Thursday, April 30, 2009

$50.00 netbook available at Radio Shack


Ok, so the fine print reads:
"With qualifying new 2-year AT&T agreement on rate plans $60/mo. or more. $349.99 unactivated."
Still, you get a real computer with connectivity built in. On the downside you're tied to AT&T and I don't see any other connectivity option listed in the specs on the Radio Shack page...an otherwise very similar Acer machine is an Aspire which you can find for as little $280.00 online which has both ethernet and basic wifi built in.

That's for a netbook with an 8.9" screen...Netbooks are all the rage this year but are putting a serious crimp in the profit margins for the companies who are selling them.

In roughly the same areana is the almost-confirmed-rumor that Apple is about to announce a tablet computer —a ten inch touchpad that would be a cross between a Macbook laptop and an iphone/ipod touch device...some rumors place it as a Verizon network offering that would be subsidized by Verizon in the same fashion that the iPhone and this Acer laptop are being subsidized by AT&T.

The point for denizens of Lafayette and digiterati more generally is that the price of Network Attached Devices (NADs) continues to fall and the innovation bonanza spurred by the iPhone is still ongoing. Smart phone and computer convergence continue apace. Here in Lafayette with wireless networks in the offing by both Cox and LUS there'll be a place to try such inexpensive networked devices in a real-world context with "regular folks." And, of course, further close the digital divide.

The downside of all these nifty new devices is that nobody can "eat just one." Everyone with two computers or a computer and a smart phone has already encountered the biggest problem with having more than one shiny, nifty communications device: keeping the #$@@** things synched. The iPhone does a pretty reliable job of this nowadays—as long as you remember to synch. The way around remembering to synch is to use a centralized online storage and backup system that synchs copies from all to all whenever you're connected. None of these, to my knowledge are all that reliable. (.mac is often seen as best of breed; a sorry comment if true I can tell you.) A third, related, way to simplify things is to move most of your life online to one of the cloud server systems like Google Apps where no synching is really required; the docs live online first and any local copy pulled down to work on offline via Gears is always the 'copy.'

Lafayette Commons, running on a Google Apps platform will be an good way to simplify and centralize you online life across multiple devices and platforms when it formally launches. Watch this space. (Yes, a teaser on LPF...will surprises never end. :-) )

Interesting times.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

"Occupational Hazard"

I'm not sure what the title, "Occupational Hazard," to this IND story is supposed to refer to other than the fact that sensationalized media stories are a mainstay and thus it's an "occupational hazard" for public efforts to receive breathless coverage. (I've complained about this with the Advertiser before. And, when deserved, occasionally praised a media outlet.)

The story is that LUS rented a storefront a little more than a year ago and hasn't moved into it. LUS has paid up front for the year we are in and so the Independent chooses to report the grand total for the first two years as the cost "to date." It will be the same figure in December of this year. In fact it's hard to figure out why this is a story now. The contract was approved in a public meeting of the city council and all the details have bee available for more than a year.

The gist of the story is interesting:
As the launch date neared for the fiber project, LUS re-evaluated its plans, opting to locate its initial fiber-to-the-home customer service center alongside its utilities office at City Hall. This bought time to plan for a more cost-effective way to utilize the storefront on Pinhook Road.

LUS now plans to provide customer service for both its fiber business and its utilities business out of the Pinhook space. A call center will handle customers over the phone, while other reps will be standing by to service walk-in customers. In addition, Huval says the store will double as a floor room for LUS fiber, with computers and widescreen TVs showcasing LUS’ cable and high-speed Internet service. “We’ll have the facilities necessary for customers to be able to actually test the system,” Huval says. He now hopes to open the center this fall
That LUS hasn't done much with the location is strange—and Huval's explaination that they felt that they had to snatch up a good property when it came available is surely part of what's going on. —My extended family owns a fair amount of commercial rental property around town and it is quite true that prime space was extremely tight. On that score LUS might wish it'd waited. Of course, waiting would have been betting on the sort of commercial rental market collapse that still hasn't taken place even in the wake of the huge financial mess that unexpectedly came down on the country. It's hard to see how LUS should be blamed for not being more preseient than the financial hig-flyers on Wall Street who had the whole country convinced that the good times would never end.

Another part of the explaination appears to be a change in plans—the initial idea was apparently to open a full-blown LUSFiber-only customer service center in the Pinhook location when the project launched. But, according to the story, they decided instead to house the service center with the other utiltity services at the existing location at City Hall during the early months of the expansion and follow up with a multipurpose, mulitutility store at Pinhook & Kaliste Saloom. That, at least in part, was motivated by a getting a larger than expected estimate for remodeling the location. (That was during the post-Katrina construction boomlet and the headend facility was caught in the cost jump. —LUS scaled back its plans then as well in order to stay within budget.)

The most interesting "explanation" for the long-dormant rental is one that the story itself doesn't mention: that LUS at one point hoped that a retail "showoff" store would be useful earlier than it now judges it will. This joins the list of things LUS is not doing to promote the fiber. LUS is very noticeably not marketing LUSFiber products. It is available in some areas that have not gotten so much as a notice in the mail that you can buy — much less local sales persons or media advertising. (Some eager people have called in spite of being warned not to call until their mailer showed up and found that they could, in fact, purchase service.) This is the "controlled rollout" that you hear so much about. As long as LUS is in shake-out mode they don't want the raft of new customers that a retail store is designed to draw and are apparently making the judgment that opening such a store prior to that promotional stage would be a waste of money and energy. I'm sure they didn't initially think they were renting space for use a 16 months out. But having done so the subsequent decisions appear to be financially conservative rather than extravagant.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

LUS Fiber HYPE

It'd be funny if it weren't so overburdened with irony.

Those of us who still get a daily newspaper will have been amused by Cox's latest attempt to "me-too" ("fiber is nothing new" cough, cough) the LUS network's offerings. As my wife was going through our morning ritual of removing the 3/4 of the paper that is glossy ad inserts and sections we never open out slipped an 8 1/2 x 11 Cox flyer with the screaming bold headline "LUS Fiber HYPE." The irony, of course, is that the hype and FUD is entirely being performed by Cox. Have you seen any LUS advertising "hyping" —or even promoting— LUS Fiber in the major media yet? I haven't. And I watch. Now no doubt the day will come when LUS will hype its network. When it is offering the service to a large enough base that it makes sense to advertise in the paper or other local media. But that day has yet to arrive. My guess is that this flier is the best evidence available that LUS' "controlled roll-out" is beginning to significantly cut into Cox's base of subscriptions; painfully enough to buy an insert which will be distributed almost solely to people who can't—Yet—buy LUS services. Now the motivation may be to just try and insert the headline into the "LUS fiber HYPE" into the community unconscious. If so that shows a pretty profound misunderstanding of this community. Cox has played the game of playing fast and loose with truth with Lafayette before and it's proved embarasssing. Who can forget the disastrous story of the "local blogger T. J. Crawdad" or the infamous "push polls? Even more than embarrassing...folks got to saying tha "you can't trust anything they say." This flier is in that (ig)noble tradition.

The thing Cox forgets is that to be truly effective attack advertising has to be true. And it has to be about something that people care about. Otherwise you just end up looking desperate. Cox is hyping its "digital TV," claiming to have more digital channels than LUS...and is using that hype to sell what's on the backside of the flyer: it's lowest triple play tier. For 89.99. For 12 Months.

"It's a day late and a dollar short" as the old saying goes. You're supposed to assume that the claim on the front supports the offering on the back. That you'll get more with Cox's cheapest "digital TV" offering.

But you won't.

Take a gander at the slideshow below; it's from Terry Huvals presentation at the recent (and fantastic) F2C conference. The relevant slides are numbers 31, 32, and 33 which detail the "expanded basic," "digital basic," and "digital basic plus" tiers for both companies.

What Cox wants you to buy, on the basis of their claims on the front of the sheet, is the product on the back of the sheet, that 89.99 (for 12 months) sale offering. If you go to Cox's "Greater Louisiana" website & drill down you'll get to a page that shows you get their "expanded basic" cable tier with that deal. So surf on over to slide 31 on the display below....



You'll see that in truth LUS offers more channels in their lowest tier combo deal than Cox. If that strikes you as strange soldier on to slide 32. There you'll notice that LUS offers more channels in the middle tier too..only at slide 33 the highest tier do you find Cox offering more channels that LUS. So the (hyped) claims on the front, while not entirely untrue at every level, do not support the product they are selling on the back. A little bait and switch, that.

And LUS' low tier combo deal is cheaper too: Cox's "Good" comes in at 89.99 (intro price) vs LUS' "VIP - $84.85" (allathetime price).

(And, while we're at it you also get 30 megs up and down with LUS but only 10 megs down and 786 k up... with video shifting to the web and more and more people doing their telephony through 3rd party VOIP that's going to be more and more significant. I already do a healthy amount of my TV viewing over my shiny new computer-TV hookup.)

Thursday, April 09, 2009

WBS: Interview with Terry Huval plus Slideshow.

What's Being Said Department

BenoƮt Felten, of the French Blog Fiberevolution interviewed Terry Huval (in English) at Freedom To Connect and has posted the video to his blog. Terry roles out the history of the project, the hurdles it has overome, and brags on its qualities for an international audience.

Note particularly the remarks from about the 4:25 mark on the video when Benoit asks about "the next generation of services" to be launched. There Huval discusses two hot topics: 1) a city-wide wireless system and 2) a smart grid for the electrical system. Both of these have been discussed locally but this discussion is particularly succienct and to the point: The wireless network is to "blanket the city with a wireless cloud" and will perhaps be used lower the cost of internet to those who have had trouble affording its cost. (With Cox preparing its own wireless network it will also soon be a competitive necessity.) The smart grid idea involves using the network (perhaps its wifi portion?) to facilitate remote meter reading, outage management, and time of use rates that allows customers to take advantage of cheaper off-hours electricity. Whats new there is the mention of the stimulus funds being made available in the stimulus package for smart grids. LUS clearly intends to apply for those funds and receiving it could make that a sooner rather than later addition.

The video closes up with "lessons learned" advice for other utilities. It's worth the ten minutes of your time to take a listen.

The talk Huval gave at the Freedom to Connect conference—where the above interview was taped—was accompanied by a slide show that has been made available at the conference website. That, too will likely be of interest to some readers. There's a short history, the pricing structure, a couple of network diagrams and a bit of laignappe at the end that he didn't show at conference: a head-to-head list of the channel lineups between Cox and LUS...I'm sure that is changing daily on the LUS side but it makes for an impressive comparison.


Hmmn...While you are looking at Huval's slideshow you might want to try and decrypt Felten's as well. It was a very interesting analysis of the European FTTX experience with reference to how that experience might apply to the US. Felten comes down on the side of thinking open networks make the most sense from a purely business standpoint—not a point widely accepted here but much more prevelant in europe. Even more intriguing was his analysis of the different kinds of "open" networks and which types really work best to provide the widest array of consumer choice at the lowest prices...those clever Swedes....

Felten and Huval also have something in common besides a fondness for fiber...they were almost as popular with the crowd for their musical abilities as for the presentation: Felten on the harmonica and Huval on the fiddle. (And no, he didn't wear his red cap.)

Terry Huval at the fiddle


Felten on the harmonica

Now THATS a National Broadband Plan

Broadband advocates here in the good old US of A have been getting a little giddy at the sight of the federal government's machinery groaning into low gear to actually start the process of formulating a National Broadband Plan. (Yes, that explains why we haven't appeared to have a plan. We haven't.) Why just yesterday we started the planning process. First, in the distantly snide tone only the WSJ can pull off: the FCC "approved a broad set of questions designed to solicit opinions from consumers, telecom companies and state and local governments, to name a few." The FCC is gearing up to gear up because Congress has delegated to them the task of being the big thinkers on the 7 billion of the stimulus plan dedicated to broadband that is to be administered by bureaus within the Commerce Department and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The FCC is supposed to devise the "national broadband plan" that will guide the decisions these bureaus make. (It's all in the law.)

I've been feeling pretty hopeful about the process...hey, it's a start. And a big step up from facing toward Fort Knox, closing our eyes, bowing low, and repeating the mantra "the market" 20 times as a substitute for telecom policy. Now I know that the money is actually being distributed in bureaus elsewhere and the people making those real decisions are all the way across the District of Columbia from the FCC...and it won't be ready in time to make a difference with the current stimulus money anyway, but still...to have something on the books that is supposed to be rational and comprehensive would be helpful, won't it? At least a start?

But all that feel-good sorta melted away when Austrailia announced its broadband policy: FTTP; Fiber To The Premise. At 100 megs. For the whole country, or 90% of the population anyway. (The most rural 10% will have to make do with a minimum of 12 megs—but everyone is offered real service.

Wowser.

And the way they're gonna do it! The government had been negotiating to fulfill a campaign promise to expand broadband access with the incumbents and some foreign corporations who, of course, wanted to be made lords of the domain for the next 50 years or so if they were to deign to do anything very useful. That part sounds familiar. We've got campaign promises and lords of the domain too... But the Austrailian government did something that it is hard for Americans to understand: they took a look at the I-want-it-my-way suggestions of the big corporations and grew a spine. They told 'em that they weren't offering a "good value" in return for the public's investment and that rather than accept any of their self-serving plans that they'd rather do it themselves.

They announced that they were intending to fund a Australian 43 billion dollar (30 billion USD) National Broadband Network (NBD). The government would get no less than 51% of the company and effective control; private investors would be allowed to buy in to 49% with the previously rejected telecom corps strongly urged to buy in...and to contribute their network assets to pay for their share. Take it or leave it. And if the telcos want to leave it: be aware that the Aussie national government fully intends to issue a new set of regulations enforcing structural separation that would effectively force open access on the current network assets they retain. The new National Broadband Network will be open as well. The old way of doing business is over; there is no comfortable monopoly—vertical or horizontal—to go back to.

Australian broadband advocates are pretty much stunned. (Imagine the US government saying anything remotely like this to Cox, Comcast, AT&T and Verizon? You know: "Take your greedy plans to feed at the public trough and shove it. We can build our own advanced network for the price your asking buddy, thanks plenty.—and by the way, no more local monopoly for you either, we're going back to real regulation of you guys." Oh You can't imagine it? Neither could the Aussies. Until now.)

We in Lafayette are in a particularly good position to see how much sense this all makes. We were happy to build it ourselves when told by the incumbent lords that we did not need and were not competent to run a modern FTTH system ourselves. That system is up and running and serving customers today—and doing so quite well, thanks. Since making that committment we've benefited by consistently being spared rate increases placed on other communities and, most recently, by getting a second 50 meg provider (albeit only 50/5) at a price that is 1/3 off what they plan to charge the rest of the country for that speed. And we got that before any of the big markets Cox serves or even the larger cities in our own market. Almost any other part of our country would kill for that sort of service and absolutely no place has it for as little as we pay. It pays to stand up for yourself in public as in private life.

Good on the Aussies. There's is a real national broadband plan. It will fix what's really wrong the current system. The current Aussie system, modeled in part after the mistakes we in the US were making, had resulting in a market with even more of the markers of monopoly dominance than ours. Aussie markets were more monopolized. The equiavalent of AT&T/Verizon, the telecom Telestra, was at least as insistent on maintaining its virtically integrated monopoly position and the cable sector was much weaker. Australians paid even more for broadband than Americans and an even smaller percentage of them were capable of getting really world-class speeds.

Going forward this will no longer be true. Australia will have a truly world-class network running at stunning speeds and capable of massive upgrades at minimal costs. Where homes in places where the villages have less than a thousand people don't have direct fiber they will have fiber-fed wireless. The final few deep in central desert will get satellite at no less that 12 megs. This is a public policy (and a stimulus) that will bear fruit for generations. When people talk about "forward-thinking" this is what ought to be meant.

While we cheer on the Australians ("Go for it, mate!") we on this continent have to feel a little bummed and whiny. Why can't we have a rational telecom policy, too? The up side is that the unthinkable is now finally thinkable. An English-speaking continent has taken the plunge and told their teleco monopolists that the current system is broken and then put forward a credible plan for fixing it that doesn't grovel and plead before of those that have failed them. Maybe we can do the same. Or at least talk about it!

In fact, not all is yet lost on these shores: One of the guiding lights of the Austrailian success was Paul Budde, long an advocate for a smart national plan in Australia. To read his blog these days is a real joy. He's as stunned as his fellows but is rallying nicely—telling the doubters in one example "Yes, we can!" in a deliberate reference to the hopes for a positive change that are now dominant in the U.S. Even more encouraging is the fact that he's also been in consultation with the Obama administration since before they took office and has no doubt been an advocate for much of this before our own leaders. I'd guess that until a few days ago his ideas, while judged rational in some sort of ultimate way, were not considered "pragmatic"—a key desiderata for the new administration. That judgment may now have changed. Indeed, on Budde's blog he remarks in the comments to his well-worth-reading analysis that:
I also received envious but very supportive comments from the Obama Team, they are very interested and several of the experts are eager to participate in our work group to contribute and to learn.
Not to get your hopes up but, perhaps, just perhaps someone here will say: "Yes! We can!"

Addenda:
If you want a bit more, yes I've got the fun references: Budde's Blog, The NYTimes, ZDNet Australia, Tasmania rollout to start in July, The Netherlands: Telecommunications Breakdown, France's Fiberevolution, or try your own Google News search.

Lagniappe: New Zealand, who recently announced a great plan too, is also jealous now: "Newman said that while the NZ National proposal looked visionary a year ago, it now looks comparatively limp." Aussie Envy; it's the latest syndrome to afflict the digerati.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

One Big Happy? Family

Cox has announced that it is combining its New Orleans operations with "Greater Louisiana" Market — Greater Louisiana is made up of the former Baton Rouge and Lafayette divisions which were combined three years ago.

The new division has half a million customers and will be Cox's 3rd largest market.

But Cox the spokesperson is careful to note:
Ann Ruble said the move would not affect rates.
Now that might sound reassuring. But what it means at the current moment is that Baton Rouge and New Orleans should not expect to share in Lafayette's good fortune with a cheaper, installation-cost-optional version of Cox's only-in-Lafayette 50/5 mbps ultimate tier.

WBS: "Municipal Fiber Competition Benefits All Lafayette Citizens"

What's Being Said Department.

Geoff Daily over at Apps-Rising has put up a post whose title says it all: "Municipal Fiber Competition Benefits All Lafayette Citizens." Daily too thinks that Cox's competition is good for Lafayette—and he can see it from D.C.

What this says is that municipal fiber deployment doesn't just bring the best broadband to citizens, it also introduces competition that spurs investment by incumbent providers to upgrade their networks.

And in fact the citizens had already been reaping the rewards of its municipal fiber project before it even went live. After the fiber initiative started Cox stopped raising its rates for cable TV in Lafayette, but it kept raising them everywhere else.

Go take a peek. And while you are there you should take note of Geoff's two sponsors; including a new one. I'll think you'll find it interesting.

"Cox builds Internet speed"

This morning's Advocate weighs in with an interesting view of Cox's new 5o mbps down/5 mbps up service. The report focuses on the reactions from most of the principals including Cox, EATel and AT&T but oddly excluding a direct reaction from LUS.

The article makes it clear that while Cox denies any direct influence, (apparently the local folks are making that mistake after all) knowing that LUS Fiber is offering a 50/50 mbps fiber-based internet service is the key to understanding why Cox would debut its new flagship service in such a small market.

The gist of the story as far as LUS vs. Cox is concerned is contained in the following paragraphs:
The introductory price of Cox’s “Ultimate” Internet service in Lafayette is $89.99 per month, plus $99.95 for the required modem and an installation fee that will vary by customer, according to information from Cox.

The company has set the standard suggested price for the service at $139.99 a month.

That price is comparable to similar offerings by Verizon and Comcast, though those companies generally provide their top-tier Internet services only in large markets.

LUS Fiber is selling its premium service of 50 Mbps download and upload for $57.95, with no additional cost for installation or equipment.

LUS Fiber customers can exchange information with others on the local fiber network at 100 Mbps.

The 50 Mbps residential Internet service options in Lafayette Parish are unique in the state.
The larger story is that competition is good: Lafayette has two 50 mbps providers, one with real symmetrical service and the rest of the state has NO such providers. The rest of the country will get this service, when Cox gets around to it, for 1 1/2 times as much, 50 bucks a month more...and it looks like the installation fee locally will "vary by customer" instead of being the 99 dollar pro install that others will uniformly pay. My guess is that, more precisely, the installation fee will vary by customer location...if you live in Lafayette and want this then tell Cox that you don't want to pay for installation—after all the competition, LUS, isn't charging for it. :-) Cox will probably be happy to put you on the hook for only the 100 dollar modem that you will have to dump when LUS gets to you. Like I said: Competition is good.

Reports from other providers flesh out the local and regional competitive picture. AT&T gets pitifully aggressively vague:
AT&T is preparing to launch its U-verse package in the Baton Rouge market with download speeds of 18 Mbps and upload speeds of 1.5 Mbps, AT&T spokeswoman Sue Sperry said.

Sperry said she could not give a specific timeline for Baton Rouge or plans for other markets...
AT&T will be a third run competitor in the city of Lafayette's already competitive market. Since Cox is battling LUS's full 50 meg offering with the best it can muster for the lowest price it can muster AT&T will surely be shut out of the city broadband market. It is hard to imagine that they see much upside to the costs of upgrading in-city only to remain in third place. What AT&T has on its side is wireless mobility — but both Cox and LUS have plans to minimize that strong point.

EATel in East Ascension and Livingston parish is a privately owned rural telephone company that has rolled out a FTTH project in some of the fastest growing parishes in the country.
A pocket of 30 Mbps service is offered in portions of Ascension and Livingston parishes by EATEL, a privately owned communication company that launched its own fiber-optic system in 2005.

The company charges $99.95 per month for download speeds of 30 Mbps and upload speeds of 15 Mbps, with $20 shaved off if Internet is bundled with phone and video, EATEL Sales and Marketing Director Brad Supple said.

He said EATEL’s fiber-optic system still has much capacity to offer faster service in the future.
EATel is running a very aggressive billboard campaign in its footprint. But has yet to elicit cheaper new services for its customers.

Finally, the Adovcate story makes sure its Baton Rouge readers understand the pickle they're in:
In Baton Rouge, Cox’s top-tier Internet service provides standard download speeds of up to 15 Mbps — with boosts of up to 20 Mbps — and upload speeds of 1.5 Mbps.
What the reporter neglects to mention is that AT&T back in March of 08, while it was successfully hoodwinking the state legislature in to passing an industry-sponsored bill to set up state-wide video franchising in Louisiana took the capital city off the table as a player by cutting a separate deal to offer the capital city many of the priviledges it was insisting that other city's not receive. At the time LPF insisted that this was a ploy and that AT&T was likely to treat Lousiana, and Baton Rouge, exactly as it had treated North Carolina where a similar successful move to infringe on the property rights of communities had lead to exactly NO new service launches by the incumbent AT&T. But the law had helped get a long, long list of cable providers off the hook to the communities whose land they use to provide cable services. AT&T has yet to launch any new services in our state and any it eventually launches in Baton Rouge will be, at best, second rate.

Competition, where you get it, is good. And in our state competition that boosts services and reduces prices has ONLY come from a municipality, a local government. State laws that gift the private duopolists with further privileges have had exactly no beneficial effect. It is never smart to feed the bully. And it's always a good idea to do it for yourself.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

LUS Fiber Email Details Current Service

LUS Fiber sent out another email to folks on their list recently. It is reproduced below. This one gives some detail about the areas within phase one in which it is possible to order services. There are three elipses in north Lafayette (2 around Louisiana and one east of Pinhook) and two in south Lafyette (near the mall).

Call 'em!





LUS Fiber is now serving customers throughout the City of Lafayette! Once access to Lafayette's only 100% fiber optic network is available to your home, you will be invited to switch your video, Internet and phone services to LUS Fiber.

Currently LUS Fiber is serving homes in the general areas circled below. If you live in or around these locations, call 99-FIBER (993-4237) or visit us at 705 W. University Avenue to speak with one of our customer service representatives to determine if your home is ready for service and to learn about our product offerings. So start planning your switch. We look forward to serving your video, Internet and phone needs.

Click here to review our products, services and channel line-up.


The depiction above represents an approximation of current service area.
Call 99-FIBER to confirm serviceability to your home.

Sincerely,
Your LUS Fiber Team

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Cox Gets 50 megs (Updated)

Cox announced yesterday that it is launching its first DOCSIS 3 product, a 50 meg down "ultimate" tier in, of all places, Lafayette, LA. That's a huge feather in the cap of Lafayette and is certain to get Lafayette press across the country.

Despite the fact that yesterday was April fools this appears to be no joke even though it has yet to make it onto the official Cox page... Cox really is launching it first offering of the much ballyhooed DOCSIS 3.0 service in Lafayette. DOCSIS 3 involves "channel bonding" —taking up a mutliple "chunks" of the available bandwidth on its hybrid fiber-coax systems and its current rollout by Comcast is widely seen as a response to the FIOS fiber to the home project being marketed by Verizon in its territories.

I first heard about Cox's launch through the Lafayette Technology Google group where the press release was posted but have since found references on Broadband Reports and the Baton Rouge Business Report, both of which add interesting details.

Here's the lowdown as gleaned from the press release and stories....
  • Speed down: 50 megs
  • Speed up: 5 megs
  • Install cost: $99.95 for a "pro install"
  • Modem cost: $99.99 from Cox (you must buy a Cisco DPC3000)
  • Introductory/Louisiana/Lafayette Price: $89.99/month
  • Regular/not Lafayette Price: $139.99
  • Contract length: ? not specified
  • Extras: 3 IP addresses, no transfer caps "at this time,"
  • Offered in Cox's footprint in Lafayette Parish--Broussard, Carencro, Duson,
    Lafayette, Scott and Youngsville
What's interesting about this announcement, of course, is that it represents an attempt to challenge LUS' just-launched service. The Business Report, however, posts that Cox national spokesperson
Ruble says the high-speed Internet was launched in Lafayette because of "loud and vocal demand." The Lafayette Utility System has launched its own fiber-optic Internet, phone and cable service. Ruble says LUS wasn't a factor in introducing the new service in Lafayette first.
That's a bit of newspeak if ever I heard it. "Loud and vocal demand" probably can be fairly interpreted to mean that Cox has finally heard what Lafayette said on July 16th four years ago when the people overwhelmingly voted to get LUS to provide them with fiber to the home. If you can look at it that way I guess that LUS wasn't a factor.....but it seems a pretty far stretch and I hope the local PR folks won't keep up such an unlikely position. Reasonable people have to think that what Lafayette has to recommend it as the place to launch a major new initiative is that it has a unfinished FTTH project. It is not a major market by Cox's standard...and is, in fact, the smallest market in Louisiana that Cox retained after shedding most of its rural and small city holdings (Alex and Lake Charles got the boot).

As a response to LUS' 50 meg offering it doesn't come off too well. Cox only matches LUS on download speed; upload is a 10th of what LUS offers and both monthly cost and upfront costs are higher. A comparison:
  • Speed down: 50 megs
  • Speed up: 50 megs
  • Install cost: 0
  • Modem cost: 0 (what modem?)
  • Introductory/Louisiana/Lafayette Price: No special pricing
  • Regular Price: $57.95
  • Contract length: No Contract
  • Extras: 100 meg intranet, Internet on cable box, Money stays in hometown (my favorite),
  • Offered in LUS' footprint in Lafayette Parish (the city of Lafayette currently)
On the upside is, mainly, that folks in the neighboring smaller cities can get 50 megs—and that has got to be a good thing. Theyll be able, for a price, to join the elite few in our country who have that much bandwidth. I've got family in Broussard and I know they've looked longingly at what the city is getting. Demand is great in the surrounding cities. What's interesting is everything I've heard Huval say recently has lead me to believe that LUS will move into the surrounding areas as soon as they are done with Lafayette proper. All the folks in the parish have to do is ask. It seems likely that Cox making this treat available is intended make take some of the fire out of those requests.

But will folks really be happy to pay more for what the people in the city are getting for less? Especially when they will still be outside the 100 meg intranet and have to make do with 1/10 the upload? It seems risky to me: It's one thing for fast bandwidth to be a "city" thing. It's another thing all together to be offered a product but to find out that you will be paying more for one that isn't of the same quality as what those in the city is getting.

Interesting times.

UPDATE: 1:25 PM, 4/2/09: The national prss release release is also available on PR Newswire. The Advertiser has a story up on the topic this morning: "Upgraded Internet launched." MarketWatch, reporting on a speech by Dallas Clement, Cox's senior VP of strategy and development, noted that Cox was rolling out their 50 meg docsis 3 service in Lafayette:
He added that the company will be careful about rolling out the service more widely, as it would be an expensive proposition. It will rely on what it learns about consumer demand for the service in a given location before committing to a new launch.
That explaination is a little puzzeling...a slow rollout makes sense in general if you are afraid that the demand won't be there. But if so, Lafayette seems an odd place to roll it out first: They can't possibly assess how it works for them in most of their footprint since our situation is uniquely difficult for them. In most places the 50 meg product would blow away the competition. It doesn't here.

UPDATE: The Independent Blog has a post on this subject as well. In it the national Cox representative takes a more realistic stand than the one she apparently took with the Baton Rouge Business Report:
While Cox says the decision was not based solely on the competion it faces here from Lafayette Utilities System, it clearly was a factor. “It has to do with competition period,” says Cox spokesperson Ann Ruble. “I think Greater Louisiana was chosen because we have competition from many different sides. This is described as a hyper-competitive market across the entire footprint, the Baton Rouge market and the Lafayette market. We put so much investment into Lafayette that it made sense for the first place to launch.”
That makes a little more sense; obviously launching your first docsis 3 product in a place where you have a competitor that is offering much greater speed than you are makes a certain specie of sense—especially if you realize that "Greater Louisiana" aka the Lafayette-Baton Rouge market is NOT getting this service. ONLY Lafayette is...Baton Rouge where there is no LUS doesn't get ANY access, not even at the 139 dollar level. The only thing that is "hypercompetitive" about the "Greater Baton Rouge" market is the presence of two fiber-based competitors. EATel in East Ascension also offers a FTTH alternative. Maybe Cox will offer it in Ascension Parish, where EATEL is offering Fiber To The Home, if EATEL puts up a 50 meg tier too. Either way, Baton Rouge is out of luck....