“Neutrality and municipalities”

Ed Gubbins, a seasoned telecom reporter, had a piece a bit back that’s worth looking over. The story, Neutrality and municipalities, looks at the net neutrality debate with an eye toward its effect on the development of municipal broadband. Overall it’s pretty fair though it does have a pretty serious conceptual flaw. The article confuses “net neutrality” –the question of whether certain content providers should be allowed to be favored over others by the owners of the pipe that comes into your home– with “structural separation” –question of whether the owners of the pipe should be allowed to provide content at all. The current net neutrality debate was set off when ATT & BellSouth chairmen asserted a right to charge content providers like search engines (Google, Yahoo) and VOIP (net phone providers like Vonage) special fees for better-than-best-effort service. No one is suggesting that BellSouth not be allowed to sell phone service or Cox no longer sell cable! That would be structural separation. All that is being suggested for private providers is that they not be allowed to favor certain providers (including themselves) over others on the Internet side of their networks.

So setting up an implicit equivalence between the structural separation issue that’s been active in municipal debates and the newer net neutrality debate involving the phone companies is pretty profoundly unfair to municipalities since it sets up dual standards for public and private providers with the public providers seemingly being held to a radically higher standard.

In one place the author shows that he does posses an understanding of the difference between the two ways of encouraging competitive services:

…even wholesale municipal network models don’t necessitate net neutrality. It’s conceivable, at least in theory, that municipalities could seek to defray part of the cost of their broadband networks by following AT&T’s lead, charging content providers for premium use of networks. Baller acknowledged this strategy was possible but said he hadn’t heard of any municipalities discussing or considering it.

He’s right, but needs to make the contrary explicit as well: a retail model like LUS’ (and BellSouth’s and Cox’s) can still embrace the sort of net neutrality that phone companies want to kill. –If the company involved is willing to do so. The example Gubbins could have used was Lafayette. LUS has declared a policy of IP (Internet Protocol) neutrality. It declared early in the fight that it wouldn’t block ports. Packet prioritization –which is what is at stake in the net neutrality debates the phone companies have started–really doesn’t make sense in LUS’ context. Such issues only arise when local congestion makes makes providing a special “fast lane” for priviledged content noticeably faster for consumers (otherwise content providers would have no reason to pay the extra freight charge). LUS’ fiber to the home network simply won’t have the sorts of local congestion issues that make prioritization appear useful.


But now back to the article itself. The main thrust of the piece is to wonder whether the concerns raised by the phone companies” declared intent to begin charging extra to improve the speed of some products will make the municipal alternative more attractive.

The story does a good job of dealing with some of the real-world constraints on the practical application of structural separation to municipal broadband projects; after discussing the large scale, wholesale, Utopia model in Utah:

But the Utopia model isn’t for every town. One of the rare qualities that accounts for its success, Baller said, is the scale it achieved by harnessing the collective scale of 11 cities. As the network promises to ultimately reach more than 450,000 customers, service providers are confident they’ll make a profit, even if they have to split the market several ways. Some other cities that tried to replicate the wholesale network model haven’t been able to pull it off because their modest populations don’t hold the same enticement for service providers. For example, even with a population of more than 100,000, Lafayette, La., couldn’t make wholesale economics work, Baller said, nor could Bristol, Va. Both were forced to adopt retail models for their muni networks. In Grant County, Wash., where the law prohibits municipalities from offering retail service, a wholesale municipal network took on 35 service providers, which fractured the market too much to make it lucrative for them.

It’s nice to see an actual, empirically-based analysis of the real economics that are at issue in the wholesale model (even if it is unfortunately confused with network neutrality).

Cox; the competition begins?

If you haven’t picked up your copy of the Independent this week you should. In addition to a really fine piece about our local Mardi Gras Indians (much of it located in and around my neighborhood, I’m proud to report) there’s also a hopeful article on Cox Communications purported new attitude toward Acadiana. Now this has been brewing for awhile. Cox kept a low profiled during the last part of the referendum fight; it declined to join the later lawsuits; it hired Kathleen Blanco’s daughter to represent it; Cox even got a backhanded, indirect endorsement from the Mayor during his state of the city-parish address. Hey, they also went ahead with planned construction in Lafayette without threatening us. Now this article places all that in a context that paints a picture of Cox as a good citizen. I’m willing to hear it, even if I do want to wait to make a final judgment. Actions speak louder than words and recent actions at least have my attention.

Normally, I’d have a hard time taking all this too seriously, much of it, like hiring the not-particularly-qualified daughter of the governor is open to multiple interpretation. But Cox has been through major shakeups at both the national and the regional level and it seems at least possible that good things could honestly come of that. Nationally, Cox bought itself private during our fight here–something which changes its orientation toward the world pretty radically. Locally the “bad actors” that were most visible in opposing the community are gone, victims of a purge whose motivation is still murky. Much of the purge took place far in advance of the consolidation with the Baton Rouge market that followed Cox shedding rural markets across the country in order to help pay for buying itself private. The bulk of the purge took place suspiciously soon after the battle of Lafayette turned into a public relations disaster for the incumbents.

The Competition Begins
But all those musings about PR pale besides further evidence that Cox has decided to compete. Those who’ve followed the fight here will recall that Cox did not raise rates here when they raised them in Baton Rouge. That was widely read as a direct result of LUS’ threatened competition. You don’t raise rates while the city is waging a campaign to convince the public to allow it to compete with you.

So it’s really nice that the Independent notices the clear implications of the new pricing structure for Cox’s triple play:

Cox is offering its “Clear Choice” triple play — cable, Internet and phone — for $89.95 for new subscribers and expanded basic cable customers. The deal is available only in Baton Rouge, where it competes against Eatel’s triple play, and Acadiana, where the threat of LUS looms.

That’s right; you’re only getting a great deal where Cox has Fiber to the Home competition: in LUS or EATEL territories. Living in New Orleans? You’re out of luck. Now, in the interests of good consumerism I should immediately point out that this price only lasts for six months and the small print on the website is literally too small to read. You’ll have to call and speak to a salesperson to find out what other conditions the offer carries.


Here’s a little taste of something that never got talked about during the July election: the property value of having Fiber To The Home (FTTH). Here’s the point:

…an oft-cited study by Render Vanderslice claims that homes with fiber connectivity sell for approximately $4000 to $6000 more than comparable homes with copper connections.

Sounds awfully good doesn’t it? Add 5000 dollars to the value of each home in Lafayette. And it’s good research–for new subdivisions; which is where this sort of research has had to be done. Fancy new subdivisions are the only places that have had FTTH until recently. And its awfully easy to compare two of the cookie cutter subdivision houses we’re seeing all to much of these days. (This sort of research follows similar research done on buried utilities, which is why nicer subdivisions, especially those where the developer is also the builder, are eating the expense of buried utilities.) So the research wasn’t done in situations that are very similar to bringing FTTH to a large existing stock of homes.

Less expensive urban homes in a city like Lafayette where everyone will have access are not likely to see such a large or clearly documentable bump. After all, the whole point of a public, municipal utility is prevent real broadband from turning into a rare, expensive privilege of the few. But even so you can expect it to enhance the value of Lafayette real estate.

Even a modest bump value multiplied across the entire city is a very large increase in real wealth. Wikipedia claims there are 46,865 housing units in Lafayette. At the unrealistic 5000 dollars home bump suggested by Render Vanderslice the increase in home value would be 234,325,000, in the neighborhood of twice what the fiber project would cost. But even if housing stock in Lafayette proper only had jump which is 10% of that established number (which seems low to me, given the research) the value of housing in Lafayette would increase by 2,343,250 dollars. Even a two million plus increase in local wealth is real money.

The builders association, the realtors association and not a few individual realty companies endorsed fiber during the referendum fight. These are the folks who’d have cause to keep track of the research on things like the added value of buried utilities and fiber-optic broadband. Seems like they might have thought this through more thoroughly than the rest of us. The increase in the attractiveness of city property would also help the city’s aging housing stock compete against newer homes built outside the city, helping avert some of the common center-city flight that has plauged American cities and would help maintain a healty, “smart growth” core for the parish.

Add property values to your list of potential positive outcomes of Lafayette’s fiber build.

Post Scriptum: We occasionally hear from people who don’t particularly value democratic decision making and dismiss public works projects as some sort of circus for the masses. Typically they claim that only “voting with dollars” is really moral. Leaving aside the huge problems with this excuse for morality, such folks should be moved by the evidence that FTTH increases property values even if they do not value quality of life, self-determination, or equity. Somehow I don’t expect to hear any concessions. My guess is that even in the bed-rock domain of property value ideology will matter more than evidence.

“Will public access TV go dark?”

Here’s a short follow up to yesterday’s post on Public Access Channels and our own AOC. The article makes some of the same points I made locally in their New York/National context.

Nationwide, some 1.2 million volunteers and 250,000 community groups who produce the grassroots programming could be blacked out.

“There’s an African proverb that says ‘When the elephants fight, the grass gets trampled,'” said Anthony Riddle of the Alliance of Community Media, a group dedicated to preserving public access nationwide.

This is one of those rare issues that only looks like an obscure national issue; it is really 30,000 discrete local issues. Letting the phone companies shift it to the national level means forever separating those that benefit (local citizens) from those who control the benefit (535 reps in Washington). Just how long will it take, once all the rules are made in Washington, for the top 10 cablecos and phone companies in the country to convince Congress to take any benefit at all away from local communities by labeling it “anti-competitive regulation?” I don’t give it a decade.

It is a profoundly bad idea…at once anti-conservative and anti-liberal and anti-community. The only beneficiaries are the phone companies…and 535 people who will probably get two election cycles worth of special-interest funding out of it before it’s a forgotten issue.

If you’d like to keep local issues local you really ought to write your congressional representatives and tell them. Ditto for the state reps when this issue appears in March.

AOC, Politics, Culture & Future Tech

Take a look at the excellent article on AOC in Tuesday morning’s Advertiser. The story, AOC: Tune in, speak out, takes a look an institution we may take for granted but which would be deeply appreciated in most parts of the country. (Similarly, we probably ought to be more aware of what treasures KRVS and KBON are.)

I’d ask that you go read that article and think about it for a minute before returning to this post. (Don’t joke me; you know this is just the sort of article you skip over in the newspaper.) It’d be helpful to have it fresh in your mind as you read on here.

AOC is a prime example of a public access television; as local viewers will know AOC shows air on cable channels 5 & 19 and carry a smorgasbord of locally originated shows. Popular shows range from call-in shows, to talking head panels, to cooking shows–some in French, some in English and some in whatever it is we talk around here. Space on the cable lineup is a part of the local franchise agreement, as is an amount of money (originally) dedicated to keeping AOC up and running.

Institutions like AOC serve as a bulwark to support free expression and local culture in an era of mass media that threatens to give us all the same accents and make us parrot the same opinions. Community TV varies tremendously in quality. I’ve lived in college towns across the country and AOC is the first Local Access Channel that I’ve ever watched regularly. It’s head and shoulders above most. It’s unfortunate that folks tend to compare AOC shows to slick, commercial shows that appear on the adjacent channels. Tune in, you might develop a taste for unvarnished, awkward, and genuine local content.

Local Access channels are valuable to communities–and endangered. Public Access is tied to local cable franchises and funding for them generally comes from the contract a cable company makes with a local government for the use of the public rights of way. The principle is that some portion of the media ought to be preserved for the public. A similar principle has always applied to the broadcast media. Killing the local franchise is the phone companies latest “big issue” at both state and national levels–they claim they need it to begin competing with the cable companies in offering their version of cable TV. As I’ve argued the their real purpose is to gain an advantage over cable companies by wiggling out of the local franchise requirements that a company doing cable TV business in town must offer the service to every citizen, not just to the most profitable parts of town.

But even if it isn’t the purpose of the legislation, killing the local franchise will also put every local access channel at risk. If it is killed out-right the money and the access to the bandwidth dies. If, as most recent proposals suggest, this money is collected at the state (or federal!) level and remitted to localities it will come directly to the local government which will have to make a conscious decision to continue to support local access. The temptation to “appropriate” that cash, no longer earmarked in a local contract for support of the local channels will be overwhelming and the battle to keep it for its original purpose will be endless.

This isn’t a merely theoretical concern and Lafayette’s AOC is a case in point. In the last contract revision the money that had always been specifically allocated to AOC was instead handed directly over to Lafayette Consolidated Government with the understanding that it would now fund AOC. You’ll not be surprised to learn that citizen free speech which displeased councilmen led to subtle and not so subtle threats to get rid of Acadiana Open Channel. That some councilmen don’t like what citizens say–either in council meeting or on AOC–is not a reason to stop letting the public speak–at council meetings or on AOC. Indeed, it’s proof that the comments sections of the council meetings and AOC are doing just exactly what we, and government officials, should want it to do: provide a forum for free speech, even if it is a bit bruising to the delicate constitution of our leaders.

But AOC, and other public access channels across the country, are more than irritations to local leaders who get a little too full of themselves. They are also disliked by some, not for what they are, but for what they remind us of: that not all media has to be commercial, that local interests are not necessarily best served by leaving every decision up to large national corporations and that some space for reflecting local values, local customs, and local cultures should be preserved. We here in Lafayette are well aware that if we want our local Cajun and Creole cultures to survive we’ll have to do it ourselves–and in media that means we can’t expect the national, commercial media to even notice we exist on any regular basis. (You’ll not hear any Boudreaux and Thibodeaux jokes on Comedy Central. And Emeril Lagasse, sadly (1, 2), is the closest thing to regional cooking we’re likely to see.)

The Future:
If you listen around town you can hear the beginnings of a real vision for Lafayette: one that focuses on buzzwords like “Smart Growth,” “The New Urbanism,” “The Creative Class,” “The Cultural Economy,” “Fiber-Optic Bandwidth,” “Diversity,” “High Technology” and a renewed sense that we can only count on ourselves to secure our community’s future. You can hear that vision coming together in speeches by the mayor, the topics list for the current Leadership Lafayette classes, articles in the newspapers, and invited speakers in yearly series. Something is coming together.

AOC has earned the right to be part of that picture. It’s at the juncture of High Tech and The Creative Class — it is one of the more credibly diverse institutions in the city, and is a mainstay in sustaining the cultural distinctiveness on which hopes for a culturally based economic segment rest. The director, Ed Bowie, and the board seem well aware that the coming death of the broadcast/cable model of TV means they have begun to prepare in rather obvious ways for a new universe in which to provide media access to the public. The podcast classes are a smart move and prepare for the day when video podcasts will be part of the mix of shows. AOC’s reaching out to make a connection to LUS in anticipation of big in-system bandwidth is similarly forward-thinking.

Lafayette is lucky to have AOC. In the coming obscure battles over national and state video franchising we should be aware that we do have a dog in that fight. It’s in everyone’s interest that local franchising and local access stations survive. But it would especially benefit Lafayette in our unique situation.

Data from Japan’s Fibered Nation

In a recent post I noted Japan’s transition to fiber…a transition with implications for Lafayette’s future. A new study adds to implications for any locale that achieves big broadband status.

Dirk van der Woulde, Dutch telecom guru, sent notice this morning of a new paper out of Japan with the off-putting title: “The Impact and Implications of the Growth in Residential User-to-User Traffic.” If that sounds dense and hard to read, rest assured that it is. MuniWireless posted a pdf of a slideshow by the paper’s lead author that re-presents the major points in classic PowerPoint style that is a bit more digestible.

The earlier post, Japan, Soon to Be Fiber Broadband Nation” noted the way that the Japanese have used their dense DSL broadband infrastructure (cable is a minor player by US standards) to leverage a rapid shift to fiber to the home (FTTH). The US Telcos haven’t been able to manage the same shift–putting the US as a distinct competitive disadvantage as new forms of media and ways of communicating are developed elsewhere. Japan is well on its way, in both its rural and its urban areas, to being the world’s first fully fibered nation.

The new “Residential User” study focuses on, well, the residential user. Commissioned by five major Japanese ISPs the study is motivated by an attempt to understand the enormous growth in backbone traffic that has occurred as the shift to fiber accelerated–symmetric residential traffic increased 45% in 2005. What caused that jump? Would it continue? The fear was very explicit:

There is a strong concern that if this trend continues Internet backbone technologies will not be able to keep up with the rapidly-growing residential traffic. More-over, commercial ISPs will not be able to invest in back-bone networks to support this traditionally low-profit customer segment.

In other words they fear that they’ll get caught in an American-style inability to support a major network expansion.

The anticipated culprit was the fabled ‘power user’ using peer to peer (P2P) networking to transfer large music and video files. Network types across the world have been fretting over the threat of these few evil users to “hog” network bandwidth. It seemed obvious that these guys were a big problem that had to be stopped. But a funny thing happened on the way to the obvious conclusion: the data stepped in and confused the matter.

While a few users–on the order of 4%–did use most of the residential bandwidth consumed–about 75%. Now note that this isn’t an unusual situation. Consider good ole phones. My guess is that the top 4% of phone users initiates 75% of all calls (or some similar large percentage.) And I think we all know some of those people. The point is that having heavy users is neither unusual or a problem in itself. The concern that the Japanese ISPs appeared to have was that a single application–P2P file exchange was an illegal cancer that threatened to destroy the system. What actually appeared in the data was evidence that while a few users did account for a lot of traffic, P2P networking appeared to be only one reason more bandwidth was used and, much more surprising, these “heavy hitters” were not a population distinct from all the (good) customers. Instead they were normal users, a sort of leading edge that simply did more of what everyone was doing. An analysis of the traces that P2P traffic should leave failed to find the expected pattern and led to the following conclusion:

This suggests that high-volume traffic is generated not only by peer-to-peer file-sharing but also by other applications such as content-downloading from a single server. A plausible explanation for the large variance is that the majority of users use both file-sharing and downloading with different ratios.

The “evil few” hypothesis was not tenable. It appeared, instead that what was going on was a version of “if you build it they will come.” They offered the Japanese people large, cheap, symmetrical bandwidth over rock-solid fiber and the Japanese people quickly and apparently easily found a ways to use it. Those that were using the most bandwidth were not qualitatively different from the normal user; they were not doing something different from the normal user except for the quantity of bandwidth the used. They were simply a little ahead of the curve. P2P filesharing is not threatening the Japanese backbone. A new version of normal use, evoked by the availability of big broadband is. The Japanese ISPs/Telcos are simply going to have to bit the bullet and build more capacity. Fast.

There are a few points to ponder for Lafayette’s anticipated build:

  1. “If you build it they will come.” There is no need to be concerned that people won’t find uses for the bandwidth made available; apparently it’s not difficult to figure out. Make sure our local backbone is plenty beefy.
  2. “Symmetry is good.” One of the surprises for the researchers was that upload and download amounts were roughly equal. Much of the American model is built around the presumption that we only need to “consume” download bandwidth, so its more efficient to limit upload speeds and use the scarce capacity for download bandwidth. The evidence here is that this is an artificial constraint. Give people symmetrical bandwidth and they’ll find a way to use it. Gaming, serving, telephony, and video telephony all come to mind.
  3. “P2P networking is not the source of all Evil.” Fear of P2P networking is widespread among system administrators. But the evidence is that it is only one element in an exploding demand for bandwidth. A demand that will have to be met in any case.

Tollbooths on the Internet Highway – New York Times

The NYT gets what the phone companies are after and say so in this editorial.

In true journalistic fashion, the gist of the piece is found in the lead paragraph:

When you use the Internet today, your browser glides from one Web site to another, accessing all destinations with equal ease. That could change dramatically, however, if Internet service providers are allowed to tilt the playing field, giving preference to sites that pay them extra and penalizing those that don’t.

Recall, if you will, that the phone companies didn’t invent the Internet and, in fact, have waged a prolonged war against packet-switched networks in the hopes of wringing every last depreciable penny out of their out-moded copper infrastructure. Now that the Internet has established itself as an essential tool of business, commerce, entertainment, and lifestyle, the phone companies want to jump in and (in typically wrong-headed thinking) want to change it all so that it works better for them.

Write this equation down: “Good for Them = Bad for Us.” The NYT editorial explains:

If access tiering takes hold, the Internet providers, rather than consumers, could become the driving force in how the Internet evolves. Those corporations’ profit-driven choices, rather than users’ choices, would determine which sites and methodologies succeed and fail. They also might be able to stifle promising innovations, like Internet telephony, that compete with their own business interests.

The phone companies, like Mr. Jones, know something’s been happening but they don’t know what it is.

They could start by reading this.

BellSouth to N.O.’s Mid-City: ‘Yes, We Have You No Dial Tone!’

WWL-TV’s Action Reporter, Bill Capo, has posted a story on the station’s website that reports on how the lack of phone service in the Mid-City area of New Orleans is hampering recovery efforts there.

Seems our friends at BellSouth are having trouble recovering from the Katrina disaster, too. But, nearly six months after the storm, as families and businesses have cleaned out the flood debris, restored their buildings, and committed to move forward, BellSouth’s inability to deliver phone service has emerged as a serious impediment to the recovery of New Orleans, particularly areas like Mid-City (the area around the intersection of Carrollton and Canal streets).

The businesses there are primarily small businesses, the kind that have the strongest commitments to neighborhoods, employees and communities.

BellSouth’s spokesman says that reports of no phone service until June are “a worst case scenario.”

A brother of mine works for a New Orleans social service agency that is located on Canal Street, much closer to the central business district than Mid-City. They still don’t have phone service and have been told it will be months before they get it.

Sure, they’re rebuilding the network, but it seems that if doing this was a real priority there would have been significantly more progress than there has been.

Maybe if they put some of those Baton Rouge lobbyists on their payrolls to work doing real work this could move a little faster? 😉

A Ponderable: Web to be dominant media?

Here’s something worth pondering on a cold, wet Monday: The Web is about to become the dominant “eyeballs” medium outpacing the reigning champ, TV. Among online consumers it’s already neck and neck:

The average online consumer spends the same amount of time on the Web, as the do on TV, a market research firm said.

Respondents to a U.S. consumer survey said they spend 14 hours a week on line, which is the same amount of time in front of a television, JupiterResearch said.

As broadband speeds rise and the platform has more and richer applications and entertainment expect that division to more and more clearly favor the net. Traditional media continues to fade.

‘Even the most intensive users of newspapers and magazines spend less time reading these publications than they do online or watching TV,’ JupiterResearch analyst Barry Parr said in a statement. ‘TV and newspaper companies risk losing an entire generation of users unless they immediately start promoting their online products,’

According to the report book readership has also suffered.

Them’s the facts. Is it a good thing or bad?

I’m not sure. People have been complaining about the “new media” since Socrates got put out with the innovation of writing down speech. He thought, with good reason, that writing was a debased, arrogant, and ignorance-making substitute for real conversation.

(Part of Socrates’ irritation was that written text just sits there unchanging–it sounds smart but it is completely unresponsive when you argue with it. He was right about that and its “insistence” has turned out to be it greatest power. Ironically, the survival of the Socratic Dialogs and the endless arguments with them that have defined Western philosophy would be impossible without the written dialogs’ stubborn resistance to change and the consequent unceasing challenge they represent to later thought on issues.)

Ever since Socrates seminal critique of writing people have criticized new media, often for the very qualities that were to make it powerful and useful. Printing, it was feared, would allow every half-literate burger access to sacred and profound texts they were unprepared to read with understanding. True enough. But in its train came the reformation, the renaissance, the enlightenment, widespread public education and the ideal of an educated, democratic state. Much of modern history can be read as a struggle to be worthy of the printing press.

The Telephone, Radio, TV, and now the Internet…we’ve not had time to adapt to these media nor even to be confident that they won’t go the way of the telegraph, subsumed by more powerful descendents.

But beyond any hesitation to leap to a too-quick condemnation of the Web as a media there is also the question of the web’s plasticity. There’s no single medium there. It can imitate other media and intergrate them all. The web has been compared to a printing press, to a huge encyclopedia, to the postal service and more.

The evidence is rolling in that, whatever it is, the web is powerfully attractive and that it can be the basis for a less passive, more creative relationship with media. It’s hard to passively consume the web. Not only are many people creating web content but the simple act of unceasingly choosing what you view every few minutes is a radically different starting point for experiencing media.

So…it’s worth thinking seriously about the evidence that shows a rapid transformation of online users into people whose dominant media environment is the web. Good or bad? What’s exciting is that it’s probably our generation and the several that follow us that will determine the answer to that question.

Part of the fun of living in Lafayette is that we will be out ahead of the curve on this as big broadband comes in with the fiber build and thus in a position to have a hand in setting the patterns for use for a maturing media. Part of the responsibility, too.

State Legislation: No Wireless Bill Passes

The call for first 2006 special session anticipated a wireless bill to facilitate the construction of an emergency wireless system that would serve all levels of government during a crisis. That session ended yesterday with no action on any bill, including the resolution that would have only requested that the problem be studied. I’d thought that one was slotted in for uncontested, feel-good passage but, like much else about this session, good-sense, much less feel-good was not on the table.

It’s absolutely true that we need to improve emergency communications and that wireless should be part of that mix. Both the 9-11 commission and analyses done immediately after the storm focused on communication failures as costing lives and engendering unnecessary confusion.

While a good law, based on a good plan to solve the problem would be invaluable this session wasn’t the moment for it.

Primarily, Louisiana had bigger fish to fry: keeping the water out of peoples’ homes and getting them back into those homes should and did take precedence over this issue.

But the secondary problem with the session lay in the call. As I understand it the folks who pushed for wireless to be in the call that defined the limited topics the session was called to consider wanted to protect New Orleans’ free, public, wifi network from the unintended consequences of the Local Government Fair Competition Act–especially that part which would have closed the system to public use. So the backers were extremely disappointed to find that the governor’s call made no mention of public use, an absence that led to the bill drafted for that purpose to be ruled “beyond the call.”

From that moment there was no urgent constituency for any communications bill and various alternatives died on the vine.

The proposed New Orleans-sponsored bill would have tried to exempt wireless technologies from the provisions of the “Fair” Competition act and streamlined the decision-making process by locating decision-making authority solely in parish executives. These, while understandable impulses, just aren’t practical or wise.

Removing wireless from the matrix of technologies available for emergency use makes little sense. It cripples any attempt to build a truly powerful and reliable system. Wireless bounces back from storm damage wonderfully. But it is largely useless during the hurricane itself and is subject to interference both from other wireless systems and atmospheric conditions. The gold standard for reliability and capacity remains buried wireline–be it copper of fiber. Louisiana’s’ roads are lined with dark fiber; a very usable portion of it reserved for state or local governments in return for right-of-way concessions. Little of it is now used for any purpose. The political story is familiar. BellSouth owns the state contract to provide state agency telecommunications, a contract that it is said is BellSouth’s single largest single contract. Using that dark fiber for state agency communications would cut that bill dramatically. Somehow that dark fiber never gets used. Using our fiber for emergency purposes ought to be in the mix of solutions considered. (And letting the state use its own resources to dramatically cut its costs for every-day use in this moment of fiscal desperation should be a no-brainer. I’m not taking bets that it will even be discussed.)

The attempt to locate power in parish executives was simply misguided–a detailed critique of that mistake was posted earlier but the underlying mistake lay in shifting control of an essentially local question away from local people and their well-adapted practices for getting things done and vesting it in some plan –any single plan– designated at the state level.

The solutions to our emergency communications problems are political. Much will be made of technical interoperability and bandwidths and ways of knitting together disparate types of carriers and protocols. Some few of us may find that interesting. But fascinating technology is still just technology. The solutions will remain political.

The State of Louisiana needs to take control of its own telecommunications resources and to allow the localities to do the same.

On state level that means stiffening its spine and defying BellSouth’s lobbyists and campaign machine by lopping huge unnecessary annual tribute to BellSouth out of the budget.

On the local level it’s easy and cheap: Repeal the Local Government Fair Competition Act and let local governments find creative and, yes, profitable means to serve their own communities telecommunications needs free of state meddling.

You can bet that the next regular session will consider emergency telecom. Interested parties in the public should plan to protect their interests now. (The corporations surely have their strategies in place now.)