Wednesday, September 28, 2005

We swim in an ocean of media

The Christian Science Monitor is well-known for its thoughtful approach to the news, often carrying stories that are worth a moment of quiet reflection. In this moment of overheated, breathless coverage—Louisiana's situation is serious, but no longer really "exciting" and it is wearisome to watch the media pretend otherwise—it is very comforting to read a typically sensible Christion Science Monitor story.

The story, "We swim in an ocean of media" takes a look at a Ball State study, a study in the famous Middletown tradition of studying how we really live and what we do day to day that has long been a staple of sociology. It documents just how much we modern folks live in an environment of electronic media. A couple of things are interesting about the study. The headline message was that we spend a lot of time with media; two thirds of our our waking hours, in fact.

About 30 percent of their waking hours were found to be spent using media exclusively, while another 39 percent involved using media while also doing another activity, such as watching TV while preparing food or listening to the radio while at work. Altogether, more than two-thirds of people's waking moments involved some kind of media usage.

And that is pretty impressive. To the exent that the sort of people we are is defined by the environment to which we adapt we are not the same sort of people our great grandparents were.

However, the article strains to make a fairly unconvincing point of "multitasking," having more than one media going at a time--doing something else while the TV is on is most of what fall s into this category. In my experience people who are talking on the phone, for instance, while the TV is on are NOT multitasking, they are ignoring either the TV or the phone.

Probably the thing that strikes me as more important is that the studies assume a broad definition of media, including interactive media like cell phones with more traditional media like TV. The studies show that a passive media like TV is often paired with an active one (like computing or talking on the phone). The active forms, especially in the form of computing appear to be on the upswing with more and more people spending time in active/interactive forms of media. People are making and participating more. As more bandwidth and computing power become available usage appears to be shifting towward activity-based forms of media. Lafayette's fiber-optic utility will accelerate the rate at which bandwidth and computing power is made affordable.

It's likely Lafayette's children, who will have more earlier, who will chart a path toward changing media from a passive into an interactive/making experience. It should be very interesting to watch. It's not Muncie, but Lafayette that I would study were I interested in the future of media.

Worth reflecting on.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Lafayette and hurricane Rita

While Lafayette Pro Fiber is determinedly local in its content and by design addresses the people of our community most directly it has a significant minority of its readers from outside our area who've become interested in and supportive of Lafayette. We are very grateful for the broader attention, especially during these last few weeks.

I've had some inquiries from friends who are watching national TV and are understandably concerned about those in Louisiana for whom they've developed some sympathy. This post is directed at our friends beyond the our region.

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

Thanks for your thoughts. Lafayette was again very, very lucky. While we were on the "bad," eastern side of the storm and experienced a lot more "weather" than during Katrina we didn't see the effects of a major hit as we did during Lilli 3 years ago. High wind, downed trees, a lot of rain, a couple of days without electricity or internet--what we'd regard as "normal" hurricane consequences.

We again have a lot of refugees in town, but this time they are our immediate neighbors, folks who come and shop in town and who are as likely to have a relative live in town as to not have one. The new group is mostly from Iberia and Vermilion parishes to our south and southeast. Another large number of people have been quietly absorbed into people's homes. Because the number of people who live in the marsh areas is much less than in New Orleans and because their larger community networks are not so uniformly devastated the refugee problem will be much smaller. (The computer network Lafayette Coming Together and the Chamber/Zydetech have been running is still up and will get a new lease on life.)

A larger issue is the city of Lake Charles. Relatively few people evacuated east to our area from Lake Charles as authorities made it clear that Baton Rouge and Lafayette were at capacity from Katrina and urged people to flee directly north on back roads. Lake Charles was hit very hard and the infrastructure rebuild will take weeks. But it was not flooded and people who stayed during the storm did not face challenges after the storm as did the people in New Orleans.

The devastation in Louisiana was coastal and in places total. The greatest portion was storm surge which in Louisiana can reach 30 miles "inland" over a vast expanse of marshland. The small towns of Cameron and Vermilion are gone.

On a personal note my brother-in-law lives and practices medicine in Sulfur outside of Lake Charles and his children live in Lake Charles. Their houses are mostly ok with barns or carports ripped up but one child's house has substantial structural damage from a tree falling on it. The family camp at Constance beach on the gulf is reportedly simply gone: one section has vanished and another pushed across the road. The family evacuated in a caravan to my sister-in-law's family in the north Louisiana delta and are all fine. They are going to put the kids in school up there for awhile...I think this is a pretty typical story. Hardship, yes, but most folks have places to go and some real support networks that kick in quickly enough so that the wait for official support is not too trying.

It's been a long several weeks here. Lafayette is almost surrounded by folks who've really lost a lot. We just got bad weather, some cleanup, and a couple of days without air conditioning.

Gratefully and sorrowfully, John

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Businesses eyeing New Orleans telecom infrastructre

People are beginning to think about the potential for rebuilding better that the president and others have alluded to. One, surely, is in the realm of telecommunications. Putting in an advanced system, especially an advanced fiber-optic system is very expensive--but that expense would be easy to absorb in a huge reconstruction project and would actually cost less if done in that context. For instance, New Orleans has been under a federal order to rebuild its sewerage system. It was considering, running fiber-optics along with the new sewerage system as a way of both getting the service into its urban area and generating income to help pay for the build and other city services. If it made even marginal sense then, it would make even better sense now. Certainly the opportunity to give a rebuilding, almost certainly smaller New Orleans a competitive edge should be explored.

Bits from the article:
...some executives, academics and analysts are urging a more ambitious approach: Make New Orleans and the surrounding areas super-connected communities, with advanced services that surpass what is available anywhere in the country, if not the world....experts see the perfect opportunity to deploy new systems that otherwise might be too expensive or disruptive to build.

The result, they say, could be a bonanza of higher technology at lower prices for businesses and consumers, more robust emergency-responder systems and an ability to provide high-speed Internet access to poorer segments of the population often left off the information highway.

Suggestively, Landrieu (or a staffer) seems to be thinking about digital divide issues in this context. (I'd love to know more.)

And a broad hurricane-relief bill being drafted by Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., would earmark money to help low- and middle-income residents and businesses buy or lease computers and get access to high-speed Internet access at affordable prices.
Others, noticeably those in the business, suggest WiFi or WiMax though sensibly only for voice and data. (The combination of bandwidth demands and density of population in a city make a full fiber system manditory for the provision of video as has been pointed out in these pages previously.)

Still others, also in a business that might benefit, suggest building a wholesale network.

[Vonage CEO] Citron said the city could dig the trenches and make them available, for suitable fees to help cover construction costs, to any carrier that wanted to lay cables to provide services - including voice, digital television and Internet access.

With more companies potentially competing, Citron said, prices would come down.

Not all businesses agree....Let's guess who...

Bill Smith, chief technology officer for BellSouth Corp., the Gulf Coast's primary phone carrier, paused for several seconds when presented with this idea.

''I would say that might not make sense for us'' if too many competitors meant the percentage of the pie for each was too low, he said.

Too low for what? Without huge capital and maintenance costs very small profit shares could be quite profitable. Smith's reasoning only makes sense when you are talking about "overbuilding"--providing essentially the same services over separate, privately owned wires. Too many competitors means nobody makes a profit. --When only two competitors makes it unprofitable for both you've got a natural monopoly situation. Smith reacting with concern for too many competitors making his situation untenable reveals that he wasn't taking seriously the suggestion that BellSouth "rent" city lines. Instead he was going directly to the effect on his operation if they do as they intend and rebuild BellSouth's network. While he'll never talk about it in public he knows his company is in what is essentially a natural monopoly business and when going up against a municipal network in New Orleans would reveal that--the situation would be one in which one of two builds will ultimately prove uneconomic. Rest assured, BellSouth will oppose any such municipal plan as vehemetly as they opposed Lafayette's. Notice that recent laws designed to make such builds difficult to start and to raise the price that must be charged to consumers apply equally to municipally-owned networks whether or not the network is wholesale or retail.

What none of the privately-connected sources who talked to this reporter suggested was the obvious one for a cash-strapped city looking at long period of recovery with a tax base that will likely be much-reduced from an already completely inadequate level: the Lafayette solution: a municipal network, offering retail services. Such a network would capture and recirculate money inside the city, building wealth, and would provide a real, steady revenue stream to the local government to offset the decline in tax base. It could offer state-of-the-art connectivity to individuals and business at well below market rates (if certain laws were repealed) and still help fund the treasury of the city via its user-fees.

New Orleans could use a municipal elecom utility and there is no rational reason why the current monopoly providers should be allowed to stand in the way of such a self-help decision.

Friday, September 16, 2005

"Community Internet under Attack"

During the height of the Katrina crisis not a few good articles on community broadband got skipped. This one, entitled: "Community Internet under Attack" was originally published on September 1st. Luckily, it has been reposted by the Free Press. It's basically a review of recent municipal success in this arena which tries to summarize the lesson learned. Its a relief to read an analysis of the issue that lays out so clearly the values on which the analysis is based:
"Who might control the future of high-speed Internet? Will it be municipalities and communities that can make the Internet into a widespread and affordable public service like electricity or running water or big cable and telecommunications companies, like SBC, Comcast, and Verizon, who would redline communities and inflate prices to maximize profit? "
Partisan? Yes. But all writing is based on assumptions about what is worth writing about. Mostly the values on which those assumptions are based are implicit and we have to either guess at them or puzzle them out by their indirect signs. When the authors themselves are unclear or inconsistent it can be very hard to figure out whether or not the authors assumptions lead them to ignore things the reader might consider important. We've gotten into a strange place where much "objective" reporting that has anything to do with business implicitly adopts the point of view that what is really worth reporting about are issues which are important to corporations and their bottom line--this goes far beyond the "business" sections of the paper. (Why aren't there "in the public interest" sections of the newspaper?) So it's refreshing to see an article that both adopts another point of view and doesn't make you work hard to figure out that point of view.

The story briefly reviews several successful municipal broadband cases. Lafayette is covered. The most interesting section is the lessons learned portion. Give it a read.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Just A Note

Vint Cerf, father of the internet--or at least TCP-IP, asks a good question:
"He said he also found it 'troublesome' that various states and localities have been proposing and implementing measures to outlaw municipally sponsored broadband networks. 'Why on Earth would we inhibit people from making their own investments--deciding, for example, to float a bond?' he asked."
Why? Well, mostly because of simple self-interest, of course. That explains our incumbents, anyway. Whining, sniveling losers. :-)

Whining, Sniveling Losers

The Advocate and the Advertiser both carry stories on yesterday's PSC meeting. (Lafayette Pro Fiber had a first-person report here yesterday.) While both articles emphasize the unanimous, positive outcome for Lafayette--bought at the expense of yet another concession--they also detail Lafayette's return to full-throated and uncompromising criticism of corporate behavior.

The Advocate on the decision and the compromise:
PSC approval gives LUS a green light to proceed on building a fiber-optic network to each home and business in the city in order to provide phone, cable and high-speed Internet service...

The intent of that law was to protect private competitors from unfair competition by ensuring that LUS could not take advantage of its tax-exempt status and forgo those fees on its bills -- which would result in lower bills for LUS customers.

But state law did not address whether LUS' communications division could pocket those "imputed" taxes and fees -- something that would help the new communications system's bottom line, even though customers would still experience artificially higher bills.

...Wednesday, LUS Director Terry Huval told the commission that LUS was volunteering on its own to pass those imputed taxes on to the city coffers -- accomplishing what commissioners wanted to do, without requiring them to possibly violate the constitution.
The Advertiser reports Lafayette criticism of BellSouth's threats to sue:
Despite Wednesday's Public Service Commission victory, LUS and city officials said they anticipate another lawsuit from telecommunications providers in an attempt to stall the project.

"The biggest disappointment is that BellSouth's attorney said he would see us in court," said City-Parish President Joey Durel, calling the company "a bunch of whining, sniveling losers."

Another lawsuit would show BellSouth and Cox are anti-Lafayette and anti-Louisiana, Huval said.
The Advocate also details Durel and Huval's uncompromising criticism:
Lafayette officials came out swinging Wednesday afternoon at the possibility of lawsuits -- Durel said BellSouth representatives hinted at a lawsuit after the meeting Wednesday.

"If they sue, BellSouth, Cox and their allies have placed themselves in a position of being Anti-Lafayette and Anti-Louisiana and they should be characterized as such," Durel said in a release Wednesday afternoon. "I challenge them both to acknowledge the wishes of our community and to resume their place as good corporate citizens by ending any further opposition to our project."

Huval said the "playbook" for incumbent companies in other communities throughout the nation that have embarked on similar projects is to use their "deep pockets" and try to bury their competition in lawsuits.

"If they try to take further legal action against this project, it would then become obvious that these companies only want to stop the project. Despite their lame arguments to the contrary, it is not an issue of 'fairness,' or 'letting the people decide,' Huval said in the same release. "Their agenda is against the wishes of the people of Lafayette and their elected representatives. Their agenda is to protect their abusive market behaviors in their virtual monopolies at all costs."
The boys are angry. The people of Lafayette should be angry as well. Lafayette is back in its pre-referendum position of waging a public relations war with the incumbents. It is good to know our leaders recognize the game being played and are willing to use the weapons at hand.

I know that no further proof is necessary of BellSouth and Cox's disregard for the needs of the community they pretend to be part of whenever those needs are in the least conflict with their corporate agenda but the astonishingly tone death insensitivity of BellSouth's John Williams use the Katrina's tragedy is staggering. From the Advertiser:

The extensive devastation to government infrastructure by Hurricane Katrina should make residents reconsider whether they want to entrust government with their telecommunications services, he said.

"In light of all the recovery efforts local government must undertake, how high of a priority would telecommunications be?" Williams wrote.

I am absolutely astounded that John Williams of BellSouth would try and turn the tragedy of hundreds of thousands to his corporate advantage. Williams knows perfectly well what the truth is: that a bond sale would not cost the city-parish any revenue it could spend elsewhere. He knows that with what promises to be a sudden jump in population building and strengthening infrastructure will be a necessary, major, and inevitable task--NOT one that the city-parish can or should seek to avoid. He knows that in that context the prospects of a major infrastructure build that pays for itself and even produces revenue without stressing local taxable resources is a huge boon for the city. Williams knows perfectly well (or is maintaining a criminal ignorance) that many of our new citizens will find themselves, at least in the first years, earning less than they did in New Orleans as they find their feet in the new community and could use the 20% cut in telecom service charges that LUS will make in Lafayette. Williams knows or should know that these new citizens are, by and large, exactly the 20% of our people that BellSouth planned (planned!) to leave out of their plan to "upgrade" our telecommunications systems.

Williams and BellSouth know or should know that the capacity to feel shame is actually to be admired.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The Last Barrier Falls

I attended the public service commission meeting this morning and the good news couldn't be better: Lafayette's plan got the go ahead 5-0. This was the last major, official hurdle and with that out of the way there is no further barrier to selling the bonds and beginning to build. Lafayette will have her new utility.

There were two relatively minor amendments, one procedural--LUS agreed to an audit schedule that might come as often as yearly, and one more substantial--LUS will definitely pay "imputed taxes" each year. While this is a good bit less onerous than being required to pay a full measure of the traditional In Lieu of Taxes, it does reduce flexibility and it does increase real costs but apparently not enough to seriously perturb LUS.

The real story of the morning was the strange behavior of the legislative auditor Steve Theriot. The legislative auditor's office, which fell into disrepute—at least among legislators—for what was regarded as an overweening arrogance of Dan Kyle, appears to have spawned another of the same ilk in Theriot. The state auditor is involved because it is charged by the (un)Fair Competition Act with enforcing regulations in Lafayette concerning internet and cable because the PSC does have authority to regulate those functions--in fact the state, except for Lafayette's LUS, does not regulate these functions at all. The legislatures auditor's insistence on an equal playing field sounds odd coming out of his mouth since he is not charging in to insist that "legislative intent" as to an equal playing field would require him to equally regulate BellSouth and Cox. Instead he believes that "legislative intent" compels him to insist the PSC impose new taxes on LUS. His level playing field only tilts in the direction of the incumbent corporations.

Theriot wanted to make sure that the imputed taxes that LUS had already agreed to pay and that the commission staff insisted that they had the power to compel should be written into law by explicit regulations. The problem with his position is, as was repeatedly pointed out by the commission and its staff, that the law passed by the legislature does not authorize a tax and the commission does not have the power to impose one. Theriot, who occupied the witness table long after it became clear that the commission wanted to get on with the vote, (he continued to repeat his position for at least fifteen minutes after commissioner Fields called for a vote) alternately threatened and complained that his opinions had not been sufficiently taken into account by the commission's staff. He blustered that if the commission did not regulate as he wanted he would be forced to write "procedures" of his own to take care of it.

Eventually an exasperated commissioner told him that the commission's staff did not feel they were ignoring his suggestions. Instead they believed he was simply "overreaching" his authority by attempting to make the law say something it very clearly avoids saying: that imputed taxes were meant to do anything other than raise the cost charged customers. (Which, I must say, is obnoxious enough a law for the state to have passed.) At no point does the law suggest that those taxes "shall be" collected by the local government, only that they "may be." They finally told him to go to the legislature and suggest that they "tighten up" the law. Theriot didn't appear eager to do so for a reason that is obvious on reflection and probably is the reason why the incumbents did not press for such a law in the first place: it would require a 2/3 vote of the legislature and require that the state intervene to impose a tax on a governmental body that it would impose on no other entity and then to force the local city government to receive it whether or not they wanted it. That is too crazy even for the Louisiana legislature and such a provision would surely have killed the initial law had it been included.

In an index of just how surreal the conversation became one commissioner suggested imposing fines equal to the Theriot's tax and wanted to know if the fines could be directed to the Lafayette Consolidated Government (LCG). --The answer: No, of course not. At another moment the audience, crowded with Lafayette supporters started calling out that the law didn't say what Theriot said it did (accurately, and to Theriot's obvious irritation). But the oddest moment came when Theriot suggested to a room full of Louisianaians in the aftermath of Katrina that he thought maybe the Feds should get some of the imputed taxes and that not all of it should go to the LCG. He swallowed that one pretty quickly but nothing could be better evidence of just how out of touch Theriot is...if he wants to make law he should run for the legislature.

The confusions this law evokes are a direct result of the fact that the law is bad law, written to serve corporate interests and awkwardly inserts the state apparatus in areas of governance where the state has no logical role. The wisdom of earlier legislatures in making the judgment that state should take its hands off the actions local governments pursue to fulfill local needs has been confirmed by the distateful mess in which this law has resulted. The hands off model worked well in the provision of local electric utilities and that should be the model followed with this new municipal utility.

What motivated Theriot to court the ire of the commission and the people is very unclear. Certianly nobody but the incumbent monopolies benefit. But clearly those that are concerned to support Lafayette should add Theriot to the list of state officials that bear watching. It is evident that some part of the first round of confusing and contradictory rules was due to Theriot's insistence and not to confusion on the part of the commission's staff.

Regardless, the road is open. We should all celebrate.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

LUS Needs Your Help at the PSC

A simple call: Lafayette and LUS asks for your support. Word filters back from the Public Service Commission that some commissioners are crawfishing on their declared support for LUS. BellSouth and Cox have been up in Baton Rouge lobbying hard for further restrictions on Lafayette's freedom to build the utility system we voted for overwhelmingly on July 16th.

We need to get as many people as possible to the PSC meeting tomorrow as possible. Please come.

It would also be appropriate to get in touch with as many PSC commissioners via email, fax or preferably phone as you can. Or to leave messages with the commission. And to call those who you feel might have influence with the commission staff or commissioners. (http://www.lpsc.org/)

It should be noted that the people of Lafayette approved this by an overwhelming 24 points, 62 to 38 percent, that the PSC exists to protect the public consumer, NOT private out-of-state corporations, and that LUS and the city have been the honest players in this game, making and sticking by compromises that the corporations have consistently tried to alter to their advantage. Finally in this time of tragedy and recovery we most definitely do not need the PSC coming in and restricting our freedom and flexibility to provide the most advanced services at the best possible price to our old and new citizens. BellSouth and Cox demonstrate their continued and appalling self-interest in this time of tragedy by continuing to lobby for their private advantage. It's time for all this to end. We need to show up to demonstrate the depth of public support for Lafayette.


No "Private" Service Commission Rally
When: Wednesday September 14th, 8:00 AM
Where: Galvez Building, Natchez Room, 602 North Fifth, Baton Rouge
(map)

(Bring your fiber buttons and any other signs of support)


Please redistribute widely

Monday, September 12, 2005

"Rebuilt New Orleans could be cutting edge"

In one of those perverse moments that seem to accompany great disasters BellSouth is now hinting that it might rebuild New Orleans' aging copper plant with new, state of the art, fiber.
Assuming New Orleans rises again, a city rebuilt from the ground up could boast the best voice, data and video communications infrastructure in the nation, says Bill Smith, BellSouth's chief technology officer...

To turn New Orleans into a state-of-the-art showcase, BellSouth would have to replace its 120-year-old copper phone wire with sleek fiber-optic lines that have far more capacity. Fiber offers mind-bending speeds on the Internet -- 100 megabits per second or more. Copper delivers a fraction of that.
This would surely be a "good thing" for a struggling New Orleans as an analyst remarks.
Assuming New Orleans rises again, a city rebuilt from the ground up could boast the best voice, data and video communications infrastructure in the nation, says Bill Smith, BellSouth's chief technology officer.
Tech types agree:
Hossein Eslambolchi, AT&T's chief technology officer, says BellSouth would also be wise to take advantage of Internet Protocol (IP) technologies, which are becoming the favored technology of businesses around the globe.

"They're going to have to dig up the street anyway" to make extensive repairs, he says. "So why not just go ahead and install fiber" and IP?
Ahhh... but the kicker (you knew it was coming) the problem is that New Orleans' might not be hurt bad enough to make it economic (for BellSouth that is--it is clear that it would be economic for New Orleans.) So why not?
The short answer: money.

If BellSouth's wiring -- called "plant" in the industry -- "is in good working condition, we will repair it," Smith says.

If that isn't possible, he says, "We would likely demolish all plant and facilities and rebuild with state-of-the-art equipment."

He says it may be awhile before BellSouth can make decisions. Owing to dangerous conditions in the city, crews haven't done inspections yet. It is trying to gauge the damage by looking at photographs.
So here's the perverse part: we have to hope that New Orleans' telecom infrastructure is effectively totaled. Only if New Orleans is considered a greenfield situation will BellSouth build out a modern network.

A couple of caveats here. Corporate economics will drive BellSouth's rebuild in all areas. BellSouth is already up to its neck in debt and the larger Gulf Coast rebuild will be hugely expensive. Much of the coastal infrastructure of Mississippi is, obviously, totaled. Rationally it, at least, will be rebuilt with fiber--fiber optic builds in new (greenfield) areas is already not significantly more expensive than copper and long-term maintenance of fiber is significantly less expensive. Also it is not clear that even if the system is rebuilt that New Orleans and the Gulf Coast will get fiber to the home. A "short run" XDSL solution may be a way of lowering the install costs of a mostly fiber network since a significant portion of the installation costs are in the electronics that translates light into electronic signals. In a Fiber To The Home (FTTH) situation that electronics has to be replicated at every door. BellSouth could conceiveably go with a system where one pylon with the electronics served out copper to relatively small number of houses--that is its current residential greenfield model. Such a model would not deliver the long-term benefits of a full FTTH model but would allow some of the immediate bandwidth benefits to be realized.

My strong suspicion is that we won't see FTTH offered unless some level of government subsidizes it. The feds could just pay for the build and then turn the value of it over to Bell's monopoly. That's the most likely way, the Halliburton way if you will, but as you might imagine I find significant problems with that path. The other governmental way is if New Orleans were to make truly large concessions to BellSouth on the order of what BellSouth Louisiana's President Oliver asked for here in Lafayette (in exchange for serving 80% of us with ADSL). Doing that would further beggar the tax base of a city that was already beleaguered and on her knees before Katrina wandered ashore.

Allow me to suggest the radical third governmental alternative: Let's call it the "Lafayette solution"--since landline networking is a natural monopoly that really should belong to no private entity anyway help New Orleans put in a state of the art fiber-optic based public utility system. Let the federal monies that might otherwise be diverted to "aiding" BellSouth create a solution that would instead 1) pump construction money into New Orleans, 2) provide a solid basis for future development, 3) staunch the unfairly large outflow of wealth that monooply profits ensure and, 4) give the city a real revenue source for the future. Surround it with any sort of safeguards you want, but put the resources into the city and leave them there. Don't hand all of that cash to huge corporations whose whole raison d'ĂȘtre is to give the least for the most. Instead reserve some small portion of it to develop a resource for New Orleans as a city; to hand some of the benefits from the resources that will serve to enrich the few into the hands of the people of the city. Just reserve a little bit of the immense resource that will mostly enrich others for her future. Develop New Orleans new, shining, state of the art communications network as a public utility.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Muni nets can work to incumbents' advantage, Yankee advises

The well-regarded Yankee group advises the incumbents to see a low-risk opportunity in municipal nets. It makes sense from a rational, competitive point of view: let the munis take the risk of high-cost fiber or untried wireless technology. So it makes sense to tell the telco's:
"If I were a telco, I'd be encouraging fiber build-outs,' Davis said today in a phone interview. 'I'd want to kill wireless or WiMAX, but I'd encourage fiber.'

And it makes sense to tell the cablecos:

For their part, the cable companies should be eyeing municipally built wireless broadband networks, using mesh technology or WiMAX when it is available, as an opportunity to address the small to mid-sized business market that they don't currently serve in a cost-effective way.

Trouble is, as I said, it makes rational, competitive sense.

What the Yankee Group and some municipal builders themselves appear not to realize is that the phone and cable companies aren't thinking in terms of competition--and that is not a failing of these corporations: it is a base fact of their existence. Their business model is fundamentally that of a monopoly. They are thinking in terms of sustaining that, very profitable, business model. They are thinking of squelching competition; not of taking advantage of opportunities to be competitive, not even on someone else's dime.

I have to imagine that they both know quite well that their respective monopolies in cable TV and landline telephony are dangerously unstable. Being the sole provider of last mile access to homes in each of their monopoly markets is the key to their current profitability. They fear real competition and the coming commoditization of big bandwidth which will destroy the profitability of their current product by allowing people to bypass their phone and video offerings.

Fiber and wireless municipal builds only hasten that day. They won't cooperate, don't know how to cooperate, can't really see that cooperation could do them any good. And they are right. Helping sustain any municipal network only insures that they will NOT be the monopoly provider of last mile services...and that is what is unthinkable.

Friday, September 09, 2005

WBS: "Expecting population surge, Lafayette presses for aid"

Whats Being Said Department

The Boston Globe has a great overview story on the situation in our situation here in Lafayette. It's reassuring to know that sensationalistic coverage isn't universal. Some bits:
LAFAYETTE, La. -- If disaster aid follows the evacuees, then folks in Lafayette are waiting for the assistance to start flowing. They already have the people...

While Baton Rouge is larger, closer to New Orleans, and has the state government seat, Lafayette, with its boiled crawfish, gumbo, and zydeco, is a key element of Louisiana culture...

City-Parish President Joey Durel said he expected Lafayette's population of 112,000 to rise by about a third in what he called ''unnatural growth," which will affect all aspects of life and government. Lafayette is the only major city in Louisiana that has grown in the past 15 years, and outside New Orleans, it is the most progressive in terms of arts and culture, Durel said. Many New Orleanians have deep ties to Lafayette, and officials are concerned that many of the displaced will feel comfortable relocating here instead of returning...
I think the word is more the author wants, and like "anticipating" than "concerned." Durel has emphasized that how to deal with the inevitable is the issue. And folks here do seem to be on the stick about this. From a distance I have to say that Walter Guillory seems to be stepping into a role of real leadership.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is scouting areas to build temporary housing. The Lafayette Housing Authority is helping put together a proposal for a $1.5 billion federal grant that would provide housing and self-sufficiency programs for displaced Katrina victims throughout the state, said Walter Guillory, the housing authority's executive director. So far, 9,000 evacuees have registered in Lafayette for low- to moderate-income housing...
There are a lot of good, succienctly-stated examples of the changes Lafayette is undergoing. But there is a plan, if unimplemented, to deal with these issues. I've read big chunks of the LINC documents in the course of trying to understand its telecom and fiber suggestions and I was knocked back by the intelligence of the work. It's a great starting place...if you compress a 20 year timeline for rational expansion into 3.
In terms of the medium- to long-term impact on the city, Durel said Lafayette has a strategic plan for expansion: Lafayette In the New Century, or LINC.

But there is no way to implement a 20-year plan within a year, argued Bill Bacque, CEO of Van Eaton and Associates, the city's largest real estate firm.

''What's going to happen? Who the heck knows?" he said. ''There is nothing we can turn to, nothing in history, no guide that we can pull off the shelf, nothing other than a gut feeling of what we can do. There is no owner's manual for Hurricane Katrina."

"Lafayette computer center seeks volunteers"

Kevin Blanchard kindly issued a call for volunteers in today's Advocate. LCT has been involved with that project using computers it had collected for a planned digital divide projects in Lafayette when the hurricane hit. The computers were quickly gathered up and gotten to the dome through the efforts of a few of our number who provided the contacts, expertise and energy to get it going quickly. David Goodwyn and Bryan Fuselier deserve special ataboys for their part in that initial effort. A cadre of about 8 volunteers have been responsible for getting it going and keeping it operating at the dome. Soliciting and managing volunteers has been the domain of folks arranged through David, Zydetech, and the Chamber though the webform for contacting them is located on the LCT website.

The operation is still in the organizing stage: Things go smoothly because folks are kind hearted and cooperative. There are lots of folks sent in from the front of the building and lots of folks that just show up to volunteer. We hope to get that going better. We need everyone we can get our hands on, of course. But we especially need people who can be 1) lead volunteers, and take a regular set of shifts. --Its' becoming clear that experience is very helpful--and reliability even more so! and 2) patient people who are comfortable searching the web and filling out web-based forms.

It's rewarding duty. People are in various ways are getting their lives back together. It's satisfying for them and for the folks helping. Even the hard parts, where people absorb unhappy news, have the quality putting things in place and allowing them to move on....

It's worth doing.

Don't Worry, Be Happy or There They Go Again

The headline of a Cox press release: "Cox Communications Won't Charge New Orleans Customers Until Services Restored." And in the text: "...we will not charge customers for services not delivered." Really. Honestly. I'm not making this up. Just follow the link and you'll see.

You might think that this is tacit acknowledgement of just how bad Cox's customer relations are. That they know that people believe Cox will try and stiff them and so are going to lengths to reassure the public. Nothing so direct or honest: Once you look at the release a close reading will reveal that what Cox is really concerned about is that you'll cancel your services--and maybe never turn them back on; or, almost as bad, that you won't turn them back on until you can afford them. So Cox turns its publicity machine to trying to reassure you that you needn't do anything now because you won't be charged until your location is actually back in service.
"As residents and businesses recover from this tragedy and deal with countless details of getting their lives back on track, we want to reassure them they don't have to worry about calling us to manage billing for their cable TV, phone and Internet services right now," said Greg Bicket, Region Vice President and General Manager of Cox's operations in the New Orleans area.
Its hard not to believe that if folks follow Greg's advice and just ignore the fact that they have a contract with Cox that in a few months some couple living in Phoenix won't get a Cox bill forwarded from their Ninth Ward address because Cox lit up their old house the month before. It's hard to believe that the people from Cox don't know this.

Here's a better way to reassure people that has the virtue of actually helping them: tell folks you understand that times are hard and that anyone who ends service now won't charged a reconnect fee to get turned back on when they get on their feet. Or better, that when the reconnect comes your first month and a half is free and that your "bill" for that first month of service will let you know when it's time to disconnect without charge if you no longer are at that location or no longer wish to receive Cox service. (It's possible to be honest, concerned, and to serve long-term corporate interests.)

The sort of smarmy, self-serving reasoning exhibited in this press release leaves a very sour taste in peoples' mouth. It is the sort of self-serving reasoning that led Cox in Lafayette to tell the residents of Lafayette that they were opposing the city's fiber optic initiative because they were concerned that the citizen's taxes would be raised. Cox does not care about your taxes and will never show up during sales tax or property tax elections. They don't really care about reassuring you that you won't be charged for services your location doesn't receive either. They do care about their bottom line. That's ok; we can live with that. But attempting to deceive us about your motives just promotes distrust.

We'd all feel a lot better about corporations with Cox's enormous resources if they didn't try and pretend that moves clearly intended to increase their local take weren't justified by falsely solicitous reasoning.

All of this makes me a little sad as well as angry. Cox is, I know, is doing plenty of good works right now, putting in services like a bank of 6 or so VOIP phones in the entry area of the Cajundome for residents to use. I believe the folks who came and installed those phones and those that ordered their placement did so because it was the right thing to do (the same motive that drove the folks who put the Sprint and Cingular trailers with free-to-use cell phones in the dome or our own volunteers who brought their own VOIP phones to the dome) and that people who are working hard to do the right thing don't deserve to be associated with the sort of reflexive deception to which this release points.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Public Service Commission Rescheduled

(Back to our regularly scheduled channel)

The Louisiana Public Service Commission (PSC) meeting cancelled on September 1 has been rescheduled to September 14 at 8 am in the Galvez Building, Natchez Room in Baton Rouge.

Let's hope that the PSC now has better things to do than paying attention to corporations that would like to make it difficult for communities to solve their own problems. Now more than ever we in Lafayette need the maximum freedom and the flexibility to run our own lives and control our own cost. Cox and BellSouth need to stop making our lives more difficult than they need to be.

Snake Oil on Katrina

The author/artist is from New Orleans....

This is a good issue of the Independent, take a look through it.

Click on the image for a larger, readable image. You may need to click a second time on the resulting image to get the largest image.

"Many Displaced by Katrina Turn to Relatives for Shelter"

Here's a story from the Washington Post, one of America's great newspapers that pursues a non-sensational story about our disaster. Some good bits excerpted. Get thee to the full story for rest.

LAFAYETTE, La., Sept. 7 -- Owing to stealthy acts of hospitality that are largely invisible to government, aid agencies and the news media, hundreds of thousands of people displaced by Hurricane Katrina seem to be disappearing -- into the embrace of their extended families.

It is hard to see and harder to quantify, but kinfolk from Louisiana -- a state that has the most sedentary family structure in the country, with 79 percent of its current residents born here -- are quietly sponging up the bulk of the people whose homes have been destroyed in and around New Orleans, according to Red Cross officials, local politicians and longtime students of Louisiana hurricanes...

Ellis, who lives in Indiana and has worked with the Red Cross after four hurricanes in Florida, said the willingness of people in Louisiana to provide housing, food and clothing to large numbers of relatives and family friends is unique in her experience...

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Red Cross and the Salvation Army all said they have no precise numbers on how many people displaced by the hurricane are staying with family or friends or in hotels. The numbers are more precise for those in shelters -- 182,000 people, said Butch Kinerney, a spokesman for FEMA.

But estimates of the total number of evacuees in the Gulf Coast states are dramatically higher than that.

Louisiana officials have said there were more than 1 million evacuees from that state alone, and Mississippi officials have said the total number of people displaced there could be several hundred thousand.

"Without families, we would have a major, major disaster in this part of Louisiana," said Walter Guillory, director of the Lafayette Housing Authority.

"It has been more than seven days, and FEMA is just getting ready to put an office in Lafayette," said Gerald Breaux, director of the Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission. "If the families and the community didn't step up, we would still be waiting."

It is all very, very hard. Family is important here and people will help out for as long as they can... FEMA will be making a very large mistake if it chooses to, as Red Cross officials are telling me, gather all the people without resources into mass shelters in order to receive assitance. There is nothing to say but that that is stupid in the extreme and will only slow the victims integration into our community. Give them money where they are. I can say from first hand experience that FEMA's culture prefers control over service. That must change. It killed people in New Orleans and they need to get over it. Picture IDs should NOT have been FEMA's first act when they finally got around to us.

(I had volunteers waiting for 3 and half hours to get a silly picture card in order to get to a 3 hour shift at the Dome Compter Center. FEMA should have known better and local Red Cross folks should have defied the Feds and waved through the volunteers who had been working for a week at the shelter without the need for clearly unnecessary security--if that level of security had ever been neccessary the moment for it was over. Our organization made sure the registration process got two more computers. That was necessary to facilitate the work. But we shouldn't have had to waste any resources on it. And neither should the Red Cross. Nor, most especially should the dome residents who have been nothing but helpful and cooperative.)

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

"Dalton FTTH network paying off"

Yet another municipal fiber success story. Dalton, Georgia is yet another FTTH project that, like Bristol, seems on its way to becoming a roaring success. (And, also like Bristol, is a city that has been abused by the bought and paid for psuedo-academic think tanks of the incumbent Telecommunications corporations.) Like Bristol, they too are running ahead of their business plan and begining to expand outside the city to serve larger parts of the surrounding community. Saith Ray Buzzard of the Dalton Utility company:
“We are ahead of our business plan – we were projected to hit payback in 12 years and we’ll beat that by two years.”
Of course not everything is peaches and cream, not even in Georgia. They do have their problems:
The growing problem for Dalton Utilities, if there is one, is that neighborhoods are clamoring for the service faster than the network can be built.
Folks like dealing with a local company.
“When our customers call customer service, they get a human being, and a human being that sounds like them, with an Appalachian twang,” he said. “If we can’t fix your problem, we roll a truck. A lot of times, it’s a matter of plugging something back in, but we do it anyway.
It's working in Dalton. It's going to work here.

http://telephonyonline.com/home/news/Dalton_Muni_FTTH_090205/

Digital Divide in Illinois

Our friend Annie Collins from Fiber for Our Future in the Tri-Cities of Illinios has been named to a state-wide digital divide panel there.

A key element in the announcement is tucked away at the end:
The Council will make recommendations to the General Assembly regarding telecommunications initiatives that require legislative approval, including the creation of a state entity that handles distribution of funds for private and public telecommunications projects.
That the panel is charged to design an "entity" that handles distribution of monies for both private and public telecommunications projects is notable. What makes it even more interesting is that the composition of the panel includes flat-out advocates of the public interest like Annie and Bill Samuels of Chicago's Ministerial Alliance Against the Digital Divide.

This contrasts distressingly with our state's rural broadband initiative, a group called the Louisiana Broadband Council. Mike dissected their membership. But suffice it to say that what is missing from the mix is anyone to represent rural consumers.....

"Refugees deserve Lafayette's trust and full support"

Another break from our usual programming;

From the Advertiser, a letter to the editor from Guy LeBreton a local police corporal who worked the Cajundome. Excerpts:

As a police officer, I spent Wednesday night at the Cajundome as many of the displaced residents from New Orleans were brought in. I want to share my experiences.

I am ashamed to admit that when I was first notified that I would have to provide assistance and security at the shelter, my thoughts were about having to fight with angry, violent mobs coming in frustrated from their recent disaster and the treatment from rescuers and law enforcement along the way. Learning that we would have to search each and his or her belongings for contraband, I expected more resistance....

I awoke Thursday to reports of riots, robberies and terrorizing in Lafayette from these people. For a moment, I was ashamed of the community where I was raised and where I work. Then, I realized that all of you have not seen and heard what I have. These people are physically and emotionally beaten down. They are not here to ravage Lafayette. In fact, many commented how they have been treated better here than in New Orleans. I am embarrassed that my community would foster such rumors without any evidence.

Good for Guy. What seems criminal to me is the national news media's self-indulgent, sensational treatment of the "anarchy" to which New Orleans was abandoned that has the consequence of feeding the sorts of irrational fears of which Mr. LeBreton complains. Our local media folks appear to have tamped down their instincts in this direction pretty quickly; a fact for which I am grateful.


Of course there are here, as elsewhere, always the shameful few. A fie on
Reginald Tosclair: Apartment complex forces evacuees to leave. (Interestingly, I couldn't find this article on the KATC website; apparently I am not the only one who finds such behavior embarrassing.)

Friday, September 02, 2005

Stop The Rumors

The State Police have issued a warning to the media to Stop the Rumors. There have been NO riots at the Centroplex or the Cajundome and there is NO sudden rise in robberies or carjacking in Acadiana. They are asking the media not to broadcast unconfirmed rumors of civil unrest and, instead to "dispel these rumors." This is good advice for citizens as well as media.

I have spent most of my days recently in the Cajundome with the refugees and I cannot tell you how angry it makes me to hear what some people are saying in response to our neighbors in need. These are people who have been subjected to the greatest losses imaginable and have reacted with calmness and good will that is a testament to all that is human. They are unfailingly polite and kind to each other and have been nothing but good to the volunteer staff at the ad hoc computer center LCT and the tech community has set up in the dome. Stunningly, unbelieveably, they are sympathetic with us when we can't figure out how to help them find the information they so desperately need.

We would all do well to turn off CNN's endless replays of sensational footage, to tune out the whackos on talk radio, to flick the channel on the empty-headed local news readers and to get ourselves to local shelters to help out people who are just like us and could have been us if that storm had moved a few degrees west.

Stop the Rumors

Thursday, September 01, 2005

LCT Establishes Computer Center at the Cajundome

Lafayette Coming Together's Digital Divide Committee (LCT-DD) spearheaded an effort to put together a computer center for the refugees at the cajundome.

Long story short: We need volunteers first and foremost, and could use equipment and backup tech help. This is a critical need effort of a longer-term project to help bridge the digital divide in our community. You can sign up for volunteer slots at LCT's "Assign Me" page. You can sign up to help in the larger digital divide effort of which this is a part at the "Involve Me" page. A very brief overview of new projects, including the digital divide effort is at LCT's home page.

The cajundome project has become a collaborative project of the technology community in Lafayette and LCT is in collaboration with Zydetech to provide volunteer help and many people have shown up to help whose only affiliation is with those in need.

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Thanks need to go out to the Red Cross for organization, the Cajudome for space, WoW! Technologies for big bandwidth, volunteers for getting LCT's cache of marginal computers up and running, volunteers for organizing the scheduling, to the folks who came and just came and installed a small VOIP system, to Zydetech for promoting the project to its large volunteer base and helping look for equipment, to all who have redistributed the requests to mailing lists, and most of all to the volunteers who're actually doing the work.

Thank You.

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I've got to go help open up the site this morning but I'll get back with a fuller post on this interesting effort--with any luck, by this afternoon.