New Orleans and Lafayette: The Ind Gets It

That’s a mighty canaille-looking smile on Terry Huval. Does he know something we don’t?

That photo runs in The Independent, which has picked up on Lafayette’s Crescent City Connection.” The subtitle makes the point succinctly: “When it comes to municipal broadband networks, Lafayette and New Orleans are on the same track.”

Indeed. It does all sound very familiar.

From the text of the story:

Last week, Mayor Ray Nagin announced that the city of New Orleans would offer the nation’s largest free municipal wireless network. He touted it as a bold step toward recovery for the paralyzed city.

BellSouth doesn’t see it that way. In what’s becoming a common refrain, the telecom cited unfair competition from government and added that under normal conditions — without its state of emergency status — New Orleans would be violating state law.

It’s a story Lafayette knows well. BellSouth has been a driving force of opposition — along with Cox Communications — against Lafayette Utilities System’s proposed fiber-to-the-home network. The public utility company’s plan to build out fiber optics throughout the city and offer phone, cable and high-speed Internet is awaiting resolution of a lawsuit filed by BellSouth.

City-Parish President Joey Durel, who has made the LUS initiative a cornerstone of his administration, plans to work with New Orleans city officials to remove all barriers to municipalities competing with incumbent telecommunications companies.

Remove all barriers–that sounds awfully good.

The story goes on to quote BellSouth, New Orleans, Lafayette officials, and a pro-fiber blogger (moi). They cover, respectively, how put upon BellSouth is, how outraged New Orleans is, how frustrated Lafayette is, and how I think the two cities ought to get together to repeal the Municipal (un)Fair Competition Act.

It’s good to see the Independent on it. Worth the read.

Doug over at LUSFTTH has a take on the issue too. Doug’s definitely in the frustrated AND outraged column.

Update: The National Storm

Well, just for the record, the national storm over BellSouth’s taking back the building it had given New Orleans because the city dared to offer its citizens free wifi over a city-owned network has yet to abate. Intelliseek’s blogpulse (a nifty resource that I just discovered; recommended) rated the story in the Washington Post that started the uproar the most popular story to discuss on Monday. (Tuesday’s stats have yet to be compiled.) This is a story that was published on Saturday. For it to remain at the top for that long is unusual. And should make somebody at BellSouth nervous.
The graph view that this site produces is even more disturbing. For BellSouth. That’s a mighty steep climb. It can’t go on for long.

Can it?

BellSouth Changes Its Tune..And Sings an Old One

Well folks we’ve got good news and bad news…

The good news is that BellSouth has seen the light (hallelujah, Brother!) and now finds huge value in the fiber optic technology they tried to convince Lafayette we didn’t need. BellSouth says it is planning to build out fiber in New Orleans and is citing all the same sane reasons Joey Durel and Terry Huval have been calling on for two years.

The bad news is that you can’t trust ’em. (You had to know there was a catch.)

BellSouth joins SBC/ATT in finding the light–ATT recently came out with a glowing endorsement of fiber the Chicago region following after years of telling the people of Illinois that they didn’t need it, didn’t want it, and that, anyway, it was “unproven.” BellSouth has been telling Lafayette the same. Actually, Bill Oliver, has been doing so.

But now Bill seems to have changed his mind. Or so BellSouth seems to be claiming the Times Picayune.

Understand, BellSouth is in trouble in New Orleans…all the other utilities are basically restored but phone service is lagging (complaints occupy much of the T-P story). They’ve also taken a major PR hit when Oliver’s wayward words got accurately reported by the Washington Post. New Orleans can’t be happy that a building “generously” promised the city as a new home for its police actually turned out to involve some sort of quid pro quo that the city not build any infrastructure that BellSouth didn’t approve. The city’s wireless plan didn’t meet with President Oliver’s approval and the building seems to have gone away.

The Good News
So BellSouth needs a good story…and the story is good. To hear BS tell it the fiber-optics is the wave of the future; it can be installed quickly; it’s cheaper; its easier to upgrade; it’s easier to maintain; it provides better quality signal; and, hey, it sets up BellSouth to provide New Orleans with bandwidth for a wide array of future services. Listen up:

BellSouth Corp. is taking a technological leap in New Orleans by ripping out flood-soaked copper wires and replacing them with fiber-optic lines…BellSouth managers say the pace of service restoration isn’t being slowed by the technology improvements…The glass lines are less expensive than their copper counterparts, take up less space, are less susceptible to interference and can transport more information at faster speeds. Once in place, fiber-optic lines let phone networks offer a wider range of services, such as television and higher-speed Internet connections.

And it’s true, all absolutely true. But surely folks from Lafayette will be forgiven for being struck dumb with wonder: That’s what we’ve been saying, and what BellSouth has been denying for the last two years. Without a doubt getting more fiber will be good for New Orleans–and is the sensible, almost inevitable route for the telecom to take given the state of its salt-corroded copper. I hope Oliver follows through.

The Bad News: The bad news is that BellSouth has a bad history with good news. BellSouth under Oliver has not played it altogether straight. BellSouth is going to build out fiber in New Orleans. Great.

But what, exactly, does he mean? New Orleans would do well to learn from Lafayette’s experience with this particular bearer of good news. Right before LUS went before the board to ask for approval of its fiber to the home plan Oliver showed up in town with a plan. BellSouth asked, loudly and publicly, for a meeting about a public-private partnership that would leapfrog Lafayette into the future. They actually showed up with a technology presentation that suggested that maybe a 24 meg version of DSL would be trialed here. In some parts of town. The big plan turned out to be nothing more than what BellSouth had been telling the analysts about its DSL roll-out all year and involved nothing special for Lafayette. A later version of this turned out to be intended for about 80% of the population if the city was willing to give in to a laundry list of demands that included subsidizing BellSouth. It wasn’t new, and as New Orleans is now discovering, BellSouth’s proposed “gifts” aren’t free. You gotta look the gift horse in the mouth.

Were I a New Orleans reporter I’d look closely into the way BellSouth is planning to roll out its fiber. We see no mention of fiber to the home and that is what New Orleans should want if BellSouth’s rebuilding process is to help differentiate the lady from the pack. This article seems to suggest that BellSouth is replacing all its copper but BellSouth doesn’t do more than suggest it. If BS was planning fiber to the home we’d have heard about it. To add insult to being mislead we don’t even see any pledge to do what BellSouth is doing in some wealthy new suburbs where it is building its infrastructure out from scratch: its infamous “fiber to the curb” strategy. We do see pictures of workers digging up old BellSouth infrastructure and putting in new. How much of that was already fiber? (Most backbones,–telco, cable, and municipal–are already fiber.) How much copper will be changed out for fiber? What services and what speeds can New Orleans count on–now, not in some mystical future? Crucially: Will what BellSouth does in New Orleans in ANY way distinguish her from every other city in BellSouth’s territory? Unless BellSouth can say yes, and say how, and say why it’s reasonable to suspect that this is another of Oliver’s little games of word play.

BellSouth might have changed its tune on fiber; but Oliver is singing the same old song.

SBC/ATT Changes Its Tune

You’ll recall Annie Collins and the noble band at Fiber for Our Future from the Tri-Cities in Illinois. Their horrific experience with SBC/ATT (their BellSouth) in which they were drowned in a sea of incumbent money inspired local concern about the issue and led to an Indpendent article that featured their experience. Part of that experience was a pretty incredible claim that fiber optic technologies were “unproven;” even though SBC (now ATT) was in the process of completing its transition to a fiber-optic backbone (as was every other telco).

The most amusing example was the SBC rep who tried to convince the city council that fiber optics were “unproven technology” for home use. The FFOF folks caught him on video and it provided no end of embarrassment at the time (the technology was anything but unproven).

Now, presto chango, via the magic of telephone hooey, SBC/ATT has discovered that fiber optics is standard technology, really:

It reflects the newest step forward for communications technology, said Virgil Pund, vice president and general manager of AT&T Illinois, formerly SBC.

“As we build out, fiber to the home will become standard,” Pund said.

Standard, why’s that, we ask.

Fiber-optic networks allow for faster Internet use, and all household communications go through the same line. Fiber optics will also be able to handle new technology as it progresses, like VoIP phone service, or interconnected electronics, such as calling your house from your cell phone to record a show on TV, Pund said…

Many files will download in a matter of seconds through those lines, AT&T spokeswoman Blair Klein said.

And really do we need more than a meg and half that you told the folks in the Tri-Cities would fulfill their needs? Apparently the new answer is a resounding “yes!”–ignore that other fellow in the video–he was misinformed:

The fiber optics in the Settlers Ridge subdivision will offer a speed of 3 to 6 megabits per second and Dish network for television, Pund said.

Many files will download in a matter of seconds through those lines, AT&T spokeswoman Blair Klein said.

DSL lines carry about 1.5 megabits per second, and cable lines carry about 3 megabits per second.

Actually that is pretty pitifully throttled down for fiber. Even when they have it the telcos won’t let you have it evidently … since the cable in the area is pretty anemic too, SBC/ATT apparently thinks that merely doubling cable speed will buy them all the advantage they need; regardless of what the community might want.

AT&T is working on laying fiber optics to three different subdivisions in the state now, and plans more in the future, Pund said.

“It’s a huge value add,” said Frank Scaramuzza, chief information officer for Kimball Hill Homes, which is building the subdivision. “It’s a pretty big selling point.”

As we say down here: “Well, yeh.” (If you aren’t hearing several syllables in that “yeh,” and a dollop of incredulous disbelief you just aren’t listening.)

All this is happening just down the road from the people who they road into the ground claiming that none of the above was true. It must be a bittersweet vindication for the folks from Illinois to hear BellSouth say:

“…what we’re finding is that most households are becoming more dependent on broadband access,” he said. “Everything from having kids in school to managing the household.”

At least the local paper recognizes the connection. The story closes with:

Voters in Batavia, Geneva and St. Charles twice voted against—in March 2003 and November 2004—looking into creating a municipal broadband system that would provide high-speed Internet, phone and cable service to the towns’ residents.

Both SBC and Comcast lobbied hard against that proposal during both elections.

Talk about an understatement. And now they aren’t even gracious enough to eat their words in public.

Standing Up–Dr. Ish

In the slash-dot discussion blasting BellSouth (it’s surprising to me how uniformly hostile to BellSouth this technical forum is) “Dr. Ish” stands up for Lafayette and Louisiana. Distilled:

I live in Louisiana, though I am not originally from here. The comments about the corruption in this State are not fair. The Feds want to deny us reasonable help, on the basis of such slander…The Feds have been useless. In a town a bit North of where I live a shelter had 3000 people in it at one point, with no government aid whatsoever. It was entirely supported by donations by locals. In the town of Lafayette, where I live, Bellsouth is fighting the local, city owned, utility system, because it wants to lay fiber to every home…So, feel free to be mean about Bellsouth, but do not slader Louisiana, unless you know what you are talking about. We are down, but do not deserve to be kicked. Kick Bellsouth and the moron in the Whitehouse and his useless cronies instead.

The discussion has grown to more than 450 comments. The prevailing tone is overwhelmingly pro-Louisiana and anti-BellSouth. Take a gander.

An aside:
And after you do that go back to the top of the discussion string and get familiar with Slashdot. The often highly technical discussion there may not be your thing but the structure of the conversation is unique and worth thinking about if you are interested in what might be valuable for a community with ubiquitous connectivity (the city we hope Lafayette will become). Such enormous discussion threads are kept useful by a bevy of moderators who rate each post for quality. (You can go back and look at how a post was “modded up” or “modded down” by clicking on the link preceded by the # mark.) A new post is placed below the one it responds to and is placed one level in the “outline hierarchy.” A reader can choose to only see the text of the best posts by not seeing at all the posts ranked below a certain number in the -1 to 5 scale used on the site. It’s all a bit convoluted, I know, but with a little getting used to it is amazing how readable a conversation between hundreds of people is.

The moderation, and the fact that the moderation rewards real information, good writing, and what they call “karma” (apparent positive motivation) minimizes flames and maximizes information. You can learn a lot if you’ve got patience. This particular discussion which is more political than technical discussion is not really what the place shines at. But even in this context the combo of smart people and a good system of public restraint makes the back and forth better than you can get elsewhere.

You can design good forums that many people can helpfully contribute to if you try…

And if you want to get a sense of the pulse of the community something like this is invaluable.

Phone Company Jobs May Not Last a Lifetime; LUS Not to Blame!

The New York Times carried a story on jobs at traditional telephone companies, starting with a profile of a father-son team working for our friends at BellSouth in North Georgia. The thrust of the story is that even jobs at phone companies aren’t guaranteed for a lifetime.

No word yet on whether Bill Oliver is threatening to retaliate against the fiber optic company (uh, BellSouth) that is costing those BellSouth workers their jobs.

This is important to keep in mind because as the LUS fiber system moves from the courts and into reality, no doubt Oliver will direct his minions to try to raise a big stink about the number of jobs that will be lost here as a result of that new system.

The truth is, BellSouth jobs here are in jeopardy now because of trends within the industry itself. As we know, that won’t stop Oliver from trying to spin it otherwise but we’ve come to know B.O. and his M.O.

“BellSouth’s Shame”

Sasha Meinrath reports on BellSouth’s shame. Like Om Malik, he connects BellSouth’s most recent in New Orleans to its poor history in Lafayette (and in the pocess kindly refers his readers to this blog). Most interesting, however, is that she reports a concrete suggestion on what we might do about BellSouth’s obstructionism: make it potentially expensive.

She lifts the suggestion from Esme Vos at Muniwireless, whose own post is entitledScrooge of the Year nomination: BellSouth,” There she says:

I have a proposal for cities and counties that are planning wide-area wireless deployments: Insert a clause in your RFPs and RFIs that says companies that have pushed for restrictions on municipal broadband deployments will automatically be disqualified from bidding on projects or at least will “lose points” when their bids are being evaluated. Consortia that include these companies will be at a disadvantage. Not only that, when the network is up, the city or county will not hire the same anti-muni broadband companies when it implements applications such as wireless VOIP for municipal employees.

This will make companies choose and weigh the benefits of running to Congress or the state legislature for their anti-municipal broadband push: do you stand to make more money or lose it if you adopt this position?

A mere written “preference” in the RFI would probably get ’em where it hurts. BellSouth, at least, has made it clear that its pocketbook is all that matters. The idea that their stands might cost them money would likely be sobering. Right now it’s all upside for them. Every day of delay is another day without effective competition. Once such a plan was in motion, you could count on the reps from firms that lost bids inflating the influence (“not my fault we lost the bid; after all, they had a rule about companies that fight muni broadband) …this is a great idea.

We’ve seen a recent call in a full page ad in the Advertiser to try to influence the board of directors through a letter-writing campaign.

That’s two ideas. More? Use the comments.

The National Storm Concerning BellSouth’s Snit Fit

National Coverage of BellSouth’s blunders continue. Mike’s post pointing to the Washington Post’s coverage of BellSouth’s stiffing the New Orleans Police force in a fit of pique over the city deciding to build a wifi network for itself is only the beginning.

Now, having the Washington Post break the story is bad enough. For policy-makers, at least, the Post is as important a paper as the New York Times. But this is the sort of story that flashes across the internet and gets put before the eyes of millions of people who’d otherwise not know what cads BellSouth’s officials are.

According to a technorati rating I pulled up at 9:39 this morning (these things are dynamic), the Washington Post article exposing BellSouth is the second most-blogged-upon article in the country. Here is its listing:

2.Angry BellSouth Withdrew Donation, New Orleans Says –

31 new links. View All »
2 days ago

Snip from WaPo report: Hours after New Orleans officials announced Tuesday that they would deploy a city-owned, wireless Internet network in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, regional phone giant BellSouth Corp. withdrew an offer to donate one of its damaged buildings that”


You’d think this would be bad enough (and it is), but having a lot of blogs hitting on you is one thing; having the most important and trusted blogs doing the same is 1000 times more damaging. It’s not just numbers; both of the two blogs that I have heard people say are the most popular on the net have already picked up the story, as have the most important networking blogs. And the day is young.

Trendsetting, general, blog-like sites:

Boing Boing, “Angry BellSouth Withdrew NOLA Donation because of free Wifi”(My personal favorite in blogdom. Invariably FUN.)
slashdot, Free Wi-fi Prompts BellSouth to Withdraw Donation” (Still the geekiest talking spot on the web, regardless of new challengers.)

It’s also being picked up by widely read networking blog “Om Malik’s Blog” in Free WiFi Causes BellSouth-New Orleans Rift.” Om Malik makes the point being made here that BellSouth is a not-to-be-trusted bad actor explicitly:

BellSouth for instance has been fighting MuniNET plans of Layfaette, Lousiana . It has been an ongoing issue in other cities such as Philadelphia, and is not going to end any time soon. Local communities are going to have trouble keeping up with the scorched earth lobbying efforts of incumbent phone companies.

I could go on for a very long time here. (CNet’s story, referring to tech luminaries Gilmor and Winer would be my first additions) has the story. But the point should be clear. BellSouth Louisiana is being run by tone-deaf fools. This story broke yesterday and is at the top of the web. My guess is that the guys at BellSouth are totally unaware of this as they go about sipping their second morning cuppa. They are in the business of communiciations; you’d think they’d understand the changing landscape of their own area a little better. But then, if they understood the first thing about where telecom is going, they’d be partnering with Lafayette and other municipalities instead of making themselves into the bad guys with every commentator nationwide by messing with New Orleans and engaging Lafayette in a series of frivolous delaying lawsuits.

It was one thing in the old days when you only had to endure, at most, local criticism. Nowadays your misdeeds go skating across the internet and your buddy-buddy relationships with local “opinion leaders” is useless. If BellSouth wants to be treated with respect, they’ll have to actually start acting respectfully and honestly in relation to New Orleans and Lafayette.

And that starts with leaving us alone to do what we’ve chosen to do.

Like I said up front, this is only the beginning. The newspaper cycle will be a day or two slower. But if you think this doesn’t presage a deluge of editorials nationwide, you haven’t been watching media movement over the last few years. After those appear it will then be the turn of the newsmagazines. This story has legs.

(If you’d like to email your friends about just how out of touch BellSouth and Oliver are, just click on the handy-dandy envelope icon below.)

Angry BellSouth Withdrew Donation, New Orleans Says

In a fit of pique over the City of New Orleans’ new citywide Wi-Fi broadband network, BellSouth Louisiana CEO Bill Oliver has yanked an offer to turn over one of the company’s damaged New Orleans buildings to the city for use as a police headquarters, according to this story in the Washington Post.

Big Bill’s big fit is reminiscent of his somewhat veiled threat that BellSouth would yank the Cingular call center from Lafayette if city voters gave their authorization to a bond sale to build a fiber to the home network here.

It now appears Oliver is trying to deny that he withdrew the offer (just as he tried to deny threatening the Cingular call center). Unfortunately for Oliver, once again there were witnesses to his actions. Once again, everyone’s lying but Bill.

This further underscores a point that anyone dealing with BellSouth in Louisiana must understand: they are bad actors. That is, they can’t be taken at their word.

Lafayette’s known it for a while. New Orleans is learning. Can the rest of the areas damaged by this year’s hurricanes be far behind?

WBS: Battle of Lafayette, Louisiana, cont’d and cont’d and cont’d

What’s Being Said Department

National Coverage for the seemingly endless battle for fiber in Lafayette continues. Isenberg, the originator of the idea of dumb networks and a source of the “edge to edge” conception of network architectures, blogs on Lafayette’s situation in a piece aptly named: Battle of Lafayette, Louisiana, cont’d and cont’d and cont’d.

He juices it up some but the gist is in the title. People nationally are noticing what we’re having to deal with.