Thursday, January 03, 2013

Cities, Schools, Hospitals Seek Faster Broadband - WSJ.com

What's Being Said Dept.

The Wall Street Journal notices that, hey, a lot of cities are satisfied with what the incumbent providers are (or rather aren't) providing; the cities want real broadband for a variety of reasons.

Lafayette gets its own paragraph:
Many schools across the country are experimenting with "bring your own device" and online learning programs that are vastly increasing their bandwidth needs. Audrey Menard, principal of St. Thomas More Catholic High School in Lafayette, La., says that when she found out this fall that LUS Fiber, the city's fiber operator, would soon offer gigabit-speed Internet service, she "almost tackled" the company's leader "in the middle of a Chamber of Commerce meeting" to ask to be his first gigabit customer.
Folks here have been aware of the amazing things St. Thomas More is doing with a gig, but now it's made the national press.

F2C: Freedom to Connect...& Lafayette

Freedom to Connect (F2C) 2013 has been announced for March 4th and 5th in Washington, DC. If you've any interest in cutting edge approaches to communications technology it is pretty much a must-see event. Run by
friend of Lafayette and web legend David Isenberg the conference has popularized phrases like, well, "the freedom to connect" and has regularly been an early, accessible way to peer a little over the horizon on progressive uses of the internet. He's also been very supportive of Lafayette, bringing his conference organizing talent and ability to draw top names to his events to Lafayette for fiberfete in 2010.

This year he's highlighting three areas of interest: open infrastructure, the development of publicly specified set of Internet protocols, and the use of the Internet to promote government of, by and for the people, and to counteract autocratic government power. The speakers he has already garnered commitments from are an impressive list of current actors on each of these stages.

But most interesting to readers of this blog is the fact that Joey Durel and Terry Huval have both agreed to speak as part of the "open infrastructure" strand of the conference. Here's the relevant 'graph from David's announcement:
The first is an open infrastructure owned or controlled by and responsive to the community it serves and whose resources it depends upon. This will be addressed by Joey Durel (Mayor of Lafayette LA), Terry Huval (Director of Lafayette Utilities System), Pat Kennedy (founder, Lit San Leandro), Chris Mitchell (MuniNetworks.Org), James Salter (Atlantic Engineering Group), Catharine Rice (President, SEATOA) and others to be announced.
Beyond Durel and Huval regular readers will likely recognize Chris Mitchell, and may recall James Salter. Mitchell has visited Lafayette, published a case study that featured LUS Fiber, and through his work at muninetworks and its parent organization the Institute for Local Self-Reliance has promoted municipal networks nationwide. Salter's company, Atlantic Engineering, was the lead contractor for Lafayette's fiber build and has served in a similar capacity for many of the other municipal fiber networks.

The conference should be great again this year. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

WAFB, KPEL, others go dark on Cox Cable (updated)

The company that owns WAFB, KPEL and Cox communications has failed to reach an agreement and these stations are no longer being aired on Cox's cable network. (WBXH, a subsidiary station of WAFB, and WPGX out of Pensacola have also vanished from the Cox Acadiana lineup. Cox's message boards and its facebook page are filled with unhappy customers.

File:Cox logo.svgHere in Lafayette Cox customers can switch to LUS Fiber, in parts of Baton Rouge they can move to ATT and there is always EATEL down Gonzales way. Beyond that most folks don't have a wireline alternative. 

The whole fracas goes back to ongoing "retransmission consent" battles that grew out of a Federal law passed back in 1992 that, for the first time, allowed local stations to charge for their carriage. Prior to that time cable companies could simply grab the signal off the air and, without consent, retransmit it over their wires for their own profit. That, in fact, is pretty much the way cable got its start. After the passage of the new law the advantage initially went to the cable companies who provided access to households that could  be sold by the local stations to advertisers. Local stations asked for a good spot on the lineup corresponding to their broadcast channel but didn't generally ask for a money. But with falling local revenues and the spectacle of "cable networks" charging truly outlandish fees and setting conditions that often pushed local channels out of their cherished historical channel locations local stations have begun demanding—and getting—retransmission fees for their unique content. Compared to what some of the large channels charge, the fees for local channels are pretty much chump change. If Cox and the others give in it simply isn't enough over the entire cost of their programming to much effect the amount they charge you. But it is a fee the big cablecos are not used to paying and the local guys can often be selectively targeted for defeat without a lot of danger to the cableco on a national level....unlike HBO and ESPN who simply cannot be defied.  

Frankly neither Raycom, the stations' corporate owners, nor Cox is acting in your interest. It's all about the money and where each side sees the opportunity to squeeze the other. 

I've got a soft spot for local stations that are actually locally owned and local cable/internet providers. They've got an entirely different framework from which to work—they can't treat a local loss as a risk worth taking; it's one thing to lose a small fraction of a percentage point of your users to some down south local retransmission conflict. It's another thing altogether to lose something that all your customers want to watch. (Which is why Cox will never take such a "noble" stand against HBO and ESPN. They don't have the spine to fight with folks their own size.)

Buy local.

From the horses' mouths: Cox, WAFB, KPLC

click for larger version
Update 1/4/13: WAFB in Baton Rouge is running a half page advertisement in the Advocate suggesting that the additional fees they are asking for would amount to a two cent increase in the price of a Cox bill. Like I said, chump change.

Click the photo on the right for a larger, readable version of the ad; it is pretty entertaining.