Tuesday, March 20, 2012

LUS Fiber to Get Commercial Income Stream

LUS Fiber recently announced that it was partnering with Viamedia to offer businesses the ability to insert commercials into the cable video stream. Viamedia aggregates ads nationally and provides sales services both locally and nationally. So LUS Fiber will be looking at adding an additional revenue stream from the direct sale of advertising. Since LUS Fiber currently has about 1/3 of Lafayette households both local and national advertisers will gain a way to access the whole Lafayette cable market by purchasing ads on both LUS Fiber and Cox. 

Viamedia fills a hole in the advertising market in places where there is no single cable provider in a DMA— a "Designated Market Area." Most cities these days have only one cable company and that company is large enough that it has its own advertising marketing machine. Viamedia exploits the hole that's left in DMA's where there is no overwhelmingly dominant provider and offers ways to, for instance, market to all of Chicago or all of the Atlanta region. Advertisers who once could get the Lafayette market with a single buy through Cox now need to get onto LUS Fiber.

This isn't particularly exciting stuff, granted. But it's a sign of the growing maturity of the local network and it adds real revenue. 

—Viamedia issued its own press release

Friday, March 02, 2012

LUS Fiber Announces Results of State Audit

Huval in a post presentation interview
LUS Fiber held a press conference today at the Pinhook customer service center that reported on the results of the first state audit required by the infamous (un)Fair Competition Act.  The state audit covered the first three years of LUS' operation and is intended to ensure that LUS Fiber is not being subsidized by Lafayette Consolidated Government.

Lafayette is touting the results of the audit as a clean bill of health from the Public Service Commission. The only issues that arose in the audit were ones previously noted in LUS' own yearly audit from 2010 and the PSC staff found no further issues. The two errors from 2010 involved LUS Fiber underpaying rent on the "fiber huts" located at electrical substations and overpaying the larger utility for some of the fiber assets transferred to the new utility. The result of the offsetting errors was that LUS Fiber slightly subsidized the larger utility—something the PSC had no objection to since they are only charged with preventing LUS Fiber from being supported by a "cross-subsidy."  (This is all part of the general thrust of the (un)Fair Act—to raise the price that LUS has to charge and to protect the incumbents from competition.)

Nonetheless the news is not all good. Cox and the cable association are "intervening" as is provided for in the law. Declaring that they want to intervene is not exactly surprising. It's exactly what was anticipated from the time that the PSC held hearings on how it would implement the uncomfortably vague and constitutionally dubious law. What form this "intervention" takes will be up to the PSC; there will likely be hearings but nobody really know as this is the first time the law has ever been applied—after all it's a law that only applies to LUS Fiber. Lafayette says that in view of the fact the PSC finds nothing worth pursuing the intervention is simply to harass, distract, and increase our expense. As Durel says in the press release: 
“We are not sure why Cox and the LCTA have intervened, unless it was to create further mischief, expense and distraction for our local taxpayers” states Joey Durel, City-Parish President. “The LPSC was granted this responsibility in the Local Government Fair Competition Act, which was created at the request of the private telecommunications companies.”
I suspect that they also hope to get deeper into LUS' books in any discovery process. It'd sure be nice if Lafayette had the right to root around in their books...

As to why this annoying but relatively minor event was worth a press conference: LUS' PR person said that since NBC's "Rock Center" newsmagazine was in town doing a story on LUS Fiber this would allow them to get some tape of LUS being harassed. (Didn't say it just like that, but...) Partly, I'm sure it's a well-worn habit: Cox does something obnoxious and Lafayette hits back. 

Lagniappe: Whining, sniveling losers...
An attack on LUS following the state audit has been long anticipated. Almost eagerly anticipated. Back during the PSC hearings over the first iteration of the regulations that govern LUS the incumbents were annoyed that the PSC didn't see things entirely their way and a bit of spite from one of the opposition attorney's generated one of Durel's patented quotable quotes:
 "The biggest disappointment is that BellSouth's attorney said he would see us in court," said City-Parish President Joey Durel, calling the company "a bunch of whining, sniveling losers."
The more things change....

LUS Fiber changes pricing policies (updated)

Without any fanfare LUS Fiber has instituted two, make that three, major changes in its pricing policies—there's no longer a minimum monthly amount to get on the network, they've changed the speed tiers on their internet offerings, and they've dropped the policy of not offering special bundle pricing.

Dropping the monthly minimum to secure a subscription has been in place for some time—I noticed it during my recent post comparing the pricing of LUS and Cox. Previously LUS Fiber had a minimum $44 dollar charge. At the time it was justified as necessary considering that the utility was making an expensive investment in fancy electronics and installation costs when they lit up a new customer and that cost was exacerbated by LUS not requiring a yearly contract or installation fee. But the minimum also had the effect of making it difficult to argue that LUS Fiber was doing all it might to close the digital divide; eliminating that "gotcha" will help make the case that LUS Fiber is simply a cheaper, faster service. When queried Huval confirmed the policy change.

A Facebook status message today announced:
Very exciting news from LUS Fiber today! Save over $300 when you sign up for video, Internet and phone from LUS Fiber. Three different bundles, three LOW prices.
That means the end of the no-bundling-discounts policy that LUS Fiber has followed since it inception. The previous "VIP" bundles had been nothing more than packaging three levels of the basic services together in a convenient package—the user did not get the limited-time "discount" that conventional providers used to steer users higher tiers. These three new bundles do give a discount — a standard $323.64 over the first six months. But along with that discount comes LUS Fiber's first real contract—a user is obligated to continue all those tiers for another six months at a step increase in price or face a 300 dollar termination fee that would wipe out the original savings.

Appearing alongside the new bundles are new internet tiers and new internet pricing. Considering the fact that LUS Fiber raised its prices about 6 weeks ago, making a sweeping set of changes to its internet offering so quickly seems odd. (Other services appear unchanged.)  Previously internet could be purchased at symmetrical speeds of 10, 30, and 50 mbps with an business-priced 100 meg version available to residents that were willing to pay the premium. The new speeds are 10, 15, 40, 75, and 100 mbps. The pricing for the old and the new speeds:


The logic behind the changes in both speed and pricing escapes me...perhaps LUS will be forthcoming as to what it hopes to accomplish. Given that this change comes so close on the heels of a price hike I'll expect some larger explanation. It is also unclear what happens to current internet customers and how long it will be before old customers have to shift to the new tiers and pricing plans.


Update 3/8/12: 
This morning the Advertiser runs a story on these pricing changes that adds some of LUS' reasoning for the changes...
On the new discounted bundling policy:
"We want to make it easy for people to switch and try out their own community-owned fiber-optic system," said Amy Broussard, a spokeswoman for LUS Fiber.
On the change in speed tiers:
Broussard said LUS Fiber decided to increase the speeds it offers after realizing customers needed more bandwidth as households add additional devices, like mobile phones, tablets and gaming consoles to home Internet networks.
A major difference between my blog post above and the Advertiser story is the inclusion of the old 10 Mbps tier—at the old price—in the new set of tiers being offered ongoing. I'm pretty confident that wasn't on the new LUS internet pricing page initially but I am very happy to see that the lowest tier is being retained at the old price. It means that LUS Fiber will offer a very competitive "low tier" to our citizens wishing a low price product—10 times the download speed for 3 dollars a month more than Cox's lowest tier and a much better price per Mbp—as the Advertiser notes:
Overall, the cost per Mbps is far more expensive for Cox customers. A Cox Internet subscriber with the lowest tier of service will pay $25.99 per Mbps of service, while the lowest tier of LUS Fiber's Internet service offers customers a rate of about $3 per Mbps.
The changes made in red to the original post above reflect the retention of the the 10 meg tier. 

Thursday, March 01, 2012

NBC's "Rock Center" to do show on LUS Fiber (Updated)

Though its not been widely announced—Nicholas Persac of the Advertiser mentioned it in a twitter post—apparently NBC weekly newsmagazine "Rock Center with Brian Williams" is in town filming a segment to be shown on next Wednesday night's show. According to Persac who was tweeting from Tuesday's council meeting:
Durel says Brian Williams and NBC's "The Rock" are in Lafayette all week filming for a story to air Wednesday next week a/b LUS Fiber...Durel on NBC story: "The interesting thing is it's not as much about what the fiber is but what a community can do."
That's suggestive but not what I'd call really informative. As far as I know there's been no larger announcement. Unhappily, the UStream video of the council meeting online omits the first part of this meeting where Durel made the announcement...

I do know that the NBC team was out interviewing Kit Becnel of the Carencro Academy of Information Technology this morning.

Anybody know anything more? Let us know in the comments.

Update 3/1/12: The Advertiser's Persac (whose tweet is cited above) runs a story today on the upcoming Rock Center segment. Persac's take emphasizes the recent spate of good publicity for the utility and Lafayette quoting Durel as saying:
"This kind of publicity has brought credibility and respect to Lafayette from all over the country," Durel said. "You can't pay for that kind of publicity. For a town our size in south Louisiana to be talked about for something other than just food, festivals and crawfish - which are all good things - is really great."
The tale behind the camera crew's visit is a study in how this sort of "earned" publicity occurs. The shows producer, Tom Bettag, first heard about Lafayette's project from friends and family members of his wife who is a ULL (nee USL) graduate. But that's not the full story: the show found Lafayette to be a pretty unique community:

"I've always known this to be a very special community," Bettag said. "Every community is trying to save jobs and find employment for their kids, and the country is trying to make these broadband decisions to stay competitive." 
Bettag said another facet of the LUS Fiber saga he finds particularly noteworthy is the community's willingness to tackle such a progressive endeavor despite strong conservative roots.

Of course, I've always said that any community that boasted the number of drive-thru daiquiris shacks that Lafayette does and hosts the free Cajun and Fest Internationale festivals has a different idea about the meaning of the term "conservative" than the rest of our country.

The show is supposed to run, at the earliest, on March 15th. If you want to record to record the series and you are on LUS Fiber  :-)  you can do so right from this page. There's both a computer and a smartphone oriented interface. Enter your credentials, search Rock Center (selecting "program title," set up the series recording and the new series recording will pop up on your home DVR instantly. (I grabbed the HD version.) Nifty.