“Communication lines open” is this morning’s Advertiser story on last night’s Town Hall forum at the Dupuis Center in north Lafayette. The story is an accurate one–but incomplete in predictable ways. It’s subhead is “Fiber forum prompts some tough questions.” And this forum, in contrast to the first one, did elicit some real questions. The administration team all but begged for such as the meeting opened—and got their wish.
By my count all of the questions, save one, with a “concerned” edge got several paragraphs. But most of the questions, including several on some pretty technical issues and others that tried to get more information on pricing and speed, were from folks who, upfront, claimed to be supporters. None of those got any write-up, but those types of questions were the overwhelming majority of the questions asked. One response to a “sympathetic” questioner, for instance, made it clear that installing category 5 cabling would be the way to sustain high bandwidth inside a home. Several other questions dealt directly with the interaction of the cost of bandwidth to LUS and what it would be economic to offer a residential consumer. Not easy to report on…but if the questions of interested citizens are any index, such issues are more interesting to more people than the objections that did get reported.
Now I understand that “Citizens ask hostile questions!” is more exciting than “Citizens ask sympathetic and obtusely technical questions.” But some acknowledgement that this second approach reflected the general drift of the conversation would be helpful. The general tenor of the meeting was seen in a series of questions asked by Dee Stanley near the end of the meeting as to who was definitely opposed, who was undecided, and who was definitely in favor. No one was definitely opposed. Perhaps 6-8 people were undecided, and the vast majority were willing to say they were definitely in favor.
At one point during the long meeting I was under the impression that the administration trio was trying to wear the audience out. They seemed to want to answer every question—each of them separately—at some length—asked in a cold auditorium with pretty lousy acoustics. But as the meeting finally closed and the people got up from their chairs and walked toward the front instead of the door, it was clear that it was the audience that wasn’t letting go. Terry in particular was cornered in the front of the room by questioners until the building cleared. The interest was real.
A briefing item in today’s Advertiser reminds us that LUS will be hosting yet another of its Town Hall informational meetings. No one can reasonably say these guys haven’t been available to answer questions. From the Advertiser:
Lafayette Utilities System is hosting a Fiber For The Future town hall meeting at 7 p.m. today at the George Dupuis Recreation Center, 1212 E. Pont des Mouton Road.
The purpose is to educate and inform residents about the proposed fiber optics initiative which is up for a vote in the city of Lafayette on July 16.
Hosting it this time are Terry Huval, Director of Lafayette Utilities System and Dee Stanley, Lafayette Consolidated Government Chief Administrative Officer.
The Austin American Statesman reports that, despite a big loss in the Texas Legislature (you know, the one Tom DeLay bought back in 2002!), phone giants SBC and Verizon are hell-bent for the video business in Texas. Here’s the kicker: they’re going to deliver it via fiber!
Sure, they tried to brow beat the Legislature into letting them avoid local franchise fees, but as one observer quoted notes, with their core voice business going down the tubes, phone companies have seen the future and it’s video into the home carried over fiber.
Oh, sure, BellSouth will tell us that they’ve got great plans to deploy a flavor of ADSL in three or four years here that will be damned near equal of what Cox has in the ground now. Of course, if legislation in Congress mandates that broadcasters hand over their analog broadcast spectrum and go HDTV-only by 2008 (as has been reported), then BS’s ADSL is DOA.
Fiber is the future. The companies with a future know this. Companies that appear to be waiting to be bought out after current management retires (like BellSouth) are marking time, hoping that they can ring every last penny of value out of their obsolete copper infrastructure (which they inherited from AT&T back in the 1980s) and that the buyout comes before their market share sinks too badly.
The race is on!
SBC and Verizon say their consumers are demanding fiber. We are, too, in Lafayette. It’s just that the incumbents are refusing to listen.
Mike Stagg has a letter published in today’s Independent. It refutes an earlier letter of Larry Amy’s point by point.
My favorite refutation? That wireless could somehow replace a fiber optic system. The difference between the currently practical and even the theoretical speeds of the two are at least an order of magnitude; the comparison is silly. But the real kicker is that the hope for a robust wireless network to match even the meager dreams of its proponents (they are ignoring video and voice when they make their faulty comparisons) depends upon having much more fiber than the incumbents are willing to provide. We are back, even with wireless, to something for which the incumbents won’t provide enough infrastructure. If Lafayette wants wireless she’ll have to do it herself–and a fiber-optic network would be the best basis on on which to build such a network. First things first.
Mike’s closing words say it well:
The LUS fiber project is an investment in the future of this community that will better enable businesses here to compete in a global and knowledge-driven economy. The opposition’s actual message is that Lafayette should lower its expectations to whatever the incumbents will offer us. Where would Lafayette be today if previous generations of leaders had adopted this slacker attitude?
From a post at Save Muni Wireless:
U.S. Representative Pete Sessions of Dallas has just introduced federal legislation to outlaw muni networks nationally. HR 2726 (the ludicrously misnamed “Preserving Innovation in Telecom Act of 2005”) would give the phone company veto power over any municipal projects they don’t like.
That’s not the way I read the bill; I think it would simply prohibit any municipal competition; the company (phone or cable or wireless or any telecom “service”) wouldn’t need to get involved even to the extent of vetoing a project-merely existing and selling “similar” services would protect it from competition. It’s worth noticing that this bill is suggested at a moment the role of the federal government in suppressing competition is at a modern high. The FCC is allowing the phone companies to reclaim monopoly control of their lines and administrative and judicial resistance to competition-sapping mergers is at an all-time low. Of course the Feds have long forbidden the states to regulate cable companies on the grounds that it should be a federal matter–and then turn around and decline to regulate cable themselves.
The feds have even less reason to interfere with municipal decision making than does our state (don’t forget the anti-Lafayette Broome bill). This is certainly a decision that really shouldn’t be made in Washington. What, aside from campaign donations, justifies Washington substituting their judgment for ours? (Preserving innovation? BellSouth? Cox? Surely you jest. No, this is a preserving monopoly bill.)