Thursday, May 19, 2005

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.)

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