Building Community Conference as it relates to FIBER

Doug over at LUSFTTH has a first person account of the Chamber of Commerce’s Building Communities Conference this weekend in New Orleans. I hear that the bus trip down was quite a party. You gotta love the spirit.

Doug reviews the way that fiber played in the discussions. It is well worth the visit. The chamber at the state level is setting an ambitious public policy agenda and has some fresh ideas about how to encourage an economy based on creativity and culture instead of bricks and mortar. (See the Advertiser’s story for background on this.) Doug points to ways that this agenda links up with bandwidth issues and Lafayette’s fiber project.

Thibodeaux on enabling technologies

The Advertiser interviews Keith Thibodeaux, the city’s new chief technical officer, in Q&A: City’s tech chief saves time, money; Thibodeaux upgrades services, cuts expenses.” The emphasis of the story is on running Lafayette like a business, a central theme of the Durel administration. It does get around to fiber, as all stories concerning technology in this town eventually must. Thibodeaux comes out of LEDA (Lafayette Economic Development Authority) where he was chief technology officer, so the question was truly inevitable. As you would expect, he is for fiber:

Q: You haven’t played a visible role in the LUS fiber optics battle. Being a former economic development and information technology person, what do you think?

A: I think it’s a great project. It’s something that makes our city unique in so many areas. If Lafayette can roll this out early, that means our students, our businessmen, our citizens get an early start into this world, and that is going to propel us over the years faster than anything else.

Q: The average citizen has a difficult time grasping how fiber optics availability will be important to them in the future. Can you put it in perspective?

A: It’s a very futuristic thing. The first time the telephone was unveiled, some very well-established people were saying we’re not going to use this thing. There’s no purpose. There are famous missteps in history when it comes to enabling technologies.

There are things you put out there you don’t know exactly where you’re going to end up. The Internet. Nobody in 1992 had a clue where the Internet would be today. In ’94 I remember the first time that people inside a company were really starting to get aggressive in asking for e-mail access to be able to send files to people outside the company. Today, what would you do without that?

I think that applies to this project. Somebody is putting into your hands a tool you’ve never had before. I don’t think anybody can definitively say this is everything that’s going to come out of that, but I think history has some pretty great examples that it’s going to be some great stuff

That response might surprise you. You might be tempted to think that he’d be primed to respond in terms of mechanics (how much cheaper and easier it will be for companies to use our resources in opposition to what will be available elsewhere) or to focus on exciting stories about the potential for particular businesses (like the bandwidth needs of geologists in the oil and gas industry or its essential role in video gaming). And I am sure he does do that when asked a question which leads in that direction. But when asked an open-ended question, his response seems to me to be exactly right: his instinct is to point to how bandwidth is an enabling technology; it does not so much advance particular businesses as make whole new ranges of things available—to any person or business with the imagination and get-up-and-go to use it.

The fact that this is a broad enabling technology is precisely why, for it to be most valuable to our people, we need to make sure that we get it early, that it is cheap, and that it is available not just in the wealthy areas but in every corner of town. I am sure our people have the right stuff. We just need to get it early and we need to get it to everyone.

Thibodeaux gets it right.

“Competition: why we need to keep the muni option open”

Muniwireless gives space to an excellent walk-through of the competition-based argument for municipal broadband. It’s always a pleasure to read someone whose reasoning is so tight and well-organized. Here is the Cliff Notes version, culled from the article. (Rember, Cliff Notes always cheat you of the complexity and side notes that make the real thing interesting; go get it at Muniwirelesss.)

I won’t say that every municipality should deploy its own system. But every municipality needs to have that option. I can sum up the reason in one word — Competition.

With merger mania going full tilt, competition is evaporating in most broadband markets.

But we see what happens in an unregulated, uncompetitive broadband market. Fiber goes only to the wealthy neighborhoods. Prices stay high, while quality of service remains low. Speeds remain ridiculously low (the United States has the highest price for broadband in the developed world, measured on a dollars-per-bit basis).

In addition, innovation in network services comes to a stand-still in a market with a duopoly between cable and DSL. Cable and DSL companies will block any services that challenge the cable video monopoly and the telco voice monopoly.

Nor can states regulate the incumbents to prevent these things from happening — even if they were interested in doing so. The FCC has pre-empted the ability of states to regulate “IP enabled services”

In this nightmare world of no competition municipal systems — or the threat of municipal systems — remain the last hope for keeping big cable and big telecom from exploiting their near monopoly control of customers.

Opponents of municipal entry say this is about competitive markets. What it’s really about are monopolists who would rather regulate than compete. States should keep the muni option on the table if they want their residents and businesses to enjoy the benefits of a competitive market in broadband.

[Emphases in the original]

Should Stand Up! — Advertiser on the Chamber

The Advertiser fills its Sunday editorial space with a call on the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce to take a stand on Lafayette’s Fiber to the Home project.

The Advertiser refers to two chamber position papers (whose long incubation in committee were often cited as evidence that the chamber was still studying the issue) as critical in the decision the chamber must make now. The daily points out that taken together, the Broadband Position Statement (MS Word document, LPF html) and the Public vs Private Sector Investment (PDF, LPF html) statement constitute all the rational basis needed to make a stand in favor of the project. The Public vs. Private statement was issued January 31st after long delay and was the last “study” for which chamber leadership had been said to waiting. The newspaper notes the thrust of the two position papers:

In a nutshell, the chamber recognizes the immense value of a major broadband initiative, and believes that, when the private sector is unable or unwilling to undertake an initiative of community value, government pursuit of the initiative is reasonable.

That seems to come very close to an endorsement of the LUS project. If so, it should be formally and publicly acknowledged.

Absolutely. And long overdue, in the judgment of Lafayette Pro Fiber.

The paper rests its case for action largely on preserving the leadership role of the chamber and on the hope that its voice will provide an “informed, independent voice.” As welcome as the chamber’s endorsement would be, neither of these goals can any longer be realized. The chamber has already forfeited its leadership role in helping the community come to an informed decision and its extended period of inaction was, in all honesty, based on the kind of “good ole boy” relationships that reveal the chamber as simply one interest group among many. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with being an interest group—and I will propose that it has a lot of value for the community—but it is no longer credible to present the chamber as a disinterested group of “leaders” whose “study” has revealed an objective best path for Lafayette citizens. The case for an endorsement must be made on other, more credible grounds if it is to lead to action useful to the chamber’s membership and the community to which they belong.

The Advertiser refers to such issues only obliquely:

The Chamber leadership may believe that its silence insulates it from critics. But we would suggest that an institution’s silence is a breeding ground for rumor and innuendo that can cause great damage, whether substantiated or not. For purely selfish reasons, the Chamber should speak.

That is a not-so-subtle warning to the chamber that the real reasons for its inaction are widely known, and that people inside and outside the organization are coming to the conclusion that on this issue, the organization is not to be trusted. And this distrust threatens to spread to other projects for which the chamber could still exercise a leadership role in opinion-making, such as educational budgeting and small class size. What is widely known is that a web of personal relationships exercised in part through setting up uncoordinated study committees and keeping the issues in committee long past any rational moment kept the chamber under Gary McGoffin from making a decision about whether or not cheap, ubiquitous, advanced, true broadband would benefit the businesses of Lafayette and its people. With the ascension of Tyron Picard of Acadian Ambulance to the chair, many felt that hope of a chamber endorsement was lost because of the close personal relationship of Acadiana Ambulance’s Richard Zuschlag with BellSouth executives, his alliance with BellSouth over 911 technologies, and his rumored desire for membership on the BellSouth board of directors. This relationship was fairly openly expressed during the embarrassing debacle of the chamber’s “broadband debate,” which ended in an insulting conference call and the withdrawal of Cox and BellSouth after they failed to force a change of the ground rules for the event which would further favor them. LUS ended up making its presentation to the media alone and going home.

Beyond the personally political is the ideological. Businessmen, and the chamber is an organization of businessmen, have come to think of themselves as conservatives and some conservatives have somehow come to the conclusion that all corporations, without exception, are to be favored in any conflict between the interests of the people and the profit-taking potentials of corporations, even government-supported monopolies. This is not truly conservative — most of the disturbing changes in our culture, and the erosion of local communities, are directly attributable to large corporations’ finding it profitable to ignore local values and squeeze out local infrastructure. But the fact remains that an unreflective ideology of hostility to even locally-elected, chamber-supported leadership has distorted the chamber’s view.

What is needed in the face of all this is not for the chamber to take up some disinterested leadership role which it, in fact, cannot honestly play. Instead, it should honestly acknowledge its actual position as an organization of largely conservative business leaders and leverage that indisputable fact for the benefit of its membership and the community.

The chamber should forthrightly endorse the Fiber For the Future proposal because it believes that it will benefit its present membership by bringing cheap and huge bandwidth to its affiliates in a moment when telecommunications is an increasing and increasingly important slice of every business’s budget. It should clearly and honestly deal with the bare fact that the interests of local businesses and businesspeople are not same as the interests of large monopoly corporations and their executives, and that confusing the two is a form of deception.

The chamber could then credibly join the community in declaring that it also has an interest in Lafayette’s future unfettered development through clean, tax-producing enterprises. This would be a new style of development in which we decide that we will invest in ourselves and consider what is best for Lafayette without depending on the hope that outside groups and corporations can be enticed to bring some investment to Lafayette in return for sacrificing local values such as school revenues that result in higher relative taxes for our “merely” local businesses. Big broadband is the waterway/railroad/interstate of our day. Lafayette’s existence and success has depended upon commercial access to one of these since it was named Vermillionville after our local waterway, and pointing out to the people of our community that the conduits of trade are essential to our future development is a point the chamber is in a unique position to make credibly—if it is willing to honestly own its role as an organization of businesspeople.

As Lafayette heads into an ugly fight where the incumbents will continue to pursue a path of promoting fear, uncertainty, and doubt (the preferred strategy of incumbents with no real argument), what the people of Lafayette most need is a community that stands up together and pushes back against outside money and influence. It is no longer possible to believe that any fight here will be a simple reasoned debate on the value of the proposition for the people of Lafayette. That hope died as long ago as the failed broadband debate, if it ever really existed.

The chamber can be a central and extremely important lynchpin in that coalition, one whose presence makes it impossible to argue that the plans for a fiber optic network to serve the community are somehow anti-business. Probably the most understandable, if not the wisest, reason given for chamber inaction was that it sought to avoid conflict. With other institutions that are on the verge of an open endorsement (such as the local Republican party) joining in the fray on the side of Lafayette, a grand alliance of Lafayette institutions will be possible. Such an alliance would help neutralize the dishonest claims that BellSouth and Cox are protecting “free enterprise” and “conservative values.” And that alone would go a long way toward making any conflict more honest—which is the best the chamber can hope to achieve if it is motivated by lowering the level of divisive conflict we are likely to face.

The time for us all to stand up is now. And the chamber can take a lead in that project.

Update: The original format of the two supporting documents from the chamber are provided in formats that may not be immediately accessible to all. I have provided standard web page (html formatted) versions of both. (See the “LPF html” links above.)

Sprint fiber-optic exhibit redux

The Advocate has a short on the fiber-to-the-home trailer mentioned earlier. It’s a good excuse to run a photo sent in by another of those alert readers. Looks interesting, doesn’t it? Well, ok, maybe it doesn’t look interesting. But on the other hand the folks that are actually there look fascinated, don’t they? Guess you gotta be there. I’ll certainly drop by.

The particulars:

It will be at the Cajundome parking lot from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday.

Cox finds another way to stifle competition

The Arizona Sun covers Cox’s latest anti-competitive strategy in “Homeowners angered by lack of Internet provider choice:”

Consumers moving into the more than 60,000 new homes built in Maricopa County last year often got state-of-the-art communications systems and a price break on cable television and high-speed Internet service.

However, many were unable to choose which company provided those services.

That’s contrary to existing neighborhoods where residents generally have a choice of at least two providers — Cox Communications and Qwest Communications. [Note: Qwest is the regional equivalent of BellSouth.]

‘We’re locked in,’ said Joel O’Desky, a McDowell Mountain Ranch resident in Scottsdale. ‘We have no choice but to go with Cox.’

This joins Cox’s earlier and even more obnoxious attempt to stifle competition in Arizona. Cox first tried to enlist the legislature in its plan to force a tax on Arizona’s satellite TV providers to compensate for the “unfair” fact that satellite providers didn’t need to pay for rights of way they didn’t use. What was unfair, of course, was that satellite providers, because they didn’t need to use property belonging to the cities for rights of way, didn’t have to pay the cities any fees to not use them. Horrors. That meant that they they could out-compete Cox. Cox cried “unfair,” but sadly, the legislature didn’t recognize the simple justice of their request. So when that failed in the legislature, Cox demanded that legislators who wanted its monetary support during the next election cycle sing a pledge to vote for such a law before they receive the check. Sort of a promissory note. We promise to do your bidding later and you pay us now. Ugly.

Think this sort of incumbent behavior might be limited to Arizona–a sort of sunstroke effect? No. Don’t feel neglected. A clause promoted and passed by BellSouth in last summer’s Louisiana legislative session gives us in Lafayette a taste of the same treatment. Did you know that there is now a clause that forces municipalities to charge themselves for access to property they already own? The Public Service Commission is charged with making sure that LUS raises its rates sufficiently to account for how much it would cost to rent its own rights of way and poles. Whacky and absurd. Their purpose here is exactly the same as the purpose in Arizona: get the state to implement a law which forces your competitor to artificially raise its rates in order to pay for something you need but it doesn’t.

Decker and some of the opponents of fiber to the home have recently chosen to get their dander up about the possibility that LUS will be returning money to the city-parish instead of giving it all back to the citizens in the form of the lowest possible rates. Decker and the boys should go talk to the guy who drove their petition all around town and who paid for the current lawsuit: BellSouth. BellSouth was successful in getting a clause put into state law with regulatory teeth to be enforced by the PSC that ensures that our local government has no legal right to grant their request.

I repeat: LUS and the city-parish, as a matter of a clause in state law promoted by BellSouth, no longer has the legal right to charge you, the customer, the lowest possible rate for telecom services. Why? Because, and only because, BellSouth is afraid of the competition that would result.

It is astonishing that the incumbent monopolies can find anyone to support their various ploys to extend and consolidate their control.

State law threatens digital divide project in Houston

Its been a good day for help from readers. Here’s a lead owed to ricky over at Timshel. Thanks guys, I need the help…I’ve been running behind with family, fiber, and other duties.

The link ricky sends is from the Houston Chronicle. It joins a long list of attempts, promoted by your baby bell and cable companies, to get the state level of government to suppress any possibility of competition from cities, towns, and counties that might want to provide for themselves.

The suggested Texas law would simply forbid any municipal involvement in any way. The heart of the article:

Reed’s organization, Technology for All, has pioneered this program to bridge the digital divide with help from Rice University and an enthusiastic Mayor Bill White, who has asked city libraries to join the effort. This small, wired neighborhood may eventually become a model for providing everyone in the city free, or low-cost, Internet access.

Or not.

Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, has filed a massive telecommunications bill in Austin this session that, in part, bans Texas cities from participating in wireless information networks.

“I’m not real pleased,” Reed said. “As it currently stands, the bill eliminates competition, innovation and a huge research opportunity.”

BellSouth and Cox and their counterparts across the country are not interested in any rights– state, local, or individual. They are interested in profit. That may be as it should be. But the pose that they are somehow motivated by something noble is little shy of nauseating. It is dishonest. And it should let us all understand just how low they will go: as low as is necessary. Look for a similar law to be introduced (again) in Louisiana. Will it bother them to sue Lafayette to promote a vote while they work in the legislature to remove the right of any locality to ever vote on any such issue again? Surely you jest. No. It won’t bother them. Just as it didn’t bother them last summer.

I confess: I fail to understand how some folks find admirable in a business that which they would condemn in a human.

Standing up! — Ron Gomez on Moon Griffon

“Recovering legislator” Ron Gomez appeared on the Moon Griffon show defending LUS’ fiber-to-the-home plan, correcting misinformation, and appearing as the voice of calm reason. Nice, and courageous considering the level of invective that callers on that show too often revert to. He noted that LUS, not BellSouth, built Lafayette’s fiber ring, that the incumbents have no intention of building a fiber-to-the-home network in the foreseeable future, the difference between FTTH and FTTCurb, the economic reasons corporations favor big cities over small towns, what legislators are elected to do, and the sordid history of how telecom corporations have waged campaigns of disinformation across the country in an attempt to keep local communities from providing for themselves.

Gomez clearly knew his stuff. But what was most impressive to me as a listener was his ability to calmly and clearly explain this complicated stuff on the fly. I’m envious. He’d make a great host on AOC.

For his part, the day’s moderator, C. B. Forgotston (no slouch at invective himself) gracefully accepted correction and endorsed public bodies doing for the community what private corporations will not when he learned that this was what was really going on in Lafayette. He lectured the audience as well on American democratic procedure, arguing that we elect legislators rather than laws and that the proper solution in a case like this would be to vote against the folks who had passed a law you didn’t like. Here’s a guy who was awake in civics class.

Refreshing stuff in that venue… and proof as well that this isn’t a left vs. right issue but a community vs. corporate one. Kudos to all.

(Thanks to an alert reader for cluing me in that the topic was being discussed. It’s been a good day for those alert reader sorts.)

The Fiber-To-The-Home Technology Tour

LUS announces that a Sprint-sponsored Fiber-to-the-Home trailer will be visiting Lafayette . . . little bit of the future on wheels. From the online version. (An ad ran yesterday in local newspapers.)

Tuesday, March 8, 2005
1:00 PM – 4:00 PM
Cajundome Parking Lot
444 Cajundome Boulevard
Lafayette, LA 70506

Have you wondered what all the fiber-to-the-home talk is about? How will it affect you? How can it improve the economic future of Lafayette by attracting new businesses and improving the businesses that are already in the Lafayette area?

(Thanks to an alert reader who caught what we’d missed.)

“Eatel launches fiber-optic TV service”

Mike, posting on the DigitalLouisiana list, points to an article in the Advocate on EATEL’s fiber-to-the-home project. From the first paragraphs:

Eatel launched its new fiber-optic television service Tuesday in Ascension Parish, putting it in competition with Cox Communications.

Dubbed FiberEdge, the Gonzales telecom company’s digital TV service provides access to more than 300 channels. They include 47 commercial-free digital music channels; digital pay-per-view; specialized sports and high-definition channels; a digital video recorder service that lets consumers pause, rewind, record and replay live TV; and high-definition TV packages.

Lafayette readers may recall EATEL as a former sponsor of local festival events and an aggressive competitor for BellSouth who used to offer good deals on phone service. All that’s past, of course, since BellSouth and the other baby bells got the FCC to effectively end the regulated competition that allowed EATEL and other carriers like ATT into that market.

EATEL, a small, nimble, locally-owned company which seems to actually care about its customers, turned around and reinvested its earnings in building a state-of-the-art fiber optic network for its core customers. It’s clear proof, should any be needed, that fiber is an economic investment–for companies that choose to invest in upgrading their own infrastructure as a way of driving long-term growth. Other companies, like BellSouth for instance, invest in get-rich-quick schemes like trying to own Central America’s wireless companies, and end up selling out at fire sale prices. They then turn around and pay their CEO as if he wasn’t running a company that was allowing its core business to decay each year. Of all the regional telephone companies, only Verizon, apparently, hopes to continue in the landline business. It’s pushing forward with a major fiber build at locations all across its footprint.