Lafayette & Hurricane Katrina

If our logs and emails are any indication Lafayette Pro Fiber has a significant minority of its readers from outside our area who’ve become interested in and supportive of Lafayette. I’ve had some inquiries from friends who are watching national TV and are understandably concerned about those in Louisiana for whom they’ve developed some sympathy. This post is a rarity among posts at this site: it is directed at our friends beyond the our region. (The original draft of the following post was in response to one of those queries.)

Hi all,

Thanks for your thoughts. Lafayette was very, very lucky. We caught only the western edge of the hurricane. High wind and some rain. But we were far enough away from the eye–and shielded by much of the state–that our highest winds didn’t get much above 60 mph. By our standards that’s not bad. (Hurricanes circulate counter clockwise, so winds had rotated over half the state before the circulation brought the weather down to us–our winds came from the north.) Hurricane Lily two years ago was much worse in our locale.

We do have a lot of refugees, Lafayette makes a good stop at the intersection of two interstates and we had people sleeping in parking lots and churches all over town. Hopefully we can help out. The refugee problem is going to be much greater than any in our country in our lifetime.

The levee break in New Orleans is the realization of a nightmare. New Orleans almost squeaked by again but then in the early morning a levee at an industrial canal gave way flooding much of the protected and lowest parts of the city. I am not sure that the national reporters really understand the magnitude of the problem when they compare it to losing the first several hundred yards of Biloxi’s casinos. The area flooded comprises much of the core of one of America’s major cities and much of its blue-collar and poorer residential neighborhoods. Getting the breach sealed is what should be the biggest task and the most reported right now. Something dramatic needs to be done desperately. You’ll see people hacking their way out of attics in which there were trapped on CNN but that is merely the most dramatic visuals. Gas leaks and oil leaks, a tanker aground, salt water sitting on the old wood-frame homes and undermining the foundations. More accidents are inevitable; they are not now reporting a death count but I am very fearful that it will be substantial… (Some geology: The city of New Orleans sits on a drained swamp and most of the city is beneath sea level. It is kept dry only by dint of continual pumping. One of the signature scenes of the city is huge a pumping station with numerous 4-6 foot in diameter pipes rising out of the ground and going into a large, squat brick building. This is seldom on tourist checklists. 🙂 But they are impossible to miss. The pumps were recently hardened and updated and their capacity was increased.)

New Orleans is the place to which to direct your care and sympathy. It is very bad and still getting worse. I am not sure that the city, much less its people, has the capacity to recover from this magnitude of infrastructure damage.

Gratefully and sorrowfully, John

Dr. Who on a Mobile Phone Near You?

Dr. Who on a Mobile Phone Near You? Not unless you live in Britian.

But the BBC which has been consisitently ahead of the curve in adapting to the realities of the new net-based media has just announced that it plans to launch “MyBBCPlayer” (a name that sounds all too American) next year. MyBBCPlayer would allow for simulcasts of the BBC content (watch it on your computer instead of TV) and here’s the nifty part: 7 days of past content. My….

This will be available only in Britian as far as I can tell. But what it demonstrates is that the technology, at least on the backside, is there. The problem in Britian, as in the US, will be getting enough bandwidth at a reasonable enough price to make the service really useful. Even Dr. Who might get a little boring on the small mobile phone screen–and almost as trying on those 2 inch by 2 inch sceens most net video is limited to currently.

“LUS chief ‘elated’ at PSC rules”

The Advocate reported this morning that Terry Huval was “elated” at the new proposed rules the Public Service Commission staff has issued. These replace the previous set of suggested rule which were issued at the the height of the referendum battle and created considerable consternation with provisions that not only seemed to contradict the carefully brokered compromise achieved last summer but which were also internally contradictory.

The new rules are, as I read the report, far from everything LUS might want or, (in my opinion) deserve if they purpose of the “Fair Competition” was to actually level the playing field. But if the LUS director is willing to be elated I am pleased to be happy for us all.

The bottom line:

“We will be able to show up (to the PSC meeting) and say we have no objections to the rules at all,” Huval said.

Huval said Commissioner Jimmy Field did a “tremendous job” brokering changes among LUS, PSC staff and LUS’ competitors BellSouth and Cox Communications.

There were two more interesting pieces for me in the article–it says the PSC will vote on this first draft today. I’m puzzled–I thought it would be up for a vote the first time on September 1st…I guess this will be clarified tomorrow. There is a bit more that would have been cut off

Should the bond ordinance pass the council, it would then be advertised in the local newspaper. State law would prohibit any lawsuit contesting the validity of the bond ordinance after 30 days have passed after that advertisement — sometime in mid-October.

Barring any other delays with the PSC, LUS would have the “green light” to proceed in mid-October, Huval said.

Getting the bond issue locked in will be a major milestone. An early Halloween present for us all.

Fiber Optic Competition Working in UTOPIA

The aptly named UTOPIA project has started driving price down even before services are offered at any city served by the Utah consortium of cities. Fiber is currently being laid in Murray and Midvale and representatives of Utopia have been going door to door in the two towns explaining the services to be offered and offering to sign up residents. The incumbents have responded by dramatically cutting their prices, offering a savings of $350 dollars a year by taking advantage of the new contracts:

Comcast’s high-speed Internet service maxes out at 4 Mbps download and 384 Kbps upload and is shared with other users over a cable network. The standard price in Utah for Comcast’s internet service is $45.95 a month. Remarkably, the price for this same service in Midvale and Murray has been dropped to $29.95 with a one-year contract, saving Comcast customers who choose to re-up $16 a month, or nearly $200 a year. Meanwhile, their friends in non-UTOPIA cities don’t have that choice. That is the power of competition, directly attributable to the advent of UTOPIA.

A similar offer for cable TV is also being introduced to residents in Midvale and Murray. Comcast has dropped the price of its basic digital package from $48.55 to $34.95 a month on a one-year contract, a difference of over $13 per month or about $160 a year. As a direct result of the competition provided by the UTOPIA Community Metronet, Comcast customers in Midvale and Murray can cut their annual cable and Internet bills some $350 below their neighbors in Sandy, Draper, or Salt Lake City.

The prices in Sandy, Draper, and Salt Lake City. Unchanged. Apparently the service reps take your zip code and unless you are in one of the two communities being built out by UTOPIA you’re not eligiable for the offer.

This is not an isolated, special instance. Wherever fiber-opitc based competition arrrives prices drop dramatically:

As confirmed by the GAO study, competition leads to better prices, better service, and more choices. The GAO looked at rates in six cities where broadband service providers had entered to compete with incumbent cable and phone companies, and compared them with cities lacking such competition. Cable TV rates ranged from 31% cheaper to 15% cheaper in five of the six cities.

Providers over the Utopia system will apparently be competitive:

The offerings being rolled out by MStar, AT&T, Xmission, and Veracity over the UTOPIA Community MetroNet will challenge the marketing prowess of the Qwest and Comcast. For example, MStar’s Internet service clocks in at a minimum of 10 Mbps download and upload for as little as $39.95. This is more than double Comcast’s maximum download speed, and 25 times faster for upload. The price comes to about $4 per Mb while the national average is $35 per Mb

The kicker for all this is the wealth that stays in the community and is available locally to generate more local spending and jobs. (I’ve touched on this before in relation to ILOT.) $360 per household that stays with the incumbents is a huge win by itself. Utahans who go with inexpensive true broadband also pump a larger portion of the money they pay for theirs services back into the local community, paying for the infrastructure build itself and creating yet more opportunity for locals to develop and make productive use of leading edge services. The local community wins and wins…this sort of structural change, changing the balance of money flowing into and out of communities is something that is almost impossible to change for the better–the national economy tends to erode the economic base of small towns. Building their own networks is one of the very few things a small town can do to offset that erosion. It’s a good thing. Lafayette, as a growing medium size city, may not be quite in that category. But the dynamic is the same, only here you add it on to an expanding economy instead of applying it to offset loses. Looked at from that angle if its good for Murray, Utah, it’s great for Lafayette.

Bring it on.

Benjamin “On Ethics”

On Ethics” That’s the title of Benjamin’s commentary this week.


In it he tries to paint himself as a reluctant warrior in service of the free press and the public’s right to know. And as the last bulwark against an encroaching tide of fascism foreshadowed by….ridicule.


What he doesn’t do that he must do is address the real issues both ethical and factual he’s raised: Did he break the law when he made the first visible, public statement about an ethics complaint. Was Benjamin reporting or making news? If making news was he held to the higher factual standards that adhere to breaking, rather than merely reporting news? Does he have a reputable source the paper’s editor (were one visible) would stand behind? How reputable could a source be who is breaking the law in talking to him? Did Benjamin encourage Neal to break the law? The factual lapses in Benjamin’s story were glaring and the much of the story was refuted in the press–a very unusual occurrence. And one that argues that the professional press didn’t think the general manager did a very good job of playing reporter.

Benjamin addresses none of those issues in this piece and has addressed none of it adequately anywhere. It beggars the imagination that this self-serving justification was allowed to be published when the real ethical and factual charges have yet to be addressed. Where is editorial in this? Who exercises editorial oversight of Eric Benjamin?

We now have three stories by local journalists that implicate Eric Benjamin in unprofessional behavior. One in the Indpendent and two the Advocate. The central charge in the Independent was that Eric allowed a partisan to co-write his editorials and that, incredibly, the justification for this was that he felt that the partisan, Tim Supple, has supplied the “facts” that Benjamin did not feel he had to hand himself. The implication of the first Advocate article was that Benjamin did not do obvious fact checking about ethical charges, instead he simply relied on the “facts” contained in a complaint of a second fiber 411 partisan, Neal Breakfield. A little quick fact-checking would have supplied some much-needed professionalism to the story. The second Advocate story patiently works through the legal niceties–no not niceties–uglinessess of the case and makes clear that the source of the story broke the law. A little fact-checking would have revealed that too. Now I’ll be the first to say that sometimes publishing illegally received information is justifiable. But as I understand the ethics involved the writer is obliged to tell the reader of this fact and allow the reader to decide whether the writer and his or her paper were justified in publishing the information. Neither Eric Benjamin nor anyone in the chain of command at the Gannett papers he works for has revealed anything about the legal issues involved. Further, the use of such potentially tainted material is supposed to have been explored thoroughly explored and approved by the editorial staff. No one has given us any reason to believe that Benjamin explored the ethical and legal issues with his editorial superiors, whoever they may be. Those sorts of explorations and explanations have been left to other papers and bloggers.

This is not a healthy situation from the point of view of journalism’s ethical standards.

Now on to the essay itself. The first several paragraphs are spent in establishing, as near as I can tell, the idea that ethics is a complex business, that journalists and Saudi women have ethical dilemmas, and that the right path is not always clear. Ok, I’ll concede all that.

What’s difficult to concede are the myriad odd implications of the following assertions:

In journalism an ethical position sometimes requires sacrificing your own point of view to report objectively, and sometimes it requires telling a story that is not already in the public domain with which you may not agree.

That this is obviously true is hardly the point..a reasonable reader unfamiliar with Benjamin’s history, would suppose that Benjamin was saying that he sacrificed his “own point of view to report objectively” and that he was required in this instance to tell “a story not already in the public domain” with which he did not agree. The evidence says otherwise. Loudly

Evidence says that Benjamin was only playing at reporting in his personal column. By the count of another of his staff Benjamin wrote 13 times in the pages of the Times in opposition to the LUS proposal, some of those being satirical retellings of LUS’ reasoning that cast LUS as an oily salesman. Benjamin allowed one of the three members of Fiber 411 to co-author one of his diatribes. Benjamin, in the very instance for which he is trying to claim objectivity didn’t bother to check the readily available public record on the attacks he reprinted. Objectivity is simply not something Benjamin can claim. Pretending to this transparently untrue claim of objectively demeans real reporters who rely on the presumption that they do attempt to report objectively by putting their work in the same category as Benjamin’s. (In making news Benjamin should surely be held to the same standard to which real reporters are held. That he is not is not a problem that can be solved by his asserting that the standard applies. His superiors must exercise editorial oversight to ensure that he adheres to rules that he is manifestly incapable of applying to himself.)

If you read carefully you will notice that Benjamin is not really committing to the position that he was acting against his own inclinations in this ethics debacle. He just wants to lead you to make the little logical mistake that follows from thinking this might true. Don’t do it. Just because it is sometimes true that some reporters find themselves in the position of feeling ethically obligated to objectively cover stories not in the public domain that they do not like it does not follow that Benjamin covered this story for anything like those same reasons. He needs to directly claim that he didn’t treat the story with unfettered glee-that he acted objectively and reluctantly. And if he does he’d have to defend himself against the evidence that he is the most partisan writer on this topic in the media. There is, in fact, every evidence that he was not burdened by any considerations of objectivity and that he has been happy to continue to pursue his attack on the profiber position by whatever means lay to hand.

Benjamin goes on to make this claim:

A report that a bona fide complaint has been filed with a government agency is news.

The problem here is manifold. Benjamin doesn’t even mention the question these particular revelations were illegal and unethical by law and definition and his own ethical obligations to consider whether that tainted the story. Nor, as a consequence of the first omission, does he mention that he didn’t reveal his rationale for using the material to the public with the story.

He calls it a bona fide complaint. That lends it a legitimacy for which only he (hopefully) can vouch. Since it appears that Durel has not received notice of a complaint that would mean that Neal did not file a “sworn complaint”–it was not sworn to before a notary–since the accused is notified in that case. So it could have been not sworn. Or, considering the quality of the reporting so far, it might just as easily simply be untrue. It’s pretty clear that Benjamin has no way of knowing if that complaint actually went in. Neal’s no longer talking. So there’s no way of independently verifying that anything happened that might constitute “news.”

Benjamin continues:

Whether that complaint eventually becomes charges is a matter to be decided within the system, not in the media.

Eric is apparently unfamiliar with the concept of “trial by media.” Let me inform him: it’s what he is doing. Leveling charges that can’t be legally answered has got to add insult to the injury. He goes on to say:

Simply reporting the existence of it [a complaint] is not to be construed as necessarily advocating a partisan position.

Give me a break. This is more of that attempt to take on the mantle of working reporting that he’s not earned. If a real reporter were reporting a publicly announced “complaint” none of us would be free to assume anything about the reporter’s own partisan position. But that is NOT what we are dealing with. We are dealing with the personal column of Eric Benjamin who has consistently ridiculed the profiber position, the same personal column one of which was used on the last day of the campaign as a full page BellSouth ad for goodness sake. All Benjamin has done is advocate a hard anti-partisan position in his space. When we see a post-election attack on Joey Durel which is full of easily checkable misstatements we are prone to wonder. When we see a “report” whose most basic substance can be confirmed by no other reporter and contains illegally proffered information it raises flags. And when that report includes charges that the person attacked has not seen and about which the law forbids him to speak what are we supposed to think? That Benjamin is giving these accusations media time because he’s non-partisan? Give me a break.

This goes on…and on…allow me to be a little telegraphic:

B complains that articles “sought to refute certain aspects” of his story. That ought to read “did refute much of the factual basis of my story” or at least deal with his credulity in repeating the substance of unsubstantiated charges.

B complains that the “complaint is only dismissible when it has been ruled on by the appropriate government agencies” and that the media cannot dismiss it. That’s a classic straw man. Nobody has said or implied anything different. He’s acting as if the attacks on his story’s failings is an attack on Neal’s accusations. Nah. It’s an attack on a shoddy story.

B whines that “Some believe that ridicule and name calling are not the right way to refute a story.” My reply: Lester U Smiley. Not once but over several of his commentaries. Honestly, what more need you say?

B pontificates: “One should draw a very dubious eye toward those who would advance their own partisan agenda while seeking to eradicate or ridicule others, for in that rhetoric truly lives the seeds of fascism.” B needs to do a little reading of history. Ridicule is every totalitarian system’s worst enemy. Fascism was not seeded by ridicule; if anything it was the lack of ridicule of a ridiculous fat Italian man in a gaudy outfit and mad German one with a silly mustache that seeded the rise of fascism.

B accuses: “most Lafayette media failed to perform the basic mission of analysis and reporting on this story” And he contributed exactly what to that mission of responsible analysis and reporting? The Ethics Debacle? A Hunter Thompson parody? –You know, the Consumers Union, Intel, and the IEEE all looked into the issue and have come out for municipal broadband; maybe it’s not a problem of inadequate analysis on the part of the proponents of fiber. Maybe the Chamber of Commerce, many civic organizations, the Advocate, the Independent and two thirds of voters on July 16th had done their homework. And maybe they agreed because that was what was right for Lafayette rather than that they were too lazy to get Benjamin’s “real” story. That is at least as credible a thesis as that Benjamin, BellSouth, and 3 guys with a penchant for press conferences didn’t get a fair shake from the media.

B huffs of the election: “Therefore, if it is not legally invalid, it at least would be ethically invalid.” and a bit later: “Questions surrounding whether the city stole the election are still before the State Ethics Board and may lead to further investigation.” There is no contrition in this guy. The contempt for the rubes among whom his is forced to labor is immense. If the people overwhelmingly reject his position it must be because the mayor was too overt in support of his own program. Or that city buses did it (well, maybe not). Or that a billboard lacked its owner’s signature. Or something, anything, but that the city of Lafayette found his and his allies arguments lacking.

PSC issues revised regulations.

Dueling accounts in this morning’s issues of the papers leave the reader with very different impressions of the revisions of the PSC rules that were apparently posted yesterday. Your intrepid blogger can’t get into the PSC website as a consequence of what looks like a DNS error but will report further when more info is available.

For the moment, what that concerned readers probably want to do is go read the Advocate’s version “PSC staff drops ban on LUS plan.” And then, against that background, look at the Advertiser’s story “Final PSC recommendations on fiber released,” which is much less complete.

The key area of disagreement between the two stories is on the question of whether the new rules say that LUS can or cannot repay bonds, in the worst case, by using the full income of the company (something private companies do without a thought, incidentally).

Claire Taylor of the Advertiser presents this tentative view:

…the PSC staff made a change in its original recommendations. In its final recommendations released Wednesday, PSC staff repeated a statement that the bonds issued to build the fiber project “shall be secured and paid solely from the revenues generated by the separate division…”

The staff eliminated a line that previously read, “A creditor, in the event of default upon the bonds, may not have recourse to the assets of the municipality’s regulated divisions.”

The meaning of the staff recommendations was unclear Wednesday evening.

Kevin Blanchard of the Advocate present this more complete version:

“Now, the rules say communications bonds ‘shall be secured and paid solely’ from communications revenues, but continues by saying LUS could ‘pledge’ overall utilities revenues to obtain the best interest rates — language that mirrors state law.”

Letting the reader know the new language that was substituted for the old is crucial and accounts for the substantial difference in tone between the two stories.

So the outright contradiction between the law and the proposed regulations has been eliminated while the law’s ambiguity remains. That’s not what regulations are about–regulations are supposed to resolve, not sustain, legal ambiguity. That’s the point of rule-writing. My guess is that by simply repeating, rather than clarifying, the staff is signaling the commission members that it’s passing the buck on this one on to them. The new language is a shift in the right direction and declares staff neutrality. In the end, even if some ambiguity remains, after bonds are sold based on language that assumes that pledge means pledge, a meaning favorable to LUS will be fixed. But part of this ploy will succeed if any doubt attaches to the bond issue that causes investors to raise their rates. The PSC should be strongly encouraged to write its rules resolving the ambiguity in favor of LUS; making the best rates available to the city was the clear intent of this portion of the brokered, compromise legislation. To allow BellSouth to achieve at the Public Service Commission what it could not achieve at the legislature is unconscionable and should be made clearly politically dangerous.

The Advocate’s article goes on to cover several more issues that LUS had called important:

The new set of proposed rules also removes a previously proposed requirement that would require LUS to pay so-called in lieu of tax payments to the city government — even in the event the new communications business was not profitable.

To my mind that is most crucial win of this stage of the process. Making bonding expensive is unfair, but the this part of the previous rules proposal was intended to impose, continuing, impossible to sustain financial burdens on LUS that did not vaguely resemble those placed on its corporate competition. The staff has wisely backed off.


The new draft retains a previously proposed rule that requires LUS to share its billing system with competitors such as BellSouth and Cox Communications — should the new communications division share the existing utilities’ billing system.

Again that’s simply unfair and we should object. Will anyone suggest that BellSouth allow LUS to advertise directly to its customer base in its bills? Would they object to BellSouth putting advertising for Cingular in those same bill and complain that such “cross-subsidization” is an unfair use of rate-payer monies. No. Of course not. And they’d be right…just as LUS would be right if it did the same.

Both articles note that LUS’ bond proposal has the direct approval of the people. One would think that would have some bearing on the issue. The commissioners have yet to be heard from, and they are the elected arm of this institution.

The PSC should hear from the people, and from the local businesses it was elected to represent and protect. Too much of this process has made it seem that the PSC sees its role as protecting corporate rather than citizen and community interests.

“Leaks violate law; test case not expected”

Kevin Blanchard this morning had an analysis piece on the Benjamin debacle that is well worth visiting. In it he establishes that the law was certainly broken and that almost as certainly no one will ever try and enforce it.

Somebody leaked a complaint filed with the state Board of Ethics to a Times of Acadiana columnist earlier this month — a leak that would seem to violate state ethics law.

The complaint, you will recall was poorly specified, and rapidly discredited, but Benjamin managed to squeeze the evil-sounding word “malfeasence” into the article a couple of times.

The complaint, according to the Times of Acadiana, was filed by an opponent to LUS’ plan — though the columnist, Times General Manager Eric Benjamin, who did not disclose in his article who provided him with the complaint.

State law prohibits anyone from giving out information about an ethics complaint and investigation.

Now this is all very interesting…no one seriously doubts where this article came from. It came from Neil Breakfield. Go back and read the article and see if you can honestly (not legalistically, honestly) come to any other conclusion. It is certainly the interpretation the article encourages. So are we going to get into a situation where they haul Eric Benjamin out of the office in handcuffs for refusing to name his source? Shades of the Plame Affair. That’s unlikely according to Blanchard:

But if history is any guide, no action is likely to be taken against the “leaker.”

Blanchard goes on to cite multiples cases where now federal Senator Vitter apparently made a practice of breaking this law while in the state legislature. (And seems not to have taken advantage of the obvious opportunity he had to rewrite that law as a legislator). Vitter was never charged. Apparently enforcing the law is not particularly being contemplated in this case either.

This does not change the raw fact that a law was broken. Here is the way the law is described:

State Revised Statute 42:1141 prohibits the board or “any other person” from making any “public statement” or acting to “give out any information” concerning an ethics investigation.

Now as far as I or anyone else in Lafayette knows, the place where that “public statement” was made was Eric Benjamin’s Times of Acadiana column. He did not “report” it being said in some public venue. That would be a fair characterization if Breakfield’s accusations were leveled publicly at a press conference as Vitter apparently was wont to do and Benjamin was there to take notes. But there was no public press conference. Instead, Benjamin said it. Now it can be argued that making a public statement includes whispering it in Benjamin’s ear in a darkened bar. Maybe that point could be made legally. Maybe. But certainly this sort of story which involves a “reporter/commentator/manager” skirting the edges of both journalistic and legal ethics ought to be at least discussed with an editor. I know for a fact that this happened with other reporters covering the ethics issue. But it is unclear just who might supervise Benjamin in these matters. Who is responsible for editorial oversight of Eric Benjamin?

Of course what is really offensive about this state of affairs is that anyone who is scrupulously honest and follows the letter of the law is at a distinct disadvantage. And what we know for sure so far about the ethics of this ethics case is that Breakfield and Benjamin are skirting a seldom-enforced law and that the accused, Joey Durel, is not.

The consequence is that Benjamin gets to write scurrilous “commentaries” with abandon and Breakfield gets to lurk in the background proclaiming “no comment” to inquiries by actual reporters while Durel is forced by his own ethics and respect for the law to stand mute. That has to be hard. (Anyone who thinks Durel finds standing by quietly easy really wasn’t paying much attention during the fiber fight.)

I’m not sure that Durel should remain quiet, even if I do understand the special obligation of public officials to comply especially with laws they may feel unjust. But I am sure who among these three has acted most ethically in the conflict over ethics.

Fiber Bond Ordinance Introduced

The Advocate in “Council begins bond process” and the Advertiser in “Council takes steps to issue fiber bonds” covered last night’s uneventful introduction of the the bond ordinance that will come up for a vote on September 6th. The council, eager to watch the Lafayette’s Little League World Series Game, moved it own with not discussion and got out in an hour…this achievement rivals that of the Lafayette baseball team as all who have set through seemingly endless council meetings will attest.

The introduction is largely a non-event except for making the final language bond ordinance public. Final, that is, if the PSC acts sensibly when the commission meets considers its rule-making on September 1st. Some language in the ordinance is clearly aimed at clarifying LUS’ intentions and codifying some of them as law in anticipation of a favorable PSC ruling, as is made clear in the following passage from the Advocate’s story:

The PSC is also considering a proposal that would prohibit LUS from using the resources of its other, existing utilities to repay the new communications bonds.

LUS believes state law allows for such an arrangement. LUS’ future competitors, BellSouth and Cox Communications, said they believe such an arrangement is counter to state law. The initial draft of the PSC rules sided with the private companies.

The bond ordinance lays out a procedure LUS intends on using in the event its annual communications revenue can’t meet the entire debt service on the communications bonds.

In that event, LUS plans on using “residual” revenue from the overall utilities system to meet the payments, according to the bond ordinance.

It’s possible that the PSC will approve rules at its Sept. 1 meeting that make such a procedure taboo, but LUS Director Terry Huval said he’s “confident” that the PSC will understand that state law allows for that method of repayment.

If not, LUS will have to “huddle up and decide what to do next,” before the Sept. 6 bond ordinance meeting, Huval said.

Reportedly, a letter-writing campaign in support of LUS by local businesses has been planned by the Chamber but has yet to get off the ground. A related effort by the local Democrats yielded fruit yesterday when a press conference touting a letter by the executive committee was widely covered in the media, both the above stories tag it onto to the Ordinance story and KATC was in attendance, and KLFY has an online story as well.

Gobb Williams, in the Advertiser’s version of the story is quoted with a good question:

Executive committee member Gobb Williams said Lafayette residents were under the assumption the July 16 vote, which BellSouth and Cox sued to force, would settle the issue. Now the companies are fighting the project in the Public Service Commission, he said.

“We strongly feel it’s being undermined,” Williams said. “Why did we have the election? Why did we vote?”

Gobb is right…we forget too easily, because some of us never really believed them, that BellSouth, Cox, and the Fiber 411 trio famously, and piously, promised to only want a vote–that their motives were pure and that they were worried for and wanted exposed what they considered “risks” for citizens with Lafayette’s plan. (They avoided talking about their obvious self-interest claiming to be eager for competition.) Explicitly and implicitly the message was that if the people decided in an election to go with LUS their opposition would go away.

We can now see that their pious protestations were false. We can see that getting their way was what was really at issue. Fiber 411 files a raft of ethics complaints–with Eric Benjamin if not the Ethics Commission–and BellSouth and Cox continue to show every sign that finding a way to prevent any competition is their sole goal. Anyone who believes that any of these people is after fairness or a level playing field needs to reexamine the history of our fight and recognize the gap between what they say and what they do.

Lafayette Digital Divide OpenSource project

Announcing an LCT Digital Divide Project:

Lafayette Digital Divide OpenSource project

Bryan Fusilier is organizing an open source community that will help decide upon and put together a free software environment that can be used to support a pervasive, low-cost digital divide effort.

He’s put together a blog to report on the effort and is looking for help and support. Visit and participate!

If you’d like to do more to help out drop me an email and I’ll put you in touch.

Home Plug AV Emerges

I’d never been very interested in Home Plug technology–the reputedly flaky method for running internet service over home wiring–until LUS announced that it would be using the technology to provide an easy way to wire the home for internet service that avoided pulling new wires.

This new announcement, reported in PC World, claims new speeds and new qualities for the technology:

HomePlug 1.0 moves data at a theoretical maximum of 14 mbps per second, with real world performance roughly equivalent to the 4.5 mbps or so of 802.11b Wi-Fi. HomePlug AV’s theoretical maximum throughput is 200 mbps; real-world data rates should run between 70 mbps and 100 mbps, says Andy Melder, senior vice president for strategic business development at Intellon, one of the companies contributing to the spec.

The new spec includes quality-of-service technology to ensure smooth video and audio streaming and 128-bit AES encryption, a more robust security algorithm than the 56-bit DES encryption in HomePlug 1.0, Melder says. In addition, HomePlug AV technology can work over coaxial cable and phone lines as well as over the electrical wiring for which it was designed.

Should this technology test out LUS should try to implement this version. I’ve had some pretty severe doubts about HomePlug; thinking that bringing people onboard with a low-bandwidth in-home wiring solution (I consider 4 megs low in the upcoming order of things) in order to get customers on might well have the effect of limiting their expansion to higher bandwidth services later on since the wiring they depended on wouldn’t handle it. If this works (and HomePlug doesn’t have a great history of delivering) it could do a lot toward alleviating that concern.

Lafayette, as a business proposition alone, needs to do everything it can to encourage a unified high bandwidth environment. Big bandwidth is a huge boon to local development. Complicated hardware technology and limited solutions that require a lot of programming are the result of trying to fit new ideas into a constrained amount of bandwidth. It is much, much easier to develop exciting new applications that run over 100 megs than it is over 2 or even 10. Big bandwidth will be available in Lafayette. But available is not the same thing as having the large installed base that provides a large enough body of users to make the development of brilliant new ideas an economic proposition and size is a major issue. Lafayette will need to have as big an installed base of high-bandwidth users as is possible to build up those numbers. In addition, many applications depend for their usefulness on many other people sharing the same capacity. (Think the phone, or video conferencing. If you can’t call your sister or business partner you’re much less likely to buy the service; its value to all increases with every subscriber.). You need a large number of the base to be capable of talking to each other at high bandwidth to make the business case work.

This line of analysis is one reason that its been seriously suggested that insystem bandwidth be set at a uniformly high level–say one hundred megs. It would, at very little cost to the LUS system, make Lafayette a testbed for developing and marketing the advanced services that will one day be available across the nation. (Outsystem bandwidth–the kind that connects you to people outside Lafayette’s network–will have to be paid for. It’s a real expense so tiers of pricing and speeds still make sense when locals travel to addresses outside our city.)

HomePlug AV potentially removes one more barrier to having a ubiquitous, high-speed network available to everyone in Lafayette at low cost. We should look into it.