If you're recovering from Saints fever I have just the antidote. A long post on the latest in Lafayette's fiber fortunes. If you're starting to think that maybe anything is possible, well, read on.
Amanda McElfresh over at the Advertiser has an article up that apparently derives from following up remarks made by Joey Durel in his state of the city-parish address. In that speech (video) Durel devoted a fair amount of his time to touting the LUS Fiber network (@ minute 8:00). He revealed publicly what had been widely rumored locally: LUS Fiber was far ahead of schedule, and that the city-wide availability was expected by July, 18 months into a 24 month schedule. Durel linked the completion of the network to a series of meetings meant to engage the community with discussing what the "fiber-powered future" could look like.
Discussing that Fiber-Powered Future
As long time readers and friends will recall the general idea that Lafayette's people need to get involved meetings that would shape the future of the new network is something I've long advocated. Both here and and in various community groups like Lafayette Coming Together and the League of Women Voters. So the ears pricked up at the idea that the City-Parish President would be promoting a series of meetings to look at our fiber utility and the future of our city.
The first item on Durel's list of community meetings is "campfiber" a series, according to Durel, of "participant-driven conferences will be opportunities for local innovators to share their projects, get feedback from the community and for everybody to discuss their fiber-powered future." There have been several CampFiber meetings already (LPF coverage) and to date they've been strongly oriented toward software developers as participants and not toward public response or discussion. If they are to serve the purpose Durel describes they'll have to change. Engaging the imagination of the technology-types is crucial, of course—they've got more to dream with—but two other groups will be needed as well: the public and LCG/LUS. Both are crucial to a worthwhile discussion. The need for public involvement is obvious. But just as critical is a fully engaged LCG administration and LUS. LUS and the administration did attend and engage at the first campfiber. But in the end that participation seemed mostly defensive; real progress here will require the developer and the larger community be given more information with which to work. Two useful models occur to this writer: bring together distinct community groups beyond developers—nonprofits, church, medical, educational, creatives, small business, and neighborhoods all come to mind and ask them what a community-owned network could do for their sectors. (The Lafayette League of Women Voters has held the prototype of this model in two meetings involving nonprofits and community service organizations with fair success.) The other angle would be to organize around specific elements of the new system...for example: channel selection, internet storage, TV-phone integration, TV-internet integration, or set-top box uses (I can guarantee interest in the set top box.) For CampFiber meetings to engage the community will require focus and commitment from LUS and LCG.
The other item on Durel's list of meetings was Fiber Fete (website) which he described as designed to "bring experts from around the world to Lafayette to meet with local innovators to discuss what our fiber future looks like and plan on how to get to there from here." I've talked with the organizers—David Isenberg and Geoff Daily—and sit on what passes for the local board. The quote from Durel is just about the current extent of the planning; it is only now getting into any concrete planning. I've pushed for a more consistently social approach and for bring in speakers who are prepared to speak about how technology can be part of making communities stronger and people within them more active and powerful participants. Too many "visionary" tech conferences are trapped by the amazing technical wizardry and raw possibility of new technologies. Others go beyond that narrow vision only to focus solely on the business potential of these same technologies. While both of those motives are proper enough in their place that is not what a new community network needs and I'd hate to see
Fiber Fete captured by such limited visions. What's needed is a sense of how powerful communications technologies can be leveraged to create a stronger community and a more active and informed citizenry. (I am aware of the irony of suggesting that at a moment when deconsolidation is the talk of the town.) Having David Isenberg as one of the chief organizers gives me considerable hope that we might actually be able to accomplish this. His Freedom To Connect Conferences (F2C) are directly about promoting the idea that ensuring that we can freely connect to one another over the new network is the modern equivalent of freedom of assembly and free speech...That, rather than technical gee-whizary, is the right starting point for Lafayette and its people (not merely its "innovators") to start their thinking about a the responsibilities of a community-owned network.
For any of these public meetings to be useful rather than ornamental they'll have to involve more than the usual crowd labeled "innovators" — they'll need to involve a real cross-section of the community's most active citizens and the sense that LUS and LCG are open to sharing the information the community needs to assess what the network can accomplish and the sense that their conclusions will matter after the conference closes. That's a tall order. But it's one worth striving for.
The Rest of the Story
But Sunday's report had a lot of fiber news beyond the revelation of an early completion date and the prospect of public meetings. The new customer service center that we've heard about for so long is now scheduled to open by June. Says LUS' Huval:
a customer service center set to open at the corner of Pinhook and Kaliste Saloom roads by June. The building will include samples of LUS Fiber products, and will also be equipped to handle the needs of utilities customers, thus freeing up some of the gridlock at the customer service center at City Hall.That will coincide with the completion of the network and, hopefully, a more vigorous public relations campaign promoting the new network.
Huval continues to be coy about adoption rates but says that "many" thousands have joined up. I've talked to friends who talk about most of their block or street moving over. I can't say that of my northside neighborhood and suspect that take rates are a very local phenomena at this early moment.
What should be welcome news was the declaration that LUS Fiber is going to be going through its first major upgrade. Again, from Terry Huval:
The software used on the Motorola boxes just isn't very good...it's older and the interface is a pain to use. So I don't use it. Now I am an interface nerd of sorts and also refused to use Cox's set top box software. With both LUS and Cox I have done most of my TV watching via the two old TiVo's that sit precariously perched on a rickity table by the widescreen. My understanding is that the new software will be an iteration of Microsofts' Media Room. That software package has been used by Verizon in its FiOS FTTH build out in the northeast. Verizon also uses the same family of Microsoft set top boxes that LUS has purchased so it should be a fairly mature implementation and full-featured platform. It will also be a much easier basis on which to build extended services than the Alcatel-supplied software currently in use. Heck it might even be usable."It's tied to the set-top boxes and enhanced DVR services," he said. "It was a technology that was not completely ready for us to use when we deployed our system, and it's something that's not costly to us."
A real concern has to be the internet capability which was the bright spot in the less-than-stellar Alcatel software. That feature is a great idea but its current reliance on a WAP-based browser both limits its practical utility and makes it extremely dificult to use. That capacity exists in the set top box and represents LUS' most innovative attempt to date to bridge the digital divide in Lafayette. It should be possible to utilize it on Mircrosoft's software--after all media room for the PC allows for internet connections. If it is not baked in developing a real net connection would make a great contest with which to involve local developers.