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.

2 comments:

David said...

I have several questions about this, and you seem to be pretty well informed about all this. What will LUS offer besides bandwidth? I hear things about a city-wide intranet, some kind of digital town square, etc. Who will control content? LUS? If so, isn't that illegal? If I post a bunch of stuff that Joey Durel doesn't like about SafeSpeed, will they block it? Will Durel kick and scream about comments he doesn't like on the LUS network? What happens when ATT and Cox decide to upgrade their networks and deliver comparable bandwidth to the home over existing phone lines? How much was borrowed? How much spent to build the network? How much revenue does LUS need to bring in to break even? When will we know if this venture is making or losign money?

John said...

Hi,

You ask a buncha quesions.:-)

Q: "What will LUS offer besides bandwidth?"
A: phone and cable services. To residences and businesses. (And it not a matter of "will" but of "do"—I have all three services.

Q: "I hear things about a city-wide intranet, some kind of digital town square, etc. Who will control content? LUS? If so, isn't that illegal? If I post a bunch of stuff that Joey Durel doesn't like about SafeSpeed, will they block it? Will Durel kick and scream about comments he doesn't like on the LUS network?"
A: LUS is not offering a "town square/chat/mail list function" so that won't be an issue. (But they could do so legally, if they wanted.) LUS has been very clear about not being a censor. What you do with your email account and online storage is your own business—just as it is with every other provider. (Enjoy: Grouse all you like.)

Q: What happens when ATT and Cox decide to upgrade their networks and deliver comparable bandwidth to the home over existing phone lines? How much was borrowed? How much spent to build the network? How much revenue does LUS need to bring in to break even? When will we know if this venture is making or losign money?
A: AT&T and Cox are unlikely to spend the amount of money necessary to match LUS new network. It would require a full fiber network and they are extremely clear that they won't be doing that. (And haven't in other places that have built municipal networks. LUS borrowed 110 million dollars out of the 125 million that the voters authorized. LUS' business plan calls for long-term profitability at 20% penetration. (Many fiber muni systems get more that that; above 50%...as does Verizon; where it overbuilds a triple play fiber network similar to (but offering less bandwidth than) LUS Verizon gets a higher percentage than 20%. It will take a number of years to shake out and know if it will be a success. Frankly, I don't think that will be an issue. LUS is in a very strong position; they have the local boy advantage on top of a superior network.