Friday, April 30, 2010

"FiberFete: What they’re saying!"

David Isenberg, at his personal blog, posted a story that makes finding all the reactions to the recent, very successful, Fiber Fete easy.

Add to his list the other organizer's summary at Geoff Daily's Apprising.

Enjoy! I did.

Refer a Friend: LUS begins Social Marketing Push

Ok, now that's what I've been wanting to see! LUS has begun a real marketing push that leverages its home town advantage.

The "Refer a Friend" program recently launched by email announcements to current subscribers and promoted on the web offers both current subscribers and their new subscriber friends 50 dollars each time a friend joins up...

It's brilliant. Folks who've got the service are always the best advertising...and are already doing most of the marketing that's getting done. (Notice the distinct lack of LUS media marketing to date? I have. Where are they getting their good numbers? From the word of mouth of friends and neighbors...) This puts a little juice into the deal and rewards those who are advocates of the local service.

If I were LUS I'd do two things: 1) blast this from billboards and 2) emphasize the local angle even more. It's our network. Everyone who comes on is one more person who's making our network a success...as more and more of the community comes aboard the cost per each user drops, we pay back the bond holders quicker and LUS can lower our prices yet more. It's a good deal all around. And the 50 bucks deal is just a good example of the larger process: we all save when our friends and neighbors join up and support the community resource.



P.S.: Anyone need a friend? ;-)

Thursday, April 29, 2010

This blog has moved

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Thanks, John

Thursday, April 22, 2010

CenturyTel to Buy Qwest in $10.6B Stock Swap - NYTimes.com

The third largest telephone company in the United States will be located in Monroe, La...Bastrop really.

Really. Honestly. No kidding...

The New York Times reports that CenturyTel will buy Qwest, the western Bell company for 10.6 in a stock swap deal announced today.

Bits-And-Pieces:
The combination would have about 18 million phone lines serving customers in 37 states, but would still be dwarfed by AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. It would be based at CenturyTel's headquarters in Monroe, La., rather than in Denver, where Qwest is based.

The number of landlines in the U.S. shrinks by about 10 percent per year as consumers chose to rely on their wireless phones or service from cable companies. The fourth-largest provider of landline phone service in the country, by number of subscribers, is now cable company Comcast Corp.


Official LPF reaction: Wowser. This new company will create a national rural wireline carrier. It may well have the largest footprint in terms of square miles in the country.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Portland's Gigabit Beer Coming to Lafayette...

From the Mayor's staff blog in Portland Oregon:
Saturday, Mayor Sam Adams, Hopworks Brew Master Christian Ettinger, city staff and local Google fiber initiative supporters were present to send the gift of five kegs of special organic Portland Gigabit IPA to Parish President Joey Durel of Lafayette, Louisiana -- the first American city to establish a fiber-to-home infrastructure. Layfayette has proven how useful and efficient the ultra fast network technology can be and Portland is working toward doing the same.

The Gigabit send-off ceremony at PDX was a thank you to Lafayette for leading the way in fiber development and will be enjoyed during their Fiber Fete, an international summit of fiber-to-home, 'celebrating our future connections,' Tuesday through Thursday, April 20 - 22.
Now what can you say to that? Besides "Thank You."

Scuttlebutt has it that Mary Beth Henry, of Portland and NATOA, will be the bearer of the good tidings. Looking forward to it! All five kegs...

"FiberFete Celebrates City’s Fight To Build Its Own Information-Age Utility"

WBS dept.

Broadband Breakfast has a short story up lauding today's launch of Fiber Fête.

Lafayette gets good press:

The city floated $110 million in municipal bonds in 2005, fought telecommunications companies that cried foul over the move, and proceeded to build the network in addition to a sophisticated 3D imaging center used by Hollywood movie companies to render their animated films into 3D images.

“We had a unique opportunity because we have our own utility company that already had a fiber optic loop that was already in the wholesale end of this business,” says Durel. “This project was about doing something great and raising the bar.”

There are interesting blips about the purpose of the event:

“What Lafayette can show to the world is how to create a network that’s just about state of the art, and that the whole community supports,” explains David Isenberg, FiberFête’s co-organizer along with journalist Geoff Daily. Isenberg is a long-time advocate of such community-driven telecommunications networks. “Lafayette’s leadership also realizes that they need help, that you can’t just hang the fiber on the poles and miracles will happen – they know there’s a lot of expertise out there, and they’re hoping to bring people with a clue into town.”

....The conference is a timely one since the Obama Administration has just released its National Broadband Plan, a national blueprint for how America can stay competitive in the global race to get connected to anyone else in the world through high-speed internet networks. Durel hopes that the city can serve as a model for other cities around the nation.

There's a lot to learn. It's an interesting world....

Monday, April 19, 2010

Fiber Fête Press Release

Fiber Fete issued a press release this morning and posted it to their website...exciting stuff!

I am jazzed about this event. If you go browse through the agenda you'll see some of the of the most exciting names in their fields nationally and internationally. To name off a few: Jim Baller (US), Benoit Felten (France), Joaquin Alvarado (US), Herman Wagter (Netherlands), Minnie Ingersoll (US), Bas Boorsma (Netherlands), Lev Gonick (US), Dirk van der Woude (Netherlands), David Weinberger (US). Googling any of these names will impress you....I am extremely eager to hear, for instance, what Weinberger has to say about the effects of ubiquitously available fiber. Minnie Ingersoll is a Product Manager for the Google Gigabit Project.

How much the ash cloud hanging over Europe will effect some people's ability to attend remains an open question, as is the possibility of bringing them in via streaming video. But in any event the quality of the national and international speaker list is truly amazing. And it is doubly exciting that they are convening in Lafayette.

The release:

FiberFête Conference Launches Tuesday
Technology and Community Leaders to Dream up Possibilities for Our Most Wired Cities

LAFAYETTE, La. (Apr. 19) – FiberFête, a conference featuring Internet innovators from around the world, will be held April 20-22 at Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise (LITE) in Lafayette. FiberFête celebrates Lafayette's deployment of a community-owned fiber network and explores the potential of fiber-powered communities.

FiberFête brings global technology entrepreneurs and activists together with local community leaders to explore how fiber networks can help other cities like Lafayette enhance economic development, community participation and quality of life.

“The people of Lafayette have led the country in equipping their community with fiber,” says FiberFête co-producer Geoff Daily. “Now they're committed to driving the conversation around what innovative things fiber can enable them to do.”

Welcoming FiberFête guests Tuesday will be Louisiana Economic Development Secretary Stephen Moret and Lafayette City-Parish President Joey Durel. “We have a story to tell, to share with America and the world,” says Durel. “The future of fiber optic networking isn’t a dream. For us, it’s a reality, it’s here, it’s working, and it’s an example of what is not only possible, but of what will be the future in America.”

FiberFête speakers include representatives from Google, Cisco, Harvard University and Case Western Reserve University, as well as municipal officials from Seattle and San Francisco. A full agenda is available online at www.FiberFete.com.

While an invitation-only event, FiberFête is also open to the world live via the Internet. Viewers may access the webcast online at www.LiveStream.com/FiberFete. Coverage will run from 4 p.m. until 6 p.m. CST Tuesday, April 20 and from 8:30 a.m. until 6 p.m. Wednesday, April 21.

FiberFête is distinct from other international broadband conferences in that it is sponsored by the community in support of its own network infrastructure. FiberFête is funded wholly by a diverse coalition of local public and private partners.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Fiber Fête - live streaming video!

Fiber Fête is going to be streamed live. So if you can't attend in person hie yourself to the nearest computer screen in your favorite screening venue. If you've got a special interest on the agenda it'd be worthwhile to pull together some of your friends with a similar fixation and view it together. Happily, you can even set up a late-night viewing. By the miracle of time-shifting Livestream allows you to catch up by visiting the site at a later date and viewing the events at your leisure.

Fiber Fête, bandwidth touted

"Fiber network looks to bolster local economy" appears on the front page of this morning's Advertiser and focuses on the value of big bandwidth and Lafayette's upcoming fiber fête conference. Tom Cox and Golfballs.com are featured as a business which is already using LUS fiber to real advantage and that plans to use the speed even more in the future. Cox, not surprisingly, will be on Thursday morning's panel "Driving Lafayette's Digital Economy."

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Lafayette, Google and 1 Gig Fiber

LPF noted LUS' application to the "Google Fiber for Communities" project several weeks ago as a bit of lagniappe to an article about the city's tech efforts more generally. Both the Independent and the Advocate caught the story late this week, in advance of Fiber Fête. Google's Minnie Ingersoll, a product manager for alternative access and one of the people shepherding the project will be a speaker at Fiber Fête on Tuesday of next week and that connection is noted by the Independent.

[For those of you who were on a different planet for the last two months—or just from a place which already has its fiber—and missed the fevered internet excitement, here's the short version: Immediately prior to the unveiling of a National Broadband Plan that pushed an anemic goal of 100 megs in 10 years Google announced that it would fund a testbed project that would offer communities a gig FTTH network. Conditions to apply were minimal: not more than 500,000 people, and a demonstrated eagerness to "accept" a 1 Gig, open network. More than 600 communities officially applied and another 190,000 individuals applied on behalf of their communities.]

Both stories reported that LUS based their appeal on Lafayette's vision, willingness to battle to build its own network, and on how cheap it would be to up grade LUS current system to the 1 gig standard. As the Independent wrote:
"We already have a system in place and that's what we were trying to sell to them," Huval says. He notes that LUS' fiber network, which reaches internal speeds up to 100 megabits per second, could be upgraded to 1 Gig per second speed relatively easily. "We looked at what kind of things do we bring to the table that might be unique," Huval adds, "and yet still substantive enough to attract Google's attention and we felt that the fact that we already have a fiber to the home infrastructure almost completely in place that we have clear unambiguous community support because we had a vote of the people [on fiber] with strong support. We also talked about the strength of the utility system and we talked about our visions for the future, that we didn't build this system only to have competitively priced cable TV, telephone and Internet, we were looking at building an infrastructure for the future."
The Advocate's coverage made it plain that LUS was intent on moving to a 1 gig to the home network even without Google's help, even but that it would take till the next scheduled round of network upgrades to get there:

The city’s LUS Fiber system already offers top-tier Internet speeds and has the capacity to eventually offer 1 Gbps service, but Huval said Google’s project could speed the pace of development.

He said the advantage that Lafayette offers for Google is that the 1 Gbps speed would be easier to achieve here because the city has already installed fiber lines in most areas.

LUS application chose to present what some might say were Lafayette's weaknesses in such a competition into strengths—to turn the fact that we already have fiber and some of the fastest, cheapest speeds in the nation into a testament to the community's dedication to the vision of a faster, cheaper, community-controlled network.

But another part of the difficulty in applying for Google's support is that the LUS network is not an open network in the sense that Google set down as a condition for gaining its support. Google's version of network openness is that of "open access" which means that any service provider could provide services in competition with LUS. LUS almost certainly can't afford to travel that path. It can't afford to take the risk that the much maligned (un)Fair Competition Act would be used to force it into a premature forced sale if it ran for even a short time a loss—particularly as the law's chief consumer effect is to put a limit on how low the local utility can drop prices in response to price competition. (The enormity of that unfairness is whole 'nother post. Or two.) The most immediately obvious problem is that opening the network to Cox invites the cable operator execute a double edged strategy that would use Lafayette's superior network to undercut LUS' network offerings on, say the high end, where its own network is bandwidth-constrained, while lowering its price for its low-end offerings to levels LUS would not be able or even allowed to follow. Cox would not, of course, be under any obligation to offer its low-end network to LUS at prices that would allow it to compete fairly over the cheaper, slower network. The slightest misstep in such an open access scenario would put our community's hard-fought and very expensive network on the block for fire-sale prices. As much as it pains me to say it, unless circumstances change it simply would be irresponsible to open Lafayette's network.

Of course, circumstances can change. LUS could conceivably reach a tête-à-tête with Google by promising to open their network to any provider that does not own a competing network in Lafayette....there might be something to talk about. Or Google could simply agree to shoulder Lafayette's risk. It'd still be a cheaper way to build a network as all Google would have to do is promise to get the city out of any hole the new policies put it in. I doubt that LUS suggested any such thing (but would be pleased to stand corrected). Much more likely is that they put their best foot forward where they had a good argument and intended to deal with the hard parts when, and if, Google decided on further talks.

There is, however, another way to try and dodge the bullet of Google's desire to experiment with an open network; one that I suggested. Eventually I went ahead and made citizens application on behalf of Lafayette that tried to make lemonade not only out of the lemon of already having a network (using the same approach as LUS) but also leaned on the fact that Google went to great lengths to insist that their experiment, well, was an experiment. As far as I can tell most analysts cynically assumed that all that "science" talk was feel-good misdirection meant to underline the fact that Google wasn't trying to establish a toehold in the business of building a national network. It's more likely that Google is being perfectly honest. Anyone who has thought much about the roots of their search engine and then watched them build services like Google Apps has to believe that experimentation is is the company's genes. Google looks like a company that actually took the "knowledge-based" economy seriously. The bit about being the most profitable business in the world is a by-product of successfully making that commitment; not the goal.

What Lafayette could do is offer to make Google's experiment a LOT better. To improve their knowledge.

Science wienies will tell you that a good experiment controls independent variables...and to make even a stab at that you have to have multiple conditions. Helping Lafayette reach a gig and installing the same experimental apps and resources it does in other "Google gig communities" would give the overall experiment a lot needed validity; it would let you, for instance, decide whether open networks OR local ownership or experimental apps were more important factors in rates adoption and levels of innovative use...or at least it would allow a researcher to think about it with at least some contrasting data. (To prove that Lafayette also cares about research itself I'd point you to the fact Lafayette did its own full-throated "pretest" evaluation of internet attitudes and usage—on its own dime. The DIY attitude extends beyond simply building our own network.)

Sooo...if you want a look at the ridiculously dense, full-throated, Lafayette fan-boi version of the idea that I submitted to Google you can have a gander for yourself: Google Lafayette, La Proposal

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Editorials & the Digital Divide

In this Sunday morning's Advertiser the two "local" editorials both focus on the recently released baseline survey of internet use and attitudes. Three things struck me about the essays...two were similarities and one was a contrast.

Contrasts
The contrast lay in how much the two pieces evidenced a familiarity with, and a sympathy for, Lafayette.

This has become a familiar topic as the Advertiser's Gannett-based owners follow a policy of rotating in new editorial staff from papers located elsewhere in their empire and, more recently, have lost staff as the national newspaper market continues to contract. Only a few of today's staff have, for instance, any depth of understanding of the fiber fight that brought in fiber or the roll the digital divide issue played in referendum.

The headline editorial, presumed to be an expression of the new editor's voice, was one of those pieces which gets the message right and the tone wrong. Yes the digital divide is an issue and, yes, the community needs to get behind efforts to close that gap. That is the right message. But the same essay misses the fact that even running this survey is a uniquely responsible thing for a community to do.—I know of no other community that has chosen to be so conscientious in its self-examination on this issue. It'd be nice to notice that. Other odd "unLafayette" tones include obligatory doubts as to the "propriety" (propriety?) of competing with private industry. Here in Lafayette that's not an issue—we settled that on July 16th of 2005 when the city overwhelming endorsed fiber after a battle in which the Advertiser finally editorialized that Lafayette was right to reject that reasoning...but that was one, or is it two, editors ago. (Heck, Gannett's national paper, USA Today, also endorsed Lafayette's fiber!) There was also the mild snark that this astonishingly rigorous academic survey (authored by UL to national standards and run by the local Acadiana Educational Endowment) was some how "self-serving." Finding and publicizing a digital divide when it would have been easy to "pass" on such a hot-button issue might be called many things but "self-serving" is hardly one of them. Finally, one would think that the editorial just might notice that LUS and LCG have, in part explicitly motivated by this survey, applied for broadband stimulus money to address the issue. From reading the bland editorial—which advocated nothing but the platitude that both private and public providers "redouble their efforts"—you'd never guess that the public provider is already at least attempting to address the issue.

The contrasting second editorial, "Important road isn't available to everyone," was signed by Bill Decker, whose views on Lafayette's fiber (and other issues) have mellowed considerably over the years of his tenure in Lafayette. This piece starts by recounting one example of how the internet's vast storehouse of knowledge is put at his fingertips...with BingGoogle leading him from the Book of Mark to fall of Troy. It's sensitive in the way that it tackles the touchy topic of ignorance and education by starting with his own lack of knowledge showing how it was alleviated by easy access to the resources that are available over the internet. The internet is an amazing storehouse of information and, while the knowledge he quoted are those highfalutin ones that only fifteen years ago would have been available only in a large university's specialized research library, he could have as easily talked about the more homey topic of finding the latest recommendations on tomato and okra plants suitable for a small south Louisiana garden. I was personally impressed that he Decker zeroed in on poverty as the immediate issue; in that I think he is right and data that revealed which census tracts had the lowest broadband usage would confirm that race is not the only issue.

Similarities
Both editorials emphasize the digital divide. And they both paint the survey as an LUS survey. I'd argue with both points. But not with writers of these editorials—both takes are understandable since the digital divide was the only topic raised and the press release came from LUS. But both conclusions are, in my estimation, committing the error of mistaking the part for the whole. While this first press release, following LUS/LCGs application for stimulus grants focused on the difficulties the study reveals the data itself is much, much richer and will serve us all well as we try to understand and shape a changing, fiber-enabled Lafayette. A much fuller discussion of the whole of the survey needs to be put on the table for the community so that it knows where it is now and so can rationally plan where it wants to go...not only in regard to the digital divide but in regard to the myriad of factors from wireless use to the effects of the French language among local Cajuns and Creoles. The digital divide is only one aspect among the many that we need to grasp in order to plan our own future. The idea that it was the community that needed to understand itself in order to make was decisions about what to do with its new asset was always the idea that motivated the survey, and it is why, from the beginning, the intent was to freely distribute both the survey data and the survey instrument. In a previous post I emphasized the deep and continuing involvement of community members in this project dating back to before the fiber referendum in '05. Finally having the survey available is a culmination of a truly community effort. LUS did pay for the survey—and deserves all the props possible for overcoming the issue of funding when absolutely no one else would step up. LUS deserves that credit even more because the survey actually does very little that is directly useful to LUS as a simple business. It is obvious, once you look at the data and the series of questions in the instrument that it is not a "marketing" survey but a broader assessment of community attitudes about technologies rather than one that focuses on particular commercial products and how to best package them.

So, those two essays, sitting on the same page offer a lot of things to think about. If there is anything that joins all these ideas it is that it is hard to overestimate the value of knowledgeable locals committed to the community...

Well that's probably enough for a ruminative Sunday afternoon in the spring.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Big Deal: Lafayette Internet Use Study Released

It must be spring...a survey that's been hibernating over the winter has been spotted a couple of time recently and emerged into the full light Tuesday.

LUS posted a press release touting the survey of Lafayette's internet habits and attitudes today and the Advertiser has jumped in with the first quick digest. The official report is available on Lafayette Pro Fiber with the survey form and dataset access forthcoming. The instrument is a sophisticated usage and attitudes survey that pulls its questions, phrasing, and sequencing from the yearly national Pew and Annenburg studies of internet usage. It's numbers were carefully designed to make sure that all of our communities would be reliably sampled. Taken together the "Internet Use in Lafayette, LA, 2009 Baseline Study" will give a valid way to compare ourselves to national standards and to track our progress—or lack thereof—over time.

This is very big deal, it was a long time in coming, and a number of people should stand up and take a bow.

It's a Big Deal
It's a big deal because it is, to my knowledge, the very first attempt by a fiber to the home community to hold itself accountable for improving itself. It lays the groundwork for actually showing the difference that cheaper, locally owned, really big bandwidth can make in a community. It lays down a serious bet that fiber will make that difference and gives our people, and others outside the community the ability to check the claims we make. We now know where we stand relative to rest of the nation in a survey taken immediately before the launch of LUS Fiber. Future surveys will chart our progress against the national surveys it is keyed to. It's a big deal because it holds holds our feet to the fire.

It's also a big deal because it gives us tools with which to make those changes. We now know where the weak spots and the strong spots are in our community's use of modern technologies. Knowledge, in this instance, is access to money. Both private and public funding exists to aid efforts to move communities forward. But all such money reasonably comes with two requests: 1st you need to show a need, and 2nd you need to be able to demonstrate that the action the group funded made a difference. This survey vaults Lafayette to the head of the line. We know what our needs are (I'll post later on just exactly what I think it shows) and anyone we ask for support from can see that Lafayette can accurately say what its problems are and that we have a good way to demonstrate when we've made progress. It will be important to some of those grantor agencies that we've taken this burden on ourselves—it makes it look like we actually are serious about making changes as needed; not simply fishing for cash. What we need now is an aggressive cadre of grant writers in all our institutions but especially at the school board and at LCG. The new head of LCG's division of Community Development should dive directly into this. LUS has already made good use of the survey in this regard: it was used to support the community's recent application for broadband stimulus funds, "

It's a big deal, finally, because with a good survey we can defend ourselves, and the idea of publicly-owned fiber, against its insistent, irrational detractors. It is a sad commentary on the state of our polity that "astroturf" organizations like the Heritage Foundation are even listened to but Lafayette has seen the lengths to which such incumbent-funded "analysts" will go to denigrate the successes of projects like our own. The best defense is a good offense, the saying goes, and going out and getting solid, open research is our best defense against such opinionators.

It was a Long Time Coming
The idea of doing a baseline survey has been brewing in this community for a very long time. The first time it peeked out publicly was in the Bridging the Digital Divide document put together at the behest of the city-parish council and released in May of 2005. It was the first suggestion in the "Assessing our Successes...and Shortfalls" section:
Develop and periodically run a survey containing standardized questions. Surveys are particularly good tools to measure outcomes that we expect to remain comparable regardless of differences in time and location. Some questions will be unique to our community, assessing locally unique factors that change over time. Others will echo the questions contained in standard, national surveys of Internet usage that will help us compare our progress to that made in other communities.

A) Run this survey once before the fiber optic network is built.

B) Run the survey yearly, and combine it with other feedback suggested here.

Shortly after the successful fiber referendum in July of '05 folks active in the fiber fight got together with the idea that they'd try an take on various projects that would "keep the momentum going." André Comeaux decided that he'd make getting a credible baseline survey his goal. He worked on that extensively, setting up ties with the Annenberg and Pew foundations, securing copies of their questionnaires, and lining up estimates for its cost. He canvassed the business community tirelessly for funding and while that particular deal never quite came together he produced a body of work that was ready to go when the opportunity finally presented itself.

The idea that periodic surveys were a good way to check ourselves never faded away and by the time LUS was ready in 07 to get its franchise from LCG to actually offer services a survey clause was included in the franchise agreement.

By the time LUS Fiber's launch date neared most of the principals understood the value of a baseline survey but time was running to get the data collected before LUS had significant customers. A team had been put together from the sociology department at University of Louisiana at Lafayette crafted the questionairre and initially the hope was that a survey unit at the university would collect the data and a consortium of local businesses would pony up the necessary funding. When that didn't work out and the survey unit at ULL was closed Joe Abraham at the Acadiana Educational Endowment stepped up and took on the task under the supervision of the university's team. LUS took on the financial support. Several short stories worth of trials and tribulations later the data had been collected, vetted, and analyzed by the sociologists and the survey was complete.

Just in time.

Some People Should Stand Up and Take a Bow
I was in a spot to see most of this long and tortured tale come together and am left with a lot of solid admiration for the folks who finally made the survey happen. It takes a certain sort of mind to recognize the value of doing something that is so long-term and which has so little immediate value for any of the participants. Lafayette is lucky to have a large set of people who both saw the value and were willing to sweat for the sake of the community. I'm proud to know 'em. There are a whole crew of people who deserve to be stood up in front of the community and applauded. The best I can do is to is to list off the ones that I happened to see in action.

  • The folks on the original Digital Divide Committee and especially "Committee II" that drafted the original idea and continued to push for it over the years: Ed Bowie, Jennifer Hamilton, John St. Julien, Kevin Domingue, Layne St. Julien, and Melanie Louis.
  • André Comeaux deserves his own paragraph—he persisted when few would, convinced those who needed to be convinced, and got the basic package together.
  • When the deadline approached an ad hoc "steering committee" formed up: Joe Abraham, Steve Creeden, Jacques Henry, John St. Julien, Mike Stagg, and George Wooddell. They kept on pressing until the thing was done and in the box. That required special sacrifices from Joe Abraham, Jacques Henry, and George Woodell. Joe set up a calling center at his nonprofit and went through several kinds of H*ll getting it running right. Actually he did that twice. "The sociologists" Jacques and George had to battle data issues that kept cropping up and weren't afraid to stop the cart and force folks to simply start over. Without their dedication it wouldn't have been done right. Considering that they originally had to be cajoled using their affection for Lafayette, their recognition that this was something that simply ought to be done, and the (unfortunate for them) fact that no one else was in a position to do the analysis I'm sure they got a lot more than they bargained for. But they stuck it out. Terry Huval should be added to that list. If he hadn't stood up with the money needed to do it when the timing got really critical the survey would never have happened.

This is the sort of thing that can happen in real communities. People hang in there for years, looking out for what is best for their community and finally get it right. Nor am I under the illusion that this survey is the only place you see such honorable behavior. In just a few weeks we'll see Festival International 2010... I'm genuinely impressed—and pleased to live in a place where those sorts of things can happen.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

"Carencro High pioneers in fiber optic education"

Marsha Sills of the Advocate has an analysis piece up today that coversthe Fiber Kids program at Carencro High’s Academy of Information Technology (AOIT). The lead:
Technology has changed the way classrooms look, how educators teach and how students learn. And one group of students, at Carencro High, is shaping the next generation of changes in the classroom, using fiber-optic technology.
Fiber Kids explores the use of fiber-optic tech in the classroom. The group has engaged in live streaming and video conferencing with kids in San Francisco and regularly uses a link to LITE's video and 3d rendering engine. Community tech types regularly come into the classroom to offer their expertise on the arcane topics that knit together an understanding of modern big broadband technologies. The project knits together resources from Louisiana Public Broadcasting, the Lafayette Utilities System (LUS), Bay Area Video Coalition and Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise (LITE).

AOIT has rapidly become a fixture on the Lafayette tech scene and most folks associated with technology have a (vague) sense of what the school within a school is about. But exactly because we "know" it, we tend to treat as something that is normal, a regular part of a decent city—in the realm of "oh sure, that's a good thing." As has been said: "A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country, and in his own house." Others better appreciate what director Kit Becnel's school has achieved as is evidenced by:

Becnel and the FiberKids project are known in the broadband community, council member Don Bertrand said at the (LCG-School Board) meeting.

Bertrand, City-Parish President Joey Durel and other city officials were invited to a broadband public interest workshop at Google’s Washington, D.C., offices.

“We did not have to tell them who you were,” Bertrand said to Becnel. “She’s setting the course in the entire country on the use of broadband in education.”

During the meeting, School Superintendent Burnell Lemoine noted: “Why us? Why Carencro High School?

“The response was: We were the only academy set up or in the position in the United States to do this kind of project...”

...connections set Lafayette apart from other communities, said Joaquin Alvardo, senior vice president of diversity and innovation for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, on a visit to Lafayette last fall.

The closing paragraph, quoting Kit Becnel:
“I think not only nationwide, but globally, all eyes are on Lafayette and the capabilities: fiber to the home, education, public media, online, on the air,” she said. “This is going to be huge … as far as education and education redesign goes.”
It'd be a good thing to recognize the prophets that labor among us for little credit and less pay...(the "profits" get plenty of credit as is...)

A salute to Kit Becnel and AOIT!


post scriptum: If you'd like a bit more on the award mentioned here LPF is at your service...

Monday, April 05, 2010

Brief: Lafayette's Digital Divide Applications are in

Not exactly exciting news but interesting to some of us nonetheless...Both of Lafayette's latest applications for stimulus money are now appearing on the Broadband.gov's database of Louisiana projects. They are listed as "application received."

What's new is that you can now get a look at the "executive summary" of both the Lafayette Parish Public Computer Centers and the Lafayette Students Build-a-Computer Program projects. Interesting reading—they not only summarize the projects but lay out what the writers believe is the best case for giving Lafayette the grants. For instance, the Build a Computer Program cites the need revealed by a recent, and as yet unreleased, local survey of internet use and attitudes.

Friday, April 02, 2010

"Pixel Magic to make 100 hires in Lafayette"

An update on today's Advertiser website says that Pixel Magic has committed to hiring a 100 artists to work at its new Lafayette location. They will work at rendering "old" 2-D films into new 3-D formats. That type of boost to the digital arts community plants the sort of seed that every community is looking for these days. It is the potential beginning of a hothouse economy built around the digital visual arts. 100 highly trained visual 'magicians' will have to have something to do in their off time...and some other personal projects to keep their juices flowing. For Lafayette it's those spin-offs that will be the real payoff. [If the economic development people haven't put aside some petty cash to sponsor a visual arts club for kids built around these folks as the core group then they aren't doing their job. It's stunning how much real development has sprung from cold pizza and warm coke...]

Looking for some of that work? From the article:

Pixel Magic will work with Louisiana FastStart to provide training for interested candidates. Knowledge of stereoscopic 3-D is a plus, but anyone with a visual arts background is eligible.

Candidates who are selected will complete a specialized training course taught by Pixel Magic artists. The course will be taught over 2-3 weeks starting May 2.

This announcement a tremendous success for LITE. And Louisiana, and Lafayette, and, I very strongly suspect, LUS Fiber (even though utility companies seldom get a fair share of the glory).

Pixel Magic is the real item—it's not a start-up hoping to leverage the fallow assets of Lafayette into some star gig that lets them move up and out...it's a major established house that has come here because it can accomplish more of what it wants to do for less money than elsewhere. It's up to Lafayette and the region to set the hooks deep so that nobody ever wants to leave. Festival International will be a good start....and Mardi Gras and crawfish etouffe. [Never heard of Pixel Magic? Shame on you. Check out their site, with the Lafayette location prominently featured on the fly-in, and their list of movies, and, for real fun, go to the "reel" they've put up of special effects. Imagine being able to do that sort of stuff...it really does look like magic.]

Pixel Magic bringing employment to Lafayette is not the result of any simple, "silver bullet" approach to development. This had to look good to the company from a number of different angles. Starting at the state level a big chunk of their favorable decision has to be Louisiana's "aggressive" tax benefits for film and digital production. The company will get some extremely nice tax credits for the work that is done in the city. But that's not nearly enough. Many states have copied Louisiana's generosity. There's also Lafayette's location on big backbones like the Internet2 and LambdaRail consortiums. Shipping big buckets of bits back to Los Angeles won't be an issue. Then there's LITE itself—with a 3D rendering setup and multiple varieties of 3D visualization venues testing out films in settings from theatrical to flatscreens will be easy. LITE also has a couple of monster underutilized rendering farms on site. Pixel Magic no doubt gets a good deal and LITE gets a client that will actually use its massive facilities for more than a prestigious address.

Finally, we're down to LUS Fiber. You have to know if you've been down to "the egg" at the LITE building that they're not going to put 100 cubicle workers in that facility. No way they'd fit. However they do have to do the tedious work in Louisiana to get those credits. So some large percentage of those 100 workers will have to be off-site. But they'll have to be able to do their work as if they were in the same building with, at a minimum, the 100 megs of connectivity that standard ethernet LANs provide. That, of course, is exactly what LUS provides on its justly acclaimed 100 meg intranet. A person setting behind a nice workstation setup on Moss Avenue with a nice VLAN setup could work within the Pixel Magic network as if they were just down the hall from the boss's glossy corner office (something both would probably prefer). The ultimate in working from home. I'll not be surprised if Pixel Magic opts for an offsite work center like NuConn did—but there too LUS' fiber-to-every-nook-and-cranny make it possible to shop for the cheapest appropriate location rather than the cheapest location that has something close to real connectivity. In that sort of situation it would be easy and damned inexpensive to leverage LUS Fiber to provide a gig or several of commercial grade connection between the two points.

All of that taken together—each element individually impressive but not uniquely decisive—turned out to make Lafayette very hard to match.

The best thing is that this little coup will put the "three 'L's"—Lafayette, LITE and LUS Fiber on a lot of people's radar in the digital video arts. Rev up your motors guys....the race is now beginning.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

LUS Reveals Long-Term Plans

(Please note: this was first published on April 1st. It's also worth noting that a lot of the following is simply true and more is actually planned; what isn't true is credible IMHO...the fun is in figuring out just what the status of each claim is. Might be worth coming back next year.)

LUS has revealed its long-term plans!! Sorta. A daylight savings glitch apparently caused a timed press release to be sent early. (This sort of thing has happened before.)

After a press release dated tomorrow, Friday, showed up in PR inboxes across the city mid-morning calls to LUS and an embarrassed George Graham (from whose office the missive was mailed) confirm its authenticity. The surprise release gives an amazing amount of detail (7 loosely organized pages) about topics the local utility has always deemed "proprietary information."

Said Huval:
Yes, It's real...We just decided that since it has become extremely clear that Cox and the Independent’s FOI [Freedom of Information] requests will force us to reveal many details that would remain private were we a privately owned company like Cox or the The Independent we’ve decided to make the best of a bad situation. If we can’t keep our competitors from using and critics from revealing much of our proprietary information we’ve decided that a pre-emptive strike is our best bet. We’ll simply tell our community—our owners—everything we are hoping to do and see what their reaction is. Hopefully we’ll get good feedback that will help us make final decisions. [Pause] Besides most of this stuff is either obvious or nothing Cox or AT&T can do anything about anyway. Why not let the community know?
Huval declined to elaborate on what was meant by "extremely clear."

Said Graham:
Yes, it’s for real. No, it’s not supposed to have gone out quite yet....the attached pages haven’t been fully edited and organized...that’s pretty much the way it came over from LUS and our writers haven’t much of a chance to whip it into shape. There’ll be a better version this evening. The thing was on automatic send for tomorrow. There’s some sort of time glitch in Outlook that’s in the news this morning...our IT intern is supposed to be on it. I’m not a happy camper.
The pages are pretty much a mess.... But the substance is pretty visionary. No need for LPF's reporting to wait till the evening. If we can get even half this stuff done....well.... I’m impressed.

On to the good stuff as I see it; extracted from the PDF, organized into my categories:

Major points:
LUS is planning a set of hardware upgrades to the network
  1. The local backbone electronics are being upgraded to 10 Gbps as we speak. [This is about 2 years earlier than the first electronics upgrade anticipated the business plan.]
  2. New 1 gig-capable CPE equipment [the box on the side of your house] has been ordered and installs done after May 1st will use it; early adopters with 100 meg equipment will be upgraded “according to demand.”
  3. The 100 meg intranet is being upgraded to 1 gig [LUS has always talked, awkwardly, about the intranet as a “full available capacity” feature and this upgrade is consistent with that stance since the CPE was the choke point before...but: wow.]
  4. A 100 meg symmetrical internet connection will be available for retail customers. (100 megs is currently only available in a “business” package though a household is allowed to buy that package if it wishes. Presumably the retail version will be cheaper.)
LUS is upgrading their set top boxes, software and hardware
  1. The software upgrade comes first and is due March 15th.
  2. The plan is to install new MS Media Room software “beginning” on that date. (no hint on whether you’ll have to bring your box in or if an over the network upgrade is possible. Either way expect an uncomfortable transition moment.)
  3. A set top hardware upgrade is planned for August. Upgrades will be available to current “upper tier users on demand.” (Why switch boxes? no hint...)
A WiFi network will extend the fiber. This has long been in the plan, both Terry Huval and Joey Durel have stated their intent in public forums but no concrete plan has emerged before today.
  1. The network will consist of both public and private “channels.” (Presumeably the “private” channels will serve safety functions — there’s been a lot of discussion of GPS costs on the council recently and this would be a very cheap way to address location issues inside Lafayette.)
  2. The public side will exclusively use 802.11N and will be offered on a “best effort” basis
  3. 1 meg of symmetrical wireless service will be offered to everyone on a “guest” basis.
  4. Subscribers to internet service get free “best effort” service. (WiFi N is rated as high as 600 Mbit/s (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IEEE_802.11n-2009#Data_rates) but I doubt we’ll see such speed—but 50 or a 100 wouldn’t be impossible considering LUS’ rejection of the bandwidth-sapping mesh architectures that hobble most muni networks.)
  5. Probably associated with the wireless issue: "The CPE [Customer Premise Equipment] will equipped with a wireless repeater node." (I'm not sure I fully understand that but I’m pretty sure I like it.)
  6. Cellular interoperability for “select” WiFi phones from “a major carrier.” (?)
Digital Divide/ Digital Inclusion, the one sheet devoted to this and is in a different format for what that is worth. Digtial divide and digital inclusion are used interchangeably, possibly this is the beginning of the Graham Groups rewrite...digital inclusion is the newer term.
  1. There will be a comprehensive DD/DI program whether or not the current application for a stimulus grant is won. That is, support for community computer centers is planned for a “slower rollout” if the grant bid fails.
  2. The WiFi node in the new CPE is cited as part of this.
  3. The new set top box is also mentioned in this regard. Apparently it has on-box memory that is regarded as necessary to use this box as a “fully functional” web browser. (The current WAP-based browser in the set top box, while innovative, is simply not practically useable.)
  4. The free 1 meg of wifi to all is mentioned again on this page.
  5. Discussion of supporting “NAD’s” seems to refer mainly to smartphones and perhaps to the new iPad and recent netbooks. (Network Attached Devices is an odd generic term to use and may refer to a recent LWV study and other local mention.)
Things I don’t understand....
Well, there’s actually plenty I’m not sure I understand; the doc could use a lot of clean-up. I’ve tried to stick to reporting stuff that made sense to me. The upcoming release of a cleaned-up version should help a lot.
  1. There’s stuff in there about a media server and AOC that are opaque to me... also stuff about VLANs and remote access to the same. (I need to do some research to get into this.) AOC is also mentioned in reference to support for its “new location” (?) and server space in the front-end for “multi-format web-based VOD.” (again ?)
  2. There’s stuff about cloud computing, standardizing access protocols, and “supporting” a unified data access categories “scheme” that probably means something to some readers but doesn’t to me. (help?)
  3. Interoperability & “widgets:” A lot of emphasis throughout the doc is placed on interoperability and widget-based interfaces. APIs are mentioned that would support incoming phone calls on the TV, Caller ID, remote login to video recording features, etc. The Media Room product supports some light programming so apparently the idea is to allow local 3rd party developers access to some (but not all) of the hooks.
Ok folks, that’s a lot to digest. A dream-list. I presume they’re not wedded to it all and Huval explicitly asked for input from the community. What do you really want LUS to get behind?