Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Broussard Contemplates Taking on (un)Fair Competition Act

In an article that appears only online and, apparently, in the weekly broadsheet the Advertiser publishes covering Youngsville and Broussard news Mayor Langlinais reveals that still-tentative plans provide city meter readers and police with a wifi connection could, even more tentatively, be expanded to provide residents with internet access.

While the first phase of the plan will cover the police, fire and municipal use, Langlinais said citywide Wi-Fi could be in Broussard's future.

He said it would be a wise choice, "especially if we charge a small fee and offer it as an additional utility."

That'd be a great thing (presuming they can get past the (un)Fair Competition Act)...but before we get too excited we'd be wise to realize that the first stage at least is nothing very new nor very challenging technically. Lafayette, for instance, already has a public safety net built on wifi that operates cameras and communications and, if I recollect correctly, the wireless connects in police laptops operate off such a system as well. The challenge of building a wireless network to serve a few fixed locations and a very small number of mobile users isn't all that difficult--such networks are common across the country. The network necessary to provide ubiquitous service for all comers is a vastly greater undertaking--and currently rare.

The problem, as we in Lafayette have laboriously learned, is having adequate bandwidth available. Providing the bandwidth for a very low bandwidth applications (most municipal usages would be simple text heavy transfer, the bandwidth equvalent of html email) to a small number of users can be done with a relatively small supporting pipe; especially since none of the bandwidth need travel outside the local system. But providing a large number of users the ability to do the more bandwidth intensive activities (like heavy surfing, video, and gaming) that "internet" users expect will require being able to aim a consistent half meg or better at each user. That means big pipe connections to feed the network and real costs to connect those users to the internet.

Long-time readers may recall seeing Langlinais' name in relation to municipal networks before--he supported Lafayette's entry into the municipal telecomm market from the begining and even wrote a fiery letter taking to task an incumbent employee opponent. He and other regional municipal mayors have been very direct in hoping that LUS would bring services to their town. Certainly LUS could open up a stand or two on the fiber that they run through Broussard to provide the schools with bandwidth and pipe the connectivity back to one of the large interconnects in Lafayette. (Lafayette stands at the intersection of a batch of fiber optics going North-South along the railroad track and I-49 and going East-West along I-10. Several interconnects occur in the city.) Gaining access to those interconnects and the competitive wholesale environment they represent would drive the cost of bandwidth to Broussard.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out...

One issue that Broussard will have to confront is that the (un)Fair Competition Act will prevent, as it prevented New Orleans after Katrina, from offering any useful speed to the public. I wonder how many other towns like Broussard are being prevented from providing a public service that no one else is offering--and gaining a revenue stream in these days of unfunded mandates? That law needs to be repealed. It's absurd to set up protected ranges for private corporations who've evidenced their bad faith and poor citizenship.

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