Friday, May 05, 2006

WBS: Lafayette consumers think they are Citizens!

What's Being Said dept.

The battle in Lafayette has symbolic of whats' wrong with telecom incumbents in the United States. The city's travails are being mentioned as an example wherever folks are particualarly mad at the Bells. One example is Herold Feld over at WetMachine who has a series of posts dissecting the ugly beast that is the senate draft of of the rewrite of the telecom act of 1996. The bill is complex and he's split his comments up into several parts. If telecom policy is your thing you should travel over and read them all. But if you're interested mostly in muni broadband and especially Lafayette's muni broadband there's a bit you really ought to read. It occurs midway in the piece when Feld is working up a good head of steam about the author, Ted Stevens of Alaska, and portraying him as a paternalistic "Uncle Ted" whose real interest lies in protecting corporate profit centers.
[Excuse me for a moment while I am briefly possesed by the spirit of Stephen Colbert.]

And lets face it, “Uncle Ted” has a point. I mean, look at what happens when you let voters decide on whether to set up competing municipal systems. Those stupid consumers actually want to have a say in what services their local governments provide! I mean, look at Lafayette, LA. Bellsouth and Cox already provided service to Lafayette. How much competition do those people need for gosh sakes? And, when Bellsouth and Cox got a court order forcing Lafayette to hold a public referendum on whether to finance the system, those stupid consumers still voted 2-1 to build the municipal system anyway!. After Bellsouth and Cox Cable spent over a million dollars, engaged in push-polling, used all the right words like “competition” and “socialism” and “limited government,” and did everything companies are supposed to do to corrupt democracy, THEY STILL LOST! I mean, what the heck do those consumers in Lafayette think they are, CITIZENS?... (--Note: this goes on for another two paragraphs. Click through to enjoy.--)

[Back to Harold again.]

(Don't know what that 'Stephen Colbert" thing is about? It's a reference to Colbert's recent performance at the White House Correspondents dinner where he roasted the president pretty much to a crisp. If you've not followed it you might want to check out the video. A lot of the langauge in Feld's rant is drawn from Colbert's. The video is available in a stream from ABC, or via bitorrent)

It's clear that Lafayette's fiber fight has become symbolically important. But what it will finally mean isn't entirely clear yet. Was the battle of Lafayette the telecom corporation's Waterloo--a surprising defeat which proved decisive--or a telecom version of the Battle of New Orleans--a major defeat which no effect on the outcome of the war?

In either case the idea that Lafayette is the city where telecom consumers first realized they were citizens is something of which we can be proud.


Anonymous said...

I read the article, it is funny. At the end someone comments "A regulated monopoly is far less damaging than an unregulated duopoly." And that makes sense. However, both positions are examples of the extremes postions, that the majortiy doesn't want. What makes more sense is government building infrastructure and opening that infrasturcture to foster competition. One of the examples he doesn't mention is Glascow, Kt. (pop. 15,000. )It is probably the oldest municipally owned telecom. FTTH to the Node, not home. It was started some 15 or so years ago. It lost money until it bought out its last competitor in 2001. Now it is the only internet and tv provider for that city. Wouldn't it better for the citizens to have a choice of providers?

Tim Supple

John said...

Hi Tim,

I liked the article had spirit and "spice." And I also prefer a regulated monopoly to an unregulated duopoly.

On the interwoven issues of Glasgow's muni (and hence regulated--at least from the point of view of its citizen/consumers) monopoly and an open network architecture: That's harder for me.

One of my chief concerns is that wireline networks have, historically, been classic natural monopolies. Glasgow is arguably a case in point. It didn't simply "buy out" the competition. It ended up with 75% of the market and the competition folded tent and went home rather than upgrade and compete. The remain few contracts got bought up so as to not leave Comcast customers high and dry.

Cable and internet costs to Glasgow's muni consumers are extremely cheap and that was a large part of the reason that Glasgow gained more subscribers than Comcast. If there was going to be only one left standing I think the citizens of Glasgow are better off with the local guys than with Comcast.

Lafayette Pro Fiber interviewed Billy Ray, the head of the Glasgow system--he promotes his system pretty convincingly.

Anonymous said...

I also spoke to Billy Ray. And he is a big proponent. No doubt. However you may want to check you facts. Billy Ray told me Glascow is a town of 15,000, 7,000 electric meter and 8,500 t.v subscribers, (remember 1 household with 2 TV's is counted as 2 subscribers) and 4,000 ip subscribers. This is a copy of the press release at the time of the sale of Comcast: "Sept. 2001: The Glasgow Electric Plant Board announced today that they have completed the acquisition of the cable television properties of Comcast Cable in, and adjacent to, Glasgow, Kentucky. As previously announced, Comcast was paid just over $3 million for about 200 miles of cable plant serving approximately 3,400 customers. The Comcast plant was taken over and is now being fully operated by the Glasgow Electric Plant Board".
So if you divide 3,400 customer into 8,500 T.V. subscribers that is 40% of the T.V. market.

Also it might be of interest that Glascow still does not have fiber to the home, but rather fiber to the node. That is in the works.
The only thing I was trying to point out is that the wherever the retail model is attemtpted, there are one of two results: 1)the government becomes the monoply and only provider or 2) the goverment loses money on the venture and must subsidies it with ulitiy rates or taxes.

But who knows, things are changing to fast, even the city government of Lafayette is now opting for wireless in some cases.

Any suggestion on how we could convience LUS to start deployment of wireless?


John said...

Hi Tim,

'Bout the 75% of the market I cited, that's a direct qoute from Billy Ray in the interview I mentioned in my last qoute. He strikes me as a straight shooter,

'Bout the not-fiber system that Glasgow has...what they have is what's known as a hybrid fiber-coax system. That's pretty substantially different from the fiber to the node system that is the label applied to phone system upgrades. Most substantially hybrid fiber-coax systems have a lot more bandwidth available to push to the home.

'Bout the wireless issues...I've got no idea about how to get them to get started. For my money, and I bet this is not going to make you happy, wireless makes sense only as part of, or as an add-on to the fiber build. I've said for a long time that mesh wireless is weak substitute for the real thing. The whole point of mesh is to economize on the backhaul connections and costs. That's what makes it seem cheap. But you get what you pay for in terms of spotty coverage and connection speeds that hover around 512 K when the first generation of the technology could carry 11 megs. Current wifi is up around 50 or something. wiMax if matures will be yet more. My point? Don't waste energy or money on a weak interim solution when you could have the real thing.

My solution for a fast, useful wireless build? Do everything you can to get LUS's fiber in place with the least restrictions on our community-based system.

Supporting that is what I think you ought to do if what you want is a real, capable wireless network in Lafayette.

(That explains what I'm doing,,,at least in part.)