Saturday, February 13, 2010

Regional Fiber UltraBroadband Network in Lousiana?


They're beating the drum in Baton Rouge on Google's FTTH (fiber to the home) project. A facebook page, "Bring Google Fiber to Baton Rouge," was launched almost immediately and quickly became the leading Facebook page devoted to the topic. The page reports meetings within the city leadership. Baton Rouge is enthused.

Lafayette's cadre of pro-fiber partisans are urged to support Baton Rouge's effort. Join the facebook page and voice your support.

A fibered-up Baton Rouge would create a regional ultra broadband fiber to the home corridor stretching from Gonzalez through Baton Rouge to Lafayette. My back of the napkin calculations using year 2000 census data shows that network would pass around 419,000 people. That would just about double the bang-for-the-buck that Google would receive for fibering up Baton Rouge alone.

It may well be that Baton Rouge's strongest argument for Google to invest there will be to leverage the spirit already shown by its neighbors.

The number of people effected is no small issue. As Google is undoubtedly aware, the major stumbling block to developing really big pipes here in the US is that building out little pockets here and there do not provide the critical mass of users that would prod application developers and service provider to provide apps and services that make full use of the available bandwidth. If 90% of your audience is limited to 6 megs or less you develop and plan for—maybe—10 megs. Of download. Upload speeds are a fraction of download in most of the country. Everyone knows we want big broadband and symmetrical up and download speeds eventually but we're caught in a chicken and egg situation and no one wants to go first. Google is playing on this national stage and hopes that dropping half a million people into the pool of those with really big broadband will: First, drive the incumbents to try and match their efforts, particularly if Google can prove that it is not nearly as expensive or daunting a task as the incumbents claim. Secondly Google hopes that by jump starting a market of a half million (and if they have calculated well another 1 or 2 million more to that in incumbent responses) they will have created a tipping point in the development of truly high-speed, low latency, big pipe applications. That would be a GREAT thing for leading-edge communities like Lafayette.

But its not just the number of people effected—it is the density as well. One of the things we know from studies of new tech adoption in the realm of communications is that it is strongly subject to local network effects. Take telephone service. If you are the only subscriber it really is pretty much worthless. The more people take the service the more valuable it becomes. If you can count on everyone having it you can start organizing everyday activities around it and integrating it fully into your social life. That is what Google wants to have happen on its new fiber. Network effects are most powerful within a city or region. Most telephone calls are local and most of the remaining are regional. By ensuring that an entire region, approaching 500,000 people in that area alone, is fully-fibered Google can have the greatest hope of seeding a game-changing demonstration project. (By the way: my prediction is that one of the first high-bandwidth apps to come out of the famous "google labs" complex will be HD video telephony and conferencing for just these reasons. Google Voice HD anyone?)

And wait, wait, there's more! :-)

As Lagniappe Google gets to watch 2 distinctly different FTTH providers closely interact with one of its big pipes project. Lafayette is a utility—a municipal FTTH provider. EATel is a classic rural telephone company. Both are offering some of the highest speeds over FTTH in their categories. How do the 3 differing models interact? What form really drives adoption the fastest?

Google's 1 gig, low-latency pipes will, I believe, drive the development of amazing new gaming, cloud, and communications applications. They could get an awful lot of additional data by building in Baton Rouge and partnering up with EATEL and LUS.

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