Saturday, December 31, 2005

Now for Something Entirely Different

The posting found here have a narrow purpose. I discipline myself to try and stick to local, fiber-related events in this blog. I tried to not let Katrina and Rita take over this space during the time they took over our lives. That effort was mostly successful. I have also tried to keep my anger at the storms and the injustices suffered from New Orleans to Lake Charles from spilling over into anger at injustice done the people of Lafayette as they struggle to do nothing more than to take care of themselves. Arguably I have not succeeded quite so well there. All that's by way of a warning. What follows has to do with fiber and Lafayette only tangetially. Read on so warned.

An article in the Los Angles Times, reprinted in the Advocate this morning, occasions such reflection. That article's subject is the renewal of the Times-Picayune in the wake of Katrina. The paper has become a touchstone for those in New Orleans and its diaspora by taking on the role of a fearless advocate for the city's needs and its rebirth. The people have responded: the Picayune has recovered 80% of its circulation in a city that is far from recovering 80% of it population and its website is running at twice the pre-storm hit rate.

The subhead in the LA Times is "Advocacy reporting is making an auspicious return in New Orleans." The paper quotes LSU Journalism school's Tony Perkins saying "Objectivity is a fairly new construct in this business that has little to do with the quality of reporting" and the story proves his point. Or at least it proves his point concerning what "objectivity" has become in journalism: a synonym for a neutrality so carefully executed that no reader could tell whether the reporter understands the meaning of what he or she reports. That's a travesty of the real meaning of objectivity which has nothing to do with neutrality and everything to do with making sure that the real world, and not some fantasy is what gets reported. That sort of objectivity, to which real reporting should aspire, is a quality subordinate to the purpose of reporting. The purpose need not be brazenly partisan--it can and should include simply informing the public about what is objectively true on a topic of wide interest. But choosing what to report, out of the welter of things that could be reported, always implies a purpose.

The Times-Picayune has received a rare blessing: it now has a clearly understood purpose which objectivity can serve. It exists to serve its community and to help insure that community's survival. It is no longer burdened by any supercilious inclination to view objectivity as a purpose in itself. It makes for good, meaty journalism, journalism that has been noticed across the nation; a quality of reporting the Los Angeles Times story struggles to explain. The Picayune's desire to serve its community doesn't involve putting aside objectivity but recognizing that objectivity is that quality which keeps purpose honest. The LA Times says: "The newspaper's success in the face of disaster raises a question: Are objectivity and dispassion in journalism overrated?" That's almost the right question. What's overrated is dispassionate neutrality masquerading as objectivity.

The Picayune has pursued a fearless and objective reporting. It has "exposed poorly constructed levees, picked apart obtuse FEMA policies, debunked overblown claims of evacuation center violence, and traveled as far as the Netherlands and Japan to show how other communities have coped with flooding and disaster." And it has shown no hesitation in going after irresponsible politicians, overreacting citizens, the federal government, and sacred cows of all descriptions in a new-found determination to accurately and objectively report on whatever is necessary to inform the public of matters crucial to the survival of its community.

It's a lesson that Tony Perkins and J-schools across the country need to teach. And a lesson which local papers everywhere should take to heart. Stories are properly chosen by how much they could potentially mean to the betterment of your community. That does not mean reporting happy-making but insignificant fluff. It does mean fearlessly and accurately reporting on what is actually important--including that which makes for unhappiness and dissatisfaction--and making sure that the reader understands why what is reported is worth understanding. Good, powerful reporting flows from knowing why one writes and being fearless about pursuing that purpose.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Tidbits on Lafayette's Legal Travails

In addition to this mornings extensive coverage in the Advocate the latest legal shenanigans have also been noticed in BayouBuzz and the Advertiser shorts.

BayouBuzz has two shorts, (first, second) and appears to be following the story pretty closely from a regional perspective. (It had a more extensive story on Christmas.)

The Advertiser has a short report today on the legal battle in "Today's Briefing." The Advertiser says we may have to wait till January the tenth to find out whether BellSouth has lost or won its appeal.

"Court hears LUS appeal"

We've got intelligent, educational reporting from Kevin Blanchard over at the Advocate. The piece reports on the BellSouth/LUS case being argued before the 3rd Circuit Court in Lake Charles and does it well. No doubt it is the old teacher in me but this is what reporting about difficult and important topics should be--smart, careful, and explanatory.

If you care about Lafayette being allowed to build the system it voted for in the way the city-parish council that oversees LUS desires, the way that the author of the law restricting it apparently believes is proper, the way the PSC has argued is already settled, and the way the trial courts emphatically believed was appropriate you'll have good reason to read this story carefully. The arguments are carefully explained and it appears that the court, or at least one judge, engaged the city in sharp questioning.

Be aware, as you read, that the real issue here is the ability of BellSouth to raise the cost of cable, phone, and internet that the people of Lafayette will have to pay to receive these services from LUS. The sole purpose of opposing the judgment of all the other parties involved is to make the interest rates on the loans as high as possible in order to raise the ultimate costs to consumer. The cost of the bonds is the single largest line item cost of the project and the only cost that is rising rather than falling as the months of delay roll by. If successful, this tactic will keep BellSouth's profits as high as possible and preserve, as much as is possible, BellSouth's market share.

It is profoundly and intentionally anti-competitive.

Ottinger, in the Advocate story, remarks:
The Legislature intended for Lafayette to be allowed to engage in "any other lawful business practice" that private competitors can -- and the payback mechanism LUS plans to use is a normal business practice, Ottinger said.
Ottinger is right. No private company would be forced into default when other, more established, parts of the business had plenty of money. It would ruin the businesses credit rating for no rational purpose. Why is there even a question? Why is there any argument that LUS not be allowed to do what BellSouth can do without challenge? Because of BellSouth's law..the "Local Government Fair Competition Act." It is not about "Fair Competition;" it is anti-competitive and anti-consumer to its core. It must be repealed.

Write or call your legislators and argue for repeal--argue that LUS should be able to do anything BellSouth can legally do...Lafayette Coming Together is willing to help you out in the letter writing and calling. Jump to their "Repeal" web page.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Verizon Story Explains Why Muni-Broadband Bans Need to Go

The New York Times ran a story in Wednesday's paper that explains why communities must be allowed to provide their own telecommunications infrastructure and deliver their own services.

The story focuses on the performance of Verizon's stock but, in so doing, looks at the hard financial choices Verizon is going to have to make in coming months. It's all about resource allocation. In this particular case, Verizon may have to curtail their fiber optic network build out in order to afford buying out their partner in Verizon Wireless.

While the focus is on the choices the company faces, the fact is that viewing the choices solely from the corporate perspective hides the true economic implications of those choices, particularly in communities where Verizon operates.

If Verizon does have to scale back its fiber rollout, that will have direct economic impact on the communities that will suddenly find themselves off the fiber path. But, nowhere in the article (and, probably, nowhere in Verizon's own discussions of the company's options) is the impact of these decisions on communities mentioned.

The facts are that no company or combination of companies has the financial resources to deploy fiber to every home and business in every community. Verizon can't do it in its own service area. Neither can AT&T (formerly SBC), nor can BellSouth, Qwest or any of the cable companies.

It is in light of these facts that restrictions on the ability of communities (cities, parishes/counties) to provide their own infrastructure and even deliver services to their own citizens must be viewed.

The clear impact of these municipal bans (or, in the case of Louisiana, sizeable hurdles masquerading as protections for 'free enterprise') is to relegate communities to the far side of the digital divide until further notice.

Think about it.

BellSouth is deploying fiber in the New Orleans area now only because flood waters from Katrina destroyed their copper wire infrastructure there. Lafayette has moved to deploy its own fiber optics network. But, what about Baton Rouge? What about Lake Charles? What about Alexandria? Shreveport? Monroe? Houma?

They are supposed to wait how long? Until some catastrophe hits there? Or, until a certain very warm place freezes over?

The odds are that AT&T will buy BellSouth within the next two years. While that will make it a much bigger company, it will also saddle it with a lot more debt which will, in turn, further restrict the company's ability to upgrade its infrastructure. The proof of this? Look no further than Verizon and the choices it faces now.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world is getting fibered up. What will that do to the economic prospects the aforementioned Louisiana cities and with them our state?

The economic fate of communities is too important to be determined by the narrow financial judgments of corporations whose focus on shareholder value leave no room for the interests of communities into the essential economic infrastructure deployment decision making process. Yet, this is precisely what is happening in those states where municipalities have been prohibited or restricted from entering the telecommunications infrastructure and services business.

These muni-broadband bans transfer sovereignty out of the community and into corporate board rooms where make communities are valued solely as revenue streams.

That the interests of the community don't make it into the corporate equation is bad enough; add to that the fact that the telephone and cable companies couldn't afford to deploy the fiber even if they genuinely cared about the communities only compounds the injury of these prohibitions on communities.

Be it resolved that in 2006 that we should all work to remove these municipal prohibitions from the books where ever we live. We're going to work to do that in Louisiana by working to repeal the so-called Municipal Fair Competition Act of 2004. This bad law works against the economic interests of our communities and our state.

PSC defends LUS

The Advocate carries the story of the PSC rising to the defense of its rules by filing a friend of the court brief in BellSouth's appeal that will be heard today in Lake Charles. The introduction lays out the issue:
BellSouth should not be allowed to use its appeal of the bond ordinance used by Lafayette Utilities System to fund a new communications business as a 'collateral attack' on the rules passed in October by the state Public Service Commission, the PSC's attorneys said in a brief.

The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal in Lake Charles is scheduled to hear arguments today on a BellSouth appeal of a lawsuit, dismissed by a state district judge, that sought to invalidate LUS' plans to borrow up to $125 million to get into the telecommunications business.

The PSC filed a friend of the court brief in support of LUS and in defense of the rules commissioners passed twice in October.
I speculated earlier on the possible consequences of this move by the PSC in political rather than legal realms. Legally, the PSC is defending the issue that is at the heart of BellSouth's suit. If the court takes the PSC's position to heart and refuses to deal with issues which might effect the unchallenged rules then much of the substance of the BellSouth lawsuit is gone. We'll know in about a week.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Christmas Carol Spinoff...

Bunnie Riedel, in her widely-read blog, notices and is inspired by Lafayette's Christmas Carols. She posts her own remake of a traditional favorite. I repeat the last three stanzas.
(To the tune of "Auld Lange Syne")

The cable rates go up and up
And the service it gets worse.
The Bells say that they’ll do better
If we remove the franchising curse.

But who will protect consumers
And the precious right of way?
The Bells say they’ll police themselves
And in Hell there’ll be a long cold day.

So as the New Year comes again
Get ready for the fight.
They got the grease, the money too
But it’s us who’s in the right.
Fun!! And while you are there take a look at the rest of her postings. The voice is pretty unique and very much to my taste, anyway.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Wow! "PSC sides with Lafayette against BellSouth"

The Louisiana Public Service Commission (PSC) has filed a friend of the court brief in support of LUS with the judicial panel that is to hear BellSouth's appeal this Thursday, reports an article in Telephony Online.

It is real news the PSC has lost patience with the incumbents. I'm happily shocked.

The basis for the Commission's annoyance is BellSouth's decision to use rather than respect the regulatory apparatus of the state. BellSouth's arrogance is costing it its reputation in places where it can ill afford to be seen as acting in bad faith. Here 's the way the PSC sees it:
"The Commission has a direct interest and duty to preserve and defend its Order, which is binding law," the brief states. Noting that BellSouth fully participated in the PSC's rulemaking process, the brief said that the "legal delays for any appeal of the commission's order have passed..." "The Commission's General Order dated 10/4/05 and 10/28/05 incorporating the Commission's decision were not appealed and are no longer appealable," the PSC states. "This court should reject any arguments that have the affect of collaterally attacking the rules."
The PSC seems to understand that BellSouth, having not gotten what it wanted from the PSC, has decided that it will overturn the Commission's decision by trying to hoodwink the courts. The PSC, in its friend of the court brief, objects to this end-run.

Bad Faith

The PSC is effectively accusing BellSouth of "Bad Faith."

This is getting to be a refrain. Recall that this is what the City of Lafayette accused BellSouth of repeatedly during the referendum campaign. Most immediately, Bad Faith is what the City and LUS say BellSouth is doing by even pursuing the set of lawsuits we've seen. BellSouth made a deal in the legislature, a "compromise" which Lafayette feels took away local rights without asking the incumbents to give up anything in return except their hope of simply outlawing municipal competition. Instead of standing by that, BellSouth and Cox came back with the Broome bill in the very next regular legislative session, a bill which tried (and failed) to destroy the project. Bad Faith. Local governments "compromised" again, and a costly referendum was imposed on all municipalities which would follow Lafayette. BellSouth and Cox took many of the points they'd lost on in the legislature to the PSC and claimed interpretations that would have inverted the meaning of the law. The clearly stated intent of the legislation was to allow LUS to "pledge" its full assets specifically in order to obtain the lowest bond rates but the incumbent's interpretations would have driven the rates sky-high by essentially forcing bankruptcy on LUS' telecom division before it could use the full resources of its company. The PSC, with some exasperation, disagreed with the incumbents' interpretation. Again, this whole line of attack showed Bad Faith. BellSouth well knew what it had agreed to in the legislative compromise sessions. But honoring your committments only matters if you are negotiating in good faith. Now the PSC, having watched BellSouth operate in its own offices, thinks they understand the latest ploy. And they are warning the Court that they think BellSouth is operating in Bad Faith --and that they intend to defend their regulations as settled and already having the full force of law.

Now, readers may recall that while the PSC may assume the appeals are over, I have my own questions about whether BellSouth will appeal the PSC ruling by using legal loopholes designed to aid those whose courthouses were destroyed by Katrina and Rita or whose clients or lawyers had evacuated. I'm still waiting til January 4th when that deadline hits. But by backing LUS in this way, the PSC is unmistakably taking a shot across the bow of BellSouth. The PSC is serving notice that it considers the matter closed and does not think BellSouth deserving of a hurricane extension. And it is willing to not only go to court over it but also to intervene in any ongoing court battle that BellSouth might want to bring against LUS that bears on its rules. Now if there was nothing else involved, BellSouth might not give a fig what the PSC wants--a legal fight about the hurricane extension is, after all, just another opportunity for a delay. But BellSouth has lots of other irons in the fire with the PSC . . . most certainly a raft of exceptions and rate increases it will desire as a result of Katrina and Rita. They have got to be concerned that a company which is seen by the PSC as acting in bad faith won't be seen as trustworthy.

Somewhere tonight a team of telecom legal eagles and unhappy telecom execs is trying to decide whether the tactic of obstructionism is beginning to get too expensive. Bullying New Orleans turned into a disaster. The last two times they went to the legislature they came away with less than they wanted, and an open repeal movement challenging the gains they did make is finding some traction in both Lafayette and New Orleans. The PSC seems to be angry enough to step out and tell the courts they think BellSouth is acting in bad faith. The courts dismissed their cases, lecturing them on the law. Even the legislator who "authored" the original law on which all this uproar is based wishes those lawsuits hadn't been filed, since he thought the issues raised had been settled.

The lawyers and the executives have to decide if this road is getting too dangerous. Between the debacle in New Orleans and the PSC's belligerent attitude. I'd no longer be willing to take bets about how that decision will fall.

BayouBuzz picks up on LCT carols and muni-broadband fight

Steve Sabludowsky's BayouBuzz.com carries a story today about Lafayette Coming Together's use of altered Christmas carols as a tool for zeroing in on the obstructionist tactics being employed by BellSouth to delay the deployment of the LUS fiber system.

After commenting on the carols, Steve makes some observations that highlight the nature of the fight between municipalities like Lafayette and New Orleans are having with incumbent providers.
Telecoms have claimed that for the municipalities to get into the telecommunications business, it would be unfair competition and costly to the companies and against the system of free enterprise. Lafayette is not the only Louisiana city to compete with the telecommunication companies. Recently, New Orleans has unveiled its free wireless Internet to the city starting first with the Central Business District, French Quarter and downtown warehouse districts.

After New Orleans made the announcement of the free wireless Internet, the city alleged that BellSouth threatened to revoke an agreement by BellSouth to provide a building that the city would use for its emergency needs. BellSouth has denied that threat and those version of the facts.
The issue is not only about bandwidth. It also involves community sovereignty. That is, do communities have the right to provide the infrastructure and services needed to provide for the development of their community at large and their economy? Historically, communities have had that freedom. The incumbent telecommunication companies have been actively working to deny communities that option through the FCC, through the Congress, through state legislatures and through the courts.

Steve also includes a link to an earlier story on the New Orleans Wi-Fi controversy with BellSouth that includes some great quotes from New Orleans' Chief Technology Officer Greg Meffert on the role the city sees their Wi-Fi network playing in the Crescent City's recovery.

In that piece, Steve makes another on-the-money comment:
BellSouth can be a partner in this rebuild and if it is saddened by the City’s free Internet by threatening to renege on an offer of substantial importance to the city, then it should state its position as clearly and as transparently so all of us know exactly where the company stands on this issue.
Of course, BellSouth could do that, but that would imply that the company has some interest other than its own at heart. It doesn't. It won't.

As folks in Lafayette have known; as folks in Alexandria have known; as folks in Houma have known; and as folks in Lake Charles and New Orleans are now learning, BellSouth serves only its own interests. When the interests of the company and the interests of the community diverge, BellSouth must choose to act in their own interests.

Fine. I have no problem with that. What I do have a problem with is when BellSouth actively works to prevent communities from acting in their own interests — as the company continues to do in the case of Lafayette and New Orleans.

This obstinate obstructionism to communities acting in their own interests would seem to contradict what the company claims to be their corporate values. Among them are:
Our Customers: We are driven by the needs of our customers. We understand our customers' needs and deliver innovative products and services to meet those needs.
• • •
Our Communities: Everywhere we do business we strive to make our communities a better place to live, work and grow.
• • •
Integrity: Every action we take reflects the highest ethical standards. We interact with our customers, our employees and our shareholders with honesty and integrity.
BellSouth's actions in Lafayette and in New Orleans fly in the face of those declared corporate values. Either the statement of values is a sham or BellSouth Louisiana is operating in bad faith.

I've been working on information technology issues in Louisiana since 1997. I've had the opportunity to observe BellSouth work to stifle competition in this state throughout that time. First, they worked relentlessly to eliminate competition from the competitive local exchange carriers. Then, they worked to drive independent Internet service providers (ISPs) off of their networks. They have a captive customer in the state of Lousiana, which is (depending on the source) either the largest or second largest customer (roughly $60 million in taxpayer dollars annually!) BellSouth has in its nine-state service area.

When Bill Oliver was a member of the Louisiana Board of Regents for Higher Education, the company tried to capture the Louisiana Optical Network Initiative (LONI) Project, the scientific research network the Board of Regents is creating, in part, out of the fiber network assets the state has obtained along interstate highway rights of way. Let none call that using a public position for private gain!

At every step along the way, BellSouth has fought change, fought innovation, fought to preserve its dominance. That might be good for its stockholders, but it's been bad for Louisiana. Their tactics in Lafayette have been bad for this city. Their tactics in New Orleans are, again, running counter to the interests of that city.

The last bastion of the company's hold on Louisiana is the Legislature where legislators know a hell of a lot more about getting re-elected than they do about the role of technology in economic development.

Katrina and Rita shattered the status quo in Louisiana. I believe the impact of those storms was so powerful that they even shattered the bubble that has protected BellSouth in Baton Rouge. That's why John and I and the folks at Lafayette Coming Together have decided to join with LUS in working to repeal the so-called Municipal Fair Competition Act that BellSouth has used as a tool to block progress on the LUS fiber project.

LUS negotiated that law with BellSouth believing they were dealing with an honorable opponent that would abide by the outcome of the negotiations. They were not. It's time, then, to dismantle the legal structure that was built on that false premise of good faith bargaining. It's time for New Orleans, Lafayette and other communities to stand up and say to BellSouth, "Enough is Enough!"

"LUS Fans Take Seasonal Swipe at BellSouth"

The Advocate had a good story on Lafayette Coming Together's satirical Christmas Carols from the North Pole Saturday. The Advocate occasionally misses posting one of the Acadiana Bureau's articles to the web; an email usually brings it online. So far not this time--Christmas eve might have found the staff elsewhere when the request came in. Fear not inquisitive reader, with the help of a friend with a functioning scanner I've got a PDF file of the image for you to read.

The article gives some background on the organization's genesis in the referendum fight and gives the reader a good sense of what the carols say and why LCT is pushing for repeal of the Local Government Fair Competition Act.

Lyrics from the article:
The election results were frightful
But our plan is so delightful
We'll do what we always do,
We will Sue! We will Sue! We will Sue!

We have no intent of stopping
And the lies we tell are whopping
And congressmen we will woo,
We will Sue! We will Sue! We will Sue!
The carols, and Mike Stagg in the article, point out that earlier claims that BellSouth was willing to abide by compromises it made or merely wanted a vote were simply untrue:
"They demanded the vote; they got the vote; they lost the vote" Stagg said. "Bellsouth has proven consistently that they have operated in bad faith."
Gobb Williams, of citizens for Common Sense, also got his licks in; he said, reported the paper that:
...the people of Lafayette spoke when they voted and their voices should be heard.

"The citizens of this community were trying to do this in a democratic way he said.."
An interesting story, told with spirit. It seems odd that one of the articles in the paper most likely to be interesting to local users of the internet didn't make it online.

Durel, BellSouth lawsuits, Repeal, and New Orleans

Blanchard over at the Advocate lays out Mayor Durel's thoughts on a wide range of topics from the possibility of new taxes to the ULL horse farm conflict. It is a thoughtful background story that is a oddly absent much context. Was this part of an address Durel made or an interview with the reporter or some combination? Regardless the story is intriguing and a nice change of pace from purely event-driven reportage. The aspect that interests us here, though is what is labeled in the story as the "telecommunications front." That segment is short enough and rich enough to cite in full:
On the telecommunications front, a hearing is scheduled for Thursday for the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal to decide whether or not to grant the appeal of a unsuccessful BellSouth lawsuit seeking to block funding of LUS' fiber-optics based plan to provide cable, phone and high-speed Internet service.

Durel said he's hopeful the appeal will be denied, the plaintiffs will decide not to appeal to the Louisiana Supreme Court and LUS can begin the actual work of building the network.

Last month, New Orleans began offering free, city-wide wireless Internet service to try to jumpstart communications.

When the state of emergency order is lifted, New Orleans' plan might technically be against a state law passed last year that governs municipalities entry into the telecommunications business.

Durel said that's all the more reason that law should be repealed.

Lafayette's technology people have been talking with their New Orleans' counterparts since before the storm -- almost daily, Durel said.

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin visited Lafayette and Durel early this year and spoke about municipal telecommunications networks.

While no plans are finalized, the two cities continue to talk about a 'potential partnership' between the two cities using LUS' fiber backbone, Durel said.
That short extract covers a lot of ground. We all know about the endless lawsuits and the way the city feels about that but these are the first public remarks I've heard reported where Durel joins Terry Huval in calling for repeal of the "Local Government Fair Competition Act" of '94. It's the obvious response to the way the law has been misused so its good to know our officials are on the same page about it. I'll be very surprised if BellSouth backs off its appeals and lets Lafayette sell its bonds; so, combined with outrage that New Orleans is being prevented from making its free wifi network a feature of the long-range New Orleans redevelopment plan, I expect a battle will be in the offing down the line in the March regular session. Lobbyists are powerful, yes, but chiefly in areas where the people don't have a real opinion. Events are educating the people of Louisiana about just how much the telecom companies need the "help" of such a law--and how they will misuse the power it gives them to block the legitimate plans of communities to help themselves.

If my recollection is correct the first place where the New Orleans-Lafayette telecom connection was made was in one of Blanchard's think pieces in the advocate where he speculated about the possibility of a cooperative arrangement. Durel had hinted at such from time to time before the storms but with New Orleans' telecom infrastructure a shambles and its utility companies straining to restore old levels of connectivity it is surely a more pressing issue. The exact form that the cooperation would take is an interesting question. Lafayette will be buying "big iron" in the form of central office equipment for the phone, video, and data services it will offer. It will also need a nice big pipe onto the internet backbone. A cooperative agreement with New Orleans to provide services to the Big Easy would not only make good financial sense but would also make excellent political sense. To survive what promises to be an endless assault by the unrepentant incumbents in the state legislature what is needed is a solid, dependable, and self-interested voting block. For that to form up Lafayette must spread its good fortune around. A cooperative agreement with New Orleans would be an major coup in such a campaign.

Interesting Times...

Saturday, December 24, 2005

"Lafayette's Christmas Carol Retort to BellSouth"

Broadband reports does one of its short pieces on the hubbub over the Christmas Carols recently released from the "North Pole" the story, titled: "Lafayette's Christmas Carol Retort to BellSouth - Locals have fun with BellSouth & Cox lawsuits" gives links to the songs and chooses a favorite.

What's always intriguing about the Broadband Reports shorts are the replies. This was no exception. Folks across the country clearly empathized with our plight here in Lafayette. After all, they have their own incumbents to deal with. But, for me at least, the most fun was in the brief discussion of which song was the favorite. A crowd pleaser there seemed to be Jingle Bells, with the lyrics:
'Copper's great, Copper's great, Copper's here to stay!
Fiber is to good for you, it's Dial-Up all the way!'
For my part, I like Silver Bells with the refrain "We don't, we don't care" --the contrast between the sweetness of the delivery and the sentiments expressed really get me.

What's your favorite?

Friday, December 23, 2005

"Pro-fiber group gets creative with song"

The Advertiser has a good story on the recent release of a series of satirically reworded Christmas carols by Lafayette Coming Together.

The story hits the highlights:
The group is circulating "fiber carols," in which they wrote new lyrics to old holiday tunes, poking fun at BellSouth for its continued legal challenges to the proposed Lafayette Utilities System's fiber-to-the-home project.
It points, as well, toward the ultimate goal of the new project: Repeal of the "Local Fair Competition Act."
Despite the vote, BellSouth pushed the Public Service Commission for rules that limit LUS' project and filed a lawsuit, which they lost, challenging the bond ordinance to pay for the project. An appeals court in Lake Charles is hearing BellSouth's appeal next week.

A member of the Louisiana Broadband Advisory Council, Huval recently spearheaded an effort to ask the state Legislature to repeal the Local Government Fair Competition Act, which was ironed out between LUS, BellSouth and others to prevent municipalities from having an unfair advantage in telecom matters over private companies. The broadband council deferred action, Huval said.
Lafayette Coming Together is urging citizens on an "Action Page" to contact their state senators and representatives to ask for its repeal.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

BellSouth Lawyers Concientious or Contentious ?

Happily, the Advocate this morning posted a story that keeps us abreast of the evolving tale of BellSouth's legal attempts to keep Lafayette from building its fiber-optic telecommunications utility.

It's upbeat; Lafayette is still winning. This time by default. The two take-home messages seem to be that 1) BellSouth did not, after all, file an appeal of the PSC regulatory ruling as they had promised, and 2) that the city is going to argue, on December 29th, that among other things, BellSouth filed late before the court trial and so should never had been heard them and should be dismissed now.

So, in both cases, Lafayette wins by default.

I wish I was as confident as the city seems to be. The good news from the story:
Louisiana Public Service Commission rules that would govern Lafayette Utilities Systems' telecommunications project were not challenged in court by the deadline, meaning one more hurdle has been passed for the project to move forward, LUS Director Terry Huval said.
And, about the two lawsuits (now joined) that are coming up for review:

Anyone who disagreed with the proposition should have filed suit within 60 days of the election, Lafayette argues in its briefs to the 3rd Circuit.

Instead, BellSouth waited to file suit against the bond ordinance.

State law says that should no suit be brought within 60 days of an election, "the authority to incur or assume debt … or issue the bonds, the legality thereof … shall be conclusively presumed to be valid, and no court shall have authority to inquire into such matters."

It does sound good, and I'd like to believe our troubles are almost over. But. Maybe it's once burned twice shy but I can't help but notice that BellSouth has filed late before and gotten away with it. That's the only reason we now have that argument to use during the appeal.

If you look back over the history of court deadlines and filings one thing that jumps out is that at every turn BellSouth has filed as late as the law could possibly allow and, often, just a little bit later. The no doubt intended result is to stretch the process out for as long as is humanly possible. So you have to ask is there any way that BellSouth could be trying to manipulate the system to buy more time?

Unhappily, I've asked around and it turns out that there is. Remember the evil sisters Katrina and Rita? Well with the courts in New Orleans and Lake Charles out of commission and with clients and their lawyers scattered to the four corners of the country something needed to be done. The Governor issued an executive order (well three, actually) and the legislature followed up with a law that "suspended" legal deadlines. There are serious questions as to whether these were truly legal, and more questions about whether the legislature broke new, questionable ground in going beyond "suspense" and into "extension." The Supreme Court stepped in to note that, in any case, they intend to try to honor the intent of the Governor and the Lege. The consequence of all this, legal eagles mutter quietly, is that responsible lawyers are queasy about relying on the suspension for any case that matters to their clients (that is to say for any case). However, since the suspension is manifestly justified in many individual instances, especially where the court is in a hard-hit area, lawyers really do not want to challenge the suspension...it does too much good and the state Supreme Court has indicated that it understands all this.

Now both those motivations, for avoiding using the extension, and at the same time for not challenging it, the alert reader will note, apply to concientious, not contentious lawyers. Lawyers who are motivated simply to stretch out time and expensively tie up the other side might not be so ready to help out by avoiding the mess altogether.

Contentious lawyers might view this as an opportunity to work the system yet again. Even though both Lafayette and Atlanta are nowhere near venues that were knocked out by the sisters--the courts in Lafayette and the lawyers in Atlanta and Lafayette scarcely missed a beat--they might still argue that they should be allowed to wait until January the third. I think our BellSouth law department is contentious rather than concientious and so expect to hear from them on the third (or maybe the fourth). Their history so far is to wait to the last minute, to try run out the clock, and I don't expect that to change.

I could be wrong; if I am it will be an indication that BellSouth has decided to start playing fair--and that would be good news indeed. I'll have to wait till January the fourth, though, to find out for sure.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

BellSouth in New Orleans

A reader points to the latest from the phone company that opposes New Orleans using its own wireless network to give minimal communications connectivity to its own citizens. (You recall that, right?)

The Times-Picayune reviews the state of utility repair in the city and after a review of Entergy's response -- who, incidentally, is hindered by being in bankruptcy -- and concludes that while significant outages still remain Entergy is jury-rigging temporary fixes in an apparent all-out effort to make it possible for people to come home. Electricity is available to about 88% of the population.

On the other hand, BellSouth is taking a different approach:
Phone service

BellSouth has taken a different approach.

About 59 percent of BellSouth's customers in New Orleans have service, according to a mid-November company report. But rather than restoring services through temporary telephone line repairs, the company is leaving many of its customers without a dial tone while workers make a major upgrade to the company's local network by replacing flooded underground copper wires with fiber-optic cables. The new lines, which use light beams to send calls, computer data and other communications signals, will boost the speed and capacity of the network, and likely improve BellSouth's competitive position in the New Orleans telecommunications market.
Now I would be the last to say that this is not ultimately a good thing. For New Orleans and for BellSouth. We ALL need as much fiber as we can get. But its impossible not to notice the difference in the ethos, and ethics, of the two companies. One acts like a utility with public responsibilities; one does not. One, though bankrupt, is working hard get service back on line in hopes that the population of New Orleans will have something to return to--even thought that's not most cost-efficient for its strapped company. The other has made a cold calculation that in the conflict between what the public needs and what might be most efficient for its ultimate competitive position it needs fiber...and the people of New Orleans can wait.

Utility companies really ought to act like utilities. An exclusive lock on an essential service makes them public utilities regardless of their ownership structure. For many and especially for the stalled business sector a reliable phone is essential to reopening. A story a while back made the point that New Orleans might need to municipalize Entergy to make it financially viable (and to make rates in New Orleans halfway sane). I'm a fan of public ownership of public utilities as regular readers will know. And how I believe they will be motivated to act in a crunch is a big part of the judgment on my part.


Lagniappe
Ok I really can't resist: Is anybody besides me offended by the utter hypocrisy of BS using FIBER and the long-term value of fiber as an excuse for its slow restoration of service in N.O. after its wild claims that fiber was a "risky" technology in Lafayette? Does anyone ever notice these things? Where's the press when such contradictions arise? A question or two of the spokesperson please. A phone call to Bill Oliver, how about. Is the press leaving such things to bloggers? I hope not. The future of cities are at stake. This is not a "business piece" people.)

You Got to Fight for the Right to Redline (and ruin the Internet)!

OK, they are all out in the open now. The National Journal reports that BellSouth, AT&T and Verizon, fighting for the right to create walled garden variety networks and pass them off as 'the Internet'. Thus far, the cable companies are content to stand back and let the phone companies do the heavy lifting and take the hits.

All of this is part of a big push by network owners to claim the Internet as theirs. They apparently believe in Lenin's notion that freedom of the press belongs to those that own the presses, substituting networks for the presses.

If you pay close attention to the phone companies, in particular, they want to be able to jump into an entirely new area of business practice: redlining. That is, they want the legal authority to discriminate in the deployment of their shiny new networks. That is, they want to deploy those new networks only in those neighborhoods and communities where they can't get the highest rate of return on their investments. That is, they want to be able to make second class network citizens of those who don't have the ability to pay their exorbitant fees.

That is, they want the legal authority to perpetuate the digital divide. Not surprisingly, the Republican-controlled U.S. House, Senate and FCC appear inclined to grant them their wish.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Christmas Humor

Lafayette Coming Together announced a new campaign today aimed at getting the incumbents but especially BellSouth to leave us alone and let us go about our buiness. The idea is to turn a little bit of the at frustration and anger over BellSouth's continued attempts to block what the people of Lafayette have decided to do into humor. And the humor into letters to BellSouth and our legislators asking them to give us a break.

The first round of the campaingn is a series of virtual "Christmas Cards" ostensibly from BellSouth. They songs are hilarious and depict BellSouth saying what it means. You can imagine. But why imagine? Sing along:
(To the Tune of Dashing through the snow)

Pushing through the polls,
in a most disgusting way,
through the voter rolls,
saying what we may.
Spreading fear and lies,
is what we're all about,
hoping you're not smart or wise
enough to know our shout:
Fear and Dread! Fear and Dread!
Doomsday will be here!
If you vote for fiber then,
your city we will smear.
And it gets better after that.

Inspiring, No?
A Poet? Send in your lyrics! Or post 'em in the comments. (I'm looking for some from our point of view!)

Christmas not your thing? Surely someone can do something good with the tune from Jolie Blonde or Greensleaves or something truly whacky.

They'll be posted to Kris Kingle's site as they are released. And you can get some background on the campaign at the LCT site.

Collect all seven canille little films.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

"BellSouth, city spar over fiber appeal"

The Advertiser today carries a story on the city's appeal that the Advocate had yesterday; I commented on the basic tale then but Advertiser has some significant new information:

BellSouth's shenanigans are costing you money. And you can begin to estimate the cost:
LUS has spent more than $125,000 on legal fees since the July 16 election defending the fiber project in court and before the Public Service Commission, said LUS Director Terry Huval. Some invoices also are outstanding, so the legal cost will be even higher, he said.
125,000 dollars and counting.

Ok...

Friday, December 16, 2005

Spring Time in New Orleans for Dial Tone!

No, this isn't a post-Katrina version of the Mel Brooks movie/play/movie.

It is the actual time frame that beloved BellSouth is telling customers that it will be before they get dial tone again!

My brother who works in New Orleans told me last week that the agencies in his Canal Street office building have been told it would be March before they got phone service restored there.

The Times-Picayune reports they should consider themselves lucky!

"Merry Christmas, Employees" From BellSouth

From Lightreading, without further comment:
"Timing is everything, the saying goes. So what better time of year -- the run-up to the holiday season -- for BellSouth Corp. to tell 1,500 people they'll be out of a job in about 20 weeks' time. (See BellSouth Cuts 1,500 .)

OK, so there's never a good time to impart that sort of news, but still…"
Mike noticed this phenomena earlier.

"BellSouth case 'hypertechnical'"--Repeal!

The city of Lafayette filed its answer to BellSouth's appeal yesterday and Blanchard at the Advocate has done his usual commendable job of making the arcane aspects of the fiber issue at least accessible if not actually easy to understand. (He's laboring under the difficulty of explaining a case that even lawyers characterize as "hypertechnical.")

I've looked at the city's documents and they ARE very technical. The reporter does a great job of stating the basic points:
In July, Lafayette voters approved by a 62 to 38 percent margin a bond proposition authorizing LUS to issue the bonds

BellSouth has argued that the bond ordinance does not comply with state law passed last year to protect private companies from unfair competition from government: the so-called Local Government Fair Competition Act. District Judge Durwood Conque disagreed with BellSouth's argument, saying LUS had complied with state law as intended by the Legislature.
Various technical and even hypertechnical details are well-covered in the story and the filings contain even more. (I got to look up some Latin...it's been a long while since I had to do that.)

But what came through in reading the documents for me was the increasing level of frustration of the city attorneys. It's clear to me, reading between the lines, that they believe that BellSouth is trying to push each and every point just a little beyond the acceptable line. Many of the "technical" points deal with BellSouth's trying to shift deadlines, introduce new lines of argument illegitimately, and express its pique with the courts' actually following the law as written and intended instead of allowing BellSouth to reinterpret every line in the way that most benefits its profit margin. There is an unmistakably rancid stench rising from those crisp Xeroxed pages. The whole things stinks. BellSouth lost. Enough is enough; let us get about our business.

This all comes in the wake of an expanded sense of frustration among the people of Lafayette, and now, New Orleans, with the consequences of BellSouth's continued determination to prevent Louisiana cities from doing what they think best for their communities. Lafayette voted and this sort of legal obstructionism turns the courts, much against their will, into an instrument for frustrating the expressed desire of the people.

It isn't really the courts, however; if anything, the root problem lies in a mistake made by our legislature. That mistake was twofold. First, the legislature passed a law so technically flawed and fundamentally misconceived that it made itself an instrument of the incumbents' ill will. (Harsh? What would you call a law that acted to impose state limits on a single local government on behalf of well-heeled out-of-state corporations? One which desired to accomplish ends so contrary to established practice and the state constitution that it had to draft the legislative auditor (the legislative auditor!) to impose video regulations on the city of Lafayette that were constitutionally forbidden to the state's real regulatory body, the PSC? Regulations which NO other cable company has to concern itself with?) The second problem was that, implicitly, they trusted BellSouth. A law so convoluted and ground-breaking was enacted only after arduous line-by-line compromises by legislators and lawyers from both sides of the issue. BellSouth knows it isn't playing fair by pursuing litigation on the central question of a "pledge." It's not only the city that says so. Astonishingly, BellSouth's legislator, the "honorable" "Noble" Ellington. agrees with Lafayette. Ellington gutted a rural broadband bill to squeeze BellSouth's bill in after the filing deadline and put himself on the line by "authoring" a law written by corporate lawyers. Even he, even he, in a hearing of the Rural Broadband Council, admitted that he'd thought the matters over which BellSouth had been suing were dealt with in conferences and that he wished the lawsuits had not been filed. That's astonishing.

BellSouth has abused the legislature and the people of Louisiana. A misconceived law has been used to thwart the clearly expressed will of the people of Louisiana. While never intended to make life more difficult for New Orleans in its distress, it has had that effect. And BellSouth has shown no sign that it will step aside for larger interests; it has in fact made it clear that it will use its economic power against the city to achieve its narrow ends.

The Municipal Fair Competition Act should be repealed. It was badly conceived, has had absurd unintended consequences in New Orleans, and has been used by BellSouth and Cox to abuse the regulatory and legal bodies of the state. If we must have a state law about what local governments do, then let the state follow the well-understood, long-tested, and clearly workable pattern established to govern cooperative and municipal electrical utilities. They work and they do not lend themselves to abuse by legions of corporate lobbyists and lawyers. There IS a decent alternative to the current foolishness. Folks have suggested writing the legislators; that would make a good New Year's resolution.

Sometimes we make mistakes. And the legislature ought to admit this is one. It ought to take this gift away from BellSouth.

WiFi, the Quintuple Play, and Lafayette: The Biggest Story Barely Told

As we approach year's end I tend to get a little reflective. All the news media are starting to churn out year-in-review pieces that highlight the biggest stories of the year.

Being fairly contrarian, I tend to want to do an anti-big story. What story that should have been a big story but never got played that way? For my money the biggest not-a-story story of the year was the continued insistence by everyone from the Mayor, to the CIO, to the director of LUS that they really, really intend to build a wireless network in Lafayette.

As I look back over the months of blog posts I see that at least as far back as mid-October last year you see hints that people understood how inexpensive a wifi network would be as an addition to fiber. By January Joey Durel was telling the Independent in no uncertain terms that wireless was on his wish list for the next 12-18 months. The idea continues to surface every couple of months as officials drop little hints. Not long ago Durel complained that we'd have had a wireless network a year ago if it hadn't been for the obstructionism of BellSouth and Cox.

But even with all the national heat over wireless networks and municipal wireless networks, we've not gotten very excited about it here. Part of that has to be our fiber-based blasé. Fiber is what generates excitement here. We're right about that: fiber is more important and more interesting. But, hey, we're from down here--we can get excited about CRAWFISH, for Pete's sake. You'd think we could get excited about fiber and wireless.

Granted, fiber is what a community needs to control its own future. Local control of the last mile and having a viable competitor to the national monopolies is the first order of business for any community that wants to guide its own destiny. Granted, fiber's bandwidth puts to shame the bandwidth of wireless and, granted, its rock-solid connection to your home will always be more reliable than wireless can hope to be.

But wireless does have its virtues...

It especially has its virtues inside a fiber-based information economy.

Now, the conventional wisdom is that wireless' biggest virtue is that it is "mobile," meaning that you can connect from anywhere and that you're never out of touch. True, but more reflective thinkers recognize (and Jon Fitzgerald has been pounding this for years) that it is also location-based. In order to negotiate a signal, wireless systems have to know roughly where you are . . . and that knowledge can be used to make available local information. With a properly configured system, every wifi client could be its own little GPS locater, with the attendant potential for helping you find the nearest po-boy effortlessly . . . and of having sushi ads pushed at you (every silver cloud has its dark lining).

I've written a couple of times about the potential a wireless addition to fiber would open in making possible a "quintuple" play--adding wireless data and cell phone capacities to the current plans for fiber-based cable, phone, and big broadband. Back then it seemed a way to leapfrog the competition. Less than a year later, with BellSouth rumbling about cable "sometime soon" and Cox having developed a partnership with Sprint/Nextel, it is clear that adding wireless to the fiber play will be the competitive way to stay ahead of the pack.

Most folks don't talk about the voice capacities of wifi networks because it is hard, very hard, to provide the nodes of a wireless mesh network with enough bandwidth to reliably serve voice to any sizeable number of users. Additionally, every "jump" between wireless nodes as packets are shuttled back to the backbone adds hesitations, "latency" to the mix and voice begins to stutter and pause very noticeably.

All of that brings us back to the idea that wireless is especially fantastic inside a fiber-based information economy. Most ways of provisioning a wireless network with bandwidth involve setting up some sort of radio/microwave hookup back to a big broadband backbone and then using that to parcel out bandwidth to wireless "access points" which then further subdivide the available bandwidth by meshing together and dividing the bandwidth again. The packets of information coming to you have to be routed through several step-downs in available bandwidth. For most communities it is a good way to go but, more pointedly, it is the ONLY way for the community to provide bandwidth for itself. Unfortunately the constraints on providers, municipal and private, mean that you just plain don't have the bandwidth for much beyond email and light browsing.

Lafayette isn't in that situation. There is no need to go back to some big backbone through wireless jumps. There will be a huge chunk of fiber-based backbone running right down your street.

That is where all the really exciting stuff comes in.

A fiber-based wireless network could conceivably have NO jumps back to the backbone. It could be hung right off the backbone itself. It would not have to share bandwidth but could run at the full rated speed of the wireless equipment. (Something you seldom see. No wifi network in Lafayette outside, possibly, of directly fiber funded ones at ULL or LITE sees anything like the 54 megs of bandwidth that is speced out on the side of the box. Cox and BellSouth can't give you that much bandwidth, so your can't, for most practical purposes us the equipment at nearly that speed. We had one for a little while at our setup in the dome following Katrina/Rita. It was sweet. I liked it.)

With big, low-latency, bandwidth coming wirelessly off a fiber network vast new ranges of possibility arise. The first and most obvious is voice...voice over Internet Protocol, (VOIP) is practical, even easy. Just download Skype and go to it. Internet protocols don't care what the packets are. If you get 'em fast enough you can easily use 'em for voice--without special network equipment. That's where wifi/wimax enabled cell phones become a possibility. Just add the VOIP chipset and the chipset/radio needed for the radio bandwidth and your new "tri-band" or "quad band" cell phone is good to go...and as long as you stay in the city you can bypass those expensive cellular guys but still be able to hook in to them when you leave town. Seamlessly.

But that's just the tip of the iceberg. Funding the Wireless VOIP (WVOIP) dream are two necessities: big bandwidth and those Internet Protocols. The bandwidth makes new things possible and IP makes it simple to implement. Use your phone to wirelessly suck info from your home computer if you need it. Download the music parked on your online backup to your IPod via a nifty IPod add--do it from Mello Joy downtown--or the park. Reprogram your DVR from your laptop during the lunch break. Don't just send your friends camera snaps...stream the video of your son's turns at bat back to the mom who had to stay at work. If all that wireless is hung directly from the LUS network huge new possibilities like these emerge. Our wireless network could be qualitatively different from any in the country--much, much more advanced.

There are plenty of benefits for the city of Lafayette of having this all hung off LUS fiber and run by LUS. A wireless play there would both increase the take rate--more people would buy their package o services from LUS--and it would meant that the average subscriber would pay a little more as well. That means a system that more easily and quickly pays off its bond debt. That's certainly in the interests of every citizen. But beyond that...that "little" more that the citizen would pay really would be or at least could "little." What LUS will have to burn is bandwidth. It will cost them little to provide the bandwidth in-system. (Doubt that? Think again. How does Cingular afford those free in-system plans?) Such a system could provide wireless to wireless voice or data links between subscribers for just a small increment of the total bill. The cost of adding a wireless element to the fiber network would be, I believe, no more than 5% of the total investment. What percentage of your combined phone, internet, cable, and cell is your cell bill? More than 5%? I thought so. As a business decision it should be dead-easy for LUS. And the citizens it serves.

Speaking of those citizens: They'll be some that worry about the political hassles that might result from the city taking such a visionary step. They shouldn't. That battle, friends, has been fought and won. On July 16th. The people have asked for a strong, municipally-owned telecom network and winning over the citizens was the hard and essential battle. Giving them a good deal on yet another service or two is not going to distress them in the least. The opposition to our building our own system is already doing everything it can to stop us...and is failing. I doubt that there is anything they could try that they haven't already tried. LUS is CLEC. It is already licensed to provide phone service. The coast is clear. There's nothing to stop LUS from taking the wireless step but the approval of the city. The people gave their approval this summer.

You can see why I might think this the biggest story barely told. Lafayette would not only be the largest city in the country with a state-of-the-art fiber optic-based telecom system serving out big bandwidth that most could only envy. It would be in a position to serve the whole community with 1) big broadband wireless that is 2) completely integrated into and makes full use of the fiber optic grid the city owns. The combo of ubiquitous fiber and universal, big broadband wireless would be unique. And truly difficult for anyone, city or corporation, to match. Lafayette would be able to legitimately lay claim to being the most technologically advanced city in the country--and, as far as I can tell, the world.

That would be worth doing. Don't you think?

Maybe it will be next year's USA Today cover story.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Your Big Bandwidth Future

Or:

Why you do SO need a 20 meg line into your home.


One of the more annoying aspects of the seemingly endless fight against the incumbent telecom providers has been the tiresome repetition of some version of "you don't need this." I've even heard it repeated by consultants who really should know better. (This version goes something like "What can anyone do with 20 megs?")

The short and easy response is that such noise is best ignored. Anyone who's been a telecom user for a while recalls that time when v90 dialup modems supplied more bandwidth than you needed for any html page on the web. (MP3? real motion? Flash? None of that existed; this was the age in which the blink tag was the foundation of fancy graphics) "What do you want with more than 56K?" was actually asked...especially if you (gasp) had to pay a special fee. People asked the same thing about why anyone would want a second telephone. Or a wireless handset. Or a mobile phone.

That sort of noise is best understood as the "Argument from Lack of Imagination." It's a bad habit we should have gotten over sometime around 1870 when the pace of technological innovation picked up. ("Cars, who needs cars, smelly, expensive and unable to reproduce!")

While history teaches us that such cavails are reliably unreliable we've hit a spot where the nature of the change in front of our generation is beginning to emerge from the fog...it's possible to at least point at the use for 20 megs.

The biggest picture answer is: EVERYTHING.

Right now you're hooked up to different, specialty "service" networks each hand-crafted for the particular narrow service it sells you. Phone, Cable, Cellular. All that is in the process of vanishing. It is being replaced by a cheap commodity: digitized information carriage. Specialty transport systems are inefficient and expensive by their nature. --If you needed different roads to transport clothing and food and neither could be used for anything but clothing or food your clothing costs would have to pay for the "clothing network." Only the fact that we have an uspecialized commodified transportation network which spreads the cost over many products and uses allows transportation of clothing to be a fraction of its cost rather than the dominant element. The expense of constructing such single-purpose supply systems in telecommunications is part of what makes each such system a natural monopoly--an economic fact which raises the costs still more.

Where single-purpose networks dominate it is hard to introduce new services since each new "product" would have build a new network to provide it. (This is the real reason we don't have universal video phones and video conferencing: since the old specialty phone system won't handle that service the phone companies would have had to build entirely new, even more expensive, specialty systems which would cannibalize their paid-off system.)

Currently the Internet service we get is tacked onto--in truly crippled ways--the old phone and cable systems. They weren't designed to offer internet service and they provide it poorly, in ways that radically limit capacity (which translates for the user into limited and unreliable speed). Even so, the internet service we have now is an instructive example of how destructive unspecialized networks can be. Designed to be unspecialized, designed for the unimpeded flow of information, built around a densely interconnected network with no central locus of control the internet conceptually resembles the interconnected mesh of our road system. Even running on networks that cripple its power it makes the flow of information a commodity not a specialty product. No bit costs more than any other bit. If you've got the bandwidth you can talk and video conference for no additional cost.

This is what the owners of specialty networks truly fear: a real internet network; one that commoditizes the flow of information and, inevitably out competes their lucrative, narrow monopolies.

A network on which EVERYTHING will run.

That's what the future holds. And Lafayette will be getting it early. The modern network, optimized for commodity information, for bits, is already in place in the backbone of all of today's networks. It's based on fiber, communication protocols that mostly don't care what the bits describe, and it is characterized by capacity to burn. The final refuge of the limited capacity, specialized network is in the run to your home. Replace that with big bandwidth fiber to match the backbone and the floodgates will open. Even with the limited bandwidth now available you can see both voice and video trying to squeeze itself into the crippled internet portion of the networks that enter your home. (VOIP in all flavors and every video you ever watched on the net are evidence of this.)

That "20 megs" will be carrying EVERYTHING, not just a slightly souped-up internet. Cable TV will die (die die), all voice will move to the internet and the owners of last mile fiber will surely leverage their excess bandwidth to provide a (quadruple play) WiFi/WiMax system that will vastly reduce the need for specialty cellular systems. You'll download your shows and drop cable--and if you think you watch to much TV when you don't like about half of what you actually watch consider how much you might watch if everything ever made was available, instantly, for a modest price. (We'll need to develop some self-discipline!) Talk as long as you like to anyone you like anywhere in the world. Talk, hell, videophone them. Better yet, video conference on the fly. (Trying to get all your siblings to tell you what the nieces and nephews want for Christmas (and what their parents think they should and shouldn't have)? Knit it together with a video conference, or just use it to settle on a date for the granpop's birthday.)

A couple of video conference streams plus an HDTV stream of Barney to distract the kids at your house while you play Santa could chew up considerably more than 20 megs. Its dead easy to think of scenarios where a 20 megs limit could be hit pretty easily. It doesn't take all that much imagination.

There is more, of course: the specialized nature of current networks means they don't interact very well and, as already noted, erect barriers to entry for new services. Modern networks won't have that problem it will be easy start new services and easy to link them. Open a window in your video conference for a froogle search, someone else could be simultaneously calling their "Toys Are Us" for local availability. Coming up with all the new services and interconnects will take imagination. But I am sure that some enterprising entrepreneurs will prove up to it.

The point is that we'll find it easy to chew up bandwidth. Most obviously through generous use of video but also by loading multiple, interacting streams of information. And since it will all be coming in through that one, modern, commodity pipe we'll be getting it cheap and fast. That old 56k modem seemed nifty at the time and so will 20 megs. For about the same length of time.

The fine print:
Sure, sure there is a caveat here, there always is...the commodity pipe that I describe is a text-book description of a natural monopoly. Expensive infrastructure (the "pipes") and cheap, commodity "product" (the digital "bits") make for a classic utility situation. Just as with the provision of water, providing a universal, expensive infrastructure to all to sell a cheap product means that there will be only one provider...a second provider who split the number of subscribers with the first provider would just force everyone to prices which would necessary to pay for two sets of inrfrastructure when one would do easily an yield no better service (water is water, bits, bits). In the end only the cheaper provider would remain. In the end there will be only one. A monopoly. This is not a welcome outcome. But monopoly is the only realistic possibility for a converged big pipe network. Given the stone-cold fact of the matter I'm glad Lafayette's last mile will be controlled locally and publicly. A utility or a coop is by far the best solution.

Really small print: I think a lot of good-hearted people are having a hard time facing the cold truth of an system evolving pretty inexorably toward monoply. For folks without a local public utility or coop this is going to end up badly (IMHO). Locals can insulate themselves, at least partially from what is coming by doing what Lafayette is doing--building their own utility to free the last mile from private monopolization. The real limits and the real monopoly is in the last mile...alternative backbones are already readily available. But for our nation as a whole the answer will have to be federal and aimed honestly at regulatory control or public ownership of what is clearly going to emerge as the 21st century's central monopoly utility. We did a mixed job with electricity in the 20th. We are doing a lousy job with communications networking right now. We won't do better until we buck up and find the courage to admit the situation we are in...and the need for a willingness to face hard truths applies, especially, to those who believe they are fighting for consumers and communities.

'Net Take Over Attempt Now Under Way

If one felt compelled to search for evidence that the phone and cable companies STILL don't get the Internet, that person would have to look no further than the ongoing attempts by the Regional Bell Operating Companies and cable companies to Lenin-ize the Internet.

One of Vladimir Lenin's more noted quotes was that "freedom of the press belongs to those who own the presses."

The phone and cable companies are trying to legislatively claim ownership to the Internet by seeking permission to allow them to sell prioritized access to websites. The deals would be between online entities and the networks, but it would fundamentally alter the Internet.

Jonathan Krim of the Washington Post explains how
in a column in that paper today. Here are three paragraphs that nicely sum up the power of the Internet as it has manifested itself thus far:
Compared with, say, the banking, utility or telephone systems, the Internet is indeed barely regulated. But what gave the Internet its disruptive power and exhilarating appeal was that it was barely owned .

Suddenly, the mom-and-pop store in Des Moines could advertise and sell to the world, without paying the freight of someone else's marketing apparatus. Intellectual and artistic works could be shared rapidly, at little or no cost. Games could be created and distributed without ever having to manufacture a physical item.

We may think of it as the information superhighway, but really the Net has been a gigantic bypass, circumventing barriers to entry and whole swaths of middlemen (think travel agents or, I'm sad to say, newspaper owners) who are now trying to figure out how to survive.
Krim provides the great service of linking the looming threats to the Internet to the fatally flawed policies developed and implemented by Michael Powell's FCC ('competition' between duopolies of closed networks owned by either phone or cable companies) and the general resistance of industries that feel threatened by the Internet's disruptive power:
But large stakeholders don't sit idle in the face of this kind of uncertainty and upheaval. For them (and many others), private ownership brings efficiency and entrepreneurship.

So, much of the lobbying and jockeying over the past several years have been efforts to restore order by assigning property-like rights to cyberspace wherever possible.

Thus, we've had the end of requirements that network owners lease their pipes to competitors that who want to provide Internet access. We've seen the lengthening of copyright terms, an explosion of patents, and moves by companies to block governments from adopting open-source software standards or from offering their own wireless Internet systems.
But even Krim is taken aback by the power grab of the network owners as perhaps most starkly articulated by William Smith, BellSouth's chief technology officer.
In Smith's view, network owners should be able to, for a fee, give one Web vendor's traffic priority over the traffic of a competitor.

In this world, if the travel site Orbitz pays the freight, it will work faster and better on your computer than Travelocity. And of course any service provided by the network carrier itself will go to the head of the line.
Raising barriers to entry is 180° opposite of what the Internet has been about. It is the Internet's ability to lower the barrier to market industry in so many fields that has made it the powerful economic engine that it has become. If it were not so, would the phone and cable companies be making such a brazen grab to capture it?

But, the thing to remember is this: phone and cable companies have not been responsible for a single innovation in the entire history of the Internet.

•• Packet switching, the basic idea of the Internet, was rejected by AT&T as threatening is business model.

•• The phone companies argued for inclusion of the concept of Reciprocal Compensation in the Telecommunications Act of 1996 because they were certain that, since they had all the customers, the competitive local exchange carriers (CLECs) would have to pay them the bulk of the dollars to complete calls. The Internet happened, CLECs hosted Internet Service Providers (ISPs), and much more call traffic went from the customers of the RBOCs to those ISPs served by CLECs. The RBOCs tried to stiff the CLECs on the bills and were able to withhold enough of the money until many CLECs were forced into bankruptcy. By that time, the RBOCs didn't mind making the payments, the CLECs had been driven from the field.

•• Phone and cable companies have been pushing for close to a decade to restrict access to their networks, for legislative and regulatory permission to drive independent Internet Service Providers (like Earthlink, Net Zero and others) from their networks, particularly their high-speed networks. They have succeeded.

Now, the push is on to be able to shape their customers web experiences based on fees paid by companies to the providers.

What has made the web powerful has been the ability of the end user to find their own way to the the sites and resources that have responded to their needs and wants. What the phone and cable companies are trying to do to the Internet itself is the same thing that Cox and BellSouth have tried to do in Lafayette: substitute their judgment for yours. Their respective judgments are shaped only by their financial interests and those interests are too narrow to include OUR interests.

Contact your senators and congressmen today and tell them to oppose the incumbent carriers attempts to take over the Internet. Demand that Network Neutrality be required of every carrier that wants to sell Internet service in this country.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

eWeek Columnist Links BellSouth's "jumping ugly" New Orleans and Lafayette Behaviors

eWeek columnist Chris Gonsalves calls more attention to the core questions about BellSouth's recent 'take back' snit in New Orleans and their on-going lawsuits against Lafayette.

Gonsalves nails the issue thusly:
But at the heart of the story, which, admittedly, is getting more traction in the blogosphere than it is in the mainstream press, lies a fundamental debate pitting business ethics and social responsibility against fair trade and capitalism.
He, like other writers, links the BellSouth snit to the ongoing legal war on Lafayette that BellSouth has launched in the wake of the LUS fiber win this past summer:
The loss of goodwill aside, jumping ugly with municipalities is not an unfamiliar tactic to telcos, including BellSouth itself. The carrier has been papering Lafayette, La., with lawsuits for the better part of a year trying to stop that city from rolling out its own broadband service.

The city has won most of its legal battles thus far, but the suits have kept the public utility commission in court rather than in the streets installing fiber. So, despite the backing of 70 percent of the voters and a $125 million bond issue for the project, BellSouth maintains its upper hand in Lafayette.
Gonsalves points out that BellSouth is not alone in this kind of behavior, that it has plenty of company in the telephone and cable industries.

Which raises the question: What is the role of shareholders and boards in response to the behavior of company management that runs counter to, say, stated company values or raises other questions involving corporate ethics?

Would one be incorrect to interpret the silence of BellSouth's directors or large shareholders regarding this behavior as approval of that behavior? Or, are they even aware of the wars these companies are waging against what communities have determined to be their own best interests?

Monday, December 12, 2005

Bell Companies Playing Emperor Slammed in Denver

Couldn't have said it any better. And I won't even try. These are the highlights of the text...get the full story at "Broadband access for all communities"

My highlights:
Qwest is telling us that it wants special new rules to allow it to provide competitive cable television service. But what the company is not telling us is that it doesn't want to serve most of our neighborhoods - not unless, of course, you live in the most elite areas.

That's right. Qwest and its sister Bell telephone monopolies - SBC, Verizon and BellSouth - are seeking exemptions from time-honored civil rights laws that require companies providing cable services to serve all neighborhoods in their service area. The telephone companies - whose networks were built with more than a century of government subsidies and handouts - now want our local lawmakers to bless a business plan that will largely exclude African-American, Hispanic and working-class communities from the latest 21st century advanced broadband services...

The truth is that here in Denver and elsewhere, there are no restrictions to the telephone companies competing on equal footing against satellite and cable television carriers.

Congress granted them authority to compete for television service in 1996, but they've been sitting on the sidelines waiting for congressional authority to discriminate in their rollout of service...

What really motivates the Bells is an idea that they can pick and choose which communities get competition in broadband services and which don't. And that is not competition. It's a monopolist playing emperor.
He's right and there's no need to mince words.

Pity the Poor Cable Company? The Fruits of Competition

I ran across this LATimes article recently which dwells the idea that the phone companies are about to engage in real competiton with the cablecos and takes the position that this will be good for telecos. [For a story which doesn't view the coming competition so favorably for the telco's see "Pity the poor telephone comapny."]

But what caught my attention was a bit buried down in the story:
Verizon rolled out its initial video service over an all-fiber network in Keller, Texas, in September, charging $43.90 a month for 180 TV channels and $34.95 for a high-speed Internet connection.

Anticipating the move, cable operator Charter Communications Inc. slashed prices there to offer 240 channels plus the connection for $50. Previously, Charter charged $69 just for the TV package.
That's a lot of money for consumers to save and a very good thing for consumers.

It also gives us a sense of what can happen when fiber optic based transport (in this case from Verizon) goes head to head with the cable companies. In a word: competition. The mere anticipation of competition lowered prices in Keller. We can expect the same here.

Of course, even the telecos aren't willing to leave it at that; the story follows the above cited encouraging paragraphs with this one:
The two phone giants also have contributed a total of $150,000 to fund an advocacy group called Consumers for Cable Choice to beat the drum for more competition.
This is one of those "astroturf" organizations which, funded by the corporations, wants us to believe is pro-consumer but any advocacy of consumer values is purely coincidental. The real story behind Consumers for Cable Choice is that it is fighting against local franchising agreements. This will give the telco's a huge competitive advantage against the cablecos who have built their business around satisfying local requirements. The local requirement which telecos like BellSouth really want eliminated is the requirement to serve the whole community. We can look for such a push in the Louisiana legislature come March to take away the traditional local rights to control their own rights of way. But, at least in my judgment, the state shouldn't further interfere with local perogatives in favor of the big telecommunications giants. It certainly hasn't worked out well for Lafayette or New Orleans. The Municipal (un)Fair Competition Act has only served to stymie competition and keep local governments from helping themselves.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Bill Oliver's Little Pattern, New Orleans Should Take Note

A theme 'round here recently seems to be the connection between New Orleans and Lafayette. Well here's another: Both Lafayette and New Orleans have been the target of BellSouth Louisiana president's peculiar anger. The pattern is to 1) threaten, then 2) whine that the threat was a) private and b) misinterpreted.

The pattern plays out in a story about BellSouth pulling 220 employees out of New Orleans that's been pretty widely repeated but is richest in the Times-Picayune original version. That story is difficult enough. The employees pretty clearly think that its part of a long-term pattern taking jobs out of New Orleans and putting them into areas where the pay rate is less than it is in New Orleans. A sort of rural outsourcing. They think that abandoning an essentially undamaged building in New Orleans because the nearby community has yet to return is a pretext for stiffing the city and local workers.

Since this was the building that BellSouth was supposed to have been threatening (#1 above) to take back from the New Orleans Police in retaliation for the city building a municipal wifi network the two stories are linked the T-P article.

Oliver has now moved on to whining (#2 above) that he never really threatened to take back the building. Negotiations are ongoing... And anyway those negotiations are purely between Bill Oliver and Mayor Nagin--they're private (pt a). Whatever he said or might have said to the director of homeland security for New Orleans doesn't count and he isn't going to get into a discussion over the "text" of that discussion. He was misinterpreted. (pt b)

Gee, doesn't that sound familiar? We here in Lafayette are in a position to see the pattern. Recall that Oliver kicked up a big ruckus when he suggested to the editorial board of the Advocate that jobs at the Cingular call center might be in danger of being transferred to "Timbukto" if Lafayette chose to go ahead with its plans for municipal broadband. (#1, Threat)
A follow up story in the Advertiser revealed he'd said essentially the same thing to them. We heard that he'd been saying the same thing in lots of "private" conversations with local businessmen. Upset about the report, Oliver made a major public complaint (#2, whine) that he hadn't really said that and that if he had it wasn't what he meant (pt b, misinterpreted) and anyway it wasn't intended as anything more than background information (pt a, private).

I fully understand that Bill Oliver thinks he's got a right to threaten people in private so that he doesn't have to bear any public cost. But, hey, there are a few real reporters and the occasional plain-speaking public official out there that have this disconcerting tendency to treat a threat like a threat and call a spade a spade. Surely attempts to apply a little ugly pressure privately happens all the time and executives like Bill Oliver get used playing the bully with local elected officials without it ever tarnishing their public image.

For Bill Oliver, those days are over in Louisiana. We're onto him.

offtopic: There's a There There...

offTopic

Ok, so it's not about fiber or Lafayette. So sue me.

Every so often I'm reminded why it is that Lafayette (and by extension fiber for Lafayette) are worth fighting for. There's something about the people and the place. And I can be reminded of what it is even when reading a story about New Orleans.

Chris Rose tells us why he loves New Orleans. It isn't so different as you might think from why we love Lafayette... and the similarities are not limited to the smell of burning cane or Sonny Landrieth.

It opens:

When I moved to New Orleans 21 years ago, I was -- to coin a contemporary phrase -- all in. I loved it from the minute I smelled that burning sugar cane spilling from the Celotex factory across the river, a sweet stink I have always found oddly sexy...

At some JazzFest...you, know, like Festival International... :-)

So we were up at the big stage -- Acura, or whatever it was called then -- and the crowd was too thick and we were trying to get through it and away from it when Sonny Landreth came on.

Have you ever heard this guy? He's making the whole thing up: the riffs, the chords, the notes. I'm no musical scholar, but I think he invented some things. I don't know if there is a specific genre to tag on his music, but it is primeval rock 'n' roll of the first element, a lowdown, fuzz-busting romp in the swamp. And we stopped to dig it.

And I looked down, and there, in the stroller, this beautiful child who had basically remained still and expressionless for the duration of her life -- as newborns are wont to do -- well, she started to move. To wiggle. And I swear to God, she smiled. For the first time.

I was awash. A Eureka moment: What a GREAT place to raise kids. All this funk, the eccentricity, this otherness. Kind of like college, I thought: so much to learn outside of the classroom.

It was a great afternoon. In a very small way, I was changed. As time went on, Kelly and I talked less and less about moving away and we had two more kids and we haven't discussed it in years and that's that.

And that's, that. And that ain't Sonny, or Jambalaya, or Clifton.... Nor the Jazz Fest, or Festival International, or the Boudin Festival....Nor New Orleans or Lafayette or Breaux Bridge...

There's a there there. And that's what the kids need.

And that's why we all stay...

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Snake Oil on the Dinosaurs (and more)


Snake Oil in the Independent asks for straight talk for Christmas..and (in its fantasy) gets it.

Click on the thumbnail image to the left for a larger, readable one.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

From N.O.: BellSouth angry, but really, who cares?

I've said that New Orleans is outraged.

Here's a link to a voice of that outrage who expresses it thusly:
And in the end, what do we care if Billy's pissed? Bellsouth moved its corporate headquarters to Atlanta years ago; if they can't compete in this market with Cox and everybody else, let 'em go the way of PanAm...
BellSouth is burning its bridges in South Louisiana. They're engaging in the kind of behavior that offers them no line of retreat and is never forgotten. Does anyone in Atlanta care?

New Orleans and Lafayette: The Ind Gets It

That's a mighty canaille-looking smile on Terry Huval. Does he know something we don't?

That photo runs in The Independent, which has picked up on Lafayette's "Crescent City Connection." The subtitle makes the point succinctly: "When it comes to municipal broadband networks, Lafayette and New Orleans are on the same track."

Indeed. It does all sound very familiar.

From the text of the story:

Last week, Mayor Ray Nagin announced that the city of New Orleans would offer the nation's largest free municipal wireless network. He touted it as a bold step toward recovery for the paralyzed city.

BellSouth doesn't see it that way. In what’s becoming a common refrain, the telecom cited unfair competition from government and added that under normal conditions — without its state of emergency status — New Orleans would be violating state law.

It's a story Lafayette knows well. BellSouth has been a driving force of opposition -- along with Cox Communications — against Lafayette Utilities System’s proposed fiber-to-the-home network. The public utility company’s plan to build out fiber optics throughout the city and offer phone, cable and high-speed Internet is awaiting resolution of a lawsuit filed by BellSouth.

City-Parish President Joey Durel, who has made the LUS initiative a cornerstone of his administration, plans to work with New Orleans city officials to remove all barriers to municipalities competing with incumbent telecommunications companies.
Remove all barriers--that sounds awfully good.

The story goes on to quote BellSouth, New Orleans, Lafayette officials, and a pro-fiber blogger (moi). They cover, respectively, how put upon BellSouth is, how outraged New Orleans is, how frustrated Lafayette is, and how I think the two cities ought to get together to repeal the Municipal (un)Fair Competition Act.

It's good to see the Independent on it. Worth the read.

Doug over at LUSFTTH has a take on the issue too. Doug's definitely in the frustrated AND outraged column.