Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Fiber optic networks developing in Shreveport, Caddo

A suggestive story is emerging from Shreveport. Caddo parish is eyeing an move to extending its own internal network, what is know as a "government network" to almost all its services using fiber. It projects a substantial savings over its current pattern of using leased lines.

Now that's not exactly top of the page news for a blog with Lafayette-centric interests but what is striking is that Shreveport is explicitly using Lafayette and LUS Fiber as a model. At each turn in the story it refers back to Lafayette's successful experience. In fact the center third of the story is about LUS Fiber:
Lafayette, which operates a municpal telephone, TV and Internet service utilizing fiber optic cables, began using the technology in a similar fashion. 
Terry Huval, director of LUS Fiber, a subsidiary of Lafayette Utilities System, the city-owned power company, said Lafayette began using fiber optic lines in the late 1990s to update connectivity between its electric substations. 
After lines were operational, the local business community began to ask whether the fiber lines could provide other uses, he said. The City did a study and found one option was to lease the fiber line or get into the cable, telephone and Internet business. 
Instead, officials decided to connect other governmental entities, such as the school board and courthouse to their network, and sell some lines on a wholesale basis to companies providing broadband connected services as a “last mile solution,” Huval said. 
But as residents and businesses continued to clamor for municipal telecom services, city officials re-thought leveraging the asset to bring in the next generation of commerce.
“If you look at 1896 when the electricity was brought in (to Lafayette), it was the new highway of commerce for the future,” Huval said. “It was what railroads were before then and were rivers before then.” 
Officials felt the fiber optic system could open that next opportunity, and in 2004 the city moved forward with plans to create LUS Fiber, he said.
“We had some serious challenges, including a legal battle that went all the way to the Louisiana Supreme Court,” said Dee Stanley, Lafayette’s chief administrative officer, referring to lawsuits filed by local telecom competitors. 
But in February 2009, roughly a year after construction started, the service reached its first customers. 
Stanley said the Internet access has been a game changer in the community, with many businesses hungry for that bandwidth. Medical and engineering fields require enormous amounts of bandwidth to move data, as well as digital media.

One of the so-far unrealized hopes for Lafayette's ground-breaking fiber network was that it would serve to inspire other Louisiana communities to do the same. There has been abortive interest shown in Alexandria and a few of the smaller communities—and talk in still-recovering New Orleans—but to date no other community has buckled down to following Lafayette's lead.

Geaux Shreveport. :-)

Monday, August 19, 2013

"Digital Divide Redux"

From the New York Times
The New York Times today runs an update story on what we used to call the digital divide. For those who've followed closely the news is not new but if you've been away from the story for awhile the trend is heartening: close to 86% of the nation has a regular connection to the internet and all but the last 2% or so have some potential access to broadband. These sort of figures, out of statistical necessity mean that the various gaps—racial, income, rural, and age—that have concerned net activists have closed but still remain some of the most significant predictors of who has not made the jump. But while the gaps may have closed the widespread use of the web and the movement toward web-only access for information about things like government services and job applications has worsened the consequences for those that remain without a reliable connection.

Growth is flattening out and with availability largely eliminated and utility continuing to rise the issue has become one of how to get the remaining users online. Some people still don't see the usefulness of the net in their lives or simply don't know how to effectively use it while others simply find it very difficult to afford. That suggest the two basic ways to get more people online that this story highlights: 1) community-based training and 2) lower prices. Unsurprisingly both tactics have been tried and both work.

Lafayette is one of the few places where the community can address both these issues themselves—if we choose to. Not long ago our utility eliminated the 44 dollar minimum that had made it too expensive for some to get started. But that example demonstrates how we can do more. We own our own telecommunications utility and we can lower prices for entry-level access and provide training and help getting online ourselves; we do not need the help of any outside corporation or agency.

All that remains is to decide to act.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

"LUS Fiber officials expect to meet financial targets"

The yearly round of Lafayette City-Parish budget meetings is in swing and Thursday afternoon's event featured LUS utilities and its separate fiber division. It's an index of just how uncontroversial LUS Fiber now is that the only concerned citizens in the crowd were there with the pages from the electrical utility's budget and  the one and only "blue card" public speaker was concerned about fuel efficiency and residential power conservation. The Lafayette Advertiser didn't bother to report anything at all. In fact, the only local media outlet to notice the occasion was KLFY who, rightly, focused on the real news of the night: that LUS was considering shutting down the old Doc Bonin electricity plant and investing a new combined cycle gas generating plant.

The Baton Rouge Advocate on the other hand, sent reporter Richard Burgess, who has had the Fiber beat for years and was around during the fireworks of the fiber referendum. Burgess highlights the latest milestones in long climb toward full profitability:
LUS is now making enough to cover debt payments and is expected to bring in enough money next year to begin setting aside cash to re-invest in the fiber-optic system as it ages, according to projections from the City-Parish Department of Finance and Management.
By 2015, LUS Fiber is projected to make its first payment into city’s general fund of $1.5 million, followed by a $2 million payment in 2016 and a $2.5 million payment in 2017, according to the budget projections.
All in all its good news: both the continued march toward self-sustainability and the lack of a contingent of devoted naysayers unable to credit any good news. Granted that Mr. Theriot still found it necessary to assume the worst about any item that seemed in the least ambiguous but no other councilman exhibited even a hint of malign distrust and even Mr Theriot seemed able to hear sensible explanations when they were uttered. Maybe they are all actually growing into the role. Maybe we all are. One can hope.