Thursday, January 29, 2009

"LUS fiber means strong growth"

This morning's Advertiser editorial lauds Lafayette's Fiber to the Home project. It offers well-deserved high fives to Durel and LUS as movers in the project but neglects the central role played by citizen support and activism...ah well:
The path has not always been smooth, but the Lafayette Utilities System and the Durel administration have been victorious in regard to the legal scuffles and citizen opposition.
This simple formulation oddly erases the often mean-spirited and widely resented opposition of the incumbent cable and phone companies that was the real pivot point of the fight and ignores the kudos Lafayette has received worldwide for taking on the incumbents—and winning. The NATAO Broadband Hero award Durel won and the Advertiser proudly cites was, in fact, focused on just that bravery. That sentence also rewrites history in another way: Citizen opposition? Real citizen opposition was extremely limited throughout the referendum fight. The four Fiber 411 guys were pretty much the only visible opponents and their visibility was largely a creation of the media who needed someone to play the role of "she" in the "he said, she said" narrative structure of the newspaper article. (I've flogged this horse before. See: "How LUS Beat the Big Guys" )

Economic Development
The Advertiser gets it largely right, however, when it points out that utility revenues and cheaper prices aren't the real point:

While generating revenue is essential to paying off the bonds and keeping up with constantly changing technology, revenue is not the basic goal.

Competition will result in better rates, but as desirable as that is, it is still not the focal point of the administration vision. The vision is one of technological leadership that will result in explosive economic growth.

Economic growth is certainly the basic emphasis of the City-Parish and motivates a substantial amount of citizen support—especially among the business community. Economic growth in the guise of "Keeping our Children Home" was a major element in the winning referendum campaign as well. The fiber project, before it has even launched, has already paid dividends in both national prestige/mindshare and in actual jobs in both the private and the public sectors.

Human & Community Development
But there is another, perhaps even larger, potential that goes beyond the immediacies of revenue and frugality or even simple economic development. Lafayette will soon be in the possession of a community-owned fiber to the home network that has few rivals world-wide. This will, potentially, make Lafayette's people into a unique community with the widespread ability to access affordable (rather than forbiddingly expensive) connectivity. Everyone on the data network will have a minimum of 10 megs of symmetrical capacity—and a full 100 megs of peer to peer connectivity. What's important about that is not the technical specs but the human and community ones: Lafayette's network
  1. will be available to everyone,
  2. will have a lower price and hence greater potential for widespread adoption higher, and last,
  3. has enourmous capacity for communication between citizen-owners, and
  4. most importantly, WE will own and control this network and be able to use if for the benefit of the community, not for the profit of outside owners,.
These are the qualities that level the real challenge: to do something with this rich potential to ratchet the very definition of community up a notch. We've made a fair start: both the 100 meg intranet and the use of settop boxes as internet devices can be traced back to citizen-suggestions and pressure. On the evidence it seems LUS and LCG is able to listen. We can make a real difference. So...

What is next? What can we do to improve our community? There is no one else in the world that can answer those questions for us.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

More Expensive than Hurricanes

Having lavished some ink on Cox today it only seems fair to give a little attention to AT&T, Lafayette's other incumbent friend in this digtial age.

An article in Multichannel News reports on AT&T's slowdown in builidng out its "fiber to the node" network. FTTN is the half-measure that was supposed to be the less costly but adequate reply to Verizon's more capable fiber to the home rebuilding program.

AT&T's strategy isn't working and it is scaling back its investment:
AT&T tacked on 264,000 U-verse TV subscribers in the fourth quarter of 2008, but video and other growth areas were more than offset by dropping wireline voice connections, and the telco also said it would scale back capital spending on building out the U-verse network.
That's really no surprise and the scuttlebut about U-verse pullbacks has been going on all year. But what really caught my eye was the following:
the telco said costs associated with subsidizing sales of the popular iPhones reduced pretax fourth-quarter earnings by approximately $450 million. Costs related to hurricanes, by comparison, reduced pretax earnings by approximately $120 million.
Really!? In a year that boasted major storms Fay, Gustav, and Ike making landfall in its territory the iPhone ate into its (still substantial) profits more than hurricanes? I bet the denizens of Houston, Lake Charles and Baton Rouge are going to be surprised. Especially as the people of the gulf coast states shoulder the burden of making up those "losses" for AT&T. There's a grim oblique humor in this sort of thing that the residents of Louisiana south of the interstate have grown to savor. (The iPhone has earlier been lauded in these pages a great NAD and digital divide device...)

Still, hasn't the iPhone been a great thing for AT&T? If my life is any indication it has been...I was at one of those geeky/food/socials for an out of town tech maven that seem to be a Lafayette trademark on Sunday and once people started calling around for early-season crawfish the woman at the end of the table looked around and remarked that 7 of the 8 attendees had pulled out iPhones. Even six months ago there'd have been a healthy mix of Blackberries and CE machines in the mix. No longer. And apparently that's not far out the ordinary:

AT&T hung its subscriber numbers on the board this morning: 2.1 million Net Gain in Wireless Subscribers in the fourth quarter and…1.9 million Apple iPhone 3G activations.

That’s worth pausing a moment to consider one more time: 1.9 million Apple iPhone 3G activations – in the fourth quarter alone...

The iPhone was a rival killer – About 40 percent of the customers carrying the device that Steve Jobs built (so to speak) are new customers to AT&T. How many used to send their monthly bills to Sprint, Verizon or T-Mobile USA?

Even wth the estimated 325-425 dollar subsidy that AT&T apparently lays out that's surely a good thing for the company.

In the long term.

And therein lies the irony for this resident of Lousiana's flood plain who has been primed for a little grim humor by the earlier news about the iPhone being more expensive for AT&T than our hurricanes. You see, what AT&T is doing is smart, modestly daring business: it is spending money upfront on the promise of getting all those high-margin, big-spending iphone customers for the long time. But it is, almost certainly, losing serious money on the front side and cross-subsidizing this venture with revenue from other aspects of its far-flung empire.

AT&T in its earlier guise as BellSouth was responsible for writing the law that denies Lafayette's local utility, LUS, the ability to make a similar smart decision to bear upfront losses for long-term gains. There was a lot of preening and huffing and puffing about "cross-subsidization" by AT&T lobbyists and regional vice presidents as if that were some sort of bad thing. As if the money that AT&T realized from its monopoly on landline telephones hadn't cross-subsidized its move into the expensive wireless regime that now is its the engine of its growth.

It's darkly funny. I guess.

Cox Steps Into It: Network Neutrality Returns

Cox has stepped into the glare of the net neutrality limelight with its new policy, announced yesterday afternoon, on bandwidth throttling.

Succinctly: Cox has decided that it knows best which of your network activities is "time sensitive" and which ones are not. And it intends to force its ideas on your use of the bandwidth for which you've paid.

Initial Reaction
Unsurprisingly, reaction has been negative. Om Malik of GigaOm sez:
Who is Cox to decide that a certain FTP transfer is not time sensitive, or that some software update is not time sensitive? More importantly, why should consumers trust cable companies, whose record of giving customers the short end of the stick is pretty well known?...

Unfortunately, as long as we have this comfortable duopoly in the broadband market, we the broadband consumers are going to have suffer from these kind of practices as we don’t have much of a choice. Hopefully a post-Kevin Martin FCC will be more citizen-friendly, and will act promptly against Cox and other traffic shapers.
The Free Press, epicenter of the net neutrality battle in Congress, similarly remarks:
"The lesson we learned from the Comcast case is that we must be skeptical of any practice that comes between users and the Internet.

"As a general rule, we're concerned about any cable or phone company picking winners and losers online. These kinds of practices cut against the fundamental neutrality of the open Internet. We urge the FCC to subject this practice to close scrutiny and call on Cox to provide its customers with more technical details about exactly what it's doing."
This will clearly be the first contentious issue to come before the new FCC and it is surely no accident that the strategy is announced at the moment when the agency is being reorganized and will find reacting quickly difficult.

Some Background
Hovering in the background of this story is series of failures on the part of Comcast the nation's largest, and hence most visible, cable company to extend the industry's privileged position in regard to regulation. (Cable companies have historically been much more lightly regulated than their competitors the telephone companies.) What Comcast failed to secure was the "right" to inspect your bits and to discriminate against bits it didn't like—especially P2P protocols. In doing so it ran up against the long-established ideals of common carriage. A common carrier is not allowed to discriminate in what it carries...it is not allowed to charge some loads of coal more than others nor to give some customers privileged service by delivering their coal first. Comcast was asserting the right to treat some bits differently based on the protocols that governed them.

The FCC came down on Comcast and in the ensuing back and forth Comcast, and the cable industry, got a huge black eye in public opinion as is evidenced by the qoutes above.

Cox steps into it
So Cox is deliberately taking up the network neutrality fight by declaring a new policy and is hoping to do a better job of it for the industry than the #1 guy. What's not so well know, but was cited in the story-breaking AP account, is that Cox has also been doing exactly what Comcast has been castigated for attempting:

Comcast is fighting the FCC's ruling in court, but has abandoned its congestion management system in favor of one that doesn't discriminate between different types of traffic. It has also abandoned secrecy and revealed details on how the new system works.

Tests conducted by the Max Planck Institute for Software Systems in Germany indicated last year that Cox was using the same discriminatory network management system that Comcast employed then. Cox never revealed the details of its system but said it used "protocol filtering," a principle also used by Comcast.

Further testing by the Max Planck Institute indicated that Cox cut back sharply on its use of the old congestion system in August, and that it was shut down by January.

Cox, apparently, is not willing to follow Comcast in a shift away from discrimination based on protocol to one based on the particular customers who actually use the most bandwidth. Instead it is trying to recast the issue in terms of "time sensitive" and "time insensitive" categories of protocols. (Cox, by all accounts, uses the same equipment (from a company called Sandvine that Comcast has; a technology that engages in deep packet inspection to try and discern the protocols used to transfer bits and other traits.) But whereas Comcast has been remarkably open about what it is trying to do since being spanked by the FCC and public opinion Cox appears to firmly set on the path continued obfuscation and misdirection. In its FAQ on the topic it says:
Our past practices were based on traffic prioritization and protocol filtering. This new technique is based on the time-sensitive nature of the Internet traffic itself, and we believe it will lead to a smoother Internet experience with fewer delays.
This is nonsense. Honestly. Past practices are present practices. The FAQ directs your attention to the categories of protocols that Cox has created (time sensitive and insenstive) and away from the raw fact that all that is being done is that Cox has grouped some protocols into one pile and some into another and is discriminating against more than one protocol at a time. Protocols in the disfavored pile include: P2P (the one that got Comcast in trouble), usenet, and FTP. All of this requires deep packet inspection—Cox examining your data to determine what's in it—then deciding what is and isn't important and slowing down those that it thinks aren't important enough to get speedy service.

The confusing discussion that will ensue.......
I expect that all this will be recast by commentators, as soon as they get it together today, as a fork in the road betwen "caps" a la Comcast and "management" a la Cox. No. The real issue is congestion—the slowdown that comes when too many users are clogging the internet; usually in the local "last mile." Comcast is essentially telling some of its biggest users that they are using an unfair amount and "capping" their use at 250 gigs a month in the hopes that will serve to make congestion bearable. Cox, in contrast, is saying that some protocols deserve better service and is slowing others in its attempt to make its congestion less visible by passing the slowdown off to less important (in its view) uses.

What the first wave of comment0rs will be ignoring is that Cox also caps usage. It is much less transparent about how much incurs its wrath—it apparently differs by location and even then is not applied consistently. (In Las Vegas, for instance, the cap is 60 gigs on its 12 Mbps tier...much more restrictive than Comcast's more highly publicized and decried version.) So while Cox can be the newest villan in the the protocol arena of the network neutrality fight it cannot be cast as a hero to those who are disturbed about the implications of bandwidth caps. You can rest assured that if Cox succeeds in its current strategy Comcast will follow it into using both caps and "management" to restrict its users. The industry is not offering an either/or...this is an "in addition to" effort.

But the confusing discussion around caps and management will serve the incumbents as a whole by presenting the policy community with a Hobson's choice between two objectionable "solutions" to the problem of congestion. There is a third choice, a better choice, that doesn't involve picking either of the industry's favorite children.

A Third Way
Commentators (and policy-makers) would be better served by focusing on the actual problem: The real issue is congestion. The real solution is to directly address the undersupply of bandwidth that is the root cause of congestion. A congested network is, almost by definition, one which is under-engineered and so cannot handle the traffic demands that its users put on it. The real solution to the real problem is to fix that...to put in place a network which can handle the traffic and one which can easily, quickly, and cheaply be upgraded to handle downstream increases in demand.

It is no accident that I find it easy to reject the choice offered by Cox and Comcast. It is largely a product of where I happen to live. Lafayette's citizens are in a good position to see that there is a solution which doesn't involve making selections between false choices presented by the incumbents that seek to get concessions from the public in order advance their interests instead of actually taking the costly and admittedly risky business of fixing what is broken. Lafayette's new network, built explicitly to provide with the capacity the community believed was necessary for its future, is about to take on its first customers.

There are ways for the country as a whole to address the bandwidth/congestion issue directly without simply building an new network as Lafyette and other impatient communities have done. Regulators can do something as simple as setting standards on the advertising that currently allows companies to grossly overstate the amount of bandwidth they can reliably provide—buying a 12 meg tier seldom means that you can reliably get 12 megs. Simply require a truth in advertising standard of some sort: say that you have to actually be able to provide the advertised speed 98% of the time and that you must monitor and report your performance on a node by node basis to the FCC. If you fail to provide such speeds then you must rebate to your customers a per cent of their bill for the months in which the undersupply occurred. Performance standards like this used to be de rigeur for telephones back in the days before deregulation. They motivated the phone company to build the world's best phone system.

The almost inevitable consequence of this and other regulatory methods of demanding better service (why not make symmetrical up and down speeds a service standard?) would clearly and cleanly set a framework for rational behavior on the part of the incumbents. [An aside: for a good, current, take on why competition is never enough in some situations see Harold Feld's latest.]

What you could expect would be rational economic behavior that would drive
  1. telephone companies to follow Verizon's lead in building out a new FTTH network capable of dealing with today's demands. Verizion is unquestionably the smartest actor in the field. It is now well understood that Verizon has succeeded in what was initially judged a risky venture by the capital markets.
  2. the cable companies to push fiber much closer to the home and to restructure their use of bandwidth to supply fewer channels and more switched digital and raw bandwidth to customers.
  3. areas which have poor competitors in these categories—or who don't want rely on national policy to secure their futures—to build their own FTTH networks. As Lafayette has done.
Cox is, frankly, a bad actor on the national stage as it has been here in Lafayette. The country would be wise to reject the false choices currently being offered and to find a concrete, direct way to insist on more, and more reliable, bandwidth.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

More than 1 billion

JustANote

The world internet audience just topped 1 billion...

The reference world population: near 5 billion*


What's that mean? Damn if I know. Seems significant though.







*based on the 6.7 billion recent rough estimate and subtracting out the under 15 age group which is excluded from the the 1 billion estimate. CIA Fact Book: World

Monday, January 26, 2009

Network Testing & Testers

A second story fiber story on today's front page is "LUS testing network as date of launch nears." The focus is on the system's beta testers—folks who are getting to test out the currently available setup and services. I'm sure that's both fascinating and frustrating and hope that someone will tell the tale of their trials and tribulations after the system launches. LUS is getting valuable information about both the technical end of the service and about how people get tangled up in the new offerings. I'm not sure which would be more valuable.
"These citizens agreed to help us test our systems knowing we would frequently interrupt their services to add and adjust the features needed on our system before we can begin commercial operations," Huval said...

"We're getting positive responses, and some suggestions," he said. "It's also training for us so we can learn how customers will ask questions and what information they need."
There's also the proviso, repeated often of late, that the main holdup at this point is contracts to fill out the channel lineup. That's been an issue for a while now. In the background is a complex set of issues about two different coops for securing channel contracts, the temporary closing of one of those coops to new members and LUS decision to forge on by cutting its own, separate deal with suppliers. In many cases, evidently, that's lead to good deals but its a slow and painful process—and one that leads to a mesh of differing constraints on what they can and can't do that may lead to difficulties downstream.

"LUS continues to build a fiber workforce"

The Advertiser this morning runs two front page stories on the fiber project in advance of expected news on the network later this week. The boldface, above the fold headline is "LUS continues to build a fiber workforce." That article is pretty much a bare-bones list of project costs. The most interesting bit in the article is a listing of some of the good-paying workman-level jobs:

Of the employees, five are fiber optics technicians who make anywhere from $22.71 to $25.14 per hour. There are also four communication network technicians, all of whom make around $18 an hour.

There also are two customer service supervisors, one of whom is paid $27.25 per hour and the other who is paid $23.12 per hour. Two communications customer service representatives are each paid $14.16 per hour.

The printed version of the story (but not the online one) contains what looks to be a listing of all hourly wages of the division's 47 current employees. The 14.16/hr is the lowest paying job on the list.

Those are good jobs—steady, good-paying Lafayette jobs. Folks should be reassured that the community network will produce a core of good-paying high-tech jobs in Lafayette solely on the basis of maintaining the network.

The rest of the story is pretty much a recounting of the contract costs. Again, the printed version has a long listing of the contract amounts and a sketchy label telling what the company supplies.

I can wish for more complete reporting....what's missing is any context, any background, any education of the public. Providing such is the civic purpose of any newspaper.

For instance, about wages: How much money do these wages add up to? It's common in businesse reporting to report on the total wages that a new company will bring into the local economy. Are these wages comparable to the others in the industry? To wages paid by local competitors like Cox and AT&T. How many employees of Cox and AT&T are based in Lafayette? (If the private providers refuse to reveal such information that too should be part of the reporting.)

Or about contracts: A sentence or two of background on the low-bid law governing the awarding of contracts might be useful as would be some indication of just how specialized the work is and how large this project is. This is a big enough network that there are really few companies world-wide that could tackle it. The specialized network equipment—like the IP-capable Customer Premise Equipment (CPE) is likewise only available in the large quantities required from a few companies with world-wide reach.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

"LUS’ superfast fiber"

The Advocate published an article, LUS's Superfast Fiber, this morning as its way of marking the imminent launch of LUS Fiber. I'm pleased to report that it didn't focus on pricing and marketing details but instead chose to explore "what the new system could mean for the community."

The top of the story looks at internet speeds:
The fastest connection offered by LUS will be 50 Mbps for a standalone cost of $58 — a speed available in few markets and generally costing more than twice as much.

Connection speeds from customer to customer on the fiber system within Lafayette will be at 100 Mbps, regardless of which connection plan a customer buys.

“100 megs peer-to-peer is mind-blowing,” said John St. Julien, a retired education professor who was part of a grass-roots push for a publicly owned fiber optic system.

It’s so fast that few people see a present need for such speed, which makes it all the more interesting for people like St. Julien.

“The part that I can’t imagine is what I’m most excited about,” he said.
A couple of caveats: As I understand it the 50 meg speed is simply the highest standard tier...if you want more, you can talk to LUS about it. I expect they'll eventually get around to standardizing a policy on such. LUS' standard Customer Premise Equipment (the box on the side of the house) tops out at 100 megs at the default internet port but conceiveably that could be doubled by using the second port currently reserved for video traffic.

The 100 megs is indeed mind blowing...and it's less the speed than the fact that it will be symmetrical which will make interactive, participatory conversations the equal of one-way passive experiences which predominate on our cable and internet media. Right now the quality of passive intertainment and communication far outstrips the quality of active ones because upload speed are a small fraction of download speeds. But we humans much prefer conversation...as is evidenced by the fact that we made texting a surprise essential on cell phones, greedily tolerate cell phone quality audio to continue talking to friends and loved ones on the go, and that (amazingly) email remains the killer app of the internet and the one factor that moves those still offline into the digital realm. LUS' symmetrical connections makes what we really want —a human connection— an equal player and I fully expect that we'll find ways to mashup community experiences as soon as we have the bandwidth to make such dreams possible. For instance, I can imagine serving up a high-def video out my local cache to a couple of households around town (say a Northside championship game?) onto nice big TV screeens while holding video chat play-by-plays with four or five special buddies on our laptops. In the background my wife commiserates with their wives in a separate video chat. (The social dynamics remain the same. :-) ) Could that swallow up some bandwidth? Is it technically possible now? Yes...yes indeed. If we had the bandwidth. And that's only the start. Classrooms, good classrooms, are good conversations and tech-enabled teaching will only flourish when tech-enabled conversation is a rich equal to passive teaching designs.

But as mind-blowing as that much symmetrical speed is there's more.....everyone, everyone, who purchases internet service from LUS will be able to communicate at that unheard-of speed. This punches up the value for all. The fancy academic term for this is "network effects." The classic example is telephones: when one in a thousand has a phone it's almost useless. But when we all have phones and cell phones disembodied, at-a-distance speech no longer seems magical and has become a natural, inevitable, even inescapble part of our everyday life. LUS' brilliance lies in incorporating that bandwidth in all net services at a very low price...in making it ubiquitous they make their cheap connections much more valuable than by merely making them fast. When one in a thousand has interoperable video phones the things are a silly curiousity...but when everyone gets access to such service they suddenly have huge utility.

100 megs of symmetrical, uniformly available, connections is really amazing and the fact that we can't imagine all the details of how we will use them doesn't mean that the emergence of such uses isn't as inevitable as hurricanes in September.

Of course, the story does do some imagining of its own:
At any of the speeds offered by LUS, regular media downloads would be exceptional, multiuser video games on the Internet would flow smoothly, video conferencing would be a more pleasant experience, and interactive virtual classrooms would seem a real possibility.

Huval imagines a city where working at home becomes easier for folks who deal with the types of massive computer files that have trouble squeezing through residential Internet connections.
Video gaming is currently the driver pushing both hardware and network speed and quality forward. Lafayette will soon be the premiere place for tournaments and the local hotelier, gaming outlets, and conference centers really ought to be gearing up now.

Burgess' exploration of possibilities ends at a review of the digital divide potential of LUS' set-top boxes.
LUS Fiber customers will be able to access e-mail and the Internet without a computer through a basic Internet browser programmed into the TV set-top box.

A customer could plug a keyboard into the set-top box or navigate the Internet through arrow keys on the remote control and type with a virtual keyboard that pops up on the television screen.

Huval said he is aware of no other system in the United States that allows Internet access through the television.

LUS Fiber will be built out in phases, with the first phase including the area east of Evangeline Thruway and in the Johnston Street corridor from University Avenue past the Mall of Acadiana.
The set-top box solution will surely push internet access into more homes than any conceivable alternative way to connect to the internet. These features are built into current set-top boxes but are so seldom activated by private for-profit corporations that they haven't been upgraded. Consequently they are underpowered by the measure of most advanced users. But they do allow access to those parts of the web that motivate adoption: email and simple browsing. With luck (and work) the next generation will be more capable and these devices will prove bridges to more robust access. None of that should take away from the fact that LUS is actually doing three VERY substantial things to close the digital divide: 1) lowering prices, 2) offering a much faster, more robust service for that price, and 3) offering a no-additional-price way to get on the network.

Why Lafayette?
It's a great thing, all in all, and the doubter in us all has to ask: why here? Why does Lafayette get such great stuff? Well the short, prideful answer is that we fought for it. Where other cities backed off scared of the battle or were defeated in the fight Lafayette refused to back off and, in fact, waged an aggressive, scarring battle with the incumbent carriers. So vigorous was the fight that by the time the vote was held the incumbents had largely ceded the field. But that is only a part of the answer as to "why in Lafayette, La?" The rest has to do with the fact that this network is local and publically owned. People, regular citizens, fought for a real digital divide program. Regular, local, geek-types and businessmen insisted that a full-throttle intranet was both possible and desireable and made themselves irritating enough that the possibility was really explored—and found to be perfectly feasible after all.

The secret sauce in Lafayette is local, public ownership with responsive leadership. The sort of ownership that makes its citizen/owners believe they have a real stake and real influence. As long as those factors remain LUS has a bright future and its citizens can and should learn to expect, demand, and indeed create, more of the same.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

(Broadband Hero) "Durel details fiber project for journal"

The Advertiser reports that Mayor Durel has penned an article on our fiber project in the NATOA Journal. The National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisers lauded Durel as its "Broadband Hero of the Year" last year and the article is an apparent outgrowth of that award.

The NATAO story (not available online) celebrated the economic development potential of the new system and highlighted the 100 meg intranet according to the Advertiser.

The Broadband Hero award is worth highlighting itself. I had a post prepared on this that never made it out of the draft stage back in November and am chagrined at the omission. NATOA is a muscular association of telecom officers for public bodies that is extremely influential nationally and has lead the fight against bad laws — and kept up the pressure after the laws predictably failed—on issues like municipal broadband and state video franchises. Louisiana has first hand experience in both these areas of how badly these incumbent-written laws have been for local communities. NATOA, then, is both prestigious and determined. Getting an award from them, being invited to present at their conference, and having an article placed in their national journal bragging on your mid-sized south Louisiana city is no small thing on the national scene.

The reason for the "Hero" designation is evident from the wording of the award:
...for championing the need for robust, competitive communications services in his community; for championing the cause of local decision-making in communications; and for leading his community to counter efforts to thwart local communications initiatives.
Durel and Huval's muscular, public, relentless defense of the fiber project was absolutely essential to its success. Many communities lack determined leaders and the award is well-deserved.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

LPF's Fiber FAQ

I've been pouring over the good, but largely inaccessible information on the new LUS Fiber network on the net, in the Advertiser Forums and in the back pages of LPF and have decided to put together a FAQ on LUS Fiber that brings the most frequently asked questions together in one place. Much of the interesting matter is buried in references to tangental matters so I've tried to simplify things.

What you'll find at LPF's Fiber FAQ is pretty standard fare for an internet FAQ: an index at the top of the page, a simplified question and a basic answer to the question. As a recovering academic I've tried to include references and the actual words of LUS or its spokesperson.

If folks find it useful I'll try and keep it up. If you want me to take a stab at some question ask in the comments....

WBS: "Louisiana city offers 50Mbps fiber for $58"

What's Being Said Dept.

An Electronisa.com article reviews the pricing structure for LUS Fiber and, usefully, both briefly reviews the history of the fight and compares the offering to national standards.
Lafayette's fiber comes despite significant opposition to the deal and others like it in the US from cable and DSL providers Cox and AT&T, both of whom have publicly objected and are believed to have quietly funded private lawsuits attempting to thwart the plan for city-wide fiber.

Much of the resistance is believed to come from fears of competition, as the Lafayette Utility System is estimated to cost about 20 percent less per month than the strictly private alternatives but is also as fast as otherwise very expensive services such as Comcast's DOCSIS 3 and Verizon's FIOS, both of which cost at least $140 per month for 50Mbps Internet service alone.
A hint of memory about how hard we had to fight to get this network and the national advantage we've already gained is notably missing from the accounts in local media. One would expect that a review article about the history of the network and the advantages it offers would be forthcoming. Such gracious coverage would surely be seen if the new network were being brought in by an outside corporation who was investing $110 million dollars in a superior infrastructure that promised dramatic savings to the community. Why doing it for ourselves should be less noteworthy is difficult to understand. It's hard not to believe that the incumbents' advertising budgets don't have something to do with the stilted delicacy of local coverage.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Alert: Huval to answer questions Wednesday (updated)

Alert: LUS Direct Terry Huval will answer questions in a live chat at the Advertiser's on-line forum tomorrow evening. Take note, those of you who've asked questions in the comments section of this blog: you can get your answers straight from the horse's mouth.

Particulars:
Where: online @ theadvertiser.com: Access Page
When: Wednesday, 1/14/08 starting at 6:00 PM
Mode: "Live Chat"
Huval has already been doing a great job of modeling how a really open and responsive community-owned telecom would act in the comments section of the Advertiser. He's come on and answered questions from everyone—for pages and pages. (See, for instance: Announcement story, Advertiser Digest.) I've been gratified by the generally respectful tone of the commentors there; it's a noticeable contrast to the ugly, uninformed approach that too often dominates in that and other anonymous forums. (The fact that Terry is speaking without the "protection" of anonymity seems to help. I recommend that participants who want to be taken seriously follow suit.)

Kudos to the Advertiser and Bill Decker. These Q&A sessions are proving useful to the community.

Update: 1/14/09: I just went to the access page and found an interesting and I think encouraging set of rules about the Advertiser's "Live Chats."
  • There's nothing to do during a Live Blog other than read, watch and occasionally send in a comment or vote in the polling questions.
  • It's not a chatroom. You go to largely find out what the writer has to say. An open chat with thirty or more readers turns into poor, disjointed content very quickly.
  • Your comments are published at the Writer's discretion. The Writer can view all comments sent to them but only they can publish your comments for everyone to see.
  • Our 'autoscroll' feature ensures you're always shown the newest content without having to refresh or scroll your screen. You can turn this on or off by using the controls at the bottom of the Live Blog.
  • Subtle sound effects alert you to new content as the writer publishes it. This can also be turned on or off as needed
Nice; particularly the "It's not a chatroom" caveat. The Advertiser has already taken care of much of my concerns. The net evolves.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Tipitina's Comes to Lafayette

Well, Tipitina's music coop, anyway— ;-)

This seems a month of wishes fulfilled for me. I'm eagerly awaiting the launch of the LUS Fiber network–that's huge–but now Tipitina's music coop is opening in Lafayette.

The basic idea is to provide well-appointed space and tools (musical, computer, and business) to aspiring musical artists. It appears to be mostly grant supported with a fairly nominal fee for coop membership.

Back in June I read a story in The Advocate about Tipitina's Coop in other cities in Louisiana and wrote a bit on how it, coupled with AOC's new ACFM, would give Lafayette some nice, commons-based media arts infrastructure. Suffice it to say now that its coming to Lafayette is a very welcome development.

Links to the Indepenndent's story on the launch and to the Advocate's.

Tipitina's Foundaton, Lafayette's coop facebook page.

Good things happening....

Thursday, January 08, 2009

We're On the Map...Sorta

Supercomputing....

Well we're on the map over at the New York Times. Or at least LONI, the Louisiana Optical Network Initiative, is.

And a mighty strange map it is. Check out the lower left hand corner for #77



(Getting technical, and since we're talking about supercomputers how can you not be technical, the "computer" they're talking about in the list from which the above referenced map is drawn is the 35 teraflop "Queen Bee" (LONI says 50.7 but now we're picking nits) a node in the LONI grid that is 'sposed to be an 85 teraflop machine in its own right. The Queen Bee herself is technically in Baton Rouge but is named after a Lafayette resident. It used to be number #23 on the list back in the glory days.)

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

LUS Announces Installation Policies

The final segment of Terry Huval's presentation at last night's Council meeting focused on the actual installation. That provided a comforting bit of solidity to the proceedings.

When fiber is available in your area during the "controlled rollout" you'll be notified via a distinctive mailer. (See scan @ right.) You'll want to quickly call up the number on the notification card and ask for service. Installation takes place in two visits: an exterior and an interior visit. The exterior visit gets the cable from the street to your house near the electric meter where a box not much larger than the meter will receive the fiber and reroute the signal to your TV, computer, and/or phone. Another small box containing a backup battery will also be installed. Huval showed a mockup of the arangement during his presentation. That's the meter to the left, the new ONT (optical network terminal) at the upper right, and the battery pack in the lower left of the accompanying picture gleaned from the video stream at UStreams. (click either image for a larger—though not necessarily clearer—version.)

In the simplest of cases, where you're just replicating the existing phone and analog cable services, the coax will be attached to the new LUS box and off you'll go. Most installations, however will require an interior visit. If you've purchased digital cable or internet services LUS will have to come back and do an interior install. Digital cable will require a set top box and internet will require at least one cat5 or cat6 cable drop to carry the ethernet/internet signal that emerges from the box on the exterior wall. That old modem that you generally rented from the cable company won't be necessary. An ethernet cable carry internet signal emerged from that old modem and plugged into your local computer, wifi, or router. The new ethernet cable from LUS will plug in to the same device without an intervening modem (or its expense). All that will be free. But if you want a full ethernet network installed or multiple new coax wiring for TVs there will be a fee schedule.

LUS Announces Pricing at the Council Meeting

Terry Huval made another appearance during the "President's Address" portion of last night's council meeting. In this one he provided more details on pricing and installation....

My trusty TiVo picked up the broadcast; it will be rebroadcast by AOC on Channel 16 Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. and Saturday at 1:00 p.m. It is also available anytime on the newly established ustream channel "lcg-council-auditorium."

If your interested in the details (and who isn't?) I recommend you take a look at Huval's presentation. It's well-organized and packs a lot of information into a small time frame. You can also check out the press release at the LUS Fiber site and pages there on video, phone and internet pricing.

Some highlights & notes of interest:
  1. There will be "no deposit, no contracts, and no charge for a standard installation."
  2. There will be some very low prices for some cable services—lower than had been previously anounced. The basic, no-box "analog," tier will only cost $17:00 and includes "20 channels including local channels and The Weather Channel." (Interestingly the "analog" channels on the local system are analog largely in the sense that they don't require a set top box: the system itself is all IP. Customers who don't want a box and have an analog TV will have their digital signals transformed into coaxial-happy analog at the fancy box on the exterior wall.)
  3. That low price, and other low prices for local phone service and internet will be mitigated by a minimum required purchase of $44 dollars. No customer will be signed up unless they initially agree to purchase $44 dollars worth of service. That's a marketing mistake, I believe. You want everyone to sign up, even if they are low-return initally. Of course, without a contract I don't know what is to prevent a frugal customer from signing up, paying for one month and dropping any extra services. Frankly, I don't see the point of this requirement. Without a contract it won't prevent folks from doing the obvious; will give the naysayers something pretty concrete to complain about; and will be used to by the opposition to undercut the city's otherwise legitimate claim to be lowering prices and offering poor and working people a break. (This isn't conjecture on my part—that was the response of the incumbents to a similar condition to join Bristol VA's municipal system.) [Yes, sure, I do understand the rationale: that fancy box on the side of the house that translates light into analog and digital cable over coax, internet over cat6, and emulates a Plain Old Telephone system is very costly...and LUS reasonably wants to recover that cost in some reasonable period. Still; IMHO, dangling unattainable low prices in front of the public is a mistake that only accountants and engineers would make. It's logical and sensible but mistaken. Where are the political, PR, and marketing folks? LUS needs a citizen's advisory council.]
  4. The internet service will include email, 70 megs of personal web space, Instant Messaging, personal calendaring and file sharing....pretty nifty. Making those service available universally will potentially open up a huge range of network effects akin to having universal phone service. All these are more valuable if all have them.
  5. It looks like only HD digital boxes will be deployed, some with and some without DVR capacity but all with HD. Planning for the future, I presume.
  6. There will be "an interactive TV Web Portal, Video On Demand, Pay-Per-View and Digital Video Recording." I'm still interested in that TV Web Portal.
Still missing: a channel lineup, details on the premium channel packages and any wireless hints.


PS: The Advertiser has a short piece up this evening. Expect a fuller story tomorrow and one from the Advocate as well.

LUS Fiber Email #2

FYI:

LUS Fiber sent out its second email today with links to a fuller, but not yet complete, account of its pricing plans. To wit:





Welcome to your future!

On January 6, 2009 LUS Fiber unveiled information regarding our full suite of residential TV/Video, Internet and Phone products and pricing. We wanted to share this ground-breaking information with you. We invite you to visit our website and view all of our feature-rich residential offerings. This way when you have access to LUS Fiber services (via Lafayette‚s only 100% fiber optic network) you will know whether you would like to select one of our conveniently packaged VIP (Video, Internet and Phone) Bundles or build your own to meet your specific needs. Our pricing philosophy is simple...savings for all customers on all products.

Visit our website to view details regarding our residential products which include:

TV/Video offerings to meet your entertainment needs including digital services like a unique TV Web Portal, Digital Video Recording, Video On Demand, Pay-Per-View, and an Electronic Program Guide.

Internet speeds that are lightning-fast (up to 50 Mbps upload & download!) and features that keep you connected including access to our 100 Mbps Peer-to-Peer Community Intranet; up to 7 email accounts; webmail access with personal calendaring, IM capabilities and file sharing; 70 MB of personal web space; and a security suite with virus protection, spam filter, pop-up blocker and more.

Phone service that brings value back to your home phone including a wide array of features like 3-Way Calling, Voicemail and Caller ID; unlimited long distance calling plan; and budget-friendly International long distance rates like 5¢ per minute to places like France, Spain and Canada.

Beginning this month we will be notifying customers through mail when service is available to them and we are ready to take their order. If you would like to speak with someone on the LUS Fiber team regarding our products and pricing or want to sign up for updates, call us at 99-FIBER (993-4237) or visit our website at LUSFIBER.com.

Sincerely,
Your LUS Fiber Team

Sunday, January 04, 2009

LUS Fiber News Flyer

The Google Internet Machine this morning dredged up what looks to be a promo flyer from LUS Fiber. Since it is not officially released (to my knowledge) it can't be taken as a promise. But, on the other hand, LUS paid somebody to lay this out professionally so I'm guessing that it represents an honest intention (click the image for a readable image-based version or go for the pdf :

It touts the top 5 reasons to switch:
  1. prices
  2. innovation
  3. customer service
  4. local folks
  5. economic development
The flyer offers details on the service, most familiar but some interestingly specified. For instance HD, Video On Demand (VOD), Pay Per View, and Digital Video recording will apparently all be part of the initial launch. Most innovative is the "Interactive TV Web Portal." What that, precisely, might be is unclear. It could range from a broad, net-based, google widget-like interface to something more narrowly tied to the IPTV box and its interface. I've advocated the former (related) and suspect the latter as this feature is included in the "TV" rather than "internet" box. Remember back in the day when the coming thing was going to be "interactive TV?" Then the web happened. It'll be fascinating to see how this version works.

The internet portion of the page focuses on the breath-taking speed—both to the internet and within our unique intranet. LUS Fiber will also promote a competitive array of email addresses, online storage, webmail access, and personal webspace. I, like Mike, have been bumping up against bandwidth constraints recently and I am looking forward to LUS' speeds.

All in all an interesting peek into the near future.

Friday, January 02, 2009

How My Internet Connection Spent New Year's Eve — Or, Please Hurry LUS!!!

I recently shot some video for some friends of mine in a band when they played at the Blue Moon Saloon. It's going to be released as a DVD in the next month or so.

The band members are scattered across the South but I wanted to let them see the near final cut of the video. I saved it as a Quicktime movie in a small (480 x 270 pixels) widescreen format and it came in at a grand total of 1.69 gigabytes. Too big to send via conventional email.

I tried Pando (a service a friend in New Orleans and I had used to exchange video) but that service has a 1 gig file size limit.

Googling around, I found Filemail.com which has a 2 gig file size limit. Ah, we're good to go.

So, I signed up, linked to the file and began sending it.

There is a handy/scary network speedometer on the upload page. I finally got that baby up to 104 kbps via my Cox Internet connection. But what was really scary was the "Time Remaining" figure: four hours and fifty-plus minutes!

Well, it was what it was, so I went to read a couple of things on my laptop while the iMac, Cox and Filemail did their thing.

A couple of hours later, I returned to the iMac only to find an error message!

Not knowing the source of the error, I decided to try to FTP the file to a domain that I own. FTP is supposed to be pretty fast (faster than email, any way). But, looking at the progress dial on Fetch, it was clear that this process would take about five hours at the connection speed I was able to achieve.

Sure enough, five hours later, the file was on the website. I linked to it and it began to play.

Still, knowing that video over the Internet is network speed sensitive, I went back to Filemail to see if I could successfully send the file so that the band members could download it onto their respective desktops and get a better playback experience.

I figured out that the original problem had been that my hard drive had 'gone to sleep' in the initial transfer process — and who wouldn't after three or four hours? ;-)

So, I resent my system preferences to keep the hard-drive 'awake' no matter how long the transfer took.

Sent the file again and — again — delivery time was going to be about five hours.

This time, the process was completed without a glitch.

But, using that great Cox fiber to the neighborhood network with the asymmetrical upload and download speeds, I spent at least 12 hours of time moving a 1.69 gigabyte file to a mail service and/or a website for viewing.

I am happy to see that LUS has announced their pricing on packages and I'm thrilled about the network speeds. But, they can't get here soon enough as far as I'm concerned.

I'm tired of the giant sucking sound Cox's network is making in my wallet and with their underperforming network.