Saturday, April 30, 2005

Municipal networks gain ground

Telephony Online, an industry news site, has a straightforward story, Municipal networks gain ground, focused on why municipal telecommunications networks are gaining so much traction.

The article reports both sides of the article but it is clear where the author's sympathy lies. That technical writers are starting to show their impatience with industry hype is not as significant, perhaps, as the IEEE's making an open declaration for municipal broadband. But it may prove as practically important. Those who understand the technology and the business are moving toward an unambiguous endorsement of allowing the people to do for themselves what the corporations are unwilling or unable to do.

From the article:

Verizon Chairman and CEO Ivan Seidenberg last week was outspoken in his opposition to cities and towns building their own Wi-Fi networks for broadband Internet access, telling the San Francisco Chronicle that city plans to build networks “could be one of the dumbest ideas I've ever heard.”

But backers of municipal networks are fighting hard against such claims and are increasingly winning the support of a high-tech community worried that Asia and now much of Western Europe is pulling ahead of the U.S. not only in broadband penetration rates but also in quality and cost of service.

“We're a joke compared to Europe and most of Asia,” said economist John Rutledge, the author of last summer's U.S. Chamber of Commerce report on the need for telecom regulatory reform. “In the U.S., most people think of broadband as a cable modem — that's like turtle mail in Japan and Korea,” where broadband services typically run at 20 Mb/s and higher at costs similar to what U.S. consumers pay for 3 Mb/s service, he added....

Companies such as Intel and members of the High Tech Broadband Coalition — an alliance of industry associations representing hardware and software vendors — are now speaking out in favor of municipally owned broadband networks and encouraging states not to pass provisions that restrict or prevent cities and towns from building networks when incumbent service providers will not.

In response to the criticism that municipalities are just plain incompentent, the writer reports:

Such thinking ignores the track record of U.S. municipal networks today, according to a coalition of consumer groups, media organizations and municipal broadband advocates who claim a campaign of disinformation by incumbent carriers had created the false perception that municipal networks drive out competition and that they often become financial disasters, causing massive losses to taxpayers.

More:

“They are consistently saying things that are untrue,” said Moline, at a Washington press conference in early April. “They are making stuff up. The principal reason why local governments are offering broadband is to do economic development, pure and simple.”

And:

The momentum against such measures, like the one passed in Pennsylvania in late 2004 and others on track in Florida and Texas, may now be shifting in favor of cities and towns that say they need broadband networks to survive economically. While a number of states have considered bills this year to restrict or prohibit municipally owned communications networks, none have been passed yet this year.
It's not just in Lafayette where we've come together in an amazing fashion to defend our right to do for ourselves what the corporations won't do for us. (When was the last time you saw the Dems and Repubs agree on anything like this?) You can feel the momentum moving in the direction of the light across the country.

Flattening World Explains Need for Fiber to the Home

New York Times columnist and author Thomas L. Friedman's Friday column makes a pretty compelling case for why the LUS fiber to the premises project is critical to the economic viability of Lafayette.

It goes like this: Technology is flattening the world. That is, it is knocking down barriers to participation in the economy, thereby making the economy truly global — that is, it is enabling people to live just about anywhere in the world and participate in and contribute to the world's economy.

So, when we think about economic development — and the battled for competitive advantage that rests at the heart of that process — we have to understand that Lafayette is not just competing against Baton Rouge or Birmingham or Austin. We are competing against Shanghai, China, Bangalore, India, Singapore and other distant communities in what is really a global competition for talent.

Here's a relevant passage from Friedman's column:
"For the first time in our history, we are going to face competition from low-wage, high-human-capital communities, embedded within India, China and Asia," President Lawrence Summers of Harvard told me. In order to thrive, "it will not be enough for us to just leave no child behind. We also have to make sure that many more young Americans can get as far ahead as their potential will take them. How we meet this challenge is what will define our nation's political economy for the next several decades."
Here's another:
Meeting this challenge requires a set of big ideas. If you want to grasp some of what is required, check out a smart new book by the strategists John Hagel III and John Seely Brown entitled "The Only Sustainable Edge." They argue that comparative advantage today is moving faster than ever from structural factors, like natural resources, to how quickly a country builds its distinctive talents for innovation and entrepreneurship - the only sustainable edge.
Friedman goes on to note that there is a sense of urgency in China and India about catching up in the competition for talent. They are doing it by focusing on developing their own talent and through bringing home those who have ventured off to technology centers in U.S. and other countries to help build their own competitive advantage.

A consistent thread in the comments of those who oppose the LUS plan is 'what's the rush?' 'Let's wait and see what develops over the next five to ten years. Maybe something else will develop during that time which might give us something else to oppose.'

The fact of the matter is that Lafayette and Louisiana are net exporters of talent and IQ. We don't currently have the kind of economy that produces the opportunity and jobs that are enticing enough to convince our best and brightest college graduates to stay here.

About three years ago, I attended the U.L. Lafayette graduation ceremony for the Center for Advanced Computer Studies. There were about 55 graduates with masters degrees in computer science. Of those masters graduates, only ONE was staying in Lafayette and that was to pursue his Ph.D. ALL of the other students were leaving Louisiana and most of them were going to put their newly minted degrees to work in places like Texas and California.

They are leaving Lafayette (often with a heavy heart) to pursue challenging technology-based work in other communities where someone had a sense of urgency to create opportunity.

The opponents of the LUS project insist that we can afford to continue with business as usual; that we can grow our community while acting as a talent farm club for other, more aggressive cities who have a sharper appreciation the economic stakes at hand.

In the opponents' view, Lafayette should be content to be running somewhere near the rear of the middle of the pack of cities in the country currently ranked 14th in broadband access — and be damned grateful for even being ranked there.

What would Lafayette be like today if those who came before us had listened to the naysayers who claimed their plans to run their own utility system were too risky? What would Lafayette be like today if the local leaders who put up the money to start what has become UL Lafayette had surrendered to the doubters who said that Lafayette could not support a university? What would Lafayette look like today if Maurice Heymann had not believed that this city could develop into the hub of oil and gas activity in the northern Gulf of Mexico? What would Lafayette be like today if leaders here had allowed I-10 to pass through Opelousas instead of this city?

History shows that Lafayette is a city of optimists. When choices have presented themselves, citizens and leaders have stepped up to respond to them in a way that advanced the well-being of the community and set the stage for future growth. When Lafayette has invested in itself, it has prospered.

Today, in a rapidly changing, technology-driven global economy, the LUS fiber to the premises plan offers Lafayette the opportunity to make the kind of paradigm shifting investment that will change the way people on the outside world perceive this community. This generation will called upon to declare our own take on the prospects of this community.

A vote in favor of the LUS project is a vote of confidence in our own ability to build and grow a community that will be bold and imaginative enough to create the opportunities here that will make Lafayette a destination for talent — starting with our own children and grandchildren.

A vote against the LUS project is a vote to relegate Lafayette to a pool of largely indistinguishable mid-sized cities whose fortunes will rise and fall according to the whims of others.

So, we can succumb to the fear, uncertainty and doubt being desperately cast about by the opponents; or we can dare chart a positive course of our own making that, yes, has some limited risks, but has upside potential that dwarfs those risks.

I'm for Lafayette. I'm for building this city into a global cultural and economic leader. I'm for a Lafayette that provides the tools for every citizen — young or old, black or white, rich or poor, northside or southside — to develop their talents so that they contribute to the shaping of the future of this city.

I'm for fiber because I believe it is the essential economic infrastructure of the talent-driven, technology-borne global economy.

I'm for LUS because it alone has offered a plan to deliver access to this decisive infrastructure to ALL of Lafayette.

Tom Friedman says that meeting the challenges in front of us will require big ideas. The opponents of the LUS fiber to the premises plan have no ideas. They only have fear, uncertainty and doubt. All they have is "No."

What kind of community can you build on "No"?

Friday, April 29, 2005

Wi-Fly Network

The hipster-toy website endgadget has got the scoop on the latest Israeli competition for ADSL: Wi Fly: the pigeon network. The story"Pigeon Wireless Internet actually faster than ADSL" actually kinda, sorta makes sense.

Don't miss the flock of geeky bandwidth jokes in the comments. Didn't know there could be bandwidth jokes? Me neither. Just goes to show you how much I know. My personal favorite:
This is another take on a really old computer science maxim/joke. It used to be said that nothing beat the bandwidth of a station wagon full of tapes speeding along a freeway, but the latency was a bitch.
I'm tempted to make a serious point about latency issues in the wireless mesh networks that figure in some folks fantasies but hey, what fun would that be?

That wasn't outré enough? How about this update: "Snails are faster than ADSL." Take that Bill Oliver!

"Debate follows the money"

Claire Taylor of the Advertiser reports on yesterday morning's debate between Mike Stagg and Tim Supple at the Rebuild Lafayette North meeting in the old city hall. Mike is a member of Lafayette Coming Together (and co-host of this blog) and Tim Supple is with Fiber 411. I attended to cheer on the side of light and (in my humble opinion) right.

Snippets from the story—

Tim Supple on the plan:
"I am 100 percent for fiber. My problem is this business plan," Supple said. "This business plan will lose money; it will not make money. ... What I have discovered in my research is the city is not telling the truth."
Mike Stagg on the plan:
"It's already working," he said.

Because of the threat of competition from LUS, Cox Communications has not increased cable TV rates since LUS first proposed the fiber buildout in April 2004, Stagg said. The previous year, they raised rates four times, he said. SGI from Silicon Valley moved to Lafayette because of its fiber, and two other Silicon Valley companies are considering a move, he said.
Supple on closed systems:
Supple argued that the LUS business plan calls for a closed system in which LUS will not allow competing private companies to offer telephone and cable TV on its fiber. LUS should provide the fiber and lease it to private companies to provide services such as TV and telephone, he said.
Kaliste Saloom (in the audience):
Kaliste Saloom III, who supports the fiber project, asked if BellSouth and Cox would allow competitors to use their fiber optics lines if they laid the fiber.

"No," Supple said. "That's probably right."
Though it didn't make it into the article Tim Supple credited Mike Stagg with raising the issue of open systems for him in a paper he wrote on this site. Mike's response was that he considered the LUS system basically open since LUS was not going to close off ports--competition could come in over IP on the open ports and people would be free, for instance, to get their phone service from someone like Vonage using VOIP.

From the article, on open systems:
LUS plans to exclusively offer cable and telephone service on its fiber. If someone else wants to lease space to sell home security or health monitoring, they can do so, said LUS Director Terry Huval. LUS will continue to offer wholesale Internet service through private providers to larger business customers, he said.

"It has to be structured in a way that it pays for itself," Stagg argued. "LUS can't cross-subsidize their service like BellSouth and Cox can."
(If you read the article you might think that Terry Huval attended; he didn't. My guess is that Claire called him for reactions.)

------------------

That's a pretty good summary of the major points that were raised, but from the point of view of this attendee it misses much of the flavor of the event.

In broadest overview, it seemed to me that the room went from feeling pretty much neutral on the subject to feeling very much pro-fiber by the end. A debate is a particular kind of social gathering and folks who attend generally come with the idea that they want to hear both sides. So no doubt folks were leaning one way or another but it certainly didn't show at first. As the debate and questioning went on, however, the tone swung decisively toward fiber. Early questions from the floor seemed fairly neutral and were addressed to both participants. As it wore on, the questions became more pointed and more often addressed to Tim. It's hard to say just when and how the feeling changed but one event certainly marked the pro-fiber shift. As I recall, Saloom was questioning Tim, rather closely, about the conditions under which he might vote for the fiber referendum. It was a lawyerly sort of questioning designed to discover what, if anything, might induce him to vote for fiber. At one point Tim responded abruptly to a question about LUS's system being open with a remark to the effect that what had just been suggested was more of those LCG "untruths." The room responded to the remark with a low disapproving murmur.."euwh." There was a touch of humor about that murmur and I expect that some meant it to lighten the mood; but it marked a public solidification of the group -- against that sort of accusation. It wasn't the first time that Tim had implied that you couldn't trust the local government to do as they said they would. Tim remarked shortly thereafter that he didn't come there to be beaten up on and that remark pretty much served notice that it was over for his cause.

He got questions from the back of the room, including one about competition that made it plain that the questioner regarded LUS' competition with Cox and BellSouth as good competition and was having trouble understanding why Tim did not. But one final remark came from Dale Bourgeois, councilman from District 2 in the northern part of the parish. He said he didn't want to ask a question but to make a statement and that was that he didn't appreciate a remark Tim had made earlier that the north side would never see the fiber. Bourgeois had clearly been stewing on it for awhile and sat with arms crossed; speaking directly to Tim, Bourgeois said that it was his job and that this would happen. When no response was forthcoming after a pointed pause, he repeated his remarks and ceded the floor.

Shortly thereafter the group thanked the participants and moved on to a lively discussion of the frontage roads and development in north Lafayette more generally. Most folks stayed, but Tim and a few others left as the discussion shifted.



Post Scriptum: This was actually a very eventful meeting from the point of view of this community. Not only was there the debate discussed above; the meeting devoted equal time to consideration of the frontage road issue and other road works in the northern half of the parish. That, arguably, is an equally important issue. Interestingly, the Advertiser does not report on that discussion at all. Equally interestingly, the Advocate, in its coverage of the meeting, focuses entirely on the frontage road and associated development question. Neither story carries mention of Keith Thibodaux's report on high tech enterprises like LITE in Lafayette and the development potential of that for the community as a whole. I doubt the coverage much reflects the relative view of the importance of the issues for the papers or the reporters involved. Rather, constraints on how many stories can run, reporters looking for background material, and what makes it to the editors' desks first play a larger role. But that, too, is interesting to understand about the way the news works...

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Silly Season comes early; Bell South's Oliver at it again

There comes a point when things just get silly.

Readers will recall that I got more than a little peeved at the spectacle of Bill Oliver, head of BellSouth in Louisiana, responding to a challenge in the Times of Acadiana on a Wednesday that wouldn't be made public until several days later...in the Advertiser. Now we go from outrageous to just silly. Oliver is allowed to run the same letter again, this time more sensibly placed after the publication date of the letter to which it responds.

Nobody, nobody, no matter how big a corporation he works for, should be toadied to in such an obvious manner. Nobody, nobody, no matter how big a corporation he works for should get advance notice of a critical letter and be allowed to respond to it both before and after
it is published -- and without even having to go to the extra labor of writing a second letter. There's such a thing as bending over backward to be fair. And then there's just plain letting yourself be taken advantage of. Lafayette is in the process of ceasing to let BellSouth take advantage of her. The Gannett papers should learn a little discernment and do the same.

In my previous response to this same letter I said that I'd pass on going on "a tare about the nonsense that Oliver tries to pass off on the readers of the Times that any flavor of DSL will equal fiber's capacities." I'm not going to pass today.

It's nonsense. Total and complete. DSL is never, ever going to reach the capacities of pure fiber optic networks. Oliver says:
I have never said that BellSouth is planning to build a fiber-to-the-home network in Lafayette. I have shared detail about BellSouth's fiber-to-the-curb plan, which is functionally equivalent according to an October 2004 decision by the Federal Communications Commission.
There he goes again. First he says that he's not going to run fiber to the home. And then with a little flim-flam move, he repeats the claim that would make a reasonable reader think that he's going to do the same thing. After all, that's what "functional equivalent" is supposed to mean. Notice that Oliver doesn't say HE believes that Fiber to the Curb (FTTC) is the functional equivalent of Fiber to the Home (FTTH). That would be lying-- and no one really believes that. Instead he puts those words in the mouth of the FCC, which is not around to defend itself.

In fact, the FCC does NOT say anything about functional equivalence in the document to which Oliver so confidently refers. I refer you to the FCC order degregulating FTTC that was adopted October 14th, 2004.

BellSouth
argued there that FTTC and FTTH were "indistinguishable" in their ability to deliver services, along with several other reasons in a petition to the FCC to allow them to shut the competition out of any FTTC loops they might build in the same way that FTTH loops were already excepted. The FCC, while allowing BellSouth to lock out competition as they requested, noticeably did NOT list "indistingusihability" as a reason for allowing BellSouth to close its system to competition. In fact, even the most cursory reader couldn't avoid the conclusion that in both the order and in the commissioners' individual comments, the difference continued to be something the commissioners felt they had to contend with. (They did explicitly accept other parts of BellSouth's argument, such as the contention that locking out competitors would make it more likely that BellSouth and other incumbent phone companies would build FTTC systems.)

The reason that the commissioners didn't fall for that one is that it isn't true. That the marketing (and politically savvy) operatives of BellSouth want us to believe it is so doesn't make it so. Saying it to the FCC doesn't mean they fell for it and saying it to us doesn't mean we believe it either.

Aside from putting BellSouth's words in the FCC's mouth there are two other pretty egregious errors concealed in Oliver's very carefully crafted letter: 1) that the only difference between FTTC and FTTH is the location of the box that feeds service to your house and 2) that BellSouth has 1500 employees in Lafayette.

This deserves a post of its own but the difference between FTTC and FTTH is not about a box "at the curb" or on your house--its about how many you have to share that box's capacity width. In FTTH you get it all--all of the fiber's capacity comes to you. In fiber to the Curb, you share that capacity with everyone within 500 feet. Think about the block where you live. With smaller lots that could easily be 100 people. You get a LOT less if you have to share the capacity with 100 homes--or even 32! Ths is
BellSouth's "big lie" and what they are concealing when Oliver and his agents desperately try to shift the focuse to the idea that they can provide the same services that you would get from LUS.

If LUS ran its sewerage service the same way that BellSouth wants to run your telecom services LUS would put a two-hole outhouse in the middle of your block and claim they were providing the same "services" as a real sewerage company. When they wanted to do a big upgrade they'd add two holes...and expect you to be politely grateful. Luckily LUS provides our sewarage and we get real service.

The other "untruth" that really gets under my skin in Oliver's story is the claim that he's been making wherever he goes that BellSouth has 1500 employees in Lafayette. This is isn't true. Cingular, a company in which BellSouth owns a minority stake in has 1300 employees in the call center north of town and about 150 in its storefront shops around town. That leaves, maybe 150 employeees in Lafayette that actually get a paycheck from BellSouth. There used to be more...but that was back when the phone company would actually help with your inside wiring and had local operators who knew where St. Antoine strreet was. That's a long time gone.

Oliver ought to quit trying to use the employees of another company to scare Lafayette residents and to bolster his weight in town. I know Cingular employees resent it too. From their point of view they're in a different business than BellSouth and one that is gaining rather than losing subscribers. They don't look up to BS.

Oliver's letter is a classic example of subtle deceptions. It's to Lafayette's credit, and not his, that a letter addressed to us has to be subtlely deceptive to have a hope of succes. But the careful crafting points to one sure thing: BellSouth doesn't have a real case. If they did they'd trot it out. But they don't so they have to try and peddle this stuff.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

"TBS Creates First Broadband Net for Video Games"

Mark your calendars: we may be seeing the first stirrings of a phenomenon that will help wipe out television channels. It's been pretty clear for awhile that somewhere downstream, television channels as we now understand them are slated to die. They are creatures, ultimately, of limited bandwidth.

Reuters newswire has released a story previewing a new "channel" concept from the Turner Broadcasting System. Only it really isn't a channel at all. It's a broadband mixed media conception/confection that makes available a set of "classic" video games mixed in with "TV shows" that relate to the games and the gaming audience.

This move is strongly reminiscent of Turner's "Turner Classic Movies" that turned an asset worth next to nothing—vaults of decaying films in the backlot storage rooms of the major production houses—into streams of gold so pure that these days, some movies are produced that never make it into general release and have all their life, and profits, filling channel space on late night TV. Turner's early creation of that market allowed him to lock up vast amounts of valuable material for next to nothing. It looks like he's doing the same thing again: locking in contracts on classic games that are currently worth nothing to their owners in hopes of creating new life for them on "the network." The press release says that he's got more than 1000 games from 17 publishers locked away to be doled out in a steady stream of "fresh" old games to subscribers. Turner stores them on his servers and you come along and play them off the network —no copy, I presume, is ever on your hard drive.

It looks like a pure broadband play. That is, there is no sign that the video content, the "TV shows," will come in over standard cable TV channels—no sign except for the raw fact that the sorry state of broadband in the US (reported yesterday to have further fallen to 16th worldwide,) won't support full-screen, full-rate video. Will folks who are paying $10-$20 per month for the privilege really be satisfied with those grainy postage stamp-sized things that you get off CNN? Which brings us to a little more wondering: it makes good sense to use old games for the same reason it makes sense to use old movies and the stories and press releases say that. But what they don't say is that it is also a necessity. I'm not going to have any problem playing Centipede (my favorite old arcade game) over the net. But one of the full-throated 3-D action games that led heavy gamers to hand craft machines with special processors and video cards? Nah. The really hot stuff won't work.

You know where this is going, don't you? For projects like this to mature (and make gobs of money), these guys are gonna need really big broadband pipes. Current telecom providers, caught up in expensive mergers (BS), or in buying themselves private (Cox), aren't investing in available technologies at a rate that could support a big-pipes level of service anytime soon. Make no mistake, Turner is trolling at the bottom end of this market. He'd love to move up to the flashy side, the HBO level of current games and fancy, in-house produced content layered in with related, full-screen video. And the HBO level of revenues as well.

But he can't. The limit isn't technology. It's in the bandwidth the incumbent providers offer.

The argument that there are no "services" that any one could want that you can't now have is the argument from lack of imagination. I could think of a dozen this afternoon...but my distributed computation fantasies, video telephony, and full throttle wireless location-based services aren't very convincing to folks who are disinclined to believe that such things can really be real--or valuable. They can, of course, and will be... but what should be convincing, even to folks who want to believe they are already being offered the best that is possible, is the realization that Turner's proposed gaming service is designed the way it is around the constraints of America's current broadband system. Entrepreneurs are running up against the wall right now.

Turner should come to Lafayette sometime after July 16th and trial his dream system here. With any luck at all we'll have a full population of people of every income and ethnicity to test it out on--all running at a bandwidth the rest of the country will only be able to envy.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Medical fiber (not oatmeal)

Both the Advocate and the Advertiser carried stories reviewing last night's AOC Fiber for the Future show which focused on the enhancements that fiber would bring to the local practice of medicine. I watched it too. Not dramatic TV, but interesting nonetheless.

Medicine makes an interesting case study--you can see, after listening to the presenters from Southwest Medical Center, just how a fiber optic network might benefit medicine and by extension how such a network might benefit most professions. And the way it would benefit medicine is mostly by piling up a lot of small advantages to make going to and being a doctor a different and better experience.

I think there's a tendency among advocates of fiber to think of its benefits in terms of "the big win:" some sort of large chunk of new or expanded industry. Something like the SGI talks heard rumored on the floor of TechSouth or a rapid take-off of a video gaming/animation hub in Lafayette. That's all good --but the truth is that you can only increase your odds of such a big win occurring. And while we are doing a good job of shortening the odds, it's a gamble. A gamble worth taking, even for a fellow like me who never learned to play bourré worth a damn. Famously we play the odds here in South Louisiana, not only in cards and horses, but also, you may recall, in oil and gas, to our individual and communal advantage. We dignify that daring these days by dressing it up as entrepreneurship. But we know that's not something you can count on; only something worth taking a shot on.

So while we prepare to make that big win possible it's also true that fiber brings quieter benefits, benefits that while less dramatic in some ways, are certainly more certain. The difference it can make in the practice of the professions is relatively subtle -- though it seems dramatic to participants, as the panelists on last night's AOC show struggled to communicate. My honest guess is that the vast majority of the value of a fiber-optic network will be not in the few big ticket wins but in the myriad little advantages that make life better for us all.

The case study of medicine, as mentioned, is instructive. I abstracted three points from my reading of the stories and my own viewing: Greater Capacity, Attractiveness, and Security.

By far the majority of advantage of fiber for medicine seems to flow from its greater capacity, as you might expect. Things which used to be practically impossible are made possible but difficult by today's infrastructure. Fiber would make things like hi-resolution diagnostic scans and 3-D imaging much more practical. It would be easy, trivially easy, to shuffle the data around with fiber. Without fiber, it's back, literally, to pony express: a courier has to pick up the scans and run them across town. Some scans, like three-dimensional scans driven by specialized software, might simply not run on local computers and the physician might have to go down to the hospital to view it interactively--to turn the image to see that little spot behind your heart. With fiber he or she could simply slave a local monitor to the hospital's system and quickly review those crucial records during a checkup. Without fiber the doctor simply wouldn't bother... This small thing would be repeated throughout the practice of medicince.

But fiber would also make our community more attractive to practitioners. We all know that doctors and medical professionals of all sorts are simply in short supply. They can pretty much choose where they want to live. And for most, it's a matter of balancing the demands of family life and the demands of professional life. You want to live in a place your family likes and will be happy, safe, and comfortable. And, as a professional, you want to live in a place that has all the best tools and makes using those tools easy. Lafayette could easily become a place in which little compromise would need to be made. Festival International and fiber-based high tech imaging in your inexpensive store-front office? Who needs Houston? The payoff for you? More good, happy, doctors of the sort who value their practices and their families. Can I ever quantify that? No. It won't be like a new underwear plant moving to town. But my guess is that it will be much more valuable in the long run.

The third big issue was security. The panelists were insistent that new patient rights and privacy laws made secure communications paramount--to the extent that if they cannot feel assured a transmission is secure, the standard is to not transmit at all. And in the medical field that decision can have life-threatening consequences. For the participants it was clear that fiber was the technology of choice for data security. There are simple, physical reasons for this as well as reasons related to the huge size of the data pipe and the maturity of the technology. But suffice it to say, they are right: If your medical records are going to fly around town you want it done on fiber.

So fiber is good for medicine. The thing is, it's good for all the professions for much the same reasons. Security will be less of an issue for most, but the other rationales apply in full force. Everything from architecture to land management to geology is becoming more and more dominated by huge data sets and large, dynamic imaging tools. A great architect wants access to great tools and the means by which to communicate the results in a meaningful way. And they want a good place to raise a family and events like Festival International to enjoy with them.

It's not the big win that will be the best thing for Lafayette should it come. It will be all the little wins with small-firm professionals and entrepreneurs that will add up to our big win....

Sunday, April 24, 2005

"BellSouth, make FTTH plan public" + Shenanigens

A letter to the editor in today's Advertiser refers to an incident on AOC a couple of weeks ago where Oliver claimed to have presented a plan to the city five months ago to take care of our infrastructure needs. It's something you hear BellSouth and its agents regularly claiming: that BellSouth has some sort of unspecified plan to provide you with everything you need.

Now what is especially significant is that, as far as I can tell, the letter "BellSouth, make FTTH plan public" published today, Sunday, in the Advertiser is the letter Bill Oliver responded to Wednesday last, in the Times. The Times piece makes reference to Oliver being "missunderstood" in reference to his remarks on Greene's show to the effect that he had offered a FTTH plan to the Mayor. But that charge wasn't made publicly till Sunday. Interesting, No?

It very strongly suggests that someone at the Times made the letter available to Oliver before it was published. And not only that. They then allowed Oliver to answer the charge without even bothering to publish the letter. How cozy.

If you look at the masthead of the Times you'll see that they are operating without an editor. That's one explanation of this letter mess. --And an explanation of a few other things as well. One has to expect that Eric Benjamin would not have been allowed to so thourghly convince this town he was a mean-sprited, out-of-touch import (on both fiber and Catholicism) if there was somebody at the helm. (See Ron Gomez's vitrolic letter in that same issue for a response to one of Benjamin's missives.) Newspapers have editors for a reason: they stand guard over the day to day operation of the newspaper and its reputation. The Times sorely needs someone to fill that function.

Now you might think that I'm being overly partisan here. You might think that the sequence of events could be explained in some other way or that a reporter might have let it slip in the course of questioning BellSouth. You might be right. But you'd still have to explain how the reporter got hold of the letter and then you'd have to account for the Times printing a response to an unpublished letter. It looks bad. And a good editor would have made sure that never happened.

I could go on a tear about the nonsense that Oliver tries to pass off on the readers of the Times that any flavor of DSL will equal fiber's capacities. Or I could ask about the wisdom of Oliver bringing up a meeing in November whose duplicity so angered the Mayor that he is now demanding a writen proposal before sitting down with the incumbents. (BellSouth asked, loudly and publicly, for a meeting about a public-private partnership the day before the critical council vote. They actually showed up with a technology presentation that suggested that maybe a 24 meg version of DSL would be trialed here. In some parts of town. They asked for confidentiality about their technology and then turned around and implied before the council that they'd shown technology to the Mayor that he hadn't told the council about. After asking for confidentiality. I'd be angry too.)

I could go on about those issues. But instead I'll just go back to this: The Times needs a real editor. Badly.


"Goal of bill is to delay LUS telecom plan" + action items

A breath of fresh air...in a world where people in positions of the least authority tend to mince words and speak with an exaggerated sense of caution it is comforting to see that the Advertiser, at least, is able to call a spade a spade (and avoid clumsy circumlocutions like "non-articulating traditional trenching tool").

The subject of my pleasure is the Advertiser's lead Sunday editorial: "Goal of bill is to delay LUS telecom plan." Now isn't that a plain way to speak? Cut right through the convoluted provisions which are, in fact, only intended to provide a smokescreen and a little material for incumbent fear-based advertising and get to the point: what the bill is meant to do. Report on the fire. Not the smoke. Commendably plain.

More plain speaking:

Broome, acting at the behest of telecommunications providers, is seeking to further delay progress on the issue. She claims the bill is not aimed at Lafayette, but her claim rings hollow in light of the fact that Lafayette is the only community in Louisiana considering government entry into the telecom field...

How's that for clarity: if it only applies to one city then it must be aimed at that city. I am beginning to feel a little sympathy for New Orleans in view of the state's traditional inclination to manage local affairs there.

What it comes down to is the fact that the private sector doesn't want to provide fiber to the home, and will use every means possible to keep government from doing so. Broome declines to say whether a particular cable company influenced her decision to push her bills. It's one of those cases in which silence speaks volumes.

Wow. "Every means possible." No quarter. Well there is the tiniest bit of mealy mouth there. We are avoiding saying "Cox." But who doesn't know that?

Broome's bill may be only the first to promote the special interests of private sector telecom providers. In some states, private providers have convinced legislatures to totally ban government entry into the telecom field.

With so many of Louisiana legislators willing to jump through hoops for well-heeled special interest groups, it is not unlikely that such an effort will be made in the next session. Our delegation must be on guard.

My, my, no presumption of innocence on behalf of our lege? A direct recognition that such legislation is on behalf of special interests? How non politically correct.

Lafayette can make its own decisions on this matter, and will on July 16.
Now there is plain speech indeed.

The Broome bill is a transparent concession to special interests, clearly designed to delay a decision on the LUS plan. It constitutes legislative meddling in Lafayette's affairs. We hope a majority of legislators recognize all this, and vote to kill the bill.

The term I've used is "publicly execute." The Broome bill needs to be put down with such extreme prejudice that it makes it clear to all legislators that using the state to mess with local government's rights to serve local citizens is political poison.

If you'd like to contribute to the firestorm I suggest you use either Fibre 911's legislative resources or the resources provided in today's Advertiser to communicate with Broome and your legislators. Lafayette Coming Together is planning a day at the capitol on the issue if it doesn't go away first. Wanna come along for the ride? Write.

The people can speak plainly too.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Ninjaneering GameCamp! to open (with fiber, of course)

A press release came in over the transom last week that could well be of interest to readers of this list. If you are or have a 13-17 year old who would benefit more from learning how to make video games than playing them all summer, you should consider the new GameCamp! program at UL.

Ninjaneering is the Austin gaming firm that agreed to help design a new curricula for the hot area earlier this year based substantially on the vision shown by Lafayette's proposed fiber optic project. Advocate coverage then noted that:
"Part of the attraction of Lafayette is the plan of the Lafayette Utilities System to install a fiber-optic network, Zuzolo said.

"It interests us greatly," he said of the plan. "Lafayette is going to have the network and the pipeline for content. We have to make sure that, where ever we go, we have the infrastructure."

The fact that LUS, which is owned by the people, is laying the fiber is "huge" for Lafayette, Zuzolo said.

"It's a great asset for the community, and it fits well with the goals we have, in helping business develop around the game industry," Zuzolo said.

The philosophy of and the administration of the university also was an attraction, Zuzolo said.

"They are very forward looking about what they want to do, and they have a broader appreciation of game technology and the skill sets students will learn," Zuzolo said.

That'll be a common attitude, I'm sure. People with growing future-oriented businesses are interested in working with communities that share that orientation and understand that communications networks are essential infrastructure for their businesses. Public ownership is a plus for such businesses as it is proof-positive that the communities they come to aren't merely mouthing platitudes but are willing to invest in themselves in the same way entrepreneurs invest in their own companies.

Here's a quote from the Advertiser's story at that time:
"Expanding is a distinct possibility. We'd love to open a Ninjaneering Lafayette. We'd really like for the students to have somewhere here that they can practice what they're learning and certainly the last thing you want is for the students to go to Boston or New York or San Francisco to find work," he said. "Ideally, you'd want students interested in it getting their education here, making games here and then breaking into entrepreneurship and starting a game design company here."
Persistent rumors on the floor of TechSouth had SGI talking with Mayor Durel about just such issues...we just need to stand firm.

Oh yeah....Here is the press release....
Do you know a child who's crazy about computer video games? Wish something constructive could come from all that game playing?

This summer, the University of Louisiana @ Lafayette plays host to GameCamp!, a college-preparatory summer intensive program for students aged 13 to17 who are interested in computer games, and careers in the multi-billion dollar computer game industry!

GameCamp! will be held from July 31st to August 7th, 2005. Parents can choose between having their children attend GameCamp! on a commuter basis (days only) or residential basis (overnight accomodations in UL dorms).

GameCamp! is affiliated with Ninjaneering, LLC, an Austin-based computer game company that serves a host of top-flight clients including Electronic Arts, NCSoft, the University of Texas and the US Army. In January, Ninjaneering entered into a relationship with UL to assist with development of curriculum for the new degree program in Game Design to be offered by the University.

More information about GameCamp! is available in the attached flyer, and at www.gamecamp.org. Parents interested in learning more about GameCamp! can also contact the camp Director Spencer Zuzolo at 512.796.4363.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Big Broadband: "Providing Ubiquitous Gigabit Networks"

Here's something that some folks should find interesting: it's not only Baller who believes that necessary big broadband is being stymied by squashing the municipalities. And it's not only pie-in-the-sky futurists that think that broadband needs will continue to expand rapidly. It isn't an invented cadre of "socialists and communists" who think that encouraging municipal entry is absolutely critical to America's future.

It is, among many others, the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, the IEEE, the dominant engineering association and the standards setting guys. (You've seen the tag "IEEE standards?" Those guys.) This is a group that nobody could rationally place in the ranks of those accused of irrationality. These guys are the opposite of ideologues. What they care about, by nature and by training, is getting the job done right. That pretty much defines an engineer's job. And what a new white paper published by the IEEE-USA makes perfectly clear is that the group is growing pretty impatient with both the unrealistic hype around alternatives to a full fiber-optic buildout in the U.S. and the growing trend toward blocking municipalities and other "user-owned" (as they so eloquently phrase it) entities from providing what private, for-profit carriers will not.

The IEEE on the bandwidth problem:
A new generation of broadband, or —gigabit networks,— can mean significant benefits to the United States, but our nation must act promptly to ensure that such an infrastructure is ubiquitous and available to all. If we do not act, the consequence will be to relegate the U.S. telecommunications infrastructure to an inferior competitive position, thus undermining the future of our country's economy.
That's pretty clear. And pretty clearly the same thing that Baller was saying over at TechSouth the day before yesterday. You'll note that these guys are as precise users of words as they are of any other tool. The service should be ubiquitous --everywhere-- and available to all. They are talking about what policy types (and LUS) would call universal service.

Why the solution should be fiber:
Residences of the future are likely to expect 100 Mb/s to 1 Gb/s. Although such data rates may not be used continuously, that capability is essential for particular applications, as described in the text. Networks such as these are gigabit networks.

In stark contrast, current broadband based on copper wire or coaxial cable links, such as Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) or cable modem, has a nominal (and asymmetric) speed of, say, 2 Mb/s. Thus, typical data rates on gigabit networks range from 50 to 5,000 times as speedy as current broadband networks, which include Wi-Fi and third-generation mobile networks. ...
All these facilities are lower in cost, but also lower in capability, than optical fiber. Although fast technological progress is being made across the board, the copper-wire based alternatives cannot reach fiber speeds.
Cannot. Remember, these are engineers speaking to engineers. What they mean is that the physical constraints of copper are simply so much greater than that of fiber that a word like "cannot" is warranted. Copper will always be slower. As any engineer will tell you.

Why don't we have the necessary fiber for universal gigabyte networks? The IEEE will tell you plainly:
Extending optical fiber access to end users is progressing. However, it is slowed in part by the high cost of capital expenditures and in part by non-market and anti-competitive business actions (and inactions) by incumbent service providers.
Any confusion? No? Good.

Can we count on the incumbents? No. After a review of the incumbent's projects that note serious problems with less than gigabit bandwidth and a committment to asymetiric bandwidth that leaves end users in the role of passive recipients rather than equal participants in the network, we read that even these inadequate initiatives:
...will be deployed where profitable, meaning “fiber to the dense” or, realistically, “fiber to the rich.” Again, doubtful profitability would foreclose penetration to non-affluent and dispersed U.S. premises throughout the country. Further, “the money” is in content, not carriage (except under monopoly conditions). So these initiatives rely for profitability on control of content by the network provider, rather than open access by competing service providers. Diversity of information would be limited. The result would be closed networks and restricted content, aggravating the digital divide and limiting the engine of innovation that could otherwise exist. In a word, these initiatives will fall short of providing an adequate nationwide gigabit infrastructure.
How to fix this situation? Well among other sensible ideas:
Reduce barriers to competition and deployment of user-owned networks, to facilitate continuing market restructuring in the public interest.
By "user owned" the IEEE means municipals, co-ops, and businesses and business consortia. Let the people who use it control their own destiny.

I've always liked engineers.

This white paper is really one you should read: Providing Ubiquitous Gigabit Networks.

(Thanks to Dirk van der Woude of Citynet in Amsterdam (www.citynet.nl) for the lead. Go take a gander over there. They're doing great things in Holland.)

The shape of things to come: Eatel gives us a preview

This just in (via Mike) from Baton Rouge Business Report's "Daily Reports."

The Bus Rep briefs are notoriously hard to get a stable URL link to. Here's the whole thing:
Cox ready enter Ascension phone market

The Louisiana Public Service Commission has approved an agreement between EATEL and Cox that lets the cable provider begin offering telephone service in Ascension Parish. The approval signals escalating competition in Ascension, where EATEL has begun offering TV service to accompany its traditional phone and high-speed Internet access over a fiber optic network. Cox will begin phasing in digital telephone service over its cable system to Ascension customers. The interconnection approval is likely to boost competition in Ascension more than in East Baton Rouge, where Cox has the unique position of providing bundled services. BellSouth has countered with its own bundle of services, but only by partnering with DirecTV.
It's the shape of the future here in Lafayette. In Gonzales, EATEL is LUS--it's got the clear hometown advantage and the clear technological one. With fiber technology and local trust going to the competition, Cox starts out with no advantage other than incumbency.

EATEL is able to buy programming at the same competitive coop rates that LUS will be able to. EATEL will garner the same maintenance and upgrade savings that LUS will.

This should be instructive--we'll see Cox preview its competitive strategy against fiber. And we'll get to see the competitive response a fiber-enabled hometown boy can raise.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

"LUS lawyer says cities taking lead"

The Advocate does a good job of overviewing Jim Baller's TechSouth address yesterday. Baller, who represents LUS, is widely regarded as one of the nation's top lawyers on issues involving telecommunications and that reputation rests securely on his work helping municipalities. Beyond his role in our not so little battle, knowledgeable folks all over the country find Baller is worth listening to.

A theme in his interviews and frequent public presentations recently has been the concern that the United States is falling rapidly in the rankings in broadband deployment behind other nations of the world, a failure that we can ill-afford as nations like India and China move rapidly to dominate the world's industrial base as a direct consequence of the lower costs of labor. Because he (and many economists as well) regard this as inevitable, it seems necessary —and urgent—to find some other way for Americans to earn a living. Most folks who come to this conclusion look to "the knowledge economy" and the "information age" with a strong admixture of "creatives" as our best bet to remain on top of the economic pile globally.

That background explains some of the passion we heard yesterday (I attended), a passion the Advocate story accurately reflects. Some of the best quotes:
"The United States is falling behind the remainder of the world in broadband services because telecommunications corporations have been slow to keep up.

That's why municipalities across the country are trying to get into the business themselves, said Jim Baller, a Washington, D.C., attorney who represents many of those municipalities."
Baller is peeved with those companies and feels they've let America down. It's hard to argue when you see numbers like these:
In Japan, consumers can already receive 100 Mbps service for $58 a month -- a fraction of the per megabit cost Americans pay.

Other parts of Europe and Asia are also well ahead of the United States, Baller said.
This issue has been widely reported in the technical press, with Korea, a country regarded by most Americans as third world, acknowledged to be ahead of Japan, but the issue doesn't appear to have much traction among news outlets oriented toward "breaking" news and sensationalism. When it does appear it gets mostly "wow, how amazing" or "gosh, how terrible" kind of coverage. Nobody tries to tell us what the problem is. Baller does:

The problem is phone and cable companies have formed an effective "duopoly." Municipalities will have to provide competition in order to raise the U.S. prospects, Baller said.

"I don't believe the private sector can do it alone," Baller said. "Municipalities have a critical role to play."

Well, it isn't that the "effective duopoly" can't do it alone. That's just a polite way to say they won't when you've got Gary Cassard of Cox Cable sitting in the back of the room. I'm not half so polite. They won't because, being effective monopolies, their economic self-interest lies in wearing out their infrastructure before replacing it. The good and wealth of the United States don't factor into their equations; only their own do. And honestly, given the situation these companies find themselves in, they are acting rationally. The irrational actors are ourselves: the citizens of this country. We've let ourselves be blinded by ideologues that demand that we ignore the plain fact that the telecommunications system that is crucial to our future economic health is dominated by ailing monopolies dependent upon antique networking hardware that they cannot afford to upgrade in anything like a timely manner and still maintain the profit margins that are necessary to satisfy their stockholder owners.

If they won't do it then we can.

The solution is municipal broadband networks. Invest in ourselves and bypass the dinosaurs. This is just what LUS is prepared to do. As the largest municipal broadband build in the nation, Lafayette is unquestionably on the cusp of doing something pretty amazing.

What Baller is arguing in a pretty understated way is that we are lighting the way not just by lighting up with advanced fiber technology, but also by deciding to employ a municipal solution that bypasses the ailing giants. If other cities follow our lead the US might well regain hers.

It's what folks like Baller hope for . . . and what the incumbents most fear is true.

Incumbents and Regulation: Hypocrisy Be Thy Name!

This story from MarketWatch on a fight in Congress between cable and telephone advocates over the matter of regulating entry into video and data services is further proof of a couple of points that are relevant to our local fiber fight.

First, the Cox/BellSouth alliance against LUS is unnatural and runs counter to the recognized corporate interests of both companies. Second, for all their talk of belief in markets, the cable industry consistently seeks to use regulation to shield itself against competition.

The hearing that drew cable and phone reps to the barricades was a House Commerce Committee meeting that one of the early sessions of a process that aims to re-write the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

About a year after BellSouth's army of lobbyists swarmed Baton Rouge trying to legislatively block municipalities like Lafayette from getting into the information services business, the lobbyists for the RBOCs in Washington are arguing against any regulation of phone company attempts to get into the video business.

In the same week where a bought and sold state senator in Baton Rouge gives up one of her precious five-bill limit slots to the state cable TV association for a bill that would, in effect, waive the municipal franchise fee where municipalities enter the cable business, in Washington industry lobbyists argue in support of imposing franchise fees on new market entrants (i.e., phone companies).

Bottom line: BellSouth, Cox and their local allies opposing the LUS fiber project will use any available argument and tactic in their desperate attempts to kill this project. They have taken positions that run counter to their corporate and industry positions as staked out where it really matters to them – national telecommunications policy.

They will make arguments here that they cannot live with elsewhere. Their disregard for truth in this process is matched only by their total disregard for the intelligence of Lafayette citizens and the interests of this community.

Incumbents are Anti-Competitive! GASP!!!

In the "Incumbents in Wonderland" — up is down, black is white — world of the opponents of the LUS fiber project, multi-billion dollar companies are imperiled by the actions of a municipally-owned utility in a community of about 115,000.

In that world, the entry of that municipally-owned utility into the information business of voice, video and data services will put those incumbents at a competitive disadvantage. Well, the superior infrastructure will give LUS an advantage because, over that network, it will be able to deliver services that the incumbents can only talk about but not deliver.

What really has the incumbents worried is the presences of any true competition in the market at all.

To appreciate this, one need look no further than the dockets of the courts and the Federal Communications Commission since the Telecommunications Act of 1996 became law. Incumbent phone and telephone carriers have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in attorneys fees fighting to make sure that they did not have any competition.

The cable companies have been fighting since the late 1990s to keep competitive Internet Service Providers from having access to their networks. That is, when you buy high-speed Internet service from a cable provider, you are paying for more than just bandwidth. You're also paying for their role as an Internet Service Provider. The cable companies don't want providers like Earthlink, or Yahoo! others to get a piece of your business. There is a case in the U.S. Supreme Court now that will render a final decision on whether the cable companies can, in fact, exclude other ISPs from their networks.

The phone companies have spent even more money on attorneys fees, congressional campaign contributions (even hiring the children of key congressmen) in a mostly successful effort to keep competitors off their networks as well.

Now, members of both the phone and cable camps will tell you that they really just want "a level playing field." This is code for "incredibly high barriers to entry" in to their respective fields. That is, by closing their networks (which were built when they were regulated monopolies) to competitors, the phone and cable companies have relied on the high cost of network building to protect them from genuine competition — while mouthing platitudes to the virtues of the competition which they actually detest.

The anti-competitive nature of phone and cable companies is also being driven home by the recent spate of merger activity which has surged in on the telephone side of the business, but which is continuing apace on the cable side as well. This Washington Post article details the players in the recent telecom mergers, but makes no mention of the cable consolidation which is also taking place.

The consolidation in the industry has loaded the remaining incumbents with debt incurred to buy others in the field or, as in the case with Cox, to buy out all other shareholders and take the company private. Is it just a coincidence that this consolidation and the accompanying accumulation of debt have occurred during a time frame when the U.S. has fallen to the rank of 14th among countries in broadband access — even as defined by the diluted status of the phone companies?

Think of it this way: as large as these companies are, they do not have unlimited resources to draw upon. Committing billions to mergers and buyouts consumes resources that otherwise might have been used on more essential tasks like, say, modern network infrastructure like fiber to the home.

So, the top priority of the incumbents has been to eliminate competition at the same time that many companies and communities recognized that new network infrastructure and affordable bandwidth were essential for their ability to compete successfully in an information-driven, global economy.

This misalignment of the priorities of the incumbents with the priorities of their customers (and the communities where those customers reside) has real economic consequences. American companies are finding themselves at competitive advantages to their better-connected foreign competitors. Another impact is that companies are choosing to locate more operations in those areas where bandwidth is more abundant and more affordable.

At Wednesday's TechSouth luncheon, Mark Marcin of George Lucas' Industrial Light & Magic noted that is building a new animation campus in Singapore. One of the drivers in that process was the fact that Singapore has a robust network infrastructure — including fiber to the home.

What so galls the incumbents about LUS and other municipally-owned network builders (yes, even those settling for 'better than the incumbents' WiFi or WiMAX wireless) is that they have the resources to build those networks. The munis (short for municipals) also have the element that the incumbents don't — interests that are aligned with the businesses and consumers in the communities that own them.

So, in the next few weeks when you hear opponents of the LUS project criticize it name of protecting 'competition,' point to the long and well-documented history of the incumbents in fighting competition. Then demand that those folks to come up with an honest reason for opposing this project!

UPDATE: Consolidation Accelerates as Time Warner and Comcast Gobble up Adelphia

Cable company Adelphia, the victim of corrupt corporate leadership, is being bought out of bankruptcy by cable giants Time Warner and Comcast. $12 billion would have bought a LOT of network upgrades, particularly when one considers that SBC's fiber to the home investments are going to total $8 billion in the next decade.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Festival International de Louisiane

As I have been reminded recently, there are a fair number of folks from out of state and even across the pond who check in on this blog from time to time. The content here is determinedly local so these folks deserve special praise for putting up with our Boudreaux and Thibodeaux shenanigans and wading through laws and lawsuits that don't particularly make much sense--and aren't intended to, by and large. One of the good things about this fight for fiber is that it doesn't involve, for the most part, foolishness that we ourselves generate. (Lousianaians will affirm, I think, that we do a lot tripping over our own feet.) This one is being visited on us by outsiders. Makes it a little easier to take.

For those patient visitors who've offered sympathy during our travails, I offer up one of the better things about our culture and people in partial repayment: Festival International de Louisiane. Go thumb through the too-abreviated but handsomely designed site. (And hey, if you are from around here and not going, I say why not, cher? Get up and get yourself in gear.) The festival is the United States' premiere francophone festival. Music from all over the world with an emphasis on French-speaking lands; a big juried craft fair, un place des infants, mixed drinks, great food stands (really), and dancing..lots of dancing...almost anywhere.

It's a wonderful experience spread out over downtown's three stages with activity also running along the turn of the century main downtown drag, Jefferson Street. The festival stages are new, with a clean design, spacious enough for a real crowd but not so large that anyone ends up out of sight or out of earshot. This is what they were designed for and the spaces work. The artwork and the crafts look out from your usual American fare and toward the Caribbean and Africa. There's an energy and...well..joie de vivre. If you ever get the chance you should come. Folks get happily addicted.

It's hard to capture the spirit, maybe impossible, but here are two moments from past festivals that might convey some sense: The fiddler, The dancer. What the heck..one more: Cajun dancin down on Jefferson Street.

And here's the best part. If you've developed a certain sense of solidarity with Lafayette after following our efforts, you can participate in the festival with us virtually. During the next 4 days, (through Sunday, April the 24th) the festival's fun will be streamed live via KRVS from the festival. Being with us in spirit might be a little more fun in the next few days than your reaction to most of the stuff you've found yourself being sympathetic about here. Give yourself a break, pop open a beer and pretend you're down in Louisiana in April. It's just starting to cool off, evening is falling, and the dance band is starting up a block down. Just as soon as you get up the energy you're going to go down there too...

Thanks folks, for all the support from all over the country and the world. What we can give back we will... if at all possible, by remaining ourselves...

Lagniappe Update, Friday 4/22/o5: The Adverstiser has a nice backgrounder piece on the music that's worth your review.

"Vote called on fiber-optic plan"—Advocate

Advocate coverage of the Lafayette City-Parish Council fiber-optic vote focused on the outcome: the bonds.

Pull quotes:
The Lafayette City-Parish Council voted Tuesday to call a July 16 election on the funding of the LUS plan to offer phone, cable and high-speed Internet services on a fiber-optics network run to homes and businesses in the city...

The proposition states the $125 million in bonds will be paid off by the revenue generated from the new communications division.

Should that money not be enough, the remainder of the obligation would be paid by a "secondary or subordinate" pledge of the revenue of the overall utilities, the bond proposition said...

Using the words "secondary or subordinate" pledge was intended to convey that all other LUS obligations would first have to be met...

That previous document detailed that only "excess revenue" would be used for such purposes, and went through the list of all other utilities obligations that would have to be paid first, including the sizeable in-lieu-of-tax payment LUS makes to the city each year.

The point of going through this is to assure folks that the chance of any blow-back to their favorite angst, be it rates or taxes or something else they don't want changed, is minimal. The bond holders will be last in line after all of LUS' local responsibilities.

There's risk of course, but it is small and distant--you have to go through some pretty fancy shenanigans to find a situation where a big fiscal hit is taken--and what risk there is is mainly to a hope for future reductions in rates. As the city has said, it's a lot easier to find credible scenarios where the fiber optic system makes money and relieves the pressure on the city to turn to taxation instead of direct fees for service to fund necessary city services. That's exactly what is happening with the current city utilities; they function to save the citizens money that would otherwise be taken from them in the form of taxes.

The story closes with a few words of wisdom Kaliste Saloom:

"Bold vision is the exclusive mark of a progressive community and Lafayette is such a community," Saloom said. "The future of Lafayette cannot be left in the hands of distant board rooms."

Saloom said he expects the election will feature heavy advertising from the two private companies, BellSouth and Cox Communications, which have already spoken out against the LUS plan.

Indeed. And my guess is that we'll get not a few ads developed on top of the little trolling expedition through LUS' records that Lawsuit #1 is meant to enable.

"Council backs vote on fiber"—Advertiser

The Advertiser reports on the City-Parish Councils vote for a vote on fiber last night:

More than 73,800 registered voters in the City of Lafayette will have the opportunity July 16 to decide if the city's utility system should spend up to $125 million on a controversial fiber optics project.

The City-Parish Council on Tuesday voted to call the July 16 public referendum. All present voted in favor of the election. Councilman Rob Stevenson was absent.

The special election is expected to cost the city about $100,000. Only registered voters in the city of Lafayette can participate. A simple majority vote decides the fate of the proposed Lafayette Utilities System fiber-to-the-home project.

The Advertiser also brings to the fore digital divide issues that started to emerge yesterday. Look for more; I know that good things are coming. There is a real possibility that Lafayette will go forward with a digital divide plan that will garner as much national and international press as the fiber plan itself.
LUS Director Terry Huval is expected to report to the council May 17 with plans for using the fiber project to shrink the digital divide between residents who have access to Internet service and those who cannot afford the service. When the fiber project originally was proposed a year ago, bridging the digital divide was supposed to be a primary selling point and benefit. On Monday, LUS connected to its existing fiber service the Simcoe Street housing development's tutorial center in an effort to bridge the digital divide.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

"Search giants court TiVo"

A couple of times in the past I've mentioned our household's love affair with TiVo on these pages. We don't watch a whole lot of TV (by the standards of surveys taken of Americans) but what we do watch we actually want to see—but only when we have time. If we're keeping a kid that evening I'd rather have fun with the child than catch the show. TiVo removes any possible conflict by making time-shifting recordings actually practical. We set up the the machine to record our show, say "Lost," and we don't need to know if the network shifts the time or starts running some reruns. We just get the new shows whenever they appear and watch them when we care to. And we watch zero ads. I now find watching standard TV with ads excruciating. If you could easily skip them, so would you. It's amazing what we learn to put up with.

The point is only this: watching TiVo is not like watching TV. TV demands your time and attention on its arbitrary schedule. TiVo is your servant. It stores things till when you want them and doesn't force you to watch anything you don't want to watch. If you want to take a phone call about homework, it lets you pause the show while you finish and then lets you start it up from where you stopped.

My purpose isn't to promote TiVo, just to give you some background on why you might like such a service preparatory to referring you to the story "Search giants court TiVo" that goes into some pretty nice detail about the corporate reasons that Yahoo or Google might want to acquire the company and the technological rationale behind thinking it a good fit. Interesting. But it doesn't get to the heart of the matter for me: that the sort of things that TiVo allows and which folks love is about to move online in a major way. The "channels and schedules" model of television and cable is about to die. The death will be messy and probably prolonged but it is in the midst of happening (something else we've written about from time to time). What will replace is it a sort of on-network TiVo: downloadable video streaming that you can pause, combined with really gooda video search (harder than you would think) which lets you find what you want to watch. The day will come when this is way we will watch our monitors. (Though we'll still call it TV, no doubt.)

This is why we'll need that 60 megs that pundits talk about American households needing in the next few years: download a stream of video and take a full-screen video call from a grandchild about the Pythagorean theorem in his homework and you've bound up the available bandwidth in a 60 meg stream. Your wife's TV show starts stuttering and you hear about it. Add a white board discussion of how the theorem works with a little hopefully interesting detail about using it to build houses from my days as a carpenter and the whole household network is in trouble and you have to shut down some function. If I had the bandwidth I could do this today. And I'd like to be able to. It may sound pie in the sky but then TiVo sounded like a fantasy to most just a few short years ago. Now, at least in some households, it's indispensable. When the online services breaks, many, many more will want the control of TV that it represents.

Of course there's a fly in the ointment. To quote the story:
"To be sure, there will be many issues to iron out before successfully transferring Web video to the television. TiVo will likely have to expand its storage capabilities. The quality of Web video must improve for television viewing. And bandwidth capabilities in homes must expand, among other considerations." (my emphasis)
They are right, of course, and my fantasy, and Google's, Yahoo's and TiVo's will remain a fantasy until we get that bandwidth. The only real solution is a fiber-optic connection to the home. Nothing else has the capacity.

Digital divide addressed

Local media (Advocate, Advertiser, KLFY) covered yesterday's press conference on the first fiber brought to a housing project in Lafayette. LUS has partnered with the Lafayette Housing Authority under Walter Guillory to make fiber optics available in the city's housing projects. The first location, the lighting up of the Simcoe street housing project, was celebrated yesterday.

The effort to bridge the digital divide that is being pursued here is near and dear to my heart. Much of my support for LUS comes from the conviction that only lower prices and universal service—neither of which it is reasonable to expect from the incumbents—will begin to ensure that access to the internet will be equally available and affordable to everyone in Lafayette.

The Advocate story also hints at a bigger project, saying that the housing authority's tutorial project was could serve as a template for a larger education program that would certify qualified --meaning low-income-- learners to receive donated computers.

All very interesting and very encouraging. Look for more on this front.

Lawsuit #1

The Advertiser, in a story titled: "Lawsuit: LUS overstated bills," covers a lawsuit filed in the 15th judicial district by attorneys from Baton Rouge and Plaquemine. There's no one, I trust, who believes this filing is unrelated to the current fight with BellSouth and Cox?

I think the antis are starting to look a little desperate. Maybe it is just to my eyes, but when the article claims that the class action lawsuit uses "harsh language" and talks about a "scheme" and "monopoly," it raises flags. TV show dialog not withstanding, that is not legal language and using it suggests that the filers are playing this for TV rather than the court. When you have to rely on lawyers from Baton Rouge to carry your message that the people should be suspicious of LUS and consider themselves overcharged, you really are clutching at straws. With the previous tempest this week being a law prefiled by a Baton Rouge legislator that would penalize Lafayette if should it dare to vote against the corporations by "suspending" its contract with Cox, you have to suspect that the incumbents are calling in the capital city irregulars because they are pretty much out of effective ways to pursue their plaint.

Lawsuits have been a feature of the municipal telecom battles in other places as well and their use here has long been anticipated. It will be interesting to see just how long the details of the funding of this and the connections of the principals to BellSouth and Cox take to emerge.

Monday, April 18, 2005

TechSouth

TechSouth will begin tomorrow and today is your last chance to avoid a charge at the door by registering online as a "tech enthusiast." The food-related events are sold out (congratulations organizers!.) But the online registration for tech enthusiast was still working this morning.

Here are three reasons to attend:
  • 1) The citizen's group Lafayette Coming Together (DBA "For Fiber") will be there with a splashy new booth, a big screen TV and Barcaloungers, or so I am told. Also push cards, informative packets, and the like. Come, hang out, and talk.
  • 2) The tech seminars. Too many to list here, but if you are interested in fiber, the creative side of technology, mobility applications, or GIS, there are whole tracks of presentations for you -- enough so that I suspect that many folks will be conflicted as to what to attend.
  • 3) A special attraction--and one that they might not have suspected will be available--is the "Broadband and Digital Divide" track. Wanna know what the big fiber pipe will be used for? Attend "What can you do with Fiber-to-the-Home That is Better Than the Alternatives?" Curious about fiber basics?: "What Is Fiber to the Home?" Or go listen to Jim Baller talk about "The Battle for Municipal Broadband" (hey folks, that's us).
Take a look at the seminar schedule and decide for yourself. Very few folks nationally have access to an event like this, certainly not for free. Take advantage!

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Blanco touts benefits of fiber-optic program

Page 2B of today's Acadiana edition of the Advocate (the story is not online) carries a story that interviews Kathleen Blanco on Lafayette's fiber-optic project and overviews the bond issue to come before the council this Tuesday.

In the article, Blanco says "it will place the city in an incredibly important place to have an infrastructure that sophisticated," and that the "community itself needs to make that decision." It's nice to know that the governor continues to support the project and Lafayette's right to self-determination, especially in light of legislative ally Broome's anti-LUS bill in the Senate (Broome was a floor leader for Blanco when she was in the house).

Because I had the scanner all set up for a Tax-Day project (of which no more need be said--harrumph), you get a quick jpeg image of the story. Enjoy!

"LUS bill called a 'delay tactic'"

Both the Advocate and the Advertiser run stories on Sharon Weston Broome's anti-LUS bill. Both headline an unattributed quote by a Lafayette public official that the bill is a "delay tactic." But it sounds more like it is, to be generous, "ill considered" from the point of view of the sponsor. Broome, a former TV personality, was approached by someone from the Louisiana Cable and Telecommunications Association (LCTA) and she just went ahead and posted the bill they asked for. She says she didn't really intend for there to be two elections though that is the clear meaning of the bill. Broome also claims that this bill is not about Lafayette--even though no place else in the state is considering such a move. Of course it is about Lafayette. Not understanding your own legislation is apparently not something to be embarrassed about in today's legislature. It seems pretty likely that she's just being used (albeit with her consent) and didn't consider the implications. On the other hand, the LCTA surely knows what effect this would have.

The Advertiser's story contents itself with the new elections aspect of the story but the Advocate goes on to explore the "punishment" side of the bill and a little history. It's pretty simple: if the people approve the fiber project the state would let Cox walk away from its contract with the city (money, AOC, and service guarantees are all involved). I'd love to see some reporting on why this law proposes to only "suspend" the contract with the city. Could it be to ensure that LUS will still be required to "match" the deal with the city that Cox would be able to back out of?

The good news is that local reps are not deceived. The Advocate reports:

State Rep. Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette, said he thinks the Legislature should stay out of the issue. The proposed bill serves the interests of private companies, Robideaux said.

"It's just simply out-of-state companies using politics and lobbying to accomplish their mission for them," Robideaux said. "It effectively lets a bunch of legislators tell Lafayette what it can do and what it can't do."

He's got that right.

The Advocate also notes:
The bill has been forwarded to the Senate Commerce, Consumer Protection and International Affairs Committee, of which State Sen. Mike Michot, R-Lafayette, is co-chairman.
Michot got caught flat-footed last year when the original anti-LUS bill—the one that would have prevented LUS from even studying the issue—bore his signature. He did some good work with the compromise bill but this is his chance to make up for the initial misstep. This bill should never see the light of day. Robideaux is right. The bill is all about out of state companies using the state legislature to try and control what local, and specifically Lafayette, people are allowed to do with city property. Our legislature is supposed to represent the people, not out-of-state corporations. The bill's death should be swift, sure, and public: an execution that would serve as an example to other state lawmakers similarly inclined to meddle with the local rights of the people to the benefit of outsiders.

Friday, April 15, 2005

"Legislature to tackle LUS issue"

Kevin Blanchard of the Advocate has the story on the anti-LUS bill prefiled in the legislature by Sharon Weston Broome. Kevin catches something I had missed in my earlier post on this law: it would apparently require a second vote on the issue. The text of the proposed law reads (text that is struck through is eliminated; bold text is added to the law):
A local governing authority by a majority vote may shall call an election on whether or not the local government shall provide the proposed covered services, before engaging or offering to engage in providing such services.
It certainly looks like a second election would be required. Amazing.

The story also covers the history of the law, and details on the money and services that Cox would no longer have to supply should this ever make it into law. It's a good read.

On reading this story it occurs to me that the state might not actually have the power to affect the "public, educational, and governmental" (PEG) requirements of local franchise agreements, though the odd language about "suspending" the local obligations of cable companies offended by locals asserting their rights to build their own local infrastructure might be aimed at placating the feds as well as evading the laws forbidding abrogating contracts. The law establishing the FCC explicitly grants such rights to municipalities (see page 251) and over the years the Feds have taken almost all rights to regulate cable companies out of state hands and made them solely a federal issue. This is why the Louisiana Public Service Commission regulates the rates and services of BellSouth but not Cox. The state may simply not have the right to overrun federal law in this instance.

It's all very interesting. And you can be assured that the dirty tricks won't end here.

Louisiana Anti-Muni Bill prefiled: Fright and spite

Well we get our first anti-municipal telecom bill of the season a combination of fright and spite bill. Surely written by BellSouth or Cox lobbyists in the finest tradition of lobbyist-inked legislation, it proposes to amend the "compromise" law passed last summer with the Orwellian name "The Local Fair competition Act."

This law would amend RS 45:844.50(A) by adding a clause in which the state forces a referendum on the issue on local governments and imposing draconian penalties on any community that has the temerity to vote for public competition for the private corporations that hold a monopoly on local cable service. If a municipality should vote for such a law, the state would reach down in its majesty and "suspend" the contract the corporation made with the local owners of rights of way and poles. No franchise fees; now you get rights of way and pole attachments for free. No public access channels. No nothing, the law makes clear. Not until the new entity has provided the same amount of money to the local Louisiana government that the incumbent provided over the last 10 years.

Fright and spite. Apparently the incumbents have take the lessons of the battle of Lafayette to heart and are now hesitant to expose themselves to a battle in which they have to try to frighten the public about a broadband plan before the last few weeks of a forced election. If you spend all your little lies and deceptions just trying to get a vote, the people have time to figure out that they are being manipulated. That's pretty much what we have seen here in Lafayette. But the spite is the real kicker here. Voiding contracts and allowing the user to "take" the city's property and services for free is nothing less than madness and the gall it takes to even propose it is shocking. If you were tempted to forget what the incumbents taught us about their character at the end of last summer, this should serve as a salutary reminder.

Why do such a thing? Why, to fix their biggest 'mistake' in last summer's (Un)Fair competition Act, I warrant. In that act, you may recall, the incumbents required the PSC to force a municipality (they meant LUS) to raise their prices to the same level they would be if they were renting their own rights of ways and were paying pole fees for maintenance (on top of actually paying to do the real maintenance!). The idea was to force you, dear customer, to pay higher prices rather than to allow the new competitor (LUS) to drive prices as low as they might otherwise. Clever, eh? No. Too clever by half. They had started to believe their own propaganda that utilities got by for free and apparently didn't realize that utilities like LUS actually already pay more back in lieu of taxes to the city-parish than do private corporations even while keeping rates low. So the law doesn't currently have its intended effect of raising LUS' rates.

Ooops.

So this season they can fix that and use the government to eliminate their own, but not their competition's, obligation to the local community. More of that infamous "good citizenship" and "your friend in the digital age" stuff you hear about in their ads. The new state law would relieve the out of state corporations from any local obligations to pay for the local resources they use while effectively forcing the local, publicly owned entity to pretend to pay twice for pole maintenance and to pretend to rent its own land land when setting rates. (Check out R.S. 45:844.53 for the gory details.)

The whole idea? You pay more so that Cox and BellSouth can tote more money out of the state without facing real competition. It really is that simple.

Get on the stick, folks. If you think we can make better decisons about our future than some people in Baton Rouge who are ventriloquating BellSouth and Cox, you'll have to speak up. Write your representatives. Write the sponsor, Sharon Weston Broome. If you know people in her Baton Rouge District (Kip Holden's old senatorial district), ask them to put a bug in her ear. Stuff like this should be nipped in the bud. Dropping a letter to the Governor might be a good idea too. After all, this character was a floor leader for her in the house.



(Incidentally, there's an odd and interesting pattern of the incumbents using legislators that are slightly "off," as my mother used to say. The sponsor of the original "Local (un)fair competition bill was Noble Ellington--the fellow who got us national publicity by saying on the floor of the legislature that "tolerance is tearing down the foundation of this country" and Sharon Weston Broome can be found all over the internet as the woman who tried to get the Louisiana legislature to pass a resolution affirming that Darwin's theory of evolution is racist. Racist?! Isn't there anyone a little bit more...sane that BellSouth and Cox can find to front their crazy bills? ...Oh. Yeah. I guess that was obvious.)