Thursday, June 30, 2005

FCC Committed to Removing Choice, Innovation From Internet

Fresh from the Supreme Court of the United States' decision upholding the FCC's decision to permit cable companies to deny network access to rival ISPs, the Wall Street Journal reports (subscription required) today that the Commission's new chairman is intent on providing phone companies 'parity' with the cable companies.

Translated in to plain English, that means the FCC is preparing to enable phone companies to bar rival ISPs from access to their networks, too.

It is the end of the Internet as we've known it.

In an editorial yesterday, the San Jose Mercury News (the daily newspaper in Silicon Valley) explained the significance of the Supreme Court's ruling and anticipated the push for 'parity':
But the ruling also opens the door for cable companies -- and eventually their telephone rivals -- to pick and choose what Internet content and services their customers get to use. Such control of Internet content by access providers would profoundly alter the nature of the Internet as an open, competitive and virtually limitless network. It's up to Congress to ensure that it never happens.
Here's why it matters:
The rub is that information services are not bound by rules that require them to provide unrestricted access to all content and services on the Internet. A cable company could theoretically cut a deal with an e-commerce site, say Walmart.com, and bar its customers from accessing a rival site such as Amazon.com. Or it could decide to block an online video service, such as MovieLink, because it competes with its own cable TV service.

Discrimination could take more subtle forms. A cable firm could provide speedy music downloads from a partner's site, while slowing down those of a rival music service.

This fear isn't just theoretical. Earlier this year, Madison River, a rural phone company that operates in four states, blocked its DSL customers from accessing Vonage, which enables people to make phone calls over the Internet. The FCC quickly intervened. It got Madison River to restore Vonage service and pay a fine.
The paper points out that the only reason the FCC was able to move on Madison River was because it was classified as a telephone service, rather than an information service.

What's this got to do with fiber in Lafayette? It's a core issue!

While Cox and BellSouth blather empty platitudes to competition and innovation, the fact remains that it is better to follow their actions, rather than their words. Their actions can be found in what they direct their lobbyists and attorneys to work to achieve. What they are working to achieve is the elimination of competition and, ultimately, the elimination of consumer choice.

Under specific and repeated questioning, LUS has repeatedly assured citizens that it will not engage in the kind of restrictive deals and practices that the cable and telephone companies are relentlessly angling towards.

And, back in the day, during the early phase of the Sock Puppets' endless groping for something — anything — with which they could attempt to manufacture fear about the LUS project, they proclaimed that they wanted the network open. An Internet Protocol (IP)-based network with no restrictions on ports or restrictive commercial deals (like those that WILL be pursued by the incumbent phone and cable companies) IS an open network, because all services are migrating to Internet Protocol-based delivery.

The innovation of the Internet was driven by open access to networks by companies that were driven to differentiate themselves from the competition by driving new services to customers. As the courts and the FCC are making clear, ONLY LUS will offer Lafayette the open option!

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

"Durel says 'scare tactics' likely before July 16 vote"

Durel spoke, eleqouently by all the accounts I hear, to the Oil Center Renaissance Association. The association is an alliance of businesses located in and around the oil center. The Advocate has an interesting review of the luncheon.

On the account presented there Durel dealt with four major issues: the theme of doubt in upcoming incumbent disinformation, the issue lower prices for telecom services in this city, the upcoming interview with Sun CEO Scott McNealy, and equity in the buildout. It appears that he is sounding all the right notes.

Doubt is a part of the incumbent's FUD strategy and the fact that the mayor can refer to it in a public address indexes the growing sophistication of our community about the way the incumbents have fought this battle. Most places don't have our experience with corporations that try and introduce fear of the future and doubt about valuable projects they oppose only because it reduces the profits they will be able to take out of Lafayette. (The incumbents don't doubt the value of a fiber to the home system. Their long-term plans call for one. What they don't want is our owning it instead of one of them.)Durel gets it exactly right:
City-Parish President Joey Durel said the closer "D-Day" nears on the July 16 fiber-optic initiative election, the more private telecommunications companies will use "scare tactics."

These "scare tactics," such as negative advertising, false information and promotion of current technology, are geared to create doubt, he said.

"They are desperately trying to defend a horse-and-buggy technology in a supersonic age," Durel said...

An odd tactic adopted by the opponents of this is to either deny that LUS can lower prices 20% or to worry that they will. (Of course they can lower prices--prices in markets with 2 cable providers are 17% lower on average, LUS is just admitting the inevitable and arranging to get credit for it) Worrying that LUS will actually lower price is utterly bizarre. That was the point last time I checked. Somehow being successful in this is supposed to be a bad thing! The rationale has something to do with cutting LUS' profits. This is either incredibly dense or incredibly duplicitous after all this time. LUS doesn't exist to extract the maximum amount of profit from each individual it serves. That is the role of private companies. LUS is supposed to serve its customers. The best way and the accepted way to do that is to offer the lowest possible prices. If it makes a big profit it has failed in its mission. Again, Durel gets it:

Even if the fiber-optic network just breaks even, Durel said his goal, lower prices, would be accomplished.

"You win," Durel said simply. "It's a dream come true. I could hope for nothing more. It's a dream come true if there's a price war. Our citizens win."

And showing that tradmarked fiesty spirit we've all come to love:
"If they lower their rates that much [$30], I'll take a full ad out in Baton Rouge and say, 'You, too, can have these rates,' " Durel said. "I've talked to people around town, and if they can lower your rates by $30, what do you think they've been doing to you for 15 or 20 years?"
What a wonderful double bind for the Mayor to put the incumbents in: If they lower prices radically they are either engaging in unfair preditory pricing today or the last 20 years of prices have way too high.

The threat to take out a full page ad in the Advocate may sound like bravado. And it is, a little. But I take it very seriously. The best protection against preditory pricing is publicity. That, and that alone, has driven the incumbents back to fair pricing in other locales. Joey is serving notice that he is willing to wreak havoc in major local markets if they try and abuse their market power and size against "little" Lafayette. Here in Lafayette we'd have the added advantage, an advantage Joey occasionally alludes to, of having all the very expensive and robust front-end equipment already in place and being paid for. If Opelousas (or Alexandria, or Baton Rouge) wanted to build their own fiber network we can, over the very ultra-fast fiber that enabled the network in the first place, provide "front-end" services at very reasonable prices to our neighbors. (We already do this with electricity). It would be cheaper to get started in other cities if Lafayette helped and if Lafayette were sitting down the road paying a lot less because they had the gumption to get up and do this others might be a lot more likely to build their own network. The corporations are boxed. If they don't lower rates they lose market share in Lafayette. If they do lower rates radically they risk encouraging regional cities to follow Lafayette's lead. Damned if you do and damned if you don't. Don't think that the executives at these corporations haven't figured this out. They have. And they don't like it, you may rest assured. (This alone is why I still look to a desperation last minute incumbent campaign of disinformation if their polls show the least chance of winning. They must be desparate to avoid the box we are about to put them in.)

The Mayor teased the crowd with hints about the Sun interview tomorrow morning. I'll be listening. Maybe I can figure out how to get my TiVo to record it...

Durel also again promised equity in the initial build out--it will not go first and only to wealthy parts of town. (If you doubt this, think politics...having made the promise so forcefully, so often it mustnow happen. If you think it won't you are willfully ignoring local politics.) But Joey went on to say the obvious right out loud: only the city will make this pledge. The incumbenst WILL NOT do this. Their focus, fairly enough, is on profit. They will go to the wealthy areas first. If you don't want to believe me, believe BellSouth who under the heaviest pressure imaginable would only pledge to our public that they would provide advanced services to 80% of our community. Who do you think will be left out? Yes, you are right....BellSouth plans to leave 20% of us out unless we bribe them. Even at a time whent they are faced with the most dramatic competitive challenge imaginable. Again, Joey gets it:
"We're not going to find the most densely populated, wealthiest part of town to bring it to first," Durel said. "I guarantee you if we were talking about our businesses today, that's exactly where we would go, because that would give us the ability to then bring it to the poorer part of Lafayette. But because we are a publicly owned utility owned by all the citizens of Lafayette, we're going to do it a little differently."
And we ought to get it too. Go to the polls on July 16th and vote yes for fiber...for our community. All of our community.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Fiber 411 to vampire the town hall meeting

The Fiber411 boys have decided to leach a little publicity off the Town Hall Meeting that will occur tomorrow evening. An announcement went up at their website today piously urging their supporters to attend.

The joke here is that the town hall meetings have been beneath their notice until this one. Two of them came to one meeting but left early, later dismissing it as "Kumbaya." All that positive energy must sicken them in the way that light sickens the vampires of story.

Why change their policy? Oh, a little thing called "positive national publicity." They are against that sort of stuff for Lafayette in the same way that they are against fiber. They want to make sure that nobody gets the impression, as they would have if they attended every other town hall meeting, that the public is mostly interested in how it will be done and not at all interested in pursuing the fiber411/Cox/BellSouth rational de jour for opposing Lafayette's fiber optic build. The sight of citizens who are positively engaged in their community, who are actually FOR something, and who trust their neighbors is offensive to this clan. If it's local coverage only, well they can stay away, but if it's national they say: "Hey look at u! We, some corporations, and some folks from out of town are against it! Look at us. Hey, over here! Come see!"

Lafayette is full of positive people who know the value of a good thing when they see one. They need to turn out in force, ask questions that reflect the real interests of the people of Lafayette, and make sure that the national attention we are gathering emphasizes what is positive about our city.

Please mark your calendars.
Clifton Chenier Center Auditorium
220 West Willow Street, Building C
6:00 pm, Wednesday, June 29th

"Sun CEO to be guest on Durel radio show" DO NOT MISS

Folks, Don't miss this one.

Make sure you catch the Joey Durel show on KPEL 105.1 FM this coming Thursday morning at 7:30. As I understand it Joey is going to interview Scott McNealy, CEO of Sun Systems. As radio shows go this one's got everything, digital divide, economic development, and the sheer sexiness of unfamiliar and hot technologies available ONLY to communities with ultra fast bandwidth.

Sun Systems gained fame as the developer of server systems during the early days of the internet's commercialization. It sustained that fame with a leadership that has consistently consisted of men who are willing to think out of the box in radical ways.

Sun was an early proponent of the open software movement--before it was called that--and has recently made its own home-grown unix OS variant, solaris, pretty much open source. Open source material is 1) free, and 2) is open to being further developed and tweaked by anyone. For those of us who think that proprietary software is keeping computing expensive, bloated, and poorly designed the idea that a major player would offer up their materials, for free, for further develpment is vastly exciting.

Sun has been a consistent proponent of what is called "utility computing." Utility computing operates on the idea that most processing time sits unused and wasted. Huge amounts of power sit idle. And all that capacity sitting idle is wasteful...and worse ridiculously expensive. The same is true of storage capacity. The solution: quit wasting money and capacity. Centralize or share processor time. Insert storage and processing power into the network. It makes both processing power and storage dirt cheap. The computers in people's homes can be stripped down and cheap OR bulked up and costly but in either case costly programs can be provided for free or a cheap rental if run off the server's liscense. Storage price for huge temporary files can drop toward zero. (Wanna shoot a video and massage it? Don't want to buy some huge hard drives for a single project? Rent the capacity for a week for five bucks.) Sun's version of this story has been pretty radical, even for my tastes--the computer hardware is anemic and not much use if not connected to the net. But with WalMart selling computers below 500 dollars and the price continuing to fall I'm not worried about hardware if the system we bargin for is not made into an exclusive for Sun and linked solely to the use of Sun's hardware. (Linux could do most of this, not with Suns muscle or willingness to push hard to make its cherished ideas work, but Linux too is a unix variant....Sun might be easiest but this dream is shared by others...and we saw a call for a similar program in the digital divide document adopted by the council.)

Going this direction means big bandwidth internally to connect to processing power reasonably quickly and to make the storage fast enough to be useful. The fact that discussions are in play with Sun means that the bandwidth discussion taking place locally and that the pressure will be toward providing more rather than less bandwidth--at least internal to the system. (Real costs limit how much bandwidth we can afford when connecting to San Diego. Those costs don't apply--or at least needn't--when we are looking at internal bandwidth and connecting to local servers.

The digital divide implications are pretty obvious downstream. Sun makes some cheap, minimal equipment. Are we talking cheap enough for a business model like the cell phone model to be viable? Cheap hardware could conceivably made available as part of a contract committment. I sorta doubt it could be free. But, like fancy cell phones, the contract could drive the price of entry way down. Sub 100. Maybe. Someone will have to take a pencil to it.

The truth is, as Joey and Scott will no doubt agree, that almost all the pieces to do something really wonderful, cheap, and powerful have been in place for at least 5 years, maybe 8. All that is stopping an exciting deployment that drives speed through the roof and prices through the floor is the bandwidth bottleneck. There has been no place of sufficient size with sufficient bandwidth to put this in the market.

There will be soon. If we demonstrate our collective wisdom on July 16th. Vote Yes! For Fiber.

You think fiber is exciting? Just wait. This has barely begun. Real wireles: Fiber. Real bandwidth: Fiber. Real, shared processing power: Fiber. Unlimited storage: Fiber. Cheap, continuously refined, powerful open source software available to all for free or pennies: Fiber. We can live the dream here folks. It is in sight. It only takes a little courage and wilingness to believe in ourselves.

Standing Up—Don Bertrand, Obstructionism and Fear rejected

Not Missing Opportunities when you've got the chance is the main theme of Don Bertrands' guest editorial in today's Advertiser.

He points out how obstructionism and fear have lead to missed opportunities in the past--opportunities that we can now realize only at great cost in both the city's funds and the community's sense that we treat each other fairly.

Obstructionism cost us the loop around Lafayette when narrow corporate interests lead to a lawsuit, resulting in Lafayette's population not being counted as large enough to get a loop when Lake Charles' did. We are now talking about at toll road to try and fund an expensive project that is clearly needed as the city expands but which also gets more expensive as the expansion of the city drives both the need and the cost sky high. We, the current generations, will pay dearly for the corporate obstructionism of the past.

Fear of losing a vital downtown district lead to Lafayette forgoing a system of frontage roads that other cities built as a matter of course. The thought appears to have been, understandably perhaps, that we had a good downtown and didn't want to lose it. So we shut off the developmental possibilities of frontage roads. But as we well know, fearing change and the changes the future brings doesn't keep the future from happening anyway. Development moved away from downtown anyway...it just moved out to strip malls, the oil center, and downtown Johnson to Acadiana Mall. The vitality of the downtown corridor has only been bought at great expense and with the acceptance that it won't be retail that drives the area. We could have been less fearful and managed the inevitable in a more balanced way that didn't drive all development southward. We are paying the price for another generations fear now.

But the LUS story is one of a boldness, other city's waited and let private obstructionists or their own fear thwart the public good. But Lafayette build a top-notch public utility that is still one of the most reliable and powerful public power entities anywhere. We have every right to be proud of those decisions and to honor our forefathers that made them.

The fiber optic story can either resemble the loop and frontage road stories or the story of the LUS electrical utility. We can wilt before obstructionism and fear or stand up for Lafayette and her future.

I'm voting YES on July 16th and urge you to do the same.

Discovering Japan*

The United States ranks somewhere in the mid-teens in access to broadband, even using the FCC's ridiculously inadequate 200 kilobits per second definition.

Thomas Bleha, writing in the May/June edition of Foreign Affairs magazine, says this spells economic trouble. Worse still, he says current U.S. broadband policy of competition among cable and telephone companies (established under the lead of Michael Powell) has locked the country into a slow growth, slow innovation approach that will depress our economic competitiveness for years (perhaps decades) to come. The Supreme Court's decision yesterday which said the FCC was right to allow cable companies to bar independent ISPs from their networks will only make matters worse by entrenching this mistaken approach.

Bleha, a veteran foreign service officer who spent eight years in Japan, says that country has gained significant competitive advantage over the U.S. due to its aggressive roll-out of ultra-fast, fiber-based broadband.

Here are some key passages:
Until recently, the United States led the world in Internet development. In the late 1960s and 1970s, the Department of Defense's Advanced Research Projects Agency conceived of and then funded the Internet. In the 1980s, the National Science Foundation partially underwrote the university and college networks -- and the high-speed lines supporting them -- that extended the Internet across the nation. After the World Wide Web and mouse-driven browsers were developed in the early 1990s, the Internet was ready to take off. President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore showed the way by promoting the Internet's commercialization, the National Infrastructure Initiative, the Telecommunications Act of 1996, and remarkable e-commerce, e-government, and e-education programs. The private sector did the work, but the government offered a clear vision and strong leadership that created a competitive playing field for early broadband providers. Even though these policies had their share of detractors -- who claimed that excessive hype was used to sell wasteful projects and even blamed the Clinton administration for the dot-com bust -- they kept the United States in the forefront of Internet innovation and deployment through the 1990s.
When Michael Powell ascended to the chairmanship of the FCC, Bleha says,
[t]he Federal Communications Commission (FCC) showed little interest in opening home telephone lines to outside competitors to drive down broadband prices and increase demand.
Recall that this policy of cutting off competition was precisely what the Regional Bell Operating Companies (RBOCs) were clamoring for when they weren't actively working to subvert the line sharing requirements required by law and the FCC.

The results of this incumbent-friendly, competition-hostile policy quickly became evident:
When the United States dropped the Internet leadership baton, Japan picked it up. In 2001, Japan was well behind the United States in the broadband race. But thanks to top-level political leadership and ambitious goals, it soon began to move ahead. By May 2003, a higher percentage of homes in Japan than in the United States had broadband, and Japan had moved well beyond the basic connections still in use in the United States. Today, nearly all Japanese have access to "high-speed" broadband, with an average connection speed 16 times faster than in the United States -- for only about $22 a month. Even faster "ultra-high-speed" broadband, which runs through fiber-optic cable, is scheduled to be available throughout the country for $30 to $40 a month by the end of 2005. And that is to say nothing of Internet access through mobile phones, an area in which Japan is even further ahead of the United States.
Let's review that startling paragraph. It took only two years of the 'competition between the duopolies' of phone and cable incumbents for the U.S. to lose its edge. It's also worth noting that $40 per month for fiber-borne connectivity is just about what LUS will offer residents; that is, if a customer bought high-speed Internet only from LUS, the monthly charges would run somewhere in the range between $40 and $45 per month. Again, we're talking broadband speeds at least five times (maybe as much as 20 times) faster than what is currently offered by incumbents here.

Here's Bleha's take on the implications of the growing digital divide between the U.S. and those countries (like Japan and South Korea) that are moving aggressively to make true broadband available to all their citizens:
By dislodging the United States from the lead it commanded not so long ago, Japan and its neighbors have positioned themselves to be the first states to reap the benefits of the broadband era: economic growth, increased productivity, technological innovation, and an improved quality of life.
Japan's accelerated broadband deployment was driven by government funding AND open access to network infrastructure for all providers. The incumbent phone and cable companies have funded legions of lawyers and lobbyists to enshrine their ability to shut competitors (and their innovatioins) from their networks. It is worth noting that incumbents continue to 'game' their networks in order to block even certain types of services from their customers, such as voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP).

To understand the implications of the closing off of these networks, answer this question: Name a network technology innovation developed by either the RBOCs or the cable companies over the past 20 year. This is a tough question because there is scant evidence of any such innovation. Innovation was invariably brought in by entrepreneurial innovators. Killing innovation does the country no good; it does, however, satisfy the incumbents (check your local papers for stories on the Brand X case).

In making is case for a change in national broadband policy, Bleha points out just how large an economic advantage Lafayette would have over other U.S. cities if the LUS referendum is approved by voters on July 16:
Barely more than 600,000 U.S. offices and homes had fiber connections at the end of 2003. Verizon plans to bring fiber to 3 million of the United States' 115 million households by the end of this year, with speeds ranging from 5 to 30 megabits per second.
So, the LUS fiber to the premises project will vault Lafayette to a position of broadband access leadership in the U.S. Our 50,000 to 60,000 homes and offices will constitute a full 10 percent increase in the number of such connected entities.

Why does this matter? Because economic development is a competition focused on relative advantage. Having fiber to every home and business will give Lafayette a significant competitive advantage over much larger cities because we will have access to abundant and affordable bandwidth. Bleha explains why that is important:
By dislodging the United States from the lead it commanded not so long ago, Japan and its neighbors have positioned themselves to be the first states to reap the benefits of the broadband era: economic growth, increased productivity, technological innovation, and an improved quality of life.
Bleha also addresses the notion (expressed by opponents of the LUS plan) that the incumbents are giving us all that we need:
But these new services will probably appear only slowly, and competition between the telephone and cable companies will remain limited. The reasons are simple: cheap, high-speed broadband would lead to widespread use of Internet telephones and thus threaten the phone companies' lucrative voice-telephone business, and more inexpensive broadband would multiply outside video and movie offerings and endanger the cable companies' profitability. So, although both the telephone and cable companies could provide cheap, high-speed broadband if they chose to, they are not rushing to develop it.

The lack of strong incentives to encourage competition has, in other words, doomed broadband in the United States to remain much slower and more expensive than in Japan. Over the next five years, service is likely to get only marginally faster and cheaper. Meanwhile, at current transmission speeds, the next "killer" application -- Internet telephone service -- will remain shaky and unreliable.

The development of ultra-high-speed fiber broadband service, which is just beginning to appear in the United States, will also lag. Barely more than 600,000 U.S. offices and homes had fiber connections at the end of 2003. Verizon plans to bring fiber to 3 million of the United States' 115 million households by the end of this year, with speeds ranging from 5 to 30 megabits per second. SBC Communications, which dominates the Midwest and Southwest markets, and BellSouth, the leader in the Southeast, are also laying fiber, although at a much slower rate. But they plan to stop the work after spending about $10 billion (the estimated cost of bringing fiber close to about 10 million U.S. homes and offices) and then examine whether further investment is justified. As a result, the pace of roll-out will be slow. And the emergence of the substantial market needed to inspire innovative new products and services for those with fiber Internet access remains years away.

The implications of this snail's pace roll-out of fiber-based connectivity by the incumbents:

The United States is losing considerable ground to Japan and its neighbors, and they will be the first to reap the economic benefits of these technologies. It is these countries, rather than the United States, that will benefit from the enhanced productivity, economic growth, and new jobs that high-speed broadband will bring. In 2001, Robert Crandall, an economist at the Brookings Institution, and Charles Jackson, a telecommunications consultant, estimated that "widespread" adoption of basic broadband in the United States could add $500 billion to the U.S. economy and produce 1.2 million new jobs. But Washington never promoted such a policy. Last year, another Brookings economist, Charles Ferguson, argued that perhaps as much as $1 trillion might be lost over the next decade due to present constraints on broadband development. These losses, moreover, are only the economic costs of the United States' indirection. They do not take into account the work that could have been done through telecommuting, the medical care or interactive long-distance education that might have been provided in remote areas, and unexploited entertainment possibilities.
So, the country will pay a heavy economic price for the inability of the incumbent phone and cable companies to roll-out world-class network infrastructure to communities across the country. Those communities that content themselves with waiting for the incumbents to bring them into the future will suffer economically.

Lafayette has been offered a choice on July 16. We don't have to wait. We can choose to take our own path, one that puts our community on equal infrastructure footing with communities in countries with more aggressive network infrastructure roll-out approaches.

The choice is clear and stark: We can invest in ourselves or we can muddle along in the middle of the pack of medium-sized cities in a nation that is falling behind the rest of the world in the kind of infrastructure investments that will define economic success in the 21st century.

Forward or backward?

Progress or decline?

For Fiber or not?

LUS or nothing.

I'm voting Yes For Fiber on July 16!

* Apologies to Graham Parker for borrowing his song title.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Strange Fiber plan debate Constructed as vote nears

It's getting pretty confusing trying to figure out what what is going on with the supposedly factual series that the Advertiser said it was going to run. It was a good idea. There are lots of basic factual material that should just be in place as part of the background for makeing an informed decision either way.

But that is not what this series is turning into. Instead we get factual questions asked--of LUS or LCG (not the best targets, when local experts are available, but still...) with pretty much straightforward answers given about facts or announced intentions. Then apparently Neal Breakfield has been appointed to say that that might not be true, because nobody really knows and this or that fantasy might interfere. The He Said, She Said format is the antithesis of fact-based reporting...instead of informing it serves to suggest that nobody is sure about anything. That format is inappropriate because about most of these issues the case is actually pretty clear cut.

The oddness of the format in relation to the announced intention of the series makes one wonder whether an editorial decision sensibly made by Julie Metzger is now being executed by someone with no real sense of what is going on. Who is in charge over there? This problem used to be limited to the Times....

Here is an example of a well understood issue that could be easily answered with some authority by an expert (go to the Chamber or the University).

Prices:

LUS says it will reduce prices by 20% Cox and BellSouth says it can't. (Neal says who knows....So why ask Neal? Ask someone who does.)

What would a knowledgeable person be able to say to clear this up? Well, anyone who'd read the studies that consistently say that in the 5% of the cable market where there is competition the communities that have a competing landline cable company have about 17% lower prices might say that LUS is not being ambitous here. Instead they are taking a calm look at the market and deciding to take the competitive hit up front and take credit for bringing to Lafayette what is a competitive inevitability. It sounds like a way to turn the inevitabilities of competition (lower prices) into a marketing strategy for LUS. They'll be the price leaders and the ones that brought lower prices. A reasonable person could be either for or against the fiber optic utility and recognize the truth of basic, well-established economic fact. You don't have to think LUS noble or Cox venal to see the economic and marketing reality.

I leave similar responses to the rest of the article (where the Advertiser doesn't bother to talk to BellSouth and Cox before asking Neal Breakfield for his opinion) to the astute reader.

We need more than a he said she said constructed debae between the director and chief engineer at LUS and Neal Breakfield. We need someone to go out and ask a local, credible third party to explain the situation. Or, horrors, for the reporter to do an analytical piece that calmly states the obvious. No one is served by the unequal contrast put before the public here.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

"Three more groups back LUS fiber-optic plan"

More on the expanding list of endorsements for the LUS fiber to the home utility. The Advocate carries the latest list plus a synopsis of the organizations' reasons for endorsing the project.

More Groups backing LUS Plan

The Advertiser carries a list of the four organizations that endorsed the fiber project this week and it is part of list that is impressively long and growing longer. I'd add the endorsement of the realty firm Van Eaton and Romero, done from the floor of the Lafayette Coming Together breakfast. In point of fact, three of the four on the Advertiser's list were announced at that breakfast as part its unity theme: the Lafayette Economic Development Authority (LEDA), the Downtown Development Authority, and Downtown Lafayette Unlimited. LEDA's address, pointedly delivered by Lafayette Housing Director, Walter Guillory, was the source of the quote pulled in the article:
The fiber buildout "is necessary for Lafayette to compete in the global knowledge economy," said Walter Guillory, LEDA executive committee member. LUS has the only plan on the table to provide affordable and accessible broadband to all parts of the community, he said.
The fourth, Realtor Association of Acadiana's, endorsement, came at a press conference Friday. The endorsement dance must be getting wearying for reporters. If you count van Eaton and Romero (and I do) then that is five impressive endorsements this week. But even if it has gotten to be old hat for the endorsers it is still worth noting. Each and every organization had to sit down and think hard about its endorsement. Debate within some was intense. Taking a stand is never easy and those that find the courage to do so, regardless of the side they pick, are always to be commended for standing up.

The businesses that have chosen to endorse are, at least in my judgment, particularly to be commended. They've little to directly gain and much to lose. The upside is almost purely alturistic--they want what they believe best for the communty to happen and are willing to lend the buisnesses' reputation to the effort. The downside is the potential to lose business--their life blood.

What I've not seen said publicly, but which deserves real discussion is the disparity between endorsing and condeming organizations. I don't believe any organization has condemned the plan as unwise, unworkable, or immoral. (The objections the few individuals who have been willing to lend their name to the condemnation make.) But the list of organizations who find compelling reasons to be in favor of it makes a list almost too long to read. This is NOT a case where "some people think this, other people think that" is an adequate description of what is going on in our community. It is a case where almost everyone who has seriously considered the issue, save a noticeably small number of local individuals and the out of town corporations who have the most to lose, have decided that building our own fiber optic utility is the right thing for Lafayette.

A partial roll call of those standing up for Lafayette:

Organizations:
Lafayette Parish Republican Executive Committee
Lafayette Parish Democrat Executive Committee
Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce
Rebuild Lafayette North
Citizens for Common Sense
Citizen Action Council
Lafayette Economic Development Authority
Downtown Development Authority
Downtown Lafayette Unlimited
Acadian Home Builders Association
Realtor Association of Acadiana

Businesses:
The Daily Advertiser
The Independent
Pixus Digital Printing
Laborde Diagnostics
Sir Speedy
Realtor Association of Acadiana
Expressions Unlimited, Inc.
EnvirolHem
Gauthier’s RV Center
Executan Tanning Salons
Woodworking Plus
Iberia Bank
Pineapple Hospitality
Digital Louisiana.org
Machine Tools, Inc.
Warren Computer Services
MBSB Group Architects
Synergy Information Technology Group
Van Eaton & Romero
Domingue, Szabo & Associates, Inc.
Poor Boy's Riverside Inn
Privat General Contractors
Barras Mueschke Architects
Coldwell Banker Pelican Real Estate
Central Acadiana Tourism
Bertrand Land Service
Ntense Technologies
Ed Roy, Ltd.
Fabian Patin & Associates Architects
Saloom & Saloom
Lube-a-GoGo
LL Fitness Inc.
Voorhies & Labbe
WOW Technologies
Caroline Signs
Nouveau Photeau
Cecil D. Trahan Enterprises, Inc.
LA Home Detention Service
Firefly Digital
Lafayette Arthritis & Endocrine Clinic
Gerald Thibodeaux Designs
AcadianaTech.com
Affordable Consulting
Boudreaux Web Design LLC
Comit Technologies
Fair Oaks Dev. Inc.

I am sure there are others. Please let me know if I've left your organization out.

"Study finds fault with LUS fiber plan"

Yesterday's Advertiser story on a report criticizing the business judgment of LUS promoted by the Heartland Institute turned into another disappointing "He said, she said" story. What makes it particularly disappointing is that the Advertiser has experience with the author, Stephen Titch. Titch is the fellow who wrote the "Advertorial" in the Advertiser a while back that condemned the LUS project as unworkable and that the Advertiser ran as a simple expert opinion editorial. In fact, Titch owns "Expert Editorials, Inc., a for-hire firm that advertises its desire to sell its "third party,""analytical perspective" that "supports, yet remains detached" from the company that hires them. (Translation: we'll gin up any opinion you want and pass it off as the judgment of an expert with no ties to your company.) Titch advertises his willingness to sell his judgments on the internet. When this was pointed out to the Advertiser, I presume they found printing an "expert editorial" by a man whose business is to write them embarrassing. Titch, they had every reason to know before publishing this article, cannot be trusted to be objective and at the very least had taken a editorial position on their own pages in opposition to the project that predicted its failure long before he began the "research" for the short paper that prompted the story. It would appear to a easonable observer that, at a minimum, Titch's local history should have been noted in the paper's coverage of the current piece. This will make the second time he has successfully gamed our local paper by representing himself as an objective expert and gotten away without being adequately challenged.

The paper does note that:
BellSouth spokesman John Williams said the corporation has contributed to The Heartland Institute. He declined to comment on the study, saying he had not had time to analyze the conclusions.
But allows Titch to respond without further query:
Titch said BellSouth did not fund the Heartland Institute study.
Not only is that more than a little disingenuous on Titch's part, it appears to be substantially untrue: an earlier version of the Heartland study was presented before the state bond commission in an attempt to persuade the commission that it should not authorize bonds in support of the project. The bond commission didn't buy it. But my guess is that the Heartless institute didn't do its research to present there for free. They did it to benefit their clients. Maybe those clients didn't fund the final revision. Maybe. But the bond commission appearance should give the lie to the idea that this is some sort of independent study. And those connections are something that the paper should notice.

The astute reader will note that neither John Williams nor Neal Breakfield was willing to defend the report. That should tell you what you need to know. Putting out negative and confusing information that you are not willing to actually defend is a sign of the sort of FUD strategy intended to simply leave the listener with the vague sense that someone, someone that nobody knows or will defend, has said something bad about LUS' plan. It the way gossips try to smear people, but all dressed up in academic clothing. And the best way to handle baseless gossip is to ignore it.

My frustrations with reportorial issues aside, the responses of LUS to Titch's misinformation are powerful. Titch has to strain hard to even begin to make a case and it easy to knock the props out from underneath arguments that simply don't have the facts on their side. Read the story carefully, or even better, go to the sources, spend the time reading the short article that Titch passes off as research and LUS' point by point response. The current article hardly does the response justice.

Here is the simple truth that should have been evident after reading a local article on the report: Bristol is well ahead of its business plan and on the road to success. This is in spite of delaying lawsuits by the local incumbents that prevented it from delivering the triple play of services for one of the meager three years Titch examines, and in spite of political interference from the local council that set the initial price of the service below that which the business plan recommended. When the full suite of services at the originally recommended price (a price that still saved the community 15%) was brought online, the utility took off and is well ahead of where the business plan said it would be--this in spite of the delays and political interference. The utility is further down the road to paying off the loans it took out to build its plant than it thought it would be.

That's pretty good evidence that the plan is sound and conservative. The tortured effort to twist that around into something negative is simply evidence of Titch's bias. A bias we all should have been made aware of before the story began.

Friday, June 24, 2005

"Consultant cites network benefits"

Fell behind in my blogging duties today....helped put up some of those handsome 4x8 For Fiber signs you are seeing arournd town.

But this morning's Advocate posting on Lafayette Coming Together Breakfast deserves some attention. Read it beside the Advertiser's version and you might wonder if it Toccalino, the keynote speaker, actually spoke at two different events.

This telling of the story thematized LEDA's endorsement (not mentioned at the Advertiser) and reported points from public housing director Walter Guillory's speech (given as a board member of LEDA.) Not reported, but in the same vein, were endorsements from the realty firm Van Eaton and Romero.

The story also covered Toccalino's comparison of the Cedar Falls and Waterloo, Iowa experiences, including a tidbit I missed that the Cedar Falls municipality has a 75% take rate.

"Breakfast brings fiber fans together"

The Advertiser's story on the fiber breakfast trades an overview of the event's meaning for a focus on the he said, she said response to the keynote speaker's address. That's not entirely bad, but it is limiting.

The breakfast focused on two themes: economic development and "Lafayette Coming Together"-the breadth of support for the fiber project. That second theme was voiced in the invitation as:
Lafayette has come together – Republican and Democrat, business community and civic groups, black and white, wealthy and not – in support of developing a new telecommunications infrastructure that will set Lafayette apart and drive development in the new century. It is our generation’s opportunity to stand up for Lafayette, for our future, and for our children.
The Development Theme:

The Advertiser story focused, not entirely unfairly, on the first theme, though even there it seems to have missed the core of the keynote speaker's message. One of the major difficulties in explaining the value of putting forward a leading edge technological infrastructure lies in the very fact that it is leading edge. People understandably ask for assurance that this new project will work. The response, equally fairly, is that a big chunk of the value of being on the leading edge is being first. There won't be examples of how this particular variation of a valuable technology succeeds until you (or we, in this case) succeed. The best way to meet this objection is to pick a closely analogous case and show how that community benefited by taking the same path.

That's what John Toccacino, the speaker at the breakfast, tried to do. He showed a case of a city with a long enough history with investing in itself with a technologically advanced infrastructure to show the real benefits of municipal telecommunications. Cedar Falls is 10 years down the line in its experience with an advanced telecommunications utility. Now, that far out, the advantages are unmistakably clear. Of two initially equal cities sitting side by side, all the growth has been experienced by the city that chose to invest in itself. It is vibrant. Its sister city, Waterloo, is stagnating. A stand-still tax base means higher taxes to fund essential city services and higher taxes discourage new investment. The writing on the wall is clear: now, belatedly, Waterloo, Iowa has decided that it must invest in a fiber to the home project if it hopes to catch up.

Lafayette wants to be Cedar Falls, not Waterloo, and those in attendance clearly "got it." People hung around in groups talking for a long time and the speaker barely got to his plane on time.

The "Lafayette Coming Together" theme:

The second theme of the breakfast, that Lafayette has "come together," didn't make this version of the story. But it was apparent at the meeting. A banquet room full of people could look around and see that the Republican table was next to the Democratic table, that there was a table for the northside organization "Concerned Citizen for Common Sense," that the head of the NAACP was at the meeting, that businesses like Van Eaton and Romero had a table, and civic organizations like Rebuild Lafayette North did so as well. A large number of tickets were sold to individuals at the door and those that attended walked out with fistfuls of buttons and bumpers stickers and a yard sign or two. I was most gratified to watch the clusters of people talking after the meeting. Both inside and outside the hall, people that you don't usually find talking to each other were engaged in intense conversation long after the silverware had been piled into carts.

Lafayette has come together over this issue and the support is both broad and deep.

And that is maybe the more important and more hopeful part of the story.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Bipartisanship—It's not only for Lafayette!

Occasionally there's that cause which is so obviously to the benefit of the people that both the Democrats and the Republicans back it. In Lafayette the Fiber to the Home (FTTH) project is such a cause, and both local parties have come out in favor of it. A broad-based coalition of civic groups and businesses have added their voices to the chorus of individual endorsers as well. Naysayers are few and the most prominent are employees of BellSouth and Cox.

The claim has been made that the FTTH initiative puts Lafayette in the forefront of American cities in terms of technology. It's beginning to look like we might be out ahead of country in making this issue the focus of a broad-based bipartisan coalition as well.

Today sees the introduction of the Lautenberg-McCain Bill which would "amend the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to preserve and protect the ability of local governments to provide broadband capability and services." Lautenberg is a Democrat and McCain a Republican, yet they've joined together to make common cause with the people of this country. A large coalition of more than 40 organizations ranging from the American Association of Law Libraries to the Consumers Union has joined them. As residents of Lafayette might expect, the most prominent voice on the other side is associated with the private telecom companies. A bill introduces by Sessions, a Texas Republican, and 16 year veteran of SBC hopes to accomplish the opposite: using the power of the federal government, not to preserve the rights of localities but impose, by federal fiat, a ban on the construction of any new municipal broadband systems.

So Lafayette is out ahead again. That's the gist of it.

Want a little more? Here's the way the federal fiber partisans think about it.

From Lautenberg's speech on the floor of the senate:
A century ago, there were efforts to prevent local governments from offering electricity. Opponents argued that local governments didn't have the expertise to offer something as complex as electricity. They also argued that businesses would suffer if they faced competition from cities and towns. But local community leaders recognized that their economic survival depended on electrifying their communities. They knew that it would take both private investment and public investment to bring electricity to all Americans. We face a similar situation today.
The following quote is particularly poignant considering BellSouth's recent revelation that its plan is to leave 20%, not 10%, of Lafayette out of the provision of advanced services:
There are also underserved urban areas, where private providers may exist, but many in the community simply cannot afford the high prices. Dianah Neff, Philadelphia's chief information officer, knows this all too well. "The digital divide is local," Neff has said, commenting that while 90 percent Philadelphia's affluent neighborhoods have broadband, just 25 percent in low-income areas have broadband.
You may rest assured that if BellSouth has its way in Lafayette those that would be left out would be even more dramatically to be found among the low-income areas of our city.

From McCain's speech on the floor of the senate:
This bill is needed if we are to meet President Bush's call for "universal, affordable access for broadband technology by the year 2007." When President Bush announced this nationwide goal in 2004, the country was ranked 10 th in the world for high speed Internet penetration. Today, the country is ranked 16 th. This is unacceptable for a country that should lead the world in technical innovation, economic development, and international competitiveness.
And he adds, in a little bit of that satisfying laigniappe:
Several newspapers have endorsed the concept of allowing municipalities to choose whether to offer high speed Internet services. USA Today rightfully questioned in an editorial, "Why shouldn't citizens be able to use their own resources to help themselves?"
Sound familiar? It should. It was Lafayette that USAToday article was referring to.

All in all, the US would be wise to follow Lafayette's lead.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

"BellSouth offers city deal; Durel doubts it's enough"

Kevin Blanchard of the Advocate does his usual incisive job of reporting in this story. He lays it out, as my mother might have said, "in apple pie order."

BellSouth proposed last month that if Lafayette paid or gave tax incentives to BellSouth, the company would "accelerate" its communications network build-out plans...

Durel said Tuesday the plan proposed to Lafayette does not meet the minimum requirements he's looking for in a potential partnership.

"Does it accomplish anything that we want to accomplish -- not at all," Durel said...

"This was the same thing they came to us with in November," Durel said. "Unfortunately, this seems to be the best they have to offer."

It will only try an

Durel did not agree the BellSouth proposal achieves the results desired.

Durel said he also does not like the approach of BellSouth slowly making its advanced services available over a four-year period and only then "close to 100 percent," of households.

(If we pay BellSouth off.)

The LUS plan is to make its service available to anyone who wants it, he said.

Lafayette wants a fiber-optic system built to every home and business in the city, reduced prices for telecommunications services and availability to everyone who wants to sign up -- something that would attract new business and make Lafayette stand out around the country, Durel said.

"Anything short of that is not worth talking about," Durel said.

Indeed, we've waged the fight and the prize is at hand. No compromise is the path of wisdom now.

Oliver's letter also proposes for BellSouth to provide wireless coverage across Lafayette -- either through three to six "Wi-Max" stations or hundreds of smaller wireless transceivers on street lights around the city...

Durel has said before that Lafayette is working on a way to use its fiber-optic network to also provide wireless.

And Oliver remarks:

BellSouth's proposal would "enable the citizens of Lafayette to reap virtually all the benefits of the proposed LUS plan without having to incur the major investments and substantial risks inherent in that plan"...

No, it would not allow all of Lafayette's citizens to benefit unless we paid off BellSouth (A fact which incidently should silence those that pretend that BellSouth intends to service all of Lafayette and that LUS doesn't.) It doesn't assure us of robust competition, instead it subsidizes one of the competitors. (Hey, where's Cox?)

No, most crucially BellSouth's plan doesn't put control of Lafayette's future in the hands of Lafyette's people. This BS plan puts control more solidly in the hands of the Atlanta corporation whose actions in Lafayette have exhibited a fine disdain for the people of Lafayette. (Recall the Academic Conference, and both the push polls?)

Lafayette needs to control her own destiny. Investing in ourselves has always rebounded to our advantage. And this flimsy proposal offers nothing that should lead us to believe that others are willing to do that investing on our behalf.

We'll have to do it ourselves.

The final line in the Advocate article serves well here:

Durel said there are no dates set for BellSouth and Lafayette officials to meet.
The date to keep is July 16th. Vote For Fiber. Vote Yes!

BellSouth Seeks City-Parish Subsidy

Wednesday's edition of The Daily Advertiser carries a story on what is called "an offer" by BellSouth to City-Parish President Joey Durel in an attempt to derail plans for LUS to run fiber to every home and business in the city.

This isn't an offer; it's a plea for Lafayette to prop up BellSouth in its competition with Cox across South Louisiana!

Apparently still unable to convince his Atlanta bosses that Lafayette is a dynamic and important market for the company (due to Cox winning a good bit of phone market share here?), BellSouth Louisiana President Bill Oliver is asking City-Parish Government to subsidize the company's business here!

The subsidy (which I've heard could be as high as $2.5 million per year!) would be used to bring a what would currently be considered a "good enough" network to as much as 80 percent of the city. The other 20 percent of the city (Hmmm! wonder where that might be?) would be stuck with whatever they've got now.

Would there be legal issues arising from a direct government subsidy that supports corporate red-lining?

One of the fundamental problems with this offer — beyond the subsidy/corporate welfare piece — is that the proposed network would be obsolete just about the time it was completed.

The underlying assumption in the plan is that 24 megabit per second download speeds will be adequate in 2009-2010. That might be true if nothing changed between now and then, but there is the little matter of HD-TV convergence in the offing that will render the proposed network obsolete as soon as it happens.

That convergence is being pushed along by demand for wireless spectrum. A good bit of spectrum is now tied up by television broadcasters who have their long-held analog spectrum (the stations you can pick up with a regular television antennae) and the free digital spectrum Congress gave them about a decade ago to open the way for the development of HD-TV. There is mounting pressure in Congress to make the broadcasters give back the analog spectrum, which was part of the deal that got them the free digital spectrum.

The relevance is this: HD-TV signals take up more bandwidth than analog channels (that's why cable providers are working with broadcasters to put off that give-back date). The network described in the BellSouth offer/plea will not be adequate to deliver HD-TV to all subscribers on that network. The result will be either bandwidth rationing or price ratcheting.

So, the 'in Lafayette' impact of the subsidy would be to saddle tax payers with a new entitlement program that would produce a network with limited utility, while providing businesses and consumers no protection on rates. Right! BellSouth wants tax payers to fund a networbuild-outut (which would have the effect of endorsing it's anti-competitive practices) but be allowed to charge whatever it wants for the services that network enables them to deliver.

It also appears that BellSouth wants Consolidated Government and taxpayers to help them pay for new fiber capacity between New Orleans and Lafayette. Again, Oliver wants Lafayette to do for him what he can't convince his bosses in Atlanta to do. New fiber capacity between here and New Orleans would help BellSouth in all markets in between.

BellSouth offers no ideas as to how Consolidated Government is supposed to pay for this subsidy, particularly since the intent of this dog and pony show is to defeat the LUS Fiber Referendum on July 16. Maybe cut night bus service? Police and fire pay? Government layoffs?

This is an essential point. This is not a serious offer because it offers no specifics. It's sole purpose was to enable Oliver, his minions and The Sock Puppets to be able to claim that "an offer has been made."

The technology included in this plan pales in comparison to that contained in the LUS Fiber plan. But, it is on the financials that it falls apart.

Under this plan, millions more in Lafayette dollars would be removed from circulation here and shipped off to other BellSouth operations through the subsidies alone. Control of rates is mentioned nowhere.

This is a sweetheart deal for BellSouth. After trying to kill the LUS plan in the Legislature last year before it got to the feasibility stage; after funding push polls seeking distort public understanding of the fiber issue not once, but twice; after suing to force an election; after fighting the project at the bond commission; after liberal use of deliberately misleading terms like "functional equivalent" and "fiber to the curb"; after calling the global recognition of fiber as superior infrastructure "a fetish," Oliver came calling on Durel calling this plea an offer!

It delivers nothing in the way of innovation to Lafayette. It would consign 20 percent of the citizens of this community to a technology backwater and instead of closing the digital divide would make it the official policy of City-Parish Government.

This is not an offer; it is not a plan; it is a ploy of a desperate company losing market share, and confronted with the reality that it is on the verge of losing its place in what is emerging as the most demanding market in the state.

Bill Oliver's problem is not in Lafayette, it's in Atlanta. BellSouth HQ in Atlanta does not recognize or in any way honor the aspirations of this community.

We want to do better! We don't want to be one of 100 cities of 100,000 people that are muddling along in a pack while other, larger cities pull away from us based on technological advantage. We want to create the kind of community here where success is not determined by where you live, or how much money your daddy had, but how big your dreams are and how well you take advantage of the great tools here that will enable you to realize them.

The LUS Fiber Project has already succeeded in surpressing cost increases from Cox. It has vaulted Lafayette into the consciousness of Fortune 500 companies. It has companies looking at Lafayette as a site to pilot new technology. Will some reporter ask Joey Durel to talk about his meetings with Sun Microsystems? These were face-to-face meetings between Durel and Scott McNealy and other leaders of Sun. It is a direct result of the LUS Fiber Project being on the table.

It's working and it hasn't event been built yet! The BellSouth ploy starkly outlines the choice for Lafayette on July 16. We can invest in our community, ourselves and our future and Vote Yes! Or, we can be content to be like a bunch of other indistinct, mid-size cities that are cash cows for companies that make their more important investments elsewhere.

It's a stark choice, but a clear one! I'm Voting Yes For Fiber on July 16. Don't let Bill Oliver fool you.

"Durel: BellSouth fiber offer falls way short"

Here's what I think the headline really ought to be: "BellSouth "Proposes" to Take Us for Fools, Durel Declines to be Fooled"

As the details of BellSouths "proposal" are revealed in this Advertiser story it looks like BellSouth isn't really offering to do anything that it hasn't publicly announced are in its plans for its entire footprint. This sounds an awful lot like the offer that kicked up such a fuss in November.

Here is the deal: At a moment when their cable competition is driving them to the wall across their footprint BellSouth is gearing up for an ADSL rollout that it has been plannig, but failing to implement for years. This year they got license from the FCC to rollout their Fiber to the Curb without having to share the lines with competing phone services (this is why EATEL no longer has an active presence in Lafayette). They still haven't started rolling it out. Soon we hear soon. Meanwhile they are already trialing some sort of WiMax precursor in Atlanta and in Florida.

Oh yeah, and if we want all our people served we've got to pay them off. And even then they are only willing to provide it to most. No solid promises. If anyone has any doubt that this fiber to the curb, ADSL stuff is about readlining out the least profitable parts of our city (and every city) let this proposal make one thing clear: even under the greatest possible competitive stress BS won't serve more than 80% of the people without government handouts.

Lafayette would get nothing from this deal that they aren't already planning to do just to compete with Cox. To say nothing of LUS's fiber of which they are justly terrified. Here is what they aren't saying: Should the referendum pass they'll have to roll out these services in two years just to avoid falling so far behind their competition as to make them a laughing stock. Vote for the LUS plan and watch BellSouth actually move us up on their list for a change. Not to do us a favor or to give their customers what they want. No--for reasons BellSouth find sensible: to preserve their competitive position. After this proposal it's clear that this is all that will lead them to offer us advanced services at a competitive price.

But go read it yourself. Some of the juiciest quotes:

BellSouth's plans are to expand its fiber optics broadband network in Lafayette, reaching about 80 percent of households with high-speed Internet, video and broadband services at speeds up to 24 Mbps within four years...

BellSouth's plans are to expand its fiber optics broadband network in Lafayette, reaching about 80 percent of households with high-speed Internet, video and broadband services at speeds up to 24 Mbps within four years, Oliver wrote.

The company proposed public involvement in the form of financial support from the city such as cash, tax credits, incentives "or other possible forms of payments or concessions..."

"What they can offer is about one percent of what fiber-to-the-home can offer," Durel said. "It falls 99 percent short. It doesn't prepare Lafayette for the future."

BellSouth representatives said they may be able to offer 24 Mbps in four years, Durel said. LUS signed a deal with the Lafayette Parish School Board to provide 100 Mbps today, he said.

And at the end Joey nails it:
Durel said his door remains open to proposals that will set Lafayette apart from the rest of the country using fiber optics.
This plan does nothing to distinguish Lafayette. It's the ultimate faux partnership...one side gives what they were going to do anyway and the other side gets....what? BS. It's not a good trade.

"Executive to cite fiber-optic benefits for Iowa city"

The Advocate carried a story yesterday about the Lafayette Coming Together Unity breakfast. The story focused on the economic potential claimed for a fiber optic network.

John Toccalino, director of integrated networks for Black & Veatch Telecommunications Division, will talk about the economic development experienced in Cedar Falls, Iowa, after that city built its own fiber-optics network, according to a news release from Lafayette Coming Together.

Cedar Falls has been used as an example by LUS officials in the past. The small town built a fiber-optics network in 1996, while the larger, neighboring town of Waterloo did not.

In the years since, Cedar Falls' industrial park has grown several times over -- including a large Target distribution center.

The event is also a chance for supporters to show their support and to demonstrate the breadth of support for our fiber to the home project among all of our community.

Tickets are still available...please consider attending.

Tickets can be purchased at LaQuinta Inn and Suites in the Oil Center, Durel's Pet Shop at 3814 Ambassador Caffery and The Independent Weekly at 551 Jefferson St.

Tickets are also available online at http://www.lafayettecomingtogether.org and can be picked up at River Oaks the morning of the breakfast.


Monday, June 20, 2005

"Fiber to benefit medical field"

The Advertiser has published the second in a series of short educational articles that offer some background information on the fiber to the home project which is going to be voted on on July 16th.

This one focuses on the medical profession and how better and faster communications speed diagnosis and make consultation with out of town experts more practical.

This might sound a little exotic but a father in one of the town hall meetings (the Dupuis Center if memory serves) stood up and talked about how long he had to wait for his daughter's scan to read by a specialist in Australia and sent back to Lafayette. They sat in the emergency room waiting room for over 3 hours for the upload to complete.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Advertiser Launches Series of Educational Items

The Advertiser has launched a series of short educational "items" as part of its continuing coverage of the Fiber to the Home referendum. Up today are some background terms:

  • Fiber optics: bundled hair-thin glass filaments through which light can travel, transmitting large amounts of information at the speed of light over longer distances and with less interference than metal cable.
  • Fiber to the curb: fiber optic lines that reach within 500 feet of a home or business' curb. One fiber would be split to serve numerous customers.
  • Fiber to the home: fiber optic lines that extend all the way to each home or business that subscribes. Each customer is served by a fiber line, eliminating competition and bottlenecks sometimes faced with fiber to the curb.

  • Not a bad way to start.

    Come Show your Support at the Pro-Fiber Breakfast

    Come one, Come all!

    Lafayette Coming Together, Mayor-President Joey Durel, and LUS Director Terry Huval have issued an invitation to the community to join them in a unity breakfast in support of the fiber to the home initiative. The breakfast emphasizes the astonishing degree to which Lafayette has come together over this initiative and the possibilities for economic development that will help move all our people forward.

    From the invitation:
    Lafayette has come together – Republican and Democrat, business community and civic groups, black and white, wealthy and not – in support of developing a new telecommunications infrastructure that will set Lafayette apart and drive development in the new century. It is our generation’s opportunity to stand up for Lafayette, for our future, and for our children.
    The speaker will be John Toccalino, who has first-hand experience with the results of one city's decision to invest in itself by building a fiber-optic network. Sister cities, separated by a river, went down separate paths when one decided to build a fiber-optic network. Come hear the dramatic results. From the announcement:
    ...hear keynote speaker John Toccalino deliver A Tale of Two Cities from a first-hand perspective entitled “Making the Connection Between Telecommunication Infrastructure and Economic Development.” Mr. Toccalino’s entrepreneurial spirit, extensive project management experience and interest in technology make him an excellent resource for detailing the economic and community benefits of a municipally owned fiber optic system.
    How you can participate:
    Tickets are $20 each or $160 for a table of eight.

    By check: LaQuinta Inn and Suites (1015 W. Pinhook in the Oil Center), Durel’s Pet Shop (3814 Ambassador Caffery Parkway), or The Independent Weekly (551 Jefferson Street). Please make checks payable to Lafayette Coming Together PAC.

    By credit card: Phone at 337-258-1908.

    Saturday, June 18, 2005

    Broadband penetration: The World, The US, and Lafayette

    CNNMoney carries a cautionary tale dealing with the debate over the United States' falling ranking in broadband penetration rate. Both the folks who are worried and the folks who dismiss the figures as misleading are missing the point in the arguments they make, I think. But the worriers have the stronger position. The story leads with:
    Thomas Bleha believes the United States stands to lose big if it keeps slipping behind other countries in the percentage of citizens with high-speed Internet access...
    An explanation of that slippage is attempted:

    But while some experts said the United States will get stung if it keeps losing ground, other experts said the issues are more complex -- and this country much more competitive -- than the figures suggest.

    "The major impediment to U.S. adoption is price, not lack of availability," said Charles Golvin, a senior telecom analyst at Forrester Research. "Broadband is widely available but, like many technologies, it appealed first to high-income people, and lower prices will make it more mainstream..."

    "We have a problem in terms of competition," he [Haim Mendelson] said. "In most U.S. markets you have one major cable player and one major DSL player -- a duopoly. This just isn't as competitive as in South Korea and the Netherlands, which have many companies competing fiercely."

    And, contra that explanation:

    Most countries ranked above the U.S. in the OECD study are smaller with denser populations that are more easily networked.

    "Population density affects both the cost of deploying cables and the availability of access," noted Stanford's Mendelson.

    Some countries on the list have benefited from government initiatives. According to Fortune, the South Korean government has spent billions in recent years to create a high-speed backbone for school and government offices, and offered incentives for companies to broaden their residential networks...

    I'm sure that the problem of broadband penetration is due in part to all these issues, though I'd lean strongly on the combination of lack of competition and a lack of any real national policy initiative to support it. It doesn't hurt that our telecoms and cablecos have had a notable lack of vision, focusing on this year's profit in all cases and not noticeably on the needs of the communities of which they are members. (Size and density arguments fail when you look at Canada, whose problem of density far outstrips ours but who has both done more to encourage competition and has an unabashed policy to support broadband penetration in its low density regions.) The article doesn't back off from the culpability of the incumbents and to clearly note how their economic self-interest might be tied into that:
    Charles Ferguson, author of the study "The Broadband Problem," believes high-speed access has an inherent risk for these companies. "Both the telecom and cable industries are worried that broadband could eventually undermine them. Phone companies fear that people will move to (Internet phone service), and cable companies fear that digital video will threaten cable."
    One thing that should be clear is that suppressing municipal competition will NOT improve the situation.

    -----Ruminations Alert!, if you're not in the mood for a little pondering, stop here. The rest of this post is a bit of chewing the cud about what the real "broadband penetration issue" is and why it is actually important...a view that differs somewhat from the assumptions in the story above.-------

    While the problem is real, I think both the worriers and those that dismiss the worries miss the real importance of the issue. The worriers tend to lean on national pride and infer that the US is less competitive because of the lack of broadband penetration. The dismissive side says that absolute numbers are bigger for the US and that, anyway, "we are so competitive." Both miss what I think is the central issue: that the communities and nations which are able to achieve the highest rates of penetration will, in the long run, end up shaping the culture of the next cycle of technical innovation and cultural products. It really isn't about today's competition—where both sides have good points. It is, instead, about shaping a future in which what you are good at and enjoy has global dominance. And in that realm, the worriers have a strong argument.

    High rate of penetration is exactly what occurred with American movie and TV media, which was fueled by nearly universal penetration in the United States in the prosperous post WWII years. In those years our untouched industrial plant made the US consumer wealthy in relation to even other developed nations, and we all bought TVs and flocked to the movies. That large and dense population of users (almost all participated) meant that Americans quickly settled on a common set of ideas about what these media were about in the "modern" age. (Gidget and I Dream of Jeannie, for instance.) A huge percentage of and all the cheapest content was from the United States. Not everyone elsewhere liked it but whether they liked it or not, our early, large, dense network of media set the stage for and defined, even if only in reaction, the work they could do. It wasn't only Hollywood that benefited from this state of affairs. The potboiler Western movie led directly to Levi's becoming a huge international clothing manufacturer. All American products had a huge cachet. That cultural donimance of new media prolonged our economic dominance and the we are still coasting from the momentum of those years.

    This is the phenomena that we really ought to be worried about: whoever establishes the largest, densest network of new media will shape the world to come in ways that will inevitably benefit its people, their tastes, and their sensibilities.

    Frankly, neither American business nor the US government seems prepared to recognize the issue, much less do anything to build a new American dominance. But on a smaller scale Lafayette may well find itself in a postion to be the American city that shapes the culture of the new media for Americans. Our little local government does have a strategy for broadband penetration, one the national government would be wise to pursue: invest in infrastructure directly, offer advanced services, offer them cheaply, offer access to inexpensive hardware and inexpensive software, bring in free educational classes of varied kinds for varied interests, and work hard to provide an ISP with solid local content. Finally, make sure real competition exists. That is what is about to happen here. With any luck at all it will mean that Lafayette will be the largest, densest proving ground for new media in the United States.

    And our tastes and sensibilities will be what the rest of the country has to confront when thye finally wander onto the stage we have set. That might not be at all a bad thing.

    LUS would be wise to pusue its announced strategy of pushing broadband penetration hard.

    What's Being Said: "ISPs Attempt to Stop Public Broadband"

    PCWorld carries a brief report on the conflict between municipal and private providers of broadband. I don't think I've seen a report of this kind in the personal computing space before. It's usually a broadband mag specialty or is carried in the business or political press. What we should note is that for a general, introductory report Lafayette is consider the obvious place to call to get the municipal side of the story. The country is watching and what happens here matters. The gist of the Lafayette part of the story:

    Lafayette, Louisiana, mayor Joey Durel says that his city "begged" its phone and cable companies for years to wire it with fiber-optic access--to no avail. The city now plans to build its own fiber network, but Bell South and Cox Communications have filed court motions to stop the plan.

    "The practices of corporate America are hurting communities like Lafayette," he says.

    Durel says a Lafayette-owned fiber network delivering Internet, cable TV, and phone service would save residents over 20 percent on their monthly bills, and would let the city give its schools fast Net access.

    It's great having a Mayor who speaks his mind; I've had enough mush-mouth in my day to last a lifetime.

    Friday, June 17, 2005

    "Audio of Cox/BellSouth Pollster Lies"

    Broadband Reports has a report on the release of the Cox/BellSouth Push Poll at fibre911. (It will make you see red.) There is also a 60 second Lafayette Coming Together radio spot that uses material from the poll. It's all part of an "innoculation" strategy designed to ensure that when the next set of lies, distortions, and misinformation hits the streets, the citizens of Lafayette will realize that the new set of stories is just a continuation of the old strategy.

    Travel to the Broadband reports page "Audio of Cox/BellSouth Pollster Lies" to see what people all over the country are reading—and what they think of BellSouth and Cox.

    BellSouth proposes timeline for fiber (not)

    The title of this morning's Advertiser fiber article, "BellSouth proposes timeline for fiber," is pretty solidly misleading since the body of the story makes it clear that BellSouth is conspicuously NOT setting any timeline at all. In addition, what it is not setting a timeline for is not fiber in the sense that the term is commonly used—to mean fiber to the home—but to mean only "fiber to the curb." So a more accurate headline might read "BellSouth continues to refuse to set a timeline for its next generation hybrid fiber/copper technology." Of course, that's a little long. But it does have the virtue of not misleading the casual reader of the front page of the paper.

    As Huval notes, this is all the same stuff that BellSouth has been trying to sell for awhile:
    "What they are talking about now is the same thing they talked about in November of last year, as far as what type of infrastructure they're going to deploy," Huval said.
    It's all the same story—down to John Williams repeating the discredited story that the FCC has declared fiber to the curb the "functional equivalent" of fiber to the home. This is simply a self-serving lie. Almost a decade of FCC policy was based on maintaining the difference between the two as a fundamental element of regulatory policy. When that policy changed, what is most noticeable about the decision is that the FCC did not accept this rationale (and did accept others) for making the change. For a thorough refutation of the underlying concep, please see fiberfilmfestival.com, the "Slick Sam Slade" video. There is nothing new and nothing that would put Lafayette ahead of the rest of BellSouth's service area in the material that has been released to date.



    PS:
    The alert reader will note that Cox and BellSouth are not partners in this partnership venture. As has been pointed out many times on these pages the local alliance is one of necessity in the hopes of preventing the rise of a superior competitor, not an alliance of principle.

    "BellSouth, Cox join fiber talks"

    If I read this article in the Advocate correctly the administration is taking a pretty smart line with BellSouth and Cox's latest "proposals" for a partnership on LUS' fiber optic project. A few quotes and then a few comments:
    ...no partnership is likely without a successful "yes" vote July 16 on LUS' plan to borrow up to $125 million to enter the business, Durel said.

    "The No. 1 objective is still the election," Durel said. "If we lose the election, we don't get another phone call (from BellSouth and Cox)..."

    "The substance was much more significant this time," Durel said. "It didn't all revolve around 'you can't do it, you can't afford it and you don't need it.' "

    Instead, both companies said they'd "like to be a part" of the LUS plan, Durel said...

    Durel said he believes both companies may have realized that people in Lafayette support LUS' plan and that partnering could be beneficial to both parties.

    "I think they recognize that our vote is looking pretty good," Durel said. "This train is about to get moving..."

    But a potential future partner needs to "act like a partner," Durel said.

    It would go a long way for one or both of the companies to "stand up together" with LUS and endorse a "yes" vote, Durel said.

    "It would be easier to work with them," he said.

    As I opined yesterday, I think history ought to be our guide in interpreting this overture from Cox and BellSouth. The last time it looked like the crucial decision in the council was about to be made in favor of the plan the incumbents trotted out a plan that simply reasserted their publicly announced technology plan. Nothing particularly special was offered to Lafayette except vague promises of faster delivery of that technology and maybe some special "trials" in here. (An article in today's Advertiser suggests that this may be the pattern again today.)

    But what is interesting about the above series of comments is that it suggests that Durel has decided how to play this game to the advantage of the referendum. If you are for LUS providing the services you should vote for the referendum. If you are for a partnership, you should vote for the referendum. If your secret hope is that the private providers will just step up to the plate and offer to Lafayette what Lafayette so clearly desires, you should vote for the referendum. It's being played as a sign (and it is) that the incumbents recognize that as things stand now Lafayette will win in the referendum. So if you want to stick with the winner, vote for the referendum.

    And, of course, quite prettily Durel has shifted the ground from their feel-good "making an offer" (however faux) to their backing up their spoken intentions to be "good partners" with the challenge of actually supporting what the city desires. If you want to be a partner, it would be a lot easier if you weren't fighting the project you pretend to want to partner with tooth and nail. There is an earthy phrase: put up or shut up.


    But the bottom line has to be that the modern infrastructure, all of it, has to be owned and controlled by the people of Lafayette. That is what the fight has been over and that is what we must be left with, whatever sort of deal BellSouth may wish to cut to improve what is shaping up to be their third-best position in Lafayette. The people of Lafayette must be left with a framework that increases competition, not one which merely cuts the city in on the current duopoly deal.

    Thursday, June 16, 2005

    "Fans already see fiber optics' benefits"

    While both papers covered last night town hall meeting at the Thomas rec center, the Advertiser version ran at the bottom of the day's fiber story about discussions between Lafayette and the incumbents. The Advocate devotes a full story to the event and hence is much more comprehensive.

    The Advocate story gives a good overview of the latest town hall meeting. It was, again, a pretty overwhelmingly positive crowd. After a long series of informational questions that weren't clearly from partisans of either side, Dee Stanley repeated a question I first heard from the mouth of an older fellow at the first town hall meeting. Then he asked, begged, for anyone that was still doubtful or against the plan to speak up. When two people (of the about 60 in attendence) raised their hand to indicate that they still had some doubts, he grilled them about their doubts and elicited a couple of good questions. The Advocate, without giving the full context, still does a pretty decent job of reporting the balance of sentiment in the room. The Advertiser's write up, on the other hand, could easily leave you believing both that the comments were spontaneous rather than elicited and that they represented the sense of the room. That impression would be wildly misleading.

    Perhaps the most fun thing to report was that a bit of the feisty Terry and Joey show emerged again. Joey, for instance, called the incumbents "monopolists" and "greedy" again. We haven't seen that spirit in too long a while. I think maybe they are slipping out from under the control of their handlers. That would be a good thing. Huval and Durel have to lead this fight if this project is to succeed; you can't lead a fight by being so solicitious about the feelings of the opposition that your troops aren't sure they are really opponents.

    There were also few hints thrown around about the recent trip to silicon valley. Apparently they visited with Yahoo and Sun Microsystems about fiber-related issues and came away feeling very good about the possibilities. It would be fun to speculate about what those two companies might find worth doing in a city that had more bandwith, and at a cheaper price, than any other city in the nation. A local portal? That might drive locals to LUS and up take rates. What of Sun? Some of Sun's famed application server provider software? That would make it a lot easier to provide online applications as the digital divide document anticipates. One license for a word processing program that could serve the whole city off a fast server? It'll be very interesting to see where this little teaser leads. We'll hear something before the referendum, I bet.


    Now that we're faster... speed does matter

    Techdirt provides a case study in teleco reasoning. It's not about truth, it's about marketing. The techdirt article is short and sweet and to the point. Have fun.

    Fiber players hold talks

    The big news this morning is the announcement in the Advertiser that BellSouth and Cox are back in discussions with the city.

    From the story:
    Representatives of BellSouth and Cox Communications met this week with Lafayette officials to discuss possible public-private partnerships involving the proposed fiber optics project.
    Part of what is missing from the article is any recollection of what the story was the last time we saw such "discussions." The behavior of the incumbents at that moment was the source of one of the ugliest blowups of the campaign to date. You'll recall that news of "discussions" of a public-private partnerships first erupted in the week or so prior to the first council vote. At that moment it was apparent that the council was about to vote the project in (it did so 9-1) and, suddenly, BellSouth and Cox were down at city hall wanting to hold discussions about a public-private partnership. Now at that time no one thought this would go to a vote and the council vote was to have decided the matter. So it was credible, in a hypocritical sort of way, that BellSouth and Cox might suddenly decide that a public-private partnership was in their best interests. They showed up at city hall after receiving assurances that the city and LUS would keep their special presentations secret. They then presented a plan that was little more than a reiteration of what the national organizations had been saying publicly (BellSouth, for instance, was and is planning to use ADSL technologies "soon"). Then the incumbents announced the meeting and went into the council meeting telling its members that they had given the city and LUS this wonderful plan and that they really wondered why it hadn't been shared with the council. Durel and Huval were outraged at this behavior and following this was when you saw some of the harshest language of the fight. Both men felt like their trust had been abused. Durel at that time laid down the law saying they wouldn't talk to BellSouth and Cox again unless they were willing to hand them a written plan. They felt that they had been played, that the offer was never serious, that it had turned out to be no real plan at all, and that the purpose was always to use their trust to make them look bad before the council at the crucial moment of the final vote.

    Now we see the incumbents coming coming back to the table just a few weeks before an election that is looking more and more like a clear win for LUS. The local opposition hasn't moved beyond the few naysayers at the fiber411 site and the incumbents have no doubt had a good, sobering look at the poll numbers. So we are back at the point of having the incumbents offer unspecified "plans" for a public-private "partnership." I hope the pattern is clear to people. They'll try and do the same thing with the public that they tried to do with the council: use their insubstantial plan as a way of trying to gain an advantage, make the claim that the LUS and the city are somehow not telling you the whole truth and use that as the newly legitimated basis to try and run out the same nonsense that Williams tried to sell the Concerned Citizens. Here's the Bill Oliver (president BellSouth Louisiana) quote:

    Oliver said Wednesday that the discussions were about the fiber infrastructure and how BellSouth could work with the city by providing some pieces or services. The discussions focused on Internet speeds, the digital divide and wireless technology as a part of the solution.

    "We sat down and tried to discuss what I believe would be an opportunity for the administration to fulfill its obligation to the citizens of Lafayette to provide an infrastructure that would cross the digital divide, that would provide services to the citizens of Lafayette, to provide the opportunity to have the city of Lafayette leap forward maybe to one of the premier positions in the United States" for technology, Oliver said.

    BellSouth has been trialing some not really pre WiMax solutions in Florida and a few other places. Maybe they're gonna offer some sort of solution for subsidized wireless for the poor. If in turn they get to own the wireless solution. No doubt Cox will have some sort of similar self-serving plan to offer. BellSouth has a lot more to gain by piggybacking our our solution that does Cox because BellSouth's technical infrastructure is so inferior in terms of next generation solutions. They don't have any plans to come near to the raw capacity Cox already has and certainly no plans that will equal to the capacity that LUS will boast.

    Nothing should distract us from the fact that we want to own our own infrastructure. None of the hardware that is essential to our people should be encumbered by outsiders. If they want to offer services, great. I'm even for cutting them a real deal. But ownership should remain in our hands. No compromise.

    This long battle has been sold from the beginning and its support derives from it being a local solution that will free us from outside control and thereby allow us to control our own destiny. Anything less would be a betrayal and very dangerous before the referendum. The city and LUS know that and I don't anticipate much coming from this before the election. Lafayette holds all the cards now and any real negotiations will wait till after a successful referendum when their position will have been solidified. What we are seeing now is, necessarily, public relations work. The situation is too fluid for honest negotiations as long as the referendum has not been resolved.

    This should all be real interesting.