Sunday, December 20, 2009

Getting His Fiber


Pat Ottinger is the happy new subscriber in this photo. It came with the following note:
Is this a great country, or what?

Can't wait to deliver my boxes to Cox.

Merry Christmas, Pat
Pat is the city's attorney and was our local lawyer in the many delaying lawsuits brought by the incumbents and their allies. (Like the one we won with a unanimous decision of the state supreme court.) He has earned his little silver LUS box. Congrats! (another post, this one with videos...)

PS: Isn't the slogan on the truck: "I'm proud of my LUS Fiber" perfect for the occasion and wouldn't it make a great yard sign?

Friday, December 18, 2009

"LUS sacks Cox with Saints vs. Cowboys game"

From the Independent blog:
"If you’re paying $39.95 a month for LUS’ 83-channel expanded basic cable service, breathe a sigh of relief. You’ll watch the undefeated Saints take on the Dallas Cowboys (8-5) on Channel 38 Saturday night at 7:20 p.m. But if you’re one of Cox Communications’ approximately 100,000 Acadiana customers who subscribes to expanded basic, 72 channels for $52.99 per month, it’s going to cost you more."
Couldn't have said it better myself. —You can sign up with the local guys or you can pay more for less and still not get what you want from Cox. It's a choice that ought to be easy. What do you think Lafayette?

The Saints Mania that has taken hold here (and across south Lousiana) has made people more than a little crazy and I've got email this week asking whether LUS will have the game. I had a hard time understanding what folks were anxious about since it is on expanded basic, and expanded basic is pretty much the default level for most folks. Now that I see that Cox is only carrying it on a more expensive tier I have to suspect that the truly fanatic were hearing about that and worried that the same would be true of LUS...there was a big blow-up in the Baton Rouge media earlier this week and apparently Cox worked hard at getting it set up there even though BR wouldn't normally be allowed to see it. I'm sure they'd like to have been able to do the same in Lafayette—if only to avoid the unfavorable contrast with LUS Fiber.

It's not really just about this game and single, immensely popular show...it is more about the contrasting corporate policies that Cox and LUS Fiber pursue. Cox has, time and again, moved "must have" weather, French language, TV guide, and sports channels off the basic tiers and pushed them up into the upper, more costly, tiers in unpopular if financially understandable, moves. After all they are in it to make money for their owners. LUS Fiber, on the other hand, really doesn't have nearly the same pressure to "upsell" its customers since those customers are its owners. Keeping your owners happy means entirely different things to a large corporation and small town utility.

And that's the real lesson of this story.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

On "Broadband is not a Utility"

I continue to hear stuff like "Broadband is not a utility" and "broadband is a luxury" all of which is supposed to lead to the conclusion that we should all stand back and let the the incumbent duopoly do whatever they want. That has always seemed like a stunningly short-sighted and unimaginative position to me. Happily Glenn Fleishman over at Publicola in Seattle (where their new mayor is committed to a publicly owned FTTH project) has dug up the perfect rejoinder to such foolishness. Glenn analyzes this at length and his dissection is worth the read. But for our purposes the raw quote from the Richmond, Virginia's 1905 Times-Dispatch newspaper will suffice:

“Unless we adopt the principles of socialism, It can hardly be contended that It is the province of government, either state or municipal, to undertake the manufacture or supply of the ordinary subjects of trade and commerce, or to impose burdens upon the whole community for the supposed benefit of a few….

“The ownership and operation of municipal light plants stands upon a different basis from that of the ownership of water works, with which it is so often compared. Water is a necessity to the health and life of every individual member of a community…It must be supplied in order to preserve the public health, whether it can be done profitably or not, and must be furnished, not to a few individuals, but to every individual.

“Electric lights are different. Electricity is not in any sense a necessity, and under no conditions is it universally used by the people of a community. It is but a luxury enjoyed by a small proportion of the members of any municipality, and yet if the plant be owned and operated by the city, the burden of such ownership and operation must be borne by all the people through taxation.

“Now, electric light is not a necessity for every member of the community. It Is not the business of any one to see that I use electricity, or gas, or oil in my house, or even that I use any form of artificial light at all.”

Sound familiar? A century more or less makes little difference in the way some folks think...though the passage of time does change what they are wrong about.

Fleishman is writing in support of a fiber to the home network in Seattle but it is worth noting that he is more familiar as one of the net's go-to guys on wifi and related wireless technologies — and has been a great advocate of those technologies. But even he says that fiber is the end-game for fixed locations.

Friday, December 04, 2009

FUD..It's the same all over

The Free Utopia blog out of Utah posts a note that rings familiarly in the ears of Lafayette's citizens. That complaint concerns a flyer mailed to the residents of Brigham City by their local astroturf/disinformation group, the Utah Taxpayers Association. It goes out at the last minute in advance of a city-council vote that seems destined to approve a way to allow any citizen in the city who wants to take advantage of the quality and savings of a community-owned fiber optic network to do so.

That's gotta remind us locally of the last-minute disinformation flyer mailed to every household in Lafayette by our own disinformation group just before the fiber referendum. It too was filled with FUD—Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt. And the cherry on top of that was what was perhaps the most egregious bit of "lying by taking out of context" that I've ever seen in a published piece.

In some ways the issue in Brigham City is even more outrageous than it was here...in Lafayette the disinformation flyer was timed to confuse the community throw sand in the process of approval that by that points seemed to all reasonable observers to be already over — Lafayette was clearly going to approve fiber and, shortly thereafter, did. In Brigham City the idea is to confuse the citizens and to give the council members grief about a different foregone conclusion. To wit: Brigham City the city has already committed to funding the basic infrastructure buildout for the regional community network "UTOPIA"—the financial obligation had been taken on years ago. (Keep that firmly in mind: The city is already fully committed to supporting the network, nothing that happens now can undo that.) All that is going on now is that 30% of the citizens, who want fiber NOW rather than sometime down the line when UTOPIA gets to them have asked to plunk down $3000 of their own money to get fiber from the community-owned alternative NOW. This does absolutely nothing to increase the indebtedness of Brigham City and, in fact, it takes a big potential burden off the rest of the citizenry by taking most of the city's indebtedness and passing it on to that subset of users...the $3000 dollars will be used finance most of the city's debt.

So what is the "Utah Taxpapers Association" up to? FUD: Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt. Why? Why should a "taxpayer" group complain if most of the burden of paying for a community resource is shifted from the whole community to 30% of it who willingly, eagerly take it on? What could possibly be wrong from the taxpayers point of view? The answer is that it just doesn't make sense. When something makes so little sense a reasonable person looks beyond the FUD an asks more the more fundamental question: Who benefits from this kind of misleading fear-mongering, who would pay the expense of such a flyer? And the answer is, as it was here in Lafayette, to follow the money: it is the incumbents, who would initially lose 30% of their installed base and in the end no doubt many more. In Brigham City those incumbents are Comcast cable and Qwest telephone.

It's the same all over.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Curtis, Cox, and LUS

Today's "Curtis" syndicated comic, found in this morning's Advertiser could easily have been inspired by the marketing tactics we're seeing Lafayette... (The story line involves young Curtis hoping to con his dad into a special cable "deal.")

A friend tells me he was recently offered 3 months of free cable service when he called to cancel his Cox service and move to LUS. That, apparently, is just how desperate Cox is beginning to get as LUS continues to roll out its service—ahead of schedule. The incumbents have repeatedly insisted that "goverment-owned" LUS would never be able to meet its ambitious roll-out goals but that particular canard hasn't been repeated recently as it became obvious that the service would not only achieve its goal but that our community-owned utility is actually ahead of schedule (LUS recently announced that it would finish its roll-out in July, about six months early.)

Incidentally, LUS' is a great service and my friend (IMHO) was right to spurn the short range savings for the long-term savings, no-nonsense, no "deals" package the hometown alternative offers. Not to mention: our money stays here and it builds infrastructure we own.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Pro-Fiber candidate is Mayor

Thought this post might be about Durel? No, but it's not just Lafayette's Mayor who has benefited from a firm profiber stand.
Mike McGinn, the outsider candidate whose campaign platform featured a municipal FTTH plank beat out a T-Mobile vice president to become the new Mayor of Seattle.
You'll excuse my wry grin when I say I didn't think I'd see the day when we could say about any technology that Seattle would end up following a trail Lafayette had blazed.
Fiber is a winning issue...from the deepest blue to the most vermillion red parts of our country

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Cox Raises Rates...

The Independent, the Gonzales Weekly Citizen and the Baton Rouge Business Report all have up stories based on a Cox press release that announces rate increases for both cable and internet packages in South Louisiana starting December 8th. Price increases range from 2 to 3 dollars on each effected service...with 1 dollar bumps on some (unspecified) premium packages. So if you get both internet and cable from Cox you'll be looking at at least $4 on the low end to $6 and up on higher end combos. It would be pretty easy for all those small changes to add up to a substantial surcharge of 10 dollars and more a month and it will be interesting to see a more detailed accounting of the changes.

Merry Christmas!

Details are still murky (expect pieces with some real reporting in tomorrow's news cycle) and "Along with the channel launches, some channels will move within tiers and into new service levels." Thats' pretty vague and sounds like it might mean that some tiers will actually lose channels. At any rate Cox is claiming cost increases in retransmission fees (that refers to fees paid to local stations) and cable channel packages to account for the increases cable side. Nobody is saying why internet has to increase as well.

Cox's "Ultimate Tier" —that 50/5 tier was introduced in Acadiana to compete with LUS Fiber's 50/50 tier—is the only internet package that will not see an increase.

(Hmmn...I justed checked the Cox site for Baton Rouge and Gonzales zip codes. Baton Rouge's announces that you can't get the Ultimate package there. But in Gonzales, where small local provider EATEL is also providing fiber to the home, the site now shows that Cox is willing to sell the "Ulitmate" service there as well. My...doesn't Baton Rouge wish that it had something more competitive than AT&T's UVerse to spur a little competitive energies?)

Cox announced some service increase candy alongside the bitter medicine of a rate increase. Among them are more HD channels, and speed increases on some of the internet tiers. The intent behind announcing them together is, pretty clearly and sensibly enough, to encourage folks to think that Cox is giving you something extra for your money. But they extras don't line up that neatly: on the cable side the lower-priced tiers and the movie packages get an increase but the higher-priced tiers are the ones that benifit from new HD channels.

Cox has been holding off on price increases in South Louisiana and especially in its Acadiana branch since LUS Fiber came onto the scene but apparently that long drought has ended. Cox is not going to continue to give all of South Louisiana a break just to keep its prices lower in Lafayette. You can look for semi-permenant "special introductory offers" to be given at a drop of the hat if you zip code is right, of course. But those things are time-limited and I doubt many people will be fooled for long.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Lafayette Pulls Down $11,630,000 in Smart Grid Monies (Updated)

Congratulations to Lafayette and Lafayette Utilities System....

Their recovery act grant application returned $11,630,000 dollars to the city in order to install a smart electrical meter system in the city. This has been something that LUS director Huval has long sought and winning the grant means that it can go forward much sooner. The "Brief Project Description" put up by the grant-giving agency says:
Install more than 57,000 smart meters to reach the full service territory with two-way communications, enable consumers to reduce energy use with smart appliances and dynamic pricing, and automate the electric transmission and distribution systems to improve monitoring and reliability.
We've commented here before on the potential of smart meters using the internet to communicate; it is all about shaving the top off peak power usage. These meters allow users to save money by monitoring their own usage and shifting the use of electricty-hogging services to times when power is cheap. (Charge your new electric car between 1 and 4:30 in the morning and get a 20% discount just like the big industrial users do now.) And they'd allow the electrical provider to spend less money on peak capacity. (We won't have to build an expensive new plant if most of those new electric cars charge during off-peak hours.)

Now I'll be very interested in seeing just how that "two-way communications" will be accomplished. Fiber to the home works great...for those that have fiber. But to serve all the city's electrical customers it would likely prove cheaper to lay down a WiFi network — after all we've already got fiber running down every block. Just hang the WiFi off the polls and put a node on every meter.

That gives the city a pervasive cloud of wifi. Use a muscular 802.11N version and there'd be plenty left over to give LUS Fiber subscribers a very nice wireless addition to their already capable network.

Stay tuned. There'll surely be more to this story.

(Hat tip to Mike for the lead on this story.)

Update 10/31/09:
Both the Advertiser and the Advocate have now picked up this story. LUS apparently issued a press release and Huval has talked to reporters. The most interesting new tidbit is in the Advertiser's article:
Because the grant requires a match from LUS, it remains unclear whether the city will actually be able to receive the funds.

LUS Director Terry Huval said the application was submitted with plans of a rate increase for all LUS customers. But because some City-Parish Council members have opposed the increase, a final vote on it was delayed last month by Lafayette Consolidated Government officials, and it is unknown when that vote will take place.

Since the rate increase is in jeopardy, the smart grid project is temporarily off the table, but could make it back onto a project list if the increase eventually passes.

"Unless we're able to find funding for that or get the rate adjustment, we would not be able to meet the match requirements," Huval said.
Here's to hoping that our green council (who are all in their first term) has the good sense to realize that this is the sort of "expense" that more than pays for itself. A "rate increase" that allows customers to save money through their own decisions and helps keep the utility from having to pay for excess, seldom used capacity saves the people money in both the long and the short run. Especially when our federal tax dollars will pay for half of the cost. It's a one-time, limited-time offer, folks.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

One Story? Economic Development

Some days there's not "a" story but several stories taken together that tell the tale. I suspect that today is such a day.

Here's a list of marginally interesting stories that have hit today: Firm relocating to Lafayette (Advocate), City lands corporate office (Advertiser), LUS Fiber expands Internet service (Advertiser), Lafayette, LA: Best places ranking: #2 among midsize metro areas (CNN Money) and Lafayette Location Of Transcom Announces 700 New Jobs (KATC--from earlier this month). Each one interesting and encouraging enough in its own right.

Together they tell a tale of a city that, even in these hard times, is expanding its job market, making itself attractive to newcomers, and is providing shockingly cheap net services to small businesses. Most of the story, frankly, is in those headlines...the meat of the stories add detail but not substance.

Without making the silly claim that all of this was driven by fiber, I have to say that I think that LUS' fiber network is not getting its fair share of the credit in the stories. The 700 jobs that Transom brought? Don't recall those guys? Well, Transcom is the new corporate parent of NuConn...the call center guys that constituted Lafayette's first big, directly-connected-to-the-fiber-vote win. Back when NuConn/Transcom first came to town they were clear that fiber—and the community's gumption in voting it in—were the deciding factor in coming to Lafayette. As far as being able to run an engineering/consulting firms' national corporate office out of a mid-tier city like Lafayette? NOT possible without really massive, really world-class connectivity. The fact that it is as cheap as dirt here is only a huge cherry on top of having that sort of connectivity available at all. Engineering firms are among the most voracious of bandwidth users. Without really good connectivity there'd be no such firm considering a move to our fair town. And that brings up the announcement of a 100 megs of symmetrical bandwidth being available to every business, small or large, in every neighborhood, rich or poor, in the city for the crazy price of $199.95. Or the low end (low?) version of 10 megs symmetrical for $64.95? This has got to be the best place to start up your own garage internet business around.

Credit where credit's due: LUSFiber is making a big difference.

Only in Louisiana

In the Only in Louisiana Department:

What to do if your commercial fishing ecology is threatened by an invasive new creature that might breed wildly....How does the state department responsible for such problems react?

Well, only in Louisiana: You publish a recipe. ;-)

From the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, via the IND blog:
Broiled Lemon and Garlic Tiger Prawns
1 1/2 pounds tiger prawns, peeled and deveined
1 cup butter
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven on broiler setting. With a sharp knife, remove tails from prawns, and butterfly them from the underside. Arrange prawns on broiler pan. In a small saucepan, melt butter with garlic and lemon juice. Pour 1/4 cup butter mixture in a small bowl, and brush onto prawns. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese over shrimp. Place broiler pan on top rack, and broil prawns for 4 to 5 minutes, or until done. Serve with remaining butter mixture for dipping.
They'd make a good experiment for your best BBQ shrimp recipe, too...and this sounds a whole lot better than those recipes for Nutria Rat Gumbo. (On the other hand, I have it on the best authority that Nutria and Garfish Gumbo was served to unsuspecting toddlers in the Houma region as far back as 1970—nobody needs the wildlife and fisheries guys to give us any ideas in the culinary arena.)

(Off topic, but too damned good to pass up.)

Friday, September 25, 2009

WBS: Lafayette as the Example

Glenn Fleishman has an article up that mentions Lafayette as the premier example of a city that has built a network in order to bring advanced technology to all its citizens:

In Lafayette, Louisiana, the city fought a multi-year battle against incumbent providers for the right to build its own fiber network. It won, and the FTTH network went live for the first phrase of the city–with about a fifth the households of Seattle–in February.

The reason for the fight wasn’t about the right to 500 channels, about low prices, or about the city wanting a piece of the action. It was about the city’s desire to have 21st century technology in place reaching every person, company, and institution. (emphasis mine)

The context is Seattle's mayoral race; the candidate who came out of the primary in first place, McGinn, has made providing a city-owned FTTH network a major plank in his campaign for office.

Fleishman's point is a good one: The real reason for building a community-owned communications utility is to gain control of your future and to directly benefit the citizen-owners of the new utility and their community. Other oft-mentioned rationales, from fancy services, to the benefit for businesses is derivative of that motive and not the main rationale.

It's a good thing to have our real motives recognized by someone outside the city—and nice that the real meaning of the victory in Lafayette is being learned.

Monday, September 21, 2009

OneWebDay Celebration in Lafayette @ LITE, and via Webcast

Tommorrow—September 22nd—is "One Web Day" and it will be celebrated in grand style here in Lafayette. One Web Day celebrates the power of internet connectivity and will be observed in cities throughout the world. From the national press release:
OneWebDay was founded in 2006 as an all-volunteer campaign to build a constituency for the Internet in the United States and around the world. Originally imagined as a celebration of the World Wide Web - the services and content the Internet carries - OneWebDay has grown into a movement of organizations, citizens and consumers who are committed to universal and equal access to the Internet. Now in its fourth year, OneWebDay has a full-time Executive Director, powerful new partners and will see events in 50 cities across the globe.
Given that drive toward "universal and equal access" it is no surprise that Lafayette has one of the marquee events, and given the local joie de vie, no surprise that it involves some fun:
In the U.S., 9/22 events include: a documentary and discussion on copyright in Milwaukee; a broadband policy panel Washington, DC; a New York City rally with an Iranian political activist; elected officials and a Cajun band in Lafayette; a forum with Mitch Kapor in Berkeley; a Philadelphia panel on that city's broadband grant.
The release goes on to quote internet sage Mitch Kapor as saying in reference to this year's theme:
"Ultimately, we want to ensure that anyone who wants it has access to the Internet and, importantly, the skills they need to fully participate. The ability to access and use a fast, affordable, and open Internet is essential for every student, every entrepreneur, and every citizen who wants full access to our government and the democratic process," said Kapor.
That's the serious purpose...Ah, but the local fun...what of that? —From the local press release:
Lafayette, LA – On September 22nd as the world honors OneWebDay, Lafayette, LA will step up to add its voice to the chorus of gatherings across the country and around the globe with an event of its own, a celebration of Lafayette's connectivity, culture, community, and innovative spirit.

This event will take place at the LITE Center, starting at 5:30pm with a reception in the lobby that will include free beer and wine, and continuing on from 6-7:30pm with a multimedia program in the main auditorium.

This program will feature a series of speakers talking about Lafayette's commitment to becoming a hub city for broadband innovation, including City-Parish President Joey Durel, LUS Director Terry Huval, UL President Dr. Savoie, UL Provost Steve Landry, AoIT director Kit Becnel, LEDA Chairman Tom Cox, LITE CEO Henry Florsheim, Firefly Digital owner Mike Spears, and local big thinker John St. Julien.

In addition to the speakers, this event will feature a live Cajun band that will help showcase Lafayette's rich culture.

The event will also be webcast out onto the Internet for the world to tune into to get a better idea of the exciting things happening in America's most wired and inspired community. Tune in to learn about Lafayette's cutting edge full fiber network, its commitment to establishing models for the next generation of education, and to supporting the development of 21st century businesses.

To watch the webcast, go to www.aocinc.org at 6pm Central on Sept 22nd.

Ok, I admit to being embarassed by this big thinker thing—but that's what you get for practicing the trade without a real title...on the other hand everyone should be reassured to note that I know for a fact that the speakers have been sternly told to keep their remarks to five minutes—so nobody will have to put up with much of it.

More seriously, it's great to see such broad local support for the ideals expressed by the OneWebDay Coalition; it is a set of ideas well worth supporting.

Come and celebrate the fun! Preferably in person, but if disability of location keeps you from making it please grab the webcast from AOC.

Update 9/25/09: The webcast of the event is up for "asynchronous" viewing at AOC's UStream account and interested readers might want to review the Advocate's coverage.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Testing. Testing. 1, 2, 3.

Back in January, I posted here about how I my Internet connection (then with Cox) spent New Year's Day making three attempts to upload a 1.69 gigabyte Quicktime file to an email transfer site and to a website via FTP.

The future arrived at our house this past week in the form of LUS Fiber and, as luck would have it, I was finishing up on a project that (at its core) contained that same Quicktime movie, only now in larger format. In fact, it was now in DVD format and saved as disk images in both DMG and ISO formats (Mac and Windows compatible, respectively).

The DMG file was 4.29 gigs. The ISO file, 4.42 gigs.

The project called for both disc images to be uploaded to a site for later download by users.

So, let's look at the math for a second. The files are about 2.5 times larger than the January Quicktime movie only I now had to upload both of them to a site.

In January, over Cox, it took nearly five hours to upload a single, smaller file to the same server via FTP that I was going to use for this project.

But, now I have the 50 mbps LUS Fiber package, instead of the Cox package which was advertised as being about 4 mbps.

So, I cranked up the FTP server (I use Fetch), connected to the server and began the uploading of the first file.

It took about an hour and ten minutes, give or take a few minutes. The second file was completed in about the same amount of time.

So, files 2.5 times larger uploaded in a quarter of the time it took to upload in January.

Is that a 10x improvement in speed? Looks that way to me, but maybe someone else will do the actual calculations to confirm that estimate.

On Facebook the other night, I announced that I had gotten my LUS connection and there were some questions as to what were the actual speeds I was getting out on the Internet itself, not just the LUS network.

I had not had a chance to do any testing at the time, but managed to do some tonight. The results are pretty impressive.

Here are the download and upload speeds by test site with server location included where possible (all speeds megabits per second:

Speakeasy Speed Test (Dallas server): Download — 30 mbps; Upload — 11 mbps. (Late Monday Update : I neglected to mention in the initial post that the LUS Fiber connection 'pegged' the download speed at Speakeasy. That is, 30 mbps was the maximum download speed the site would register, and LUS nailed the maximum speed.)
TDS Utilities/Broadband DSL Reports (Atlanta server): Download — 19.575 mbps; Upload — 10.793 mbps.
XMission Speed Test: Download — 29.73 mbps; Upload — 11.09 mbps.
Texas A&M Network Speed Test: Download 30.237 mbps; Upload — 9.3 mbps.
SpeedMatters.org: Download — 19.090 mbps; Upload — 11.769 mbps.
AT&T Yahoo! High Speed Internet Throughput Test (Houston server): Download — 18.047; Upload — 12.024.
Argonne National Laboratory: Download — 21.28 mbps; Upload — 10.48 mbps.
Carnegie Mellon Network Group Network Speed Testing Service (Pittsburgh) Download — 10.2 mbps; Upload — 10.2 mbps.
Vonage Internet Speed Test: Download — 19.416 mbps; Upload — 8.642 mbps.
Verizon FIOS Speed Test (Central US Region): Download — 23.692 mbps; Upload — 11.491 mbps.

As you may know, the speed of a network is only as fast as the slowest connection that traffic must pass through. So, out on the public Internet speeds will vary based on the route between you and the server you are connecting to.

I also need to point out that I can't remember hitting even one mbps upload speeds on Cox more than once or twice. Those speeds seemed to always register in the Kilobits per second (kbps) speed range.

All I can say is I uploaded a lot more data in a lot less time this weekend. And I enjoyed the hell out of it!

P.S. I also like the fact that we got ALL the cable movie channels, plus HD channels for less that we were paying for HBO and the digital tier on Cox.

Thanks to the good people of this community who, four years and many lawsuits ago, decided that we wanted to control our own digital destiny and approved the building of this network.

I've only been on the network since Wednesday and it has met or surpassed every expectation I had of it.

We are at the front of the line on the digital revolution. Let's get to work putting this power to work improving out community!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

WBS: Lafayette Attracts Talk

WBS Dept. In my catchup from being in B.R. series...two more

One of the more interesting (and, ok, personally gratifying) things that have resulted from the fiber fight and the creation of LUS Fiber is that Lafayette has gotten a pretty iconic status in the admittedly small (select?) world of high speed internet mavens. Lafayette is seen as something of a touch-stone...people watch and people compare what they're getting to Lafayette.

People watching includes Benoit Felten in France who runs a well-respected fiber-oriented blog called Fiberevolution. Benoit's day job is as an analyst tracking this sort of thing in Europe for the Yankee Group so he's pretty much up on this stuff. After reading the recent Ind article he says:
When I look at the delays of the French commercial FTTH deployments, what LUS is facing is, at this stage, fairly insignificant and certainly doesn't seem to compromise the operation (despite what a number of telco/cable lobbyists seem to be implying if I read the comments below the article...)
Those comments are not from lobbyists—they are just lobbyist-inspired...

Lafayette also comes up on dslreports when Cox launches its 50/5 meg package in Arizona. The news is, that for the first time, someone else is getting the 1/3 off deal Cox gave Lafayette when it launched the new tier. From the write-up:
Cox is offering the service in Arizona for $90 for the first year, the same low price they're offering customers in Lafayette, Loisiana, [sic] where Cox does battle with dirt cheap municipal fiber. Other markets aren't so lucky, with customers in Northern Virginia paying $140 for the tier, and customers in Rhode Island paying $145. Behold the benefit of actually having competition in your local market.
Qwest, the west's equivalent of AT&T or Verizon, recently launched a fast new 40/4 mbps tier at a cheap $99.99 and the new service, and lower price are responses to that development. —Cox's deployment strategy with its new 50/5 meg tier seems to be reactive rather than proactive. It offers the tier where it has competition that is much faster than its regular offerings and only lowers the price where the regional competitor has a much-cheaper-than-US-standard pricing structure.

Catch Up: Lafayette Gets It...in two senses

In my catchup from being in B.R. series ...Lafayette Gets It...in two senses

First off, just like those big cites Lafayette now not only has traffic, hey Lafayette has Google traffic tracking! Aren't we big time. (Well actually, only the Interstates' traffic get tracked so far as I can tell by tinkering around with it, but still it marks some sort of coming-of-age.) From the map page click tracking and play around with the time-of-day and week projections. [Hat tip to Adam Melancon.]

Lafayette gets it: Tipitina's music co-op has got to win some sort of prize for being the perfect blend of tech and music for Lafayette. (To bad N.O. came up with the idea first.) The co-op is putting on some free lessons today; it's making me wish I wasn't in Baton Rouge.:
Wed, August 26th, TONY DAIGLE teaches BEGINNING PRO TOOLS 5:30-7:00pm then thursday BRAM JOHNSON teaches BEGINNING ILLUSTRATOR 6:00-7:00pm

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

You CAN get there from here! Or, at least you used to be able to.

The story making the trade papers today is that Level 3 Communications is going to apply for some of the broadband stimulus money. That's a good thing and could also be a good thing for Louisiana.

Here's why.

Level 3 owns and operates one of the largest fiber networks in the world. You can download their network map here (PDF).

You'll note on the map that Level 3 has two routes in south Louisiana. The original route runs along I-10. The second route runs a bit north of there along a natural gas pipeline right of way that connects Houston to Atlanta. Going back to the days when I used to map these networks as they rolled out across Louisiana, arguing to the Mike Foster administration that these were the Rivers of Light (PDF) that could produce corridors of opportunity in this state, that second route was built by the Williams Company of Tulsa, OK, and sold when the telecom branch of the firm went bankrupt around the turn of this century.

So, what does this have to do with broadband in Louisiana?

Let's let Level 3 explain:
Edward Morche, senior vice president of the Federal Markets Group for Level 3 Communications, said last week that his company would partner with cable companies, LECs, wireless providers or state and local governments in seeking to offer broadband access in unserved and underserved areas, building off its national network.

“When we built our national fiber optic network, we had to put in regeneration nodes, to re-amplify the signal, in tier 2, tier 3and tier 4 markets,” Morche said. “If you look at where we have those regeneration nodes – and there are about 500 of them – we are looking at a couple of dozen that we could use [to apply for stimulus funding] for the first round.”
At the time this and other networks were built, these regeneration stations were needed about every 35 miles along the network. As you drive along I-10 now, there are two fiber regeneration stations not far from Lacassine. One on the north side; the other on the south side. The station north of I-10 is Level 3's. Each serves a different fiber network but serves the same purpose — generating the light that carries communications signals down the network. Neither Google Maps nor Mapquest provides high enough resolution images to definitively identify those stations through their satellite or aerial formats.

Level 3 has their own regeneration station in Lafayette, located in a LEDA industrial park north of I-10, in a lot adjacent to LUS's cable head end facility. Ironically, Level 3 provides network backbone nationally to Cox Communications.

Qwest Communications owns a lot of fiber in south Louisiana. It's original route runs along the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks. They have a regeneration station in downtown Lafayette that sits across the tracks and towards Johnston from the train station. The next point is about 35 miles down the track.

All of these fiber networks are the same. All of these regeneration stations are the same. Each offers the opportunity to plug into a regional/national/global fiber network.

Had Lafayette Consolidated Government and the Durel administration not agreed to the colossally short-sighted provisions of the Louisiana Local Government Fair Competition Act back in 2004, many other Louisiana communities would now have the opportunity to follow Lafayette into the business of building the networks that for-profit companies do not find profitable enough. How many cities? Back in 2000 I had compiled a list of those Louisiana cities with the access to fiber and other assets that made them prime candidates for such development.

Instead, Lafayette is getting its fiber network. But it erected a high barrier behind it to impede others from taking a similar course.

The price of that short-sightedness is now becoming apparent as Level 3 makes clear that it is willing to open its network at those regeneration points to non-incumbent providers.

Friday, August 07, 2009

WBS: Slick Sam Slade Rides Again...

Governing Magazine has a good story on Lafayette's fiber network: "Bandwidth on the Bayou." The heart of the article is to inform its readership about the obstacles they'll have to overcome if they try and pull down some of the broadband infrastructure stimulus money for their unserved or underserved communities—and Lafayette is their comprehensive example. Apparently we've seen it all!

The tale opens with the Now-famous slick Sam Slade "fast-talking his way through a mock TV commercial comparing an exotic sports car to a bicycle." (The video is embedded in the story or you can travel directly to the YouTube video if you'd like to sample it.) From there you are walked through a very nice history of the fiber network—most of which is the story of incumbent opposition to the community's plan and how Lafayette overcame the obstacles. It makes for a pretty stirring read (if you think public engagement in policy issues is exciting).

Saturday, July 25, 2009

WBS: Lafayette Becoming Most Wired Community in America

What's Being Said Dept.

Geoff Daily over at his blog AppRising has posted "Lafayette Becoming Most Wired Community in America." He touts LUS' speed, price, and our access to a 100 mpbs intranet (and bemoans the price he has to pay for his 10/2 connection — more than I pay for a 50/50). But that's pretty much old hat, the heart of his story lies in a remark that was made at his CampFiber event last week. A Cox rep attending* said that AT&T was planning on bringing U-verse to Lafayette. Add that to Cox launching their very first 5o mbps docsis 3 service here (at a unique discount I might add) and you end up with Geoff's headline. If AT&T does launch U-verse we could at least try to lay claim to the title. Pretty impressive results for our little city which, however much we may love it, has to be seen as a backwater worth ignoring by the big guys...except for the fact that we own our own local fiber utility. Something they do not want to succeed and become examples to other towns that don't care for backwater status. I'm not sure that giving Lafayette the best of everything is the way to make that point but I'm happy enough with the result.

U-verse, as you may be aware, is AT&T's attempt at a "next-generation" network. It's a fiber to the node (FTTN) sort of architecture which involve pushing fiber optics deeper into the network so as to enable a cable-style video experience and higher speeds over the old phone twisted pair copper. The key metric for Lafayette users is that its internet tops out at a laughable 18/1.5 mbps; nowhere near the Lafayette standard of 50 mbps. Of course that's a real step up for AT&T whose physical plant is aging badly but it doesn't hold a candle to the old BellSouth's VDSL-2 plans which had promised 80 mbps down before they sold out to AT&T.

Supposing that AT&T is coming to Lafayette the most interesting question by far is just where. A big chess game with hidden pieces is emerging in Lafayette. LUS is, so far, is only in the city proper. Cox is parish-wide in its available footprint; presumably at least partly to stymie any LUS expansion. AT&T, unlike Cox, is actually available everywhere in the parish. Will it offer the service to the whole parish? Just to Lafayette? Just to Lafayette and the more densely settled towns and newer subdivisions? It makes a lot of difference in the game being played out here for mind share, market share, and profits. If the point is to try and reduce LUS' marketshare in video by providing a third wireline provider then they'll go only to the city and accept that the Lafayette unit will never have the marketshare in a three-cornered market to be remotely as profitable as spending the same money elsewhere. If they want to find a local footing in our regional market where their network is literally 3rd-rate they'll provide their premiere service in the rural areas where Cox and LUS will experience the most difficulty in providing their products. What folks in the region need to realize is that LUS is setting the pace here—and they are benefiting. Normally three providers do not provide real competition on price. Modern corporations will try just about any trick to avoid lowering their profit margins and what is happening across the country where Verizon and AT&T are competing with the cablecos is differentiation of product (speed, bursts, integration, etc.) and an exploitation of the areas in which they do not compete on a block by block basis. (Verizon, in fact, recently raised its FIOS rates.) Cox has lowered its top rate in Lafayette because, and only because, they are faced with a differently motivated competitor who does not want to maximize the profits it extracts from the community. LUS' 20% cheaper policy forces a price cut by giving one. Other parts of the country, like northern Virgina where Cox launched its second 50 mbps service, are not getting cheaper prices.

Frankly, I don't see the business case for AT&T in Lafayette or the parish....so I'm still not convinced that U-verse is coming. I have, from multiple people, heard that an upgrade in the local network has been underway but the Cox guy is the first that I've hear claim U-verse was in the offing anytime soon. He said that it was in fact overdue and that the original schedule had said that it should have already been launched. I've no doubt that network upgrades are underway and have been for some time. But whether they are being done to simply shore up the current network and make Lafayette's plethora of iPhones work a little better or as prep for an immenient U-verse launch hasn't been made clear to my jaundiced eye. I'd love to be told differently. What eagle-eyed readers want to do is look for the tell-tale DSLAM installations. They've excited a lot of trouble with local communities in some places where they are considered huge eyesores. If you see a batch of these big new boxes somewhere let me know.

So...Lafayette may be in line for the nation's most wired; at least in the sense of having multiple, cheap, top-of-their class options available for less.


*Yup, the event was well attended by Cox and AT&T reps, who were mostly extremely reluctant to admit the fact. Fiberina pushed 'em on it. Good for her. :-)

PS...AT&T's big advantage is wireless. If they show up here with a better wireline side sometime soon then expect them to find ways to bundle wireless to give them some sort of lever with local customers. But the wireless side isn't a clear long-term win either. Both LUS and Cox are on record as intending to supply a wireless network. Wireless is a big deal in this three-sided chess game. Expect more on that when I get a little time to write it up.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

WBS: "The Future of the Internet is in Lafayette, Louisiana"

What's Being Said Dept.

A reporter for Governing Magazine has blogged a nice piece on Lafayette's Fiber network. An excerpt:
What if you could hold a video conference from your home? What if your doctor could send your MRI electronically to another of your doctors who needs it? What if you could upload a video of your child's soccer game and send it to grandma in seconds?

...we may all be looking to Lafayette for the future of the Internet.
The post is a teaser for an August story that I'm now looking forward to. It briefly points to the local struggle, to critics of the idea of a city showing such gall, and promises the final story will set out more detail. It's nice to see the positive publicity—and in a place that may well influence other communities to follow our lead.

One caveat: the author talks about the intranet as having "bursted" speeds of 100 mbps. That's a misconception; the up to 100 mbps intranet is a real speed, not a short, temporary burst. I get 95-96 mbps on the intranet in a constant stream. —And with low latency to boot. (Bursting is what Cox does when it gives you a few seconds of higher speed on a large download; it's a widespread cable company extra—and a gimmick allowing advertising I consider deceptive. Cox will not "burst" your video chat or gaming stream. Don't confuse those numbers with real speed.)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

CampFiber Redux

Arrrghh! Just realized I'd failed to mention the latest CampFiber put together by Geoff Daily for this Thursday evening. The focus will be on development and ideas for Lafayette's fiber network. The first event was very interesting and I expect this one to be no less. Also planned for the same day and place: a 7 AM (!) to 5 PM "Jelly"—hang out and work with interesting people at the media room in the Travis Center (better AC than the outside tables at CCs.)

Oh yeah; there'll be more talk afterward as well at some choice watering hole. :-)

As before it'll be hosted by Abacaus and presented at the Travis Technology Center.

CampFiber Redux (Sign up)
Travis Technology Center, 110 Travis St (map)
Thursday 7/16, 5-7 PM

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Google Needs Lafayette

“Give me a place to stand and a lever long enough and I will move the world”

...Archimedes, 220 BC

Google needs Lafayette, and Amsterdam and Vasteras and....any of the fibered-up cities you might care to name. And, of course, Lafayette needs Google. That's been true for some time. But it recently became much clearer. The big news on the internets these last few days has been Google's newly announced Google Chrome OS. Most of the coverage has been predictable and mediocre but more thoughtfully analytical stories have finally begun to appear. (cf. the NYTimes) Even in the better articles the focus is inevitably on Google vs. Microsoft. While that might be understandable given that a battle between the two has become a journalistic stock-in-trade that is used to "explain" every move that either makes it really doesn't seem like the best analytic starting point for understanding what is going on. The fact that Google's OS isn't good for Microsoft is incidental to what Google—and a few other web players—are trying to do aid an ongoing process. Exactly what that process is requires a little explaining:

What's Going On Anyway? The backstory

The world is shifting yet again; this time onto the web from the computer. Not so long ago we moved much of our activity onto the computer —be they mainframes, PDAs, desktops, or laptops. The world shifted from only having physical objects that were unique or functionally identical copies of the unique object (think newspapers) to having perfect digital copies that paradoxically almost infinitely changeable, copyable, and decomposable (think email). The myriad internets focused on finding other computers and on transferring files between them. Mostly you worked on files locally in your own complete environment—even when you were actually a client "your" computer desktop had a separate copy of the document that you worked on. No more: while we struggle to come to grips with the social changes accompanying digitalization we find ourselves undergoing yet another shift off computers and onto the web. This shift widens the scope; it is easy to have a single unique copy that many people alter in addition to single, stable copies and many transforms of the original. That shift promises to make it possible to do our work with less duplication—of files, of storage, and of processing power and promises to pass the savings on to the final user.

Really, it's all about leverage
The world is shifting and Google, with one of the longest levers, is trying to increase its leverage by moving the fulcrum ever closer to the weight it wants to move. The whole point of levers is to move a huge weight with a small force and the closer your fulcrum is to the weight you want to shift the greater you mechanical advantage. [image] The huge weight that Google wants to move is the "dead weight" of the existing paradigm of single, local, users that periodically transfer files. The emerging model is one which shifts toward multiple, distributed users that remain connected to files that are, themselves located in multiple, distributed "places."

The new Google OS is all about building an OS that is optimized for that new environment. Right now we have an operating environment in which we are using a computer/local-user-centric OS to access the web. From the standpoint of web-centric use such OSs are bloated, slathered over with useless "features" and surprisingly anemic when it comes to operating quickly and securely within in the new "always-connected" world.

Note that moving us in this direction is what Google has been from the beginning: making it easy and cheap to move to a web-centric mode of interaction. Google's innovation in web search is all about using web links and web stats to make good guesses about what is sought. That made finding things much easier—and then they made if free...It displaced a hierachical organization (cf. Yahoo's (still extant!) example) arranged by respected experts that more closely resembled the library's Dewey Decimal System or Linneaus' taxonomy than anything that we'd now call search. You can perform pretty much the same analysis for Google Apps, Google Chrome, Android, and, now, the Google OS. Those are all fulcrum points that give Google (and Google's user) additional leverage as we shift the weight of the past. With Google OS that point is very near the center of gravity of the opposing paradigm.... The point here is not that Google does NOT have want to "beat" Microsoft (or Apple or Linux) at any of these tasks. It will be sufficient for the purpose if the new browser or operationg system forces a shift on the rest of the field. It will be quite alright with Google, I suspect, if MS beats them in the browser war as long as the winners all support HTML 5-Ajax-multiple threading and the like. Google will have won if its Apps—and similar web applications that rely solely on nonproprietary foundations—run beautifully on all browsers. It is investing in winning the war; not the battles.

If Microsoft, or Apple, or Linux responds to a Google OS with popular instant-on, secure, web-centric OSs and Google's dies a slow and embarrassing death the larger battle will have been won. And, for my money, that is the most likely outcome. Google to date has done an amazing job of creating the ecology in which it can thrive. Google Search made an impossible-to-navigate complexity suddenly usable—and that encouraged the myriad of small, eccentric, impossible-to-classify sources to find an audience and thrive. That in turn made search ever more dominant and gave Google search the page views it needed to thrive through even the lightest-weight advertising. The old hierarchical web was designed by and for graduate students. The new searchable web is usable by almost anyone who has a vague idea of how a topic is discussed.

Now, back to the topic

Google is leveraging the brutal fact of efficiency, its method is so much more cheaper per person than the oldr way that it can afford to give us significant services for free. We do waste enormous amounts of processor cycles and memory storage. The current system is inefficient by design: We buy memory to store our copy of a file stored (but not easily accessible) in a myriad of other places. How much space do you devote to browser cache alone? We purchase computers with several times the processor power necessary to do what used to be called supercomputing (and was illegal to export only a decade ago). Indeed, much current supercomputer design is consists basically of hooking up many personal computers or even game consoles together through a very fast network. We only very occasionally need the enormous power that is at our fingertips in the current personal computer. Web-based apps and systems do not need to waste anything like that amount of firepower. The difficult, processor-intensive tasks can be done on the web. The big storage can be on the web.

The web is, or can be conceived of as, a big, oddly configured computer. It's got great memory and a great, if wildly distributed, CPU. And it can be radically cheaper to use because of those facts.

But...

The Catch
But, the catch is that the web is great computer that has lousy and expensive I/O by comparison. It is only the beginning of a great computer. You have to be a touch geeky to recognize all three parts of a computer...memory, cpu, and I/O. We are sold computers and parts on the basis of memory and CPU speed; not I/O. I/O is code for input/output. It defines what sort of and, crucially, at what speed, information can flow in and out of the computer. On your personal computer I/O is seldom a bottleneck and its expense trivial. Not so for the web where the I/O is the network itself. On the web I/O IS the bottleneck, always.

Most of Google's initiatives can be conceived of as trying to find ways to minimize the effect of the webs' I/O bottleneck. When we hear talk about running faster or yielding a better user experience that is what is typically where the real bottleneck is. Google Apps, Google Gears, Google Chrome, the Google OS and more are all shaped by getting more out of a slow and expensive connection. They've bee surprisingly successful. (The idea that you can do good word processing over the web is really pretty shocking.) The Google OS is merely the latest and potentially most powerful way to evade that constraint and keep that huge weight moving.

But, really, it's all a sad hack.

Google needs Lafayette, and Amsterdam and Vasteras and....
What Google really needs is for everyone to have better, much better, bandwidth. And damn near no latency too, while you're at it. Google needs Lafayette, and Amsterdam, and Vasteras and every other local fibered-up high-bandwidth network in the world as testbeds to showcase what is really possible. It (and others) need a place with no I/O constraint, with a network that has the quality to take advantage of the infrastructure that it is building and surely wants to extend. It needs to build an on-network cache and server system to explore how it can use a decent I/O network to compliment its current products and develop new ones. It needs real communities to really test those new ideas. (Like Google Wave, which could be launched today in a place with real bandwidth.) Google is creating the conditions for the next big shift. It'd be a pity if like xxx it moved the world only to find that the effort had left in a place where others benefited first and most.

If Google's attempts to move the system can be understood as trying to shift the fulcrum to give them more leverage, promoting big-bandwidth communities might well be likened to making the lever longer...that is what most needs to be changed to really shift the old world to a new place. And Lafayette just might provide that crucial place to stand and use that longer lever.

Lafayette is a special case...
because Lafayette is a campus—it provides 100 mbps of speed, with amazingly low latency, between every household it connects. It's hard to overstate the value of that. What make most great networks less great is, ironically in this context, network effects. In most cases network effects are good [http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/0d/Network_effect.png] things...the value of your phone connection only increases when your neighbors also get one. But if your network is great and other networks that contain the people you want to contact are not then the added value of what you get from a great network is seriously diminished. So Google, with its large suite of apps that emphasize interaction finds it difficult to find a population that has a large enough population to use its products who all have the same fortunate circumstance. Even networks, like Verizon's here in the United States, which have some higher bandwidth tiers sell mostly lower bandwidth tiers. And they do NOT give their customers large bandwidth between themselves. These networks do not form a cohesive pool of high-bandwidth users.

Lafayette's will.

And, wait, there's more! What Vasteras teaches us is that a high-bandwidth community can flip from having most of its traffic connect to places outside of the local community to making most of its connections inside its own network. Various reporters say that 70% to 80% of Vasteras' traffic is internal. That really shouldn't surprise us; it has happened before. When the first phone networks were built they were conceived of as substitutes for the long-distance telegraph and few thought their use would extend beyond the business world. In short order, of course, it became apparent that the people we actually want to talk to are right down the street; those are the people we know. Phone traffic is, and has been for a long time, mostly local and the widespread adoption much less expensive long distance calling has not changed that.

There is no reason to think that a more robust network, one that is rich in ways to communicate will not follow a similar pattern. People want to communicate and trade information with each other, not someone far away.

Lafayette et al. needs Google
Google can make the local network truly valuable, it can significantly erase the negative weight of the old network by locating caches and services on the local network. Local networks like Lafayette's need that support to make their own business case. Such networks would be wise to court Google (and many others, Google here stands for the new web aborning) and to suport the company in its efforts. A partnership would be of enormous value to both sides. And would help in shifting that weight.

So.....
There's a major shift underway; it's hard not to feel everything straining toward that change. But a single constraint keeps the current edifice from falling: Bandwidth. Kick out that constraint and the new web comes into its own. Quickly. There are a few places where that bandwidth constraint is not in place. Those are the places where, with a little judicious midwifery, the new web could be born. And Lafayette shows how the initial densely interconnected communities that would kick-start the process could be developed.

It is a dream. But it is just barely beyond our grasp.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

How Things Work: Louisiana Edition

Long-time LPF blog readers will recall Bill Oliver, the president of AT&T Louisiana with something less than fondness. Oliver was (and is) the man at the helm of AT&T Louisiana that directed the campaign that sought to prevent Lafayette from building its own competitive network. Oliver's signature style in Lafayette was back-room dealing and public bluster. The back-room dealing, at least, he brought to the national level as the Advocate article indicates:
"Another old Jefferson cohort was Bill Oliver, president of AT&T Louisiana in New Orleans. Oliver, who has known Jefferson for 16 years, would go on hunting trips with him, attended the Kentucky Derby with him and once served as king of Washington Mardi Gras, where four of Jefferson’s five daughters served as queens.

When Jefferson asked Oliver to look into iGate and its unique technology of transmitting audio, video and data over copper wire, Oliver agreed out of “a combination of friendship and respect.” The two companies never linked, but Oliver ran the idea by his product representatives for Jefferson, he told the jury.

“It mattered to me that he was a member of Congress and I was reporting back to him,” Oliver said."
The reporter doesn't say if the prosecutors asked who paid for those hunting trips and the Mardi Gras Ball expenses (both peculiarities are traditional forms of influence-peddling in the Gret State). Nor does it note how the trip to Derby was financed. The story's intro does note that Oliver would take trips on the company's Lear jet with Jefferson's wife. It would also be interesting to know if AT&T's "product representatives" actually sold any of the third party iGate tech—and, if so, who got the commissions...

Lagniappe:
Oliver, BellSouth, and the infamous push poll.
Oliver threatens to pull Cingular call center from Lafayettte (twice)
Oliver tries to deny having threatened Lafayette.
Oliver's offers to partner with LUS prove "insincere" as BellSouth launches lawsuit.
Oliver, New Orleans, and Lafayette

Saturday, July 04, 2009

WBS: But Lafayette prevailed

WBS; What's Being Said Dept.

Here's something I missed: Bunnie Reidel, the impresaria over at Telecommunications Consulting posted a nice piece of Lafayette Envy. She leads of with the sorts of news stories that get under the skin of US broadband advocates: the farmer in Japan who likes his 50 mbps broadband; the one about laying fiber in Kenya; the Australians putting together a real national broadband plan (one that involves actual broadband) and then to add to her general frustration:
... it was only last week that I listened to a presentation by Terry Huval of the Lafayette Utilities System on how Lafayette took things into their own hands and built their fiber ring because they knew if they waited for Cox or any other provider to do it right they might as well wait for pigs to fly...
After laying out how much she had to pay for her measly broadband she notes the lower price and higher (symmetrical!) speeds folks in Lafayette can get from LUS. Suffice it to say that for the amount she's paying for a 6 down/1 up connection she could get 30 mbps symmetrical from LUS. Leading her to grumble:
I hate those people in Lafayette.
But then to fairly, if grudgingly explain:
They do have a history of being cranky. Seems in 1896 they decided to build their own electric and water system because they knew there was no way the utility providers would provide water and power any time too soon to what was an outback Cajun village. And they had to fight in the 1940’s to keep the big utility companies from taking over their system. Imagine the hubris of those people in Lafayette! It was déjà vu when they proposed to build their own fiber, and the public overwhelmingly approved the initiative, in 2005. The incumbent cable company that starts with a C and ends with an X, did everything to stop them, including taking a case all the way to the Louisiana Supreme Court. But Lafayette prevailed.
Bunnie, as you might have gathered, is a pretty cranky gal herself. She thinks this is exemplary behavior and recommends it to the FCC as an example of the sort of inspiring broadband "best practices" story that would encourage others to roll out broadband in difficult places.
And I’d like to recommend the first place they start is by putting in a call to Terry Huval in Lafayette. He plays a mean fiddle by the way.
I'm liking the idea that people see us as determined and an example in this way....it's what I'd call a good reputation.

But then, with Bunnie, I'm pretty much the cranky sort.

Treasure Hunt gets digital update in WiFi Venice

Now here is a nifty idea for the first July 16th celebration in Lafayette after the fiber is in and the wifi network built: A city-wide Digital Treasure Hunt with a great back story that gets people to really explore the city.

That's inspired by an article that describes a hunt played in Venice (Italy, you goober, not the fishing port down in Plaquimines) to celebrate the city's finishing a ubiquitous wifi network built on a fiber backbone (they get big wifi speeds). This is the same Venice that has made internet access a birthright by issuing every child a user ID and password entitling them to free Internet access along with their birth certificate. Someone's Seriously thinking ahead over there. They have fun there too...(Carnivale, masking? It's not only a Louisiana thing.)

The idea of the Treasure Hunt, as described on the website, is pretty much what you'd expect with a few twists. Like the Treasure hunt you played as a kid you get a clue that leads you to a place where you can find the next clue and, eventually, solve the puzzle. The three big twists are 1) an engaging narrative, a story that hooks it all together and motivates, 2) exploring the city's more interesting and obscure nooks an crannies and 3) using text messages instead of paper clues. That last allows the maker to work on a larger scale and to do so asynchronously: you don't have to lock yourself into a one-time, hard-to-scale, competition. Instead you can play through at anytime with as many people as you want and you can play it as a non-competitive "experience" game.

It's an idea that can be used to teach folks about the more interesting byways in the place where they live and to help tourists get intimate with the place they are visiting. Once the infrastructure was up (and ubiquitous wifi would really help) it's easy to imagine different games promoting different aspects of the community (Zydeco, French language, food, Festivals, charities...) and using different themes (Old South, Cajun, Mystery, Sci Fi, Dave Robiceaux novels...) Lots of fun..especially for the person/s creating the games. Any of our fun-loving/creative types up for the task?

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Nifty New Intranet Speed Test

Wow
LUS has launched a nifty new intranet speed test page. It tests the speed of the intranet portion of LUS' internet offering. (And you can only get to it if you are already on the network.) The decision to treat all of Lafayette as a "campus" to make the full speed of the local network available to all subscribers—regardless of what they pay—is probably the most unique and impressive aspect of LUS' service. It results in a single very high speed community within Lafayette of 100 mbps of service. Whether you buy into the lowest speed package or the highest one; whether you are the mayor or plain Joe Citizen you get 100 mbps to talk to your fellows on the network. That's something to be proud of both technically and socially...Campus networks are typically something you can only find within large college campuses or the "campus" of large corporations like Microsoft.

That 100 mbps is the technical limit of the hardware currently in use (as I understand it) and techy types here have always been curious as to how close LUS can get to that limit. For instance for 100 mbps "fast" etherenet—ethernet being the usual reference standard for networking—is theoretically capable of 100 mbps but in real-world situations achieving 80 mbps consistently is considered good by the technical sorts that administer these things.

On that score LUS must be working with some good engineers...I got 94 mbps out of my connection on this test:


What's more its rock-steady...look at the tiny variations in the blue speed line over the test:


But the most surprising part of the above speed graph is that inconspicuous red line right at the bottom...1 ms of "delay" aka "latency." That's every bit and maybe more surprising than getting so close to the 100 mbps barrier. Latency is crucial in making next-generation interactive audio and visual applications work well. If you want to actually talk to and see someone in real time it is crucial—and is seperate from simple "speed" which might better be described for these purposes as "capacity." You need the transit time from you to the person you are talking to and back to you to be as low as possible. You do need enough speed/capacity for good video resolution and audio; but you also need a very quick response--you need low latency to make the whole experience worthwhile. (You've recall those nice clear pictures of on-scene reporters from the other side of the world talking to show's anchor. You also recall those long pauses and akward starts and stops? That's the latency part.) 1 ms of delay is astounding. Even more astounding the absolutely flat line in that graph—every point reports at 1 ms—indicates that 1 ms is simply the lower bound of this testing setup. LUS' delay varies somewhere below 1 ms. The company that designed the software clearly didn't think that it needed to ever worry about reporting delay any smaller and so is reporting all delay below 1 ms as "1 ms." LUS has confounded the expectation that delay below 1 ms isn't practical. Wow again.

So, in its summary, the software tries to tell you what your connection is good for...and in this case the decision rendered has to sound like a laconic understatment:

With 94 mbps and and at 99% consistency the service is "high enough to support a high quality" voice conversation is a vast understatement. That's enough to support, without strain due to the connection, an HD video conversation....or several. Within the network you simply won't have to worry about the network limits on what you can do. These limits are far beyond what the current hardware and software is designed to handle. —The falsely high report of 1 ms from this test software is an example of how really high speed/high quality networks expose that weakness.

Looking For A Downside
In fact that hints at the dark lining on our silver clound: We've gotten so far ahead of the curve that we are finding new choke points—choke points that few others have to worry about. In practice the most serious choke points are usually local—in the last mile network or in your ISP's regional feeder system that supplies that last mile. Server delay sometimes figures in to a slow-loading page but is usually transient. The people who run the popular servers know that slow-loading pages drives the traffic they want away and fix any issues that might arise. Even rarer is within-premise delay. Your local network has typically been so much faster than what your ISP supplies at the wall of your house that misconfigurations and out-of-date hardware don't effect your perceived speed.

But with the sorts of speeds that LUS is providing, especially on the intranet, all these formerly unimportant server issues and local network messes suddenly become the new bottleneck. For instance: I've noted before that I haven't felt obliged to upgrade my WiFi to the newer, faster N standard because I simply couldn't get enough real bandwidth from Cox for two of us to saturate my wifi's ability to push bits. That's no longer true. The 94 mbps that I got above was what I got when I connected directly to LUS' ethernet connection. When I tried the same thing through my WiFi my connection dropped to 44 mbps. I lost half of my available speed! Frankly, I'm not upset—my current WiFi hardware is set up as an a/g network. When I tested it both my wife and I had connections open. The theoretical limit of an a/g setup is 54 mbps and and the typical achieved rate is about 22 mbps. My setup is working fine. It's just old-fashioned. I need to segment the network leave my wife's old laptop connected to an a/g node which is all her 'puter can handle and connect mine to the N version. (hey! Don't look at me like that. I tried to get her a new laptop. She won't let go of the one she has.) 802.11 n is supposed to get, in practical situations, 144 mbps...plenty enough for now.

When I talked to LUS about this they said they've had a lot of issues with routers not being able to push LUS's speeds out to the laptops. This problem emerges not only in old a/g wifi routers and even some N ones but more surprisingly also over the ethernet ports in some of those routers. (Pure 10/100 ethernet routers can generally handle the speeds on wired networks, I'd presume. My wifi router, an Apple Time Machine, happily doesn't have the weakness some combined routers do but you should check yours if you use any ethernet.) So...all that speed is going to put pressure on our creaky local area networks (LANs). It's my intention to rewire my house with cat 6 wiring and install a new gig ethernet (1000 mbps) router—all our working puters can use that speed. And since I've now got the speed I'm gonna trade out the old WiFi and put in new ethernet connections to my nifty new LUS box, media computer, the newer TiVo, my PS3, and hey the TV has an ethernet port, why not? (The day is coming soon when I'll video conference on my big screen TV with folks here in Lafayette...) They'll join my printer and kid/server 'puter on the faster wired network.

So...Lafayette, the good news is that you've got a fantastic network to use—at astonishing prices too. The bad news, such as it is, is that you'll have to start paying some attention to your end of the connection for probably the first time in your life. There might be some work involved.

I'm kinda enjoying having that kind of "problem." :-) Have fun!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Once You Go Broadband, You Never Go Back"

Apparently people in these hard times economize on other things...but broadband well, that's necessary:
"the survey found that while only 9% of Americans said they had canceled or cut back on online service, 22% said they had canceled or cut back on cable TV, and 22% said they had canceled or cut back on cell phone service."

"People are willing to shave premium services from their cable and services from their cell phones before they're willing to cut back on broadband," ... "Once you have broadband, you never go back, apparently."
That should help convince the doubters that broadband is a utility.

—from the latest Pew survey as reported by MediaPost.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

LUS Fiber's First Commercial Customer Goes Live

The headline is pretty much the story: "LUS Fiber's First Commercial Customer Goes Live." The Independent reports that Lafayette Convention and Visitors Center (LCVC) has taken a 50 meg symmetrical service for $119.50. They like it; Breaux, LCVC Director Breaux is reported as having said:
"Unbelieveable,” he says. “It’s been a major difference [in speed] and the whole group at LUS has been incredibly cooperative to get this whole thing going.” Plans are already in the works for a media event or open house demonstration of the service at LCVC. “We want everyone to come in and see how great it really is."
The IND notes that having only a single business customer is part of LUS Fiber's perhaps wise but surely frustrating measured roll-out strategy:
This follows LUS’ slow rollout strategy that allows it to carefully monitor and work out any service issues before expanding its clientele.
Ok, so that makes sense. Still. We want our fiber.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Set Tops Boxes...yet more

The set top box follies is turning into a long-running show. The latest show is back in Washington where the FCC has just issued a waiver to a cable company for their new set top box. The new waiver joins other recent decisions that mark a continued retreat on the part of the FCC from enforcing its long-standing "rule" that demanded that providers of cable services separate security from navigation. This was supposed to fix things so that you could go out and buy a set top navigation box made by a third party like TiVo and use the provider's security apparatus to make sure you weren't stealing service you hadn't paid for. It's a good idea—put the FCC has never consistently enforced it and in recent years has backed off requiring the cable card technology that it once relied on to provide the security end. The new waiver significantly extends the latest rationale for setting aside its own rules:

The Federal Communications Commission on Tuesday granted a three-year waiver to Evolution Broadband for two low-cost set-top boxes that do not include CableCards -- a blanket exemption to the so-called "integration ban" that could pave the way for cable operators to deploy much less expensive set-tops.

The sub-$50 devices from Evolution Broadband covered under the waiver are one-way "limited-capability devices" that provide integrated security, referred to in the industry as digital terminal adapters. The boxes convert digital signals to analog format and don't provide advanced functions like digital video recording.

Under the waiver, Evolution Broadband is allowed to provide the set-top units to any cable operator. The FCC reached the decision May 28 and issued the order Tuesday.

"It's pretty clear -- it's an unlimited waiver," John Egan Sr., chairman of Evolution Broadband, said in an interview with Multichannel News. "It's something the industry should have done years ago."

There are a couple of interesting things about the waiver. First, as the article indicates it is effectively an unlimited waiver for the alternate technology: anyone with the need can by one of these cheaper boxes and deploy it. That's opens the floodgates pretty wide and skirts the edge of simply repealing the rule; albiet in favor of a single company—a favor that can't long be reserved for one maker. Note, too, that LUS' request for exemption is also about money—their application notes that the technology is simply not available at any cost for the Lafayette network and that LUS can't afford to develop the technology on its own.

Another interesting thing, especially in light of Cox's opposition to LUS' waiver, is the way that the involvement of the American Cable Association highlights Cox's purely mercenary motives in opposing Lafayette's waiver. The cable industry as a whole (not excluding Cox) has benefited by repeated extensions of waivers and the ACA is quick to laud any exemption for its members. (See also another recent waiver for a cable company.) Cox's opposition has nothing to do with principle or even self-interest in the broader sense-it has demanded and received similar waivers for its own operations. It's opposition is purely about trying to game the FCC to gain a momentary advantage in one small city in south Louisiana.

Set top boxes are interesting (they are!) because of the critical position they occupy in the video/cable ecology. Everything passes through the set top box and as the number of channels expands and the sources of video multiply—think Amazon or Netflix—the capacity and openness of the set top box has profound implications for how the "broadcasting" industry evolves. In general Cox and other incumbents are hoping to control the experience (and dollars) of users by controlling the box. They want to own the box and use it to promote everything from Pay Per View to security services to its own controlled versions of internet downloads. They also want to make sure that you don't simply start watching your shows through net-based services like Hulu and Netflix. And they want to make extra-sure that the set top box doesn't evolve your TV screen into another, bigger montior to simply switch your attention over to the internet; a competing media that is already cutting deep into the "eyeballs" that are needed to support the "cable" services that all players count on for revenue.

Freeing the set top box from the constraints of the cable/broadcast model would be hugely beneficial. Especially if it leads to erasing the wall between the cable service and the internet service. That's what incumbent providers most fear. LUS is unique on this continent for having opened a crack in that wall by making internet service directly available through its set top box and onto the screen. You can read wikipedia (alibeit pretty clunkily) in your house in Lafayette with NO computer and that is the real value—and threat—behind LUS' use of the set top box.


NOTE: I've been repeating a mistake for quite a while on this blog that is related to the set top box issue: LUS cable service is not translated from digital to analog at the wall of the house. Instead it's translated from digital into analog at the headend and sent on its own wavelength of light to side of the house where its combined with data signals from the internet side and piped over the coax to your set top box or TV. I'm not sure of how to understand this distinction; when you get deep into the tech and physics the line between analog and digital can get pretty blurry—especially when you're talking of going from digital to analog and back and layering together purely digital and "made analog" signals on the same pipe. I've been promised a clearer explanation of the new description of how things work. And when I get it I'll pass it on.