

Speaking at an economic development lunch as part of the 58th annual Louisiana Mardi Gras in Washington, Ackerman said the state stands at a crucial point in its development as it seeks the right balance between tradition and transformation in working to build a strong future for state residents.

Ah, "the right balance between tradition and transformation"! Damned! I think Duane is actually pleading for state leaders to continue to allow BellSouth to levy what amounts to a bandwidth tax on Louisiana businesses and consumers. That "tax," in the form of high bandwidth charges over old infrastructure is being used to fund BellSouth service upgrades in other states and ventures such as paying for the company's share of the Cingular buyout of AT&T Wireless. In essence, Ackerman is saying 'stick with us and we'll keep you in the minor leagues.' Sounds like the recipe for mediocrity one might expect from one who rose through the ranks of a bureaucracy. Good advice for corporate ladder-climbers. Bad advice for states looking to shake their economic doldrums.

Paragraph three:

Ackerman called on the state's business, civic and elected leaders to take a new look at the old rules that govern existing businesses and to help eliminate regulation where customers have choices and where costs outweigh benefits.

Absolute HYPOCRISY!!! Recall, dear readers, that it was Ackerman's BellSouth that ran to the Louisiana Legislature seeking to prevent municipalities like Lafayette from getting into the telecommunications business. That was a blatant attempt to stifle competition. In the Orwellian parlance of corporate America, the bill came out being called the Municipal Fair Competition Act, after much strenuous lobbying on behalf of Lafayette and other municipalities, but the intent was to stifle competition.

This is consistent with BellSouth's long struggle to prevent consumers in Louisiana and other states in its service area since passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. BellSouth resisted orders to open its network to competitors, refused to pay money owed CLECs who were hosting Internet Service Providers, and is today refusing to invest in advanced DSL technology because DSL runs over copper elements of its network and doing so would require BellSouth to give competitors access to that portion of their network.

So, the notion of BellSouth as a defender of the rights of choice for consumers is laughable. About the only people who believe that are their local partners in opposition to progress, DULL. But, no one with any knowledge of the telecommunications industry believes it.

Paragraph four:

Ackerman used the communications industry as an example of a situation where technology has outpaced policy and where regulation is hurting.

This is clearly wrong. The Bells have won the right to exclude competitors from their new network infrastructure investments, specifically, fiber. Now, if Ackerman is saying that requiring the Bells to keep their copper networks open to competitors, he's asking to kill the v very competition he was praising (hypocritically, of course) a paragraph earlier. See, what Ackerman and his RBOC cohorts have been fighting for since the passage of the past nine years is for a return of their monopoly status, albeit under the name of "competition." That is, they want to require any potential competitor to be required to build their own networks fresh out of the box. The Bells, it must be noted, built those copper networks when they in fact operated as regulated monopolies. Since the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, this mantra of the Bells to keep competitors off their networks has taken on the air of the guy who was born on third base and claimed to have it a triple.

Paragraph five:

"That disconnect between policy and reality has very real consequences for communities in Louisiana and around the nation," he said. "In an area of rapid technological change, can government really meet the needs of consumers better than private industry?"

Oh, Jeez! Does this guy have no shame? Uh, NO! The fact is that technology is evolving rapidly, but the one constant over the past decade has been the fact that fiber optics have been recognized as the infrastructure of choice, the infrastructure that will not become obsolete. Look at where BellSouth and the other RBOCs and telecom companies in other countries are putting their infrastructure dollars in the communities and projects they most value: fiber optic lines.

What has happened with BellSouth is that technology has outstripped its wallet. If BellSouth had spent as much money on technology as it's spent on lawyers and lobbyists over the past nine years, they'd have better technology in the field. But, BellSouth is a monopolist at heart. It's never been about delivering value to customers. It's all about responding to the corporate vision.

The United States ranks 14th in the world in broadband network penetration. The RBOCs and the cable companies have had control over their corporate investment decisions during the past nine years when that slide has taken place. Rather than invest in new technology, the phone companies invested in buying other phone companies. Rather than deploy new networks, the phone companies spent their time and effort in the courts fighting regulations designed to enhance competition. Rather than innovate, the phone companies preferred to litigate. As a result, cable companies like Cox are poised to eat the lunch of companies like BellSouth because they have been investing in their infrastructure.

The notion that municipal entry is a significant concern to BellSouth is a reflection on just how poorly the company has managed its infrastructure investments. BellSouth's real threat in Louisiana is Cox. The fact that BellSouth chooses not to invest in new infrastructure here explains both why Cox will become the dominant provider of voice, data and video in South Louisiana, but also why municipalities like Lafayette feel compelled to make their own investments in fiber optic networks — essentially, if they don't do it, no one else will.

Paragraph six:

Commending the state for providing tax incentives to new businesses, Ackerman asked that Louisiana not lose sight of the companies that are already there.

Translation: "Even though we're not investing any significant dollars here, don't forget that we've contributed to many political campaigns in the past and — if you roll over and do what we want — we might make some more contributions in the future." Shameful!

Paragraph seven:

"Give all companies incentives to invest," he said. "And, most fundamentally, let us trust the marketplace. That trust has made this country the most prosperous and technologically advanced on the planet."

The incentives Ackerman wants is to either regulate or legislate competition out of the marketplace. Either one will do.

"[T]rust the marketplace"??!!!?? Don't do what we do, do what we say. Ignore that monopolist behind the curtain. The record declares emphatically that BellSouth has NEVER trusted the marketplace. In fact, whenever given the opportunity to trust the market, BellSouth has refused to do so, and instead has resorted to lawsuits to resist being forced to do so.

Well, it's Washington. It's Mardi Gras. The truth, apparently, was not invited.

•* District of Columbia BellSouth Bullshit.

Austin Envy Reversed? The New Tech/Music Center Emerges

It has become habitual for folks around the country to envy Austin as a bastion of clean, enlightened, info-age development with a really exciting ethnic music scene. Baton Rouge, in particular, has a bad case of Austin Envy with multiple visits to the city to study their successes over the years. A "young" reform group even calls itself "Austin 6." (A decisions which seems surpassingly strange on only short reflection.) But it seems that some in Austin might have caught a case of Lafayette envy. Read on.

It's welcome to see, even in the midst of ongoing obstructionism, that out of state companies are begining to make their decisions based on Lafayette's potential and its anticipated fiber-optic infrastructure. The Advocate notes that Austin-based Ninjaneering is making a move into Lafayette that UL and the city hope will become the basis for a thriving computer gaming industry in the city. The company has inked a contract with UL that will offer opportunities--while they are in Lafayette--to UL students. With fiber coming in there is no reason that those students will ever need to leave. The bandwidth will be here to move the required enourmous files around with ease. In fact the bandneck bottleneck won't be in Lafayette or on the nation's fiber backbone. It will be in Austin. (You like good music? Why not move to Lafayette?)
Part of the attraction of Lafayette is the plan of the Lafayette Utilities System to install a fiber-optic network, Zuzolo said.

'It interests us greatly,' he said of the plan. 'Lafayette is going to have the network and the pipeline for content. We have to make sure that, where ever we go, we have the infrastructure.'

.....The fact that LUS, which is owned by the people, is laying the fiber is "huge" for Lafayette, Zuzolo said.

"It's a great asset for the community, and it fits well with the goals we have, in helping business develop around the game industry," Zuzolo said.

It's great for folks outside our community to see the potential of what we are doing here--and sensible for them to move in to begin to take advantage of it.

To return the favor it's worthwhile to explicitly notice the power and potential of computer gaming. The Advocate story does a good job of that but the basic point could stand a little sharpening for our readership: Computer gaming is already, in terms of consumer dollars spent bigger than movies and music combined. Computer gaming has driven the computer industry, hardware and software for the last several generations of chipsets, operating systems, networking architectures, and graphics rendering engines. What NASA's space program was to technology in the 70's, producing everything from teflon to the technology behind areodynamic cars, gaming has proven to be for the digital age.Quite simply to be on the cutting edge of gaming technology is to be on the cutting edge of digital technology. It is where all the most advanced work comes together.

Make no mistake, this is not about "just games." It's about being out in front...which is exactly where we want to be.

Quick Update 2:30--MY BAD--The Advertiser also has a good article on this story: "Game maker courts UL," and I missed it on my first pass through the paper and Jordan Hernandez and the Advertiser deserve credit. It fills out the tale by noting the relationship to the new undergraduate curriculum in video game design and development and by linking in ATIC and LONI. The best pull qoute is the closing paragraph:

"Expanding is a distinct possibility. We'd love to open a Ninjaneering Lafayette. We'd really like for the students to have somewhere here that they can practice what they're learning and certainly the last thing you want is for the students to go to Boston or New York or San Francisco to find work," he said. "Ideally, you'd want students interested in it getting their education here, making games here and then breaking into entrepreneurship and starting a game design company here."
That's the whole point. Always has been.

Friday, January 28, 2005

The Lucky Cowboy Chronicles: Loneliness, Learning & Lafayette

The Advertiser runs today a nifty personality piece (or perhaps I should say a nifty dual personality piece --read the story) whose hook is the plan of Firefly Digital's Mike Spears to take some time off to feed his adventurous side by walking the Appalachian Trail.

Of most interest to me, though was the educational framework that wraps around the event. The plan is for this to be a connected solitary adventure. As Spears walks those lonely trails folks will, for instance, be able to monitor his heartbeat from the (really cool) Lucky Cowboy site. (One can imagine one day's Burning Question: "Is Lucky Cowboy up to making it over the saddle tomorrow? Today's vitals indicate.....LC addresses the issue in tonight's blog entry.) As much fun as that is, and as much use as I can imagine classroom teacher's making of the adventure, the fuller story includes the backend content developers of the website, Academy of Information Technology at Carencro High School:
Becnel and academy co-director Joel Hilbun will form a team of students to research, write and implement the Appalachian Trail content for the Web site. Students will compete for positions of student CEO, managing editor, graphic designers and more, Becnel said.
The Academy, from a quick look at its website, appears to go considerably beyond just being a schoolish way to get a leg up on IT work. After putting on my old "Professor of Educational Theory and Technology" hat I have to say that it looks like they've got a good handle on what I believe will prove to be the upcoming next round of crucial educational issues: project-based, activity-oriented education based on students developing useful solutions real problems.

(Wouldn't it be something if Lafayette Parish could get a reputation for being ahead of the curve with progressive projects like LUS' fiber optic telecom utility, an aggressive program of of lowering class sizes, and the Carencro Tech Academy's advanced curriculum all building (and contributing to each other) at the same time?)

The project will be the seed for a larger
Appalachian Trail Encyclopedia with a permanent home on the Appalachian Trails Website. What the students do will have a real use and a long life. It's hard to get more useful than that.

This has got to be a great model for what we all want to see result from the gumbo of Acadiana's ethnicities, the arts, technology, bandwidth, and education. Geaux!

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Fabulous snakeoil: Durel in the Snakepit

First found over at Doug's (from the Indpendent) but too fabulous not to get maximum circulation:



Ok people, which one is BellSouth and which one Cox? Votes? (Now there is something that demands a vote.)

"Wolf in the Bayou" - BellSouth and Lafayette continue feud

Whew! Broadband Reports, the largest national broadband information clearing house has a discussion string going that is focused on BellSouth's little betrayal here in Lafayette. Apparently it is isn't only folks down here who get hot about incumbent deceit.

Also, a very healthy representation of locals is spending time blasting BellSouth. Perhaps some have heard of Durel's call to let BellSouth know how "furious" they are even if the media chose not report that call. Or, more likely, they don't need to be told to be furious.

Call BellSouth. Let Williams know how little you like what Oliver and the company he represents are doing.
(337) 261-2800
John.C.Williams@BELLSOUTH.COM
Does anyone know if EATEL is accepting new applications for service? How to? (VOIP stories?)

Blowback—Dailies Cover City's Anger

The Advertiser in "Officials lash out against suit" and the Advocate in "Durel decries BellSouth suit" report on yesterday's press conference. (Our take on the event was posted yesterday.)

The long and the short of it is that both articles report press conference pretty accurately. (I don't recollect the mention of Fiber411 that the Advertiser refers to—once the tone became clear I was listening to see if they'd diffuse their focus by hitting the petitioners; I was impressed that the kept their laser-like focus on BellSouth.)

The Advocate's version reports a bit more about the consequences of the delay the suit will entail and some interesting bits from the subsequent council meetings but both articles deserve review.


Lagniappe: I am happy to have that new little bit of Cajun French from Huval's presentation yesterday to use in this situation: gourmandise--the overtones of gluttony (a deadly sin) are particularly pleasing for use in our food-happy region.

BellSouth Louisiana: Suit to Defend Bandwidth Tax A Desperate Act of Doomed Company

The anger that Mayor-President Joey Durel (and probably Terry Huval) feels as a result of BellSouth's 'friend of the DULL' suit over the issue of which law sets the petition rules on the LUS project is palpable.

BellSouth is talking sweet one day and suing the next.

The company has a profound personality disorder and it has manifested itself in a number of ways in the LUS fiber issue. Rather than attribute its sometimes bizarre behavior to malice, I prefer to read it as sporadic psychosis induced by a series of unpleasant and untenable choices the company is being forced to make these days, particularly in Louisiana. This once-mighty monopolist is on the ropes in Louisiana and its leaders know it. Making matters worse, there's just nothing they can do about it.

To understand what is happening, we need to look a bit beyond Lafayette out into Louisiana as a whole. BellSouth is in deep trouble here. They are in trouble primarily because Cox has bought and grown itself a very large footprint across much of South Louisiana. Cox is offering voice, data and video over networks that they have spent many pretty pennies to upgrade. Cox's networks may be near state of the cable art — so, nowhere near what LUS will offer in terms of robustness — but they are significantly better than what BellSouth has in the ground in South Louisiana.

Now, back in the halcyon days of their so-called alliance with Cox in opposition to the LUS project — way back in the late summer of 2004 — BellSouth spokesmen were making strange gurgling noises about what wonderful things the company would be able to do with upgraded formulas of DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) technology. 'It's gonna get a lot faster and we'll be able to run video over it,' they said — or words to that effect.

Well, they're absolutely correct, there have been some technological innovations on the horizon in DSL technology which might, in fact, let a phone company run some video over those lines.

But, there's a HUGE problem with this entire scenario. That is, the 'last mile' (actually, up to about 15,000 feet) of a DSL connection can run over copper. Why is that a problem: Well, the FCC has ruled that Regional Bell Operating Companies (RBOCs) have to let Competitive Local Exchange Carriers (CLECs) have access to their copper infrastructure — which the RBOCs (like BellSouth) detest. There was a good bit of RBOC crowing among last year when the FCC said RBOCs could exclude competitors over new fiber networks. If only the Michael Powell-led FCC had locked CLECs out of the copper lines, it would have been a perfect RBOC world.

So, while there may, in fact, be technology coming down the pike that could theoretically enable RBOCs like BellSouth to ramp up their DSL capacity to the point where they might actually be able to run a few channels of pre-HDTV video over that copper infrastructure, their rigid opposition to the idea of letting competitors have access to the copper that enhanced DSL would run over will prevent them from allowing themselves to deploy this technology.

Why is this critical? Well, it seems that the BellSouth Louisiana crowd can't convince the corporate types in Atlanta that investing in new infrastructure here makes business sense. That's understandable due to the rather large shoe Cox has lodged firmly on the larynx of BellSouth Louisiana by way of its Triple Play over its newer infrastructure.

See, the 'Louisiana Logic' out of Atlanta is that BellSouth can't justifying any significant new infrastructure dollars here until it has some idea of what the bottom of its share of this state's market looks like. That is, why invest significant new dollars here when we don't know if we're going to end up with 60 percent marketshare, or 20 percent market share. Cox is fervently committed to helping BellSouth find that market bottom just as quickly as it can via new services over its (comparatively) enhanced network.

So, cut off from the capital it would take to build out new fiber infrastructure, deploying DSL-enhancing technology would look to be the cost-effective way of enhancing BellSouth's service offerings here. Except, that because it runs over copper infrastructure — read that "open to competitors" — the gang back in Atlanta won't even allow those much smaller amounts of money to be spent here.

So, BellSouth Louisiana is doomed. It can't get the money it needs to build a world-class network that would let it fend off Cox and any other competitors. But, the corporation's virulent anti-competitive, monopolist DNA won't let it invest in the technology which might at least enable it to cling to a few points of market share with its copper.

The talks with LUS may well have been some form of exquisite torture BellSouth inflicted on itself, knowing full well that Atlanta would never let the company buy access over the LUS network for the same reason they don't want any competitor to access their network: it's all about being a monopolist and that's all about not sharing.

Filing the lawsuit over the DULL petitions is an act of desperation. Cut off from big infrastructure bucks by Atlanta and cut off from the technology that could make those old copper wires useful for a few more years by its corporate culture, BellSouth Louisiana has entered into what will likely be a precipitous decline.

It's already evident in some ways: A few months ago, BellSouth Louisiana's Bill Oliver was feigning chumminess with Cox Regional VP Gary Cassard. Today, he's feigning chumminess with the DULL crowd, seeking to defend his company's bandwidth tax on businesses and consumers by supporting handful of ideologues who worship the ground he walks on.

What a long strange trip this must have been!

"BellSouth's Earth Is Flat"

In Light Reading: BellSouth's Earth Is Flat.
...the real take-away from BellSouth's earnings call is that all is not cozy right now. After stripping away the one-time items in its report, growth for BellSouth’s core businesses has essentially remained flat over the last three years, which may be an early signal that competition from cable operators and CLECs is slowly starting to erode the RBOC's hold on its territories...

Longer term, analysts say the Bells will have to be successful in offering video services to compete.

“They’re going to need between 15 to 20 percent video penetration, and I don’t think they’re going to get that with a bundled satellite deal,” McCourt says.
Translation: BellSouth needs fiber for IP video and they need it now.

(They'd have been wise to have used LUS' fiber--but blew that one. If I were a smart analyst I'd read the tea leaves of the astonishing decision to forfeit its best chance to test advanced services in its footprint as a clear sign that management doesn't understand what is necessary to survive. And issue an immediate "sell" rating. Full disclosure: I carry no telecom in my portfolio. :-) )

PS, don't miss the comment. Hilarious. I think.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Taking a stand against La Gourmandise—Greed, Simple Greed.

The tag team of Joey Durel and Terry Huval fired back at BellSouth today. They were visibly distressed by what they regarded as a betrayal by BellSouth. Time and again during the formal presentation before the cameras and then later fielding questions from the reporters they let it be known that they had reached the conclusion that this time and on at least two separate previous occasions the city had talked with BellSouth in good faith only to have the corporation turn around and speak out of the other side of its mouth.

The most dramatic phrase of the evening was Terry Huval's cajun characterization of the problem with the incumbent: "it's an issue of la gourmandise-which means greed." Strong words. But it was apparent that our leaders have decided that strong words are justified.

The mayor issued a dramatic call for the citizens to "take a stand" and "let BellSouth know you are furious about this."

The city appears absolutely confident about the law and frustrated at the time and money that working through the lawsuit is likely to entail. They claimed that, had they not had to deal with BellSouth obstructionism in the legislature and the current lawsuit, that they would have been looking at begining construction in six months--and without the added costs the delay's have entailed. The lawsuit was seen as an attack on and "an affront to the people of Lafayette."

The new regime with the incumbents is that they'll talk to them--but they want any proposals in writing first, so that they know they aren't wasting their time.

The language used has moved dramatically toward frustrated remarks that BellSouth is an outsider, a large corporation from Atlanta, and that it "is not a citizen of this community --the people of Lafayette are citizens of this community." In discussion with the reporters Durel referred to "monopolistic practices" and Huval remarked that the point of battles like this was to make places like Lafayette an example and to "squish cities like Lafayette" like "ants."

It wasn't repeated tonight but the message was clear:

"Get out of our way, because we are not goint to stand down on this!"

Believe It or Not: You Decide

Well, everyone has been expecting a lawsuit since BellSouth and Cox failed to panic the public or intimidate the council. As it turns out the surprise little petition drive in the middle was just a pretext--something to give the big boys cover and standing when they trot out their first delaying lawsuit.

The Fiber411 boys won't care for that interpretation but here is what the public has to decide: Do you think that the crew from Fiber411 came up with this convoluted tactic--one that involves obscure state laws, arguing for a new interpretation of the law that one segment of the code should be newly defined as controlling another, that at least two laws written to control in special cases (both of which apply in this instance) should be ignored ( one that BellSoouth had written specifically to control this instance), and piously mouthing the clearly bogus idea that dedicated opponents to the plan have suddenly replaced concern for corporations with a set of democratic values that they clearly don't give a fig for. Do you believe that Fiber411 came up with that and that BellSouth standing on the sidelines, motivated by the pious concern for proper procedure in bond law that the Fiber411 guys "developed" stepped in to help out and clarify law? Or do you think a strategy like this much more likely the product of a phalanx of lawyers at BellSouth who knew that they needed some strategy, no matter how convoluted or weak to stop the sale of bonds which will lock the city into its plans legally, leaving BellSouth to only--gasp, horrors--compete.

I know what I think. I challenge the Fiber411 guys to tell us all just who suggested their legal strategy for starters. And just why they decided, at the moment when the bonds are being readied for approval, but when--even by the law they cite--they do not have the necessary city-parish signatures to halt it; why turn "your" petition in before you gather that last thousand--why unless someone has suggested that the time to do it is now, while the bonds can still be delayed. Who suggested that?

It is very hard (and I have been trying) not to smell a rat.

BellSouth Suit in the News

Media on BellSouth's lawsuit:

KATC
The Advertiser:Fiber battle heads to court
The Advocate: BellSouth sues utility on funding --(A fuller, more interesting, version is in the paper; I'll post an update if and when it appears This URL now points to the fuller version of the post, thanks are due the Advocate online staff.)

Pretty much everyone has a skeletal recounting of the involved legal rationale behind BellSouth's suit (one which Cox has joined). I have to say that the media has shown its smarts in mostly ignoring the transparent excuses and feeble justifications that BellSouth put forward in its publicity release in favor of an analysis of what the suit actually asks for and intends to do. Stop LUS.


Update: 10:42 am, I've gotten acknowledgement that the version of this story on the Advocate website is incomplete. We'll see if the online staff will get on the stick and fix it. Update 2: 11:50 pm The problem was due to the Baton Rouge and Lafayette versions of the story being slightly different, most likely due to there being a difference in the available space left for the story in each edition of the paper. Once that was straightened out the folks over at the Advocate were great about getting the fuller version online. Go take a look, the URL remains the same, but now you get the extra textural goodness described below--and more...

In the interim here is some of the missing text:
But City-Parish President Joey Durel said that recent statements by Oliver saying that recent statements by Oliver saying BellSouth would be willing to talk about partnering in LUS' project have proven "insincere." "This (a lawsuit) is not how you forge a partnership." Durel said.
....
Durel said he thinks the voters who elected him and the council did so because they trust their judgment.

"In my opinion, BellSouth is suing the people of Lafayette." Durel said. They're trying to dictate the direction of this community, rather than the elected officials."
BellSouth and Cox are burning bridges.

These corporate bureaucrats should be advised that this isn't some sort of corporate dance where its ok to manipulate and deceive your opponents for marginal advantage since you both understand that negotiations have nothing to do with character and everything to do with a game of incremental advantage. It may look like they are playing a corporate game here. But they are wrong. They are dealing with people who are earnestly trying to do good; such people care about honesty and character and are perfectly capable of refusing to negotiate with people, who in their judgment, lack the character to make negotiations meaningful.

We're looking at a conflict of cultures here. And BellSouth is wrong if they think they can't poison the well.

You can still get anti-BellSouth "Get Our Of Our Way." bumper sticker art at our ArtWorks
page and Jon Fitzgerald still has some bumper stickers left from the first batch.

Monday, January 24, 2005

FLASH: BellSouth Sues

BellSouth has filed suit in support of the BellSouth/Fiber411 petioners. The language announcing it is as deliberately deceptive as the campaign to date has been.

But read it yourself: BellSouth PR release justifying suing LUS.

Digital Divide: Universal Service vs. Redlining

Quietly receding into the background of our Lafayette debate, because the issue is largely settled, is the fact that LUS has made clear that fiber-optic cable will run in front of every home in our community, no matter how poor or wealthy. That being settled, the conversation shifted to cost and LUS has made it abundantly clear that its pricing structure is, at least in part, designed to let folks purchase real broadband plus telephone and cable TV for the same price as they would have formerly paid for phone and cable alone. We are now moving on to issues of making access available through community centers and providing things like advanced ISP services and education.

Just how far ahead of the game we are is evidenced by legislation pending in Virginia (reported in the story: "Cable to Fight Bell Attempts to "Circumvent" Local Franchising Laws") which would (in the name of competition) allow the local Baby Bell to cherry-pick the wealthy areas and redline out the poorer areas. (See Mike on Redlining.) The mechanism is a proposed state law that wouldn effectively exempt the telecos from the standard contracts with local communities that require cablecos to provide universal service in order to use citizen-owned rights of way and poles. Interestingly, universal service is the only real issue. Fees, the complexity of public channel provision and other public service issues are conceeded. All we really want, says the telco is the right to not serve all the public. The cable companies, whose builds have always had to comply with universal service provisions, are adamantly opposed.
There's nothing in the legislation that would require Verizon or other phone companies to build out the entire community, [cable representative] Janucik said. "We don't believe that we should have the same build-out requirement as cable has," countered Hoewing. The reason, he said, was cable had the "luxury of time" and didn't face competition. "So they had to build out their network to an entire franchise area." Verizon, on the other hand, is facing a competitor, he said: "So we should be able to make the build-out economic and competitive." Having the same build-out requirements as cable "doesn't make any sense in today's environment," Hoewing added. He said Verizon isn't opposed to paying franchise fees and is prepared to meet public, educational and govt. access (PEG) requirements but should have flexibility to negotiate. "We should not have to just lock, stock and barrel accept everything that cable has had." The conditions and requirements should be the same irrespective of who provides the video service, said Janucik...
The cable representative in the story is coy about discussing the competitive disadvantage this law would put them in. But that is all this story is about. I am not nearly so coy and you can get my analysis on just this issue at an earlier post that responded to proposed federal regulation with similar intent: The Phone Company Sharks are Circling. As you go deeper into the article it becomes apparent that cable companies across the country are bracing for a blitzkrieg in teleco-dominated state legislatures where, as here in Louisiana, telecos have historically been hugely influential in any telecommunications legislation with well-established lobbyist relationships ready to hand. (They've invested in controlling the state regulatory processes, a layer of regulation that cable companies have not had to contend with. This is precisely why it was BellSouth and not Cox who wrote the original law intended to ban Lafayette's project.)

But spill no crocodile tears for the cableco's--when it was to their advantage vis-a-vis satellite companies they have no hesitation to do exactly the same: Buy state legislators to put their competitors at an unfair advantage.

So rest assured that the cable company's objection is strategic and not principled. Should states pass such "fair competition" acts cable companies will first get themselves exempted for future builds as well. (The proposed Virigina law apparently does so already.) They will then engage in a race with teleco's to snatch up rich districts and give them everything the can as cheaply as they can. (Expect special rates sold door to door in River Ranch, for instance.) And anticipate that poorer neighborhoods will languish and in cases where the finances of even maintaining the current system don't, block by block justify maintenance, to be actually abandoned. (Expect some areas of the northside to simply no longer have access to cable, much less advanced telecom right after our next hurricane.)

There is a huge storm brewing in the states with large implications for digital divide issues and as far as I know few are attending to it. This isn't a distant quarrel between the Bells and the Cablecos--it's about the continuing erosion of the very idea of universal service on any level with both Federal and state pressures coming to bear on the last bastion of that ideal: local franchising agreements.

If folks in the states don't get on this right now, only rare places like Lafayette with its own utility-based advanced telecom system, will have equitable access. We're doing the right thing here in Lafayette. The nation could listen and learn.

"After telecom's long, hot summer, cooler heads could prevail"

First the good news: We have an "editorial" (actually an analytical piece since no actual judgment is ever passed about what would be preferable) from the Advertiser which appears to be premised on the assumption that LUS could do the job it has asked to do and that private companies might be wise to let LUS do it.

Now the bad news: The Advertisers' Bill Decker, who has had plenty of time to educate himself since his unreasoning initial attack on the very idea (a rant which had something to do with socialism and five year plans) remains a fount of misinformation even as he clearly tries to be even handed.

The basic point of the essay is that Cox and BellSouth might be wise to reach an agreement with the city and LUS; that's true--and obvious as we have noted in these pages since the beginning. It acknowledges that LUS success would lead to economic development and that LUS' plan might well help in bridging the divide between the haves and the have nots on this issue. It's a good thing to see the business editor of the paper recognize these fundamental truths.

Now a list of misinformation:
  • The basic idea that the conflict has been like a mob war with both sides "going to the mat."
    • Honestly, only one side went to the mat. BellSouth and Cox. LUS set up a defensive perimeter and reacted to attack but never went after the incumbents with anything like the vicious attack we saw from Cox and BellSouth. There is a difference and to ignore for the sake of a cheap metaphor does the community a disservice.

  • Putting forward the idea at this late stage that the plan is unwise and somehow "immoral" for not putting the interests of huge, out-of-state monopoly corporations ahead of the interests of Lafayette.
    • Say what? A funny sort of morality you have there sir.

  • That investors might prefer a public infrastructure-only role for LUS and that such a role would be less risky than reaping retail profit.
    • One shouldn't have to point out to a business editor that its wholesale telecom, that has been risky in the last decade and last-mile retail that has bee profitable. A business plan that hands profit over to active competitors, as Decker is implying is just this side of irrational. That's the sort of mistake that investors notices. Its' sort of obvious. (Please note that even the Mayor of Provo, which is building a structurally divided system, acknowledges that Lafayette's plan is the stronger.)

  • Decker tells the people of the parish that Cox will makeup loses in the city by raising rates on the parish.
    • This is a damnable lie and Becker cannot have the job he has and believe it. Does anyone seriously think that Cox, the dominant cable company across the south will have any need to ameliorate losses in the city by overcharging a few in our little parish? Especially since it would make certain that LUS, for political reasons alone, will compete there as well? Never in a million years.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Week(s) in Review

Regular readers of Lafayette Pro Fiber:

What follows is a summary of the last two weeks of the fiber debate in Lafayette. It is something I do occasionally (meaning less often than I should) on Timshel. For those of you who may not know Timshel it's the Acadiana region's premeire politcal blog and a great read. (If you can endure the pro Saints, anti Tiger proclivities Ricky shows. I try never to criticize a man's religion, but...)

Ricky gave me my start in blogging when he asked if I'd do some guest posts on fiber following convoluted remarks I had made in the comments. Consequently the folks over there have some background in the fiber issue and I still try and go over and catch them up even while I attend to LPF.

This post was a little different, it's less news and more interpretation. So I thought folks here might be interested even though you've already seen all the bits. Let me know if this sort of thing is interesting..... (This one covers two weeks. It appeared first on Timshel Saturday.)
--------------------

It's been an eventful couple of weeks since I've last checked in with a summary post; apologies for the absence. Lafayette's fight to be allowed to invest in itself with a state of the art phone/data/cable utility has been beset by what has mostly turned out to be confusion.

Here's the executive overview: The tide is rising. I sense one of those tipping points coming where suddenly all those folks who have been guarded about the project and a shockingly high percentage of those who'd been clearly dismissive of the possibility discover that they've been ardent supporters all along.

That's a good thing and is both natural and necessary. But it's hard for those weary pro-fiber partisan smiles not to be a little wry.

Here's a little tale that illustrates how the last two weeks have gone:

When last we visited on these pages BellSouth's Williams had issued each truck in his service fleet a copy of the anti-fiber petition to tote around town with them while they service the public. (Apparently the workers didn't necessarily greet that with enthusiasm.) What was most noticeable about William's support was that nothing visible came of it. No announcements about numbers of signatures gathered by blue and white trucks and no further supportive comments from BellSouth headquarters. Word then leaks out that Williams has talked to his employees again, and that the memo's instructions this time is that they are not to circulate the petition on company time. Finally we are treated to the spectacle of BellSouth's William's disingenuously declaring that he has always been for bringing "Lafayette forward in the world of technology" in the midst of "overtures" by both incumbents.

So what happened to produce that strange little trajectory?

That's the right question. And the short answer is that by the end of the recent two week period the balance between profit and loss had shifted, the cost of support had risen and the likelihood of eventual success had fallen. Cold calculation...and perhaps that the word has come down from corporate central that bad national publicity at this moment is too costly.

[open timeout for background]
Monopolist generally are amazingly immune to public opinion except when a regulatory commission is meeting. And right now BellSouth has some things before the Federal Communications Commission that are critical in the Baby Bell's real and inevitable battle with cable. A battle which realistically rates much higher in BellSouth's priority than publicly resisting our city's right of self-determination. With the resignation of remarkably pro-corporate Chairman Powell from the FCC imminent, it is in BellSouth's interest to get while the getting is still good. BellSouth and the other Baby Bells would dearly love to be exempted from what is required of their opponents, the cablecos; that they reach a franchise agreement with local communities like Lafayette before they are allowed to run cable TV. The FCC apparently believes they could step in and define cable TV offered by the telecos into a category they control. This would do considerably more than "save" the teleco's the annoyance of having to deal with all those little guys and pay some local folks for the use of their poles and rights of way. Much more crucial, it would exempt them from the standard clause in such contracts that they offer service to all citizens equally. Universal Service. They'd much rather cherry pick just the rich districts, keep their capital cost down, and drive the cablecos out of the most profitable parts of each local market. That is where the long term advantage lies.

And having a lot of publicity in the national press about how you are keeping a little municipality in colorful Cajun country down hands their opponents on the FCC valuable ammunition which is targeted right at the heart of the issue of local control. BellSouth can't want that.
[close timeout for background]


The events: National: Negativity

The biggest single event was a national blockbuster: USAToday endorsed Lafayette's plan in an editorial that followed up an analytical piece that indicted the baby bells for pursuing a plan to regain monopoly status. In the story and the editorial Lafayette's role was symbolic. We played the part (quite well, thank you) of the small town determined to control its own destiny lead by a fiery and idealistic mayor. BellSouth plays the symbolic role for the Telcos: the grey behemoth the whose monopoly ambitions are expressed in its attempt to keep even such wholesome competition as Lafayette's at bay. I don't mean to demean the battle here by saying that USAToday made it symbolic. Quite the contrary. Symbolism is most powerful when it is the simple truth. And the mythic story taking shape here, regardless of the details, is fundamentally true.

Other national events are less momentous. But in their narrow areas, no less important, and no less a danger to the story the private incumbents would like to see told.

A continuing series of negative stories about supine state legislatures giving away the store to the telecom industry emerged following the passage of a law in Pennsylvania intended to outlaw all municipal participation in broadband. Lobbyists in Pennsylvanida made the egregious political mistake of handing local sovereignty over to corporations and that tactic, finally, drew some media attention. (In Pennsylvania these days a community has to ask permission of any corporations that might want to provide telecom services and if they say they do then allow them to try. Sometime. Maybe.)

Intel, a behemoth itself, came out endorsing the idea that there is a legitimate role for municipals in the provision of broadband services. It clearly understands that if broadband is to expand rapidly local governments must not be written out of the competition by state laws.

A string on Lafayette's battle on Slashdot resolved, as much as such things can resolve, into slashing expression of technorati contempt for the incumbent providers of broadband and a defense of municipalities right to break free.

The Consumer's Union, the venerable gray lady of smart consumerism, launched a surprisingly activist website, hearusnow, devoted as much to rallying opposition to the developing monopolist practices of incumbent providers of telecommunications as to smart consumption of their products.

Ministers called SBC's plan, and by association BellSouth's very similar one, to roll out fiber to the (wealthy) curbs redlining. Since that is uncomfortably close to the truth, having it pointed out wasn't all that welcome. Especially while regulations are pending before the FCC which would allow them to do just that.

A meme emerged with some force in the media that incumbent providers in the United States are not doing their job as US rankings in broadband penetration continue in free fall and as those Americans with the limited broadband the incumbents provide discover that faster service is available for less in countries we once disdained as "second" or "third world."

Yes, BellSouth might well have thought that right now wasn't the time to confirm criticism of the ways it handles local broadband competitors by helping fix a local petition drive that appears doomed to failure anyway.

The events: Local: Confusion

The news wasn't good locally either.

The petitioners, by accepting BellSouth's aid, made BellSouth a target and lent credibility to the suspicion that they were doing work that the incumbents desired but had failed to accomplish themselves.

News broke (on LPF) that Cox had made "overtures" to the city. After a week the mainstream media picked it up. Even the hint of a possibility of an alliance between Cox and LUS had to make BellSouth very, very nervous. The current alliance between Cox and BellSouth is both unstable and unequal with BellSouth the weaker network in Lafayette.

Doubt mounted as to the legality of petition as it became more apparent that petitioners were simply looking for the easy rather than the legal path.

Bellsouth found itself allied to a group that couldn't shoot straight. They called press conferences to bemoan the fact that they were going to be prevented (by what would have been their own oversight) from presenting their petition before a deadline. The city-parish had to tell them that they were mistaken and they could present...but that it was the wrong petition, one which didn't apply to the type of bonds issued. So they issued another press release saying the drive was back on in full force. And later they asked for the city to halt progress on LUS' project while they tried to clear up legal questions. The mess did not reflect well on BellSouth.

The petitioners attracted some pretty telling criticisms as the administration used every opportunity to insist that a signature on the petition did signify opposition to the project regardless of what the petitioners said. They hit hard on the idea that it would hand decision-making power over to bureaucrats in Atlanta. And the obvious point was that this was all poor sportsmanship by folks who understood neither the technical nor legal frameworks they were dealing with.

That turned into a lot words, regardless of my attempt to focus the narrative on BellSouth's little turnaround. Still, the point is clear: BellSouth had its reasons for abandoning its open support of the petition. Both locally and nationally the leadership can't be happy with the way the battle has shaped up to date.

But the collapse of open incumbent opposition, even if it proves temporary, is a huge opportunity. Let's hope LUS is in position to take advantage of any fleeting goodwill at the PSC where BellSouth is rumored to be trying build roadblocks into LUS' regulatory regime.

Xserve cluster born in Louisiana

Here's something that is little more than a tidbit but still...it expresses something particularly Lousiana. The story is about a new cluster computer over at LSU. (A cluster computer is a type of super computer built with standard computer boxes, in this case Mac XServes.)

What makes it particularly Louisianaish is the use it'll be devoted to:
Nemeaux is the only cluster of its kind devoted to computational arts research. It will open new avenues of expression and creativity for artists, musicians and researchers at LSU.

"Nemeaux provides a platform for scientists and artists to explore new possibilities," said Stephen David Beck, director of the Laboratory for Creative Arts & Technologies, a division of CCT, and professor of composition and computer music.

Researchers in LCAT will benefit from Nemeaux's ability to link art and technology for future creative and research projects. Among the intended uses of the computer cluster are video composition and animation rendering, which translates a set of computer data and virtual objects into a full visual representation of those objects. Nemeaux will also serve as a powerful research tool for the computational aspects of music, film, video and art.
There is something right about Louisiana having "the only cluster of its kind devoted to computational arts research."

Now if we could only get one for Lafayette's students.


"Mass panic clogs BellSouth phone system"

I occasionally get really irritated at the sorts of nonsense that people assume is true just because it is ideologically correct. No doubt my irritation level is high because Lafayette has had to deal with incumbents and their agents who regularly and mistakenly mislead the community into regarding BellSouth and Cox as if they were "free enterprise" corporations rather than the monopolists that they have been and remain. There is and can be no "free enterprise" alternative to a public fiber-optic network for Lafayette. The coming monopoly will either be owned by the citizens and thus oriented toward serving us or owned by traditional monopolists and dedicated to extracting the maximum amount of profit from its advantage. And that excess profit will be sent off to Atlanta.

Every day we see stories that are explicable only as the malign effects of allowing monopolies to pretend they are like mom and pop hardware stores and retreating from the rational alternatives of public ownership or rational regulation.

A large part of why that happens is that our media doesn't seem to be able to distinguish between an actual story and the one the incumbents tell them and so report to the citizens of an area a story which comes close to fabrication but evokes no concerned response because it is comfortably ideologically correct.

The following story from North Carolina illustrates the point well. Go take a look at the story it is short and simple. Then return here for a review of the problems that it illustrates.

-------go on, take a look, the rest really won't make good sense unless you do---

Raw version of this story: Usage spike in North Carolina caused the wireline phone system to crash.

Ideologically correct version of this story: BellSouth and its competitors phone systems overloaded because the people panicked during a snow emergency. Unhappily the public service commission says it just isn't economically feasible to make it more reliable. (This is what the paper unreflectively reports.)

Rational version: BellSouth's phone system (which leases lines to other carriers) crashed during a usage spike due to an event that is unusual but hardly extraordinary and well within the reasonable service parameters for system design. Data show that capacity peaked out at 1.7 times normal usage. Officals at the state utilities commission, charged with regulating the monopoly landline's service standards, evaded discussing service issues, referring instead to cost factors over which they have no authority.

Analytical version: It is clear that regulatory oversight is out to lunch in North Carolina when a low-grade public excitement can bring down the basic telecommunications system. An exciting snow on North Carolina's beach's is unusual but certainly did not excite panic. These guys have hurricanes, for goodness sake. These citizens either have to learn to regulate their local monoplies so that basic services are reliable enough to count on during real emergencies (which this was not) or decide to make their essential services into utilities that will have service as its first priority rather than the current system of taking monopoly system income and investing it out-system merely to increase its stock price. (BellSouth could easily afford to upgrade its antiquated system with fiber throughout--if it weren't investing for highest return in other, non-wireline pursuits, many of which --like its enormous loser in Central and South American wireless were huge losers.)

We're doing the right thing here in Lafayette. The nation could listen and learn.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

DULL Petitions for Bandwidth Tax

As John blogged earlier, the DULL (Delusional United Luddites of Lafayette) have filed a random petition with the Lafayette Parish Clerk of Court. In the press reports, they repeat the lie that they are not opposed to the LUS fiber to the premises plan — apparently, with straight faces. I'm not going to dignify the stories by providing links to them.

Well, on the back cover page of the January 10, 2005, edition of New Orleans CityBusiness I found what they are petitioning for: the right to be ripped-off!

A bit of a review is required by way of explanation.

LUS is proposing to bring to every home and small business in Lafayette a very fat connection to the Internet. The smallest connection ever mentioned was 24 megabits per second. 100 megabits per second is just as easily done as 24 megabits. And, a gigabit of intra-city connectivity is not out of the question, nor off the table.

LUS promises to do this at a significant discount to whatever services are offered by the incumbent carriers Cox and BellSouth. LUS also promises to continue regularly adjusting prices downward on a path to deliver "more bandwidth for less" to consumers and businesses here throughout the life of the project.

Now, despite their protestations, the DULL crowd is against this. Maybe not against this trend, but they are dead set against LUS delivering these benefits to Lafayette consumers and businesses. The fact that neither Cox nor BellSouth have indicated they would deliver similar infrastructure with a similar intent (and, in fact, have flatly declared that they would not) matters not to the DULL.

So, clearly, DULL is about ideology, not facts.

No, rather than allow the benefits of massively cheaper bandwidth make their way to Lafayette consumers and businesses, the DULL would have us gasping through the bandwidth reeds that the respective boards of Cox and BellSouth determine we should have.

Which brings us to the back page of New Orleans City Business.

It is a full-page ad for Cox Business Services. The headline reads: "No One's Ever Complained That Their Internet Service Was Too Fast." That is followed by a photo of a mouse leaving skid marks on a mouse pad; followed by the subhead: "Think Faster. Think Smarter. Think Bigger."

Cox then proceeds to make a pitch for Cox Business Internet: "1.5 Mbps/384Kbps service for only $89 per month and get free installation.*" The asterisk refers readers to six-plus lines of fine print at the bottom of the ad which inform them that this is a special rate that won't last past February 28, and that free installation only comes at the cost of a three-year contract, otherwise it could run as high as $249. There is also: "Rates and bandwidth options vary and are subject to change. Services not available in all areas. Other restrictions apply."

You know the drill.

Cox Business Services in "Greater Louisiana" offers the same package as they do in New Orleans. I'm not sure if the rates are the same and they don't provide any information on rates on that page or on the PDF which you download from that page.

So, in the name of ideological purity, the DULL would impose a bandwidth tax on every business in Lafayette because THEY would prefer that businesses in Lafayette wait until Cox and/or BellSouth decides that they will spend the money to bring fiber to every home and business in the city — if ever.

That is, the DULL would deny small businesses in Lafayette access to the kind of bandwidth that Cox doesn't even offer it's largest business customers. The DULL would do this because they oppose the concept of LUS providing services for philosophical reasons. The DULL may walk the streets as business people, but their brains live in ivory towers far removed from the real world.

What is particularly insulting about their opposition to the LUS plan is that the proceeds from the DULL Bandwidth Tax would not go to the benefit of the community but would instead go directly into the coffers of Cox and BellSouth! That is, the higher bandwidth costs which businesses would continue to pay if LUS is prevented from building their network and delivering their services would be money taken from those businesses and shipped off to Atlanta.

That this is the preferred course of events for the DULL is proof positive that they do not have the interests of this community at heart and that they do not have the interests of their fellow business people at heart. All they are about is garnering attention, defending the corporate interests of BellSouth and Cox, and demonstrating just how pristine are the ivory towers in which their thought processes are locked.

Petition Goes to Registrar Despite Doubts

Executive Summary:
"'Honestly, we're not sure how it will work,' Supple said. 'This is the only thing we know to do"
Honestly, that's all you need to know.
------------
The saga of the petitioners who couldn't get it right goes on. Both the Advocate and the Advertiser runs stories on the petitioners submitting their document to the registrar for signature validation.

These guys continue to look for the absolutely easiest way out. Having started with a law that, upon reflection seems unlikely to produce a valid petition, they up the wishful thinking quotient by hopefully asserting that only need to get enough signatures to meet the number required from city voters--a number smaller than the city-parish signatories. Trouble is, as all who attended the council meetings will recall, is that the council had to go through a series of double votes of both city and city-parish members to make sure that the parish, under whose authority the bonds were issued would be legally obliged, as well as the city, which had formal control of LUS. No one doubt the city-parish is the issuing authority. But the silliness doesn't end there. Since they collected signatures from city-parish citizens all along (and none of their petition locales were, in fact, inside the city limits) it must be that they had another interpretation in mind when they began collect signatures? Look for a large number of invalid signatures under their interpretation. At some point you don't need to be a lawyer to recognize how poorly this whole project was conceived. And they expect the people to trust their judgment about LUS and fiber? Really now.

The Advocate has the better story, as we've come to expect. Go there first.

Move on to the Advertiser if you're interested in quotes from two signatories who work for BellSouth or it's subsidiaries. (Neither paper reports the number of signatures gained for the petition during that window between Williams issuing the petition to his employees to carry around the city while they worked and his memo demanding that they not work on it during company time. --The petitioners aren't the only ones having trouble getting it straight.)

At the Advertiser you'll also be able to review the Advertiser's first take on the now week and a half old story that Cox is in talks with the city on this issue. Maybe next week they'll notice that BellSouth has also been down to city hall.


Friday, January 21, 2005

Court Rejects BellSouth Complaint Against City's Internet Service

Competition springs up and whaddaya do? Sue 'em. If you're BellSouth. Trouble is, it doesn't always work.
BellSouth lost again Tuesday in its fight to stop the city of Laurinburg and a Fayetteville company from providing high-speed Internet access in Laurinburg.

A state Court of Appeals panel unanimously rejected BellSouth's claim that Laurinburg and Schoollink Inc. use the city's fiber-optic network to illegally compete against private industry.
Check it out in: Court Rejects BellSouth Complaint Against City's Internet Service.

It's a trend.

"Durel, Cox discuss fiber optics"

One of the dailies catches up to the local weekly (though trailing your friends here at LPF by a week) in Durel, Cox discuss fiber optics. Mostly this story repeats, with some interesting quotes, information and interpretation our readers will already be familiar with from our own report and the Independent's. But there is a nugget worth pondering in regards to the incumbent hopes of joining the wining side:

"That window (of opportunity) starts closing every day to the day we sell the bonds," Durel said.

And, indeed that is the limit for all opponents of the project. When the bonds are sold the train will have left the station.

Indeed, it's my sense that the train has already pulled out. The odor that drifts over the battlefield is one of retreat and dissarry on the part of the incumbents. Some Cox managers appear to still be out of the loop as colleagues go around them to City Hall. Williams of BellSouth asks his employees not to circulate a petition that he had earlier issued them; abandoning the Fiber411 partisans in the field with a petition weapon that's firing blanks. Williams has even begun ardently declaring that he was always been for bringing "Lafayette forward in the world of technology."

My guess is that within a week our cautious majority will have turned into an all but unanimous chorus of support. And that it will be hard to find anyone who ever had any doubts.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Bumper Stickers

Here's something that is a little fun: A few knockoffs of our bumber sticker got printed locally and we're happy to see some of them making their way onto cars. The more the merrier. You can download your own at our ArtWorks page.

Get Out of Our Way Bumper Sticker

Jon Fitzgerald, local fiber partisan, produced the current crop via the subscription method. If you'd like some get in touch with him. He says let him know. He's got plenty left.

Update 1/21/05: My error! If you 've tried to get in touch with Jon by email and the link didn't work it was my error. I used the wrong domain (.com instead of .net) in the mailto link which provided a well-formed address that goes nowhere. Apologies to all those who eager desires were frustrated :-).

It is fixed now.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

"The Home Stretch"

The Times has come out with a very interesting personality piece on our fiber controversy, if you don't try too hard to read it as an accurate recounting of the news story but instead look at it as a kaleidoscope of various ways to look at the issue.

The story, as I understand it, started out as an interview-based overview of the contending partisans (and not LUS/LCG). But with the emergence of a series of petition missteps, it looks as if it were incompletely converted into a news story.

What's missing are the perspectives and words of Huval and Durel, both articulate men with a distinctive point of view and an original voice. But what you get is interesting enough in its own right: the voices of those who are passionate about the project, both pro and con.

You'll get some definite opinions from Doug Menefee, Neal Breakfield, Mike Stagg and me. Not all partisans on either side fully agree and you'll get a taste of that, too. All in all, it's well worth reading. Nobody will really like this version, but it should inform us all about the way folks are thinking.

BellSouth Backs Down

There was one throw-away line in this week's Independent fiber-optic story that deserves its own post:
As the LUS initiative draws nearer to becoming reality, the two private providers are scaling back any opposition to the project people may associate with their company. Local BellSouth representative John Williams says the company recently sent out a memo requesting that their employees no longer take company time to solicit signatures for a petition to hold a public vote on the LUS issue. Cox employees have not participated in the petition. (emphasis mine)
More evidence, were more needed, that most opponents are beginning to get realistic about about Lafayette's determination to do this thing. Would that our sputtering band of petitioners, now abandoned by their only large public supporter, do the same.

Someone's hearing our message:
"...get out of our way, because we are not going to back down on this."

Strange Fiber Bedfellows?

The Independent's Nathan Stubbs covers, for the first time in the mainstream media, a story we broke here last Thursday: the news that the incumbents have begun to make "overtures" to LUS and the city. That story, Cracks in the Axis of Evil? Is Cox Seeking a Place at LUS Table? Cox Makes "Overtures" was based on news that Joey Durel had mentioned such talks at a Rotary breakfast, a fact later confirmed by Durel via blackberry and email.
Here's the heart of the Ind's story:
Riding high on favorable coverage the fiber initiative received in two recent USA Today articles (including an endorsement of the plan), Durel says some of the top executives with the two national companies may now be ready to talk about ways they can work with Lafayette Consolidated Government.

"Anyone that wants to come talk to us has got to put an extremely sincere and serious offer on the table," he says. "Otherwise it will only be a five-minute conversation.'
Apparently BellSouth, ever arrogant, suggested that Lafayette could trek to Atlanta to talk about it. Partisans will be pleased to note Durel's response:
"Our attitude is basically, tell Atlanta to come to us. We're here,"
Some disarray in Cox's ranks seems likely. While Durel continues to say Cox has made the trek to city hall, Cox's local representative, Cassard, is unaware of any visit. The rumor mill has it that Cox's exTCA staff and much of the personnel associated with the early stages of the battle (For instance, the infamous TJ Crawdad (1) (2)) are gone, leaving Cassard virtually the only local or regional representative of the old regime. Possibly he is no longer in the loop.

While I personally remain reserved about handing these guys any of the income that LUS will need to secure the network I'd love to see how they might bring new revenue to the table. Remember, they had a chance to be participants and chose to trash our community, now they come as beggars to the feast.

Reservations aside, there is no question but that this is major news. Even if nothing comes of it, it is now apparent that the talks are at least feelers--and it can only mean that the big boys are bracing for LUS' success. And, like good businessmen everywhere, trying to figure out how they can profit from the new reality.