Monday, October 29, 2007

Shreveport considers WiFi...and Looks South

Two articles in The Shreveport Times (1, 2) review the potential for community WiFi in Shreveport. The articles are apparently a response to the formation of a task force on the issue manned in part by "the council's youngest and perhaps most tech-savvy members."

The articles author does a good job of reviewing the pluses and minuses, the successes and failures, of municipal WiFi. Cap'n Shreve's port is just thinking about it though. The story makes it clear that discussion in Shreveport is just begining so I wouldn't look for anything concrete for a while.

It is, however, interesting to notice that another of Louisiana's major cities is at least thinking about municipal broadband. And that has lead them to notice that we're doing it differently down south of I-10:
Yet other cities have taken a different approach.

In Lafayette, city officials put a bond issue before voters in 2006. The result: $120 million to extend fiber optics to each home and business in the city, according to Keith Thibodeaux, chief information officer for the city's Information Services and Technology Department.

The city estimates residents will be able to get services for about 20 percent less than the approximately $85 a month paid for bundled telephone, cable and Internet service, said Terry Huval, director of Lafayette Utilities System. "This system will completely pay for itself."

Huval later added, "Our motive is not to make a profit, but to provide a value to the community."
[Note: the author of the story got one part of that wrong: LUS has consistently said that it would offer a 20% discount off the triple play price current when the plan was announced -- about 85 dollars a month; not 20% off 85 dollars.]

The story then goes on to interview Keith Thibodeaux about Lafayette's WiFi network which is currently limited to police and utility functions.

Shreveport's committee almost immediately encountered the sad fact that Louisiana law makes any public broadband (including wifi) very difficult. One of the "tech savvy" council members says:
Aside from cost, which is a question mark at this point, Lester said legislators passed a law that essentially prohibits municipalities from being in direct competition with companies that provide high-speed Internet access. But it doesn't prevent municipalities from partnering with such companies.
Lester isn't quite right there--though he hedges his bet by saying that the law "essentially" prohibits such networks. That is the clear intent of the law, of course, but Lafayette's successful fiber fight makes it clear that a city can fight and win if it is determined enough. The council members might well be that he doesn't think that a referendum battle would work in his part of the state. Maybe--but it really ought to be considered. There are large advantages in owning that property yourself; networks are no different from real estate in that regard. The people of Shreveport ought to be given the chance to discuss that alternative. (They'd be smart to discuss a fiber build as well.)

Should Shreveport's people decide they want to do something for themselves they'd have supporters in Lafayette.

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