Thursday, February 07, 2008

More on the Fiber Buildout Plan Press Conference

A bit more on the fiber build-out announcement. (If you just want to know if you are in phase 1 (and who doesn't?) come back here after visiting the initial post.) I had promised more on a few things that were side issues in the context of announcing the plan for building the network. Those were: 1) pricing, 2) service outside Lafayette, and 3) the focus on the intranet and peer-to-peer speed.

There was a subtle but significant shift in the way that LUS talked about pricing. It sounds to me as though LUS is getting more confident. Originally LUS made a single promise, repeatedly: that they'd give 20% of the price of a bundle of services. No absolute pricing (it would depend on what their opponents were charging at the time) and no indication that they'd undercut individual services. That makes a lot of sense really—different services have different profit margins and allowing your competitors Cox or AT&T to dictate, however indirectly, your pricing just isn't wise. I'm sure they wouldn't make any promises now...but what has changed is they way they are talking when they are not being hyper-careful. Now they are talking as if that they will undercut "services" by 20% and offer an $85 dollar bundle. Just from listening, its pretty apparent that they are assuming that that will able to do both of those things. That's good news for Lafayette consumers--especially since the "services" that LUS offers for those cheaper prices will be much more robust than the competitions at the "same" level....our internet, for instance will probably start at about 10 megs (where the competition will be at 1 or less for their cheapest tier) and will include that 100 megs of intranet bandwidth between LUS subscribers and businesses located on-network. More, much more, for less.

Service Outside of the City of Lafayette
This was a theme in the discussions with individual press members after the formal presentation. Frustratingly, I didn't get to listen to all of them...I got interviewed a bit myself, an odd thing from my point of view...and when you're talking you don't get to listen. A lesson I should have learned as a teacher. :-) But from what I caught ( and you should check your TV and newspapers) Durel was willing to discuss the possibility in a forthright manner. The city of Lafayette, it was emphasized, gets it first and that will be finished before the system moves on to surrounding areas. The citizens of the city, after all, went to war to get the network and are making the investment; they deserve to get what they've worked for. But if other locales want to talk about building out their own infrastructure or take on bonded indebtedness to have LUS build it....well that is something that LUS and LCG, are willing even happy, to consider. A lot of questions arise almost immediately. Governance issues follow closely on the heals of investments and LUS is pretty much the last vestige of a true city-of-Lafayette. Similarly, building code issues jump up to the forefront pretty quickly when you start talking about expansion into areas not governed by city codes. But the message was clear. LUS is open for business and willing to consider expansion bids just as soon as it gets some time to give it proper attention.

The Intranet, Peer-to-Peer Bandwidth, and 100 Megs of Internal Speed
Durel's introductory remarks focused on the intranet and the potential for all that enourmous peer-to-peer bandwidth to change things in Lafayette. Durel mostly focused on the potential for development and smart growth issues. He's right there. But this is the feature that the nerds I know are most excited about and the non-geeky understand the least. Businesses that are focused on network applications or that use communications heavily will gravitate to Lafayette, just as Durel notes — and the NuConn call center and Blue Bayou productions are just the start.

Tech types have a romantic vision of businesses that start in garages. Apple is the mythic example. It's hard to get a start like that now. In most places. But in Lafayette every garage will have easy, cheap, access to that 100 meg intranet. Someone will put a couple of servers in their garage and try out that video conferencing/videophone/whiteboard/distributed computing idea they had. Most will fail to even be noticed and the boyfriend will get to rib her about the four thousand that went down the drain till the end of time. But maybe her cousin will succeed with some other big bandwidth baby of a startup they fired up in extra bedroom.

In Lafayette, as in few other places, it will be possible to dream on shoestring.

But, as exciting as all that is, the intranet will build more than just business. Part of my background is in sociology and we were taught there that communities are, most basically, defined by their boundaries...not just rivers and roads but also the ability of doctors and lawyers to "speak the same language." We form communities with those with whom we find communication easiest and most productive. A 100 or 200 meg intranet will make communication inside Lafayette much easier than communicate with those on the outside. And we will, at least potentially, be able to use entirely different modes of communication with our neighbors than with those outside the community. The internet has tended to remove barriers. The intranet reinstates them and offers the potential to build up a networked community that makes our physical community stronger. Mike has pointed to some of this in his musings on an asynchronous Lafayette. Similarly I've at times talked about the potential of a Lafayette Commons and building up AOC.

To realize the benefits of the intranet to build community in Lafayette will require a different kind of effort than the ones that encourage business. There you mostly provide the tools and try to make sure that you make things easier and cheaper for folks who want to try new things. But building up communities requires something more than staying out of the way. It requires that people make an effort to participate in things they've never done before. And it requires that the pastors, the CEO's, the council members, and assorted leaders and activists collaborate to build a social infrastructure that encourages participation. A good start on this would be for the council to set up an advisory board of some sort, similar to the LINK group and others, that would study and proactively pursue the possibilities for our community.

Lots going on....stay tuned.

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