Thursday, December 30, 2010

Menu–>Extras->App Dashboard !! LUSFiber Gets Apps!

LUS Fiber has apps for your TV. (But they've yet to announce they've got 'em.) Right now you can get a look at three of them: Weather, Messages, and News and the stub of links to on-screen Caller ID and Email. Yup, eat your hearts out Cox, LUS customers got apps. Now they're not much when compared with some of your smartphone apps but they are a definite start and their provenance as iPhone-style apps is apparent. They'll get better and more interesting with time just like smartphone apps did. Whether the day will come when apps are as important on TV screens as they are on smartphone screens is an open question. But having them this early puts LUS Fiber and Lafayette out on the cutting edge. There's a mobile phone developers community in Lafayette; I wonder if they will get involved?
LUS Weather App (click to enlarge)

The weather app is an obvious example of a useful app. Wasn't "weather" on your first smartphone homescreen? It pops up as a vertical Iphone-like panel on left side of your screen. Simple...and you can go in and change the location if you really want to. (It's cold and rainy in Vancouver, for those who want to know.) The weather app appears over the ongoing show as a translucent overlay...the show underneath goes on.

This all works because the that little Motorola set top box from LUS is really a small computer. It can be programmed to do pretty much anything that a not-too-powerful media computer or smartphone can do. The real issue is having the software to make this potential real. In our case this is Microsoft's MediaRoom, the new UI/media manager that LUS brought onboard relatively recently. One of the big advantages of going with MediaRoom is that it brings along the entire MS ecosystem (one of its chief disadvantages too...). So apps developed by Microsoft, Alcatel-Lucent, or any third-party producer targeting AT&T or numerous national telecoms across the world that use MediaRoom will be easily deployed in Lafayette—we won't have to reinvent the wheel. (This also means that cool apps developed for LUS will have a world-wide market.) Similarly, the hooks for smartphone apps and computer-based interaction are also well-developed. I'm looking forward to scheduling online and using my smartphone as a universal remote.

There are those who question whether folks need or want apps on their TV. There were folks who felt the same about apps on a phone. (Wasn't that a truly weird and silly idea only 5 years ago? How quickly perceptions change.) The apps that have been successful on the smartphone were aimed at individual users. It will be very interesting to see what will be successful on the more social device that a TV screen is in many homes.

How To:
So how do you get to see these app and how are they used?

The Apps Dashboard
Well the first thing to do is to take a quick journey to your "Menu" function. If your set top box has updated recently you'll see something new: an "Extras" function on the bar across the top. (If you're missing it go to settings and restart your machine; that'll bring up the new software.) Select "Extras" and you'll see a new button appear: "App Dashboard." Click on that and up comes your new selection bar on the bottom of the screen over whatever you were watching. From there you can select and activate Weather, News, or Messages.

You might ask yourself why the "Extras" selection only shows an "Apps Dashboard" function; wouldn't it have been easier and more efficient to just access your apps by calling it that and make it a one click, easy-as-pie function? Why make everyone click twice? Well, almost certainly because they are thinking about other things to put below "Apps Dashboard" in the Extras section. And there is a clue hidden elsewhere in the system.

Wait,There's more!
The Main Interactive Menu...not yet rebranded
You can access the apps dashboard in another way. I discovered that if you hit the "interactive" button on your LUS Motorola remote you'll gain access to another screen that has an "Apps Dashboard" button. But it also has other, currently inaccessible, functions: A "PIN Application," " Caller ID," "Email," and the mysterious " Widi." The Apps Dashboard button works, and for those that are using the supplied remote it's probably an easier way to get there than traversing the menu system.

The "PIN Application" is ugly and it apparently only exists to allow you to enter your PIN and validate who you are. That's likely to be there for the next two slots; you'd likely need to validate yourself via your account identity to start up Caller ID and surely would need it to enter Email.

The Widi is more mysterious but I suspect that it stands in for a technology called WiDi for WiFi Direct, which is a standard promulgated by the wifi alliance. The technology allows you to "throw" your computer screen onto the TV, and the hardware is pretty widely available. (See an explanitory video.) So you could share YouTube videos, show your photos, or watch Netflix on the TV screen via your computer wirelessly. The full standard would let you you replicate your computer screen to the TV, use the TV as a second monitor displaying its own content, or simply extend the computer screen so that the active area spanned both screens. The advantage of having WiDi available on your set top box is that 1) you wouldn't need to put yet another $110+ dollar box in your stack, a wifi dongle would suffice and 2) conceivably the App could be made multi-functional...there are more than one set of wireless standards out there.

So there you have it. Apps on your TV here in Lafayette.


Tip o' the hat to Raymond Camden over at LafayetteTech who first noticed the new functions and posted it to the board...LafayetteTech is a great place to hang out; if you're at all techy check it out and join.

Pat Ottinger, City Attorney, Steps down

Pat Ottinger, the city attorney through the entire (successful!) fiber fight is stepping down. The media are all carrying the story; you can look at fleshed out versions from The Independent, The Advertiser, and The Advocate.

Ottinger is the unsung hero of the fiber fight. He worked long hours and fought tirelessly to make sure that Lafayette got the chance to make its own future in spite of well-funded corporate lawyers, Cox, BellSouth and their stooges in the state legislature. His work was instrumental in defending what we had won after the referendum battle. Lawyers don't get much glory; that's not the sort of profession you go into if glory and adulation are what makes you run. We'll surely get a more complete run-down on his accomplishments in the coming weeks as editors put together their stories and in that larger history the legal battles that swirled around Lafayette's decision to build its own future will be far from the only story. But that is the one I've watched closely and I can say without reservation that Lafayette was well-served.

The city has lost a real public servant, one whose earnestness and self-evident competence should serve as a standing rebuke to those who'd disparage those among us who choose to serve.

Lagniappe: I spent a few minutes looking through old LPF stories...the first one to mention Ottinger by name is worth your review as an example of the value of having an Ottinger on your side: The City replies to the BellSouth lawsuit

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Double take...Cox & French TV5

Just before Christmas I did a sharp double-take when thumbing through the Advertiser with our morning coffee—Cox was running expensive full-page, color ads promoting TV5 Monde, the french channel. While I didn't spit out any coffee I was taken aback. Cox, you see, has never before pretended to be a friend of Lousiana's French speakers and this kind of promotion is a particularly galling extension of the corporation's continued attempts to ingratiate itself with the Lafayette community after taking a brutal hit to its public relations image during the fiber referendum battle.

One of the mistakes Cox made during the fiber fight was a set of channel changes that included moving the French channel from basic cable into the stratosphere of channel 226, a location that required both a set top box rental and a the purchase of a special, costly, upper tier add-on package. In a city where the last census showed that 13% of the people spoke french in the home that seemed, and seems, pretty outrageous. Many of those speakers will be in our poorer communities and will be disproportionally older and on fixed incomes. If you speak french as a first language, or are simply determined to keep Louisiana's francophone heritage active this change was a huge blow...making mass media access to french content more obscure and more expensive. At that time—soon after the storms—Cox also moved the weather channel off basic cable and up into a more expensive channel package. These, and changes to the on-screen channel guide were all intended to drive users off the cheaper, bandwidth intensive lower channels and up onto the more lucrative digital channels that required a rental set top box.

Needless to say people weren't happy with these changes which pretty blatantly were the sorts of decisions made by corporate honchos in Atlanta who were unappreciative of the local cultures or the facts of life for those living in the Gulf's vulnerable coastal cities. (See examples of LPF coverage @ A, B, C.) After complaints across south Louisiana (in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and Lafayette) Cox moved the weather channel back onto a cheaper tier. But TV5 has been permanently moved to an expensive upper-tier ghetto where it is paired with, of all things, a set of specialty sports sites.

The contrast between LUS and Cox on this issue is stark. If you want TV5's French language programming and have access to LUS Fiber then your best choice is LUS...it's on a basic tier that doesn't require the rental of a set top box or a more expensive digital tier. On Cox you'll need to rent a digital box to get service and opt for a specialized, mostly sports, package.

The Cheapest Packages with TV5 from LUS Fiber and Cox:

—LUS Fiber: on Expanded Basic @ channel 71: $46.95, no set top box: $0, Total: $46.95
—Cox: on Advanced TV Preferred @ channel 266: $64.98, required set top box: $5.25, Total: $70.23

LUS advantage: $23.28 a month or $279.38 a year...

And that's before you add on other one-time charges. Suppose that, in reaction to Cox's full page ads in regional newspapers, your old Tante Sue is so delighted at the prospect of French TV that she decides to take the plunge and get some of that cable television. She'd be hit with a connection fee of $53.95 (and possibly various and sundry other cabling fees to get service where her TV is). Even if Tante already has Cox and only has to upgrade to digital to get that channel back she'll still pay $53.95 to only upgrade to digital! Cox, your ersatz "friend in the digital age" doesn't particularly want to come visiting...and charges accordingly. And you've got that silly extra set of sports channels to click through. So if you want to watch some of your TV in French you'll end up paying $333.31 more to buy it from Cox than you would if purchased it from LUS during your first year.

Now maybe Tante Sue already has that fancy digital TV stuff and only has to switch to the package that contains it...but she'll have to give up one of those other "packages" to switch into the "Sports and Information Pak." So she sits down and has to decide to give up the Turner's old movie channel or the Cooking channel, or...some other favorite of hers to get a channel in French. Or, of course she could upgrade to higher priced service to get the privilege of adding TV5. No doubt helpful sales agents will suggest that...and that will cost her an additional $6.00 dollars a month.

By contrast LUS Fiber doesn't do all that contract, install fee nonsense. It's simple—French TV is in a basic tier...you get it for no extra cost, no monthly box fee, and don't have to give up other channels to get it. Pay for "expanded basic" @ $46.95 a month and add nothing on. End of story.

So Why?
Cox's French language offer is simply not a credible competitor with LUS'. Which brings up the issue of why Cox is bothering to dump substantial advertising dollars into full page color advertising. Well, two reasons. 1) PR, "public relations." It looks good to be promoting the French language, particularly in Lafayette, the largest city in the French speaking areas of Louisiana. It doesn't hurt that such ads promote a sense that Cox "cares" about local people and local issues. Cox has been doing its best to counter the lousy PR it gave itself during the fiber fight and promoting French is an apple and babies sort of issue: who could oppose it? 2) through most of the area of Cox's "greater Louisiana" district, which ranges from Gonzales through Baton Rouge and over to Lafayette there is a distinct, well-established French subculture. Somebody (finally) figured that out. There are certainly many "Tante Sue's" out there and it wouldn't take many of them being pushed to buy cable outside Lafayette or upgrade to digital or higher tiers to substantially increase Cox's profit. And that, I imagine, is what clinched the argument with the higher-ups in Atlanta when the promotion was pitched.

The moral of this story is that there is a difference between supporting local communities and exploiting them...LUS Fiber is providing native language support to the traditional local communities with minimal barriers. Cox is providing French to burnish its local reputation and make some bucks. Motivation matters and Lafayette's French speakers should be pleased to have a community-owned alternative to the national corporation that offers much better prices and more widely available placement for the French channel.



Lagniappe: Cox has tried (and failed) before to make cozy with Lafayette by pretending a fellowship with the french strand of our heritage; that much cruder era was exemplified by the infamous TJCrawdad. and the "down-home" ad that used an actor delivering the generic "hick" Arkansas accent and a Cox delivery van with Texas plates to tout their local bona fides.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

A rant against the all-mobile utopians

What he said:

Fiber Evolution: "In which I rant against the all-mobile utopians"

BenoĆ®t Felten rants against the silly ideas associated with mobile utopianism. Some of those, like the idea that mobile networks can under any conceivable use case substitute for wireline for more than a small minority of people you'll be familiar with from these pages. But Benoit has a knack for cutting to the most fundamental points...He's right that there simply isn't enough bandwidth to keep that many bits flying. But the most profound point is that mobile networks don't even exist. Good point. What's called a mobile network is, for almost all the miles a message covers, fiber or copper wireline. Only the last, small cell—small and getting smaller as user density/bandwidth demand ramps up— transit the "airwaves."

As always: Fiber First.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Cox finalizes netbook donations

Both the Advertiser and the Advocate had stories this morning about Cox's donation of laptops to kids in the GEARUP program. The Advertiser's was a brief story about Cox completing their commitment to provide the netbooks and internet connectivity to those student's families who don't already have it but it's not visible on the web (see p. 3A of the print version).

The Advocate version is longer and updates an earlier version of the story from back in July when the commitment was announced. That story detailed an earlier donation by Cox and other in-town efforts to bring access to more people—private donations and two grants were applied for by LCG/LUS. LPF reviewed the story then. Neither of the grants were won.

Interestingly, the Cox press release from July used the term "bridging the digital divde" and the most recent Advocate story repeated that phrase. That's only a catch-phrase here in Lafayette where the LUS-sponsored Digital Divide Committee back before the fiber referendum produced a document entitled "Bridging the Digital Divide" encouraged a multi-pronged attack on the problem. One of its recommendations was for a general free or reduced-cost computer program for those that qualified and were willing to "get invested" via education and/or a willingness to give back by educating others. While the educational initiatives Cox is pursuing are not at that scale they are a start. Good for Cox. And Lafayette.