Monday, May 15, 2006

FYI: Lafayette Wireless

Found in the "notes" to both wireless bills being considered today in the House Commerce Committee:
The Lafayette City-Parish Government is also studying the feasibility of providing a wireless Internet system for public access. A representative of the Lafayette Utilities Systems told us that capital costs for a typical wireless system could be $110, 000 to $140, 000 per square mile, depending on density and geography of the covered area. Operation and maintenance costs could be 25% to 40% of the capital costs per year.
These Fiscal Notes are from the office of the legislative auditor and serve to inform legislators about the fiscal impact of proposed laws. The analyst says these bills will have no impact on state government and will only impact local governments if they choose to build wireless networks.

It's good to see this a bit more out in the open (though responding to the legislative auditor's questions don't really constitute public discussion). It's also gratifying to see that LUS is studying the possibility in useful detail.

According to Wikipedia the city of Lafayette covers about 47.7 square miles. Working with the figures LUS gave the auditor the cost to provide Lafayette with a wireless system would work out to between $5,247,000 and $6,678,000. That's roughly between 4% and 5% of the $125,000,000 planned investment in our fiber-optic network. (But with a substantial continuing cost.) That's been the cost estimate bandied about on Lafayette Pro Fiber for awhile. It would be a great thing to go ahead and build out a wireless net concurrently with and integrated into the fiber-optic network. LUS would achieve some economies by combining the two operations.

But more important would be the integration of the two networks. Since we began the odyssey toward a publicly owned telecom network the "holy grail" of a triple play of cable TV, telephony, and internet has expanded and has become a "quadruple play" with the inclusion of wireless data/cellular services. Such a package is in the works by both AT&T/Bellsouth and Cox. A strong, high bandwidth wireless system would allow LUS to offer its own, tightly integrated, powerful counterpoint. Such a network could, by building on the ubiquitous LUS fiber backbone provide much more bandwidth than is being contemplated in any other wide-area wireless network. The difference would be as striking as the difference between the fiber-optic based system and older technologies. High bandwidth wireless would support wireless VOIP and a partnership with a cellular company would provide roaming capacities outside the local network.

By offering such a product LUS could again leapfrog its competition and provide its citizen/customers services that would be unrivaled in capacity. There'd be a raft of associated benefits--the possibility of a free (or very low cost) low bandwidth tier could be an effective way to address the digital divide (and make visitors and tourists remember us fondly). Full available bandwidth could be a part of, or a cheap add-on to standard bundles--and could be so inexpensive as to make that addition an easy decision.

This is the sort of bold move that has always marked Lafayette; Let's go for it.

(And let's all hope for a quick resolution of the current lawsuits.)

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