Tuesday, May 31, 2005

"Tech will cause a real estate crash"

This little article on the CNN site attracted my attention because Nielsen, the man interviewed, is one of my favorite design/usability experts. (I'm even more fond of the fellow he has partnered with, Nelson.) So I stopped and read the article.

All that is basically claimed is that the web and associated technologies will lead to a more dispersed workforce in the future. Living in a large city will be necessary for fewer kinds of jobs and so people will be better able to leave the city and live in the countryside. This isn't new, of course, but it did set off a little moment of reflection. People don't actually seem to be dispersing into the countryside and as futurists have predicted for more than a decade. There is a lot more telecommuting. But mostly folks are telecommuting from other locations in the city or in the surrounding suburbs. So far at least, there has not been the move to the countryside that has been predicted (a prediction that Nielsen repeats).

Futurists tend to overemphasize technology and underemphasize the social context in which it has to operate—people mostly like their colleagues and operating in a social vacuum is not the best way to succeed at most jobs. So there is a social rather than technical limit to how far telecommuting is likely to go. But it is also true that in-city telecommuting is much more successful than its country version. And I suspect that a large part of that difference lies in the fact, which Nielsen and futurists ignore, that you can't really get big pipe broadband in the country. If you want full-frame teleconferencing with your creative team, you cannot do it from a house in the country.

No, for the near future at least, your best bet to back off the city lifestyle and still keep your job will be to try to find a nice smallish city with some huge pipes and settle in there. I'd look for a place with good music, good food, and a laid back atmosphere. But that's me.

Broome says she's not 'vicious' person

Here's the whole of a brief in today's Advocate (with the caveat that my streaming video-based recollection is that it was Mike Michot whose invitation to eat in Lafayette that elicited Broome's rueful reply):
State Sen. Sharon Weston Broome, a Democrat from Baton Rouge, told the Senate Commerce Committee last week that she had taken a lot of heat from Lafayette residents angered that a bill she authored would hurt Lafayette Utilities System's proposed telecommunications project.

After supporting amendments that excluded Lafayette from being affected by the bill, she asked City-Parish President Joey Durel to tell his constituents she's not the "ugly and vicious" person described in some of the e-mails she received.

Durel extended Broome an invitation to come to Lafayette and "eat some of that good food."

"Let me know when it's safe," Broome responded.

Thanks go out to the readers of Lafayette Pro Fiber who participated in the letter-writing and calling campaign that left Broome with the impression that even a senator from Baton Rouge wasn't immune to an outraged defense of Lafayette.

(Just for the record: I don't think anyone accused Broome of being ugly and vicious...complacently uniformed, unreflectively ignorant, and a willing tool of corporate interests to the detrement of the people whose interests she claims to champion come to mind. But not ugly or vicious. See earlier stories: 1, 2, 3)

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Cox ups speeds dramatically—in Northern Virginia

Its always pleasing to see what a little competition can do. Broadband reports notes that Cox has raised its speed cap dramatically in Northern Virginia—to as much as 15 megs download for its most expensive residential tier—in an apparent attempt to slow losses to fiber-optic based competition from Verizon. (A little much-needed competition is one of the chief advantages of LUS' plan to build a fiber-optic network in Lafayette. It suggests yet another reason to vote yes on July 16th even if you are perfectly satisfied with Cox: "Vote yes! For better service....from Cox!")

Northern Virginia near Washington DC is one of the nation's wealthiest "exurban" communities but has long complained of wretched Internet service. So it makes sense that Verizon would move aggressively in this area. And it makes sense that Cox would fight to protect its wealthy customers. And that is the simple and largely true explanation. But saying that doesn't explain why this response is banner news on the Internet sites devoted to broadband. Why is this competitive response surprising and unique? After all, Verizon is rolling out its fiber in places across the country. The answer seems to be, at least in part, because in Northern Virginia Cox can respond—and in most places the cablecos can't come near matching Verizon's fiber. And for that near-parity it appears to owe gratitude to a meddling government. As broadband reports notes:
A skirmish between Cox and Fairfax county started in 1999, when the cable company purchased the network of Media General. Cox was slow to update the newly acquired networks - which - if you take a trip back to our forums in 2001, offered a connection quality easily bested by a 300baud modem hooked to a Wildcat! BBS.

Fairfax County took action against the provider for delays and hit them with a $2 million fine. They then began fining them $2,000 each day they failed to meet upgrade obligations. By 2003, the half-a-billion dollar upgrade of the old Media General network began to take shape.
So in forcing Cox to meet its contractual obligations locally, Fairfax County probably made it possible for Cox to nearly effectively answer a real competitive challenge. Of course, if there had been real competition in the area before Verizon arrived bearing fiber, it would probably have not have been necessary for the county to insist on adequate infrastructure.

Cox raised the cap on its premier tier of service to a nominal 15 megs in response to the challenge from Verizion for these prime customers. It's a great upgrade at first glance—and we got a similar but lesser sort of upgrade (it maxes at 6 megs for the highest-priced tier locally, I believe) not long after it became plain that LUS wasn't going to back down on its plan—but Cox's new Northern Virgina offering remains 10 dollars more than what Verizon is charging for the same speed cap. And not all speed caps are the same. When any company, be it Cox, Verizon, BellSouth, or presumably LUS, sells you a certain download/upload speed (its 15/2 in Northern Virginia) they are really selling you not a speed but a cap. They are telling you that you can use up to but not beyond a particular number, the cap.

Time out for a brief explanation: cable companies cannot sell you a guaranteed speed because you are on a shared line with other users. In one common example, they split 24 megabytes between users in a neighborhood of many potential users. As long as their service is unpopular they can deliver the 5 megs you've paid for. But if 5 users all try to download at the same time they're trying to use 25 megs--1 meg more than is available--and if 10 users try it, nobody can get more than 2.5 megs--half of what you thought you paid for. It's in the cable company's best interest to oversubscribe the lines and it is industry standard procedure to do so. Hence, no guarantees.

The implication is pretty clear: raising the cap is useful only if the bandwidth is available. If Cox Northern Virgina hasn't really increased capacity, then it is little more than a marketing ploy in terms of your day-to-day experience. The cap—the advertised speed—is much less interesting than the raw bandwidth available at your door. All things being equal, if Verizon has much more headroom in its system (and it does), then you are more likely to get the advertised speed. And it's 10 dollars a month cheaper.

Right now all these details and technicalities really don't matter much in Lafayette. But this is just the sort of reasoning we'll have to go through if LUS gets the chance to build our network. And expect such reasoning to tend in favor of the system with real headroom: LUS'.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Standing Up—Acadian Home Builders Association

In a press release today the Acadiana Homebuilders endorsed Lafayette's fiber optic project, calling for a "yes" vote on July 16th.
AHBA, according to Boudreaux, is always interested and supportive of economic development endeavors which could potentially bring new businesses and new jobs to the area which in turn keep up the demand for new housing. Keeping Lafayette on the cutting edge of technology is an exciting prospect to stimulate both new businesses and job growth.

Boudreaux adds, “We’re proud to add our name to the growing list of organizations that have come out in support of this project.”
Congratulations to the homebuilders for standing up for Lafayette.

Standing Up—Rebuild Lafayette North

Rebuild Lafayette North, the organization that sponsored the debate between Mike Stagg and Tim Supple, has decided to endorse the fiber optic project and to urge voters to vote Yes on July the 16th.
...the Committee for Rebuild Lafayette North joins other community leaders and organizations in urging the voters of the City of Lafayette to determine their own destiny and to approve the “Bond Sale Proposition” on Saturday, 16 July 2005, thereby providing the Lafayette Utilities System the opportunity to proceed with expansion of its fiber optic network to every home and business.
The organization cites digital divide, universal service, development, and educational reasons, among others. It's all set up in classic resolution form, replete with many "whereas" and the final, resounding, "therefore." You can get a look at it at Fibre911 which is hosting a copy.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

"LUS fiber plan gets exemption from bill's rule"

The Advocate's story on yesterday's Senate Commerce Committee (posted late to the website) hearing clarifies some issues left over from yesterday and points to one of the highlights of the session: the potential involvement of New Orleans in laying a fiber optic network of its own.

There were, you will recall, two critical issues as far as Louisiana municipalities were concerned: the requirement of a vote (and potentially multiple votes) and the question of effectively fining any city that decided to provide some competition for the current providers. The issue of a vote was settled in favor of Cox in spite of protests from Lafayette and the Louisiana Municipal Association that coming back this year to rework a bill written last year after extensive negoitiations and compromise was simply not the way things should be done. A more normal legislative procedure would be to let such a hard-won bill have a little life before trying go back in and change the negotiated settlement. Here's the way the article puts it:
As the bill stands with the new amendment, any municipality planning to enter the communications business in the future -- such as New Orleans -- would have to put the issue to a vote.
The second issue, of fining cities for daring to oppose Cox or their local cable provider, is more complicated. Blanchard does a good job of distilling it:
The Senate committee also addressed the issue in Broome's bill that would allow cable companies to rid themselves of paying franchise fees should a city enter the telecommunications business. The panel agreed to an amendment which, in effect, made such an exemption something that would never happen -- as the law stands now.

This amendment means that if a municipal government calls an election -- which the law in its current form would require in all cases -- and the public OKs the issue, then the franchise and contractual obligations of the cable companies would not be suspended.
This is a real win for the municipalities of our state. What the vanishing act may well point out is how poorly drawn the bill was in the first place: both of its central points were ammended in ways that completely changed their effect. On voiding franchise agreements it seems that the bill violated the state constititution on at least two accounts: 1) It effectively voided valid contracts. Louisiana's constititution simply forbids this. 2) had the effect of granting the use of public resources for free—something else that is rightly unconstitutional in this state. But far beyond the legal stupidity of the law as it was originally drafted is its political foolhardiness. Consider trying to speak in favor of a bill that would fine Lafayette 900,000 dollars a year —about 9 million dollars total the way the bill structured it—and giving all that money to "the cable company" because Lafayette had the nerve to actually do something that "the cable company" didn't care for: offer a little competition. This might all sound reasonable while talking to a lobbyist over dinner. A little wine will do wonders. But my guess is that it would have been much harder for the Honorable Broome to defend on the floor of the senate. How many of her constituents on Baton Rouge's "northside" would have the least increment of sympathy for Cox? How would her mentor, now Baton Rouge's mayor, Kip Holden, really feel about opening up this can of worms? There's a name for stuff like this: political suicide. Ms Broome got off easy.

New Orleans

By far the most interesting new development from the committee meeting was the broad hint from Tom Ed McHugh, head of the Louisiana Municipal Association, that New Orleans was actively considering some form of fiber-optic network. This will not be entirely a surprise to regular readers but I've never seen it mentioned publicly outside of this blog and one of Blanchard's analysis pieces. My own position was that it seemed far-fetched but that in Louisiana stranger things had happened. I remain of that opinion. You might think that the recognition that this bill could effect the largest voting block in the legislature—and the commerce committee—might auger poorly for the bill. Not in our version of local politics:
Two state senators from New Orleans on the Senate panel -- Francis Heitmeier and Ann Duplessis, both Democrats -- said they wanted the election requirement added to the bill because they are concerned New Orleans could embark on a plan similar to Lafayette's.

Only a few cities in Louisiana have the capability to follow Lafayette's lead, McHugh said.

New Orleans is "next in line," he said.
There is are a few more tidbits in regard to this part of the story:
The New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board has a series of bills in this session looking to make it easier to lay conduit for fiber-optic cable with sewer pipes.

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin is a former Cox Communications official who has visited Lafayette while the city worked on its plans to offer telecommunications services.
All the earlier news about New Orleans had pointed toward a buisness-oriented city-owned ring in the downtown business district across Canal from the Vieux Carre. But the above and a story I found recently which made it clear that all of New Orleans is slated for a mandatory sewer upgrade argue for much, much broader possibilities. And here I thought Broussard and Mayor Langlinais might be next....

2theadvocate.com: News

"Tri-Cities Trials"

The Independent has published a piece we should all go out and look at entitled "Tri-Cities Trials." You'll probably recall the Tri-Cities battle for fiber, it's been discussed pretty extensively on these pages and LUS and the administration have treated the ugly fight there as a preview of the battle plan they expect Cox and BellSout to roll out here. In the Tri-Cities the the warning shot was a push poll. We've seen that here. But the deluge that followed was truly amazing and we await the flood.

What we, as citizens of Lafayette will be most interested in is the picture of what might be coming and a hint from those who've experienced the onslaught as to what it will feel like and how to best understand what is happening when the whirlwind descends. The Ind doesn't offer up that story directly. What it does is hand you a loosely linked series of three personal vignettes drawn from major players on the the profiber side. The faces are chosen to represent a mayor, a city Information Technology (IT) guy, and an ardently profiber housewife. They are pretty much allowed to tell their own story.

And what you can learn if you listen carefully amounts to a mosaic image of what the experience was like. The mayor, Kevin Burns, feels abused. Emblematic of his outrage is push poll call that his father received. It isn't hard to imagine how the Mayor felt when his father got a call floating some bit of nastiness about his son that the phone company wanted to spread around the city in hopes of tarnishing his son's reputation—as a way of eroding support for a potentially competitive system that threatened their profits. The father's response was a shocked: "My Kevin?" My guess is that his son the mayor's response wasn't nearly as printable. Mine would certainly wouldn't have been. We do know that if he wanted to complain it wasn't easy:
Burns was equally incensed by the lack of accessibility he had to the people pulling the strings at Comcast and SBC. “Even in war there are rules of engagement,” he says. “We had a hell of a time trying to find the decision makers. I kept asking, ‘Who do I call?’”
All, in all, you get the picture of a public officials, who thought that they were doing a good think for their people getting run down by a team for whom fair-play wasn't a part of the rule-book. It feels, from reading the article, that that is what still stings.

The IT guy is insulted. The idea that the local crew couldn't do a perfectly good job of managing a system was bizarre. "It's not rocket science" he says metaphorically--meaning that its been a long time since running a decent FTTH system was a mysterious venture involving not readily accessible talents. You want an good network engineer, you hire one. It's implementation not science or new product development. He's also irked, in the manner of engineers everywhere, that anyone would oppose doing a project that they themselves won't try. If your thing is crafting good products and (pretty much obsessively) making sure they run right—and this is the framework through which engineers view the world—then you are going to be really insulted by the type of people who tell you first that they won't do it and then that they won't let you do it. It doesn't seem right or sensible.

The "offer" from the incumbents to build a local system when asked was viewed as particuarly insulting:
"Geneva was interested in getting AT&T Broadband to build a high-speed fiber optic network. To start, the city wanted to link its public schools and government buildings with fiber. In June 2000, AT&T Broadband said it would build Geneva’s fiber network for $4.8 million, leased out to the city over 10 years. The city would be limited to speeds of 100 megabits per second, and after the 10-year lease was paid, AT&T would still own the network."
That, of course, was seen as insulting. Both technologically and from a business point of view to accept it would be irresponsible. To offer it was insulting. Pete Collins sounds plenty insulted.

Annie Collins is angry. She's the mother with three kids who's active in the Rotary and wants to help revitalize downtown. She got pulled into this fiber thing, got angry, and is not the sort to let it go. The anger is easy to hear:
“It’s not too hard to understand that your communities need new businesses to survive,” she says. “It’s not too hard to understand that you don’t need big corporations in your community controlling how much you’re paying for these services, when you can have your own hometown utilities creating jobs. It’s not too hard to understand that competition is good. That’s all you need to understand. Do you get your bill from Comcast and not get it? I mean, what don’t you get? Why is that so hard?..
Her advice to Lafayette rings true:
“Be suspicious of corporations that are lying to you,” she says. “They are only concerned with their profits. I don’t think your local cable and phone company really care about any economic development for your community..."
All in all the takeaway lesson for Lafayette is to prepare to be abused, insulted, and angry. I'm not sure it's news or something we want to look forward to. But by all accounts it's what's coming.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

They get it in Seattle: city is told it must rewire

Yo folks, you know uber cool Seattle of Microsoft fame? The place out of which all those nifty realnetwork video trailers are streamed? You'll be surprised to find that Lafayette is actually out ahead of Seattle in regard to understanding broadband basics. But hey, the folks in Seattle aren't so uncool that they aren't starting to figure it out on their own. As reported in "Seattle is told it must rewire," the city got something a little different than what it bargained for when it sent out a blue ribbon panel to examine the potential for a city-wide broadband network:
Seattle City Council member Jim Compton, chairman of the Utilities and Technology Committee and a sponsor of the task force, said he was surprised by the findings.

'We sent them out to find out if we should do citywide Wi-Fi, and I thought that's what the business model would point to,' Compton said. 'Instead, they came back and said that is one of the things we should do, but more important for our broadband future is a citywide fiber-optic network.'
Hey, that's what happens when you send tech types out to really look at a problem. They figure things out:
The recommendation of fiber comes as a number of cities, including Spokane and Philadelphia, have approved construction of less expensive wireless networks. But wireless, including an emerging technology known as WiMax that can cover many square miles, does not provide the bandwidth or security necessary for applications such as telemedicine, remote learning or interactive government. It also has issues with network interference and spectrum licensing, Clifford said.

"The long-term problems and challenges that Seattle faces are not likely to be solved by wireless," he said. "What Seattle and all cities will need is a big, big pipe capable of 25 to 100 megabits (per second) each way."
Yup. Exactly. And Seattle, while it may have a reputation as a slacker haven, knows it can't just sit around and wait for all that broadband goodness to come along at the convenience of the incumbent providers. If they want their city to prosper they'll have to invest in themselves:

The idea of a municipally supported network that provides high-definition television, voice over Internet, on-demand movies and other services could put the city in competition with telephone and cable companies. Though there are potential ways for the city to work with those incumbents, the report indicated that it would be a mistake for Seattle to wait for "private markets" to drive the construction of new networks.

"Without the city playing any role and without taking the initial steps we outlined, other cities are going to fare much better because there will be more robust competition," Clifford said.

I have to say they play a good game of catch-up. They even understand that the city will provide competition if it goes this route. It's clear they get it in Seattle.


Want to know more? You can download the study, Report of the Task force on Telecommunications Innovation, and look through it yourself.

Broomes' bill transformed

The Broome Bill was voted out of the commerce committee this morning, 4-3, and sent to the floor of the senate where it should be heard in the next few days. It was only reported favorably with a raft of amendments that appear to have exempted Lafayette from its provisions. Some of the consequences of the changes are clear. Some are less so.

What's crystal clear: Should any municipality choose to try to follow Lafayette's lead, it will have to go to a public vote if this bill becomes law. A clause was inserted that makes Lafayette's bond election count; we won't have to have a second election should this bill pass and be signed into law.

What's less clear: a clause "D" was sticken from the draft language. I'm no lawyer and so don't understand how it works but the consensus at the committee hearing seeemed to be (I watched the streaming video) that striking this resulted in Lafayette not having to put up with the onerous "fine" that would transfer $900,000 from Lafayette back into the pockets of Cox Communications if we had the nerve to do this for ourselves. No doubt this will clear up over the next few days. What is still less clear: how this will affect other municipalities. This is bad law and Lafayette's gain shouldn't become other municipalities' loss.

But, for Lafayette at least, the news is good.

Broome Bill: Movie at 9:00 (am)

According to the senate website page on "Live Broadcasts," the commerce committee hearing today will be streamed. So you should be able to listen to and watch the sausage being made. The stream is set to start at 9:00 and until then you'll get some sort of error message when you try to activate the link. (You'll need the realaudio player to listen.) The agenda says the Broome Bill, aka SB 126, aka Cox's anti-Lafayette amendment to BellSouth's anti-Lafayette law, is the first item up. As I recollect they do tend to try to get the most contentious issues out of the way first, but are also amenable to last minute agenda changes. So if you watch pay close attention to the first few minutes when any such changes will be announced.

And yes, you'd get a much better and bigger picture with less breakup if you had fiber to the home.

"Lawsuit against LUS moves to federal court"

This Advertiser story is pretty much the same story that the Advocate carried yesterday. And my interpretation of the event remains the same. Where the lawsuit will be heard is less interesting than the fact that the lawsuit is an obvious ploy intended to give some, any, basis for smearing a valued Lafyette institution. (See yesterday's longer version) On reflection I have only one thing to add: it's not only the charges made that are intended to fuel negative publicity; it is also the extensive 10-year fishing expedition through LUS records that is intended to locate something, anything, that can be spun to tarnish LUS' reputation.

Watch for it. And when it appears, allow yourself some anger at the sorts of people who fund lawsuits like this.

Standing Up—Layne St. Julien

It probably goes without saying that I really like this letter. And yes, we are related--by marriage.

The point Layne makes is exactly the right one:
David's argument goes wrong at the point where he overlooks the fact that there is no free-market competition for telecom services in Lafayette now. This is exactly why Lafayette was not in line to get fiber until LUS hatched its Fiber For The Future plan. What we have here today, in effect, is two side-by-side monopolies, Cox and BellSouth, who don't have to upgrade their services or lower their prices to keep us as customers because there are no other providers. And they've gone so far as to try to pass laws to keep it that way.
Anyone who thinks the "free market" should provide fiber optic services misses the point that there is no free market in any telecommunications service in Lafayette and that Lafayette won't begin to look like it has a free market—one with the attendent decreases in price and increases in service—until LUS provides the first real competition in both the phone and the cable segments.

Now I know that will just sound crazy to some folks: LUS is government! How can they be participants in the free enterprise system? No Way!

Well, there is a way, but you have to reason about it differently from how the ideologs tend to reason.

There are roughly two sorts of ways to think about things like this: those who reason from first cause and those who reason from consequence. (Sorry for the jargon, stick with me for a minute...I hope the distinction will prove useful.) Those who reason from first cause require the world to be broken up into distinct categories, into black and white, and connected according to rigid rules. If you know the categories and rules, you just deduce whatever it is you want to know. This is the mindset of classical mathematics; philosophers called a related pattern idealism. On the other hand, those who reason from consequence are more likely to notice that you can't usually draw hard and fast lines between categories and that the rules describe rather than prescribe regularities in relationships. They recognize that we actually are most attuned to consequence: we try things and wait to see what happens. Then we decide what to do based on what has actually happened—not our preconceptions as to what should have happened. We make our real decisions based on the consequences we observe. This is the mindset of classical science and philosophers called the related pattern empiricism.

(The point, please? Ok, I'm getting there.) Well, folks who think ideally, who reason from first cause and rigid categories, can't begin to see how we have anything but free enterprise because we have private companies offering goods for sale. That's enough for them to know: it fits the definition. On the other hand, folks who reason from consequence look around and notice that the world isn't so neat and that the consequences of free enterprise, the reasons we actually like it, that competition for our business, is not actually happening. From their point of view (and mine, and Layne's), there is no free enterprise where there are none of the desirable fruits of free enterprise.

From this second point of view LUS would be providing the first signs of an actual free market in telecom—complete with lower prices and better service. LUS will be bringing free enterprise in telecom to Lafayette . . . not in any way "hurting" it.

I'm a proponent of the old adage of "By your fruits shall you know it." And I think it's the right way to reason about our situation. So it's not so crazy to say:

LUS is bringing free enterprise to the Lafayette market. Kudos to Layne for saying it right out loud.


(Sorry, folks, for the foray into philosophy, sometimes there just doesn't seem to be a better way. I'll try and keep it down. :-) )

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

"Utilities lawsuit headed to federal court"

More of the same old same old. I am finding it easy to get truly weary of the new tactic of trying to tear down LUS through lies and innuendo.

The news part of this story in the Advocate is that the oh-so-convienent-for-the-corporations lawsuit that alleges that LUS has overcharged its customers has been moved to federal court as a consequence of the fact that the only real charges that allege something specific has to do with federal regulations that require LUS to help balance the electrical grid in our region. Other charges are in the suit, but they are "publicity charges" without any real facts that can be judged. They exist only to fuel publicity releases and for inclusion in flyers and mail pieces during the final weeks.

The "news" part of the story, though, is the least interesting part. What is emerging is a pattern for how the incumbents and their allies want to pursue this fight: through tearing down the proponents instead of mounting any of their unsuccessful argument.

Does anyone, anyone, really believe that this lawsuit, which alleges that LUS overcharges its customers on some esoteric bit of federal "fuel adjustmen," is anything other than a ploy to smear the utility as we go into this referendum on a fiber optic network LUS will build and run? LUS' excellent reputation is the single greatest reason not to believe the tales the incumbents tell about failures and municipal incompetence. The solution for BellSouth and Cox? Smear LUS. This lawsuit was an opening salvo in that. Neal Breakfield's recent anti-fiber editorial that declined to mention fiber in favor of smearing LUS was the most recent.

You know, when we first went into this fight, even anti fiber people were willing to admit that LUS was an excellent utility and that Terry Huval and Joey Durel were honorable men. Back in those halcyon days the argument was over the idea...and, frankly, ideology. But what has happened is that the opponents have discovered that the idea of a municipal fiber optic utility is widely accepted as a good one. And that the sort of ideology that makes your local police, utilitities, and city council into something evil is not an ideology that sensible people share. So, lacking a convincing argument, falling back to smearing people and institutions is acceptable.

So when you start to see a pattern of stories about and hear opponents of a municipal fiber network focus on how you should feel suscpicious of an institution that you and your neighbors trust, ask yourself if the opponents are really watching out for you as they pretend...or for a couple of corporations whose only interest in Lafayette lies in the profit they can extract and ship to Atlanta.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Cox's "Broome Bill:" Call to action

Do you recall the hoorah over the anti-Lafayette bill filed in our state legislature by Senator Broome on behalf of Cox Communications? That's the bill that would force a second election on Lafayette should the upcoming referendum pass, and fine the people of Lafayette almost a million dollars if they chose to invest in a municipal telecommunications utility --and give that money to Cox. Oh, and as lagniappe, it would further restrict the rights of every municipality in the state to do what Lafayette is hoping to do.

That it borders on the unbelieveable doesn't mean that our state legislature isn't capable of blindly passing it. The bill faces its first hurdle in a committee hearing in the Senate Commerce Committee. It should die in committee and all members there should be encouraged to vote "NO."

What we all need to do is to contact the good Senators who sit on that committtee and make our opposition plainly known. An email would be good. A phone call would be much better. And, if you've got some spare jack, try a telegram...how many of those do they get these days?

Your phone call will be most effective with your senator. In Lafayette that's Mike Michot and he's already on Lafayette's side. Calling the others can only help but won't be as effective as a call from their hometowns. THE most effective thing you can probably do is to email or call your friends who live in or near the other senators' districts and ask them to contact their legislators. We all know how to talk and cell phones pretty much kill long distance costs. Ask your friends and family for a favor. Ask them to ask theirs.

The other senators live in Metairie, Gonzales, Chalmette, New Orleans (2), Livingston, and Winnfield.

Resources for the fight:

Don't need to read more? Want to get on the phone now? Want to email your friends with the info they need on their senator? Here's your page.

Want some fighting language for when you call? Sure, glad to help: The Advertiser Editorial; Lafayette Pro Fiber's outrage, next day's.

Looking to try and understand the issue a little better? I understand—just be aware we don't have much time. The Advertiser news story, The bill itself, Last year's almost equally obnoxious law that it modifies.

Here is something all folks who have Lafayette's best interests at heart should be able to agree on. This bill is a naked attempt to punish Lafayette, put forward on Cox's behalf. Let's see where the loyalties of those who claim to be for fiber, for our citizens deciding our fate, and for Lafayette stand on this one. Do they take effective action to protect Lafayette and the decisions that her people make at the polls? Or do they side with Cox? This should be an easy call...let's see what the anti side calls for on their sites.

Incumbents Fight to Reward Market Failures

Louisiana has a Broadband Advisory Council which has a major flaw: the commission is dominated by interests that are the major reason that broadband (even by the ridiculously inadequate definition of the FCC — 256 Kbps) is either not available or not affordable in most of rural Louisiana.

The Washington Post has a story today indicating that the lack of broadband is a problem even in fast growing areas of northern Virginia. Leaders there recognize that this lack of broadband access is acting as a brake on economic growth there.

The big private sector companies (Verizon is specifically mentioned) claim they can't make money on the infrastructure investments they'd have to make there. This is prompting a closer look at the possibility of public sector network buildouts.

Naturally, the private sector companies are aghast at the idea.

No, they'd rather have network buildouts subsidized and are aggressively moving to keep other potential rivals (in this case, broadband over power lines via electric utilities) out of the market.

The recognition that abundant, affordable bandwidth is creating a clear divergence between the economic interests of communities and the interests of the traditional providers of bandwidth who clearly have neither the funds nor the business model to make the infrastructure investments necessary to bring that bandwidth to those communities. The incumbents' fight to kill the LUS fiber to the premises project is a hot-spot where the separation of interests has erupted into a major fight.

A similar problem existed around the delivery of electricity in the U.S. for much of the early 20th Century. Investor-owned utilities would not invest in rural America, thereby depriving those living there of the benefits of electricity. The Rural Electrification Administration (REA), now the Rural Utilities Service, was the institutional response created to respond to that electrical divide. It cleared the way for the creation of member-owned electric co-operatives that delivered bandwidth to places which 'the market' failed.

If Louisiana (and/or the federal government) is serious about pulling rural Louisiana (America) across the Digital Divide, the model to do that exists. The question is whether political leaders can learn to distinguish between the interests of their constituents from those of the incumbent providers. It's clear the incumbents are not having any trouble making that distinction.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Diverting your attention

David Hays (AKA Hayes) has had published yet another letter that indicates the poverty of the anti-fiber position. Without a positive vision for Lafayette, or even a very effective negative anti-fiber flag to fly, the opposition has taken to smearing the city, LUS, and —when useful— the police department.

Earlier this week we saw (and reported on) the spectacle of an anti-fiber guest editorial in the Advertiser that did not so much as mention fiber—much less any argument against the plan—but instead spent all its energy trying to tear down LUS and implying that there was something "hidden" and dishonest about the LUS "In Lieu of Taxes" contribution to the city's general fund. The idea that such a visible and common practice across the country and for generations in Lafayette is hidden and misrepresented is simply puzzling if you don't understand the writer's hidden agenda: convincing you to think poorly of the proponents of Lafayette's plan without addressing the plan itself.

This practice of misdirecting your attention continues unabated in today's Advertiser letters...

David Hays' letter would like you to minimize BellSouth and Cox's misdeeds, to look away from what they actually did, and to infer that the city and our police department are worse in any case. He's dead wrong; let us indulge ourselves in the tedium of showing how, step by step and line by line. He begins:

The push poll makes it clear that the incumbents will do foolish things in the LUS FTTH battle.

No, let us not indulgently characterize the push poll as "foolish" —that is truly inadequate. The push poll was dishonest, it was intended to perpetuate and spread what the poll writers knew were lies. The absurd quality of the lies reveals that those offering it think of the people of Lafayette with nothing less than contempt—rationing TV! Really, how gullible do they think we are? The most disgusting part of it all was the attempt to stir up a little racial animosity by spreading the lie that only the south side would get fiber. Do we really want to write off as "foolish" the kind of corporation that would decide to call every household in the city and spread that particular lie? No, foolish is the thing you call this if you are unwilling to condemn what needs to be condemned—as David Hays is unwilling to condemn the actions of those his acts aid. He goes on:

Either they're lying, or they're not in control of their own organization. I don't know which is worse.

Oh come now, it is easy to say which is worse; an organization that is willing to pay for an attempt to inject a series of lies into the community as a matter of corporate policy is far worse than one that has a few out-of-control underlings doing so. There is no question that the poll lies. All you have to do is look at the questions. They are designed to transmit lies. Pure. Simple. That is the idea; the purpose. So the question that the writer is really trying to direct our attention to is whether that lie is due to out-of-control underlings in some way that might excuse the "real" company. But no such excuse is possible in this case. The problem is that this is the second push poll. The problem is that it wasn't any "irresponsible underling" at the local level that took credit for the most recent one. It is very clear from the account of both companies that this was a policy decision that did not take place at the local level. The pretense that it is reasonable to interpret what happened with the push poll as a couple of on-the-street-level guys who somehow "got foolish" one afternoon is not credible and should not be floated. We all know better. Then comes the real kicker:

It's kind of like when the cops beat the downtown restaurant owner, except in this case no one got hurt. It's a good thing. Only the city can get away with that kind of thing.

Ah, we get to the real point: we should think of our city government and police department as "kind of like" BellSouth and Cox, only worse. Because, apparently, only they "can "get away with that kind of thing." Really? As I understand it, an uncomfortable investigation is going on within the police department right now. It is certainly NOT city policy to beat up restaurant owners. On the other hand, it certainly IS BellSouth and Cox's policy to use push polls to spread lies in our community. They've done it twice. They themselves have excluded the excuse of "rogue locals." This is corporate policy. Anti-fiber partisans do no one, least of all their own cause, any favors by flinching from the truth about their brothers-in-arms.

David Hays

Lafayette

David Hays is not from Lafayette; he is from Grand Coteau in St. Landry parish and will not be able to vote in our election. We've had a pointed discussion about this point on these pages. He is the same fellow as the David Hayes from Grand Coteau that had a letter published on May 10th.

P. S. If this letter sounded familiar to regular readers of this blog, that is because it IS familiar. You first saw it here more than 2 weeks ago.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

It's all about money: the bond commission

The Advertiser's article on the bond commission ruling approving the July 16th referendum focused on the mechanisms of arriving at that decision and the delaying tactics used by BellSouth and Cox—tactics which failed. But the Advocate's story chiefly looks ahead to the Public Service Commission (PSC) and the possibilities for mischief there.

The PSC is charged not only with setting rates for LUS but also, oddly, for making sure that those rates are higher (yes, higher) than what LUS might otherwise decide to charge. This oddity is in conflict with the most fundamental reason for the PSC's existence: to protect the consumer from monopoly-fueled overcharges. It emerges from the capture of the PSC by those it is supposed to regulate. Usually such "capture" takes place quietly and through the backroom persuasions of lobbyists and "influentials." But in this case it takes place through the more naked exercise of state power: law.

Act 793, last year's compromise bill that mitigated BellSouth's attempt to outlaw LUS' project, includes a clause that sends LUS to the PSC for regulation to ensure that the price LUS charges includes amounts tacked onto the "paper costs" that equal what the PSC (under heavy lobbying by its familiar friend BellSouth) can be convinced to believe is the cost of taxes, right-of-way fees, poles and anything else that can be construed to be an expense of a private company that a public utility does not pay. Notice that it is nonsensical to charge your citizen-customers for taxes, especially taxes to yourself that you do not pay. Notice that it is nonsensical to charge your citizen-customers for renting property you own. Notice that all this "extra" charge goes into the "in lieu of tax" category that opponents have tried to make into an issue...but that they don't bother to go after BellSouth or even mention that their ally has made what they ask for—"returning ILOT"— impossible.

All that is a fair chunk of what local BellSouth chieftain John Williams' father was worried about when he asked for delay until the PSC issued its rules:

BellSouth Louisiana Vice-President Tommy Williams told the commission Thursday it should wait for those rules to be finalized -- and for a third feasibility study on the project -- before approving the vote and bond issuance.

At issue, Williams said, is what he called "uncertainty" over the proper interpretation of a state law passed last summer.

Williams pere apparently didn't talk about forcing faux costs on LUS, instead he referred to "uncertainty" over cross-subsidization; and it's true that those will be a weird and new thing for the PSC to consider since it is much more likely, in the usual run of events, to insist that profits from related ventures (like the profits from BellSouth's minority stake in Cingular) be considered when corporation apply to raise their rates at the PSC. But even the obscure reference to cross-subsidization doesn't really conceal much about what BellSouth actually hopes to do at the PSC. The PSC doesn't usually worry about being obligated to force higher costs on customers because they are disallowing a desire by a regulated company to invest in lower prices locally by using money from its other operations. In the normal run of events that would be considered a "good thing." But hey, preventing LUS from doing what the PSC would encourage BellSouth to do is what BellSouth's law forces them to do.

From the point of view of BellSouth it's all about the money. It's real interest in regulation at the FCC isn't "fairness," it is in using the state to artificially maintain as much of its current price as it can. It doesn't want to lower its prices; it wants to raise LUS'. What BellSouth will want to do at the PSC is force higher prices on LUS than it would otherwise consider. It is all about the money. What the corporations have come to regard as "their" money.

Don't let that slip by you the next time these guys come at you claiming to be doing something "for the taxpayers" or out of "concern for the citizens of Lafayette." That is, simply put, a lie. Their acts, if not their words, are all about insuring that the price you pay is as high as is possible. That's the real agenda and what you should remember when asked to believe anything that implies that they care about you or Lafayette.

Friday, May 20, 2005

It's all about Delay: The Bond Commission

The Advertiser has a good, fleshed out story on yesterday's bond commission vote that approved the date for Lafayette's fiber optic referendum. I recommend you sit down and read it through; this little moment has produced a nice view into the inner workings of this debate. And the view isn't pretty. You'll be treated to a glimpse of the proverbial sausage being made—and it's both distasteful and fascinating.

What we are seeing is a game of position and maneuver. The side of light in our story, the pro fiber optic side, is working to shorten the game, to reduce its exposure to attack and to drive on to the final, decisive battle as quickly as is possible and with all its forces intact. The dark side, aka the incumbents Cox and BellSouth, wants to stretch out the process in order to give itself more opportunity to develop effective lines of attack and peel off the popular and institutional support of what it regards as an illegitimate rebel alliance against the natural order of things. The massive dark star of an unstoppable public relations blitz hangs on the horizon, adding unspoken tension to the scene: when will it arrive? And when it does arrive, will BellSouth and Cox have developed any, any at all, ammunition which will be effective against the people of this unique Acadiana community?

With that in mind let's take a look at this latest skirmish. We have a white knight, Lady Blanco, letting the commission clearly know that her hometown has her support. Reports from beyond the newspapers indicate that the secretary of the treasury, Mr. Kennedy, was also instrumental in establishing a supportive atmosphere for the partisans from Lafayette.

Lafayette came asking the commission for two things: to be allowed to have the vote on July 16th and to be given permission to sell the bonds—without returning to the commission—if the referendum is successful. Every visit to the bond commission is an invitation to an ambush from the point of view of the Lafayette partisans and they weren't interested in exposing themselves again.

BellSouth and Cox inserted themselves into the discussion in order to try and delay matters as much as they could. For their forces, every visit to the state capital is an opportunity to roll out the dark-suited forces of their legions of lobbying commandos. They know that the light of public exposure will soon fade and that they only have to wait until it does to regain their accostumed influence.

There were all sorts of feints offered by the corporations. They want to say that the law that Lafayette is using is the wrong one. (They got lucky on that one before.)

BellSouth attorney Gary Russo objected to the state statute under which LUS plans to issue its bonds. It was the same argument BellSouth and Cox used successfully in court in February to stop an earlier bond sale and pressure LUS into calling the July 16 election.

But that was parried by:

Jerry Osborne, bond attorney for LUS, argued that LUS is using one of several laws available in which to borrow money, the second oldest in the state that has been used hundreds of times.

Nicholas Gachassin Jr., first assistant state attorney general, after a quick review of the district judge's ruling and state statutes, said he saw no reason the Bond Commission could not approve the bond sale Thursday contingent upon voter approval in July.

The committee went with LUS...

Then there were several different ploys trotted out to try and force a third feasiblity study onto LUS. (These guys like repetition: Cox's bill, (2) which is prefiled in the senate, is designed to force a second election—and fine the city 900,000 dollars we have the gall to vote against the desires of the corporations.) Apparently the outcome of the previous two studies didn't come up with figures that Cox and BellSouth like. So they went out and hired the Heartland Institute to retread a study that sounds an awful lot like the one that SBC (another baby bell like BellSouth) apparently commisioned during the Tri-Cities fight. I bet you can guess what that "study" showed. We've reported on the Heartland Institute before and they are no more credible today than they were then. So maybe, the corporate lawyers suggested, the bond commission should do their own study. Or maybe wait until the Public Service Comission sets up some new rules. But they should wait.

Delay, obscure, and obfuscate. That's the tactic.

The word on the street is that the lawyers for the incumbents will file suit today. That, should it happen, will be more of the same. Really, you don't need all the details that exert such a fascincation for me. It's all about delay....

Thursday, May 19, 2005

What's being said: "BellSouth. By any means necessary?"

The reaction to the push poll story continues to rattle around the web. We're not the only ones amazed. In Lafayette, as far as I can tell from those I talk to, we tend to respond with humor and amazement at the stupidity and with only a relatively minor chord of disgust.

Elsewhere disgust is the primary response.

Dave Burstein over at dslprime has a few choice words in response to the Independent editorial that stood the Independent's pollster Verne Kennedy up in front of a firing squad and pulled the trigger. Says he:
Fighting municipal fiber builds isn't a cause that justifies throwing away all your ethics. Bellsouth's behavior in Louisiana should have consequences throughout the company. When BellSouth's Bob Blau makes a speech in D.C., the respect he's earned is diminished if his company falsifies the truth down south.

It's time for Duane Ackerman to make sure his company lives up to his ethical standards. Bellsouth already donates too much money to the sleaziest folk in politics, lining up alongside Verizon and SBC with literally millions of dollars.
Of course I don't expect that anyone will be so uncouth as to suggest that they don't believe Bob Blau when he stands before the FCC or Congress asking to re-monopolize the phone network in the name of "competition."

But really, maybe they should.

Oh, and if you want to see what the readers of Broadband Reports has to say just click right on over.

Fiber election on

The last smidgen of doubt concerning the date of the upcoming fiber optic network referendum has been removed. The bond commission has set the date for July 16th.

Not only was the date set but LUS also received permission to sell its bonds as well. Getting that permission now means that further delaying tactics at the bond commission will not be possible.

Apparently both Cox and BellSouth attorneys were in attendance and presented passionate pleas that were turned down by the Commission.

So the election will indeed be on July 16th. If the project wins, we should all be wired by July 16th, 2008. (Barring, of course, further incumbent delaying tactics.)

The Advertiser carries the story in a news update.

"LUS 'In Lieu of Tax' is really a hidden tax"

Ok folks, I took a look at this morning's Advertiser and saw a "guest editorial" attacking fiber. More of the silly ILOT rationale, I thought. (I've covered this here recently here.) But, lo and behold, a quick search of the page reveals nary a mention of fiber. I was shocked. I had been sure this was an anti-fiber editorial.

And it was...but of the FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) variety. You just get up and try and smear your opponent. You don't even have to mention what you are really against. Far and away the largest advantage that the proponents of a fiber optic plan has is the good name of LUS and the deep-seated approval of the job it is currently doing among our citizens. So it has become a theme among the anti-government contingent that is opposed to LUS' project that there is something, anything, everything wrong with LUS. And this editorial is about nothing more than trying to tear LUS down. Let's see: 1) identify it with "government"—Neal discovers that it is nothing more than a branch of the LCG. (Implication: Ugh.) 2) That the elected city council runs the government (a news flash) and that this list of actual human beings hold the reins. (Implication: Don't trust these men.) 3) These guys are doing things to you "on purpose." (Implication: Bad men.) 4) This bad thing is the "in lieu of tax" portion of the fees you pay for the services you get which are, like the taxes from private concerns they replace, used to support the general fund. (Implication: shocking, surprising) 5) ....good grief, do I have to go on?

You get the picture: government bad, therefore LUS not to be trusted. These council guys are deceiving you by doing what every administration has been doing in the public eye for generations and what every municipality with a municipal utility has always done. It's all been bad and dishonest in all those years and in all those places. And you shouldn't trust any of your blackhearted neighbors or the government you elected.

What's hidden here is not a "tax." What's hidden is the actual agenda behind Neal's attack on LUS: his opposition to the fiber optic initiative. This is eerily reminiscent of the failed petition drive in which opponents loudly trumpeted that all they wanted was a vote . . . this wasn't about being against the plan. That was untrue, and their opposition to the idea of LUS providing a little competition for BellSouth and Cox has continued unabated. This isn't about LUS and ILOT. It's about a plan to build a fiber optic network that is so popular that it can't be effectively opposed directly. At least not until you tear down the proponents.

It's not government you should distrust. It's folks who make their arguments in this way.

The Town Hall Meeting in the news

You've got two stories in the dailies on yesterday's Town Hall Meeting at the Robicheaux Center. The Advertiser's story is at "Fiber vote moves to next step" and opens with a topic briefly discussed at the meeting: this morning's bond hearing and the worry that the incumbents will try to use the occasion to delay the progress of the project.

A couple of newsworthy items came out of the meeting—which is fairly surprising considering the nature of the event. One, on how the fiber rollout would be ordered I, at least, took as a joke. The tone of the meeting, to the surprise of folks like me, was almost entirely positive. I keep on thinking that there is really some grassroots opposition out there but I don't see it walking door to door and I don't see it at any public gathering. One newsworthy item may well have been more a product of the celebratory atmosphere than a real intention--there was certainly a lot of faux joking back and forth up front with stagey "don't say its" being uttered, but nonetheless Durel said:
If a neighborhood strongly votes against the fiber project and it passes, "We're not going to shove it down their throats," Durel said. "They're going to be the last to get it."
Do I really believe it? No. What will drive deployment patterns will be marketing concerns and the physical realities of network integration. But saying so certainly pleased the crowd.

Occasionally indications that the fiber build will not end when the city is built out emerge. With a complex net being laid to serve all the schools with fiber, a lot of the in-place infrastructure to continue to hook up homes and businesses will be in place. Such a hint emerged yesterday:

Asked why only city residents will have access to fiber, Huval said LUS is owned by residents in the city and serves primarily those in the city.

"We own the poles, we own the rights of way," he said. "Can we service outside the city of Lafayette? You bet."

Conversation went on to touch on the possibilities of LUS doing so itself or of partnering with local municipalities or electrical power companies. Slemco, a local, nonprofit, publicly owned coop is the obvious candidate there.

One tidbit that wasn't reported was that Terry Huval made unambiguous reference to LUS' internet service being the "same up and down." The more technical term is "symmetrical service" and for anyone who is a producer of digitial products or who wants to send large files of any sort out of their connection, this is a very big deal. The incumbents restrict your ability to send files to the internet to a small fraction of the speed they advertise that you can receive service. The most fundamental reason is that their legacy systems are strained to provide modern services at all and they "steal" bandwidth from the upload side in order to make your "download" or surfing experience more palatable. LUS won't be so constrained; they'll have a modern system with bandwidth to burn, so symmetrical service makes sense—but this is the useful sort of detail we just haven't been getting. And a detail that will enthuse the group of folks that use the internet creatively.

The Advocates's story, 'Town hall' crowd backs fiber optics, focuses more on the tone of the meeting and the positive response of the crowd, which no one could argue. But it wasn't apparent from the first. In fact, an older fellow in the back revealed it by one of his garrulous questions...having asked a number of prickly questions and forcing Terry Huval to get specific with dollars and off his "20% less" mantra, he turned around and asked how many people would buy fiber if they could. To the surprise of all including the older gentleman, a sea of hands went up. (He said he'd asked the same question at the Clifton Chenier Center to a very different response.) The next question was about the vote and when a similar, if smaller sea of hands went up, the rest of the meeting focused on the few folks who said they hadn't made up their minds. (Those guys were very patient and took the scrutiny in good spirit.)

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Town Hall Meeting reminder

Tonight there will be the first of a series of Town Hall Meetings sponsored by LUS to offer citizens a chance to meet face to face and ask questions of the principals in neighborhood meetings across the city.

Tonight's event is in the Robicheaux Recreation Center, 1818 Eraste Landry Road, at 6:00.

"Report: Bridging 'digital divide' "

The Advocate's article on the digital divide report, Bridging 'digital divide,' walks the reader through a good summary of many of the report's main points and is recommended for getting a quick fix on some of the more substantial points of the report. An example:

Another recommendation suggests the possibility of LUS providing a "basic" Internet service at a low bandwidth at "nominal cost or even no-cost," to increase the number of people on-line in Lafayette, the report says. The bandwidth should be sufficient for people to use e-mail or browse the Internet slowly.

Any public-private partnership or franchise using the LUS system for wireless service should also include a low-cost tier of service, the report says.

More:

The report also calls for aggressive marketing any digital divide program and for Lafayette to develop a "strong, community-oriented Internet service provider, or ISP, possibly through a public-private partnership.

The ISP would develop local Internet content including employment opportunities, child-care services, housing availability, education opportunities, cultural and arts events, and local organization calendars.

Low- or no-cost Web-based programs for common applications, templates for things such as résumés and how to set up a Web presence could be made available through the program.

The discussion, what there was of it, centered on who would be served and the cost of serving them. (Disappointingly, no one chose to take up the ideas offered. Though in fairness the council was given little time to digest ideas.) My impression was that those asking were either concerned to limit the the cost by limiting the population served or to make sure that there was a real, monetary commitment to at least the poorest constituents.

The questions boiled down to: "Who will this serve and what will it cost?" And the answer, I think, is: "Everyone and less than you'd think, but still some real money." That's going to sound like an inadequate answer to both politcal camps--those wishing to limit the program for political reasons and those wishing to hard wire substantial funds for political reasons. For the first group "everyone" is scary. For the second group "less than you think" sounds suspiciously like an attempt to minimize the commitment. My own judgment is that both groups are missing the forest of our common purpose for the trees of familiar, almost knee-jerk concerns.

The big picture, the forest, is that Lafayette simply must find a way to utilize and expand the talents of all its people. For selfish reasons as well as alturistic ones we all want to live in a healthy, vibrant community of people eager to move themselves, their families, and the community as a whole forward. That requires that we serve everyone, and not simply the smallest number to which a benefit can be limited. There are portions of the report dealing with the provision of rebuilt computers or new, low-cost ones that are means tested. Those will benefit only the poorest. But the vast majority of the recommendations will benefit us all—but in differing degree. And therein lies the real story. Most of the recommendations are carefully crafted to avoid a demeaning means test. You can use the local "super" internet portal no matter who you are--but it will be most valuable to those looking for jobs, affordable child care and other local benefits. You can install a Linux disk and Open Office whether or not you own a full version of the latest Microsoft Office suite. You can take advantage of the very low-cost tier of internet service --if the speed trade-off in communicating with the world outside it is worth it to you. All of these things represent offering those with the least service currently access to the functionality that only the more wealthy can afford to afford today.

It shouldn't be an unfamiliar model. The daring experiment of offering everyone access to public education is, historians tell us, what turned a backwoods agricultural confederation into a continent-spanning powerhouse. The established nations of Europe with their lycee, gymnasia, and (not) "public" schools thought it a waste of resources to offer those possibilities to all—and their economies still suffer from having too-early restricted the potential of their citizens in the name of saving a little in educational funding. Access to the internet should be the same — something we offer all our citizens because it is the right thing to do...and because we are confident that the investment will benefit us all.

Offering these services takes only a little money and should be easy to justify simply on the grounds of making LUS' service more attractive. Only a few more subscribers would pay for the additional cost and this is precisely the sort of marketing logic that drives portals like Yahoo to offer extensive calendaring, gaming, and email for free...the distributed cost is so low that the traffic itself is all that is needed to pay the bill. We can do much better if we choose. It may only take a little money. What is takes a lot of is vision.

Going in this direction does not minimize the committment to bridging the digital divide any more than offering public education to all minimizes the committment to equal opportunity on which this nation is built. Instead it creates a constituency for these innovations that makes a continuing committment to the ideal all but certain. It is the muscular and determined path, one that has served us well throughout our history.

"Panel: Fiber will be bridge uniting city"

The Advertiser's story on last night's council meeting, "Panel: Fiber will be bridge uniting city," does most of its work in the title. Indeed, the hope of the report is that fiber will be made the occasion for bringing the city together.

All too often valuable new technologies work to amplify current differences — the wry, wise old saying is: "Those as has, gets." A lot of people would rather ignore the way that history works and pretend that on each new day we start off from the same place and that what we "gets" is due to what we do during that day. Would that it were so. But it does not work that way.

Carey Hamburg demonstrates an understanding of this:

"When they ask, 'How much is it going to cost?' ask 'How much is it going to cost if we don't do this?' " said Carey Hamburg, a multimedia artist.

When he taught at J. W. James Elementary School, an arts academy, Hamburg said all students were eager to learn about new technology, but it was evident which students had access to computers at home and which did not.

Realistically, we can't hope to, and don't actually want to, have everyone start from exactly the same place. (What fun would it be if we were all just alike?) But we can work hard to make sure that barriers that would keep some people from fully participating in and benefiting from all of our common heritage—including advanced technology—should be torn down. They have no place in a community of free people.

A central theme of the Digital Divide Committee's work was to use this opportunity to lower the barriers between citizens--all citizens--and the full utilization of technology. Granted (and applauded) is that fact that those that have to reach the furthest to fully grasp the possibilities before us all will benefit the most from the initiatives suggested by the report. But we will find the way easier if these ideas are well-implemented. Making the good faith effort to say that the amplification of difference stops here and that this community is willing to work to make sure we all advance together is a concrete, future-oriented way to try and bring us together an make a better world for our kids. Fiber is a good thing, and readers know I think so. But community is a better thing by far.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Digital Divide Report

Well, as some of you might know, not only did I attend the council meeting last night; I was one of the presenters of the digital divide report. I've spent an unhealthy amount of time trying to help get it right and last night was the culmination of a lot of work.

I have to say that it's a good report. What it isn't is a "plan." What the report attempts to do is put forth a set of principles that will make it easier for almost anyone—but particularly those who have to reach further—to grasp the full value of new technologies for themselves. Those principles are accompanied by some examples of how those principles might be realized – strategies for realizing the principles.

There are some principles that have become staples of community development programs--educational programs and computer rebuilding programs are two in this category. But there are also very innovative elements. An idea promoted there of allowing all citizens equal access to each other in terms of bandwidth is, to my knowledge, unique. And its implementation would have unique impacts, not only in terms of promoting a community of equals but also in terms of promoting a robust internal market for locally produced content.

There is a good bit more that could be said and no doubt I will find occasion to say at least some of it. But for tonight I simply leave you with the link. Take a look; it's dense but, at least in my judgment, worth the effort.

Broadband Properties: The Case for Municipal Broadband

Broadband Properties just published a special issue on municipal broadband and it's well worth taking a look through. As you might expect from a magazine focusing on broadband and the connected community, municipal broadband gets a favorable review, though some dissenting voices are heard.

This follows on the heels of special reports on muni broadband from USAToday and CNet and more real reporting in the general media on the issue following the pyrric victory of Verizon in Philly and various anti-muni legislative losses in Texas, Florida, and elsewhere. My guess is that reporters are becoming better educated and that we'll see fewer reworkings of corporate press releases and more investigative work as the third estate scents the possibility of a story with some drama. Expect Lafayette to be the focus of such attention as our story heats up with the rising summer temperatures.

"Fiber forces get active"

The Advertiser's fiber story this morning depicts LUS' Wednesday's initial "Town Hall Meeting" as the launch of the effort to pass the upcoming bond issue. As noted, the factually oriented Town Hall meetings are one of the few ways that the utilities system and the city can "campaign" for the initiative. Not allowed by law to advocate a yes vote on the referendum, LUS and the city are limited in the ways that they can use to get the facts about the advantages of a fiber optic network before the citizens. Limited in ways, not coincidently, that their self-interested opposition is not.

(Timeout for aggravation: not allowing the people elected to act in the best interests of the people as a whole to advocate what they think best for the community is an example of the sort of bad law that gets passed when ideologs promote the idea that public servants as a whole are not to be trusted. It leaves those with an obvious axe to grind unlimited freedom while irrationally restricting those whose logical interest is in the greatest good for the greatest number. I'd take the word of my elected officials over the opinions of the sorts of corporate representatives we've seen lately any day...if I was allowed to hear it.)

The pro-fiber campaign has actually been underway for a while, of course, as has the opposition's. The recent push poll probably should be taken as the first shot in the final battle.

The story mentions, in passing, tonight's digital divide presentation before the council and Thursday's bond commission meeting. Both are worth noting and watching for reaction. The digital divide committee will present its findings tonight, at the 5;30 meeting of the council. That will be well worth interesed parties viewing, either in person or over AOC. There will be a lot more laid before the council and the public than will be included in any summary follow-up story; a story sure to focus on whatever the opposition latches onto to complain about.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Standing Up--Citizens Action Council

Here's another bit that threatened to slip into the never-never land of forgotten drafts. Back when the push poll hit it overshadowed the announcement of the Citizens Action Council endorsement of the the Fiber to the Home project. Here is how it was reported in the Advertiser at the time:
In a related matter, the Citizens Action Council voted in April to endorse the fiber project, said President Joe Dennis. The group is a nonprofit neighborhood organization primarily of north Lafayette residents.

"The group decided that, particularly for young people, that would be good for them," he said. "I think fiber will make it easier for poorer kids to have access to the Internet."
The Citizens Action Council is a neighborhood improvement group that has been meeting for 14 years, and Mr. Joe Dennis is its president.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

"Polling company no longer trusted"

If your journey throught the Sunday paper terminated somewhere between the front page headlines and the funnies without alighting on the perhaps too-serious pages of opinion, please go back and give Danny Izzo's latest letter a look. It's a good one. Izzo actually got a push poll call before the plug got pulled and his report of a supervisor's incredulity when forced to complete a poll for Izzo brings up an image that matches the tales of conspiratorial laughter between the poll takers and givers that I heard report of.

It's hard, or so you would think, to deny his basic conclusion about BellSouth an Cox: It sure would be nice to have a choice other than these guys.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

What's being said: "Absence Of Malice"

This one almost never got out of the draft category but folks here in Louisiana should get a chance to be introduced to Bunnie Riedel. She's the grande dame of community telecommunications and a damn good writer. She's got an astringent style that is as refreshing as a tall glass of tart lemonade on a hot day.

Little bits:
It’s been tough for me to keep up with what’s going on lately. It’s required all my spare time just trying to keep up with the Michael Jackson trial...This distraction has caused me to miss the monumental struggle going on in Lafayette Louisiana over the municipal Fiber to the Premises plan. And it’s been hard for me to get up to speed given that Cox and BellSouth are rolling out some creative new tactics...the cable and phone folks have been able to get a Democratic State Senator, Sharon Weston Broome, to introduce legislation that forces a city to hold a referendum to get citizen approval before they can build municipal FTTP. Now that’s nothing new, that’s straight out of the playbook...what is new is language in the bill that would suspend operator obligations to provide PEG access, I-Nets, system re-build demands and other monetary requirements if the municipality does build its own plant...

I can’t be sure if that is straight up blackmail or legislative genius. And I have a huge urge to call up Senator Broome and ask her how she sleeps at night.

But I am reminded not to “attribute to malice what can adequately be explained by stupidity." Like the phone poll of Lafayette residents that was conducted by a marketing firm out of Florida just this week.
There's more. You can see where she's going. Go get it.

Oh heck, one more for folks who just won't click through...
Thank goodness the residents of Lafayette are not the rubes Cox and BellSouth have taken them for. But it’s easy to understand the lack of judgment demonstrated by Cox and their buddy BellSouth. These are the same media companies who actually believe the majority of the American people want all Michael Jackson all the time.

"LUS plan faces busy week"

The Advocate runs a wake-up story on upcoming fiber-related events. This type of story is a bit rare. We tend, unfortunately, to think of news as something that is past: that is what is evoked by the phrase "the news." But there is another sense we'd do well to to pay more attention to: "news of" and this story, "LUS plan faces busy week" is in that category.

Come Tuesday there will be a crucial presentation of what promises to be a very interesting report from the Digital Divide Committee put together at the request of the city-parish council. Bridging the digital divide has been a central issue in the drive to build a publicly owned fiber-optic network in Lafayette since it was first introduced. Regular readers know how important I consider this portion of the project. If you are similarly motivated, try to make it to the meeting or at least watch on AOC.

On Wednesday, as the story notes, there will be the first of a series of Town Hall Meetings sponsored by LUS to give citizens face to face meetings with principals in neighborhood meetings across the city. The first one is in the Robicheaux Recreation Center, 1818 Eraste Landry Road at 6:00. Lafayette Coming Together is distributing flyers in the neighborhood in advance of the event.

Then on Thursday the circus travels to Baton Rouge to stand before the bond commission to get the election approved...

There is a lot going on this week. Stay tuned to this station....

Friday, May 13, 2005

Cox Raising Charges in Baton Rouge

Baton Rouge Business Report (in their Daily Report) says that Cox is raising cable rates in Baton Rouge.

Here's the blurb from today's Daily Report:
Cox raising prices for TV programming
Cox Communications is raising its rates for video service, which the company attributes to increased programming costs and higher costs of doing business, including a spike in gasoline prices. Cox is raising its expanded basic service $2.16 per month to $43.65 – a 5.2% jump. The company also is raising prices on some other video services. The cost of premium channels like HBO and Showtime will rise up to $2 per channel, which translates to a 10% or more increase per channel, depending on the number of premium channels picked by the subscriber. The price of digital service rises up to $1.50 per month, plus the expanded basic hike. Cox says the increases are the first in two years. The price hike is effective June 15.
Any idea of whether Cox is increasing rates in Lafayette, too? Are will they wait until after July 16 (Fiber election day) to let that shoe drop?

Update: Saturday's Baton Rouge Advocate has a story on the Cox rate increases there. What is interesting is who will be affected and who will not.

Fiber Film Fest in the news

Yesterday's launch of the Fiber Film Festival got excellent media coverage.

Both KATC and KLFY covered the story in their evening news rotations. KATC has a short story on their web site and KLFY provides a link to the film festival site.

The Advocate and the Advertiser both have news stories this morning. The Advocate's story, unfortunately, isn't online—something that happens occasionally—but is worth picking up for the quotes. Even if one of them, on slyness, is from me.

The Advertiser's story, Lights, camera - fiber!, is online (they're more reliable that way) and recounts the basics. We've got a reversion to the "he said, she said" style of news reporting, however. Apparently, the announcement of a film festival is the occasion to call the corporations and ask if they have any way to inform the public that they'd like to announce too. So we get a quick treat of the mention of BellSouth's long-established speaker's bureau and a little bit of the party line about risk. I've complained about "he said, she said" reporting before on these pages, so I won't go into all that again; but suffice it to say, it's not the road to good journalism.

What's being said: Firing Kennedy

Folks are watching Lafayette's battle. By Thursday morning these two commentaries on Wednesday's Independent editorial had appeared on widely read websites:

isen.blog:

The Independent, a Lafayette Louisiana weekly, has fired perpetrator of push polling lie planter Verne Kennedy of Market Research Insight (MRI) of Pensacola, Florida.

Techdirt:

One of the nastier political tricks these days is the "push poll." One side of a political debate hires a polling firm to go out and "poll" users on an issue. However, the real purpose isn't finding out how people feel about an issue, but to influence opinions on an issue

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Fiber Film Festival launches

Lafayette Coming Together held a press conference this morning announcing the launch of the Fiber Film Festival. The festival, about which you may read more at fiberfilmfestival.com, is about creativity, joie de vie, and fun. And it's about 60 seconds or less of pro-fiber message. The press event had heavy media coverage, with both dailies, KATC, and KLFY in attendence. In addition to the announcements and demos of the project, impromtu interviews with reporters occured both before and after the event. Watch your TV's; it should be fun to see what the media does with something so nonstandard.

It will be a juried competition with prizes and categories for both amatuers and professionals. Entries will stream from our web site, as well as air on AOC. There is no entry fee and everyone is invited to submit. (For the official entry rules, just send an email to entries@fiberfilmfestival.com.) This is a new way to use the digital media to create awareness of an issue and a great way to campaign for a cause.

If you would like to be notified whenever a new short is posted on the web site, you can just send an email to notifyme@fiberfilmfestival.com.

If you'd like to get involved but lack actors, scripts, or enough creative juice to get you going, visit the Creative Community where you can register and share ideas, talent and conversation about the event. There are also sponsorships available. Send an email to sponsors@fiberfilmfestival.com if you'd like to get involved in that way.

What follows is a message I wrote up that was part of a press packet--it tries to let folks know why we think this a particularly appropriate way to wage the battle for a fiber optic network in Lafayette.

Why a Film Festival?
A statement from Lafayette Coming Together

Lafayette Coming Together is For Fiber. We understand that we are stewards of our community and that helping to build a fiber-optic network for Lafayette is one of the best ways we can make our community more vital and better prepared for the future. And we are quite serious about it.

But to stop there is not the Acadiana way. We’d like to have a little fun as well. Have a festival. Express a little joie de vie, and show that the technology we hope to help bring to our community can be integrated into our cultures and strengthen our creativity and spirit.

This Fiber Film Festival is symbolic of the way we believe that the big, fast connections that fiber will bring can be used by Lafayette. We hope it will be creative, fun, and change the way the advertising campaign over fiber is fought here.

The peoples of Acadiana have always been active producers of our own cultures – certainly nobody else is going to do it for us – and we hope events like this can move the creativity, expressive spirit, and sly humor that have been regional trademarks onto new platforms of expression. People will be more easily able to produce pieces marked with the imprint of our history and cultures. Big Bandwidth will enable us to be more than passive consumers of a national culture.

But to get there we’ll need to win the upcoming referendum on July 16. It’s easy to see that we won’t be able to match the dollars that BellSouth and Cox can pour in if they desire. But we can choose to fight a sly – a canille – battle. Instead of relying entirely on a mammoth advertising campaign, we can release many smaller, gritty pieces, some on TV perhaps, but many more downloaded, commented on, laughed over, emailed, and linked to. These messages can, and will, find their own audiences. This strategy makes use of the openness and flexibility of an emerging media that will be vastly expanded by a high-speed fiber optic network.

We’re serious about our fun. And hope the participants in this festival will be as well.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Standing Up — "When Push Comes to Shove"

"When push comes to shove" is the name of the editorial.... It's an old way of saying that a person can only be pushed so far and before they have to stand up for themselves

For Steve May and the Independent, that point came last week after they discovered that their pollster had acted unethically. So they decided to stand up:
We fired The Independent Weekly's pollster, Verne Kennedy, last week...once we learned that Kennedy and MRI were responsible for conducting ...last week's anti-LUS fiber "push" poll to area residents, we immediately severed our relationship with him. Engaging in the sleazy business of push polling is a bridge too far for us.
That's pretty "stand up." "Stand up" is another of those old phrases, a phrase for someone who goes ahead and does the right thing. That's what we're seeing here. And the Independent minces no words about what's wrong with push polls and by extension those who practice, commission and condone them; it's not clever marketing—it is lying. And worse:
The greatest danger from the practice is its capacity to spread lies and disinformation about candidates or issues without the perpetrator having to take ownership of the lie.

Push polling tries to deny us, as voters, the ability to connect the dots between the lie and those who benefit from its telling. It should have no place in Lafayette.
What the Independent is saying is that it won't tolerate or be associated with folks who spread lies, most especially when it's done from behind the cover of anonymity. This public and final act serves notice that even friends who engage in this sort of behavior are in line for condemnation. That kind of integrity isn't easy in today's world and is rarer than it should be.

Kudos to Steve May and the Independent.

Snake Oil -- enjoy

No comment necessary. For a bigger image Click n go:

snake oil!

They are doing it in Sallisaw, Oklahoma

A small town in Oklahoma decides that it doesn't need to wait until the big guys think it is ready. From the story in the local newspaper:
Sallisaw residents on a waiting list to be put on the city's new fiber-to-the-home network will start getting connected Monday.

The system will be owned and operated by the city of Sallisaw. Because of this, the fees for these services stay in Sallisaw and can contribute to the general city budget, according to the Web site.
Probably the biggest economic driver of projects like these are the savings realized by the residents combined with the multiplier effect of keeping your money circulating locally.

It's working in a little town in Pennsylvania

I've tracked Kutztown before; it's a nice little town not far from my last posting at the University of Delaware and I have a soft spot for the Amish region in which it is located. Kutztown was one of the first towns to build its own fiber-optic system and has been regularly and unfairly presented in telecom company-sponsored propaganda as an example of how such builds have failed. (For Kutztown's reaction to this treatment, see the section on Kutztown in the TriCities "Broadband Failures" page.)

The current story looks like it started out as a color piece on a nice place to spend the weekend for the Pittsburg paper. I suspect the writer found a little more than he was bargaining for. It turns into a pretty incisive piece of economic reporting.

On the savings enjoyed by the residents:
Service Electric, began offering high-speed Internet access only after Kutztown unveiled its own network. To Kutztown residents, the high-speed service costs $25 a month. But if your home is just a foot over the Kutztown borough limits, the cost rises to $45 a month.
That's what you save by going with the private provider--close to half price. In our case, think Cox. Here's the story on the borough's own offerings:

And so grows Kutztown's customer roster, month by month, student by student, business by business. Nearly 800 subscribers out of 2,200 homes and businesses -- that's a market penetration of 35 percent for the utility. Jaymes Vettraino, borough manager, hopes market share will eventually grow beyond 40 percent, which would allow Hometown Utilicom to begin turning a "profit" by 2009.

Hometown Utilicom's prices -- as low as $15 a month for 2 megabytes per second of transfer speed, $16 a month for cable TV -- have saved Kutztown's customers $400,000 over the last three years. "Private companies may view it as $400,000 left on the table," he said, shrugging.

"Hometown Utilicom" is true to its name. It doesn't need to make a big profit. Only pay for itself and return value to its citizen-owners.

Here's a bit more economics -- this with an historical awareness:

In taking matters into its own hands, Kutztown would appear to be a technology maverick. But it's also a bit of a throwback. Before big electricity companies came along, many small towns ran their own electric generators, providing juice for townspeople.

Three dozen towns still do that in Pennsylvania, and Kutztown is one of them. It's the fee-based model of taxation -- provide a utility that your residents would use anyway, charge for it, and if your business model works, other taxes stay low.

It's worked in Kutztown, at least on the electric side of things, as the local property tax rate hasn't risen in seven decades. Vettraino hopes Kutztown's Internet experiment will pay off the same way, by attracting more businesses like Lapic's, and more student customers like Vaculi and Maga, and by eventually contributing to the town coffers instead of draining them.

Now, as regular readers will note, I think the writer confuses "taxes" with revenues--a confusion shared by some folks around here, but do pay attention to the basic idea: electrical revenues are a proven way to keep taxes low. And telecom can serve the same role. (And yes, this is similar to my claims about LUS' in lieu of taxes; there's nothing new or odd about the logic.)