Wednesday, September 24, 2008

"How Can We Say There's Not Enough Money To Wire The Country With Fiber"

Good Question:
Anyone who's against the idea of America moving aggressively into a full fiber future tends to cite the enormous cost of doing so as a reason not to.

Yet the cost to do so is pretty clear: about $1000 a home, with about 100 million homes, that roughly equates to $100 billion.

If we can come up with a trillion dollars to make up for the reckless actions of irresponsible parties simply to stave off the potentially devastating impact their mistakes may have on our economy, why can't we invest a tenth of that in our future by upgrading the most important infrastructure of the 21st century?
That's from Geoff Daily of App-rising. The brutal answer, of course, is that this isn't actually confusing--though it should be. Geoff's complaint only makes sense if you assume that the current federal regime is run in the long-term interests of the country and its citizens; as it should be. If you instead assume that it is run in the short-term interests of corporate wealth then there is nothing confusing about failing to support fundamental infrastructure because large corporations might be offended and bailing out a whole class of non-performing corporations.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Note: Cloud Computing & Network DVRs

Just-A-Note

Cablevision is going ahead with its plan to implement a network Digital Video Recorder. Cablevison plans to:
roll out a system in early 2009 that will let viewers record any show without a DVR, only a digital set-top box. Shows will be stored on Cablevision's servers instead of a home DVR -- a shift the company said could save it upward of $700 million...

Craig Moffett, senior analyst at Sanford Bernstein, said the network DVR will save cable companies money because DVR boxes make up as much as 10 percent of their capital spending.

The boxes cost as much as $400 for high-definition, and it can take years to recoup that cost with monthly fees.

Once it's that easy for subscribers to record shows, Moffett sees usage tripling to 60 percent of cable households.

Neat enough; not having to provide every household with a hard drive and sophisticated electronics saves money for all concerned. But not all companies are following suite. Cox in particular is worried that it doesn't have enough bandwidth to do the same:
The challenge of managing bandwidth is one reason Cox Communications Inc. isn't jumping into network DVR just yet. Peak usage among DVR customers who record programs could more than quadruple with network DVR, said Steve Necessary, vice president of video product development and management at Cox.
Cablevision has the bandwidth, in part, because it has shifted to an all-digital system.—Lafayette denizens should note that LUS' all fiber, all digital network will have bandwidth burn inside the network; more than enough to emulate a DVR.

But going all digital (or all-IP in more recent coinage) has other advantages. Cablevision will be able to offer online storage for customer's video's and photosets that could be easily shown on the big TV screen. What Cablevision will not have is the bandwidth to run applications over the net... they'd just be too slow. On the other hand Lafayette's network could support a DVR function, storage and online apps without strain. Big Bandwidth and Big Storage allow a whole set of new applications to be run over the net. Folks ought to start thinking about it.

This is just a note. What do you think?

Note: Cloud Computing & Netbooks

Just-A-Note:

Wired's Gadget Lab blog notes the Dell mini Inspirion "netbook" which comes with built-in 3G wireless and free online storage. That means that this netbook, with its rather puny 16GB solid state drive (no hard drive!) can actually function as an netbook should: always on, always connected.

That's a big step forward; notebooks like these which are fully functional computers establish a benchmark on the way to a real, network-enabled net-connected digital divide device for everyone. (Retail price: 35o-to 395 depending on operating system!)

My guess is that the dream digital divide device will prove to be a mini-laptop capable of running as a fully capable computer (from printing to running standard apps to lite gaming) that is always connected to a big broadband connection. The constant, fast connection enables cheap, shared online storage--and, if that connection is fast enough, as it can be in Lafayette--shared applications and large datasets....decreasing Total Cost of Ownership and increasing its utility.

This was just-a-note. What do you think?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Upgrading FTTH to 1 Gig in Amsterdam

Hey, they're testing out consumer-level 1gbs to the customer service in Amsterdam's network. (That's 1 gig, ten times the current "fantasy way-cool" standard of 100 megs!) It's not a commercial service yet but because the prices are falling for the electronics the folks who run the project have cobbled together a test to see how it works with off-the-shelf equipage.

Cutting to the chase: It works fine.

One of the best things about installing a fiber to the home infrastructure is that it makes substantial upgrades pretty trivial—the big sunk expense is in putting in the fiber infrastructure; future costs to stay abreast of newly available tech are, by comparison, cheap and can be done on an as-needed basis. Once you have fiber it is easy to stay ahead of the capacity curve and to supply vastly different needs. That is because the carrying capacity of light over fiber is theoretically unlimited; today the practical limits have to do mostly with economics: huge capacity routers and modems are costy and paying the interconnects to other networks can be pricy so providers have to charge more for such services than any but those with special needs want to pay.

But the one thing that is certain about life is that computer electronics prices fall (ok, death and taxes are two more things). And the plummeting price of 1gbs gear is what motivated Herman Wagter (manager of CityNet) in Amsterdam to patch together a working consumer-grade 1 gig connection and try it out in real life. The video I've linked to above is a tech head's presentation—only a someone who delights in the details of hacking together a hookup and stressing it will find the video intrinsically interesting. For the rest of us any fascination lies in 1) the implications of what a residential-grade 1 gig connection might look like, 2) what you can do with it, 3) what the current practical limits are, and 4) what would be necessary for someone to get such a connection where you live.

1) What a residential-grade 1 gig connection might look like: today it involves patching past the modem in the commercially supplied box on the wall of your house and connecting the light signal to a special modem that translates it into 1 gig signal over copper. Basically you'll need a special patch cord and a new modem. (The backbone already runs at higher speeds than your home connection can translate so all you need is new home electronics; the limit on modern fiber networks is mostly at the unit on the wall of your home.)

2) What you can do with it: Well, in the video they run four different HD video steams from their cable service simultaneously and saturate the download capacity of a computer without hitting the limit. Translation: you, your spouse and all the kids can do pretty much anything you can imagine without noticing the slightest slowdown. Even better: this is a symmetrical connection so you can serve up that sort of capacity too. Conceivably, for instance, you could cobble together a server with "football dad" videos from all the city's high school teams and set it up to do Downloadble Video for the mere fans who'd like to see the whole thing in a replay that would allow them to pause the action and argue of whether little Johnny shoulda got credit for that tackle.... Or archive your video of the fishing rodeo. Or Mardi Gras in Acadiana. Or Festivals Acadiens et Créoles or Festival International. You could start a business archiving the monster video footage produced by those new "prosumer" video cameras for locals—wedding photographers on network might really be grateful. Your fantasy here:_________.

3) What the current practical limits are: Putting a gig modem in the stream at your house changes the network choke point from the electronics on the wall of your home to, likely, your home network and devices which might be built for the current (though fading) default of a 100 megs. Going in from that new gig modem connection: A) You'd want the network router to handle a gig. If it was purchased recently it probably does. Check. Longer runs of cabling might need to be changed out for CAT6 cabling. B) Any of the device that you connect to might be limited to a 100 megs or less (often labled: 10/100 ethernet). Again, check the sorts of connections that can really use bandwidth—mainly computers and set-top boxes. All my recent macs come equiped with 1 gig ethernet ports that I've never used to 1/10th capacity. PCs will be more variable. (Your wif? No. It can't transmit enough bandwidth in the best case to use your gig of bandwidth. You do probably you want to upgrade to 802.11n if speed is important to you but even then any wireless connection will be a choke point. To take full advantage you'll want a wired connection to bandwidth-hungry devices. If you live on wifi and are a true nut consider running two 802.11n connections on different bandwidths and tuning alternate devices to one or the other. Finally: your devices' internal electronics will matter too. Even if you have a gig ethernet port you may well find that your hard drive's controller can only handle 500 megs as it tries to write down that faster-than-real-time download from Netflix or iTunes...(poor, pitiful, you--this is the problem the guys in Amsterdam ran into. So sad.)

4) What would be necessary for someone to get such a connection where you live: Your first trick is to get hooked up to a fiber network (not one of those faux things from your incumbents). It would help to get it from a municipal or other small, local provider. The big guys are too focused on ringing the last dollar out of short-term investments. (Verizon is notoriously not offering to sell you nearly the capacity they have on their fiber network.) So move to Amsterdam. Or Lafayette.... Take Lafayette as a possilble example: You'd probably need to start by buying into a business contract and paying the premium involved. The 1 gig option is unlikely to be a standard one, at least not at first, so you'd have to sit down with LUS and hammer out a cost and agree on conditions. I suspect they'd be eager to be able to say that they'd sold such a residential connection, espeically if you are willing to pay for it. Even utility guys value bragging rights. They'd come to your house and either patch in a new modem in your box or, more likely, patch past it with a fiber-optic cable and connect it to a new gig modem in the house similar to the less powerful one you might get from the cable or phone guys. As far as you, the customer, was concerned that'd probably be it. On LUS' side they'd probably want to patch past the PON splitter nearest your house so that your anticipated big bandwidth usage wouldn't effect the other folks with whom you are currently sharing the backbone capacity. LUS assures us that they'll install plenty of "excess" fiber all along their system to enable just such contingencies.

The take home from this post? — Getting a gig connection is no longer just a fuzzy fantasy. It's easy to see how, in at least a few real-world situations, Joe Normal could snag a gigabit connection.

Brave New World, no?

UPDATE: As I went to post this article I recalled a remark I'd read on the Cook list about Lund, Sweden...when I went there I found that on that muni network you can TODAY buy a gig connection if you want. One provider, Adamo, sells it for 1495 Kr or about $221.37US. My. You can get the first month for half price to see if you like it. (See for yourself. I had to use Google translate but the meaning isn't ambiguous.)

Saturday, September 06, 2008

TV4US Astroturfing Alexandria

This is rich. TV4US, the telco astroturf organization that promoted the recent statewide video law is now back with the same tired "If you disagree with AT&T running roughshod over local communities you are against competition" nonsense.

A "your mail" letter to the editor from TV4US's Lizanne Sadlier in the Alexandria Town Talk claims that "Some cities are now saying that the Consumer Choice for Television Act, passed overwhelmingly by the Louisiana legislature and signed by Gov. Jindal, is not good for us." (The "us" Ms Sadlier is referring to is unclear; maybe its those of "us" who live near her up in her Arlington, VA suburb of Washington, DC?—a point raised in a sharp post at CenLamar.)

What Alexandria, the Louisiana Municipal League, and the Police Juries are actually saying (in a lawsuit) is not so much that AT&T got the legislators to enact a law that stripped communities of control of local property for the benefit of their corporation but that the legislators voided constitutionally protected, long-standing contracts the cable companies had long had with local communities. Alexandria is merely the first city to face the consequences of cable companies benefiting "Consumer Choice" Act—which as in North Carolina does NOT include competition. The practical consequence is that the cable companies that TV4US and similar astroturf organizations rhetorically attack in order to get laws passed are the actual beneficiaries; they get to ignore local property rights and do exactly as they please. In Alex that has meant suddenly dropping ongoing negotiations with the city to find out why the cable company was not keeping its promise to open a customer service center. Apparently since the city no longer controls the property they need to sell their product, why bother with them or even return their calls?

Oh, and that competition thing TV4US and AT&T say justified their manipulation of state law? Savvy watchers will note that since that law passed here there has been NO (count 'em, zero) new instances of competition from the telephone companies.

What is going on in Alex is, of course, just the same sort of sleight of hand that went on in North Carolina: the telcos get a law passed that is supposed to "enable" a competition that was perfectly possible without it and then, shock, no additional competition appears. But the cable companies immediately start exploiting their new privileges to shortchange local communities. A little bait and switch?

Getting a little attention from a faux "grassroots" organization for sticking up for local rights should be a badge of honor. Good for you, Alexandria

Friday, September 05, 2008

Terry Huval Video on LUSFiber @ App-Rising

Geoff Daily of App-Rising has posted a video interview with Terry Huval that focuses on Lafayette's community-owned fiber-optic network. I've embedded the Viddler video below but you really should travel to Geoff's blog and get his comments.

It's a great interview that lays out the basics of the project, explores the history of Lafayette and the network, and ends with some thoughts about what can be done with it...



Some highlights to further entice:
  • LUS will build a true Fiber To The Home network; those of us in Lafayette are too close to it but that's the most impressive "feature" to those outside our community and Louisiana.
  • Cheapest internet tier 10 megs up and down
  • 100 meg intranet—which Terry notes is an idea that came out of the community—brings everyone up to the same high level
  • largest, fastest network in the country...building extra capacity on the front end, preparing for gigabit speeds
  • The history of Lafayette, its 1896 vote to build an electric utility, the wildcatter heritage called on to explain why the city was willing to step out
  • the evolution of the network from supporting LUS, to providing governmental services, to wholesale sales, to finally a fiber to the home and business network
  • the hope is that Lafayette can become a testbed for big bandwidth application developers
  • particularly near and dear to me—Terry closed out by talking about the "cultural ensemble" and the potential for local culture and the arts.


Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Thanks for the Power LUS (Updated)

Lafayette is an island of green in a sea of red...as of the afternoon of September 3rd, two days after Gustav passed, a map of power outages provided by the state shows Lafayette parish with more than half of the population having power. None of the surrounding parishes has even half of its population served. As a parish we are doing much better than our neighbors. (Click for a larger image.)

We have LUS to thank.

My sister who lives in Baton Rouge—a 100 miles from the eye of Gustav— will be coming over to Lafayette—a city that took a direct hit—while she waits to get her power back because she says she expects to be out for more than a week.—When I went online it appears that her estimate of weeks of power loss is possible given that Entergy says that it will take weeks to bring their network completely up and are vocal about complaining that they've had more damage from Gustav than from any storm except Katrina.
• In terms of power outages, Hurricane Gustav is the second worst in Entergy’s 95-year history, peaking at about 850,000 early Tuesday – the overwhelming majority of them in Louisiana. That easily bypassed the 800,000 outages in Hurricane Rita in 2005. The only larger number of Entergy outages was 1.1 million in 2005 during Hurricane Katrina, which has been described as one of the worst natural disasters in American history.
On the other hand LUS has 90% of its power back on and plans to be 100% by Friday.

Governor Jindal is complaining bitterly about the slow pace of electricity restoration.

About 1.5 million people are without electricity, Jindal said, and power companies estimated that about half would be restored within 10 days but the others could take up to six weeks.

"I told them that was absolutely not acceptable," he said.

Six weeks! But he's not complaining about LUS. According to the Advertiser:
Lafayette Utilities System reported that power is restored to about 90 percent of its 60,000 residential customers as of 1 p.m. ...LUS Director Terry Huval said its customers should be restored by Friday.
UPDATE: The IND says that Huval now says that we'll all be back up by today, Thursday. Amazing.

Compare that with other local providers:
At 11 a.m., SLEMCO said it had restored power to We have restored power to 33,618 customers. Another 51,640 were without power....said it took seven days to restore power following hurricanes Rita and Katrina, and the damage inflicted by Gustav was similar to those two storms.

CLECO, which supplies power to Acadia, Evangeline, Iberia, St. Landry, St. Martin and St. Mary parishes, had more than 82,000 customers still without power as of Tuesday night.

That represents nearly 90 percent of its local customer base.

Entergy had 43,111 customers without power. About half of those were in rural Lafayette and St. Landry parishes.

It is pretty clear that that island of green on the state map is due to LUS bring Lafayette back on line quickly and efficiently--the large population center of Lafayette is 90% back while the private providers in the surrounding towns and rural areas are more that 50% down. Take LUS' achievement out of the mix in our parish and we'd look just like the rest of the region: more than half still out of power and waiting a week or more to get back to anything like full provision.

It's good to have a locally-owned public power utility at times like these. (And it will be just as good to have a locally-owned public telecom utility in the near future.)

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

"Price War Erupts For High-Speed Internet Service"

The Wall Street Journal carries an interesting story about broadband—one pitched at the level of titans—and the emerging battle between the cable and phone companies for customers' retail business. The story's title is a little misleading since there has only been a bit of movement toward price competition. The Wall St. Journal maven, however, sees price competition in his tarot cards based largely on the fact that in the last quarter the cablecos scored a big win over the telecos, bringing in 75% of new subscribers.

Normally this story wouldn't qualify for an LPF comment but the implications for our community's fiber network turn out to be interesting....and heartening. The analysts think that winning at internet connectivity is the key. (And, hey, we think so here too.) The juicy parts:
As bandwidth-hungry applications like video downloads grow, customers prefer the generally faster speeds cable offers. Cable companies have also been marketing more aggressively in recent months, analysts say.

"Phone companies can't just sit back and let cable companies take that much of the broadband market, or they will eventually cede everything," says John Hodulik, an analyst at UBS.

Winning broadband customers has enormous strategic consequences for both cable and phone companies. It gives them a foot in the door to sell other services, such as pay-TV and phone service.
The reason that internet subs are so strategically crucial?
Mr. Hodulik says customers are most apt to get phone and TV services from the same company that provides them with their broadband connection. And broadband services are also the most profitable of the bundled services.
So on this analysis, people are deciding which service to go with based on who can give them the best (and cheapest) broadband connection. Then they buy onto the other offered services.

That bodes well for LUSFiber which will have, without question, the best and cheapest data network in town.

Looking forward to January?

After Hurricane Gustav

Well, we dodged the bullet here in Lafayette. While the storm came directly over Lafayette as a category 1 storm, damage seems less than I would have feared. Which is not to say that there is no serious damage. Big trees are down on my street and all over town. There is some wind damage to roofs. We'll all be out with chainsaws soon.

Thing is, this hurricane is in the range of storms that we (and I expect those living in other hurricane-vulnerable areas) consider normal. It's bad – but normal and expectedly bad. What happened in New Orleans during Katrina and what happened in Lake Charles during Rita was not in the range of normal and we on the coast now feel relieved to merely get hurt badly.

What would be felt to be a major disaster by anyone outside a Gulf coastal zone is greeted with gratitude by those of us living here. :-)

We have our rituals that give us feelings of control and competence, however illusory. You stock up before the storm with ice, charcoal, and nonperishable foods. Trim branches away from the house that might beat on the roof. Pick up the yard and put away or tie down anything loose. Cover large windows. Everyone has their pattern before the storm. Then when the storm forces you indoors, you have another set of rituals: freeze big bags of water in the freezer to give it mass for when the power goes out. Mix up drink mixers. Watch TV and surf the net till the power goes. Break out the mixers and liquor. Watch the trees whip around – especially those you know are brittle (like pecans) or have shallow root systems (like water oaks). Wait for the eye to pass. Go out into the streets during the eye and talk excitedly with the neighbors. Wait for the wind to change directions. Watch the trees whip around again. The point is that we know what to do and just do it. Now's the time for gassing up the chainsaw and cutting the limbs up to regulation size and dragging them to the street (or, in my case, to the compost area).

Long story short: we're ok. Hit hard but know what to do about it – not hit so hard that it's hard to cope.

Best wishes for all in the path of Hannah....

Monday, September 01, 2008

Before Hurricane Gustav

Lafayette Pro Fiber is happily aware of the friends of Lafayette who follow our progress here through the LPF blog and suspect that they will be concerned with the effects of Hurricane Gustav. On the downside: this will be a serious storm in Lafayette with the city getting sustained hurricane force winds. We anticipate some damage to homes and businesses, downed power and communication lines, trees down, and lots of large limbs stripped out of older trees. The power will likely be out for days. On the upside: well, this is a much better story than we were telling ourselves a few days ago. Gustav was a category 2 storm at landfall; earlier we were anticipating a 3 or even 4. There is a lot of difference and the upshot is that Lafayette will "only" get category 1 hurricane force winds. That is not out of the range of the experience of the people who live here—a big storm but not a monster. A category 2 storm would likely have brought down structures that survived lesser storms and produced an unprecedented amount of damage. So this bad storm is not as bad as feared.

Yes, we will probably lose some of the newly installed fiber; the area being built out now is predominantly aerial—it's in the older central core—and some poles will come down. However the fiber is apparently actually tougher to bring down than the power, phone, or cable lines that run beside it on the poles. I'd read that in other places and a recent tornado in a the center-city "oil center" retail area confirmed it. Delay in the LUSFiber launch? We'll see.

At any rate: I expect to lose power and connectivity as the eyewall passes. Happy to answer any questions in the comments as long as I'm up. See you on the other side.