Saturday, March 31, 2007

Jefferson Parish WiFi?

A couple of days ago City Business in New Orleans published a short piece saying that the Jefferson Parish Council had:
unanimously agreed to secure a wireless Internet communication network for parish residents from Lake Pontchartrain to Grand Isle...
Wi-Fi will allow residents to turn on their computers at any location within parish lines and immediately be plugged into the Internet.
Jefferson parish is uniquely varied--it stretches from Lake Ponchartrain to the Mississippi to the fresh-water swamps north of Barataria Bay to the classic barrier island of Grand Isle. That covers intensely urban areas that are part of metro New Orleans, large stretches of trackless swamp, and the blue-collar vacation homes on Grand Isle. Covering all that will be a major and varied undertaking.

The council is motivated in part by the communications failures following the storms—taking seriously the example of nearby New Orleans whose wifi system provided the only reliable communications venue in the immediate aftermath of the storm.

Jefferson Parish attempted to attract a public-private ownership deal last year according to an article in the Times-Picayune. That was supposed to mature into proposals by the first of this month and since that idea is no longer being discussed, apparently no viable bids came in. Plans have now shifted to the current model in which the Parish will build the system.

At least part of the reason that battered Jefferson Parish couldn't attract a public-private partnership to defray part of their cost is the (un)Fair Competition Act. That incumbent-protection bill, drafted by the current telecom operators, forbids local governments from offering services at any really useful speed without going through a long, costly, studded with—as Lafayette's case has proved—ugly and baseless lawsuits. That law continues to impose hardships on local governments who really ought to be able to provide crucial services to their communities without interference by out-of-state corporations. I hope Jefferson Parish officials are talking to their legislators.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Fiber & the Mayoral Race

Kevin Blanchard, writing one of his occasional "Inside Report" columns, reviews the intersection of the mayoral race in Lafayette and the fiber-optic project Durel bet on early in his tenure.

The gist is that Durel's gamble on fiber has paid off in the lack of any credible challenger emerging for his second-term bid.

Durel did take a risk. He had run, to put it bluntly, as the chamber candidate and as an business-like "reform" Republican. Taking on a costly project that was easy to paint as anti-business three or four months in to his term was pretty shocking. Durel was unwavering--even when his major supporters, both in the form of the chamber and the businessmen who had fostered his candidacy, couldn't find the wherewithal to exhibit the most tepid support. He came out of the chute fighting and really never let up--to the extent of being willing to plainly say things that, while obviously true, distressed orthodox Republicans; for example, pointing out that Cox and BellSouth were "greedy out-of-state monopolists." Without the Joey Durel and Terry Huval tag team's aggressive stance it is doubtful that the campaign could have been won.

What was revealed in the course of the fight is pretty shocking: a blunt pro-community, anti-corporate campaign could win, and win big, even in "conservative" Lafayette. When Durel called himself a "progressive republican" on a PBS show last year he was claiming a category he'd created and made credible. Durel has, at least for the moment, remade Lafayette politics.

Interesting days...and I, for one, will be interested to see whether this leads back to a more familiar "big dogs" regime or whether Durel will pursue creating the broader coalition that he's demonstrated is possible.

"LUS selects design firms"

The Advocate's Blanchard reports that LUS has selected it architectural firms for a head-end building to house the technical equipment to run the project and a large warehouse to house materials during the build.

The head-end building went to Guidry-Beazley Architects, the same folks who designed the LITE center. The warehouse plans will be put together by Architects Southwest, the folks responsible for planning River Ranch.

Buildings have a long lead time and if they are to be ready in time for the launch of services LUS apparently feels that they need to start the process now.

As an adjunct to the awarding of contracts to two local architectural firms Blanchard also covers the local small/minority business issue that I alluded to in a post yesterday--and does a better job of explaining its intricacies.

Emerald Bayou Studios--Proof of Concept

Yesterday's Advertiser carried a short article on Emerald Studios plans to move into the LITE center. It was presented as good news, but the story is, on reflection, potentially enormous. The studio will have to make good on its plans and survive for Lafayette to reap the full benefit but if that happens some of the community's fondest dreams will be within reach.

Emerald Studios is a new film production company with a studio in an old cottonseed mill in New Roads. Emerald Studio's addition to the growing stable at LITE has long been hinted at. They were featured at LITE's opening. There they complained of having to courier massive amounts of film data on disks (those shiny physical things- ick!) to postproduction sites in California and the disadvantage that the process put them at competitively. Their solution: They reported on their test transfer of digital film data using LONI and the LambdaRail network from LITE's LONI connection to a LambdaRail node in Georgia. Zippy. Flexible. Works. --Needless to say, they liked it.

Beyond the connectivity another thing that will be available at LITE is raw processing power, lots and lots of it. It is the combination of fat pipes and phat computation that makes LITE attractive. (Recall those parallel, clustered, supercomputers running the show there.) No doubt day-to-day the studio will roll its own computation...but when they need the horsepower it will be easy to get--and will rival anything available anywhere.

What this move by Emerald Studios means is that they are planning to do their post-production work not in California but here. And, with a planned hire of 77 people at an average of $71,000 apiece, they are anticipating working on more than their own few films. 77 people is a lot of people for this sort of enterprise.

What's more 77 people is too many people to fit in the 3000 square feet of office space at LITE. They must be planning on leasing more space. 77 people times a pretty measly 20x10 space for each works out to about 15,400 square feet. (200 sq ft per person is a fairly standard way to estimate office space requirements.) So 3000 sq ft is about is about 1/5 of the total minimum required office space. This means two things: 1) Billeaud Properties and other large office space owners want to send their sales people over to New Roads to talk to these women. 2) The unspoken plan is to have satellite offices and Lafayette's secret weapon is its fiber to the home (and office) network. That, on top of connectivity and processing power, is final piece of the puzzle that makes this deal make sense.

This is where the intranet bandwidth Huval discussed at the fiber forum shows its development potential. If all Emerald's nodes are located on LUS' network they will get intranet speeds of up to 100 megs or better between their locations--that is comparable to the 100 megs of ethernet connectivity that you have inside most offices these days. Emerald Studios (and other bandwidth-devouring businesses) can rent cheap office space and still get huge LAN-like (Local Area Network) bandwidth between their locations. A little VPN (virtual private network) and a location literally anywhere in Lafayette and you can have secure connectivity between your employees that in most cities would require you to lease a lot of space in an inordinately expensive, highly fibered up, specialty tech office park.

Doing business in Lafayette is gonna be a great deal for a whole class of new, high-paying, tech-oriened enterprises.

Emerald Bayou, with LITE, could easily be the core for the development of Lafayette as a regional rendering/3D powerhouse. These provide locations for interns from our high school and university programs. It is a sizable pool of jobs in itself and means animators and digital artists of all kinds can hope to find work here at home. Interested in parallel computing or next gen networking? There'll be work for you too. No doubt there'll be part-time work when the pressure is on. Once a specialized employee pool is available other companies will come here to try and poach -- and if they discover local folks don't want to leave the only way to take advantage of the personnel resource will be to establish a branch office. (And, since we're located on high speed fiber, communications with the home office won't be a problem.) There's a potential virtuous circle coming and we should do everything in our power to encourage it.

Emerald Bayou Studios is proof-of-concept for the high-end development dreams of the city fathers and local fiber supporters just as NuComm was proof that fiber could bring many much needed entry-level jobs to the city's north side. It will bring clean, high tech, high wage jobs to the city and develop a local pool of talent to fuel further, similar, development.

It's big news. With potentially enormous consequences for Lafayette.

It's working in Lafayette.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Digital Divide & More at Council meeting

I went to last night's Council meeting as there were two fiber-oriented issues on the agenda: the digital divide and small/minority business participation in the buildout phase of the project.

Digital Divide
Terry Huval's power point presentation on the digital divide went off smoothly. The first part of that report focused on reminding listeners about what had come before--it's been a long time since people have had cause to look back over the entire story. Early slides evoked memories of enthusiastic first council meetings where the idea was brought up and numerous benefits were suggested in the areas of jobs, development, cost savings, education, and the possibility of addressing the digital divide. The chief digital divide benefit anticipated was the promised 20% cost savings that would allow more people to afford services--or, alternately, to add access to the internet while not increasing their total outlay for communications services.

Most of the rest of the presentation focused on the recommendations of the original digital divide committee. Mention was made of interim efforts by locals that included Lafayette Coming Together's projects: the Cajundome effort after the storms, the collection and disbursement of refurbished computers, and work on issues like free software. The kicker was in the final slides where LUS promised to reconvene the Digital Divide Committee and complete an implementation plan based on the recommendations approved by the council in the same eighteen month time-frame during which the fiber network will be working to serve its first customer. (Remarks indicated that the 18 month period will apparently start this coming July, which is when the bond sale is currently anticipated.)

Walter Guillory, chair of the committee, gave a brief speech in which he indicated that he'd like to see more computers installed at housing projects and community centers. He also said he'd be looking to get the committee together in perhaps a week or two.

The Digital Divide Committee's new task will be very different from its original charge. Then it was tasked with coming up with a state of the art plan to encourage wide . The new issue will be how to implement those ideas: how the task will be broken up, what organizations/s will be responsible, and how it will be supported.

The presentations were well received. Both Benjamin and Williams proffered thanks and made supportive remarks.

NOTE: Terry Huval made a call for volunteers--if you're at all interested please put your name in the pot.

Small/minority business participation
If the digital divide report went smoothly the discussion of the participation of small businesses, minority businesses, and minority hiring was more contentious. LUS' basic position is that their hands are tied by state bid laws which brook no exception for such considerations. LUS would like to keep more of the construction business local but state law mandates a strict lowest-bidder selection process. They offered a plan to work with the general contractor to define areas where local businesses and workers could participate, to divide the jobs up so that these areas were conveniently joined and then to hold education sessions with local folks to help the learn how to qualify for those positions.

Chris William (chiefly though not exclusively) pushed for more, claiming that Shreveport, for instance had been considerably more successful in achieving minority participation and suggested a study of it and other cities that had achieved these goals.

Keeping local monies local was always a big part of the motivation for having a telecom utility. It only makes sense to try and keep as much of that money in the community during the build stage as well.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

It's Working in Bristol

KillerApp.com carries an article today on the business customer end of Bristol, VA's fiber to the home network. Most FTTH articles focus on on the benefit to consumers so this one's emphasis on business applications is intriguing. It all amounts to cheaper, faster, and more services. That's pretty much the story for consumers as well but the way it plays out on the business end is intriguing.

Bristol is apparently doing well:

After less than four years in business, competing with heavy-hitting incumbents, BVU now serves 65 percent of the homes and businesses in its service area – and this in a metropolitan area where, according to Nielsen studies, only 65 percent of the population subscribe to any form of cable television.
Now Bristol doesn't serve its entire metropolitan area so the numbers aren't parallel. But a 65% take rate is stunning. They've got to be doing something right.

WBS: Public Telecom & Net Neutrality

WBS dept:
Another man called from Lafayette, La., which has been battling Bell South and Cox Communications for years over the city’s attempts to provide municipal broadband to its residents. “An effective broadband strategy must allow for public ownership of the networks,” he declared angrily. “There’s a distinction between the interests of these corporations and the interests of communities. It became very clear in the fiber fight down here.”
Damn right. That quote is Mike's and can be found in In These Times' "Not Neutrality" article. It was uttered during a conference call focused on state video franchise laws and how those laws should be dealt with. As the article and Mike's remarks indicate, some issues including net neutrality and encouraging rather than discouraging municipal participation weren't dealt with adequately.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Teleco Franchise Reform Dissected

Karl Bove succinctly slices and dices the state-level franchise reform packages pushed by the phone companies (most prominent among which is our own AT&T):
While phone company lobbyists couldn't sell "franchise reform" on the federal level via Ted Stevens, they've had great success convincing state legislators (and the press and public) that stripping towns and cities of their regulatory authority will result in faster deployment of broadband and lower TV prices. While their lobbyists promise lawmakers cheap cable, the baby bells' primary goal is the elimination of build-out requirements, allowing them to maximize ROI by deploying services only to the most profitable neighborhoods.
After running through the telco BS on issues like lower prices (hasn't happened) and widespread deployment (not part of the plan) Bove closes with this:
The demonization of the local franchise system has been a multi-year, sophisticated public relations effort aimed at passing laws that will kill build-out requirements, eliminate local accountability, and create a one-stop-shopping lobbying point for the nation's largest phone companies. The push is aimed at saving these companies money, and nothing else. The bills we've read offer no benefits to consumers. Don't drink the phone company lobbyist Kool-Aid that suggests killing local authority will result in broadband utopia, increased deployment, and lower prices -- because you are going to be disappointed.
Good stuff. Recommended.

While similar points have been raised on these pages it is nice to see national voices sounding the call. And we'll get our chance again: it's all coming to a legislature across the big muddy in April....mark my words.

Monday, March 19, 2007

On Last Mile Monopolies

A blip in Gerald Shields "Washington Watch" in the Advocate Monday morning sent me hunting back through my archives. Et Voila! I found the story behind the story and it is all about last mile monopolies--not the cyber age version this time, but the classic industrial age one involving railroads and echoes of the Robber Barons. Lafayette has decided on its own fiber-optic solution to the cyber age problem of the last mile and is, by a strange twist of fate, also a player in the current railroad version.

The Story: All this comes up now because Shields reports the unusual story of David Vitter, a conservative republican, co-sponsoring a bill with such folks as Russ Feingold that would rein in a monopoly corporation. The bill targets railroads and would remove some of their anti-trust exemptions, opening them to civil suit and standard anti-trust controls at the federal and state levels. What catches the eye of a Lafayette denizen is Vitter's comment:

Lafayette electric customers pay $5 million to $6 million more a year, Vitter said, because there is only one 19-mile rail line into the city for coal.

“That absolutely and directly produces $5 million to $6 million more annually in rates for the city of Lafayette, and that’s wrong,” Vitter said.

Indeed, that is wrong.

The blip's version of the story correctly identifies Lafayette and the cost to its citizens but misidentifies the locale: the problem actually occurs at the Rodemacher coal-fired generating plant near Alexandria (half owned by LUS) and the 19 mile spur that connects the plant to the major rail trunk. That 19 mile spur is owned by Union Pacific who has used its control of the last few miles of a 1500 mile journey from the Powder River Basin coal mining area in Wyoming to jack up prices about 50% over the price per mile where competition exists end to end. That adds up to an additional 5-6 million a year in unfair costs paid by LUS customers. (That is only part of the cost to Louisiana citizens--CLECO owns 30% of that plant and other LEPA public electric utilities own the rest...CLECO also owns 100% of another another unit of similar capacity at Rodemacher. My rough estimate of the electrical cost to the citizens of the state of monopoly control of this short spur: 20-24 million dollars. A year.)

The outline for both cyber and industrial last-mile monopolies are surprisingly similar. Both involve an effective monopoly on service based on the ownership of the "last mile" that connects the user to the larger transportation network. That allows the the owner to charge what economists call "monopoly rents" and what the rest of us call "absurd overcharges" and "greed." In the case of coal that's a 50% overcharge. Having a (rare) second cable company in an area lowers prices by an average of 17%. (Close to the 20% break LUS has projected--which would seem to demonstrate that they are just jumping to competitive pricing.) Collusion between supposedly competitive is also a common feature of such area-based monopolies. They do not "poach" on each other's footprints. Huval has complained in testimony before Congress that this is true of railroads and anyone who has pondered why Comcast--which is a much larger company--doesn't move down from Opelousas and invade Lafayette has come to the conclusion that cable companies don't poach either. The same, of course, is true of telephone companies regardless off vain hopes the FCC has exhibited for years. Why not? Because poaching would be too much like competition--and would cut into their monopoly profits. Both companies make more money by respecting each other.

So there's a pattern here with which Lafayette, and certainly that LUS, is familiar. Over the years Louisana's legislators have made several attempts to fix this in Congress--to no avail. The coalition looks broader this year; so perhaps honor and good sense will prevail. In any case, LUS has prior experience with the evils of last mile monopolies and that might well have made the cancer easier to recognize when they considered taking up the challenge to provide a little last mile competition for Lafayette's cable, phone, and internet services.

We tend to think our fiber fight is a fresh new battle but in some ways it is a very old story; old wine in new bottles.


Lagniappe: To continue my new-found fascination with what we can glean about social issues from what we Google up: The classic USAToday article "Bells dig in to dominate high-speed Internet realm" that thrust Lafayette into the national discourse came up on the first page when I googled "robber barons railroad." I smiled and went hunting for the reference, thinking I'd forgotten that it had been mentioned then. But, in fact, not one of those words is in the story. A little further rooting around reveals that: "These terms only appear in links pointing to this page: robber barons railroad" Hmmn...what should it tell the incumbents that the story of their treatment of municpalities is so widely understood as wrong that historical references to abuses almost a century and a half old are now linked to their name? Clueless.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

How to Hit the Nail on the Head

Sunday is a good time for reflection and I try to put out a link to something thought-provoking on that day. This morning's candidate is a solid set of articles by Bruce Dixon. He offers up some clues about how having a place to stand in the world makes a difference in how well we think about it. LPF, I'd like to think, has a distinct place--Lafayette--and takes a stand in favor of that place. Dixon does something similar.

Dixon takes a stand in favor of his community. He's a writer at both the Black Commentator and the Black Agenda Report. The article that caught my attention was: Black Lawmakers Digitally Redline African American Neighborhoods. Finding that--and admiring it--lead to locating The Black Stake in the Internet. The articles cover the spate of state video franchising laws (like the one we barely escaped last year here in Louisiana) and the issue of net neutrality.

They're both damn good on their topics. Better, in fact, than almost any article I could name. There's a very clear depiction of the context, the basic actors and the basic facts of the matter. You know who the players are and what effect their acts have on people with whom the writer is concerned. As a reader you are informed. Cutting through the BS and getting down to the meaningful consequences for your and yours of public policy is the real point of covering politics.

Having "standing" makes a difference. Here are some teasers from the excellent redlining article.

On political malfeasance:
Last year big cable and bigger telephone companies deployed platoons of lobbyists and up to a hundred million dollars in an attempt to enact national cable franchise legislation. They greased its way through the House of Representatives, proving along the way that willful ignorance and lots of corporate cash could make two thirds of the Congressional Black Caucus vote for the digital broadband redlining of their own communities...
On the corporate FUD strategy:
Sometimes phone companies appeal to ratepayer dissatisfaction with the quality of cable service by appearing to campaign against cable companies, but it's a good-cop-bad-cop kind of act. Cable franchise legislation has nothing to do with competition or lowering rates. The nation's handful of giant phone and cable companies know a few things about their own business model and about the market that most legislators and ratepayers do not. They know that current and next-generation fiber optic cable systems are and will be for some time to come the only economical way to deliver telephone service, remote medical diagnostics, medical and resource monitoring, interactive on-demand video and the media-rich total presence advertising which corporate marketers are itching to bring you --- all over the new high-speed broadband internet...
On the excuse that letting media corporations do what they please fosters "innovation"
Big phone and cable have never been about competition, fostering innovation, entrepreneurship, or any of that garbage. Like all media marketplaces, cable and telephony are characterized by government regulation of a scarce public resource - the public right of way along which network lines are laid in one case, or the broadcast spectrum in another.
That's clarity of thought. And clear thinking is in short supply regardless of your cultural history. So take a gander, you don't have to be Black or Left-wing (Dixon is both) to appreciate what he has to offer.

And for lagniappe: reflect a little on the difference that actually knowing who you are fighting for makes.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Saturday Activity: Montage an Idea...

Ok, why not a fun search activity this Saturday morn? It's pretty but its chilly....fool around a bit and see what sorts of mind-bending things the net makes possible.

Navigate to the Grant Robninson's Montage-a-Google page. You'll see that it takes Google search items and returns a montage of the images it finds on google that match your search parameters. You can search for anything you like (or don't like).

Colors? Try "Blue-Green"

Emotions? Try "Placid"

For that special little girl's room? Try "pink azalea" (Make it as big and as high resolution as you want using the "Advanced Options.")

Art: Try "Guernica"

Ideas: "Fiber Optic"

"Laughter"

"Roly Poly"

"Swirl"

Your turn....

Goggle it: Cluelessness Incumbents

Here's an interesting little activity for a Saturday morning: Google "Cox Lafayette La" and "BellSouth Lafayette La." Go on now, click those links, get those pages up in separate tabs....now take a look. Really, this requires participation...you need to experience this yourself.

Why might any regular person run up that search? Well: maybe you want to find the local offices--to pay a bill or sign up for services. I sometimes run searches like this to find out if a company had a presence in town, how many locations it has and whether any are close to me. Mostly people make searches on business and location because they are considering doing business with the company.

What you'll see is that, for Lafayette, that search returns 1) almost nothing that would help a potential customer find out how locate Cox or BellSouth in Lafayette and 2) a lot of things that would indicate that Lafayette is angry with these guys. Follow out a few of those links and what you'll get is a picture of a company that hasn't dealt fairly with Lafayette--and you'll find that judgment passed in both national and local media.

That is NOT what you want a search on your name to produce.

The incumbents are clueless about a lot of things; that's pretty obvious, but they don't understand just how damaging this stuff is. There have been reams of paper (lots of bytes?) spent on dissecting Google search, its page rank system and how those two interact. The system is continually tweaked to produce what Google hopes will be the most useful returns for your search. Mostly it works. People like and rely on search engines--so much so that even the major computer operating systems are now offering search facilities that mimic internet search engines to help you find what's lost on your own hard drive.

The point is that most internet-savvy people use search incessantly...and have been trained by the experience to believe the result is meaningful. What comes up IS related to what you searched for.

This is NOT a good thing for the incumbents who remain absolutely clueless about what they have created in Lafayette. Insulated by their monopoly positions in their central cable and telephone markets they've grown used to riding out dissatisfaction that a company in a truly competitive market could not survive.

Just so you'll have a sense of what a search on a company and a location ought to show if the company hasn't created unnatural amounts of local hostility I offer up "LUS Lafyette La" and "Cox Baton Rouge La." One of the first things you find is the physical location and a contact link for each company. You can click right through and get your business done.

The incumbents seem to be clueless as to what their failed attempt to break Lafayette cost them locally (or nationally) but a trip to the search engine should be instructive. When a perfectly innocent location search returns nothing but reasons not to use your service you know you've poisoned the stream. It'll take a long while for that stream to clear even if you stop dumping junk in it.

Lafayette remembers...and so does the net.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Congrats: Lafayette named "Smart Community"

Congratulations are in order: Lafayette has just been named a "Smart Community" by Last Mile Magazine and Digital City Expo. From the LCG/LUS press release:
"The leadership of Lafayette rightly believes that true broadband - and fiber-optic capabilities to every home - is an essential utility for the economic well-being of the community," said James Salter, CEO of Atlantic Engineering and a member of the Last Mile Editorial Advisory Board. "Over the past few years, I have seen this leadership step forward repeatedly to build a community FTTH. For that grit, for that determination, Lafayette deserves the Digital City EXPO Smart Community Award."

Editors cited both the majority vote of Lafayette citizens in June 2005 in favor of the plan and the decision of NuComm International to locate a customer contact center for its technical and service support, customer care, billing and data management company in Lafayette as major reasons for the award.
From Joey Durel:
“Our desires to bring 21st century technology to Lafayette citizens, to spark job growth and to create educational opportunities here at home has been the cornerstone of our fight for this fiber project,” said Joey Durel, Lafayette City-Parish President. “That our efforts have been recognized nationally by this prestigious group underscores the significance of our vision for our community and how it might help others change their world and their future.”
The city--and its leadership--certainly deserve the honor. Lafayette's success has made it clear that such battles could be won. Salter, who has been involved in a number of southern fiber buildouts, has seen other cities whose populace and leadership were not so determined and whose projects never reached fruition as a consequence. Durel and Huval's willingness to step up and wage the fight in no uncertain terms was absolutely critical to that victory. The crews over at LCG and LUS ought to step up and take a bow. It's been earned.

Lafayette shares the award with Cleveland, famous for it OneCleveland (rebranded OneCommunity) digital inclusion/community development project.

The award will be made on April 3 at the Digital City Expo in Ruston, Virgina.

Update 3/15/07: Both the Advertiser and the Advocate carry short stories on the "smart community" award this morning.

FYI: Fiber Savings for Institutions and Small Businesses

From out of California comes a story that won't interest everyone--but if you are associated with a medium-sized institution or business it might prove very interesting.

Here's the gist: A nice fat fiber pipe can mean a huge set of savings, particularly savings in internet connect fees and phone service. This has been true for awhile, of course, but the trick has been to be able to buy that fat pipe at a price that didn't kill your savings in the other areas. Since you had to pay for an expensive fiber install yourself the upfront costs could kill the deal.

Executive Summary: You had to be a big guy to get the good deal. (This is not news, no?)

The story linked to details the sorts of savings that were possible for a California Community College in San Francisco. They had to buy their own ring but got 20 times the internet bandwidth to their multi-campus unit for the same price and had a gig of internal bandwidth to burn for in-house applications. Most significant in terms of immediate savings was a switch from a standard centrix phone system in which they paid for every phone line and even paid for calls to numbers within their system. A sophisticated VOIP plan allowed them to drop almost all of their centrix contracts. And ended up with a much more feature-rich phone system to boot. (If you are paying for separate phone lines and being billed for calls to your in-house numbers you need off that plan....)

A great deal...for someone who can wrangle their own fiber ring.

The thing is, here in Lafayette you are about to get your own fiber ring. You'll be able to gain access to crazy-fast bandwidth without buying your own fiber strands. Killing the startup costs will make the sorts of major, continuing advantages that once only accrued to the big guys available to everyone who needs big internet bandwidth; who has multiple locations; or who looks with horror upon their monthly phone bill.

Our big guys, including UL, LCG, Hospitals, Community Colleges, and the parish school system need to planning to take advantage of this now--if they haven't already. (And I'd be interested in knowing if they have.)

But the really big advantage accrues to those who aren't the big guys: folks with 30 phone lines and below who currently have no real choices. Sit down and game this out--talk to some of our local geeks. Very fancy VOIP software is available for astonishingly cheap prices (e.g. FREE) and while you'd be wise to contract with a local to maintain it and troubleshoot the savings could be huge on this one factor alone.

New Executive Summary: Don't go signing any long term contracts right now....and start planning.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Digital Divide Returns—as it should

Just when you think it is safe to quite paying attention to council meetings for awhile....

Both LUS and various correspondents confirm that Chris Williams brought up the digital divide at last Tuesday night's council meeting. That issue was a major part of the discussion back in 04-05. He'd like to return to the promises made then and get an update. Huval promised to get back to him with a response during the March 27th meeting.

For those among us whose memories of that period are dimming: Back in the early days the digital divide was a big issue in securing the council's endorsement of the project. This was back before any referendum was planned. At the time it was assumed that the big political battle would be on the floor of the council. Over time it became pretty clear that the council was prepared to give its approval and the new goal was making approval unanimous if at all possible; the idea being for the community to present a united front in the face of anticipated incumbent oppositions. (This proved prescient.)

It was at that time that the digital divide issue became prominent. Everyone agreed that taking on that issue was something that could and should be done by LCG/LUS. Chris Williams wanted to see the green--he wanted a commitment that devoted real, hard cash to closing the digital divide in the financial plan. What exactly that money would be used for varied. But that always seemed secondary to securing the commitment by getting real dollars devoted to the principle. LUS and LCG resisted, in part for local political reasons, and in part for legal reasons. They didn't want to excite knee-jerk ideological responses from the right that might endanger support from councilmen that were more comfortable with economic development rationales than arguments about community betterment. The incumbents' new state law also imposed restrictions--at the time Lafayette wasn't going to have to go to a referendum, but if it restarted the process by posting a new financial plan that included digital divide elements it seemed likely that legal challenges from the incumbents would force delays and might well force a referendum that nobody local wanted. (The fear that the incumbents would use legal tools to force delays proved prescient too.)

What emerged was a digital divide committee convened by LUS that would come up with a document that the council could then endorse--that, the thinking went, would bind LUS to a real commitment to the digital divide and allay Williams and Benjamen's concerns that it was all window-dressing. And, of course, put off heated public disagreements to a later date.

The digital divide committee (full disclosure: I was a member) was composed of citizens who were all first concerned about the issue and were also variously suggested by councilmen, or were representatives of governmental agencies, nonprofits, and business interests. They meet and produced a report that was presented to the council on 5/17/o5. Members of the committee made short presentations, backed by a slideshow, and answered questions from the council.

That evening the council, by ordinance, endorsed "the principles and recommendations embodied in the committee’s study" and "called for LUS to incorporate elements of the report...into its Fiber for the Future project."

I've recently reviewed the report again and gone out and looked at similar documents from other cities. I honestly think Lafayette's stacks up well. For comparison purposes, check out San Francisco's recent work which, overall, takes a strikingly similar position on major issues.

The take-home is pretty simple. This issue is coming back—and it is fair that it should. Supporters of fiber—and supporters of Lafayette—will be aware that the full council made a strong commitment to a series of worthy principles. Both that commitment and Williams and Benjamen's final decision to let lie their request for a monetary obligation were decisions made in the interest of preserving community unity in the face of a well-funded and implacable outside opposition. It worked: every council district, and every part of the community voted strongly in favor of building a municipal fiber-optic network.

Now is the time to make good on the commitments that made our success possible.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Cox: here, elsewehere, and elsewhen

Cox communications was at last Thursday's Fiber Forum where Karen Kleinpeter, Karmen Blanco and maybe 5 or 6 others were spotted busily taking notes and being very quiet. They caucused in the parking lot for a long time after the meeting, no doubt planning their next nefarious move--or at least trying to figure out how to offset the good publicity accruing to LUS without doing anything so gauche as actually taking their customers opinions seriously themselves.

Today we see featured in the local business section of the Advertiser an AP story about the cable companies plan to offer cell phone service--elsewhere and elsewhen. Nothing is actually being offered in our neck of the woods and it isn't clear when this might happen locally. This is a fairly old story, actually: the cable companies joined together back in 2005 to partner up with Sprint/Nextel in hopes that they could put together a "bundle" that included cellular service. Since their phone company rivals had already bought their way into a dominant position in the cellular arena (Verizon and AT&T are the dominant names in both cellular and telephone networks) they decided to put together a package of their own.

The story summarizes the current state of the partnership--one which is actually moving pretty slowly as things go in the fast-paced telecom world. All the cable companies appear to still be "testing" the bundle. Since the plan is for the cable companies, for example Cox, to provide not only billing, branding, and marketing, but the much more daunting task of support they seem to be taking it slow. My guess is that they want to make really sure that there is some payoff from going the full route of providing a fully cable-branded cellular service--and that they aren't certain yet.

So the local news here is actually pretty much nil. But it does highlight the importance of LUS' eventual wireless play and how it will be structured. In recent announcements (including those at the well-attended-by-Cox Fiber Forum meeting) LUS has said that a wireless data play is coming--either concurrent with the fiber build or soon thereafter. As Huval made clear a cellular play would depend upon partnering up with a major player and he says that no such negotiations have begun. I'd suspect that in LUS' case we'd see a simple partnership: no LUS-branded phones. Just a deal or deals to let one or more brands of dual mode wifi/cell phone latch onto the national network beyond our borders. (The carrier that agrees to that will have a big leg up in our market.) In the best of all possible worlds any carrier would allow local networks to cut that sort of deal and with municipal WiFi hitting many of the country's major cities the advantage to be had from cutting such deals may well become overwhelming.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

AT&T & Cox should reconsider state video franchising

Tis spring and the legislative season is opening in these United States. Our Louisiana silly season won't begin 'til April but many state legislatures are already in session. An article in the Jackson, TN newspaper reminds us that phone companies are still up to their old tricks. Last year the telephone companies launched a nation-wide push in state legislatures to take control of local rights-of-way away from the cities and counties that own them and create state-level privileges for phone companies who wanted to get int the cable TV business.

Background
Most important of these privileges was state permission to avoid the build-out requirements of towns and cities-local governments that have, for pretty obvious reasons, consistently insisted that if a business wanted to use local property to make a profit off its citizens then offering service to all the citizens was a non-negotiable starting point. "All of us or none" was the stalwart principle. In various places the phone companies have conceded to every other demand from monetary rewards to PEG channels. But they are not willing to give up the competitive advantage over the cable companies of skimming off the cream of the local market. They want to take the most profitable customers and move on with no assurance that their "competition" will ever reach most of the community.

Our legislature fell for it and only the governor's veto pen kept the state from writing into law a bill that would have solidified the digital divide between poor and rich as well as between rural and urban for at least a generation. (In fairness to individual legislators, it should be said that there was a truly inspirational confrontation on the floor of the Senate. Friends of the people went down kicking.)

On the evidence of what is going on elsewhere this season in places like Tennesse, Wisconson, and it seems likely that Louisiana will again see an attempt by AT&T to ram through a state-wide video law that favors its interests. While AT&T (then BS) found tough sledding early in last season's attempt to pass such a law after partnering up with Cox and the cablecos they managed to pass a law fairly easily. The new, cableco-approved version would have allowed cable companies to break their contracts with local communities in order to use the same advantages offered the phone companies. The cable companies apparently thought that, on the balance, the new advantages over communities was a decent trade-off for the benefits the bill gave the phone companies in their competition with cable. (Did that dark alliance clue in the legislative majority? No.)

So I expect the AT&T-BS/Cable coalition to be back at the trough this year. With the FCC rule that gave the phone companies most of what they failed to get from the last congress now in jepordy from a resurgent Congress there is no reason to think that the incumbents won't continue to try and get what they want from the local yokels they've taken before.

But whoa up a moment: is that really wise?
Things change. That article from the Tennessee paper contains a suggestive paragraph:
One advantage of the state legislation, however, is that Jackson Energy Authority [JEA] would be able to expand its cable and Internet services outside of its present designated service area, Farmer said.
JEA is Jackson's equivalent of LUS--the fiber-laying, incumbent-slaying upstart. Incumbents take heed: Lafayette's own muni fiber optic network is now assured. EATel, the locally owned rural phone company, is building its own fiber network on line between New Orleans and Baton Rouge and has made clear its ambitions for expansion from the beginning. St. Charles parish is contemplating building its own network and looks to Lafayette. Rumors about New Orleans Fiber In The Sewers (FITS) continues to make the incumbents slumber fitful. It's beginning to look like a trend.

Any and all of these entities could take advantage of the same (still unfair) privileges that for which AT&T/BS has been angling.

That's not what BellSouth intended. When that law was originally proposed NOBODY that could compete with BellSouth would have benefited. The late inclusion of the cable companies didn't really change the competitive landscape much. They are already built out as much as they think profitable, new challenges from them were unlikely.

AT&T/BS might want to rethink its position in Louisiana. They'll be enabling folks who might (gasp!) actually decide to compete with them--and compete at their own game with superior technologies. If the phone company succeeds legislatively what is to keep EATel from deciding to serve, with real fiber, the new mushroom ring around New Orleans--but only the wealthier new suburbs, the local cream, and doing to AT&T what it plans to do to the cable companies: cherry-pick the most profitable areas and leave the rest for the incumbent providers. What's to keep St. Charles from doing its own network with support from Lafayette's backend facilities--right down to using LUS' billing and branding systems? What's to keep LUS from aggressively moving into every non-incorporated new subdivision in the parish using its now-pervasive fiber backbone that feeds the schools? What's to keep LUS from being invited into cities as full competitors in places that like what they see happening in Lafayette? With a state-wide franchise: Nothing, Nothing, Nothing, and Nothing.

No doubt LUS, as a municipal entity itself, will not be willing to move into a city without negotiating with the local authorities and sharing income. But that might be a big advantage in the long run. If AT&T really manages to come in, cherry pick the cream, and stiff the cities on income and services it will be a painful, ugly thing as cities take the hit in franchise income. (The cable franchise is usually 3-5% of gross revenues--a critical component of local discretionary revenues.) LUS (and similar entities its example may spawn) wouldn't have to extract nearly the profit the incumbent desire and could afford to be generous with services and profit-sharing. That could prove very attractive to places abused by the incumbents inevitable move to squeeze the municipalities once the cities are stripped of bargaining power by state or federal takings.

Maybe AT&T will still think the advantages it gains over cable are worth the competition it courts by promoting a law that will give every small public or private entity in the state a license to compete in every corner of the state on an ad hoc basis. Maybe. But a year later it is clear that the decision is no longer a no-brainer with nothing but upside for the company. As the old saying goes: Be careful what you wish for.

Cox's (and the other cableco's) rationale for backing AT&T's law this time around is even less clear than it was last year. The emerging pattern of AT&T predatory build out policies in other states (predicted here at LPF) is now obvious: they take the best and leave the rest for the cable companies who have already built their networks to serve the entire community and have to carry that extra overhead.

Cox Baton Rouge, which now includes Acadiana, is particularly vulnerable: On the south it faces EATel, a local phone company which makes no bones about it desire to bring its FTTH-based cable competition to rapidly growing--and lucrative arc of outer suburbs developing south and east of Baton Rouge. That ambition was spoken before the storms devastated New Orleans and made those areas the new home to much of the population of that metropolis. Should EATel secure that arc it'd be posed to eat into the densely populated segments of the city--but not with AT&T's barely capable DSL-based offerings but with full throated fiber to the home. On the Western verge of that territory it is now certain that Cox's largest profit center in Acadiana, Lafayette, will be a profit center no longer. Inevitably LUS' expansion will come out of Cox's established base; with few exceptions every cable customer LUS gets will mean a lost subscriber for Cox. That nightmare is visible on the horizon. In short order Lafayette will be one of the least profitable networks in its system, supported by a subscriber base that is a fraction of what headquarters has grown to expect.

No, Cox does not need to add to its troubles by supporting a law written by its deadliest enemy.

Cox has allied with the wrong side. Here's what would be much smarter: Ally with the Louisiana Municipal Association and the parishes. Join them in suggesting a pre-emptive law that protects local rights and keeps AT&T/BellSouth from securing unfair competitive advantages.

The outlines of such a law aren't hard to see and could be based on a law suggested by local governments last year. That law offered to put a 90 day "stop clock" on any negotiation with a new competitor, assuring that no one could be unreasonably delayed in entering a new market. If an agreement couldn't be reached quickly all the competitor had to do was agree to sign on to the same contract the incumbent cable company already had. Easy, fast, efficient, and transparently fair. It was, of course, rejected out of hand by the phone company. Their interest lay in securing advantage, not a level playing field.

This year's version could look like this, for starters:
  • It should be based on the current local franchise; preserving local control of local resources.
  • It could lay out a reasonable timeline for a full build-out to match the current cable footprint. Small communities could expect to be served by a full competitor in three years and larger cities in, say, seven. That would remove the most anti-competitive aspect of the law, and the one that puts the established incumbent at a permanent disadvantage.
  • It could include a time clock (the cities are willing to agree to 90 days) after which the default "established contract" goes into effect--that would mean no long delays of the sort the phone companies claim to be worried about.
  • The default contract could include certain standard modifications such as: a "revenue neutral" clause for the city; meaning that the extras, like PEG monies, channels, service networks and the like would only have to be provided once...not twice. This could include a clause allowing the new entrant to pay the current provider for providing their pro-rata-by-subscriber share of these services or allow them to take over a portion of the responsibility directly as they expand and acquire the capacity.
  • Also standard could be clauses that provide real, automatic, penalties for not meeting contract requirements like one mandating buildout. To make sure that both cities and competitors are motivated to insist on contract adherence the default contract could have escalator clauses built into the monies paid the city and the incumbent if they failed to meet their promise to compete fully and fairly.
It would make a lot of sense for Cox and the state cable association to get together with the municipal and parish organizations and promote a bill that protects their rights and competitive interests while giving the phone company the quick and easy route to competition that they claimed they wanted last year.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

On Really Getting It

One of the most gratifying things about Thursday night's fiber forum was watching Lafayette's leaders (and a nice chunk of the community) exhibit all the signs that they really get it. They understand the potentials of the new technologies and have a good sense of how to milk the most out of them. This, my friends, is extraordinary--and vanishingly rare.

There is evidence that they clearly understand: 1) Great things are coming but what those great things are is unknown; 2) that the best thing to do encourage unknown great things is to be generous, and; 3) generosity needn't cost much or anything.

On Great Things are unknown:
At one point in the night Huval broke into an historical analogy. He said that he felt like his predecessor in in 1897 must have felt when electricity was being introduced. All the questions were about lighting and light bulbs: "What do we do when the light bulb breaks" and much concern was shown about the dangers of sticking a finger in the socket. Nobody knew about radio, or TV, or microwave ovens. The idea, of course, is that the hopes and anxieties of the initial stages of a new technology are incomplete and even misleading when viewed in retrospect. The conclusion is that we don't, can't, know all the great things that will result from ubiquitous really huge bandwidth. That's wise. To believe otherwise encourages folks to build elaborate edifices for a future that is never realized--and that has been the single greatest danger of "visionary" enterprises. But the danger in the wise recognition that you can't know the future in detail is that it might lead to inaction: there is a temptation to believe that you can't encourage that which you do not know. That's not true and these guys are NOT making that mistake.

On designing for unknown Great Things:
There is a way to design a system to encourage unknown great things: Where possible choose networks that leave open the most possibilities for users to "do things" with the network. And once you have such a networks don't put any limits on users that are not absolutely necessary. That can get technical pretty quickly. But the underlying attitude is not complicated: Be Generous. If you have a choice to make about network design: Choose the more generous network. If you have a choice to make about what a user is allowed to do with the network: Be Generous. That's a pretty simple and easy to enact principle.

Such a "generous" attitude was exhibited when Huval illustrated how he thinks Lafayette's network will be different from other networks. Verizon, which has a fiber to the home network with the attendant large capacity, is not offering much of that capacity to its public. It is choosing to merely compete with its cable opponents by offering a little more of the same for a little less. Verizon's attitude is that if it can't make a buck off it then it won't offer it--it won't give away anything, not even something which costs it nothing. Huval, pointing to Verizon said "our philosophy is going to be completely different" and that LUS will take the position of offering a much as possible as long as doing so doesn't create an obvious problem with the business plan. Both the decision to offer symmetrical bandwidth and to allow full intranet bandwidth between customers show what decisions result when you take a generous position.

On the idea that generousity can be cheap:
Given generous upfront decisions about the intial design of the network features like symmetrical speeds and full intranet speeds will be very cheap to provide in light of the huge excess capacity the network will have. Making the decision to be generous need not be expensive. This point was made during the discussion Thursday. One man voiced concerns that all the nifty ideas that had been suggested would be expensive and that only some of them could be chosen. Huval seemed genuinely puzzled as he responded that, actually, very few would cost anything. In that he was right...but his point was that he was inclined to do as much of it as he could in that case.

So these guys get it: Generosity pays dividends. We've always known this, of course, but it is interesting to find the principle showing up so vividly in the esotoric world fiber-optic networks.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Fiber Forum Reviews

Local medial covered last night's Fiber Forum. Both local television stations, the Advertiser, and the Advocate ran stories. Take a look, both stories are worth your review if you are interested in the future of our project.

Teasers from the Advocate:
...when LUS Internet customers are communicating inside the LUS network — which will run throughout the city — their Internet speed would be the maximum LUS could offer.

It costs additional money for LUS to connect customers to the Internet outside its network, but not for “Intranet” traffic, Huval said...

Local lawyer Kaliste Saloom III said the new system should take advantage of bandwidth to enable and increase community-based programming, including greatly expanding the Acadiana Open Channel’s ability to distribute locally generated programming.

Huval said LUS would be looking at inexpensive computer devices for people to connect to the Internet — either through computers that are little more than a keyboard, screen and a connection to a network that holds all the software, or, at the suggestion of a resident [Glenn Lambert], cable set top boxes that come with a keyboard and act as a computer.

A wireless Internet product is also on the table, Huval said.

After the network is built to each home and business in the city, running fiber-optic cables down every street, there will be a “robust” backbone for a citywide wireless network, Huval said.

Teasers from the Advertiser:
...Huval said that public participation is important in LUS’ plan and is one of the things that makes the business different. The customers, who are also owners, have a real say in the way the business operates.

Dorsey said he hoped the fiber network could turn Lafayette into the first city in North America to embrace video phone technology.

Bill Connolly, a LUS customer, said it would be a good idea to include a feature that would allow citizens to check their daily water, sewage and electricity usage online instead of waiting for an LUS bill at the end of the month.

Huval also said interest in fiber optics network has spread beyond LUS customers.

"There's been an interest expressed by people outside the city," he said. "It's hard to ignore that."

Exciting times are upon us. The attitude exhibited by LUS and the savvy demonstrated by the public are good news.


Point of Personal Privilege; about the absence of KATC & KLFY links:
Both KATC and KLFY have videos available that cover this story but I can't be comfortable linking to them. Frankly, there's nothing in the content worth waiting through the ads and wading through the squirrelly javascript once you've managed to locate it. The proprietary MS technology that both have purchased from some common vendor in an attempt to make sure they can force you to watch additional ads is sure to break the links for folks with older or nonmicrosoft technology. The contrast between the city's vision and the stations' clunky adherence to broken technology could not be greater. Not everything is dandy in the hub city. (There's something seriously wrong when the best, most accessible video on the local net is at the newspaper's site.)

Thursday, March 08, 2007

The First Fiber Forum

I just got out of the LUS fiber to the home meeting at City Hall. I've searched for a way to sound measured and reasoned but...Hell, I'm pumped!

Why? Well, attitude, information, and good suggestions just about sums it up.

The attitude
Well the attitude was everything a good little-d democrat could ask for: The people there were interested and engaged, wanted to contribute and did contribute. There was no whining about decisions that the community had already made. What was suggested was put out there with a good heart and in the hope that the suggestions might actually be helpful. Terry Huval, LUS head and event MC, was open—willing to say what was possible, what isn't possible, and what he didn't know. While there were moments of caution the feeling of candor was very comforting after watching people be cautious for so long. Just deciding to hold the meeting was evidence that the tone had shifted. We can relax and talk amongst ourselves now that the battle is over. Sniping from the outside is now largely irrelevant. A lot of folks have waited for this day.

You want to add you own ideas to the suggestion box? Write: Fiber@LUS.org

The information
There was news, and there were things that we hadn't heard repeated in so long that they felt like news again.
  • Wireless, it is baldly asserted, is coming--just when and just how to be determined. But the wireless will be hung off the fiber and will come quickly after they get comfortable with the utility network they are working on now. Wireless, in the wake of fiber is described as relatively cheap and as something the dense fiber will make "very robust."
  • We will get symmetric upload and download speeds for our dollars. (HeeYah).
  • What Huval calls peer to peer bandwidth, the digital divide report called "full insystem bandwidth" and others call "intranet speeds", sounds like it is a go. With it every customer will be able to communicate with every other customer at the full available speed of our local fiber--regardless of the service tier (5 meg, 10 meg, etc.) limits that kick in when we get outside of our own network. This lays the groundwork for a whole raft of other wonderful things. (On which more when I can get around to it. A teaser? Yes.)
  • Dual mode cell/WiFi service to go with the wireless? That would require a partnership with a carrier. They are not in negotiations yet but LUS is aware of the issue and thinks that will be a capacity they anticipate the community will want.
  • Territorial expansion--e.g. service beyond the city of Lafayette. Huval was cagey. But cagey in a way that made plain that yes, it was under discussion, that LUS had capacity outside the city, and would consider partnerships or simply leasing the expensive "head end" facilities to burbs that wanted to do it themselves. Or, of course, LUS' telecom division could simply move in and provide welcome competition for the incumbents. Clearly there's been thought about this.
  • NO contract. NO deposit if credit not a problem. NO connection charge.
  • Reiterates claim that triple play packages similar to the incumbents will be 20% less
News more operational than technical:
  • Huval reacted favorably to the idea of community working groups, along the lines of the original Digital Divide Committee to address some of the questions raised.
  • There was a strong emphasis on localism--the idea that the network should be used to bolster our uniqueness. The idea of putting more channels--or simply bandwidth--into AOC, or offering channels/bandwidth to schools, community colleges, and the university for distributed education... with open insystem bandwidth some of this would come almost effortlessly.
  • There will be more Fiber Forums...at least one, perhaps more, perhaps more focused on particular issues or services.
The suggestions
The suggestions from the floor were grand. People had a good sense of what they wanted and what might be possible. You can add your own by email at Fiber@LUS.org My undoubtedly incomplete list in raw form, so you can get a sense of the range and richness:
  • integrated video phone technology
  • high definition programming
  • symmetrical upload and download
  • DVR settop box
  • a la carte
  • inexpensive low tier
  • peer to peer bandwidth
  • community working/study groups
  • inexpensive computer integrated into set-top box
  • wireless connectivity
  • territorial expansion
  • two way video TV
  • bandwidth opportunity with retail packages (intranet bandwidth, I believe.)
  • telephone features
  • Video on demand feature
  • open access support (Localism, AOC, 15 channels)
  • Provide AOC with Bandwidth and rack space
  • Use Internet with utilities consumption, customers could monitor own usage
  • web hosting facility
  • distance learning...for schools
  • Web Portal...(suggested)
  • traffic control.."Intelligent traffic control system"
  • Cell phone/wireless phones
  • Spam protection
  • all digital simulcasting
  • one number access (unified access service)
Don't you want all that? Want to know when it'll get to you? Tough.

But....Pre-sign up will be possible at some point, and if your neighborhood has all signed up, well that might well feed into the decsion of which area to work first. Desperate? Start a petition in your neighborhood. My guess is that you could get yourself on a list by using that same Fiber@LUS.org.

I want it. NOW.

Reminders of the Fiber Forum

Both the Advertiser and the Advocate remind us of the Fiber Forum this afternoon.

Durel and Huval will be in the atrium at city hall this evening at 5:30 to talk to citizens about Lafayette's fiber optic network.

You can expect the session to open up with a road plan for the construction of the network that has the potential to reveal new details about a system whose exact nature has been shrouded by the need to defend the very idea from incumbent opposition. With the right to build the network now secured we can hope for the sorts of details to emerge that could fuel our imagination as to what unique services could be developed.

Both articles talk about LUS wanting input on "services" it could provide over the new network. From the Advocate:
Director Terry Huval has said that LUS is interested in hearing from people the type of services and products they would like to see in an eventual system because those preferences will help LUS decide which technologies to pursue.
The Advertiser expands on this point:
"Our system is going to have a tremendous amount of capacity," he said.

It will be unlike anything ever seen in Lafayette, Huval said.

With that huge amount of capacity goes enormous potential.

An earlier release
by the Advertiser "First Fiber Forum Thursday" (web only) indicated that other forums might be in the offing. Likely that is dependent upon the participation today.

I urge readers to take advantage of this opportunity to participate in the discussion. Come; ask questions about the plan, toss in your own ideas; talk to the guys who are actually in charge. This sort of meeting is part of why we want our own system. Go downtown, pull into the parking lot, stroll into a building you own, and talk the men who will build this system. Put your own ideas on the table--and reasonably expect to get a hearing.
Ask real questions. Get real answers from people who have to answer to you locally.
Try and imagine anything remotely like this happening with Cox or AT&T/BS.

This is why we fought for local control. Now its up to you folks to go down and make use of what you've won. So make a moment after work today to go down to city hall, to watch, and if so moved ask questions and suggest answers.

After all, it's your system.


Tuesday, March 06, 2007

WBS: A turning of the tides

What's Being Said Dept.

Wifi Networking thinks changes are afoot:
The municipal broadband scene is seeing a turning of the tides: Oh, yes, Master Shallow, I have heard the chimes at midnight, and it seems that an old way of doing business may be passing away, as incumbents refocus their efforts and state bills are poised to reverse to disable incumbent-benefiting municipal and utility restrictions.
Washington state and Pennsylvania are both considering legislation that would undo incumbent-sponsored legislation that crippled local communities that wanted to roll their own broadband.

And long-suffering Lafayette is finally going to get its chance to build the fiber to the home project it has been planning:
Home of a long-running feud over fiber, Lafayette will start work: The Louisiana town has wanted to roll out its own city-owned fiber-optic network for years and years, and was fought on several fronts by incumbent operators and others. The Lafayette Utilities System received a 7-0 state Supreme Court ruling in its favor to allow it to sell bonds to finance the project. Cox says it already has a state-of-the-art fiber installation and will invest another $500m in the region. In most cases, incumbents rarely upgrade facilities until the threat of municipal competition is invoked. BellSouth also fought the effort. Neither offers fiber-to-the-home (FTTH), which is what Lafayette will build. The utility is rapidly getting its house in order to sell bonds and start building. Some service could start in 18 months.
Everywhere the tide is running against the incumbents.

Monday, March 05, 2007

LITE and Fiber attract new business services

The Advertiser trumpets the addition of a new tech support company, General Informatics, to the stable of companies located at the LITE center. According to the company it was Lafayette's technological resources that attracted the business:
[Company technology advisor] Camel said the main attraction for the company was Lafayette's technology that allows for fast transfer of information.

"We have a temporary office in Abdalla Hall now, and the speeds there are just amazing," Camel said. "It was great for us to find a place like Lafayette that has so much, in terms of fiber and the other technological advances that will allow us to do our work well."
General Informatics has an impressive resume for a young company:
Microsoft has awarded the company's solution as the top solution for small business, and in 2006, it was named Company of the Year by LSU's Louisiana Business and Technology Center.
The company specializes in providing technical support to small businesses:
"We really try to focus on the small mom-and-pop type businesses and allow them to be on a level playing field with other, larger companies."
Notice please, that this, formal announcement takes place within weeks of the court decision that clears the way for Lafayette to build its delayed fiber to the home network. It is hard not to wonder if those two are connected. Companies like General Infomatics are service companies. They locate where they think plenty of small businesses needing their help are or will be located. All other things being equal that means large cities. But sometimes all other things are not equal: a top-notch company will also be VERY aware of how the available infrastructure limits the solutions that they can reasonably propose for a small business. If you've got three dental surguries scattered around town you simply can't afford solutions that demand a private 100 meg intranet to achieve the efficiencies that otherwise might be possible. But Lafayette will have pervasive fiber; no private, expensive, one-off networking will be necessary. In Lafayette companies like General Informatics won't have to see their solutions constrained by bandwidth availability.

So, it seems to me, General Informatics has simply made the judgment that smaller Lafayette will be a fertile field for the development of new "
mom-and-pop type businesses" because Lafayette's fiber network will "allow them to be on a level playing field with other, larger companies."

Make no mistake: this is VERY good news. What would really benefit Lafayette is not so much one-shot big employers (though we will take all of those we can get, of course) but a growing and healthy small business community. Some of those will grow big enough to notice but by and large their successes--fueled by their energy, fiber, and support companies like GI--will be what really makes a difference in the lives of Lafayette citizens.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

F2C: Recommended

The 2nd Freedom To Connect Conference (F2C) is being held tomorrow. And you should feel free to connect via the wonders of your broadband connection to a live videocast. And even play on the chat box during the sessions. If you've got the time tomorrow and Tuesday check in. I went last year and learned a lot. You'll miss the hall discussions--always the best part of any real conference--but Isenberg gets speakers who are actually interesting and lets them talk about what interests them. Good Stuff.

F2C is the brainchild of David Isenberg, a funny, fiesty fellow of just the gadfly sort we approve of here at LPF. The idea is to get a bunch of smart committed people interested in sustaining our "Freedom To Connect" over modern networks together and let them go to it. (Isenberg has a more reasonable-sounding description, I think he's being politic.) This year the theme is "The Wealth of Networks" and that ought to be a good framework to bounce ideas off of. Isenberg is no naif at this game; he is the fellow who coined the approving phrase "the stupid network" to describe the architecture of the internet, which places processing "intelligence" at the edges of the network (i.e. at Google and at your 'puter) and to contrast it with the old telephone network (where all the intelligence is in the switches and your phone is as dumb as a rock). Much of the intellectual ammo being used by the new Network Neutrality warriors traces back through Isenberg.

Here's the agenda; reserve some time for what might interest you. Times are all Eastern. [Red notes are mine.]

March 5, 2007 (***subject to change***)

  • 8:00 AM -- Registration, breakfast
  • 8:45 - 10:00 AM -- Jim Douglas, Governor of Vermont, intro Tom Evslin, welcome David Isenberg [Vermont is planning to wire the whole state; Douglas actually seems to understand why that would be a good thing.]
  • 10:00 - 10:30 AM -- Break
  • 10:30 - 11:15 AM -- Yochai Benkler on The Wealth of Networks [Amazon 5 star, #9,281]
  • 11:15 - Noon -- Panel: Benkler, kc claffy, Mark Cooper, Elliot Maxwell, Gigi Sohn
  • Noon - 1:00 PM -- Lunch, box lunch on premises
  • 1:00 - 2:00 PM -- Demos: David Smith (Qwaq), Cory Ondrejka (2nd Life)
  • 2:00 - 2:45 PM -- Enabling Technologies -- James Salter, [A sleeper speaker see him if you can. A fiber proponent. (DO NOT be fooled by the aw shucks Southernisms)] John Waclawsky, [smart] Sanjit Biswas [Meraki, you've read about Meraki]
  • 2:45 - 3:15 PM -- Break
  • 3:15 - 4:00 PM -- Network Enabled Government, Rep. Steve Urquhart (Politicopia), Fred Hassani (Intellipedia), Micah Sifry (Sunlight Foundation), Allison Fine (Moderator)
  • 4:00 - 4:30 PM -- Sean Moss-Pultz (OpenMoko)
  • 4:30 - 4:45 PM -- Jeff Chester on Digital Destiny [the kind of guy who is right about everything--before anyone else]
  • 4:45 - 5:00 PM -- Book signing preview, Allison Fine (Momentum), Yochai Benkler (Wealth of Networks) & Reed Hundt (In China's Shadow)
  • 5:30 - 8:30 PM -- Reception/book signing in nearby restaurant, reception keynote by David Weinberger

March 6, 2007 (***subject to change***)

  • 8:00 AM -- Registration, breakfast
  • 8:45 - 9:00 AM -- Welcome to Day 2, David Isenberg
  • 9:00 - 9:45 AM -- Peer Production News Panel, Dan Gillmor, Mark Tapscott, Bill Allison, Jonathan Krim (moderator)
  • 9:45 - 10:30 AM -- Community Networks Panel, Sascha Meinrath, Michael Calabrese, Becca Vargo Daggett, Drew Clark (Moderator) [Admirable bunch, should be very interesting.]
  • 10:30 - 11:00 AM -- Break
  • 11:00 - Noon -- FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein, Ron Sege (intro).
  • Noon - 1:00 PM -- Lunch, box lunch on premises
  • 1:00 - 1:20 PM -- Demos: Yuval Klein (Plymedia), Nora Abousteit (Burda Style)
  • 1:20 - 2:30 -- Adam Thierer, Peter Swire, Jim Baller [Baller is very own attorney, might even mention Lafayette.]
  • 2: 30 - 3:00 PM -- Break
  • 3:00 - 4:00 PM -- Susan Crawford, Reed Hundt
  • 4:00 - 5:00 PM -- Bruce Sterling sums up (with Jasmina Tesanovic). [Sterling is a favorite SF writer of mine, wrote a novel, Distraction, set in a world that had to deal with global warming back in 2000 that takes place partly in Louisinana.]
  • 5:00 PM -- Adjourn
Worth the click.

Sunday thought: it's over; it's beginning

Here's some food for thought:

The battle for fiber is over.

It is over. We are going to get our own network.

What isn't over is the "battle" for its success.

The point of the fight wasn't to win; it was to make possible a different future for Lafayette than would be possible without such a network. That future is now possible. But it is merely possible.

During the fiber fight everyone walked on eggs--we were negotiating, together and without much coordination, a battle in which any slip could endanger the project. We learned patience, and a kind of discipline. We held our tongues and expended our energies where they could do the most good. What I am hoping is that we've also learned a kind of trust. Earned a kind of trust.

Neither the incumbents nor their few, discredited, local allies are any danger to the basic project any longer. We need to get used to the idea that what they think is now inconsequential. Shaping our conversation to worries about how "they" will use it against us no longer makes sense.

Worse than making no sense: it keeps us from having the conversation among ourselves that is now needed. We need to be dreaming: big grandiose, silly, marginally possible dreams. Noble dreams. Wild dreams. All that dreaming needs to collide within accurate, abundant, information about the network and the various paths for building it. We've got a big helping of fiber on our plate but that does not make a complete, satisfying meal. When all this settles down in a decade or so fiber itself will be merely a unique element of the feast on Lafayette's table. How we build that fiber into what we put on the table--economically, socially, and culturally; in terms of the digital divide and local development--is best served by an open, even messy, conversation.

It would be a loss for Lafayette if, out of a mistaken fear of a vanquished enemy--or even fear of a new crop of dissidents--we didn't take advantage of the moment to consider every way to maximize the value of the network to our community.

The fear should be over: let the good times roll.

Friday, March 02, 2007

"This is just the beginning"

Don Bertrand of the Advertiser's RightBlog congratulates Lafayette on its victory in the fiber fight. He emphasizes Lafayette's unity during the battle:
There are many to thank, quite frankly, too many to name individually because the whole campaign from beginning to end was a group effort, truly Lafayette Coming Together. So many people from different backgrounds and perspectives came together to give the synergy and energy to create the successful effort. My counterpart on the Left, Stephen Handwerk and I had the occasion to labor in a joint effort to get out the vote and participate with others in the steering of the grass roots effort. Yes, not so hard to believe that Republicans, Democrats, Independents and others can achieve agreement and consensus when they visualize mutual benefit for their community.
Handwerk, now of LeftBlog, has written a parallel piece on the topic. They labored together under the banner of Lafayette Coming Together, the local grass-roots organization that coordinated most of the referendum campaign.

Bertrand closes with the proper call for the moment:

So as we all take pride in the accomplishments of the Fiber battle, let’s all remember we are just beginning. There is more heavy lifting yet to do. We will have differences in opinion from time to time, but in the success of this endeavor we need to remain focused.

Indeed, this is just the beginning.

More on the Fiber Forums

Both the Advocate and the Advertiser (apparently online-only for now) report on the upcoming fiber forums. Announced yesterday, (see LPF's take) the press release promoted the forum as a way to gauge the citizens' desires in a new system.

The essential information:
Thursday, March 8, 2007,
at 5:30 p.m.
in the first-floor atrium of City Hall,
705 West University Avenue.

From the Advocate:
LUS said, it is designing its system, figuring out the best hardware to deliver phone, cable and high-speed Internet, as well as developing the specific packages of services and products it will offer.

That’s the point of the public meeting, Huval said.

“The people of Lafayette will own and operate this system, and we are looking to them to help prioritize what services will be offered,” Huval said in the release.

and
“Right now, I want to keep the process open to new ideas that can make Lafayette’s system more ‘Lafayette-like,’ ” Huval wrote.
Here's the thing:
Lafayette's network will be extremely capable, and enormously flexible, chiefly because it will simply have enormous capacity. Giving us the standard applications like phone, cable, and internet reflects what can be done with much less capable systems. That's impressive and will be phat indeed. Fat pipes will make each of those capacities free from the drop-outs and compression issues that plauge digitial systems operating at their limits.

But our system will be capable of much, much more. We will have an intranet (get used to distinguishing it from the internet) that will have a carrying capacity that very few or no other American community has. We'll be able to communicate with each other at speeds that make your current internet experience seem puny. (If you've ever worked at a university or on a large corporate campus you'll know what I mean.) Want full screen video-conferencing? NOooo problem. Want to throw in white-boarding applications? Just open it in another window. Want to jointly edit the outline for next week's meeting and, by the by, trade grandkid pictures in a back channel? Go for it. You'll not bog down our system. Those applications exist today. Outside intranets nobody uses them--just not enough capacity. But Lafayette will have that intranet and for the first time that capacity will be available between people who are not working together. Regular folks will be able to do video calls and video conferencing (within Lafayette) easily.

The gist is this: to get the full return out of our shiny new network we'll have invent new ways of interacting with each other and new ways of using technology. We'll only be able to take hints from other's situation since ours will be so different as to be almost unique. Lafayette is in a position to invent the future.

But to do that we will have to start thinking outside the box about what we want. Technicians and even "visionaries" can't do it for us. So it's not just a gesture to ask what the community wants: it is a critically important unsettled question.

And that process starts (but does not end) on March 8th.

Now comes the good part.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

LUS to hold public forums

It's been confirmed: LUS has issued an official press release announcing it will hold at least one public forum to solicit input from citizens about the sorts of services that they would like to see.

Thursday, March 8, 2007,
at 5:30 p.m.
in the first-floor atrium of City Hall,
705 West University Avenue.

This is a great thing--and LUS/LCG's willingness not actually engage the public is a good indication of the basic difference between the public utility system that LUS will operate and the privately-owned competition: Cox and AT&T/BS will not be coming to you to ask you what you want. They are interested only in what you can be convinced to buy. The difference is not subtle.

One of the best things about the announcement is that we finally get more details on upcoming plans. We've been in a long, far too long, confrontational period that caused our leaders to be closed-mouthed (and the community to be tolerant of that). While arguably smart strategically it was almost certainly unwise socially: It's hard to get a community excited about a system the when nobody is willing to to utter the exciting details in public. Those days, hopefully, are over though old habits die hard. Durel says:
“Finally we can get down to the specifics of what features the LUS Fiber system will have and what residents can expect in the next 18 months as the Fiber-to-the-Home system gets up and running,”
That's good to hear...I really want to hear those details. But more than that: LUS also wants input on what we want to do with the network. They want us, indeed, need for us, to dream about what the community can do with that much capacity. Knowing the capacities of the system will be a big chunk of what inspires ideas about what you can do with them. Says LUS director Huval:
“Now the fiber vision can become a reality. The people of Lafayette will own and operate this system and we are looking to them to help us prioritize what services will be offered,” added Terry Huval, LUS director...

“We hope that residents will join us for a productive discussion that will help us plan the fiber network they want.”
That's careful language from a careful man. The sentiment, though, is genuine--and not particularly saccharine. Lafayette is stepping out into the unknown. We'll be offering the standard services that standard networks can offer: cable TV, phone, and internet.

But we won't have a standard network: we'll have one of the fastest and most flexible networks in the country. We'll be able to do more things at once and do them faster than elsewhere. With room to spare we can try things that there just isn't room for elsewhere. Applications that wouldn't be practical over standard networks will be useful here. The point is this: if our network is to be fully utilized WE will have to figure out, and get comfortable with, and USE the more exciting services. We simply won't be able to follow the leader there.

We are the leaders.

So it's important, and not just a pleasant sentiment, to ask us what we want to do with the network--the ultimate success of the system we have fought for and won depends, in the end, upon our imagination and our ability to figure out new ways to fully utilize it.