Wednesday, March 02, 2005

The fiber-to-the-schools plan

Lafayette Pro Fiber covered the fiber-to-the-schools plan (FTTS) briefly in the long wait for the non-action on the fiber bond issue last night and the media have interesting stories on it as well. The Advocate, KATC, and KLFY all offer their takes. The Advertiser seems to have passed on it. Maybe tomorrow.

Everyone gushes about the advantage to students and the amazing possibilities that it offers students. Let me join in the gushing. In a former life I taught on an Educational Technology faculty and believe me, there are some pretty amazing applications just sitting on the shelf waiting for two things: a fat enough pipe to deliver them and location of that pipe in a socially diverse enough community that the big grantor agencies won't feel bad about funding a large-scale implementation. Lafayette Parish will be the first community to be able to line up for that funding. I urge the grant writers at the parish not to think small. Start looking for a couple of really big ones. In the odd economy of schooling, having a resource like this lets you apply for grants that you'd never be considered for without it. Shoot, it lets you invent grant opportunities tailored to your needs that you can credibly ask the big guys for. This is a smart investment simply from a fiscal point of view. The small additional cost should pay for itself many, many, many times.

Besides the natural enthusiasm about the benefit for schools and students, there were some other things revealed about how LUS regards this separate but obviously connected fiber buildout. One thing that jumps out was just how aggressive they are willing to be on price.

From KLFY:

...from what the officials say, the small cost difference between what they have now and what is coming will be worth it.

Right now, the system is paying $365 a month per school for cable modem speed. The monthly fee for the fiber service would be $390.

Considering that they will have to run an entirely new plant all over the parish, this is stunningly cheap. These guys are willing to be aggressive. Very aggressive. Notice, of course, that this great deal on installing modern technology and providing it to every school at an ultra-low price is a product of local values and a utility mentality. No out-of-town corporation would think this approach "sensible."

Another thing revealed by this FTTS build is that LUS is positioning itself to benefit every citizen in the parish--not simply the folk who live in the city. That possibility has always floated out there and I have noted the few times that Durel or one of the mayors of the outlying cities have made remarks that pointed in this direction. But what we see here is a concrete commitment to running fiber in the parish. The implications of that are not avoided. The Advocate's always-incisive Blanchard asks the right questions:

Asked whether the planned connection to the parish schools outside city limits could lead to an expansion of LUS' planned fiber-to-the-home initiative beyond city limits, Huval said the public school network outside city limits could create an opportunity for such an expansion.

Huval said the school program has nothing to do with the fiber-to-the-home plan, but said that success of the two separate plans could open the door for expansion of fiber-to-the-home beyond city limits.

"We'll have a point of presence out there," Huval said.

I've spent some fair amount of energy trying to think about how LUS could get backhaul bandwidth out to the parish at a pretty low cost. (Did you know that lasers have some advantages? :-) ) But this leapfrogs my ideas and is a better solution. There will be the elements of a pervasive backbone in place in every corner of the parish as this build proceeds. The major cost is in getting the gangs out there working and securing rights of ways. The cost of fiber strands themselves is miniscule in comparison. Running a few more (or a few dozen more) strands down that conduit will not budge the bottom line. Hooking up the electronics to all that will cost money. But you don't do that until you have someone to sell to. The possibilities are endless. Fiber to the home from one end of the parish to the other. Yes. Possibly. But it's also possible that interim solutions to bringing in parish residents could be found. A wireless parish network? Not out of reach.

A credible offer of fiber or wireless to the parish as a whole might well have political implications for the current referendum battle. The game is deeper than bandwidth for children. The city and LUS have played a great game of chess so far. I won't be at all surprised if this isn't a clever move, a castle that changes the entire configuration of the board.

Stay tuned.

1 comment:

Mike Stagg said...

Let's see: 66x the bandwidth for $25 more per month per school. Jeez! Sure seems that the previous providers was delivering a vastly inferior product for just about the same price that LUS is proposing to deliver a vastly supperior product.

What this does is drive home the anti-business, anti-community animus that is at the heart of the opposition to the LUS fiber to the building plan. The opponents insist that Lafayette businesses and consumers continue to be saddled with a range of options similar to the ones Lafayette Parish Public Schools System just jettisoned: high-priced, scarce bandwidth.

This is the essence of the bandwidth tax that BellSouth, Cox and the Sock Puppets insist that Lafayette continue to pay. It is tribute to Atlanta that we MUST continue to pay at the altar of the so-called private sector.

I understand BellSouth and Cox defending their right to rip off, but the Sock Puppets are another story. They are ardent defenders of our right to be ripped off. The argument is wearing thin.

This story is about real world bandwidth being delivered to real world customers under the terms of a contract. How can anyone not in the employ of Cox or BellSouth not see the value proposition that the LUS plan offers consumers and businesses here?

I'm sure they'll try to explain.