Friday, May 23, 2008

LUS Update in the Advocate

The Baton Rouge Advocate runs an update of the LUS fiber project in today's paper.

Begin Meta Media Aside:
Alert readers will note that the story, "Faster service set for ’09, Lafayette Utilities readies fiber optic lines," is written by Richard Burgess rather than Kevin Blanchard. Kevin, who I had admired unreservedly, has gone back to school and taken a job with Cox researching the (un)Fair Competition Act that he so ably researched and covered as a reporter. As a Cox employee he's working for a company that he well knows wishes his community ill. I'm hoping that he's accumulated enough good karma from his years of journeyman reporting to offset a move to the dark side. Be that as it may, Burgess is a reporter cut from the same strip that Blanchard was: a solid worker that follows a beat in depth and whose stories show signs of real background work. His beats have included environmental (the tornadoes, the derailment chemical spill), government (the bus station, police and fire back pay) and general civic issues (like the Attakapas-Ishak bike trail). He's often assigned work with a challenging technical foundation. He'll be good on this story and I (with mixed feelings) expect the Baton Rouge Advocate to remain the best source of Fiber To The Home stories as Burgess comes up to speed on the social and business implications of the new system.
End Meta Media Aside

There's not much that is new news in this story—the point is to review the basics and signal what is coming. So if you want a refresher on the plan and the basics of how the connection will work take a good gander. But the clear overview offers some interesting tidbits for those who've been following closely. To wit:

On the build itself:

LUS is rolling out the service in four phases.

Huval said the first phase will make the service available to about 25,000 homes and businesses, nearly half of LUS’ current customer base of about 57,000

That is interesting--you might wonder why LUS is rolling out to fully half of its customers in what is clearly at least two separate segments instead of biting off smaller chunks and doing promotional sign-ups of each small segment to build excitement. The simplest answer is the (un)Fair Competition act. Lafayette cannot do anything that a suit-happy incumbent could call "offering service" until it has the largest possible number of subscribers. That is because the law has set up a minimum date for "profitability" based on when the first "offer service." So Lafayette is well-served by waiting to start the clock until they can bring lots of customers on quickly--regardless of otherwise smart marketing possibilities. (And, yes, our "conservative" legislature has legislated a time-bound, state-structured definition of success for our project. The big boys at the state house think they know best. As in the looming state video debacle the legislature's idea of conservativism apparently has little to do with keeping control as close to the people as possible everything to do with pleasing out-of-state corporations. Such is the new "conservativism.")

On the heart of the system:

The fiber system’s main hub is a building near the intersection of Interstate 10 and Interstate 49, where LUS will tap into one of the main Internet lines running along the interstate system, receive satellite feeds for the television service and operate the telephone switch.

The fiber lines will run from the main center — built with 6-inch concrete walls to survive hurricanes — to one of 13 existing electrical substations and then along city streets.

On what is emerging as the signature feature:

Huval said that regardless of what service someone signs up for, anyone on the LUS fiber system will be able to send or receive at the 100 mbps rate when communicating with someone else within the LUS system.

“It’s just opening things wide open for the creative class of the community,” Huval said.

The high speeds could also give freedom to workers tied to the office because of data-intensive work.

“You will truly be able to work from home,” said LUS Fiber Communications Engineering and Operations Manager Mona Simon.

Simon said at speeds of 100 mbps, the quickness of most file transfers will be limited only by the user’s equipment.

“It’s not going to be bottlenecked by virtue of the system,” she said.

On the services to be offered:

LUS officials are not yet talking about specific service or pricing options, but they tout “breakneck” Internet speeds and a wide variety of TV choices at a price about 20 percent below competitors.

The minimum Internet speed with the service will be 10 mbps — more than enough for casual Web browsing, quickly downloading media, streaming high-quality video or playing multi-user games over the Internet.

Users could opt for up to 100 mbps, which would allow for quick communication of the massive files used in everything from data-intensive oil-and-gas research to filmmaking and music production.

...Simon said the television service will also run at 100 mbps, allowing for seamless video-on-demand and the ability to watch multiple high-definition programs at once.

The Internet and television do not share bandwidth, so intensive use of one service will not cut into the other, she said.

That's all pretty deluxe.

It's an understatement of the first order to say LUS' cheapest, slowest offering of 10 mbps (symmetrical!) is "more than enough" for common web uses...it's an astonishing speed. That low end product is a capacity that is only available as the most expensive option for the cable incumbent and is unavailable for any price, anywhere from AT&T. It's national news on the net when one or two private providers begin to offer a "limited to a few subscribers" speed of 20 megs. Here that speed will be cheap, available to all and popular enough to be the basis of real business plans. It is simply not purchasable, at any price, to almost all in the rest of the country--and never at a price regular folks can afford.

That alone is a digital divide story that deserves to be told but on top of all that is 100 megs of intranet "peer-to-peer" service. Giving everyone equal communications access to one another is to lay the groundwork for an equitable community in the coming net-centric era. Lafayette will be in a position to allow participation, both live and asynchronously, that will simply be unparalleled and will allow Lafayette to move onto completely uncharted ground and create new models of community. (We better get cracking with that imagination thing.)

As the story notes, LUS has remained chary of committing to detailed service plans months in advance of market situation when it actually begins to sell product. But a recent bit in a consultant's critique of iProvo's recently sold service hints at the initial thinking:
For example, Lafayette has told the public they will be offering three residential products – a 10 Mbps, a 20 Mbps and 50 Mbps symmetrical data products to the Internet. In addition, they plan to offer 100 mbps Intranet for connections between any two customers on the network within the City.
That consultant is LUS' primary advisor and presumably knows whereof he speaks.

4 comments:

Nick Istre said...

To be fair. Cox *is* offering a 15 Mbps down (burstable up to 20 Mbps) and 1.5 Mbps up package right now for around $60/mo. I know because I've subscribed to that package right now to split between me and my two housemates and I've tested it and hit 16 Mbps down and 1.5 Mbps up.

Of course, I'll be looking strongly at that 20 Mbps or 50 Mbps, depending on the price. I wonder of the router I've built (something I tend to use my old computers for) will be able to handle that top 100 Mbps top speed?

John said...

Hi Nick,

Nice to know that Cox has moved the premium tier to 15 mbps. Last I checked it was 12. by going to the web I see that my "preferred" level is now 9. Great.

I do like the bursting...but know that it doesn't work at all for me between 3 and 6--from the time the kids get home in my neighborhood till the time they start dinner. :-) And it doesn't last all the way through a really big download. It definitely improves the experience. But I would prefer to get 2O real megs for around 20% less than Cox's 9. My guess is that you'd like to get a straight-on 50 megs for your premium dollar to replace the intermittent burst to 20. And symmetry. I've got plenty of 'puters to do some light serving off...that would save me real money every month on the stable of websites I maintain for civic causes. I do wish LUS would give out some details on services so we could do some rational planning but am aware that it would serve to allow Cox to target their specials and shape their packages ahead of the launch. Still...it has to happen.

And, of course, Cox is playing games with P2P traffic nationally. I don't do a lot of P2P downloading these days so I've never had occasion to check. Have you?

Anywho. I do think your concern for your router as a bottleneck is a worthwhile one. I am in the process of moving my in-house wired network over to 1 gig and the wireless version over to N in order that my network not be the bottleneck. (And its a lot of fun to have a semi-rational reason to upgrade my toys. The idea that my LAN might be slower than my WAN is disconcerting. But I plan to fix that. Then, sad to say, I might have to upgrade my old home network server...so sad.) You might have noticed that one of the LUS engineers infers that the bottle neck for most people will soon be their equipment...not the LUS network. Actually, for many connections the limit will be the originating server or network issues.

I'm hoping for a big honking cache on-system as one of the benefits of the 100 megs of intranet bandwidth. But they don't call me in to ask for advice. :-)

But while I am jazzed by the technical potential of our network that's not the core of my support--I'd buy LUS if it wasn't too much worse a deal simply because we'll be building our own potential, it will be under our control and run for our benefit. The advantages of that are obvious now and are likely to get more obvious as the net becomes more central to more people's lives.

We can do some pretty amazing things here with that control if we all get on and work at it.

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