Monday, April 30, 2007
That day marked the culmination of one process and the beginning of another. The process that ended was an extended community discussion about Lafayette and the kind of future we want it to have.
Despite persistent campaigns of fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) waged by opponents of the LUS project, the plan won approval because citizens here came to view the fiber project as something consistent with Lafayette's long-recognized desire to control its own destiny. It also won approval because proponents of the project were able to clearly identify the interests of the community as being separate from the interests of the corporations that opposed the project.
The fact that the project won by a 62-38 margin makes it easy to forget just how uncertain its prospects were when the the election on the project was first called. Remember, it was opponents who wanted the election. Those of us who favored the project were afraid that Cox and BellSouth (remember them?) would bury us with the dollars they could bring to their efforts to oppose the project.
I believe we won because, at the core of the campaign, proponents of the fiber project trusted the intelligence of the citizens of Lafayette to recognize their interests. We benefited greatly by the disdain for the community repeatedly displayed by opponents, but particularly BellSouth.
Now, after nearly two years of court fights, the project is moving forward. Bonds will be sold in a couple of months and money will be in hand to begin the work of building the network for which so many of us worked so long and hard to bring about.
So, with the last serious legal challenge dispensed with (sure would like to know who paid those attorneys for the plaintiffs in those suits!) and the project gaining momentum, the community should now move to a new phase on the project as well.
I believe we can do this by celebrating the anniversary of the fiber election by recognizing what we've accomplished and focusing on the new opportunities ahead. One way that we can do this is by bringing in a prominent speaker to inspire us to dream big about the possibilities that will open up to us as a result of every citizen having access to a fat pipe (100 megabits per second?) connection.
What kind of community can we grow here based on that kind of abundance? What kind of businesses can grow here based on the kind of bandwidth and connectivity that won't be available in the vast majority of U.S. cities for decades to come? What does a community without a digital divide look and operate like? How much will our ability to educate ourselves and our children improve when access to information is a right, not a privilege?
One of the things the legal fight against the LUS project was designed to do, I believe, was to dampen enthusiasm for the project, as if the city's commitment to using technology to differentiate itself as some kind of fad that would pass if opponents just dragged this out long enough.
They were wrong again.
The enthusiasm has not waned. Now that the project is moving forward, the time has come for the community to begin focusing on the opportunities that will soon be upon us.
Celebrate July 16!
Saturday, April 28, 2007
So it is Festival time again and I'm taking a break from the fun. Just got back from listening to the Malvenas, catching a little distant Brazilian folk, watching grandkids play in the fountain, and mixing up Lebanese and Cajun for lunch. (Spicy Chicken Gyros and Crawfish Maque Choux — both recommended.)
About this time of year every year I'm moved to make a springtime expression of Lafayette's thanks for the support we've has received from around the country and around the world. My server logs and emails, make it clear that our fiber conflict has attracted supporters from all over. The most appropriate expression of our thanks has always seemed to me to be to share with those folks that which makes the community worth fighting for.
So, before you go much further, click over to the KRVS website and catch the ongoing Festival International Stream which will be running all day today (Sat. 28th) and tomorrow (Sun. 29th). Get the music up in the background. Festival International is a great expression of what makes Lafayette and South Louisiana so unique. In a band which runs roughly south of I-10 (but further north near Lafayette) you'll find a unique and uniquely open culture. Leavened with a healthy dose African traditions the gumbo of cultures here is classically creole--in the anthropological sense: it is an uneven mixture of cultures. The original settler culture here was not British but French and other cultures, including what we call "Americain," are layered over that, not the other way around. Traditionalists remain amused by the American nervousness over things that can't be changed in human nature and confused at why anyone would think they should supressed be instead of celebrated. One index of that attitude: While the rest of the country seems lost in an anxiety attack over immigrant culture, Lafayette invites the world particularly if they don't speak English, to come on over and show us their stuff with the intent of adopting what we like best.
You're not in Kansas, Toto.
There's a nice, and growing collection of images and videos over at the Advertiser site that offer up a taste of the ambiance.... [Video index sans flash; images index sans flash]
Thanks all...local and not...here's what we've been fighting for.
Friday, April 27, 2007
A good credit rating means the city is a better risk to investors, and the bonds would have a lower interest rate. Investors will loan the money in exchange for the bonds. The money will be repaid with revenues generated from fiber services.Note that this is a credit rating for the bonds themselves...not for LUS or LCG. Their history will count, of course, and LUS in particular has a stellar history. They recently got excellent ratings on a larger bond sale whose purpose was to build new electrical capacity. Some of that demonstrated confidence in LUS' reliability should rub off on this project.
I'm sure Lafayette's presenters will be anxious. Convincing the folks at Standard & Poor's and Moody's that you are just a cut above the rest can result in huge savings for the people of Lafayette over the life of the project. This is just like a house mortgage in that respect: every fraction of a point really counts; especially over the full term of the loan. Come the 23rd and 24th of next month we should all light a candle.
With any luck we'll have the money in hand for "Fiber Day," July 16th--the anniversary of the referendum vote. That would really be something to celebrate.
Thursday, April 26, 2007
There's a lot of overlap between the two stories. Both stories, for instance, report that Atlantic Engineering will do engineering design but only "oversee" construction. There is some interesting additional detail in this version. One makes a bit more sense of the large warehouse LUS recently choose an architect to design:
Contractors will not be asked to include in their cost estimates the price of fiber-optic cable and other materials, Ledoux said. Instead, LUS plans to separately seek bids for material in bulk, storing it in a planned warehouse, then doling it out to contractors as needed, Ledoux said, adding that approach should save money.Contractors often handle this themselves--and charge an nice cost-plus markup to take on the trouble. In a project this size cutting out that middle man will save the community an nice chunk of change. By consolidating what might otherwise be a number of separate bids LUS will put themselves in a better bargaining position with suppliers than their subcontractors could manage as well.
Another paragraph briefly describes some of the decisions that AEG will help LUS make (caution: geeky stuff ahead):
LUS has already studied the specific technical decisions needed as related to the type of equipment and technology it will use to build the network. An example is the decision to make the network passive or active, technical terms that describe how it is the actual signals are relayed or split on their way from LUS’ head-end facilities before arriving to the end user.This is important stuff. It involves the nitty-gritty of how the network will be built. Not all Fiber to the Home (FTTH) builds are the same. One significant difference is the whether you get a direct signal from the headend, unshared by other users or split the original signal with (usually) 32 others in your immediate neighborhood.
<timeout for definitional issues>
The first, direct connection, the FTTH Council calls a Point to Point system (acronym: P2P) and the second a Point to MultiPoint (P2MP). That is a neat, clean, contrast, that focuses on the functional difference. But P2MP systems have been more commonly described locally as Passive Optical Networks (PON) and I'll continue that mixed usage here. I wish there were a common standard...but there's not.
</timeout for definitional issues>
P2P systems provide the highest speed/largest capacity to the end user and a less costly and more flexible upgrade path. PON systems do not require "active" electronics in the field, only the aforementioned "passive" splitters and so are easier to maintain. Until very recently PON systems were considered cheaper to install but recent pricing changes, especially in the electronics of the networks, means that there is no longer a decisive difference in price.
(In the image at right the AON (Active Optical Network) is a P2P system)
LUS has long leaned toward a PON system as does its chief advisor, Doug Dawson of CCG. AEG has built both kinds of systems. As I understand it Bristol, VA's system is PON and Provo's is a P2P system. Perhaps the AEG's Jim Salter and associates will have a different take on this issue.
I tend to favor P2P. It's the natural endpoint in the development of any FTTH system and turns the full power of the network over to the enduser without sharing network capacity with his or her neighbors. It also means that any user could potentially have a completely different setup from their next door neighbor, using radically different speeds, protocols or even providers; a task much more difficult or even impossible to achieve on a passive network where the electronics are shared. With cost differences falling to zero P2P seems like the smarter long-term bet. That said, it is possible to overbuild a PON system and provide capacity to do some P2P connections that bypass the local splitters. Going with an overbuilt PON of that sort would alleviate some of the deficiencies of the PON architecture in that a user that really needed the flexibility could probably, arduously and at significant cost, arrange to have it. But it would not put the best the system can offer to every user's doorstep--and that, in the end, is what I think a local utility should do.
Interesting days. Isn't it great to have stuff like this to worry about?
Lagniappe: if you find this stuff fascinating (cough, cough) or if you don't but think it important enough to understand better anyway you can click over to Wikipedia's Fiber to the Premises page for a relatively nontechnical explanation of the distinction between the two basic architectures--presented using the terms AON and PON.
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
They've got the experience and the passion, as we noted earlier.
One step at a time.
Update: A fuller story appears in this morning's Advertiser.
Monday, April 23, 2007
Bristol Tennessee Essential Services has added far more customers in its first 18 months than projected, said Chief Executive Officer Mike Browder...About Virginia:
“Our cable and Internet is still growing,” Browder said. “At the end of March, we surpassed the two-year projection of our business plan.”
“We’ve blown away our original business plan,” she said. “Our original projections were 35 percent of the market – as an over-builder – was good and 45 percent was outstanding. We’re at 65 percent.”The projects, and their cities, are getting great publicity. Finally. They deserve it. Bristol has been used and abused by the incumbents across the nation. A group of corporate officers and a few well-funded "think tanks" have portrayed the project as an abysmal failure that revealed the incompetence of municipal utilities in general and Bristol's officials in particular. Since "everyone knows" that government is inefficient and can't compete too many accepted their claims at face value. It turns out that it was all a crock-a crock that was designed to serve as a PR tool for the incumbent corporations. BellSouth and Cox certianly trotted out those falsehoods here in Louisiana.
Folks who followed the intricacies of The Fight for Fiber in Lafayette will recall Bristol, Va--again and again the supposed failures of Bristol's fiber to the home project were used to imply that LUS' project would fail. (You know, Appalachians, Southerners, Cajuns & Creoles...) Trouble was, Bristol's project was doing, and is doing, great. It was all strategic lies and misinformation.
A partial list of the falsehoods spread about Bristol by anti-fiber partisans in Lafyette:
- 8/04: Right out of the gate at the so-called "Academic" Broadband Forum Bristol was held up to ridicule and "supporting" documents distributed to the press and the crowd that mislead the people of Lafayette about the true story of Bristol's network. Mike, in one of the earliest entries on this site, methodically pulled the incumbnet argument apart--and presciently argued that showing disrespect for the citizens of Lafayette by peddling such stuff would boomerang on Cox and BellSouth.
- 10/04: A Cox mailer to Lafayette's "Important Leaders" contained the same sorts of misleading assertions concerning Bristol as the general public was treated to two months earlier.
- 7/05: Stephen Titch, a writer of paid advertorials, published in the Advertiser an essay that compared the Bristol and LUS projects--unfavorably for both. An earlier version of the report the essay was based on had been submitted to the State Bond Commission. That document was funded by the incumbents and was originally designed to support their position that LUS should not be able to issue its bonds. (The commission found otherwise.)
- 7/05: At the CODA debate between Fenstemaker (pro fiber) and Breakfield (anti) Breakfield repeats false or misleading claims about Bristol and other public utilities, claiming disastrous losses. Don Bertrand and Fenstemaker point out that any capital intensive business won't make money while it is in the investment phase--even if it is meeting or exceeding its business plan.
- 7/05: On the eve of the election Fiber 411 distributes a mass mailer prominently featuring a dishonestly manipulated quote from Bristol's hometown newspaper—a qoute that inverts the real meaning of the paragraph from which it was drawn in a transparent attempt to make the people of Lafayette think the project had failed when, in fact, it was beating its business plan.
- 4/06: Even after their referendum loss Cox continued to push tall tales about Bristol. A letter to the editor over the signature of Sharon Kleinpeter tied increases in Brisol's utility rates to that city's fiber project. However, the local paper there had documented that their increases had nothing to do with the fiber project.
Sunday, April 22, 2007
It's a roller coaster ride done in a classic Atari program. Go try it, noting the long, long rise at the end where you get to look down on the roller coaster below you.
Go on, this is fun and the rest won't make sense unless you've actually tried it: YouTube - Real Estate Roller Coaster
OK, now the not-so-fun part. That is a video that maps the cost-adjusted price of housing stock since 1890. (Here's what that looks like in a NYTimes graph--you'll recognize the "ride.") Before you cry "boring--the worst of social studies" let me hasten to say that while I do not find the content boring (after all I was a social studies teacher in another life--and own my home) that is not why I've posted this for your lazy Sunday consideration.
I'm more interested in the context of this blog in the very interesting fact that you can learn something from this video that you can't learn in more standard ways. We learn most usefully from "experience." Educators mean something pretty specific when they use that term and it doesn't preclude learning that takes place in schools. It includes things like this video which give you the experience of change over time. This is pretty different from the all -at-once time-abstracted image you get from the graph.
Long story short: this is a fine learning/teaching tool.
What makes that interesting here is that it was made by a "regular person" using the cheapest of hardware and software to help folks understand something which is otherwise difficult to put across about a very special interest of his or her own. That sort of individually localized "production" of sophisticated material is new...and very encouraging.
If we want more of this sort of thing we should do a couple of things: 1) Supply big, cheap, upload bandwidth--so that people can do video uploads or serve a few videos effectively from their own server. 2) Provide access to sophisticated and flexible software...this video required mating graphs with a 3D game program.
We'll soon enough have #1 covered in Lafayette, and with the amazing bandwidth that will make available, at least on the local intranet, we'll have the potential to use increasing sophisticated programs located on the net that will help with #2. If we choose, we can buy access to amazingly sophisticated programs and offer fast access to them through a local "library" organization. The library here has some technically sophisticated folks; librarians caught on to the value of communications technology early. I see no reason that the Lafayette Public Library couldn't offer such a "loan" program and occasional classes on the software. (They already offer more basic computer/net classes.)
It is worth really thinking about how we can set the stage for our community to have access to the creative tools they might need to create really interesting products.
An on-net software library might be an way to exploit the utility of our fast intranet and the power of the pooled resource of the community library for everyone's benefit.
Saturday, April 21, 2007
Apparently published 4 days ago the article dropped into our local pond without a splash--or even so much as a noticeable ripple. There was a time when that wouldn't have been true. I would have expected that someone would email me, or that it'd show up on my daily google search or during my pass through the local media. I even have another regular search through the topix service that catches newspaper material that doesn't rise very high in the page rankings.
But none of that worked. Nobody has noticed this essay. Nobody bothered to comment online regarding his minority position on what has been the city's premier issue for the last few years. Considering the pages of commentary on youthful attire that we are sometimes "treated" to in those forums that lack of interest is telling: the city no longer listens to those that want to complain about a settled question. We want it, we voted for it, and now we are going to have it. The message is clear: we're not interested. Get over it.
Yes, the postal service lead-in is painfully dated. Yes, the mushy position we ought to be able to have the system--but only if we share it with those that have fought us tooth and nail to kill it rather than let us do for ourselves what they refused to do for us just can't make much sense to anyone. And yes, the lengthy belaboring of the idea that LUS would bring pornography(!) to town that didn't exist before is the worst sort of silliness--something that can't be taken seriously by anyone who has perused late-night cable and the pay-per-view channels from Cox or anyone who has noticed what can be found on the internet that BellSouth/AT&T brings into your home.
But my guess is that the lack of response isn't due to the considerable weakness of Caudell's positions. It is due to the fact that the time for such complaints is past. With the issue now settled beyond a doubt what once was opposition is now comes off as nothing but whining. And no one is interested in that.
And that, frankly, is the best news I've (not) heard all week.
Friday, April 20, 2007
Lafayette has been ranked as one of the Top 10 Cities in the South for the Creative Class by Southern Business and Development magazine.So saith this morning's Advertiser. The phrase refers Richard Florida's book The Rise of the Creative Class. Florida's analysis points to the fact that fast, clean economic growth has been associated in recent years with a welcoming environment for the so-called creative class. The thesis runs something like this: Wealth in the new economy flows from youthful creativity. To an unprecedented degree the information economy means that those most productive people can live where they want. And they want to live in a cool place. They want to live in Austin, not Pittsburgh... So Austin booms and Pittsburgh languishes. The conclusion is obvious: if you and your community want in on some of that new, cool, clean, high wage growth you make sure that you provide the sorts of things those folks want. A great music scene, good food, tolerance, outdoor fun, diversity, a relaxed ambiance, low barriers to outside participation in the economy, night life, cool tech, an open politics....and so on.
It is encapsulated in the words of the subtitle to a Florida essay in the Washington Monthly: "Why cities without gays and rock bands are losing the economic development race."
(If all that sounds somewhat familiar it'll be because you've been hanging around with economic development nerds...or, more likely, you caught a whiff of the discussion surrounding last year's Richard Florida lecture in the Independent/Iberia Bank Lecture Series.)
That's the category Southern Business and Development thinks Lafayette excels in. It's a good place to be. It's fairly easy to see why Lafayette might have ranked. The cool tech factor would be pretty amazing for a major city much less a smaller, laid-back one like Lafayette. The magazine specifically mentions the Fiber To The Home project that is our focus here--and it has to be a nice feature to think that you could tap into your office net at 1 or 200 meg speeds if you want to work from home this week. There's nothing more laid back than staying home. The food and the music is legendary and if you travel in Zydeco circles you might think tolerance wasn't obviously a problem. Cajun and Creole cultures are a huge draw--and huge reason why our talented are hesitant to leave. There's nothing else in the US like Festival International. Francophone music? Really?! From all over the world? Neat indeed.
Sounds pretty good for the hometown...
Of course the effect is spoiled if you scroll to the bottom of the page and read the irrational—and irrelevant—bigotry in the discussion space spouted by some resentful local fool. Talk about leaving a foul taste in the mouth. And putting a stake right through the heart of any feel-good that you might have been harboring. Jeez.
Update: The Advocate also picks up on good publicity the morning after it appeared in the Advertiser. That version points explicitly to Richard Florida and has the following nice fragment:
In naming Lafayette, the magazine pointed out that while the smallest city on its list, “Lafayette keeps strides with the larger metros with the kind of cultural diversity and forward thinking that sets this creative city and parish apart.”So if you need a URL to send those friends from college that you've been trying to entice down here for years you can send them this one without fearing that they'll have to run into evidence that contradicts the upbeat substance of the report.
Lafayette Utilities System’s telecommunications project — which will bring an ultra high-speed fiber-optic network to each home and business in the city — is an example of Lafayette’s risk-taking, the magazine wrote.
“Locals still exhibit proudly a ‘wildcatter mentality’ founded on risk taking and entrepreneurial spirit,” the magazine wrote.
LUS Director Terry Huval said the firm will design every aspect of the network, from the overhead and underground lines to the connections at the main facility and end users.A professional services committee will take LUS's review of the applicants (there were thirteen) and choose three to pass on to Mayor Durel for his selection. The work load on the committee should be light: LUS says that only three of the applicants have the proper work history to qualify them for the job making winnowing down the list pretty straightforward. LUS also has a favorite: the Atlantic Engineering Group.
In addition, the firm will help LUS define the bid specifications to be followed by prospective contractors. After construction begins, the engineers will help monitor construction, Huval said.
Atlantic Engineering is arguably the nation's premier Fiber To The Home (FTTH) engineering and construction group and is certainly the leading such company in the South. Their projects map reveals that they've been involved in many of the largest—and most successful—FTTH projects in the nation. Those who have followed Lafayette's progress closely will recognize Provo, UT (whose mayor has visited in support) and Bristol, VA (the city regularly maligned by Lafayette's opponents where the current issue is beefing up the system to accommodate unanticipated levels of success). Regular readers will note that Kutztown, PA, the little town that could (1, 2) is also a client.
The CEO, James Salter, has clearly focused the company on municipal operations and is a fiber warrior in his own right having been president of the Fiber To The Home Council and a regular speaker at conferences where municipal fiber could be defended. I saw him present at the Freedom To Connect conference in '06 and wasn't distracted by his "aw shucks" folksy Southern persona. Like sugar-coating on a bitter pill that persona did allow his message on the necessity of dense, municipal fiber to any robust local broadband network go down a little easier with a crowd enamored of "public-private" wifi networks. In the end he received a standing ovation. A later hallway conversation revealed that Salter was just as savvy about the way that the private incumbents blocked such projects and made it clear that he understood how to deal with such obstructionism.
AEG would make a fine choice. Things proceed apace...
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
The Advertiser updates the story of Broussard's good-deal renewal of Cox's cable franchise. They got both a tighter build-out requirement and a governmental wifi net out of the deal. On the build out:
The new contract stipulates that the cable company will provide service to areas with 30 residences per linear mile, replacing the previous requirement of 40 per linear mile.
According to an earlier story Langlinais was pressing for 25 residences per linear mile. He apparently got thirty. That's a substantial improvement.
Governmental agencies, such as the police, fire and public works departments and Broussard City Hall also will receive access to wireless Internet service under a separate agreement, Skinner said.Though wifi is apparently not incorporated in the franchise agreement itself it is hard not to see it as anything other than a part of what Cox gave up in its negotiations. Especially if the price was really as "nominal" as Langlinais earlier claimed. The franchise ordinance and wireless side agreement are not yet up on the Broussard website. The details, especially on the wifi end, should be interesting...just how robust--and thus how useful--the wireless will be will depend largely upon how well the city specified the contract--and how long it lasts. (Points I made in last week's post on this topic.)
Broussard, it sounds like, cut a good deal. Congratulations to the city...and a tip of the hat to Lafayette's fiber project which surely provided much of the needed leverage.
The Tribune story recounts a situation emerging in France that bears watching here in Lafayette. The French Fiber to the Home market is in the midst of a major expansion and, at least in a few places, these new networks are competing with each other. That is, for the companies, a potential problem. Competing networks must gain a minimum number of paying subscribers per mile (or kilometer) in order to make back their investment. With only one network building itself up it is pretty easy to get the minimum number of subscribers... but with two it is twice as hard....and with three or more there simply may not be enough room in the market for all to survive.
The new entrants are betting that they'll get a big enough market share to survive. There are only two basic strategies: 1) take established subscribers from the incumbents and 2) create new subscribers. A smart new competitor has a clear strategy for doing both.
The situation in Lafayette bears a interesting resemblance to the one in France: In short order there will be three networks vying for subscribers in the wired telecommunications market. Cox is and AT&T is preparing to invade its opposite numbers' monopoly market. LUS will come on the scene with a high-powered, low-cost alternative to both. It's success will depend upon taking subscribers from the incumbents--and on creating new subscribers.
The basic strategy for taking subscribers from the old incumbents is straightforward: offer a better product for a cheaper price. LUS has made it abundantly clear that it intends to do just that--and with a home-town, voter-approved alternative it should do well on that score.
It isn't so clear that LUS has a well thought-out strategy for creating new subscribers.
The French Response
French purveyors of high-speed internet are faced with a market in which only 60 percent of the country's households have computers. Creating new subscribers will mean convincing folks that don't have a computer that they ought to get one in addition to purchasing the service.
Neuf (one of the triple-play video/phone/internet providers) is now offering a package called "easygate" which includes a Linux-based computer stocked with open source apps. It is, with inimitable french styling, a handsome box. Flicker user nitot's caption accompanying the CCed image at left describes its functionality:
"If one-third of the people in a building do not own a computer and see no reason to get broadband, it becomes a serious financial issue," Fogg said. "Some Internet companies have offered incentives for people to buy computers, but Neuf has taken it to the ultimate level in offering the computer themselves."
"A DSL modem plus a low-end PC in a single box, running Linux, Firefox and a few apps, leased to subscribers of the Neuf Internet broadband service. "The idea is easy to abstract: reduce the hardware barrier to as little as possible. if a major impediment to selling your internet service is that a large portion of your potential customer base doesn't want to buy your modem service because they don't have a computer then put the computer in the modem and lease it along with the modem. They can try it without making a big-ticket computer buy. Neuf isn't going the pure route, though. If you want to use it like a regular computer you'll either have to supply the "peripherals" yourself or pony up separately for a monitor and a keyboard/mouse/video camera packages. (See the photo at the top.) To sweeten the pot the computer comes equiped with several specially skinned version of Linux (designed for differing levels of expertise) and an open source browser, word processor, and spreadsheet.
An all-in-one package—cheap and convenient. And designed to grow a new market segment devoted to its supplier, not just to battle for a group of established users who already have equipment and a provider.
With the coming era of convergence the basic impulse represented by the Neuf Easygate package could easily be extended. Settop DVR boxes are rapidly becoming the standard among digital cable customers. What you have with one of those babies is a hard-drive equiped computer with enough firepower to drive digital video—no mean feat. For a minimal amount more that same computer could be equiped with Linux, a bit more ram, another few cheap I/O interfaces and, presto changeo, you've got: ......a Tivo. That's precisely what TiVo is and with several of the major cable companies having cut deals to put TiVo software on their boxes (including Cox (yes, our Cox) and Comcast) TiVo has already designed cable-box software.
TiVo's settop box deals are proof of concept: you can marry a Linux computer and a settop box. The final step could be LUS' to take. Why not liberate the computer side of that sort of box? With special software and the coming wave of new, digital TV's the screen could be the TV and all you'd need in addition would be an inexpensive wireless keyboard and a the purchase of the internet subscription to be online. Putting your internet computer inside the settop box would sneak internet-capable computers into the maximum number of households possible and lower the barriers to entry to the bare minimum.
It's hard to think of another strategy more likely to grow the market for LUS' product--nor one more likely to bridge the digital divide.
Maybe smart marketing and pursuing the common good need not be too far apart.
Monday, April 16, 2007
The headend will house the bulk of the technical equipment necessary to offer services, content, and interconnections for the new network. This will be the "heart" of the network with the satellite downlink for the cable services, a processing center for things like making phone connections, and, the setup for making the link to the backbone internet carrier/s. It'll be a big facility housing a buncha of nifty things. This would be a natural place to house the server and online storage facilities necessitated by some of the services LUS will be offering.
It's location in LEDA's Interstate Industrial Park (image via LEDA, click for a big version that shows LUS' 8.59 acre lot in the back) is a natural in that it is located at the intersection of the big backbone fiber that runs besides both interstates—backbone fiber to which LUS will need to connect. A close peek at the map will reveal that "Level 3," a major internet backbone provider, is also located in the park where it has a regeneration operation. Level(3) is one of the most important internet companies of which you have probably never heard. From the wikipedia entry:
Based on the amount of Internet traffic on Level 3’s IP backbone, Level 3 is among the largest Internet carriers in the world. Through Level 3’s dial-up ISP customers, the company’s dial-up infrastructure is accessible to approximately 90% of the U.S. population. When a typical Internet user at home dials the Internet using a modem in the U.S., there is better than a one-in-three chance that their call is being completed within a Level 3 data center.Not a bad next-door neighbor to have.
Perhaps a bit oddly, people here in Lafayette are reassured when LUS goes out and spends money on this (a lot of people were thrilled when architects were chosen recently). Spending money is solid, boots-on-the-ground evidence that we are actually going to get what we voted for.
Things are begining to happen and I, for one, am thrilled.
(Thanks to Mike for the heads up on Level(3).)
Saturday, April 14, 2007
Cox has been vigorously promoting its small business services recently. Compared to BellSouths' (oops, AT&T's) traditional offerings their sales force is no doubt are a welcome competitive sight for most small business folk. Small businesses have had no practical alternative to the phone company's lock on the telecom market in both data and voice and Cox has moved aggressively into that space. —By all accounts its been successful as well, which is no surprise considering the way the phone company has exploited its monopoly in this market. (If you think America's residential broadband is irrationally costly....)
But Cox's recent mailer doesn't make much of an offer—if you stop to read the small print. Cox is offering you a free month of service. If you lock into at least a 3 year contract. With installations fees, availability restrictions, and no service guarantees....
3 years! That works out to less than a 3% break in return for locking a business into Cox as a provider while all the real price breaks are being offered. Three years takes you into 2010, and LUS will be offering competitive services via a fiber to their clients door in by the end of 2008 or the beginning of 2009. It's hard to believe that LUS won't provide more for less--just as they are doing with their residential service. But whether you agree with that judgment or not it is a lead pipe cinch that this little offer is the smallest discount that Cox will offer over the next three years. As soon as Cox makes real strides locally you can count on the ponderous AT&T beginning to offer discounts of its own. Cox will have to respond. And as LUS' launch looms the deals will start getting really good.
Small business owners ought not let themselves be played by this offer. Ask for a real discount. And don't agree to any terms that extends your obligation beyond the date when the real price cutting will commence.
Real competition is coming. But it is not here yet.
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
The cable company has agreed to provide the city with wireless Internet for the police and fire departments and city administration. "We'll pay a nominal fee for the service," said Mayor Charles Langlinais shortly after the March 28 City Council meeting. "Whether they expand city-wide will be dependent on them."There are at least three pieces of context that a reader should take into account.
One point under negotiation has been the fact that the company is not required to provide service in rural areas, unless there are at least 40 residents per linear mile, Langlinais said.
Langlinais recommended lowering the number to 25 per mile, which he estimated will provide the opportunity for cable to most residents of the Broussard area.
- Cox does not, anywhere to my knowledge, do municipal wi-fi.
- Langlinais has been a very vocal supporter of the LUS project and
- Broussard has talked about putting up its own wi-fi system; a system which would have run afoul of the anti-Lafayette "Local Government Fair Competition Act."
Why would Cox offer a totally new service to a small town in south-central Louisiana? In doing this Cox is substantially adding to the list of things a local community can demand in its franchise agreements. Every city wants wifi. The cachet of being a wireless city is being pursued by cities ranging from tier 1 cities like Philadelphia and San Francisco to tiny places like Chaska, Minnesota. The idea that just any little city can forgo all the pain of building its own wireless net or enticing a commercial entry with tax funds, tax givebacks, or exclusive contracts in order to get them to do so is just stunning. If Broussard can just attach wi-fi to its franchise agreement upon renewal why can't anyone? This is a big deal--perhaps a bigger deal nationally than it will be locally.
That Cox is willing to go this far reveals some things: This offer reveals that Cox takes widely-speculated-on elements LUS' expansion very seriously and feels compelled to respond.
- They believe that LUS will build a wi-fi network as part of its fiber-opitc build. (I am confident they are right—but no such announcement has been issued.)
- They believe that LUS is poised to extend its retail telecom presence into the parish outside its traditional city footprint. (I think they are right—but no such announcement has been made.)
- They are terrified that the addition of wireless services will give LUS a large advantage. So large that they believe that Cox can't afford not to respond with a preemptive product of its own even if it has to offer it out of sequence with its national plans. (Which, they have hinted, will someday include their own wireless product.)
I won't be shocked if Cox tries to launch such a system in Lafayette proper. But I will be surprised. Competing with LUS' wireless system will be very hard: LUS will be running off a dense fiber network and that will enable it to run a system that will be as far ahead of other wifi networks as its FTTH system will be ahead of other wired competitors. I expect 30 times the bandwidth provisioning of conventional muni wifi networks. Entering into competition with that could be embarrassing.
Broussard & Langlinais
If Cox's interests are clear, so are Broussard's—and Langlinais'.
Municipal wifi is almost universally a mayoral project. Securing a major, new, hot, "visionary" service for its citizens (at no cost) has got to look good to any mayor.
That aside, Broussard is, I strongly suspect, playing a smart game with its franchise agreement. Typically municipalities have NO leverage come franchise renewal time. In the normal course of events the cable company knows that there is no practical chance a competitor will enter the fray and give local citizens choices. Given its practical monopoly status, no city council will dare endanger their citizen's cable television shows. (You think potholes are a big local issue? Try disturbing a man's Sunday afternoon football game. Or access to Opra. NO way.)
But Broussard has managed to get city-wide wifi (with a "possibility" of residential access). That alone is an amazing feat. Broussard is also negotiating with Cox for an expansion of its build-out. Changing from a density requirement of 40 per linear mile to one of 25 might not sound impressive to some. Such folks might want to take a good look a map of Broussard. Broussard—much more than any of the other communities surrounding Lafayette—has incorporated huge swaths of rural land with only the spottiest development. Some large tracts have no development at all. Changing this requirement will mean that many new areas will get service (and you can bet Mayor Langlinais knows just who should be grateful). Nation-wide the phone companies are driving hard to eliminate municipal franchising precisely so they won't have to serve all parts of the community; especially poor and sparsely settled areas. Cable companies have mostly been going along, asking only for an equal ability to not serve whoever they don't think will yield a large profit. What is not on the table is increasing build-out requirements during franchise re-negotiations.
Should this plan go through Broussard will have pulled of an almost unimaginable coup, getting governmental wifi, a potential retail wifi network, AND forcing Cox to serve a greater portion of its citizens. For this Langlinais and Broussard will owe the citizens of Lafayette who have created a credible competitive alternative to the local Cox cable TV monopoly a vote of thanks. (Eatel's competition, those with long memories may note, did the citizens of East Ascension a similar favor.)
So the citizens of Broussard are in for what looks like a really good deal. At least in the short run. And for as long as neither the Feds nor the state of Louisiana succeed in stripping franchising power from local governments. But the citizens should be going down to the city council and asking some hard questions. Questions which will determine whether this short-term treat is a long-term good deal. I suggest starting with:
- How long will the new contract run? How long is the city locked into Cox as its wireless provider?
- Will Cox's system have mobile capacity? (A huge advantage for police and firefighters.)
- How robust will the system be? (LUS' will be huge--potentially running at 30 megs, a speed unheard of in muni wifi.)
- Is there any exclusivity element in the wifi agreement? Can others come in and compete?
- Does the city have any influence on what Cox charges its citizens in return for use of city-owned poles and rights-of-way?
- Is there any revenue sharing on the retail wifi end in return for the use of city property--as there is for Cox's cable TV product?
- Just how "nominal" is the nominal cost for governmental services?
- Will citizens be allowed to access the system while on city property--say while doing research at city hall?
Saturday, April 07, 2007
Now if you first reaction is "So what?"--well you might be right but give it a chance; I think it is more useful than it sounds. An example is in order: Let's suppose that you've got out-of-town friends coming in for Festival International in two weeks (who doesn't?) and you want to throw a nice picnic lunch in Girard Park on Saturday afternoon. They'll be scattered all over downtown Lafayette when the time comes. How do you give them a useful way to find their way to the park. (It's hard for even locals to find a specific place in Girard Park--never mind visitors having to find the park!) Google "my maps" to the rescue. Send the the link to a map showing the relationship of the two venues you've built and let them find their own way. A different click shows where in Girard Park you are supposed to meet—and where to find parking.
Now that's useful, isn't it? And it's easy enough to be practical. Try it out for yourself: Google up "Google Maps" in your browser (how else?). In the left hand box you'll notice a new tab: "My Maps." Click it. In the resulting new box you'll see a "create new box" link. Click it. You will arrive at a new page that has all the tools you'll need. It is pretty self-explanatory but help is available online. Come on, it'll be fun. How about mapping out your favorite downtown bar-hopping route. Or making a good, clean, overlay that shows where all those obscurely numbered soccer fields are at Moore Park. Or locating your family's RV parking spot for the Mardi Gras parades? Its great for any location where you've had a hard time describing how to get there over the cell.
This is all part of the much-heralded "Web 2.0" which doesn't seem to have much of a fixed meaning but which does always seem to have something to do with one set of users providing content that other users need. If you make your new map "public" it can be found during a google search. (Searching on "Moore Park, Lafayette, map, and Soccer fields" might actually turn up something useful.)
It's stuff like this that will be crucial in making the web more useful at the local level--and enourage more folks to see the value of all this "fiber and internet stuff."
Lagniappe: Try pulling up a close-up of the Festival area. Then search parking "Parking Garage." ...Nifty, hunh?
The plan is to have the committee come up with concrete ways to implement some of its prior recommendations, LUS Director Terry Huval said at a Lafayette City-Parish Council meeting last month...It's worth emphasizing that charge in this round will be to come up with concrete ways to implement the points in the original plan. It will mean getting down to the nitty-gritty of who does what--and where any necessary money will come from.
It likely will take 18 months for the first customer to receive service, LUS officials have said.
The digital-divide work will follow that same 18-month timeline, so that those plans will be rolled out at the same time as service, Huval said.
He said the committee will update the council on its work in July.
It won't all be administrative work, however: considerable thought will also need to be devoted to thinking about ways to implement the report's principles. The original plan established a series of "core principles" and suggested examples of ways to enact those principles. In the two years since the report was issued several of its more futuristic suggestions have actually become fairly commonplace. For instance, suggestions that the speed of Lafayette's system would make it practical to put basic programs like word processing or spreadsheets on servers to cut down on the costs of participation sounded a little like science fiction. In the subsequent two years several major players are providing such services cheaply. Indeed, Google has a whole suite of such online programs. The passage of merely two years makes this particular attempt cut down on the costs of entering the digital world a foregone conclusion.
It should be very interesting and well-worth following.
Friday, April 06, 2007
The map submitted to the city of Newport News also leaves out the greatest concentration of poor, black residents in the Southeast community. This map is supposed to include the plans for the first three years of service.No surprise, eh? But it is interesting that nobody wanted the public to know:
When asked by the Daily Press, both Newport News and Verizon officials initially denied that they had a map of the service territory.Of course, these guys have to have maps of their service area. How else could they possibly roll trucks to install service or tell customers whether or not they can have the new FTTP service? Why not just say so? Well part of it is that it is embarrassing for both--the phone company doesn't want to admit to doing what it promised the legislature that it wouldn't just last year. The city doesn't want to admit that it doesn't have the power any longer to force the company to serve all of it citizens in return for using their property. But their common interest is in keeping the new map secret from the cable company. The new state law requires equal treatment (of corporations, not citizens, mind you):
Part of the compromise from last year's legislation means that existing and new cable companies must be treated equally. If the city grants a new competitor such as Verizon more favorable terms than those put on Cox, they must also allow Cox to switch to the new agreement.So Cox could use that clause to back out of an area that it no longer wanted to serve--if the phone company wasn't planning to serve it--and state law says that a municpality can never require more than 80 percent coverage. That 20 percent that was to be permanently left out? As we've already seen: the poor, minority areas. That's fair, right? A level playing field?
That's the way state-wide video franchising works.
[Time out for Background]
The battle over state-level video franchising laws is spreading with Verizon and our own AT&T being the major proponents. While Louisiana escaped last year's version of this law, with state-level video franchising still being pushed across the nation and a version being pushed by the FCC it's worthwhile to notice how its working out in other places. Opponents have claimed that redlining out minorities and the poor in order to gain a competitive advantage over traditional cable companies whose franchise agreements with local governments have required them to serve all segments of the community. Phone corporations, they claim, have wanted to raid only the most profitable segments of the markets and leave low-profit neighborhoods to the cable companies whose past contracts had required them to serve the whole community.
State video franchising is a scheme pushed by the phone companies that allows those companies to enter into the business cable business without getting the same permission to use local municipal property for which cable companies have traditionally had to negotiate. (Without using local rights-of-way to run their cables companies like
Cox and Comcast would not be able to get their services to local residences. Traditionally contracts that allow the cable company to use municipal property in exchange for cash payments, in-kind provisions, and universal service commitments, are called "cable franchises.")
[/Time out for Background]
Monday, April 02, 2007
The hook for readers committed to the success of Lafayette's telecommunications utility is that both Cox and AT&T/BS have bought into the organization. Jaqui Vines of Cox Baton Rouge/Acadiana and Bill Oliver of AT&T Louisiana have had memberships purchased for them. And that's worth worrying about.
Most of the members listed in the Gannetts' story sidebar are Louisiana business owners. They can legitimately be said to be representing themselves regardless of whether they paid for their membership out of their own pockets or the resources of businesses which they own. The same is not necessarily true of members drawn from the banking and the telecommunications industry. Their membership is paid for by the organizations of which they are employees and their participation is reasonably construed to be as a representative of their businesses rather than themselves.
The most visible cause of the group is a worthy one: ethics reform. Businesses as well as citizens can be for good government. Long-time denizens of Louisiana will be forgiven for recalling the unhappy path that business reform movements in Louisiana have sometimes taken: one need only refer to PAR (Public Affairs Research council) for a lesson in how a strong reform organization can lose its punch and be reduced to churning out reports that simply oppose any and all taxes after its capture by a purely business-oriented board. It's been a long time since PAR was viewed as an independent force--and Louisiana (and PAR) is weaker for that. This issue is raised forcefully in a recent Advocate article:
Blueprint is not limiting itself to ethics reform, even if that is what animates core members. But several reports (1, 2) assert that it will limit itself to good government and quality of life issues like education. That would be wise.
The emergence of one more business group to engage in politics raises at least two questions:
- Are Louisiana residents mad enough — do they want to be saved from old-style Louisiana politics?
- Is this the kind of salvation they want — an agenda written by business leaders?...
To win mass support for its list, Blueprint Louisiana might have to prove it’s out to help everybody, not just its members.
An organization like Blueprint, which intends to support candidates, write legislation, and support a cadre of lobbyists is ripe with potential for fudging the line to support the interests of its members over the interests of the state as whole.
The most immediate cause for concern is Cox and AT&T/BS who have shown that, without any doubt, they are willing to support measures which damage the best interests of Louisiana communities if there is advantage in it for them. The so-called "Local Government Fair Competition Act" which attempted to stop or at least cripple Lafayette's project is one. Those corporations were unwilling to compromise on that law even after Katrina and Rita demonstrated the inadequacy of their own networks to serve the public good. Their (ultimately) joint advocacy of a state-wide video franchise law that shifts control over locally-owned rights-of-way essential to their businesses to a complaisant state legistlature is a textbook example of bad policy.
Blueprint would be smart to avoid any "development" issue, and especially any telecom-related issue if it wants to be a credible force for reform in Louisiana. With Cox and BellSouth on board Blueprint bears watching.
Sunday, April 01, 2007
This is a great idea and I hope Google gets it out of beta. —Be sure to click through the "get started" link to get the entire flavor of the project.
Google, of course, has long been rumored to be putting together its own dark-fiber-based national backbone but this product would close the last mile gap between its backbone and the home. While this implemenation of the basic Fiber in the Sewers idea is unique it has probably been inspired by successful experiments in Albuquerque and the UK. New Orlean's has also experimented with the idea.
LUS has revealed its Fiber to the Home plans!! Daylight savings glitch apparently causes early release of press release.
After a press release dated tomorrow, Monday, 4/2, showed up in PR inboxes across the city calls to LUS and George Graham (from whose office the missive was mailed) confirm its authenticity. The surprise release gives an amazing amount of detail (7 loosely organized pages) about topics the local utility has always deemed "proprietary information."
Yes, It's real...We just decided that since it has become extremely clear that FOI [Freedom of Information] requests that revealed these details were forthcoming we thought, what the heck; just release them. Besides most of this stuff is either obvious or nothing Cox or the phone company can do anything about anyway. Why not let the community know?Huval declined to elaborate on what was meant by "extremely clear."
Major points in the release:
- The initial FTTH network will be gigabit (not 100 megs as previously discussed in the media.)
- An 802.11n (N!) wireless network will be built alongside the fiber build. Service will be available as an independent purchase but "will be cheaper in the bundle." "This," the release says enigmatically, "will be the Digital Divide offering." (Side note: deploying "N" implies that Tropos will be upgrading their equipment. Presumably LUS knows something we don't.)
- Probably associated with the wireless issue: "The CPE [Customer Premise Equipment] will equipped with a wireless node that can act as a repeater." (I'm not sure I fully understand that but I think I like it.)
- Confirmation of the widely reported Symmetric Bandwidth feature is given; uploads will as speedy as downloads, making webmasters ecstatic.
- "Full Intranet Speeds" will be featured. —What Huval calls "peer to peer" speeds. Every customer, regardless of how much they are paying will be able to communicate at the full available speed of Lafayette's network with any other customer who also has service—usually a large fraction of the gigabit limit. This is also called a "Digital Divide Feature." (Now you have a reason to buy a new router to replace the 10/100 switch you bought in 2000!)
- A kitchen sink philosophy prevails: the network will offer POTS (analog phone) and VOIP; Analog and digital cable over dedicated "colors" as well as a full range of IP-based video products. (Legacy services are said to be " translated in the CPE?") Three local companies plan to offer "video-enhanced" security products. Related?: "a high-level API for service interoperability will available to entrepreneurs." (Again, I think I like that.)
- And NO, they're still not saying where the build will start. Says Huval: "That really is proprietary. Let 'em guess or sue."
Video Product News:
- LUS will purchase membership in both the the traditional small cable video purchasing coop and a similar, emerging, rural telco-oriented coop "insuring a unique range of products." (As both a phone CLEC and a small, local cable company they apparently meet the membership requirements of both.)
- An initial offering of nearly 500 cable channels plus "a similar number of IP 'channel products'" accessible either through the bandwidth product or the cable product menu. (That latter is very interesting and not something I had anticipated.)
- A discussion with TiVo is in the works for "field trials of a versatile" TiVo-based set top box with "embedded" desktop, browser, and email functions. (Since TiVo is basically a Linux computer, why not go all the way and just let folks use it? That would kill the digital divide computer issue right there.)
- Video phones will be available from LUS, at no extra charge, when a VOIP plan is purchased due to a "special partnership" with Motorola. (?) It will not work with POTS plans. If your caller does not have video capacity you will be able to use it as a standard phone. (Let's presume that you can turn off the camera. It's a cool idea but I bet my wife isn't the only one to object.)
- Wifi interoperability is planned. (No mention of cellular interoperability...though that was discussed briefly at the Fiber Forum.)
- If you take both phone and internet packages you'll be able to download your voicemail as MP3s and have your email read to you on the phone. "Up to the limits of your tier's personal space allotment." What personal space allotment? That is the only place having some online storage a la Google is mentioned. ARRGGH! (The email <--> internet feature makes better sense if the internet component comes with email addresses and the concomitant web space and net interface--as does Cox and BellSouth's product.)
- What? You want more news than Gig intranet bandwidth and upload-download symmetry. Greedy you! OK....
- LUS is planning on implementing IPv6. Mike tells me to be impressed. Consequently, I am.
- The "Franchise Agreement" (Had forgotten about that? Me too.) will include support for AOC "similar to the current agreement with Cox" and "broadband capacity to support streaming IPTV and VOD [video on demand] functionality within the intranet" as well. (This sounds technical but will sustain AOC's community functions as the cable model starts to atrophy.)
- Interoperability: A lot of emphasis throughout the doc is placed on interoperability. The API issue cited near the beginning of this post is part of that as are features pointed out that flash incoming phone calls on the TV, Caller ID, remote login to video recording features, etc.
- The part on the "Franchise Agreement" mentions support for "Digital Inclusion" (Digital Inclusion is the new "less divisive" phrase for Digital Divide issues. Feel free to roll your eyes.) However, I can't decipher who will charged with doing this range of tasks.
To the PDF press release.