Thursday, May 31, 2007

North Carolina Revisited

It looks like they are on top of it in Wilson, NC. The local Wilson newspaper has come out with a strong editorial condemning the North Carolina version of the "Local Government Fair Competition Act" Yes, that's exactly the same misleading name given Louisiana's BellSouth-authored version. Creative and original, these guys are not. (Previous LPF coverage of Wilson: 1, 2)

And the similarity is more than skin deep as is demonstrated by the following points from the Wilson editorial:
While some of the provisions can be justified, others are transparently intended to discourage cities or counties from creating competing networks, such as the fiber-optic network the city of Wilson is already installing.
Yep, they understand the basic purpose of this sort of legislation. And the essay covers other oddities we will recognize:
The bill... would for the first time require the N.C. Utilities Commission to regulate a municipal function. None of the usual municipal utilities — water, sewer, electricity or natural gas — is regulated by the Utilities Commission, which was established to protect consumers against monopolistic corporate giants. Because consumers are also voters and can change leadership at the next election, municipal utilities have been considered self-regulating.
In Louisiana the PSC is forbidden by the constitution to regulate municipalities. So we get around it by requiring that they do all the work of regulation but hand the legally indefensible segment over to the (drumroll, dramatic cymbal clash) the legislative auditor. (Hunh? Loud raspberry.) More similarities:
The bill also requires a public referendum on any financing for the system. Because these networks are expensive (Wilson's estimated cost is $28 million), financing will be a necessity. While the bill requires a referendum, like a general obligation bond, it does not allow municipalities to repay the bond in the manner of a general obligation bond. In fact, it might make it impossible to repay the bond.

The bill forbids securing or repaying the bonds with anything other than revenues generated by the enterprise. It forbids paying any costs related to the bonds from "the local government's general fund or public enterprise funds." Because those are the only kinds of funds a municipality has, the bill essentially forbids making bond payments. And because it requires these networks to pay the equivalent of corporate and other taxes to the general fund, it requires the enterprise to subsidize the city.
Ok, this part sounds like the original version of he Louisiana bill in which BellSouth (now AT&T) set up the neat Catch-22 of 1) requiring an elaborate study 2) requiring that the study be paid for from revenue derived from the new utility. So in in order to plan to get the new utility up and running you had to already have the new utility up and running. Yossarian would understand perfectly. (And so should the people of North Carolina.)

The editors of the Wilson Times understand; they close their editorial with:
If this bill passes, cable monopolies will be unstoppable.
-------
Lagniappe: Apparently the city council there is pretty enlightened as well; they've passed a unanimous resolution opposing the proposed law.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Just Not True: Cable Rates Not Falling in Texas

Here's something to think about:
Competition has not led to lower basic cable-rates in Texas. (MultiChannel News)
That's the long and the short of it according to a study by the Texas chapter of NATOA.

Two years ago Texas' Telephone companies (basically SBC (now AT&T) and Verizon) used the Texas legislature's famous penchant for failed deregulation to initiate a national push to move control of cable franchise from local communities to the state. The phone companies' purpose was to avoid the demand that cable companies serve the entire community—and not just the most profitable part--if the companies wanted to use the right-of-way property owned by the community to turn a profit on the people living there. Local counties and municipalities consistently insisted on this principle....and the new state "regulators" (deregulators) do not. Louisiana dodged a bullet last year when Governor Blanco vetoed a similar bill approved by our legislators.

The Texas legislators were promised that they'd see "competition" and dramatic reductions in prices in exchange for removing local government's ability to determine what is done with local property. And as the phone company juggernaut rolled through state legislatures they promised state after state the same -- and told them it had worked in Texas, the first state in the union to enact such a law. They told that story about the success of competition in the halls of Congress as well. It was easy to believe; after all everyone knows that competition brings lower prices.

Except it hadn't worked. And it still isn't working....

You can take a look at the data gathered by the Texas chapter of NATAO. What is clearly shown is that the cable companies are not lowering their rates to compete with Verizon and SBC/BS/AT&T's very limited rollout.

This is very similar to the disappointment that has accompanied the fashionable deregulation of electricity in a number of states. The data shows that the electricity is cheaper in the regulated states--and the gap is growing.

What's wrong with picture? Why hasn't "competition" worked? Legislators across the nation have endorsed the politically correct argument raised by the monopoly corporations that owned the electrical and telecom wires and bet their citizen's money on the faith that deregulation would lead to falling prices. They, and their constituents, have lost that bet. And a whole lot of people are trying to make sure that the public does not notice.

Here is a hard truth: The blind faith that "deregulation" leads to true price competition is a false faith. In natural monopoly markets regulation--or public ownership--is the only real way to establish fair prices. Utility markets are monopoly markets...and giving the monopolists free reign won't lower prices--quite the contrary. Utility deregulation is a failed experiment.

It is something the country as a whole ought to be thinking through rationally. The honest solution is to reinstitute real regulation where markets don't work. Most places don't have the resources to resist the drain on community wealth that private energy utilities and private telecommunications utilities represent. But a few communities, like Lafayette, can choose to opt out of the mistakes that the rest of the country is making. Lafayette has done so and will have its own locally-regulated power and telecom utilities.

Lafayette made the right choice on July 16th two years ago.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Saturday ToDo: Stealth Programming for Kids (& You)

Ok, so it is late on Saturday for a Saturday Something ToDo posting. So sue me. :-) If you've got some kids in the youngster to adolescent range to entertain over the long Memorial Day weekend you might really want to give this one a try.

And it is a great one: A new addictive Educational Toy called Scratch. It lets kids (and adults who are young at heart) build nifty animations. You can draw your own characters with some included tools or import a photo to use as an avatar. Then put as many as you like on the same "stage" and animate them. If you like what you get you can always upload it and share.

Oh, did I mention? It's a free download.

While all that is cool, the real secret is that it is all driven by a pretty complete programming language. (Don't bother to tell the kids, they won't be impressed) It's a dead easy way for kids, or anyone, to really get a feel for programming and standard programming structures. And that, actually, is the point. (Again, no need to play this point up with the kids.) The program is the brainchild of Mitch Resnick and his "Lifelong Kindergarten" lab at the MIT Media Lab. It is an inheritor of other nifty software devices like logo, lego-logo, mindstorms robotics (also recommended) and squeak. They all focused on giving kids easy access to fundamental programming tools in a environment that made learning a natural product of activity rather than an exercise is abstraction and memorization.

I could try and explain how it works but it'd be much more effective for you to go to the BBC article and play the video found there. (You can read the excellent story too, but that is less immediately informative than the demonstration.)

Then travel to the Scratch website and poke around. If you'd really like to get a picture of the motivation behind Scratch then play the Real Media file that tries to explain the purpose of the program.

Download the program (OSX or Windows, Linux upcoming). I mentioned that it's free, right?

Play. Give it to kids to play with. Sit back and watch them tinker a new little world into existence.

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Obligatory bandwidth/philosophy plug: Being able to generate, trade, and interactively collaborate on making things--not just consuming them--is one of the best reasons to want real bandwidth. It's our kids who will live in the promised land. We will only catch a glimpse of the world they will be able to create.

[Thanks to both the friend and the son-in-law who pointed me to this one over the last week.]

Friday, May 25, 2007

More on the Bonds

The Advocate covers the Fiber To The Home bond presentations in New York this morning. Sounds good! Apparently the visit went well and Durel and Huval returned feeling good about Lafayette's prospects for a favorable bond rating.

Some of the recent local contretemps were frankly discussed:

Last week, attorneys for the plaintiff in that lawsuit, Elizabeth Naquin, suggested that Lafayette might be subject to further legal action should it proceed in the manner it’s planning to issue and pay back the bonds.

Durel said he thought the timing of that suggestion was an attempt to spook the bond markets into a higher rate.

Ottinger said Lafayette officials discussed with the bond market representatives the possibility — or lack thereof — of another lawsuit stalling the project.

The Louisiana Constitution prohibits further challenges to the ordinance that authorized the bonds to be issued, Ottinger said.

Good. Being upfront about the opposition is the way to go in most cases and I'm sure honesty served them well here. The bond guys have done their homework and asked the next obvious question:

The bond market representatives also wanted to know if LUS was prepared should the existing telecommunications companies in the area start practicing “predatory pricing,” in an effort to undercut the new LUS venture, Durel said.

That is, indeed, the next issue; and that for which the people of Lafayette should prepare. The incumbents tried this in Bristol and it didn't work. I suspect that the folks in Louisiana will recognize the ploy as easily as did those in Virginia.

It's all good so far:
“The bond rating agencies and the bond insurers were impressed with the depth of information and analysis we had as well as our passion, and the community’s support, for the project,” Huval said. “We received favorable comments about LUS’ proven track record in managing the deployment of large projects.”
Let's get on with it!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Light a Candle For Lafayette

The Advertiser carries a brief report on the state of the fiber bond rating process currently going on in New York.

The initial reaction from bond rating agencies that will rate revenue bonds used to finance the project was positive, LUS Director Terry Huval said...

A good rating means that Lafayette is a good risk to potential investors. It also means the city's bonds will have a lower interest rate and will cost less to pay off.
That's good news. This is vitally important. Though they are low profile, these negotiations will determine the cost of the single most expensive element of the fiber to the home project: the cost of the money. A good bond rating will mean a low interest rate.

Seriously, go light a candle. (I've got a St. John the Conquerer candle that I save for special occasions. It didn't seem to hurt during my dissertation defense. :-) I'm going to go light it now.)

Lafayette, LA to Wilson, NC: Fight It!

Does this sound familiar?:

Wilson, NC is getting hit with a "Local Government Fair Competition Act" written up by their local incumbents (AT&T and Comcast) that intends to keep the city from expanding its current, successful fiber optic ring to provide its citizens with a little competition to the current phone and cable monopolies and the internet duopoly.

Sounds mighty familiar. That is exactly the title of the bill that has cost the people of Lafayette millions of dollars and which has delayed Lafayette's fiber-optic project by 3 years. Without this law Lafayette's citizens would be using their network now; instead we are just starting after a long obstructionist battle waged by the incumbents--all of which was enabled by the "Local Government Fair Competiton Act."

Lafayette, Louisiana to Wilson, North Carolina: FIGHT IT. No half-a-loaf compromises, no handshakes, no backing off when offered a "grandfathering" clause.

People of Wilson: You cannot expect your opposition to honor any commitment it makes in conferences. They didn't in Louisiana and you shouldn't expect it in North Carolina. Without such a law you are free to make your own decisions and take responsibility for them. Such a law gives the incumbents the opening they need to sue you based on a law they have drafted. The incumbents will not hesitate to return to the legislature in the very next year to further "fix" the bill to disadvantage localities. They will use the law to pursue lawsuits that they cannot win. They will use lawsuits to simply delay project and they will use lawsuits to try and pursue interpretations of the law other than those they agreed to in conference. (Things got to such a pass here that even the legislator that skirted the rules to sponsor the bill later complained that the incumbents were suing over things that had been settled in favor of the municipality during compromise discussions!) You DO NOT need the "bigger, smarter guys at the statehouse" to protect you from yourselves. DO NOT buy the line that this sort law "protects the local taxpayer" or that it "levels the playing field." It intends to shift your control of local resources away from local citizen-owners and to a compliant state house; you can protect yourself quite well without their dubious help, I am sure. It intends to establish rules that would cripple your local utility's ability to compete; rules that the incumbents would rage against should anyone dare suggest applying such to them.

From the Wilson Daily Times Article:

City of Wilson officials and the North Carolina League of Municipalities are seeking to kill a bill that would place what they say are undue restraints on municipalities establishing "communications services." Wilson officials expected some legislative opposition when they started planning to provide broadband services to the city.
The bill, called the Local Government Fair Competition Act, places several obstacles in the way of local governments seeking to provide services such as broadband Internet, telephone and cable television. The bill is sponsored by state Reps. Drew Saunders, D-Mecklenburg, Hugh Holliman, D-Davidson, Harold Brubaker, R-Randolph, and Julia Howard, R-Davie. Lawmakers representing Wilson County have not sponsored the bill.
Some of its provisions include requiring two public hearings where the city's business plan would be available, including cost analysis and four-year projections. Also, a special election would be held to allow citizens to decide if the city should establish any communications service. Such a service would also have to be self-supporting and could not be subsidized by the city's electric fund.
"There is no good reason for this bill," said Ellis Hankins, director of the N.C. League of Municipalities.
And

City attorney Jim Cauley said the House bill was written and supported by the telecommunications industry and is "clearly designed to protect their pocketbooks at the expense of the public good."


"In the interest of corporate protectionism, it will create such a barrier to the construction of municipal broadband infrastructure that many citizens will not have access to high-speed fiber-optic services in the foreseeable future, thereby making our economic development efforts that much more difficult," Cauley said.
I hope the people of North Carolina will learn from Lafayette's experience and kill this ugly example of "corporate protectionism."

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

"Weather Channel to return to basic cable"

The Weather Channel is returning to Cox Communications' basic cable lineup in time for hurricane season.

So says this morning's Advertiser. That's good news as we head into hurricane season.

Those with long memories will recall that Cox pulled the Weather Channel in the middle of hurricane season last year in a public relations gaffe that it is difficult to credit that ANY company, even Cox, could make a year after Katrina and Rita ripped across south Louisiana. That move caused a firestorm of criticism—that extended from letters to the editor to a command performance for Sharon Kleinpeter before the City-Parish Council. But last year Cox held firm.

It was part of a larger disturbing trend. Lafayette and the rest of Acadiana was being completely brought into line with the Baton Rouge market to create a single large entity dominated by the interests of Baton Rouge.

In both markets the channel guide was moved off basic onto a $30 dollar a month more expensive tier. In Acadiana the weather channel was also moved up (Rita not withstanding) to that tier. (Cox New Orleans, a different division, had the good sense to leave the weather channel alone in their area.)

Also at issue was the single French channel. It was moved up to a more expensive tier associated with sports. (Hunh?) This in a city where 13% of the population tells the census they speak a French dialect in the home. (The "large" Spanish-speaking population got a new 10-channel tier in contrast.)

Rates were raised on most services with Lafayette getting larger increases to bring them into line with Baton Rouge.

Local people were unhappy, to say the least.

The Advertiser story repeats Cox's explanation that the channel was moved to make Lafayette more like Baton Rouge. While that wasn't particularly well-received (Acadiana has no desire to emulate Baton Rouge, quite the contrary) there were other explanations at the time. A more complete explanation of the impulse to unify Baton Rouge and Lafayette lies in the size of the large new, unified advertising market Cox would create by combining Louisiana's two most dynamic economic markets.


Moving popular and useful channels like the Weather Channel, the Channel Guide, and the French channel up into substantially more expensive tiers was meant to push as many people as possible off the cheaper tier which is still watched by regulators and whose valuable analog bandwidth is lusted after by the programmers. --Each analog cable channel can be made into many digital ones. Both short-term profits and long-term strategic goals make this a financially advantageous move for Cox. (If not for Lafayette.)

The changes to the lineup and the concurrent rate increases were all about increasing Cox's bottom line.

The weather channel replaces an all-ads-all-the-time channel at 22 that often is used to promote Cox products--and had kept its privileged place in the basic tier when the French channel and the Weather Channel were expelled. This was a change that the Lafayette City-Parish Council suggested during the dispute but at that time Kleinpeter said legal issues made that impossible and her claim went unchallenged. Apparently it wasn't so impossible after all.

At one point Kleinpeter explained the community's vocal distress with:
"It's just change. People don't like change"
That was never anything but a breathtakingly arrogant response. One that only a monopoly could make. Apparently Cox is now taking the upcoming competition from LUS a tad more seriously as we head into this year's hurricane season.

You can chalk the change up to the mere promise of locally sensitive competition.

Good.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Joost

We are in the final days...of TV1.0. The signs are everywhere. Most recently, I received an invite (thanks to a sympathetic reader) to beta test Joost--a combo software client and web-based content library that allows the user to demonstrate for themselves that the old way of doing things is numbered.

TV1.0 is the familiar old broadcast model of one broadcaster sending to many, passive "receivers." TV stations send their signal out and we sit and watch it. Defined by limited spectrum, there were only a few channels, shows appeared in their set time slot, for the defined number of minutes less the minutes devoted to the ubiquitous ads. Shows are designed to appeal to the broadest number of people and offend the fewest. Cable changed very little except that it gave you more channels. PBS introduced the idea of voluntary subscription support--but remains in other ways locked into the broadcast model as well.

There's lots to hate about this model of video. (And I've been happy to jump in; see "Die TV. Die! Die! Die!" or "Why You Want Real Bandwidth".) I've called the emerging model "DV" for Downloadable Video. The basic idea is that when bandwidth is no longer scarce (e.g. when we have fiber to the home) and we can download video to our hearts content, then the reasons for the old, annoying way of getting video will go away and new forms will emerge that cater to our obvious interest in watching shows whenever we want to, unlimited by advertiser-defined time slots, and uninterrupted by ads. Shows can be designed to appeal to the passionate viewer and world-wide, cheap, direct-to-consumer distribution can be counted on to provide an audience to support even the most specialized shows.

Joost plays in to this because it has become the most credible contender for long-show, commercially-produced content king. (YouTube has the short piece, self-produced end of the DV market pretty much sown up--and in some ways is even further into a DV1.0 world.) Joost first hit the news as the brainchild of the same guys who brought you the telephony-disrupting Skype and terrified the music and video businesses with Kazaa. The trick in all these enterprises was leveraging the unused bandwidth of customers using an idea described as peer-to-peer aka P2P. In return for the downloaded service you get you let the network use your spare uploading capacity.

Joost uses this technology as well and so holds down their main operating costs...but the real splash came when they began to sign up real, long-form content and supported it with in-video advertising. That gave them both content credibility and a visible business plan--something no similar competitor has. The jury is still out on whether long-form content has to be supported by advertising that is embedded in the download or whether, like YouTube, advertising can be on the supporting web page or whether, like iTunes, a pay-per-view model is possible.

Part of what is interesting about Joost is that they are setting up to be a very social site. They've got chat, you can invite friends, and there is an API for new widgets that could further extend the ability to hook into IP services and RSS feeds. This opens doors. Conceivably one could invite friends from all over the country to watch the same show or sporting event and chat online while it was playing. No doubt "clubs" will arise focused around particular shows and scheduled meetings. RSS will allow for further amalgamation and integration with other services and video feeds.

But the proof is in the pudding; or in this case, the viewing. I recently sat down, played around with the (very slick) interface and actually settled in to watch a commercial TV/now DV show. It played at full screen on my laptop--there was noticeable blockiness but no actual hesitations even though the feed was being relayed over my wifi. Cox had provided me access to the first real, commercial television show I've streamed down and watched in its entirety over the internet instead of watching it when it was scheduled to be on cable. It's a sign. We're in the final days of TV1.0.


--------------------

(Like the idea and have found by clicking through that Joost is still in beta and requires an invite from a user? Happy days: GigaOm's influential NewTeeVee blog has the pull to get a simple sign-in sheet for its readers. You can use it too.)


Incidently, there are other, less high-profile startups trying to do something similar. The Joost page on Wikipedia points to several. I'd particularly recommend the Democracy site and player.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Slime: Naquin & Attorneys try to Drive up Bond Costs

Slime. Unprincipled, low-life slime.

That is the mildest and kindest epitaph that I can manage for Elizabeth Naquin, her Plaquimines attorneys and the incumbent corporations who are pretty obviously paying them off. The only possible purpose for stirring things up right now is to drive up the costs of the bonds that are to be marketed in New York next week. And that is plain, flat, wrong.

According to Kevin Blanchard over at the Advocate the attorneys for Naquin (BS/AT&T and/or Cox?) have shot off emails -- to the media -- threatening to sue Lafayette at some unspecified future moment over the plan to fund the construction of Lafayette's fiber network. That plan has already been approved by the court of last resort, the Louisiana Supreme Court, and the objections raised have already been dismissed. Further, according to the Louisiana constitution the bond ordinance becomes immune to challenge when it is validated and that immunity extends to:
“the validity of the . . . means provided for the payment of such bonds and the validity of all pledges of revenues and of all covenants and provisions contained in the instrument or proceedings authorizing or providing for the issuance of such bonds, and as to all matters adjudicated and as to all objections presented or which might have been presented in such proceeding, and shall constitute a permanent injunction against the institution by any person of any action or proceeding contesting the validity of the bonds or any other matter adjudicated or which might have been called in question in such proceedings.” [Legal citation from Ottinger's press release]
That is pretty conclusive. Let us be very plain: No one and no "thing" can challenge a bond once it has been validated and issued. The constitution is clear; no matter how defective a bond ordinance might prove to be, it cannot be changed after it has been validated and sold. The business plan supporting it is incorporated into the ordinance and becomes a contract with the bond holders. NOTHING can be done to change it. (Even if the court hadn't already ruled on the question.)

So this is clearly FUD--an attempt to sow Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt. It cannot be a valid legal objection and would only result in ridicule if actually brought before a court.

The real question is: WHO are they trying to scare now? And the answer is plain: the men who will sit across the table from Lafayette's representatives setting up the bond sale. They would like to make those men fearful, uncertain, and doubtful. They hope those men will condition the bonds in such a way as to force millions more in interest costs on the people of Lafayette.

That the "lawyers" (aka PR agents for BS/AT&T and/or Cox?) are sending reporters multiple emails with their threatening "news" the week before the Lafayette team is set be in New York setting up the bond sale makes the whole slimy thing disgustingly transparent.

---------------------
To this point I've been willing to do no more than say that Naquin and her attorneys are pretty transparently serving the interests of AT&T (nee BS) and Cox. There is no money in a successful suit for Elizabeth Naquin and very little for her ambulance-chasing "personal injury" lawyers. With the Supreme Court decision they have lost all hope of ever being paid a penny by LUS or LCG on this case. Yet still they spend money on lawyers--money that cannot bring them any return. This has been an expensive lawsuit to carry forward--backed by a team of lawyers from several law firms, none of which are noted for their charity work. Someone is paying for this. Who benefits? Cox and BS/AT&T benefit. Who is hurt? The people of Lafayette.

Naquin is a new resident in Lafayette and clearly not a woman of means. She has been unwilling to make the slightest effort toward explaining to her neighbors why she wants to stand in their way and cost them millions of dollars in extra expenses to implement a decision that the people overwhelmingly approved in an hard-fought election.

This is a case made for investigative journalism. Who is Elizabeth Naquin? Why does she not have the decency to publicly justify the cost she is imposing on her new community. What is her connection with BellSouth and or Cox. What is her work history? When exactly did she move to Lafayette and why? Who is actually paying the expense of this series of lawsuits and threats? Are corporate funds or money from anyone employed by the incumbents involved. Are public relations firms involved in passing money on to its recipients? Which ones? What about Naquin's repentant ex-ally, Matthew Eastin? Who recruited this student? Where did he get the money to pay his "share" of the expenses while he was involved? Did he pay anything? Was he asked to? How much?

Really...these lawsuits are going to cost the citizens of the community millions of dollars. It is now past the point where there is any possible legal or ethical rationale that could justify the continued legal harassment and hence no conceivable reason to not thoroughly investigate this situation. (Recall the feeding frenzy about much less expensive irregularities at the airport commission?) There is a big story here somewhere; anyone can smell it and the people deserve to know. (ULL journalism students, anyone?)

I'd like to know more--if anyone out there can shed any light on this please let me know. Here or via email.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Without discussion or public comment...

The bond issue is rolling through "without," as the article in the Advocate notes "discussion or public comment." That's as it should be--the decision to go forward was made directly by the community during the July 16th referendum two years ago; the council's proper role on this issue is to execute the will of the people.

The introduction of the ordinance this week is a means to expedite the passage of the ordinance as soon as final conditions are set by the bond market after next week's trip to New York by the LUS/LCG personnel who will make their presentation to a group of major bond brokers. (Say a little prayer for the home time--if the bond agents' conditions are favorable it could mean a huge interest savings for the people of Lafayette over the life of the bond issue.)

Old Tricks: Pushy Poll

Somebody is up to old tricks. Cox or BS/AT&T or both are back at the polling game; trying to find ways to push the buttons of local citizens.

Lafayette has had experience with push polls--we saw two ugly ones during the fiber fight; one early on and one in the run up to the referendum which was recorded by a local and made the two incumbents who had collaborated on it a national laughingstock when it was made available on the internet and was widely linked to in broadband forums. The later "poll" contained both the ridiculous--a claim that TV would be rationed to alternate days since lawn-watering is limited in the summer months--and the irresponsible--claiming that only the southern (white) side of the city would get the service.

User Hoov in a comment on the Advertiser site revealed that he's got a "push poll" call over the weekend. I talked with Hoov and he says that the call last weekend opened with 12 or 15 questions about standard, marketing sorts of things--his service, his satisfaction, etc. But then, abruptly, the tenor of the quesitons changed and the next 7 or 8 questions were probes intended to lead him to to be uneasy about government involvement with his telephone, internet, or cable connection. One question went something like this: "Are you comfortable with the government having access to your internet service?"

He said that the questions were clearly intended to scare.

Hoov, like other Lafayette citizens in the past, pushed back, making it clear that these weren't fears that he had and that he didn't think they were reasonable. A question about who the survey was far elicited only the initials of the company the young woman questioners was working for.

I'd be very interested in hearing from other readers who have been called for this survey. (It may be that this is exploratory; in that case only a relatively few will have been called. In a full-fledged push poll all or a large percentage of the population is called in an attempt to plant the misinformation widely.)

Did you get such a call?

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Wikipedia...

I make a desultory effort on Saturdays to provide a link to something you can do--not merely read about. The Advocate this morning provides the perfect opportunity to highlight Wikipedia, the citizen-edited, online, encyclopedia. An article in this morning's newspaper offers an overview of the project from the standpoint of South Louisiana authors of Wikipedia articles. They've done a great job cleaning up misconceptions about our region and making accurate information about their special areas of knowledge available to all.

The message for today is: So can you. We all have knowledge to share and Wikipedia provides a disciplined, peer-reviewed way to do so. After all, if you enjoy the knowledge available on the web it would seem fair to contribute to the wealth.

But first some background.... From the introductory paragraphs:
Louisianians contributing to Wikipedia, at http://www.wikipedia.org, are helping to clear up misconceptions about often-stereotyped Louisiana culture.

“I thought the articles were lacking in accurate information, so I decided to revise them using source material I was familiar with,” said Shane K. Bernard, a Wikipedia contributor who has edited many of the articles about southern Louisiana.

The article goes on to interview Bernard and other regional writers.

The Wikipedia's ambition is reminescent of the original French Encyclopedists. Their
Encyclop├ędie is often viewed as the purest expression of Enlightenment ideals: they wanted to make available all of the world's knowledge in a rational, accessible form—and in doing so invented a new literary form, the encyclopedia, and a new, collaborative review method of writing and editing works too large for any single person. They were clear about wanting to change the way that people think--and arguably their new device for ordering and validating vast amounts of information did much to make their model of the scientific attitude widespread among a newly literate public.

Wikipedia can be understood as the logical extension of the attitude and intents of the original Encyclop├ędie in an era where the most accessible forms of knowledge and the most powerful collaborative tools are mediated, not by the printing press, but by the internet. What is interesting—and controversial—about the project is that it lets literally anyone contribute. Your work is screened for quality—by other contributors, but you are not screened for certifications. A local Swamp Pop enthusiast can change an entry last edited by a person holding a doctorate in musicology who wrote his dissertation on the roots of the genre. Of course, the professional will keep a close eye on the entry, editing it to make sure it remains accurate. Online discussions among the "wikipeidia community" iron out disagreements and the very public nature of the edits tends to push regular users to only make edits that they can easily defend. The traditions and values of the online community

The result has been (at least in my judgment) an astonishingly good, if not perfect encyclopedia with a breadth that could not be achieved in any other way. It stands as vindication of the idea that a large community can do very good and complex work relying only on self-organization and self-governance. There is no centralized "quality control" and yet it all works quite well.


But back to today's idea: You can participant. If you do a lousy job you'll get edited out. If you do a good one it'll be kept—and you'll know you've made a contribution.

If you're interested in doing something like this review how the swamp pop entry got put together. It's a nice little example. Click over to the current Swamp Pop page. Near the top of the page click on the tab that says "History." This page allows you to compare any two versions of the article by clicking on the radio buttons to the left of each entry. Go to the bottom of the page and click on the date of the first "edit" {
14 August 2004}. You'll see a short "stub" entry. The current sophisticated version grew from that seed by small additions and corrections.

Take a look a the community portal. You'll see that there are plenty of available tasks. You can become a community member by simply creating an account and doing something.

Have fun and contribute to the web!

WBS: "Lafayette, La., takes broadband to the air"

MuniWireless, an influential website focusing on municipal wireless projects, discusses LUS' upcoming wireless project in a recent post:
After 18 months and $1.5 million in legal fees, the city of LaFayette won the right to build an FTTH network for its residents. Now it’s forging ahead to add wireless service.
They go on to talk about an eventual build that will cover the entire city an provide wireless services for municipal and utility workers and eventual public safety applications. The muniwireless movement has been regrouping--free public wifi turns out to be a dubious economic proposition--and proponents are now urging municipalities to focus on just such muni services as the "killer app" which makes such wifi clouds justifiable. Lafayette is out in front of that trend; and it is satisfying to be seen as ahead of the curve.

As discussed here previously, municipal services are not the complete story. WiFi will also eventually be offered to the public, most likely as a very low-cost addition to home or business internet service. And, precisely because LUS will own a dense fiber-optic network, it will be able to fund an "extremely robust" bandwidth. That stands in direct contrast to most muncipal systems where the dirty little secret is speeds are lousy--not because wifi isn't capable of blistering speeds. It is. Speeds are lousy because the links to the backbone are, for physical and financial reasons, kept to as few as tolerable and the link speed is shared among many users on multiple mesh-dependent repeater nodes. LUS's network won't be like that. The initial buy of wifi radios was set at just about half "gateways" directly connected to fiber and half "repeaters" that hand off directly to the gateways. LUS' network will be capable of amazing speeds. In a conversation with a guy at the Tropos TechSouth booth I asked about the expense of each gateway. As it turns out, Tropos' gateways are just repeaters with a switch flipped. Further, the device to interface each gateway to the fiber is really cheap--so there is very little cost advantage for a fiber network owner like LUS to "make do" with fewer gateways. LUS will have real speed available. LUS' "generous" attitude makes it likely that such speeds will be offered to the community.

The wireless portion of our network alone will make us the envy of every tech type in the country.

When you add in a fiber to the home network with the lowest tier at 10 megs of symmetric bandwidth and full insystem intranet speed connections between all subscribers (so the techs were saying on the floor of TechSouth) people will be blown away.

There will, quite literally, be nothing that compares with the integrated fiber and wifi big broadband system we will have.

Nothing.

Friday, May 11, 2007

"LUS bonds up to council"

Kevin Blanchard over at the Advocate posts a background update and a timeline to the ongoing saga of the fiber bond sale. He points out that the Naquin lawsuit was filed to prevent the bond sale and that Lafayette's victory at the state Supreme Court cleared the way for the sale.

The following quotes neatly establish the timeline (date inclusions mine):
  • [5/15/07] The City-Parish Council is scheduled Tuesday to introduce an ordinance that will be presented to the bond markets as part of a proposal for LUS to borrow up to $125 million...
  • [5/23-24/07] Lafayette and LUS officials will be in New York in two weeks to meet with representatives of the bond market...
  • [6/11/07] On June 11, LUS will get an official proposal from the bond market that includes things such as proposed interest rate and other terms of the bonds...
  • [6/12/07] The next day, the council will hold a special meeting to plug those specifics into the ordinance it would introduce Tuesday.
  • [by 6/30/07] If all goes well, LUS could obtain funding by the end of June, Lalumia said.
  • [8/1/07] If the bonds are issued by the end of June, that would place that estimate of having its first customer by October 2008.
The story clarifies (again) the way the bond funding will work, detailing the way it will be paid off from user fees and how the expected shortfall during the start-up years will be handled. In line with the original feasibility plan, they expect to start turning a profit in three years.

Worth the read....

Thursday, May 10, 2007

None For You, Former BS Customers

Recent announcements have made it clearer than ever that AT&T is putting the former BellSouth territories in a lower service tier. At least for the next several years it is not going to offer BellSouth's former territories nearly the level of service that it is trying to develop in its home, the former SBC region. The probability that AT&T will become a serious third challenger in upcoming battle between Cox and LUS has significantly dropped. Should they seriously enter the fray it will be mainly to challenge the idea LUS represents.

Costs More; Serves Fewer
AT&T recently announced that it is revising upwards the cost of its Lightspeed network upgrade project and lowering its estimate of how many people it will serve. (Without that upgrade AT&T can't offer video competition to cable or a significant bandwidth increase to customers.) They're now going to spend 41% more offering the service to a million fewer users. And that has serious consequences as Nyquist Capital points out:
Regardless of its true cause, this budget slip significantly changes the economics supporting AT&T’s decision to avoid laying fiber. Previously, AT&T could deliver video services at 1/3 the cost of Verizon. With the slip AT&T’s cost per home went up nearly 50% and is almost 1/2 the cost Verizon FiOS FTTH solution.
Reaction to the fiber to the node (FTTN) plan had already been mixed, with many analysts faulting AT&T for not going straight to a FTTH network. This admission by AT&T is sure to increase that criticism and to increase demands that it follow Verizon in going directly to FTTH without the wasteful interim step. The problem, though, has always been money. AT&T doesn't have any and can't afford to go beyond the cheapo solution. They've depleted their credit buying up their expensive telephone company brethren instead of preparing to compete with cable as Verizon is now doing. Leveraged to the hilt, they can't afford to build fiber without causing considerable shareholder pain and the consequent drop in stock price.

BellSouth's Territories
But if their national plan is uncertain there is little doubt about what is in store for the BellSouth territories that AT&T recently acquired.

They get very little.

AT&T's plan is now described thusly:
AT&T said it now plans to pass approximately 18 million households by the end of 2008. The company said that number doesn’t include its plans for the Southeast [The former BellSouth region], which could increase the number past 19 million homes.
If you factor in the number of subscribers in the AT&T and BellSouth areas you'll see that this means that former BellSouth customers will see about 8.3% availability...and the rest of the AT&T country will see 32% availability. The possible one million houses passed in BellSouth territory amounts to about 1/3 of the households in relatively wealthy, densely populated Miami and Atlanta--and that's not factoring in Orlando, Charlotte, Nashville, or Jacksonville. It's not likely that southern folks outside the very largest metro areas will see Lightspeed upgrades and the U-Verse video product in the near future.

So what do the rest of us get? Satellite.

Yup. Satellite. AT&T's latest announcement is that it is extending it's WildBlue partnership to the BellSouth area. The best subscribers can say about its "up to" 1.5 meg download speeds, glacial uploads, and massive latency is that it is better than dialup. But apparently not enough better to convince most of its rural target population to switch at current prices--satellite broadband has not been much of a success and hasn't gathered any subscribers in locales where the population can choose DSL or cable modems.

So it doesn't look like AT&T will change the current equation for most of BellSouth's former footprint. As no place in Louisiana is any longer list of the 15 largest metro areas in the South, we aren't likely to see much of what little new tech AT&T rolls out. Welcome to the 21st century Louisiana, courtesy of your incumbent telco.

During the fiber fight BellSouth tried to tell Lafayette that they were about to bring competition to town. It was pretty clear even then that under the most optimstic scenario we'd still see only limited deployment. Now it's even clearer that we're unlikely to see even that.

Lafayette made the right decision in voting to build its own network. Without it we'd have to count on Cox to upgrade us even though they would have no significant opposition to prod them locally. With it we'll have inexpensive access to the best technology available anywhere in the country.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Cox's Me too, Me too, ME TOO! "Fiber" Network

Cox has been at it again. It's gotten downright embarrassing. You'd think they'd learn.

Cox does NOT have a fiber network.

And they're not going to build one. They have hybrid fiber-coax (HFC) network and that hasn't changed and is not going to change. But if you listened to Cox representatives you'd think they'd suddenly changed to an entirely new architecture. We know just exactly when that happened: Just about the time Cox realized they'd lost the battle to prevent Lafayette from approving a fiber to the home network they started calling their own network "fiber." This is a bizarre and blatently deceptive "rebranding." They spent months telling us we didn't need and didn't want a real fiber to the home network and when they realize they lost the battle to convince us fiber wasn't valuable they decided that suddenly--presto! change-o!-- their network was a fiber network. This silliness was launched two years ago at the Southwest Louisiana Chamber of Commerce banquet when Cox handed out little "sparklers" tipped with plastic fibers lit with LEDs. Since then they've rebranded their Baton Rouge/Acadiana website to include prominent use of the use of "fiber network" and done their darndest to get it used in local media. It all looks pretty childishly desperate from the outside...and a little amusing.

But sometimes it just isn't funny, and after yesterday's TechSouth Governor's technology award ceremony the buzz among people exiting the luncheon wasn't about the award winners as the recipients had every right to expect. It was about Karmen Blanco's weird claim that Cox had invested big money in their "Fiber Network" and that it hadn't "cost the taxpayers a cent." Everyone there knew that both of those remarks were lies. Lying to the general public is dishonest. Lying to the sorts of folks who attend TechSouth is nothing short of stupid. They know better and they notice. Predictably, they talk about it. For the record: Lafayette's network won't be paid for by taxpayers either: it will be paid for by those who use it and the loan to build it is coming from the national bond market. And Cox doesn't have a fiber network, never has, never will. The people attending a state-sponsored technology awards banquet knew that and the fact that Karmen Blanco was the Governor's daughter and a Lafayette native only made the deceit more embarrassing.

I hadn't attended the luncheon, instead using the time to leisurely wander the exposition floor while the crowds were eating. My first inkling that something weird had happened was when the crowd exiting the luncheon stopped on their way out to cluster around the LUS booth...and started grabbing up the freebies. That seemed a little odd--everyone had swag and LUS' weren't particularly remarkable: a pen and a little battery-driven, LED lit fan that spelled out a promotional message on the rotating blades.

It wasn't until after I'd heard the story of Karmen Blanco's speech from two different groups in the stream of exiting attendees that I put it all together.

That little LED fan that the crowd was snatching up was the perfect response to Karmen's childish "Me to, Me too, ME TOO" claims about Cox's network. The message on the spinning blades was the perfect retort to Cox. It said:

LUS Fiber,
All the way,
All the way,
All the way,
To the home.


Sometimes the world provides you with the perfect rejoinder. The fan was perfect. And the crowd snatched it up.

Synergy

In a story on the LITE center the following thought-provoking bit appeared.
Bryan Fuselier’s company took readings inside the Superdome to measure interference and cell phone signal strength, as part of a contract with a large cellular service company.

LITE took that data and placed it into a three-dimensional space, so that the clients could walk around inside the Superdome, identifying the cold spots and looking for solutions. The same thing could be done on a larger, citywide scale, Fuselier said.
Hmmmn. One of the big problems with municipal WiFi has turned out to be "tuning" the system. —For instance, coverage is dramatically effected by leaves...yes, leaves. So no system, at least in our part of the country, can be adequately tested in the winter. And one season's growth can really change reception--what worked last year may not work this year. It's complicated -- complex -- and a huge computational problem with a staggering number of independently changing parameters.

Perfect for a supercomputer/visualization complex. Wouldn't it be nice if LITE could shortcut some of the inevitable issues with getting a really functional WiFi network up and sustaining its effectiveness?

Something to think about.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Fiber Engineer Introduced to Lafayette

The Advertiser and the Advocate covered the introduction of the company that will design and oversee the building of Lafayette's fiber to the home project yesterday at TechSouth. It will be a significant construction project and Atlantic Engineering is the leader in its are. From the Advocate:

Atlantic Engineering Group of Atlanta has designed and/or built 14 of the 20 municipally owned citywide fiber-to-the-home networks like that planned by LUS.

Lafayette’s will be the largest in the country, said James Salter, Atlantic Engineering’s CEO.

The Advertiser specifies that it will be the largest fiber project in terms of homes passed and that the runner-up is another AEG project in Clarkesville, TN.

Both papers emphasize that one parameter of the project will be to make it "future-proof:"

Terry Huval, LUS director, said it is hoped Lafayette will have a fiber network designed to accommodate future technological changes and be the most advanced telecommunication system in the world.

That matches what I've been told--by officials and by field techs--and that mixed systems are contemplated. While the teams inclination is still toward a GPON (aka P2MP) network emphasis is on overprovisioning the fiber enought to support both AON (aka P2P) and selective use of Home Run architectures. That pretty much covers the whole range of possibilities and would be pretty innovative. (Is all that is Greek to you? Try the recent post that dealt with architectures for a quickish background.)

Salter, the AEG CEO, emphasized that he was worried about keeping up with demand:

Salter said the most important lesson his company has learned is how difficult it can be to keep up with customer demand.

Because of the high-profile fight over the past three years to allow LUS to enter into the telecommunications business — the state Supreme Court gave its OK earlier this year — there’s a lot of “pent-up demand,” from customers who want LUS service as soon as possible, Salter said.'...

Atlantic Engineering will also work to make sure that enough preparation is done to meet, as best as possible, what is expected to be “extraordinarily high demand,” Salter said.

That isn't bravado, though many readers might dismiss it as such. It is an honest concern based on AEG's recent experience. In the Bristol project the biggest problem has been that the system was built assuming a best-case scenerio of a 50% take rate--few really thought that selling fiber services to even half of the homes passed was realistic. Only a few years into the project it is already past that point--and some expensive new laying of supporting fiber has to be done. Now more success than you could have imagined is a great problem to have--but it is a problem that a conscientious system designer will want to avoid. My understanding is that the current idea is to provision enough fiber to cover a 100% take rate from the beginning.

All very exciting...

Cox Leads the Way

According to a story in MarketWatch Cox is the first cable company to agree to disable the fast forward button on its video on demand product. Video On Demand (VOD) has been attractive for the cable companies largely because it emulated a DVR without the expense of providing a DVR box in the home. DVR's are popular for three reasons: 1) they allow the viewer to "time shift" — to view a show whenever they want; 2) to skip boring and repetitious ads, and 3) to spend less time on a show because you've skipped ads. (If you don't have a DVR, trust me, you want one.)

From the story:
Walt Disney Co.'s two big TV networks, ABC and ESPN, have struck a deal with cable operator Cox Communications Inc. to offer hit shows and football games on demand, but with the unusual condition that Cox disables the fast-forward feature that allows viewers to skip ads, according to a media report Thursday.
Obviously this is not good for users. A little less obviously it is grand news for TiVo who sells the most successful independent DVR. It is easy to to evade the new "requirement" that you watch ads.

Here's the trick:
  1. DON'T rent a DVR from the cable company (they can make their DVRs reinforce this new policy if they choose)
  2. Do buy a TiVo (or use an PC-based alternative like MythTV)
  3. Tune into your Video On Demand channel
  4. Navigate to your movie or show (cable navigation is a pain you can't avoid)
  5. Record it on YOUR OWN device
  6. Watch normally: whenever you want, and power through the ads in the way you power through the ads found in normal broadcasts.
  7. (Yes, it really is that easy. This attempt to control consumers watching habits will fail and lead to a resurgence of independent DVRs and a dramatically reduced take rate for Cox's DVR products. Buy TiVo stock now.)
I already follow the above procedure with Cox's current VOD, even without the incentive of Cox trying to force ads on me. Recording shows is part of my default behavior, it allows me to pause for the phone, set up supper, catch up on some little chore, rewind to catch critical dialog and the like--recording on my own equipment allows me to pause and rewind using TiVo's silky-smooth interface and fast local storage. It makes a world of difference in the user experience. Cox's interface, mediated by a clogged-up network is slow, so painfully slow that my son refuses to use it and called me up to give me the what-for for suggesting that he do so. (I still think it is basically a good thing. Cox is providing you with a very nice library of recorded material. Just use it in conjunction with your own DVR.) (And, yes, Cox's network is clogged up--I still, months after local launch, regularly get a "network busy" signal which abruptly throws me out the system I try and access the VOD channel. Consequently, I haven't developed any habit of use. Cox really needs to fix this if anyone is to treat the service seriously.)

I'd like to say that LUS won't succumb to this ploy by the content providers but, frankly, I don't believe they'll be in a position to resist if Cox's collapse leads to new standards for cable companies and their emerging telecom competition. This is one of those rare places where competition does not work for you. As long as cable companies had an effective local monopoly on wireline video they were able to resist the content providers demands that they not let users skip ads--and up to now they have refused to cripple their DVRs or VOD content despite unrelenting pressure. In truth, content providers had little leverage. If they wanted cable viewers in Lafayette (or Atlanta or Miami) to see their VOD content they had to deal with Cox or simply not sell in that market at all. Enter prospective competition from the likes of AT&T. Now the possibility exists that content providers can give an "advantage" to one provider by refusing to sell content to their competitor unless they restrict their customers. Usually the way to exert this pressure is to refuse to sell to the new entrant--AT&T in our case. It is unusual for an established market leader like Cox to lead in giving in to supplier's demands. Once one provider in a market gives in the others will have to as well--or decide to operate at a competitive disadvantage in order to preserve their customer's rights. How likely is that? Easy answer: Not very. And since regional markets differ (Cox and AT&T serve different, if overlapping, regions) each competitor that gives in spreads the new practice to new areas of the country.

Expect a general collapse, courtesy of Cox's leadership.

I repeat: Buy TiVo.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

TechSouth, Atlantic Engineering, and Fiber

LUS is bringing Jim Salter, CEO of Atlantic Engineering which was recently awarded the FTTH home design contract, to TechSouth according to an LUS media release. He'll be available to answer questions about "products and services." That's actually a pretty big deal and its pretty nice that the opportunity is being offered to the public and not only reportorial types. Monday, May 7 at 1:30 p.m.

From the press release:
The City of Lafayette and Lafayette Utilities System will introduce the head of the engineering firm recently selected to spearhead the LUS Fiber-to-the-Home project at a press conference before the start of the TechSouth annual summit and exposition. James H. Salter, P.E., CEO of Atlantic Engineering Group, will be in Lafayette to introduce the leadership team on the fiber project, answer interested citizens’ questions about upcoming products and services and explain how Fiber-to-the-Home will enhance their lives.

The nationally recognized professional engineer from Atlantic Engineering will explain the fiber build-out process and the firm’s role in ensuring Lafayette residents and LUS customers have the latest and best technology and services when the LUS products become available in 18 months from the scheduled bond fund delivery in July 2007.

TechSouth 2007

TechSouth starts next Tuesday in Lafayette's Cajundome Convention center. It's one of the premier tech conferences in the South and this year's lineup is no exception. If you've got an interest in technology--either from a business or an enthusiast perspective--going for TechSouth's quick, FREE pre-registration is a no-brainer for locals. You'll be treated to a set of resources unavailable in most of the country and certainly rarely free.

There's the usual variety of exhibitors, seminars, and interesting keynotes (The ever-popular CTI of SGI makes a return appearance at the sold-out luncheon but you can still sit in on the presentation sans food.) If you scan the lists of events (especially the seminars) you'll be able to pick out the ones that suit your personal or organizational interests.

Of course readers of this blog will have a special interest in matters relating to Lafayette's new broadband systems. I say systems because it has become a quietly accepted assumption that a municipal wifi system will be coupled to our fiber to the home network. So now we've got two leading-edge technologies to watch--and TechSouth is a great place to finger the goods.

The exhibit hall is where you'll find the fiber-related stuff. LUS has taken up a suite of four booths. Go and get your info from the horses mouth; the engineers that will be running the project will be on on hand. Wave7, a major fiber player, has a booth. But fiberistas should also make their way to local Abacus (home of fiberina), the Motorola booth for its fiber products, and, if sufficiently hard-core, Cisco's.

On the wifi end you'll notice a wealth of exhibitors. Tropos is the most obvious--LUS' RFP has made Tropos equipment the standard by which they will measure other equipment. So go take a look at their latest and greatest; you'll see it, or something like it, going up on polls here. Nortel has a muni wireless division. Motorola has wide-area wireless as well. But the wifi moment of note will be the two morning seminars (8:45!):
  1. Municipal Mesh Wireless Networks: Practical considerations when building large public wireless networks. Presented By: CISCO and
  2. Municipal Wireless Broadband Technologies. Enabling the entire solution to provide a network that works for you. Presented by: Nortel
Lagniappe of possible interest: LATG out of New Orleans is a Sun partner that appears to specialize in governmental contracting...readers may recall the early-in-the-fiber-fight discussions with Sun -- Joey Durel had Sun CEO Scott McNealy on his radio show discussing the possibilities of using Sun terminals hooked up to high-speed fiber for really low cost computing. (Don't recall? Try: (1,2)) I know some folks are still enamored of the idea and it would be one way to attack digital divide issues. So it's interesting to see LATG make an appearance across the basin.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Roasting AT&T's Whitacre

The editor in chief of Light Reading, one of the most arcanely technical sites on the web, takes time out to lambast Ed Whitacre. It's interesting precisely because it is so striking a departure from the site's normal tone and focus.

I saw what AT&T (nee SBC) did up in the Tri-Cities of Illinois and I watched Whitacre single-handedly create the net neutrality dustup that came back to bite AT&T so completely. If that were not enough, I still can't believe that AT&T, now the worlds largest Telecom, doesn't have the guts to go for the FTTH solution that even tiny Kaplan Telephone understands is necessary for it (and the community it serves') future. Whitacre has been enormously bad for his customers and their communities--I don't think that can be disputed.

But I had bought the idea that he was good--in a narrow, shortsighted, destructive sort of way, for the company and its short-term profit and shareholder returns.

Apparently not. In a letter addressed to Whitacre about his retirement package:
What kind of risks and innovation has SBC/AT&T taken recently? It's built a watered-down fiber-to-the-curb network that's dwarfed by many fiber projects worldwide. You are now the largest telecom incumbent operator on the planet, yet you're taking fewer risks than just about anybody. Less risk, higher pay. Not a bad deal if you can get it.

Perhaps the generous compensation package is in appreciation of all the fine lobbying efforts your team has conducted in Washington to preserve the incumbent footprint and defend yourself against innovation. If that is indeed the rationale for your pay package, then you deserve it. AT&T has shown true excellence in lobbying. Your team knows how to preserve the system.

Here's what I really think of this pay package: It's a farce. It's a symbol that the pure arrogance and imperial management style of incumbent telcos is here to say. It's proof that your company is focused more on maintaining the status quo and maximizing executive pay, than on innovation and the creation of shareholder value.
Click on over and get the gory details.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Lafayette in Top Ten

Recent articles in both the Advertiser and the Advocate cheered on Lafayette's selection as one of the top 10 places in the South for the creative class and we discussed it here as well. But at the time of all the hoopla the article itself wasn't online and my bookseller doesn't carry Southern Business & Development. ;-) Hence folks haven't read the article. It is now available online and you can look at how Lafayette compares to Austin, Raleigh, and Atlanta for yourself.

The part locals will be interested in:

Lafayette, La.
Lafayette keeps stride with the larger metros with the kind of cultural diversity and forward thinking that sets this creative city and parish apart. With a rich French heritage blended with Spanish, American, Indian and African influences, Lafayette represents a colorful combination of lifestyles. Locals still exhibit proudly a “wildcatter mentality” founded on risk taking and entrepreneurial spirit. An example is the city’s “Fiber to the Premises Initiative,” designed to make state-of-the-art communications and technology available to every household in the area. The University of Louisiana Lafayette is the only institution in the UL System to be classified as a Research University with High Research Activity by The Carnegie Foundation. In May 2007, Lafayette will host the fourth TechSouth Annual Summit and Exposition, designed to bring IT leaders and users together in a setting specifically created for knowledge sharing and networking.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

LUS at TechSouth

Heads up:

TechSouth sent out an email blast with nothing in it but the following LUS teaser:

(click for a larger image)

LUS and TechSouth are promoting LUS' booth as a place to find out more about the fiber to the home project.

If you've got an interest (and who reading this blog doesn't) you'd be well-served to visit LUS at TechSouth; it's always interesting. Last year they quietly announced in a looping slide show what has turned out to be a cornerstone of the project: full peer-to-peer bandwidth between subscribers; aka intranet speeds. That item, which means that every subscriber will be able to communicate with every other subscriber at the full available speed of the intranet, is a huge plus for both the digital divide and the entrepreneurial hopes for the local project.

Expect to be able to glean interesting details by talking directly to the folks who'll be running the project.

Oh, and hey: TechSouth is worth visiting for a myriad of other reasons. It's about time for a post.....

Lagniappe: Bop on over to the TechSouth site and scroll to the bottom. There you'll find an unexpected sight: LUS, Cox, and AT&T all lined up, and sharing a common banner... :-)