Monday, April 30, 2007

Celebrate July 16

The anniversary of the July 16, 2005, community vote in support of the LUS fiber to the premises project should be celebrated in the community and by the community each year.

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!

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