Wednesday, February 09, 2005

"Downloading Durel"-Wireless next?

The Independent interviews Durel; it is one of those interview stories that, for some reason, weeklies do so well. It is always refreshing to hear folks speak in their own voices--and Durel has a distinctive voice.

As you might expect, the story starts out focused on the fiber issue and does a good job of running through an overview and the basics of the current state of the conflict. It is well worth reading on that score. There is plenty for a citizen to read and think about concerning a number of local issues that do not relate to fiber. Go take a look.

But what is most exciting for fiberistas is the talk about a wireless play. Here are those excerpts; type in bold is the Independent questioner:


Are there any big-ticket items you plan on rolling out next year or in the rest of your term?
I would love for us to be the first parish — the first county in the country, I think — to become completely wireless. How we get that done is to be determined, whether it's some kind of public/private partnership, with incentives for private companies. Nothing would make me happier in the next 12 or 18 months. I'm competitive. I want us to be first in everything. It's all about marketing, in a way. It's all about giving the national news media a reason to write about Lafayette.
In a question about the mayor's business background and education, the following was volunteered:
My dream would be for us to make Lafayette Parish wireless and make every school, including the university, free to all the students in the school. Fiber is going to change things in the classroom. Maybe we can do some of those things, not because of my business background, but it's that luck thing: opportunity and preparation meet, and we may have an opportunity to change things in education, or at least to benefit education.
Unlike some other pro-fiber and even pro-LUS partisans, I am an unrepentant advocate of the public ownership of public goods. I hope LUS does the wireless play itself and limits private partnership to the cell phone side of the picture. A wireless cloud over the city would be a truly impressive (and relatively inexpensive) addition to the fiber build. Of course, putting wireless in place in a form that could be used by more than a wealthy few will require fiber first.

I've fantasized about the possibilities of a wifi/cell phone "quintuple play" before. Adding that layer of mobility to the huge bandwidth potential of fiber with LUS in a position to integrate all three would enable the smooth delivery of advanced integrated services, such as programming your TV's digital recorder from your cell phone. People in places where different providers with technologies that mesh only fitfully if at all will simply not reap the synergistic benefits that only the few folks with utility-based providers will have. Adding a wireless play will make it certain that Lafayette will be out in front of all its competitors in the race for development mindshare. Philadelphia got weeks of front page play by merely letting people know that they had this fantasy. A city with both universal fiber and universal wifi would really be unique.

What a lot of folks may not realize is that a wireless addition inevitably means a mobile phone option for at least the technologically sophisticated users. WiFi phones are being sold right now, mostly for use on the "campuses" of big corporations. More exciting—and what I am fervently hoping for—would be a partnership with one of the major cell phone companies, with LUS providing the in-system digital wireless connection and the cell phone company providing the national cell plan for out-of-Lafayette-parish calls. It would be another revenue stream for LUS, and since LUS would certainly be able to do it very cheaply, it would be another way to help local citizens save money. There could even be a "system only," extremely cheap plan for folks who need only very inexpensive in-parish service; this could go a long way to bridging the "digital divide" between those with access to mobile telephony and those without.

It is likely that you'll be hearing a lot more about this wireless option. Cell phone companies will not like it. Cingular, of which BellSouth owns 40%, is not likely to be happy, for instance, nor will any of the others--except, of course, that company whose partnership with LUS means a sudden, dramatic increase in market share.

We live in interesting times...

1 comment:

Neal Breakfield said...

John:

You said "Unlike some other pro-fiber and even pro-LUS partisans, I am an unrepentant advocate of the public ownership of public goods."

What do you consider "public goods?"