Monday, July 30, 2007

WBS: KillerApp: Take Four, The Lafayette Survey

What's Being Said Department

KillerApp's blog has posted a fourth in its series about Geoff Daily's visit to Lafayette. This one focuses on André Comeaux's efforts to get someone, anyone, to sponsor a survey of Lafayette's current broadband usage and needs. Daily lauds Comeaux saying:
In his mind, we can’t know where we’re going and/or how far we’ve gone without knowing where we came from, and in order to understand that we need to have a fuller understanding of how, and if, the Internet is being used today.

I think he’s spot on in his focus on this area, especially in a community like Lafayette that stands on the verge of making a major investment in its fiber infrastructure. I say this not only as a way to hopefully justify the cost of the fiber down the road, but also because of Andre’s savvy belief that if they can chart where they are today and then compare that to where they end up tomorrow, they’ll then have hard data that can be used to spur government officials into action, either through championing the successes that have been realized or stepping up to more fully support underachieving areas.

Andre’s not alone in understanding the need to get more information about how people are using the Internet today.

André is right, and Daily is right to cheer him on. André has done a tremendous amount of work and the entire package pretty much made up. He's secured the right to use the wording and the methodology of the USC Annenberg School's "The Digital Future Report." This prestigous national study has been done yearly since 2000 and basing our survey on it would both insure that we had 1) a good, credible baseline, 2) way to compare ourselves with the national norms, and 3) and a way to compare ourselves going forward. He also has a solid proposal in from the firm that does the survey for the Annenberg school to do ours. All that is lacking is the necessary institutional support and the money. And the money, quite likely, could be minimized if we could get some folks from ULL to kick in a little support.

André is following up on work done by the original Digital Divide Committee whose "Bridging the Digital Divide" document, as approved by the City-Parish Council, made such a survey a central part of the local commitment to bridging the digital divide. He picked up the cause as a member of Lafayette Coming Together after the fiber fight and pursued it vigorously, trying to bring in folks ranging from LEDA to UL to the Chamber of Commerce.

We need that survey pretty badly. Five years down the road the Lafayette Network will just be hitting its stride and I expect it to be doing well. But unless we have some way to track our achievements the perennial naysayers will always denigrate the system, saying that private companies could have done better (though they refused to do it all) or that the publicly owned network hasn't really made a difference (though they'll have no evidence they'll say it anyway and we'll have no solid way to disprove them). Even more critically, LUS and Lafayette will have no way to measure their accomplishments except by the same metrics that private for-profit companies use—subscribership and "profits"—and LUS is NOT trying to meet the same goals that private corporations are trying to meet. LUS will be run as a utility and its goals will be to lower prices (and hence profits) and to increase the utility and use of the service. Those are the sorts of metrics we should be using to judge our success and without a survey taken before the network starts up we will never have a good baseline against which to judge our success. I expect LUS' entry into the market to fundamentally change the market making it cheaper, faster, and hopefully more useful. More people will use the local network/s (public and private) and they will use it for different things. Without a way to track that change, and compare it to what is happening in other places it will be impossible to disprove unfair attacks like the ones we saw during the long fiber fight leading up to the referendum victory.

Thank are due André for his effort and thanks are due Geoff Daily for reminding us of what we have in such citizens. Here's to hoping someone besides André will step up to the plate.

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