Friday, June 24, 2005

"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.

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