Thursday, August 28, 2008

LUS Fiber news @ the C-P Council

LUS presented its budget to the city-parish council last night and the Advertiser headline read "LUS utility bills may drop." The gist of that story was that Terry Huval, the head of the utility, expects the fuel adjustment rate --an amount the PSC allows to be tacked onto your rates due to the changing cost of fuel--to fall. That shows some confidence that fuel costs will fall...a confidence I wish I shared.

More interesting was a brief mention of LUS reducing costs by leading the charge to convince Congress to to change "non-effective" laws having to do with coal. If that seemed a bit confusing when you looked at the article you need some background and Lafayette pro fiber is happy to serve (see 1, 2) . Huval is referring to Lafayette's first "last mile" monopoly situation: the overcharge the monopoly railroad charges to tote coal the last few miles to our generating plant near Alex. AT&T and Cox are just the latest monopolists to impose costs on Lafayette's people. Better federal regulation is being sought to correct the coal situation. (We're working on a home-grown solution to AT&T and Cox.)

But for avid followers of LUS' Fiber plans there was some straight on fiber news. The standard fiber news:

Huval added that LUS plans to soon open a customer service center at the corner of Pinhook and Kaliste Saloom roads. That location would house a showcase area for the Fiber-to-the-Home initiative, and serve as a call center for customers.

The first Fiber-to-the-Home customers are expected to receive service in January.

The showcase has been mentioned before and with the January light-up date are indications that everything is still on track. (Hurrican Gustav's threat is worrisome in that regard. If Gustav comes up through Barataria Bay as a category 3 storm we'll lose a lot of poles. While the electrical outage, with the help of regional colleagues of LUS, won't last long we can't expect the same sort of ability to help in getting the fiber reworked. A delay might well result.)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

"CableCo's - Stop Claiming You're All About Fiber!"

Geoff Daily takes off on the cable companies's deceptive practice of rebranding their hybrid fiber-coax networks as "fiber-powered" or "The New Face of Fiber" or some such nonsense. The point, of course, is to confuse the public about the quality of their network in comparison to a real (no hyphen) fiber network. We've complained about the same in these pages.

No surprise to those from Lafayette, his immediate inspiration is Cox advertising in his locale where, when questioned, the Cox spokeswoman denies that it means that Cox is about to go all-fiber-optic: ""It just means we've always had fiber." So what's this "new" face business meant to imply?

Geoff is offended. But instead of just comlaining he hopes to act. To that end he wants to lodge a complaint of deceptive advertising with the FCC. He'd like your help:
To that end, I'd like to put out an open invitation to anyone who's reading to start keeping an eye out for suspect-looking cable ads. Any time you see a TV or radio ad, billboard or newspaper ad where your incumbent cableco is touting its fiber optics, try to capture it in some way. Record it, take a picture, or even just write down the words, and then start adding this material as comments to this post.

If we can collect enough evidence, I'll take this cause right to the FTC to see what I can get done to stop this unethical practice.

Because if you're like me and believe fiber is our future, we can't sit passively on the sidelines any more and allow this deception to continue happening.

If I weren't out of Lafayette I'd take a pic of the "advanced fiber now" billboard on Evangeline Thruway south of Johnston/Louisiana and snip some of those Cox "fiber" ads off my TiVo to send him.

Anybody help me out?

Cox Marketing in the Field

Cox, as the Independent notes in this week's issue, is in the field with a marketing survey. I started hearing about a survey about 3 weeks ago and I gather that something had been in the field a bit longer than that from subsequent discussions.

The current survey is, by all accounts, a straightforward marketing survey that is unabashedly aimed at figuring out how to get and retain customers in the face of competition from LUS. (This is in pretty marked contrast to the push polling that set the citizens of Lafayette's teeth on edge during the fiber battle.1,2) As it is recounted to me the most interesting questions were "hypotheticals" about how best convince Lafayette's citizens to sign contracts to lock them into Cox before LUS' competition actually appears. One question asked if giving a 10% price break would lead a customer to sign up for a 12 month contract and another asked if doubling internet speeds for the same price would convince the user.

The story, which is illustrated by Sharon Kleinpeter standing in front of an empty server rack, gets at least one fact seriously wrong and a quick trip to the internet would have prevented the mistake. The IND compares LUS' cheapest, slowest speed (10 mbps up & down!) to Cox's second highest of 4 tiers: 9 mbps down and a measly 786 kbps up. Cox's cheapest, slowest tier is actually 786 kbps up (that is .786 mbps.! --the numbers don't start till after the decimal place!) and 256 Kbps down. That's a better than 10:1 contrast in download and a whopping 40:1 in upload.

That gaffe aside there are interesting tidbits in the article. LUS will have 3 internet tiers to Cox's 4. Levels 1 and 2 will both be more than 20 megs...Cox's highest speed is 15 mbps. Huval also touted the 100 meg intranet (my favorite feature) and:
“We’re not going to require a contract,” Huval adds. “We’re not going to bind anybody. Somebody takes our service one day and decides to swap then that’s what they’ll do. We’re trusting that the people of Lafayette are going to see the benefit of what we bring to the table, which is going to be more than a pricing benefit. It’s also going to be the capability and the and the clarity.”
Real competition might actually be coming to Lafayette and it's ironic proof of the pro-fiber position that Cox is so unfamiliar with real competition that it has to run a survey to figure out what might work against a superior network. As soon as the marketing department figures out just what it should offer expect a new round of 6 month specials...especially in the first build area.

LUS has its response in place and it's surprisingly low key:
As for pricing, LUS is still shooting to offer its triple-play package of phone, cable and Internet service for 20 percent less than Cox’s standard rate, which remains about $105 a month. This puts LUS’ price at around $85 a month. While Huval suspects Cox may be able to beat that price with some of its promotional plans, LUS is counting on many Lafayette customers looking at more than price. “I think there are going to be some people who are looking at price and price only,” Huval says, “who are going to fall for [promotional offers]. I think most customers, most people in Lafayette, realize the only reason why Cox is offering any of this now is because there’s a competitor in town. And we’ve gotten a lot of support, both at the polls and otherwise in the community for our project.”
I'm not signing any long-term contracts...

(A thanks goes out to Nick who first alerted me to the survey.)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

"Groups attack cable TV change"

This morning's Advocate has a basic story on the Lousiana Municipal Association and Police Jury's constitutionally-based lawsuit aimed at the "Consumer Choice for Television Act." (For a more detailed account see my recent blog post, and for the history you can search our site on the tag "state video franchise.")

The news contained in the story is that AT&T and the Cable guys agreed, after a meeting with the judge and the associations, not to take advantage of the opt-out provision of the law until the case is settled.
“The act is taking effect, but no cable company has the authority to opt out at this point,’’ Police Jury Association attorney Dan Garrett said.
No additional competition from AT&T and wholesale opting out of local franchises by the cable companies--leading to revenue loss and loss of local PEG channels is what has happened in North Carolina. Louisiana's local governments are attempting to control this malign effect of the new law.

The LMA-LPJ lawsuit turns on the opt-out provision. The question the court will have to answer is if the law, by providing for voiding a valid contract entered into by home-rule charter communities, has overstepped constitutional provisions that guarantee that home-rule municpal contracts cannot voided by legislative action. The associations are asking that if the finding is in their favor that the judge also rule that the provision that allows the cablecos to get out of its contracts is so intertwined with the rest of the law that the whole thing needs to be struck down. So there are three possible outcomes: the communities can lose altogether, or get a decision that merely lets the clock run out the current contracts, or the decision could overturn the law altogether.

Should be interesting to follow. If they loose you can expect that the lose of revenue will, over time, lead to higher taxes.

Kids prefer the Net to TV

The NYTimes publishes a brief bit which says that new research shows that 10-14 year olds who have the internet spend more time there than watching TV.

While I look askance on the source (a marketing group) the finding does match my experience. With my six grandkids in Lafayette I think it is true that the grands spend more time on the net than watching the TV and I don't doubt that this is widely true.

There are always caveats of course and here are several: 1) The household has to have internet. 2) The kids have to have as ready access to a computer as the do to the TV. —In our households that's the parent's (or grand-parent's) cast-offs. 3) The distinction, for kids, between TV, and internet, and video gaming is not as clear as it is for their parents so saying that kids are "on the net" might be misleading.

That last point—that kids don't make the same distinctions that we do is worth exploring a bit. Video game consoles are connected to TV's. So the "TV" can be used to play games--including, in one household, networked games through the video game console. Or a very similar game can be played on the computer over the network. And the cartoon network is very popular on the computer screen where, once you are into the show, the experience is little different from watching the TV--you can pause it but then in these households the kids have grown up with the understanding that you can pause and record TV on the DVR.

So saying "For children ages 10 to 14 who use the Internet, the computer is a bigger draw than the TV set," as the article notes, does not necessarily mean what it means to adults. Still, the article is basically correct: though kids might not think of all these activities as "internet" they are, in fact, only possible over a good networked connection.

But that probably should be the deeper point. The triple play package the LUS will soon be offering here in Lafayette will be strong on all counts—cable, phone, and internet. But it will be untouchable on the internet side. And all action is shifting to the internet side. Kids are simply the leading edge on this. As the distinctions blur between internet, phone, and TV all the power shifts to the internet and internet-enabled entertainment and interactions.

For LUSFiber that will be a key advantage. Their emphasis should be on shifting this community's usage in that direction as fast as is possible for that is where the future competitive advantage of the network lies. Right now the cash cow is cable—and that will help pay of the network in the crucial first years—but those 14 year olds will exiting high school and setting up their own households shortly after the network build-out here is finished. Those customers will be all about the internet...as far as they will be concerned "the phone" will mean VOIP and wireless, "the TV" will be an adjunct to the video they download and will be used in roughly the same way (started and stopped on their command and watched on the most convenient screen). Gaming will a huge part of their entertainment life and a fast local network over which to play with friends will be something that young households will value at least as much as ESPN.

The future is not only coming but is here...take a look at your family's pre-teens...and it is going to be dominant far faster than we thought 3 years ago. LUS is standing in the right place to enable that transition easily, cheaply, and smoothly for our community; let's hope it sees the opportunity and gets ahead of the curve. Moving fast on this can be the way to realize the dream of making the network a real utility--ubiquitous and necessary for all.

Friday, August 22, 2008

"Officials say new cable law not consumer friendly"

No s**t Sherlock Dept.

The Alexandria Town Talk today ran an article on local challenges to the recently passed "Consumer Choice for Television Act." Sadly misnamed, the new law was written by the telecom companies and promoted by the same bevy of folks in the legislature who gave us the Local (Un)Fair Competition Act that was aimed at Lafayette's fiber-optic network. That should tell you all you need to know.

But since we all want more, eager folks that we are, here are the gory details:
On Aug. 15, a new state law switched your local government's authority to negotiate cable franchises to the state.
More accurately, the law voided local control of locally owned rights-of-way and transferred the ability of local communities to do what they think best with their own property to the state. And not only that, but:
instead of negotiations, cable companies now will have almost automatic access to a new market simply by filing an affidavit with the Louisiana Secretary of State's Office.

Because the Secretary of State's Office will have only a ministerial function, there is no regulation such as that performed by the Louisiana Public Service Commission on utilities, city officials said.

What that means is that NOBODY, not even the secretary of state in which your local property rights are parked, has any real ability to exert control over a local monopoly like SuddenLink in Alex or Cox here in Lafayette. The effect is to hand local resources over to private corporations for . . . well, for nothing.

Except, of course, the promise of competition.

Which is not forthcoming. You've not seen a single mention of any new competition being encouraged by the new law. And if North Carolina's prototype law is any evidence (1,2, and especially 3) you're not going to, either. Two years after their law was passed, there is next to no new real competition and exactly zero such new competition from the likes of AT&T (who pushed the legislation on the basis that they were so eager to get started offering competition that negotiating with all those little local communities was just a pain and a bother). On the other hand, North Carolina's cable companies have dumped their local franchise obligations by the hundreds and grabbed the state charter. Net result: no new competitors for the cable corporations and fewer local obligations or responsibilities for the monopoly cable guys.

The same story is unfolding here in Louisiana.

In Alexandria a lawsuit challenging the law is being filed by the city. The story behind that story is that SuddenLink (the cableco that grabbed Cox's smaller properties in Louisiana when Cox sold out most of its smaller, less capable systems) is not meeting its contractural obligations to the community:
. . . during the latest negotiations between the city and Suddenlink Communications, which the company ended when talk about the new law began, the city asked Suddenlink to deliver on its promise to set up a customer service office within the city where consumers could pay their bills.

Officials also said the new law leaves them wondering about the future of the Government Access Channel and whether or not the city eventually could stop receiving a franchise fee. Suddenlink's current agreement with the city ends on Sept. 14.

According to the story the Louisiana Municipal Association has already filed suit:

Alexandria not only plans to file a lawsuit but also will file friends-of-the-court briefs on other suits being filed by several entities against the law, including the Louisiana Municipal Association, Police Jury Association of Louisiana and Lafayette Consolidated Government, officials said. The LMA filed its lawsuit last week.

McCormick said her organization, which represents Suddenlink, Cox Communications, Charter Communications and other major players in the industry, will intervene as an interested party in any court challenges.

Local readers will note the inclusion of Lafayette. Good. As I understand it, Lafayette's claim differs a bit from that of the others. Alexandria, apparently, is suing on the basis that its right to govern its own affairs is granted by the '74 state constitution. Lafayette can also claim local governance rights from an earlier constitution that the current constitution grandfathers in . . . rights that are greater than those granted in the '74 version. (The law in question explicitly exempts those pre-1974 municipalities and so places like Baton Rouge and New Orleans retain their franchise rights.) Lafayette wants to establish that its city-parish merger didn't extinguish those rights. What we see are multiple fronts on this issue. The LMA and the Police Jury Association are, I presume, looking out for the rights of non-home rule municipalities (most of the little guys). Look for the Alexandria suit to carry the flag for post '74 home rule cities. Lafayette, as is common, will carve out its own path.

But the bottom line is that the communities appear to be mounting a major legal fight and are going to support each other's efforts. That can only be a good sign for the people of the state.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Martin's Spectrum Policy

Leslie Cauley of USA Today has a well-organized report on FCC Chairman Kevin Martin's dream of cheaper, ubiquitous broadband. While much of the clarity is in Cauley's writing (we in Lafayette have reason to recall how well she understands telecom issues), Martin is actually advocating something very close to what you would hope that someone with his responsibilities would try to accomplish. Coming on the heels of his critical vote upholding fundamental net neutrality principles re Comcast, Martin is beginning to look pretty good. (Of course the devil is in the details but getting the principle right is more than half the battle.)

Here's my synopsis of the article:

The Principle:

High-speed Internet access is so important to the welfare of U.S. consumers that America can't afford not to offer it — free of charge — to anybody who wants it, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin says.

"There's a social obligation in making sure everybody can participate in the next generation of broadband services because, increasingly, that's what people want," he says....

The Windup:

The way Martin sees it, broadband is quickly becoming what copper phone lines were for decades: the main means of communication for millions of Americans....

Consumers living in rural areas are one of Martin's biggest concerns. In these areas, he says, dial-up and satellite-based Internet still rule. Owing to technical limitations, they don't offer enough speed to handle advanced, interactive services....

No matter where, Martin says, he worries about availability and cost of high-speed services. Broadband runs about $40 a month, on average, though you'll pay a lot more for faster speeds...

Cost is a big factor, according to the report. Among households with incomes of $100,000 or more, 85% subscribe. The figure drops to 25% for households with incomes of less than $20,000.

The Pitch:

Martin wants to use a block of wireless spectrum to help bridge the gap. By attaching a "free broadband" condition to the sale of the spectrum, known as AWS-3 (for advanced wireless services-3), Martin thinks he can help drive broadband adoption in rural areas in particular. Only 25% of network capacity would have to be reserved for free broadband. The rest could be used to provide premium broadband services...

As for the high cost of broadband generally, Martin says he'd like to find a way to use a very old federal subsidy — the universal service fund — to ease costs for lower-income people.

Oh yeah, The Antis:

Some cellphone providers are howling...

And

Rural phone companies, which use that money [the universal service fund] to help offset their costs, would likely resist such a plan.

Now folks haven't been treating this proposal all that seriously—it was floated a while back by a company that wanted access to a nation-wide chunk of spectrum, and it didn't fly back then. Martin's advocacy has reawakened the whole idea. Most importantly, however, having the man in charge of the nation's spectrum treating new spectrum as a resource for pursuing needed public policy is hugely heartening after almost a generation of principle-free official policy.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Promo Pricing Unwise

Well, the "experts" have weighed in, and according to an article in Telephony Online the sort of promotional pricing that we've seen from the local incumbents and especially Cox are said to be unwise:
“I personally think the U.S. broadband industry and U.S. mobile industry need some sort of mindset change – which is the hardest to achieve – to get away from thinking that new customer acquisition will solve all your problems,” Weber said. “At the end of the day, it is the existing customers that provide 80% of the profit but they only get 20% of attention.”
And, of course, it is the good, solid customers who pay for promo pricing. If a company has to have its 30% margin it simply figures out how much it has to charge the 80% of its loyal customers to offer a raft of deals to the 20% that aren't going to stick with them anyway.

One of LUS' long-time commitments is that it isn't going to float a raft confusing, 6 month package super specials that entice people to buy more than they really want and lock them into much higher costs down the road. That's a strategy that carries risks when you're trying to break into a nearly saturated market but the promotional strategy creates real problems of its own as this article notes. To wit:
The typical approach is to offer new customers a special price on a triple play bundle or a new phone for free or at low cost in exchange for a service contract. When the promotional price expires, and regular prices kick in, customers have incentive to look elsewhere for the next new deal. Service providers may not like this price-shopping behavior – which was the death knell of the long-distance voice business in the 1990s – but “they have educated their customers to behave like that, so they can’t complain now,” Weber said.
Of course what will happen in Lafayette, or so I anticipate, is that as people hit the end of their promotional period they'll be hit that sudden big bill and suddenly LUS' 20% cheaper price will look good. Moving over will make sense and the trick then will be to keep 'em with real local support and great services. I don't think that will be all that hard. But the "expert" in the article makes one more suggestive remark re keeping those loyal, revenue producing customers:
One more intelligent possibility is to offer existing profitable customers special promotions or price breaks on new services . . .
Hey now, that would be cool. Offer your loyal customers the extras other companies charge for (ridiculously, I might add). The way that LUS has talked about its services is to offer a simple solid set of base tiers in the phone, cable, and internet sides and then let folks choose to add on from a menu the set of, say, three "extras" they want (e.g. call waiting, caller ID, etc.) These are dirt cheap in truth. At the end of the first six months the loyal customer could be offered an extra service. And after a year, another. For being a good customer. For helping the community succeed.

I think it'd go over big. And would draw a bright line in the sand.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Zydetech & LUSFiber

I attended Zydetech's rebirth at LITE yesterday evening and healthy rebirth it was. The snacks and conversation were good, the attendance great, and the presentations better. Congratulations go out to David Goodwyn, the driving force; Keith Thibodeaux, CIO of LCG; and Erin Fitzgerald of LITE, all of whom I happen to know worked hard to make it happen and happen right. Similar high fives to those who labored beyond my view. Zydetech was long the premier association of techheads and tech businesses in Acadiana and active in promoting both tech and the region.

Zydetech was at the heart of much Lafayette's tech explosion back in the day, as demonstrated by a huge chart locating the "tipping points" in Lafayette's development as a tech center that stretched across the LITE main theatre screen. Its return augurs well.

The Advertiser has an article on the event — and you should click through to get their overview — but my take here is going to focus, as you might suspect, on what was revealed about our fiber network. (Incidentally, even if you have read the printed version, click through to the online one. The printed version cuts off abruptly after Louis Perret's presentation. The online version has an overview of the others as well. Maybe the Advertiser figured that stuff would only matter to the geeky sorts and that they'd get it online anyway.)

Among the gathered tech types, the LUS presentation was clearly the hit of the evening. After the applause died down following Mona Simon's presentation, Logan McDaniel, who represented the school system, got up and, tongue planted firmly in cheek, thanked the organizers for putting him after LUS . . . which got him a nice bit of laughter to launch his bit.

LUS presentations are all of a type, whether the presenter is at a civic organization or at technical gathering: a charge through the major characteristics of the network with a staccatto list of highlights for each. The term "bullet points" was invented for these guys. But it goes so quickly that it does make it hard to keep good notes.

Some highlights. (Using bullet points, of course.)

What's Done:
  • The public schools are connected with a 1 gbps backbone and each school is connected with a 100 mbps connection. (McDaniel made it clear that the system was very happy with that, describing it as "rock solid.")
  • 250 of the 800 miles of fiber that will be built are completed.
  • The head end is completed and the electronics are being tested.
  • The huts housing field electronics are being built.

  • The launch schedule is holding. Still looking for a launch in the first section of January, 2009 and completion of the city by 2011.
What's Coming:
  • 20% less. LUS is still saying that they will launch their triple play at 20% less than their competitors. They were originally only promising to charge less than the incumbents were charging at the time they announced the plan, but that's kept shifting to a current time frame. Caveat: LUS' price will be the "real" price – no 6 month specials – and their competitors' real price is the one they promise to beat.
  • Lots o' channels on video.
  • DVR--Digital Video Recorder, like TiVo.
  • VOD--Video on Demand, download TV through the TV interface.
  • VOIP--Voice over Internet Protocol, aka phone, aka nifty integration.
  • 10 mbps symmetrical will be the lowest, cheapest internet tier you can buy.
  • The cable service will be IP-based and Mona was direct in saying that they were going to make use of that to intro new features and integration.
  • The Peer to Peer intranet will run at 100 mbps. No matter how little you spend on internet connectivity with LUS, you will be able to communicate at 100 mbps with every other citizen in the city that has purchased the service. This has emerged as the signature feature of the new public network and Mona actually paused for a few seconds to emphasize they expected folks to do really interesting things with all that capacity. By which, I think she meant that she expected the people in the room to do really interesting things and write the apps to let anyone else do so as well. (CampFiber anyone?) This is the part of the presentation where the crowd murmur really got loud.
  • The video service Digital Set Top Box will be used for Digital Divide purposes. After a bit of a hesitation she said that she'd say that. I gather that there is still some question about that or about just how it will work. (I've fretted about this pretty often. It's not the perfect alternative that it should be just now, but the upside is that it would get a NAD-Network Attached Device into every house that bought cable.)
  • Simultaneous wireless deployment is ongoing. LUS is wiring up and lighting up a wireless system as they deploy the fiber. Right now it is only open to their employees but the intent is to open it as a retail product — a free or very cheap feature of internet service. (Done that way, they wouldn't have to worry about pushing signal to the interior of houses or businesses; if you have fiber service you'll have plenty of in-home bandwidth. So they can just concentrate on getting high bandwidth rates going. TRULY ubiquitous, TRULY high-speed connectivity throughout the city would be available. (3G? Paugh. I spit on your 3G. ;-))
  • Connections to LONI and the Lambda Rail are in place.
  • Energy: this has been a low key but constant emphasis of LUS – which is, after all, an energy company. But the recent energy crisis has made this topic newly salient to the public. Being considered are: demand-side appliance management (lower peak demand costs, saving capital costs and fuel costs), time of use metering (get lower costs if you use off-peak electricity). Mona also pointed out that teleconferencing will be dead simple over the LUS intranet and that has the potential to save transit time and money. (And maybe even help unclog Johnson Street? Nah, technology can only do so much.)
During the question and answer period most of the questions went to LUS. While several were about just how soon the questioner could get hooked up, the most consequential one was on the uber-geeky topic of static IP addresses: Would customers get static IP addresses? As I understood from across the room: Business accounts would. If I heard right, that's a disappointment. The concern is with some users abusing their bandwidth. IMHO that's not the best solution. Cap uploads if you must, but with IPV6 there is no technical reason not to give every household a unique address and a whole host of applications and communication tools that I could imagine would be facilitated by static IPs. (If you're whacky enough to think so too, I urge you to contact LUS. They've already heard from me on this one.)

It's a fun and exciting list. And very few people have any sense of what we are about to get. LUS needs to get that information out there and create a sense of excitement.

"NuComm looks to grow"

Long-time readers will recall NuComm as one of the signal successes of the Lafayette Fiber to the Home project. The community's do-it-for-yourself spirit, and the huge capacity that community fiber will make available in Lafayette, attracted the Canadian call center business NuComm to a location in an underutilized North Lafayette shopping center. (Take a look at our original coverage.) The 1000 jobs they were to bring was proof positive that having fiber would provide job benefits to all segments of the community.

NuComm is in the news today looking for more employees. They are currently up to 505 onsite with 50-60 offsite employees working from home. (That 50-60 has plenty of room to grow when the 100 meg intranet that LUSfiber will bring makes working offsite just as fast as working in the cubicle down at the main office – and a sight easier location from which to care for the kids or grandma.) 560 or so citizens with new jobs is nothing to sneeze at, but apparently there are 125 positions going begging now. NuComm would still like to hit the 1000 number but is finding recruiting the right candidates hard. LEDA and South Louisiana Community College are trying to help out but training funnels take more time than NuComm apparently has.

If you know of anyone who is looking for an entry-level job point 'em that way. Starting pay is $9.05.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

CampFiber: October 4th

So now that you've got it, what are you going to do with it?

That mildly threatening challenge pretty much describes the status of Lafayette's new fiber network: we fought for it, the install trucks are rolling now, and come the new year we're going to have a shiny new, state of the art, fiber-optic network that will shortly run up to every home and business in the city. It'll be stunningly fast. It'll be cheap. And you will own it can have a say in what we do with it. The capacity will be enormous. In comparison to what is available almost anywhere else we'll have capacities that are pretty literally futuristic—the future is now in Lafayette.

It's a great start. But we haven't decided what to do with those capacities.

It's time (past time) to think about what we can do with our network.

Geoff Daily, Terry Huval, Abigail Ransonet and a few of the usual suspects are cooking up an event that hopes to get the ball rolling. That event is the first "Lafayette CampFiber." You can get your info on the event straight from the source at the Lafayette CampFiber web page. If you are interested in attending you can sign up at its EventBrite page. Mark your calendar's for October 4th at the Travis Technology Center.

This first event focuses on two groups of people here in Lafayette: first, the developer community, and, secondarily, it will sponsor a roundtable of community leaders in education and other areas that will put their greatest network needs and hopes before the community and the attending developers. For developers there will presentations on their latest and greatest from folks here in town, a chance to collaborate and a talk with one of Louisiana's premier venture capitalists—all your resources in one place.

The time for getting creative and supporting our community's decision is now. So if you can, and especially if you are interested in development or have suggestions for new and innovative uses of our community's fiber-optic network please plan to participate.

This, friends, is the payoff to the long fight and the long wait. Now we can begin to do great things. —And so this is the mildly threatening challenge: it is up to you.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

"Cox donates laptops"

Credit where credit is due: Cox is stepping up to donate 100 laptops to the 100 students who will be entering the freshman class of the new "Early College Academy" according to this morning's report.

The Early College Academy was recently announced (see two short articles in the Advertiser on 8/7 and 8/8) by the school board in partnership with the South Louisiana Community College. The hope is that students would be able to leave high school with an associate degree or other certification from SLCC. Just what that would entail is unclear but a more intense academic experience is almost required. And for that a computer will certainly be helpful. And, because every student will have a machine teachers will be able to build their curriculum built on that level of access. (It'd be an additional help for Cox to donate the home internet connection to make these uniformly available as assignment and homework machines....)

Kudos to Cox on this one.

Friday, August 08, 2008

KVOL Gets Silly

According to a couple of friends KVOL has been hosting a rerun of the same old FUD attacks on the fiber optic network LUS is currently building. It's August and, I suppose, they can't find anything real to cover in these hot, lazy summer days. The latest bit of retread nonsense came yesterday when one of the 3 antifiber guys during the referendum, Neal Breakfield, was on the afternoon drive-time show. (He's supposed to be on again this afternoon, so if you want to tune in and put up your two cents worth try 1330 AM from 4 to 6...It would be useful to remind him why his argument lost back during the fiber fight.)

The folks at KVOL are trying to make a go of this talk radio thing. (And not too successfully apparently: The last Arbitron rating has the station bringing up the rear with a 24 out of 28 rating in our market based on a .5 market share.) They've apparently decided that being anti-everything is the formula for success in talk radio—but it's not working so far. Maybe only about .5 percent of people of Lafayette are that negative.

Be that as it may, the current jihad they're apparently carrying on against the LUSFiber build is a nonstarter that is guaranteed to put them on the wrong side of most of the community. The whole issue was thoroughly "talked" out 3 years ago and the fiber advocates won a resounding victory at the polls. KVOL would do better to go after the nearly 2/3s of the population that voted for the idea and leave their .5 percent antis to the pleasant pursuit of complaining about unprofessional dress of the guys that cut grass along the highways and their neighbors' chickens.

Update 8/15/08: Neal Breakfield has said in the comments that my remarks about KVOL's Arbitron rates were "baseless." They are not. Though Todd Elliot called and tried to demand that I take this post down and Stephanie Ware tried to make the same plea the truth is the truth. Arbitron does ranks KVOL at the bottom of the barrel in listenership. Neither Todd nor Stephanie tried to deny that what I said was true—they just didn't, contrary to their fearless-truthtellers on-air personas, want the public (or their advertisers, I presume) to know this inconvenient truth about their own organization.

KVOL may well be on to something regarding their redflex crusade. I don't think automated, privatized "policing" is wise public policy either. It might even do something for their ratings. But whatever good they do the community—or themselves—by pointing out real problems they lose when they make the common criticism that they are just "anti-everything" credible. Attacking even the good things this community is doing for itself is a sure-fire way to give ammunition to those who would criticize KVOL as merely anti-everything. Lafayette is pro-fiber. We proved it at the polls 3 years ago. Lafayette went through a huge public battle over fiber, the community was as well-informed as one can be over a complex public infrastructure issue. There were full page ads filled with the names of people and businesses that were willing to publicly support our fiber initiative. And the community decided to do for itself what the incumbents plainly said they would not do for us. The vote was 2 to 1. The people know what they want and they know what they voted for and hearing KVOL attack it only serves to confirm the idea that KVOL is anti-anything. I'm giving good advice here: if you have a good cause stick to it. Don't muddy the waters.

The reader who wants to confirm KVOL's rankings for themselves can travel to the Arbitron radio page and in the pull down menu on that page labled "market" select "Lafayette, LA." There you will find that I was actually as generous as possible in my characterization of KVOL's ranking in my original post. In the latest rankings, in Spring of '08, Arbitron ranked KVOL as tied for last place with with KPEL and WYPY among ranked stations with all 3 clocking in at a .5% listenership.

Other corrections: I had mispelled Arbitron in the original post. That is now corrected. I've also included the link to the radio page in there.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Comcast Blocking Blocked; Cox Next?

In what is being widely touted as an historic decision the FCC has issued a ruling that that Comcast's did indeed illegally monitor customer connections and block specific protocols. They've been ordered to stop doing so, to submit details of what they have been doing, and to inform customers as to what it will do instead.

The small firestorm of comment on the web is a bit anticlimatic since FCC chair Martin made it clear more than a week prior to the ruling what the outcome would be but the ruling itself is bracing.

The most impressive thing about this event is the way the Commission talks; it says that Comcast was indeed blocking legal content, that the effect was anticompetitive and that Comcast had an economic motive to drive downloaded video off its network since it was in the business of selling video. Talking that way is the regulatory equivalent of dropping the bomb—a finding of motivated anticompetitive behavior triggers the possibility of truly draconian punishments.

Beyond letting Comcast know what it did wrong the Commission also acerbically dismissed Comcast's ways of justifying its behavior; in ways that are worth qouting at length, even though the original press release is even more dramatic:
The Commission concluded that Comcast’s network management practices discriminate among applications rather than treating all equally and are inconsistent with the concept of an open and accessible Internet...

The Commission also concluded that Comcast’s practices are not minimally intrusive, as the company claims, but rather are invasive and have significant effects...In essence, Comcast opens its customers’ mail because it wants to deliver mail not based on the address on the envelope but on the type of letter contained therein...

The Commission concluded that the end result of Comcast’s conduct was the blocking of Internet traffic, which had the effectof substantially impeding consumers’ ability to access the content and to use the applications of their choice...

The Commission rejected Comcast’s defense that its practice constitutes reasonable
network management. While Comcast claimed that it was motivated by a desire to combat network congestion, the Commission concluded that the company’s practices are ill-tailored to serve that goal for many reasons: they affect customers who are using little bandwidth simply because they are using a disfavored application; they are not employed only during times of the daywhen congestion is prevalent; the company’s equipment does not target only those neighborhoods suffering from congestion; and a customer may use an extraordinary amount of bandwidth during periods of network congestion and will be totally unaffected so long as he does not utilize an application disfavored by Comcast.

The Commission’s determination that Comcast was not engaging in reasonable network management is supported bythe overwhelming weight of expert testimony in the record...The Commission also concluded that the anticompetitive harms caused by Comcast’s conduct have been compounded by the company’s unacceptable failure to disclose its practices to consumers. Because Comcast did not provide its customers with notice of the fact that it interfered with customers’ use of peer-to-peer applications, customers had no way of knowing when Comcast was interfering with their connections. As a result, the Commission found that
many consumers experiencing difficulty using onlycertain applications would not place blame on Comcast, where it belonged, but rather on the applications themselves, thus further disadvantaging those applications in the competitive marketplace.
Bear in mind that this is the FCC saying this sort of stuff. The only place I've seen even similarly blunt langauge has been on the blogs of open network advocates who have bitterly complained of the mainstream media's "fair and balanced" reporting which lent credeence to Comcast's nonsensical claims that it wasn't "blocking" traffic and that it was only "managing" its network for the good of the little guy. Those same news outlets religously avoided noticing that the P2P protocols that Comcast blocked were almost always used to download video that competed with Comcast's cable and Pay Per View products. I hope that having the FCC, a body well know for sympathizing with the corporations it is supposed to regulate whenever possible, lash Comcast on all these points will result in better reporting—but I doubt it since the reporting on this ruling even now avoids repeating the most damning findings. It is really outrageous that the first most folks will hear this analysis is if they track it down themselves. Only the credulous report both sides of a story without noticing when one side is plainly flat-out lying. The FCC has reacted appropriately. Would that our media had half the common sense.

Cox
Here in Lafayette the question is whether Cox will take the hint and avoid the sort of public rebuke that Comcast has just experienced. As long-time readers will recall Lafayette Pro Fiber has long followed this story and noted that Comcast's silent partner has been, since the first days of the story, Cox Communications. Cox has been engaging in exactly the same sort of blocking for which Comcast has been censured. —In fact a large-scale German study revealed that only three companies in the world were engaging in this behavior: Comcast, Starhub in Singapore, and Cox. Comcast had the bad fortune to get caught a few weeks before Cox and the bad judgment to engage in a historonic and clearly deceptive defense of its practices while Cox mummered confusing, uninteresting remarks that nobody found qoutable. If they are as smart as that reaction indicates they'll wait a few weeks and issue a quiet press release saying that they don't admit anything but are interested in finding some (confusing) new techniques to manage their service. And then cc the FCC.