Sunday, December 28, 2008

"Locals curious about fiber"

This morning's Advertiser has a short (though front page) article on public reaction to the imminent launch of the Lafayette fiber project. It's a color story, with not much in it but the public reactions to what they've been informed (and misinformed) about concerning the new system.

On the upside they get the basic reactions of people on the street pretty much right: cautious excitement.

Two things on the downside: 1) The Advertiser persists in repeating the mistaken idea that all LUS has announced so far is the prices of the three "VIP" tiers when Huval clearly has said that the prices announced for services were the same whether you bundled them together or not both in the council presentation and in their own comments pages. (Incidently, this is a feature; something to like...) 2) that bit of repeated misreporting gives the Advertiser's coterie of local Lafayette-haters something semi-concrete, if mistaken, to whine about...every city (and every barbershop) has its little group of nay-sayers. But it is a pity that the Advertiser has chosen to give their ugliness both anonymity and a semi-legitimate forum.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

FYI: LUS Fiber's First Email

For Your Information

Not too much to report here except that LUS has sent its first round of emails out to what I presume was the list I signed up for way back when. (You can get on what is probably the same list at their signup page: http://www.lusfiber.com/feedback/)

Here's the text of the message:
Welcome to your future!

The time has come! LUS Fiber will begin serving our first customer early 2009. To ensure quality customer service and a timely installation, we will launch a controlled roll out of our TV, Internet and Phone services. Customers in Phase One of our four-phase city-wide build-out plan will be notified by mail when service is available to them.

We are also very excited to give you the first look at our residential VIP (Video, Internet and Phone) Bundles. Our full suite of products will be announced soon.

Our 100% fiber optic network will provide the highest quality communication services over Lafayette‚s only customer-owned system at competitive rates. Our strategy is to keep our pricing simple and straightforward. In the coming months, we will keep you updated on our products, services and the status of our city-wide build-out.

We look forward to delivering enhanced television programming, lighting-fast Internet speeds and crystal-clear phone services. As always, you can reach the LUS Fiber team by calling 99-FIBER (993-4237) or visiting our website at LUSFIBER.com.

Happy Holidays!
Your LUS Fiber Team

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

WBS: "Lafayette Fiber Goes Live Next Month"

What's Being Said Dept.

Broadband Reports has consistently provided the nation with coverage of the fiber fight in Lafayette since the battle first was joined. And it's always interesting to see what the commenters have to say.

They've got a story up on the new pricing. Take a look.

Its-a-Thought: It's not about the bundles

Its-a-Thought: "your choice packages," not "bundles."

It was probably inevitable in our commercial culture that the news about product, pricing, and availability would be almost the sole focus of reporting and comment about yesterday's fiber announcement. At one level that really isn't the most important point: ownership of our own resources and the bare fact that the system is real will have much greater impact down the road than today's list of commercial details.

But even on the level of commerce...you know, "bundles" in the usual commercial sense are not really the best focus of conversation. That's because LUS is not offering bundles, not in the usual commercial sense.

Bundles in the usual sense are special "deals" for a range of services put together by the operator that includes a long-term contract and lower prices for an introductory period. The idea is common across business sectors but has become an article of faith in the telecommunications industry with triple-play and even quad-play industry focal points.

In the world of telecommunications retailing bundles do two things, one good and the second bad: 1) they provide a convenient one-stop alternative for consumers weary of tracking 3 or 4 different communications bills, and 2) they serve to lock-in consumers into one provider by making the best prices only available if you take multiple services from that provider. Lock-in works in pretty directly: You can be locked into a contract—like the one-year deals Cox is pushing right now—with a penalty for leaving early to go to a more attractive competitor—like LUS. Lock-in contracts also usually include a promise of a cost increase during or at the end of the contract period. Much of the good deal is a temporary come-on designed to entice you to buy beyond your comfort zone and become dependent upon the service by the time the real price reappears. That's all standard economics. (And one reason why thoughtful people still call economics "the dismal science.") More subtly: the near-monopoly that some users find themselves facing can result in lock-in as well; if a bundle is the best way to eke out a decent price and, for instance, only one company offer decent internet or cell service in your neighborhood you can feel forced to buy their bundle--for the price--even though you'd be better served by choosing a phone from AT&T, cable from Cox, and cell service from Verizon....

Bundles are all about reducing customer freedom in exchange for a (usually temporary) price break.

But that's not the way LUS' bundles work — and why bundles are a misleading way to think about the LUS Fiber offerings. The focus should really be on how much it costs to put together a package that serves you best.

What's missing from LUS' systems is lock-in. 1) There is NO contract involved. The deal you get on day one is the only deal. Leave the moment you want with NO penality. NO programmed-in cost jump because there is no contract to hide one in. 2) There is NO linkage involved. Buy one service. Buy two. Buy three. Buy all the extras, Buy none. NONE of that has any effect on your base price for another service. One price, all the time. The price for 250 cable channels or 50 megs of symmetrical service remains the same. No linkage also means NO penalty for using one service from LUS and one from Cox or AT&T.

That's NOT a bundle in the usual commercial sense. Which is why "bundles" is not the best way to think about the question of getting the best deal on your telecomm services. First ask which services from which providers are best for you? Make up your own "freedom package" —"your choice package." Then add up the real costs for that "package." My guess is that mostly that will be three services from LUS. But you can mix LUS tiers freely and tack on services from a competitor without penalty...or at least no penalty from LUS. Do the math. The real math not the fake "bundle math" the incumbents will try to stick you with.

I can pretty easily imagine customers who will decide to pony up for 50 megs of symmetrical internet, drop all phone and cable services and limp by with cell service and downloadable video. I think that'd be rare. But the point is: LUS won't punish you by jacking up the price on your internet if you drop their phone line. Try dropping Cox's cable and keeping the phone service. Don't think you'll keep the same price on phone...

The reason for the difference, and it can't be stressed too much or too often, is that LUS' consumer is also LUS' owner. LUS is treating you, the customer, with some fundamental respect because, in the end, it is motivated to do best by you, the owner. The privately owned competitors have the same motivation—to do the best by its owners. But, for the private sector, acting in the best interests of its owners is NOT the same as acting in the best interests of its customers. With LUS it is. And, in the end, it is just that simple. We made the right decision on that July 16th, 2005.

So comparing Cox's or AT&T's offerings to LUS' offerings is a little hard. But it's not really apples and oranges. Maybe more like comparing oranges and grapefruit. You'll get your vitamin C from either. But you'll probably find one version goes down a lot more easily.

Media Roundup: LUS Fiber Announcement (Update)

All the usual local media suspects weighed in with coverage of LUS' Fiber announcements at last night's city-parish council meeting. If you comb through the media landscape you'll find bits from KLFY, KATC, The Advertiser and the Advocate.

If you've just got time for one: read the Advocate. It's more comprehensive and is the only one to mention the announcements of features that will truly set Lafayette apart even in the rarefied ranks of fully-fibered cities. On the free internet-over-the-TV feature for digital subscribers:
LUS Director Terry Huval said the basic residential service will also allow customers without computers to have basic Internet browsing capability through the television.

“We think it may well be the first in the world,” Huval said of the television-based Web browsing capability. “It’s for the child at home trying to do a book report and cannot access the Internet today.”
On the 100 Mbps of intranet, customer to customer, connectivity:
All customers on the LUS fiber system will be able to exchange information with other fiber customers at 100 Mbps, Huval said.
The Baton Rouge Advocate also covers pricing, tiers, the launch date, and the likely first neighborhoods to get fiber.

The Lafayette Adverstiser, and local TV station KATC and KLFY restrict their coverage to pricing and rollout details, though KATC does mention the fact that LUS bragged on being the only "
100 percent fiber optic network and the only customer-owned telecommunications network" in Lafayette. There's also a bit of video at KATC.

In a story that headlines the front page the Advertiser fleshes out the details on the residential bundles; lays out the plan for business bundles, and makes clear the places where the first customers will be served.

They're all worth a gander and report slightly different parts of last night's ephocal announcement. Take a look.

It's certainly a nice Christmas present for Lafayette.

UPDATE 3:35: Terry Huval, in the best tradition of local responsivness, went down to the Advertiser site and answered questions from all comers. (Starts here.) Great stuff! It takes several pages and a lot of ground is covered. This is one of the few times that reading the comments is worthwhile—and Terry does it using his real name, a rarity in the not-so-courageous atmosphere of the Advertiser site. It's all pretty respectful, thankfully. I suspect that this is because the denizens there are stunned by dealing with someone who 1) puts their reputation on the line by using his real name, and 2) really knows what he's talking about. That's the natural basis for respect.

(Try getting a response, any response, from Randall Stephenson or Patrick Esser. They're the heads of AT&T and Cox respectively. Never heard of 'em? And they've never heard of you or your neighborhood, nor have any idea that there is an Advertiser or an Advertiser forum. That's my point. You're better off with Terry. And he plays a mean fiddle, too.)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Fiber Plans:Deployment, Tiers, Pricing, Digital Divide and More

LUS Fiber is here. Welcome to your future. That was the message as LUS director Terry Huval stood before the City-Parish Council and laid out the near-term deployment plan and the basic products that will be offered by the new community-owned network. Joey Durel, in his introduction, took visible pride in the system, saying that they had under-promised and over-delivered—something which he's a bit paradoxically claimed was his startegy from the start. If that was the plan; they've met their goal. The network's first offering of services is more than I'd have said possible or likely when we were first thinking about it. —But not more than I and others fought for as ideas about the community's network matured. (One of the huge advantages of owning your own network is that you can make suggestions, fight for them and sometimes help open the door to new directions. Local, public ownership, frankly, is an innovation as important as any technology to LUS' success.) It's a world-class network that we're building. We've every reason to be proud.

I'm goining to hit the highlights here but if you want to see the goods for yourself visit the LCG Auditorium channel at ustream.tv and watch the archived video there.

As always, the LUS presentation was tightly and logically structured: Huval broke the power point into news about the rollout & construction, pricing, unique features, and customer service.

Rollout & Construction
First and foremost, the January date for lighting up the first customers is holding. Just who, when, and how many remains vague but the system will launch with paying customers next month.

Fiber will rollout first at the two ends of the "phase 1" area building out from fiber huts—"hubs"— located on the grounds of the power substations at each end of the build area. The first customers will apparently be signed up in the area around the Acadiana Mall at the southwest end of the build area and those in the Northeastern segment served by the "PEC" substation will also start seeing availability. (See my Google map, or LUS's version to get an ideaof the geography involved.)



click in to examine your neighborhood or
View Larger Map

When fiber becomes available on your street every address will get a nifty piece of mail announcing: "LUS Fiber is here. Welcome to your future" reversed out of a light blue background. Watch closely for that distinctive piece of mail. And then call.

Pricing & Tiers
The big announcement today was was the service plans and prices. The short story is that more-for-20%-less promise is being kept. And in some situations it MUCH more.

Here's a list of the pricing bundles. In some ways it's misleading to call it a bundle since bundle's usually mean some complicated formula for discounting the price of the services if you buy an approved bundle. LUS' packages won't work like that. There will be no penalty for mixing and matching service levels like there are in the incumbent's bundles. All the service are offered for a single straightforward discounted price. Clean and simple and easy to understand. And no attempts to entice you into spending more for service levels you don't really want in order to get a price break for something you do want. (Why? Hint: you're being treated with the respect accorded an owner.) So you could order the top tier internet and the cheapest Video and Phone, or NO video and phone, without penalty.

VIP (Video, Internet, & Phone, get it?)
Video: expanded basic: more than 80 channels $39.95
Internet: 10 Mbps Up and down. $28. 95
Phone with services: 15.95
VIP Silver
Video: over 250 channels incld High Def $63.31
Internet: 30 Mbps Up and down. $44. 95
Phone with a long list of services & 5 cents a minute long distance: 28.95
VIP Gold
Video: over 250 channels incld High Def plus Premium Movie suits $98.09
Internet: 50 Mbps Up and down. $57.95 (wow)
Phone with a long list of services & unlimited long distance: 43.95
More for less. —Now some will try to point to the cheapo bundles that Cox is already offering (and for whose existence you can thank the threat of competition) but those aren't "real" prices, lock you into a set of services for a year or more that you might not want, isn't customizeable, and is a LOT less product. How much for an internet tier to compare with LUS' 30 or 50 meg tiers? There really is no similar product from Cox or AT&T. For value the LUS prices can't be beat considering the number of channels or speed of the offering. But there is no truly cheap, low end offering. Cox offers a 768 kbps thing they call "high speed internet" for goodness sakes. That's cheaper than LUS' 13 times faster 10 meg low tier...but not, I think, much of a value. Of course, LUS really low price for internet is access free...and probably works at at least 768 Kbps—see below.

Unique Features: Digital Divide & 100 Mbps Intranet
These are the bragging points—and pretty impressive they are too...taken together I think they are truly unique to Lafayette.

LUS' response to the Digital Divide question is to enable the internet capacities of their digital set top box. Using a limited browser a user will be able to read email and do basic web surfing on their TV. And Lafayette is going to do it For Free. There is not surer way to get folks online than to package it into their cable service. Once the rollout is complete Lafayette will inevitably become the most connected city in the nation. Technically, at least. Now helping folks use that capacity fruitfully is a whole 'nother matter. And properly something the community shold pitch into to do. (Any takers?)

The 100 Mbps intranet has been discussed on these pages for a long time. Suffice it to say that any regular customer will have access to blinding 100 meg speed over the internal community intranet. Want to download the 6 hours of one of those interminable contensious council meeting? In HD? No problem. It will come down in a flash. Video telephony. Shuttling those huge files will become trivially easy—if only inside our net. That will encourage businesses and tech-oriented citizens to locate inside the city...which might do more to encorage "smart growth" than any suggestion I have heard to date.

Customer Service
There'll be two customer service centers down the road. The customer service people—both in the buildings and on the streets—will be your neighbors.

And....
Finally, I'd have to say that LUS didn't talk about one of the greatest features of our network: the money you spend on LUS, the money that gets you more for less, will stay here in Lafayette and won't be shipped off to some high rise in San Antonio or Atlanta.

Frankly, it's all we asked for initally and more...it's fiber to the home with its near-infinite expandability. It's cheap. It will be offered to every last person and business in the area. We will own it and can do with it what we like — and both the 100 mbps intranet and the digital divide initiative are the products of local folks pushing for them and evidence that community ownership can make a huge difference right off the bat. Sure there's more that I can hope for and fight for now. But on this day to have all the hopes that we held back in 04 realized is enough...It's amazing. A dream realized.

Fiber Announcement at Tonight's Council

Terry Huval will make a presentation at tonight's city-parish council meeting. According to a council member the LUS director will lay out more details about the soon-to-be-launched system. The address will occur during the "President's Address" segment of the agenda at the beginning of the meeting. This low-key, unannounced address will be the most comprehensive and authoritive description of the network's products in Video, Voice, & Internet. I expect a status report on the state of the channel lineup, the extent of Video on Demand serivces, service tiers, pricing on tiers, the probability of caller ID and emergency data shown on-screen, Internet speed tiers, digital divide plans....and more.

The council is, in effect, the "board of directors" for LUS and it is appropriate enough for them to hear the proposed details first. The nice thing is that we, the public "stockholders," get to listen in.
At 5:30...

To Attend In Person:

@ 705 W. University Avenue, Ted A. Ardoin City-Parish Council Auditorium (City Hall)

To Attend via Cable TV:

@ AOC Channel 16
Asychronously rebroadcast:
Wednesday at 5:30 p.m.
Saturday at 1:00 p.m.
To Attend via the Internet:
@ http://www.ustream.tv/channel/lcg-council-auditorium
And Asynchronously, anytime
@ http://www.ustream.tv/channel/lcg-council-auditorium

Monday, December 22, 2008

Calling All Tech Types: A Salon

Lafayette CIO Keith Thibodeaux is starting up a Salon tomorrow, Tuesday the 23rd, and you're invited. The Particulars:
Time: 5:00 - 6:30pm.
Where: City Hall
Purpose: Ideas
Description: The topic of the night will be "the next generation of application programming." There will be a very small (5 min) opening presentation, then unstructured social discussion for the remainder of the time.
Extras: Light refreshments will be provided. (RSVP requested so he can get that part right) There'll be a video feed from the Council Chambers so that fiberistas can move down to chamber when Huval comes on.
Ok, so what's a Salon? (No not a saloon. That's something else entirely.) It's a place where folks go to exchange ideas..it goes back to the Enlightenment; the history is pretty rich and you can get a sense of it from wikipedia. But Keith is inspired directly by Alexander Graham Bell (the phone Bell; rember BellSouth?) who had a wing built onto his Washington mansion to accomodate Salons which were, by all accounts (search "Wednesday evenings,") amazing gatherings.

It's a great idea for Lafayette. We need to talk more. There are a lot of great ideas out there and they need to be talked about. Ideas that don't live on in others are dead... With the new network about to be launched there will be plenty of room to play. It's time to go public with your ideas. Talk to Keith. Listen. Talk

"Fiber taking shape"

The Advertiser runs up the second local story anticipating the LUS Fiber launch this morning. Like the Independent story it unfortunately leads with what isn't known. What's far more interesting is what is... Still, it's hard to write a story about the product launch when there is so little to report about the product's standard commercial details. As the story reports:
...there's been virtually no marketing or promotions surrounding the project, and officials have been quiet on details such as the channel lineup and what kinds of pricing packages will be offered. Also unknown is exactly when in January the system will be unveiled.
Parts of the article repeats things we've know but that are nice to see repeated: The January launch is still on. There will be "mulit-hundred" channels—with lots of HD. On Demand and Digital Video Recording (DVR) service. There will be caller ID on screen. And internet capacity will be huge. (Though, in an obvious editing error the 10 meg minimum low-end package gets presented as the maximum offering. That's simply a mistake on the part of the Advertiser.) We'll have 100 megs of intranet.

With the Advertiser reportw a few more interesting details leak out. About the set top box:
A small box also will be available in which customers who do not have regular online access will be able to access some parts of the Internet through their television. Huval said some features, such as videos, may not be available, but the goal is to bring the Internet into homes that otherwise might not have it without those customers having to pay additional fees.
That makes it sound as though 1) Any telecom subscriber will be able to get a box that enables limited Internet on the TV and 2) that it will be available without "additional fees." That sounds good!

It also looks like they are contemplating some sort of community portal:
The televisions also could have several menus for users to choose from, with some featuring community news and announcements.
Terry Huval (LUS head) also addresses the reasons why local denizens would switch saying:
"Our pricing might be more attractive to them," he said, adding that the costs are expected to be an average of 20 percent less than current providers' standard rates. "The quality of the product they're going to get is going to be superior. And it's a local operation, tailored for Lafayette. We look at what our community needs. This system is owned by the citizens of Lafayette."
Price, quality & hometown pride. I'm not sure what other reasons there can be.... I'm looking forward to signing up when it becomes available in my section of the first build.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Anecdotal: Fiber in the Lunchhouse

Anecdotally Interesting...

Layne and I walked down to the Creole Lunch House for lunch yesterday after the rush and saw a crew at work burying some fiber on 12th street due to overcrowded poles. (Nice guys) When we went in we mentioned the fiber to Merline and the ensuing conversation between the three of us and some lingering customers surprised and heartened me.

Long story short: People off the street, with no particular expertise, understood some crucial details about a very technical fiber build our community is engaged in and understood the value of having technical assets in their daily lives.

Some details: Before the mail delivery lady went back out to her truck she chimed into the conversation with accurate info about a schedule for inspection and replacement of "telephone poles" and her friend let me know that even though they were replacing poles in Breaux Bridge that fiber wasn't going to be deployed there. The discussion quickly morphed into an enthusiastic talk about the niece who got a "30 dollar an hour!" job because she "knew the computer" and another whose 17 thousand dollar raise (to around 60) was acclaimed a general wonder and attributed to computer skills. Getting adopted by this niece was jokingly made the task of the afternoon. More seriously, there was a general agreement that they all needed to learn "the computer."

The point being that far from technically sophisticated people on the street are more knowledgeable than you'd think and recognize the value of the new network. They'd like to take advantage of the emerging resources in ways that make sense in their lives. That's the sort of understanding that is the necessary foundation for all those dreams some of us have about building some new "city on the hill" here in Lafayette.

Like I said, I was heartened.

(Oh yeah: If you've never made it to Miss Merline's you really oughta. The stuffed bread in that pic is the hot version...that's the one I'd start with; the plate lunches are a killer too...Layne had the fried pork chop with greens.)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

LUS Fiber: First Local Media Report

Today’s Independent carries what will undoubtedly be the first many stories on Lafayette’s new community-owned fiber-optic system. It’s contains exciting details of the sort that will lead to extensive national coverage when they are officially announced.*

Sadly, you have to wait until the latter half of the story to catch a whiff of the excitement. The Independent leads with graphics, a head and a subhead that distract from what ought to be the meat of the story. While granting that there is more than a bit of the usual media tendency to try and generate excitement with sensationalized coverage, this wound is largely self-inflicted.

The Lead
First, note the dire graphics visible in the print/pdf version. Then see the Head: “Ready for Prime Time?” And Subhead: “Lafayette Utilities System is tight-lipped about its highly anticipated fiber-to-the-home telecommunications service, due next month. Will it live up to the hype?” If you read through to the end of the story you'll find that the clear answer is “Yes!” But you have to make it down to that part—and be knowledgeable enough to be excited by the low-key presentation you find there.

LUS has certainly been “tight-lipped” about their project. And, frankly, with good reason—there is no reason to give Cox and AT&T any additional ammunition to use against our community.**

Still, letting fear of the incumbents be the reason for not talking to the community is the wrong decision and this story in a sympathetic local newsweekly is evidence of that mistake. Eye on the Prize: The overwhelming goal of LUS right now has to be to generate as large a number of enthusiastic users as is possible. The way to do it is drive excitement, enthusiasm, talk, and local pride. You can’t do that from a hunkered-down position. There comes a point where people sensibly assume that no news is bad news. And while there has doubtless been disappointments about issues ranging from contractors, to channel contracts, to the practical availability of nifty technical features not letting those questions arise and dealing with them easily as they are solved or explained hands the incumbents the advantage of introducing issues and setting the context—something they have proven time and again they will do in unfair ways. The ancillary benefit of dealing openly and forthrightly with things like channel contracts and contractor issues is that everyone grows used to Cox et al. making silly claims and with LUS regularly showing how foolish they are. In short order people decide they don’t trust Cox's attacks even before LUS makes its explanation. That’s the way it worked during the fiber fight and that is how the community was inoculated against the last minute nonsense put out by the incumbents and their allies that worked so well elsewhere.

The upside of talking is that your community—and subscriber base—is both excited by the new features and understands their sensible limits. You can’t achieve even one of those necessary prerequisites to widespread adoption without an ongoing conversation.

The Meat
Now on to what should be the real meat, and the real excitement, of the story. First there is a restatement of what we’ve heard before going all the way back to the early discussion of the idea before the council...claims that some doubted would survive to the product launch. We see that they have:Text Color
LUS will sell phone, cable and Internet services individually, but Huval says the better deals will come with ordering the “triple play” combination package. That service of expanded basic cable ­— more than 80 channels — local phone service, and Internet service with a download and upload speed of 10 MBps will sell for approximately $85 a month. It will also include 100 MBps speeds for peer-to-peer Internet communication (when two LUS subscribers communicate with each other)[Note: that should be Mbps]. Huval adds that on average LUS’ prices will be 20 percent less than the standard rates now offered by its competitors.
The basic claims were always essentially: More for Less. That’s being realized with a full triple play, a full suite of channels, stunningly fast internet for the cheap tier, and a price level 20% lower than the competition. The 100 megs intranet was added after the initial promises and constitutes an exciting feature that only makes sense on a community-owned network. It’s a feature that requires some explanation (talk with the public!) to really appreciate. But among other things what it will make trivial is video telephony, easy sharing of any content--up to High Def Video, and all sorts of innovative small business models. Much of that would be made yet easier by making static IP addresses standard...or at least making the addition of such trivially inexpensive.

Other promises were for advanced services and since LUS has decided to go with an all IP system (something once in doubt) that will be relatively easy. In that department we’ll apparently get caller ID on the TV screen for starters but expect a raft of nifty integration features downstream.

Most exciting, because we’ve heard so little about it, is the set top box internet capacity...and it too requires explanation to fully appreciate. LUS will be the first, absolutely the first, to make the internet available to its users without having to buy a computer and a monitor. This is a huge deal that will immediately catapult LUS into the the head of the line in terms of the digital divide. Instantly Lafayette will have a larger percentage of its households capable of using essential internet services than any place in the nation. (Long-time readers will recognize that I’ve advocated this alternative before.) Realizing the potential of email (still the killer app of the internet) and even limited internet access will require education...and, yes, talking it up. The downside, and there is always a downside, is that the browser won’t be as capable as the one in your computer:
The TV browser is limited. It will only display Web sites that are Personal Display Assistant-optimized. PDA-optimized Web sites are largely text-based with limited graphics and pictures, and LUS’ TV browser won’t allow for any online videos. Huval explains the feature wasn’t put in place to allow subscribers to go to YouTube.com and watch a series of videos on their TV.

“It’s a light browser,” he says. “It’s not designed to have the kind of horsepower that you would have on a PC. It’s not to say we couldn’t do [online videos], but we’re the first ones in the United States trying this, and I don’t want to be pushing our system this early in our new business.
It’s good to be getting that news out there now...the idea that this is unique and forward-looking is absolutely true. (Trust me I’ve looked. Somebody in rural Canada sorta kinda used this feature for local information from the video provider; not general internet access no matter how limited. It was very vague info and may not have been the same box that LUS is using.) It is also true that this is limited. And that those limits should not have to persist. —The feature has been buried in advanced set top boxes for a long time, probably a decade and never turned on by the incumbents that sell services. (That, discouragingly, is not all that hard to understand: they want to sell a more capable, higher-priced internet package. It is only a community-owned network that sees the rationale in providing cheap, easy access to the whole community.) Because it was never turned on the feature has atrophied and never been upgraded by the producers...just carried forward in new models. Some of the underlying capacities are used sparingly for integration into WAP cell phone stuff (now dying) and interactive little picture in picture things for various set top box guides and the like. Not much upgrade is needed if none of the buyers are allowing the users to interact with the richness of the internet. So, in effect, LUS is limited by the decisions made by competitors that didn’t share its generous motivation. Here’s to hoping that actually having one visible customer that uses the full capacity of the internet features of the box will encourage the bean counters to expand that capacity. Really, this should be a software issue. Modern IP-capable set top boxes are already full computers capable of advanced video protocols, pushing HD quality video to the screen and with the hardware built in to negotiate multiple IP protocols...it should just be a matter of putting the package together and having a network customer willing to let their customers use it. LUS will be that customer

Exciting, exciting times. We’re about to get everything we asked for.



Footnotes:
*I expect an official announcement no later than the last city-parish council meeting of the year...that’s the last possible moment and that fits the (unfortunate) LUS pattern. An official Press Conference with all the bragging trimmings would be much preferred and would create more excitement than letting reporters and the public overhear a council power point. Still... Stay tuned.

** Recall that Cox and AT&T have consistently tried to destroy the network, and failing that weaken it, at every turn. Beginning with trying to pass a law to outlaw the idea, to achieving a very restrictive law that places unfair and anti-competitive limits on LUS (but allows Cox and AT&T to freely engage in the very same activities), to waging an expensive public relations battle to thwart the will of the community (which they lost resoundingly), to repeatedly suing the community after the loss (which failed repeatedly but achieved the purpose of delaying the launch by years) to, currently, running a website devoted solely to generating bad publicity about a competitor that doesn’t yet have the first customer (how often do you see that? Never. An anti-Panasonic site by Sony? Bad form.) No, LUS is right to think that the incumbents are out to get them and will take unfair advantage of anything that they know. That’s the clear history and to act as if it isn’t true would be irresponsible.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Venice: Internet Access As Birthright

There's getting it and then there is really getting it.

"Venice provides free Internet access to newborns"

Venice will become the first city in the world to provide newborn residents with free Internet access, a spokeswoman for the city council said Friday.

Newborns will receive a user ID and password entitling them to free Internet access at the same time as they get their birth certificate, the spokeswoman said.

"The resident's new digital identity will give free access to the Web, because we consider that's an important universal right,"
Whoa....

(From NetworkWorld via the inestimable Baller list.)


After Thought: Yes, the remark about New Orleans is snarky. I suppose sad recent news has made the residents of other sinking cities a bit nervous... Another connection: Where Venice is using a fiber infrastructure to power a municipal wifi system in hopes of keeping from sinking financially as well as physically that avenue to pride and hope was closed to New Orleans by the incumbent's (un)Fair Competiton act and Cox and AT&T's unwillingness to give the city a break when it became apparent that a law aimed at Lafayette was doing unintended damage to a city staggered by Katrina. We can all hope that one consequence of the change in Washington is real change in telecom policy that would allow communities to use their own resources as they see fit. At the very least maybe they will go ahead and pass that bill that been pending for years to gaurantee that the states can't forbid municipal networks.

There was a time, not all that long ago where Louisiana voices were front and center on the community side of this issue. If Tauzin and Breaux had had their way maybe New Orleans could be bragging on, and attracting business on the basis of, their shiny new muni wifi network. Landreiu? Melancon? You listening? Want a good way use your new found power and influence? Be seen as progressive? Help communities?

Thursday, December 04, 2008

A Nationlal Broadband Strategy Call to Action



Lafayette, in the person of Terry Huval, participated in Monday's "National Broadband Strategy Call to Action" in Washington. He was among a high-flying group that have worked to build a national policy to promote broadband availability and use. The signatories range from Google to AT&T to the American Library Association to the Communications Workers of America to Cisco to Teletruth to Internet2...and the Lafayette Utilities System. In short: a baker's list of representative of every contending group that has an interest in promoting a more available and better internet.

Quite frankly some national policy is needed. It may come as a shock to hear that the US doesn't have a policy—to hear that it doesn't have a coherent approach to the most basic infrastructure need of our time. The record is clear: countries that have widely available, capable, inexpensive wired and wireless networks have them because they've instituted real national broadband policies. Not necessarily the same strategy—but some strategy. (The US experience is a substantial part of how we know policies work: the US is the clearest example of what happens when you lack such a policy: we dropped from 1st in the world to near the back of the industrial pack in the last 15 years and pay more for broadband than countries with much better service. Countries with a systematic plan have roared to the front—and saved their citizens real money to boot.)

Frankly, the whole Fiber Fight here in Lafayette has been a consequence of our national failure to deal with the issue. With a real national policy building our network would have been either 1) impossible (had the incumbents had their way) 2) explicitly legal and federally protected (had the progressives prevailed). A fight was only possible because there was no policy. So Lafayette has, as the highest profile and most successful battle to put in place a real forward-looking plan in at least one place in the US, involved in this issue for a long time. Lafayette is also involved because Jim Baller, LUS' attorney and champion through much of the fight was the organizer and chief proponent of the gathering.

So, with such a long-standing good reason to get on with it why does the idea of a national broadband policy take off now? Well, Baller has been driving this forward on the basis of national pride and competitiveness and that provided some traction as the US continued to slip in the rankings. But with a new, progressive administration and the collapse of the financial market there is a the new acceptance of infrastructure construction as economic stimulus. It's apparent that there will be a big(ger) stimulus package soon that shifts the emphasis from giving money to people who have made bad decisions to stimulating the economy by building things that we can all fruitfully use. With money on the table for the incumbents, the unions, and the equipment manufacturers the dawning possibility of actually getting a national broadband policy in place that will promote the interests of the municipalities, the internet companies, and the net citizen groups all see the value of coming to an accommodation before the moment passes. That may be (is) a somewhat cynical view. But it fits the moment it seems to me. Economic stimulus in hard times seems an effective motivator.

With some background out of the way on to the Call itself: It is only a call...not the plan itself. Probably the most important single accomplishment so far is getting such broad consensus on the idea of a national policy. To date the incumbents have fought the very idea of a national policy or promoted the idea that our current incoherent approach somehow constituted an implicit one. Getting them to help promote the idea that a policy is desireable is the biggest single accomplishment of the day. The meat of the two page call is the suggested goals.
Goals
  1. Every American home, business, and public and private institution should have access to affordable high-speed broadband connections to the Internet.
  2. Access to the Internet should, to the maximum feasible extent, be open to all users, service providers, content providers, and application providers.
  3. Network operators must have the right to manage their networks responsibly, pursuant to clear and workable guidelines and standards.
  4. The Internet and broadband marketplace should be as competitive as reasonably possible.
  5. U.S. broadband networks should provide Americans with the network performance, capacity, and connections they need to compete successfully in the global marketplace.
Even a cursory read of that reveals a lot glittering genralities...the "built by a committee" nature of the thing is apparent. Baller himself, during the introduction (see video above), spoke of the judgment of some that the call is "mealy-mouthed and watery." His point the current document is only a start on a larger project. The call for universal, affordable access is particularly noteworthy. That, by itself, calls for a huge project to reach everyone and substantial change to the current structure of telecommunications policy.

And there are a few points of real progress: Beyond agreeing that a broadband policy is necessary and should be affordably available to all, the various interests seem to agree that broadband is infrastructure. Getting agreement there is a real advance. Even more specifically: both AT&T the Communications Workers union talk about an refreshingly ambitious target: a 10 megs standard and making broadband cheaper overall.

With LUS already setting up to offer 10 megs as their cheapo, slow tier and offering it all for 20% less Lafayette will have already met that goal. Nation, please take notice. Frankly, that should make it easy to see that the municipal alternative should be encouraged in any national policy....

Monday, December 01, 2008

LWV Meeting & Fiber (Updated)

Well it's pretty last minute but...

Here's something that folks interesed in tech, community, Lafayette, and/or the fiber network will be interested in: the LWV of Lafayette is having a noon meeting at the Community College that will feature a discussion with a number of our councilmen and one of the set of questions they've agreed to respond to is where they'd like to take our network in reference to issues like the Digital Divide, providing on-network services, and supporting an online version of AOC.

Got your own questions and suggestions? Come. Talk to the guys who really know and who make the final decisions.

Details: Time: 12/1/08, 11:30-12:00, social; 12:00-1:00, meeting
Place: Fine Arts Room of the South Louisiana Community College, Devalcourt Street
Google Map: 312 Delvacourt, Lafayette, La

UPDATE: I have been reminded of the really important parts by a polite piece of correspondence from a person I urged to come; that is: Food. Yes, food will be served. On the menu is what I am told is excellent gumbo and many of the League member's favorite tidbits. Including, from our household, apricot bars. There will be a big pot, bring friends. Come!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Lafayette Technology Google Discussion Group

Raymond Camden, Adobe guru and all-around tech guy, has started up a Google discussion group aimed at tech-savvy Lafayette. In a post on the idea he indicates that the group is aimed at providing a forum for "generic technology" discussions. An illustrative bit from the post:
This listserv can be used to talk about...
  • Should I buy a new Mac or PC? (By the way, the answer is Mac)
  • Should I go with ATT or Cox or wait for Fiber? (Cox for now, but switch to fiber when you can!)
  • How do I get into programming?
  • What editor is best for development?
  • What local Best Buy will have the earlier copy of the new Warcraft expansion?
  • Where can I find a job using C++/.Net?
Basically, anything and everything with regards to technology.
They're still starting up but an early discussion explored some issues with Cox's HD service with several folks complaining about breakup on the HD channels. This is interesting to me since I just ordered my first HD TV (doing my bit for the economy) and am eagerly anticipating using the thing.

This is a classic "good thing." Talk is the basis of community and the tech community here could use more threads to knit it together—this discussion group could easily be a thread in that fabric. A bonus: most of the names on the current list of members are familiar and are good folks, not just techy but community-oriented.

Recommended....

It's a new list and needs members—and new discussion. Give it a try.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Durel’s wishlist to Obama

What's Being Said

The INDblog carries news of Mayor Durel's Christmas list for Santa Obama. MSNBC sent out an email asking 100 more than 1000 mayors for their top two wishes of the new administration. Durel's reply could be summarized in a word: infrastructure. First he wants the Feds to fund I-49 between New Orleans and Lafayette (we've been registered for that gift for a number of years now). But the second wasn't so much an ask as a tell:
The city of Lafayette is installing fiber optics to every home and business in the city that wants it. We will give our citizens, peer to peer connectivity of 100mbs -- for free! This is being done through our city-owned utility and we will have something 80 to 90% of America won’t have 20 years from now. The federal government needs to do all it can to encourage municipalities to do what we are doing.
Durel touts our FTTH project and recommends that the nation follow our lead and invest in useful infrastructure.

Can't say as I disagree.

[.......pssst: Joey's first name is really "Lester?" For true?]

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Internet Good for Teens? And US not getting enough?

Apparently, the geniuses over at the McArthur foundation spent a lot of time studying the internet use of teens and how it affected them.

Surprise: apparently hanging out online isn't really bad for for the under-twenties. In fact it teaches "important social and technical skills." Touble is, the parents (roll eyes) just don't get it. (You can get more on this from the source, or read the study, or, hey, more appropriately: watch it on YouTube

So it's been since the world began: kids hang out together and do weird things, the adults grumble and sputter and it turns out that it really was a good thing "developmentally."
"The social worlds that youth are negotiating have new kinds of dynamics, as online socializing is permanent, public, involves managing elaborate networks of friends and acquaintances, and is always on."
So, if it's good to hang out and geek out on the internet then what about this finding that US kids don't get as much interenet as kids from, say, the Czech Republic...are we falling behind in the geeking out on obscure interests and hanging out with friends on the net competition?

Probably. ;-)

NADs, the Digital Divide, the iPhone and Lafayette

Food For Thought Dept.

Mike helpfully emailed a link to a Wall Street Journal article that thoughtfully rewrites a press release from Comscore, a marketing research firm which recently released a study on the influence of the iPhone on the smartphone market.

Long story short: the iPhone is a big deal and is driving some pretty basic shifts in usage patterns. This isn't all that surprising when you realize that the iPhone is pretty much a full computer with an always-on 3G internet connection—usably fast mobile ubiquity. I recently got one to take on an extended vacation and camping trip out west and it was fantastically useful to be able to access mapping, directions, restaurant reviews—and even GPS locations while hiking far from cellular connections. I am not surprised that others find its extended all-in-one capacity both helpful and worth affording. (That trip explains the 2 week LPF hiatus for both of you that wondered.) You can do a search on the terms and find bits and pieces of Comscore's broader analysis. (The full report is a for-pay item.)

Our Focus
But the big picture is not particularly what interests us here today. Instead we focus on the implications of these usage shifts for digital divide issues here in Lafayette.

Part of what Comscore's data shows is that lower-income householders are 1) adopting smartphones and especially the iPhone at a rate that is growing faster than those that are more wealthy and 2) that their use of network functions like email and search are also growing faster than the wealthy as is their usage of music/mp3 functions. (As an interesting sidelight: the overall usage is actually shrinking for non-network centric uses like music listening. hmmn....)

The conclusion that the analysts reach is that folks who need to stretch the dollar are dropping telephone landlines and internet connections in favor of cellular connections when they are pressed—iPhone-like devices make it possible to gain enough of the benefits of these capacities over your cellular connection to make turning off the other services seem cost-effective. You also don't have to pay for a separate mp3 player or computer.

The smartphone/iPhone is emerging as an all-in-one network device that is particularly attractive to those whose need to pinch pennies. It may well become the preferred NAD (network attached device) of the working stiff.

The NAD and the Digital Divide in Lafayette
Just how people attach to Lafayette's shiny new network has been a big issue dating back to the Digital Divide Committee and the Fiber Fight. Both LUS and the city-parish council have made a strong (and specific) commitment to making sure that the benefits of the community's network extend to all. The first and most valuable commitment to equity was to make the the network as cheap as possible and to make the cheapest levels of service much more powerful than is available from for-profit providers. LUS is clearly keeping that commitment with very low-priced, extremely high bandwidth connectivity products. But there was also a commitment to find some way to get computers into poorer people's homes.

Closing the digital divide, digital inclusion, was never just a matter of do-gooder sensibility or even simple justice (as powerful as both are); the impulse always included a healthy dose of selfish realism: We will all advance further and faster if we advance together. A truly advanced digital community must be pervasively sophisticated. To the extent that Lafayette (and any vigorous local community) has decided to invest in a technological future for its children it cannot afford to leave any part of the community behind. No local community has the human resources to waste. No real community would tolerate it.

That was the basis for our commitment to digital inclusion. At the time it was assumed that the NAD would be a desktop computer or maybe a laptop. But the winds have shifted.


The New NADs
It now appears that the NADs used to bridge the digital divide in Lafayette will consist of some mix of 1) newer, radically inexpensive low-powered laptops (aka "net tops", 2) wireless smartphones, and 3) the cable settop box's rudimentary browsing and email capacities. I've discussed 1 and 3 pretty extensively earlier.

What's most interesting about these 3 paths toward accessible network connectivity is not how they differ and the hard choices those differences might suggest but how they are similar and the opportunities that they offer that Lafayette is uniquely situated to grasp.

Net tops laptops, smartphones, and set top boxes are all unabashedly network-dependent devices. Without a good, fast, reliable connection to the internet they are really not very useful or valuable. With an advanced connection, however, they are transformed into powerful, amazingly cheap devices that challenge the functionality of a powerful conventional computer for most folk's purposes. That defines the double-edged sword that inexpensive network devices represent for most people in most places: they are only as good--and as cheap--as the networks to which they connect.

The smartphone/iPhone presents a new set of challenges and opportunities for providing fair access to Lafayette's networked future.

Smartphone Opportunities
The opportunities are pretty breath-taking: hand-held, always-on network devices like the iPhone or newer advanced Blackberries offer the possibility of leapfrogging into a future that must remain a vision in most places.

That vision is of an ubiquitous, always-accessible network that puts rich comunications—ranging from video to voice to text—and huge computational and information resources at the fingertips of users at a price point so low as to make universal use almost inevitable.

If we can line up all these elements we can be both a national and even a world leader in popular access to advanced technologies. Lafayette can be the place to explore today the consequences of sort putting massive bandwidth, new devices, network storage, and online computational resources into the hands of most people in a community. It's a chance for our comunity to help define the future—and to make a place in that future for communities like our own.

Smartphone Challenges
The new, cheap NADs Lafayette is considering as tools to close the digital divide are all not only network-centric but network-dependent. These inexpensive devices all require two things to make them function as adequate substitutes for traditional computers: 1) an always-on, large-bandwidth connection and 2) —and this is less well understood—on line storage and computational resources dedicated to each NAD user.

We have the dense fiber backbone. And the crucial public ownership. But we need more.

1) We need, first, to make sure that we beef up the wireless network that is currently being deployed along with the fiber and offer it as an adjunct to a citizen's network connection. We can provide wifi within our own homes by attaching it to the fiber, but on the streets and and in public places our network connectivity needs to follow us. Wifi (for other practical reasons as well as the current considerations) shouldn't be a seperate network.

2) We need to provide substantial online storage for individuals. NAD's are noticeably short of storage space. That's part of what makes them light and inexpensive and hence good digital divide devices. There is no reason to have massive storage located on an always-connected device. But beyond compensating for NAD shortcomings, a central online repository will soon become a practical necessity as people move toward using multiple, differently capable devices online. It is easy to see a time in the near future when the typical user might login daily from 1) a home computer, 2) a work or school computer, 3) their personal NAD, 4) their settop box to view some net content communally or on the large screen, and 5) from a friend's house or public space. A single, online "home" would allow everyone to use their personal "stuff" (from docs to passwords to bookmarks to online applications and beyond) from any device at any location.

3) We need to provide real network-based computational power. NADs onboard computational resources are weak. But with a robust local network there is no need for a supercomputer in your hand...just access the computational power of the supercomputers on the network. The settop box solution would be greatly enhanced by locating a linux desktop on the network. A small server farm (or a nice virtual server like the one that Abacus has) could serve out the capacity of a full computer with a full suite of powerful applications to any screen---from the settop's TV to a NAD's small one. The technology is currently being called "cloud computing" but it could be arrayed cheaply by any community with the will to do so.

With fiber, fiber-driven wireless, online storage, and network-based computation Lafayette could cheaply and easily meet the commitment made during the fiber fight to closing the digital divide. And it could do it in a way that would benefit every citizen no matter what their income, neighborhood, race, or level of tech savvy. Meeting above challenges would help shape Lafayette into a community with an unrivaled capacity to meet future challenges. Since everyone would benefit it would be easier to sell politically. In these hard economic times it would be a huge boon to the whole community and mark Lafayette as a progressive, self-reliant locale in which to do business.

Really this should be a no-brainer.... don't you think?


Lagniappe:

Should you be tempted to think that this is ahead of its time or that Louisiana is behind those times:

About 25 percent of Louisiana's 4.2 million people have a Blackberry, iPhone or similar device, which May said "is really a computer."

That's from an Advertiser story on the community college system reformatting online coursework to make it accessible via smart phones....since it is "really a computer" qualified students can get aid in buying a smartphone since it can be regarded as educational.

The future is just around the corner. This stuff is all in sight.

Friday, November 21, 2008

And We're Not Amazed

Food For Thought


That's Kevin Kelly sitting in the red chair on a darkened stage. He's talking to an assembly of some of the world's finest minds at a recent TED conference. He's earned their attention by being, over the last 40+ plus years one of the most prescient thinkers on the globe. He not only sees real patterns — which is rare enough — but he has an ability to see the direction in which those patterns are moving. That's a forbiddingly abstract talent and it's always been hard for Kelly to make himself sound sensible when he first points to a pattern. It's only later that his positions come to be taken-for-granted wisdom.

As you might surmise, Kevin Kelly has been a hero of mine for a long time; since the old Whole Earth Review through his work on chaos theory. His sort of integrative, obsessive, reportorial focus on what's truly important is always worth listening to....and even if you are tempted to think that this time it might be a little over the top you should remember that he has pretty much always been right....

This time he's on about the web. How amazing it really is. How amazing it is that we're not just poleaxed by what we've got. How that's only the beginning How the web is turning into an ever-more all-inclusive machine. And how that machine is evolving.



Like the web you could just about take off anywhere in that talk and dip into some really fascinating and important stuff. For instance, Kelly mentions, in quick passing, photosynth. Long-term and retentive readers will vaguely recall that term; I posted on it back when I fell across the technology on the web. Take a look; I think you'll see how it fits his thesis. Then consider: He considers that a throw-away line. There's a lot of meat below that almost-glib surface.

Here in Lafayette we've got to start taking such stuff seriously. It's now inevitable that we will be able to inhabit the leading edge of this brave new world when it appears. We'll have bandwidth to burn in LUS' 100 megs of intranet and the wireless network now abuilding and attached to that hard-wired backbone can provide ubiquity at speeds that will stun. (In my neighborhood mysterious black cylinders are being attached to LUS fiber on a pole on every block. As I walk past with my iPhone NAD a wifi network pops up....) But, frankly, having the hardware doesn't give us the vision. We could use it to just give us "more" of the same—bigger bandwidth, better phones, more fun cable, all for less. And we should do that. But that is the LEAST we can do with our new network.

A network-centric future is upon us. The web will connect, for practical purposes, all points from hand-crafted links, to databases, to our relationships, to the bevy of things we make and use. What ties all that together; what makes it work; is how it is integrated. Right now we're calling it "search" and Google is the god. But simple textural search and link-ranking (which is most of what Google does) is only the tip of the iceberg here.

What the world needs—and what Lafayette and a few other places are positioned to supply—is what will replace search. The new web needs big bandwidth and ubiquity—practically speaking a tightly integrated fiber-wireless network. The next web also needs the huge calculative power that Kelly mention but does not emphasize. Between LITE and ULL's underutilized supercomputers we'll have computational power to do the sorts of pattern recognition and integration that things like photosynth and other database integrative applications will need. Kelly notes that the new web will no be like the old web any more than our web is like television. The new way of making acessible all those things which the web will connect is the crux of the difference. I trust his insights there and can see the outlines of the patterns he points to.

What Lafayette, and other communities with the resources, should be doing is supporting and providing incentives for companies and individuals that want design for what only we can currently do: provide the next generation of integrative technologies—that which will replace search. Any x-prize, any portal, any support that does not take that into account will be missing the boat.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

NPR Download: Feufollet

NPR today provided the nation with a look a the hot young band Feufollet with an Acadiana swamp story that gratifyingly contrasted with the recent news out of the red hills of Bogalusa.

Feufollet is the revered band of "youngsters" that that started playing the festival circuit together at ages like 8 or 12 and have matured into one of the most respected bands in the region. The story nicely captures both their respect for tradition and their willingness to expand the boundaries.

This is the sort of tale that displays NPR is best at: a bright, sharp, fond look at a bit of lived culture. It's also an example of the quality multiple media that you can only find on the net. A user can check out the story page, which contains an edited textural version of the radio story. There you can find links to listen to the full story, and you can listen to 3 full songs from the band that illustrate some of the points made in the story. And, if you are so moved, travel to the artists pages and buy some songs. This is what is meant by "rich media."

One of the advantages of a community-owned fiber-optic network is that we could make it dead-easy to do this sort of thing for ourselves and not wait around for occasional good publicity from the national media. Every ISP (Internet Service Provider) that you care to name puts up a server and gives its subscribers storage space on the network. Sometimes this is mainly a server to handle the email accounts that are given to subscribers and some online storage to keep the email. They do it because it brings in users by boosting the value of being on their network—and because, frankly, it costs next to nothing to offer it. Cox, AT&T and every other provider understands that providing services that add value to the network and are cheap when spread out over the subscriber base is a huge win for them. It's so cheap that organizations like Google and Yahoo provide free email, massive storage, and even free applications over the web.

There is no reason that a community-owned network couldn't do a much better and more thorough job of providing on-network services. After all providing service is not an incidental part of the job of making money (like it is for Google or Cox) but is the core reason that a utility like LUS exists. We can, and should, offer every community member a place on the network and the tools to work with. With 100 megs of internal bandwidth serving real applications—and even a full virtual desktop—would be easy. And it would differentiate Lafayette's service and make its competitive advantage clear. No one would consider using an ISP that didn't offer email. If you got hassle-free web space and the tools to use them from Lafayette's network I'd bet good money that it would soon become a must-have part of having a network connection locally.

If LUS didn't want to offer that directly (and I can see a few valid reasons why it might not) then pass the responsibility over to a funded nonprofit built on the PEG model—like Acadiana Open Channel—give it bandwidth and funding and make it an independent, nonpartisan, open resource for the whole community.

We talk here in Lafayette, based on Richard Florida's work on the creative class, about how necessary it is to pushing Lafayette ahead to build a community around the synergies of Talent, Technology and Tolerance. We've even made some strides toward that goal. The Feufollet article suggests that we could go much further toward harnassing the creativity and talent of the local community if we made the technology to present it to the world (and each other) much more available.

Hell, it would even be good business—and a development project to boot.

(A hat tip to the Independent's blog where I found this tidbit.)

Saturday, November 08, 2008

LUS to buy user-produced electricity

Lafayette has yet another opportunity to step out front by leveraging its new fiber network. Tuesday's City-Parish Council meeting put in place rules that will enable citizens to sell electricity back to LUS. With the new ordinance and an LUS supplied bi-directional meter customers can get credit for electricity that they supply the grid—effectively getting paid the going rate for electricity they produce.

The Good
That's pretty neat; a recent story line in the Advocate focused on solar panels and other green energy with a solar power system at Lafayette Middle School playing the star role in the discussion.

Louisiana actually has some of the more encouraging laws in the nation with state tax credits that can pay half the cost of a new solar system worth $25,ooo dollars; so if you want a gadget-guy dream system the state will eventually pay for half. Even so the raw economics are not quite there yet; at least not in the city:

...Bercier said, LUS rates are low enough that the economic incentive is not great at this time.

“LUS is a hard one. They are still relatively cheap,” he said. “We are definitely never going to put them out of business.”

Of course, the price of oil will be more next year than this and the cost of solar energy continues to drop. We're very near the break-even point nationally right now from what I read and even with the good deal we get from LUS Lafayette's turn can't be far behind.

The Better
All that is good green, conscientious, community-oriented, money-saving stuff. Beyond that, though, lie some pretty exciting opportunities for Lafayette to leverage its new network to do an do an even better job of reducing our carbon footprint and lowering the costs of providing power to the community.

As good as they are those bi-directional meters are the crudest and least efficient way to allow customers to take some of the burden off the electrical grid. We've already noted here that the real cost savings come from dealing with "peak demand"—there are huge costs associated with providing a lot of extra capacity that is only used for a week or two during the hottest—and hence most AC-intensive—days of the year. With active metering instead of merely static bi-directional recording LUS could 1) turn off high energy consuming devices (do you really need to heat your water to 150 while the temperature is 102?) 2) charge more for power at peak times--such power costs us all more to generate—and also pay more for power that is produced by individuals. (Your solar panels are likely to be producing real power while that August sun is beating down.) 3) Turn on and off small home generators. (How many Lafayette homes have a natural gas generator sitting on a pad near the AC unit post-hurricanes? Plenty.) We in Lafayette just built a brace of very expensive natural-gas fired electrical plants chiefly to supply peak demand. In fact those two plants cost twice as much as our fiber network. A cost-benefit analysis would, I suspect, reveal that firing up those residential generators very occasionally would be cheaper than building more such hugely expensive capacity. All that is something you can only do if you have your own communications network in place.

Lafayette could well lead the country in devising innovative ways to both lower the use of electricity and lower its costs by using our new network to full capacity.

Interested?

Langiappe: KLFY has also produced a short story on this.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

"LCG’s new high-tech Gadget"

Just-a-Note

The Independent blog has a post on Lafayette CIO Keith Thibodaux's latest tech toy: a google gadget that encapsulates the city's webcams and traffic alerts and puts them into a neat little app that sits on a web page--ideally your browser's default home page. But you can also drop the "gadget" (a simple html/javascript program that sucks up dyanmic data from rss feeds or other standard data sources) into any web page. Like so:




Pretty neat, eh? This sort of thing is a great example of what could be done if the community were given access to some standard data structures...take rss feeds, for example. If we could get access to the traffic alerts in the form of rss feeds it would be dead easy to hack together a little google gadget to display just the ones that interest you on your igoogle homepage or webpage or draw it into your smartphone. (By dead easy I mean I could hack together an ugly version...and if I could do that almost anyone at all technically oriented could.)

At any rate this gadget is a lot of fun and is handsomely designed. I look forward to the pothole identification gadget for the iPhone and other GPS-enabled smartphones that Keith promises. (How classic a local government problem is that? You gotta smile.)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Keeping Our Children Home

Ok, Long-term readers will harken back to the day of the Fiber Fight in 05 (Gads!) and recall that a central theme of the successful campaign was "keeping our children home." The idea that building our own advanced telecom infrastructure was the best way our community could build a Lafayette that would keep the voter's children and grandchildren here was a hugely popular theme that, in my judgment, did more to win the day than technological razzle-dazzle or earnest pro-development pitches. The effective meat in all those messages is the human one: making a place in the future for our children. That's the only serious job of real adults and Lafayette took the charge seriously when it voted in fiber.

This is all recalled to mind by a message from David Isenberg (he of "the dumb network" and isenblog fame) that linked to a video of a Vermont high tech/creatives job fair aimed at keeping Vermont's kids home. He advocates LUS and the city doing something similar to that depicted in the video below. I think he's absolutely right. Take a look and see what you think.


Local Goverments in Court over Telecom Law

Louisiana's parishes and small cities are in court this week defending local property rights against what was once known as "BellSouth's Law" according to a short in Advocate. The law, passed by the state legislature, contained something for every corporation: BellSouth, now AT&T, got to ignore local property rights and get permission to build out a cable network without negotiating with the local governments that actually own and maintain the rights-of-way they want to use and the cable companies got the right to simply cancel contracts with local governments. (More coverage at LPF: on the most recent version of the law (especially); some on the first attempt in 06 which was wisely vetoed by Governor Blanco: 1, 2)

The current lawsuit (there promise to be more, Lafayette, for instance, has a separate beef) is about that latter clause–the one that lets cable companies cancel legal contracts without the permission of the local community. The state constitution expressly forbids new laws that abrogate existing contracts. The local governments are using that entrée to try and invalidate the whole law.

It'd be a good thing if they'd succeed. Moving control away from local hands and up the governmental ladder is generally a bad idea. The argument that AT&T and the cable companies use that claims that such a law would enable competition is simply wrong: competition was always possible, exclusive contracts are illegal under FEDERAL law, and NO local government would dare stand in the way of any competitor to the poltically despised cable company. From a purely practical point of view more competition usually means more business and more business means more income for local governments... So the idea that local governments would somehow want to impede competition is purest nonsense and was always meant for the rubes in the legislature. I suspect laying that claim before a judge is a mistake.

Here's to hoping that the judge shows good judgment. I'm not particularly counting on it.

Monday, October 27, 2008

"Cox to launch cellphone service" (updated)

Cox wants to be your phone company...cellular that is. (Or so says USAToday.)

There's been a real question for quite a while now as to what Cox was going to do with the (expensive) wireless bandwidth it bought in the 700 mhz band. The possibilities bandied about have ranged from advanced data services to mobile TV to, well, cellular service. That last is what Cox is leading with but makes it clear that it intends to do bits of the others:

Cox, which expects to eventually manage all aspects of its service, also will test faster 4G technologies that use the international Long Term Evolution (LTE) standard...

Cox also says that subscribers will be able to watch TV shows, and possibly full-time channels, on their handsets. The company wouldn't say what video will be available, how much consumers will pay for cellphone service, which markets will get it first, or how long it will take before it's available in all its territories.

So what does that mean in Lafayette? Well, it's pretty clear that Cox, as I've been saying for some time, is shaping up to be the Verizon of cable companies, that is: the company which is willing to invest real money in an intelligent long-term vision. Moving into the wireless space is smart and a will be a real challenge to LUS and the community's new network. I do think an even smarter play for Cox, especially in Lafayette but everywhere, would have been to emphasize data and go with broad, open data structures like WiMax rather than tie themselves to a one wing of a narrow, cell-industry standard (LTE). Data is where the future is and flexibility is the key to success in the long run. Cox is apparently still locked in to their "old-world" mentality of providing "services" rather than access or communications. If they push much video at all over their wireless connection they will eat up bandwidth with proprietary, costly-to-consumer content. The cable model...in a world where they are competing against any real data-driven competitors it is a model with limited life. (And in Lafayette, though in few other places currently, they will have a data-driven competitor.)

Wireless services will enable integration with Cox's other phone and video services; in addition to watching some TV shows on their mobile phone:
..subscribers will be able to use the phones to program home DVRs. They'll also be able to access e-mail and voice mail that they receive at home.
Network integration is the holy grail of modern networking. It increases overall usages and tends to lock consumers into your product line. (Oh, and real people find it useful.) Just how that integration is accomplished is the question: via proprietary pipelined services or via open networkable data standards. Cox is going with proprietary services, as one would expect given their history and DNA.

LUS and Lafayette will also, readers will recall, have a wireless play. In Lafayette that will be a wifi network hung off the fiber and made available to all who purchase network connectivity from the new division. Current testing shows the wifi network pushing high bandwidth--in the neighborhood of 10 megs. That's a lot of bandwidth, more than enough for 2-way video at mobile device resolutions for instance, and there's no reason it couldn't be more. LUS' play will be a pure data play, the basic internet protocols will be the hook on which the whole thing will be hung. As such it will be robust, flexible, and adapative. LUS has been pretty coy on just when this will officially launch and how much additional (if any) it will cost. Getting that sort of information along with what protocols the new network will support in terms of infrastructure will be crucial to encouraging development for the new fiber-n-wireless network we'll be seeing in Lafayette.

All very interesting.

Update: Mike passes on the URL to a Light Reading article on Cox's wireless ambitions in light of the recent announcement. If you're interested in the topic it shows the signs of being written by a reporter with real background knowledge; understanding what other cable companies are doing and what the history of wireless moves has been in the cable world...worth the click.