The fiber-to-the-schools plan

Lafayette Pro Fiber covered the fiber-to-the-schools plan (FTTS) briefly in the long wait for the non-action on the fiber bond issue last night and the media have interesting stories on it as well. The Advocate, KATC, and KLFY all offer their takes. The Advertiser seems to have passed on it. Maybe tomorrow.

Everyone gushes about the advantage to students and the amazing possibilities that it offers students. Let me join in the gushing. In a former life I taught on an Educational Technology faculty and believe me, there are some pretty amazing applications just sitting on the shelf waiting for two things: a fat enough pipe to deliver them and location of that pipe in a socially diverse enough community that the big grantor agencies won’t feel bad about funding a large-scale implementation. Lafayette Parish will be the first community to be able to line up for that funding. I urge the grant writers at the parish not to think small. Start looking for a couple of really big ones. In the odd economy of schooling, having a resource like this lets you apply for grants that you’d never be considered for without it. Shoot, it lets you invent grant opportunities tailored to your needs that you can credibly ask the big guys for. This is a smart investment simply from a fiscal point of view. The small additional cost should pay for itself many, many, many times.

Besides the natural enthusiasm about the benefit for schools and students, there were some other things revealed about how LUS regards this separate but obviously connected fiber buildout. One thing that jumps out was just how aggressive they are willing to be on price.

From KLFY:

…from what the officials say, the small cost difference between what they have now and what is coming will be worth it.

Right now, the system is paying $365 a month per school for cable modem speed. The monthly fee for the fiber service would be $390.

Considering that they will have to run an entirely new plant all over the parish, this is stunningly cheap. These guys are willing to be aggressive. Very aggressive. Notice, of course, that this great deal on installing modern technology and providing it to every school at an ultra-low price is a product of local values and a utility mentality. No out-of-town corporation would think this approach “sensible.”

Another thing revealed by this FTTS build is that LUS is positioning itself to benefit every citizen in the parish–not simply the folk who live in the city. That possibility has always floated out there and I have noted the few times that Durel or one of the mayors of the outlying cities have made remarks that pointed in this direction. But what we see here is a concrete commitment to running fiber in the parish. The implications of that are not avoided. The Advocate’s always-incisive Blanchard asks the right questions:

Asked whether the planned connection to the parish schools outside city limits could lead to an expansion of LUS’ planned fiber-to-the-home initiative beyond city limits, Huval said the public school network outside city limits could create an opportunity for such an expansion.

Huval said the school program has nothing to do with the fiber-to-the-home plan, but said that success of the two separate plans could open the door for expansion of fiber-to-the-home beyond city limits.

“We’ll have a point of presence out there,” Huval said.

I’ve spent some fair amount of energy trying to think about how LUS could get backhaul bandwidth out to the parish at a pretty low cost. (Did you know that lasers have some advantages? 🙂 ) But this leapfrogs my ideas and is a better solution. There will be the elements of a pervasive backbone in place in every corner of the parish as this build proceeds. The major cost is in getting the gangs out there working and securing rights of ways. The cost of fiber strands themselves is miniscule in comparison. Running a few more (or a few dozen more) strands down that conduit will not budge the bottom line. Hooking up the electronics to all that will cost money. But you don’t do that until you have someone to sell to. The possibilities are endless. Fiber to the home from one end of the parish to the other. Yes. Possibly. But it’s also possible that interim solutions to bringing in parish residents could be found. A wireless parish network? Not out of reach.

A credible offer of fiber or wireless to the parish as a whole might well have political implications for the current referendum battle. The game is deeper than bandwidth for children. The city and LUS have played a great game of chess so far. I won’t be at all surprised if this isn’t a clever move, a castle that changes the entire configuration of the board.

Stay tuned.

Last night’s Council meeting

The story at the City-Parish Council meeting last night was not fiber, as reading both the Advocate and the Advertiser’s coverage will show. I watched on AOC. It was every bit as ugly as the articles indicate.

But there was some fiber news. The Advertiser doesn’t mention it but the Advocate does. KATC actually has the fullest coverage. The news is: no news. The council deferred action on the ordinance that would have moved Lafayette one step closer to building its fiber-to-the-home network. That in itself isn’t news. The city-parish couldn’t have passed the ordinance since it is currently under the legal cloud of Judge Hebert’s ruling. What did happen was that the council left its chambers at the beginning of its 5:30 meeting and went behind closed doors for about an hour to discuss the matter with its legal eagles. The only clue we have as to what was discussed or not discussed was the deferral of the ordinance.

Does that mean that the lawyers presented an unclear set of options? Probably. That is what lawyers do. Does it mean the city-parish is uncertain about its course? Don’t know. Does it mean there was division on the council about how to proceed? Don’t know. Is some lightening strike being planned? Don’t know.

We do know that the decision has to come soon. An appeal, if any, must be made by next week.

The alternatives? 1) An expedited appeal that might settle the issue by mid-April at the State Supreme Court. 2) An expedited vote in which the city cuts through the red tape and goes for a vote at the earliest possible date. 3) Accepting Hebert’s ruling, waiting for the petition to make its rounds again and voting then in the likely case of its success. (BellSouth and Cox will put it in their employees’ hands again if it looks like it isn’t going to make the cut–just as BellSouth did last time. This is their best chance. They can’t afford to let it fail and will do what is necessary regardless of how it looks.)

The order of that listing is also the order of my preferences. All we can do is wait.

“Let The People Vote!”-The Independent

Every so often we get a good example of the sort of mealy-mouthed, both-sides-of-the-fence, public-relations-oriented reasoning that so irritates me about the opponents of fiber on our side of the fence. The Independent offers it today.

Today’s Independent editorial is a great example of positioning yourself to be right no matter which way the wind blows.

On the one hand you’ve got:

In our view, a referendum on fiber-to-the-home can’t happen soon enough. It’s time to let the people vote.

The next two sentences?

At press time, LCG and LUS were weighing their options and considering an appeal to Hebert’s ruling. It is imperative that the courts decide whether LUS’ application of this particular law for such projects is appropriate, so the case should go on. (emphasis mine)

That just about says it all.

The logic for going to referendum? Only that looks bad not to. I looked high and I looked low and I saw no other rationale. The Independent does not hint that it is the principled thing to do. Rather, it is the expedient thing to do—in their judgment.

The Independent had a choice here. They could have chosen to trust that the people can understand the objective situation we are in here in Lafayette and run a series of articles, emulating the dailies’ educational pieces on its endorsement, laying out the plain and a simple case that the push for a vote is a tactic from Cox and BellSouth to advance their interests without any real regard for the rights of the people of Lafayette. Or, they could have chosen to lend their voice to the barrage of incumbent misinformation, foregoing using what influence they have to further expose the facts of the matter, and help BellSouth and Cox frame the issue as about voting rather than the value of a fiber optics network for the future of Lafayette.

I would have preferred the path of principle.

Advertiser poll on fiber redux

3/1/05 @ 11:01: This obnoxious Advertiser poll on a bond vote is at 54.9 for fiber and 44.2 against fiber. I still think both sides ought to denounce this poll and demand that it be pulled down. I’ve done that already; the fiber411 guys should do the same. It’s poison and the sort of thing that causes folks to say what they later regret. I see over at the fiber411 site that Bill is saying [Chatbox: Tuesday 01 March 2005 – 18:01:21] that the profiber boys are rigging the vote. Come on. We’ve been making a little progress here. This is a dumb, divisive poll. It can’t be trusted by either side. And no side can legitimately take any comfort from a positive result for their cause.

The only advantage gained by this “poll” is to the Advertiser’s page counts. Popularity polls are promotional devices for the websites that post them. Notice all the obnoxious pop ups/pop unders? My bet is that the Advertiser is being paid for each and every “pop.” If we were smart we wouldn’t play that game.

Lafayette Pro Fiber has denounced it. LUSFTTH has ignored it (probably smarter.) Fiber 411 has promoted it. Guys who ignore it and who denounce it aren’t likely to have much motive to rig it since they would look a little strange promoting a good outcome for the home team.

Doug, Tim, Bill, Neal, (gumbofile, baycock, whoever): let’s actively denounce this in the comments. Let’s neuter this thing.

Note: why the change in the poll numbers? Not absolutely sure but I do know that profiber folks like myself hit their email address book and listservs starting mid-afternoon. I don’t like promoting this thing in any way and held off doing so hoping first that the poll would come down and then that the fiber411 guys would join me in denouncing it in order to build their good government credits. I finally gave up. I know for a fact that at least one other round of emails entirely independent of my effort went out.

LUS announces FTTP deal with the school board

I sat in on the early session of the council meeting today and was treated to Terry Huval’s announcement of a deal with the Lafayette School System to provide Fiber to the Premises for every school in the Parish.

The deal with the school system will provide 100-megabit service to every school in the parish and one-gigabit service to the central offices and several of the high schools.

Current service is a stunningly inadequate 1.5 megs to each school. That’s the equivalent of low-end residential service speed that has to be shared by every classroom, the administration and the library. That’s like having a single commode for the whole school; you’d spend more time in line than learning. One hundred megs will adequately fund even the largest school for all but the most advanced uses. But one gig would open up extremely interesting video and game-based curriculum. This was something I once worked with and so still follow from a distance. As I understand it the army is now teaching recruits Arabic via immersive video games. Misunderstand the word “duck” in Arabic and you pay the ultimate price…. There is huge potential here and real possibilities for providing very advanced, specialized, and in some cases mandated “special services” that are now forbiddingly expensive for much, much less. Education is communication and it is hard to underestimate the possibilities of making two-way communications to anywhere in the world, with any degree of complexity, cheaply available to all. It’s something ed tech folks dream about.

Playing the numbers game reveals that the new 100-meg service will be 66 times as fast as the old. For about 7 percent more in cost you get broadband that is actually usable. That’s great.

The schools in the city will get their fiber by the end of the year while those in the parish will get it sometime next year.

And that is part of the news too. The fiber running to parish schools outside the city will be a large-scale advance of fiber to customers outside the city. My guess is that LUS would like to pull all that fiber in nice fat conduits that would make it easy to turn the runs into solid backbones with relative ease. That might be a little fantasy, but it would seem sensible to me. Some businesses might like to get good fiber out where the land is even cheaper. (As did, cough, cough, Cingular.)

“Council faces LUS decision”

The Advocate previews the upcoming City-Parish Council meeting. It’s the first meeting since the lawsuit defeat and the city will have to deal with how to respond. The path forward will depend on whether or not they decide to appeal.

My own preference is to stay the course. There is entirely too much acting out of fears and maybes in this town. That is the root of the disease that led to Durel’s issuing his call to arms. It is also the root of the reason the Advertiser, after being notified of a corruptable poll posted by their online editor on the same day the paper published another of his diatribes against fiber and on the day before this council meeting, decided that the publicity hit from pulling it would be too high. It’s embarrassing. That’s not the way decisions that are good for the community are made. If one of your staff has made a decision you freely admit was bad, you should bite the bullet, admit it and deal with. Or make yourself complicit.

The Chamber endorsement in the media

Both the Advocate and the Advertiser run stories this morning on the Chamber’s endorsement that share roughly the same structure: note the endorsement, note that it is unanimous, report the pleasure of LUS and the City, and allow the opponents to respond.

As you have probably come to expect, the Advocate’s reporting, Lafayette Chamber backs LUS fiber plan, has the edge. It gives you a bit more appropriate context and probes into a few more corners.

The Advertiser’s story, Chamber endorses fiber plan, will sound familiar if read after the Advocate’s, but the folks quoted and the elements emphasized are different enough to be informative. In particular the Advertiser reports Cox’s hurt feelings with some special vividness.

If you are becoming a connoisseur of such things, this is an opportunity to preview the spin and misinformation that will be in the first wave of incumbent advertising. While Fiber411 tries to spin the chamber endorsement as some sort of plus for their position the real guns, BellSouth and Cox don’t bother with such silliness and trot out a vague sense of fear, claiming that LUS will not be able to offer the savings that it says it will. Considering that studies have shown that prices do fall in the 20-30 per cent range any time real competition is introduced, LUS’ projections hardly seem out of line. But that BellSouth is choosing to try to induce doubt about this is revealing of what really scares them and what they believe will appeal to voters if they believe it: Cheaper Prices. (My own guess is that the vision of our determining our own future will be the most potent argument –and, actually, BellSouth may realize this, and realize as well that they cannot credibly mount a counter-argument. They would be better served if the argument was about money. But it is not.)