“City gets ‘grid’ options, IBM says”

The Advocate covers a luncheon meeting at Don’s yesterday that put folks from IBM together with local business and governmental types to take a look at what “Grid” computing could do for Lafayette–and, of course, what projects and potential projects in the Hub City could do for IBM’s regional reps and the grid computing team.

LONI, LITE, and Lafayette’s FTTH project were nodes in the discussion about making use of excess computing power and big pipe connectivity. The touchpoint for the IBMers in the crowd was the OneCleveland project. A key to the the Cleveland project and to the whole idea of using grid computing and high technology to push economic development was that old methods of local governments encouraging business development–cheifly by directly subsidizing businesses or by tax rebates –were fading and that, instead, building infrastructure and facilitating linkages was on the rise. That, should it prove productive, would certainly make sustaining our tax base easier.

There was a lot of energy in the room but as one IBM rep said:

Grid is “just a technology,” Crockett said.

The challenge is what to do with it, he said…

LUS Director Terry Huval and many on his staff were at the presentation.

“The vision for all this is a big view, down the road,” Huval said. “We need to take advantage of what we have as a community.”

The common theme seemed to be that Lafayette has given itself the potential to shape a unique future for itself. It will be interesting to see how well we can dream.

“AT&T Project Lightspeed and the Jedi Mind Trick”

Know your enemy department:

Nyquist Capital has an exasperated analysis of AT&T’s Lightspeed Fiber to the Node project. (BellSouth has agreed to be purchased by AT&T and its similar plan for gradual network upgrade will be subsumed by Lightspeed. When and if Lafayette gets an upgrade Lightspeed will be its name.)

This analysis contrasts Lightspeed with Verizon’s Fiber to the Home project. But the analysis he performs sounds very similar to the one we’ve heard here. It’s nice to occasionally be ahead of the curve.

In short, AT&T is deploying a very complex architecture with major limitations in the interest of saving money. The major problem with this approach is it offers nothing better than what the incumbent cablecos can provide. Cable’s broadband is faster. Cable customers don’t need to worry about how many channels a household is watching simultaneously. Verizon’s approach delivers a user experience equivalent to cable with the ability to radically surpass it by deploying new bandwidth hungry applications as they emerge.

Substitute LUS for Verizon in this paragraph and you’ll get a good picture of the emerging competitive landscape in Lafayette. And a very good idea why it is BellSouth that has been most frantic to prevent competition from LUS.

Grid Computing in Lafayette

Zydetec had one of its new-style public seminars last night and it was covered in the Advertiser. They’re worth attending. The seminars naturally have their geeky side. (Hey, what is grid computing?) But the public rarely gets a chance to sit down and listen to industry leaders and local cognesenti talk about issues that will impact everyone’s future. I always find that listening to the conversation after a presentation the most informative part of a presentation and Lafayette’s Zydetech is one of the few places anywhere that anyone can walk in and join in the real nitty-gritty of the tech conversation. Avail yourself!

(Confession: I had to be at another meeting last night and missed the seminar. Any reader who wants to fill in the juicy details in the comments would be appreciated.)

The Advertiser does a fair job of reporting on the event itself. What is missing is the background that would let a reader know what grid computing is, why grid computing is important and why it is being discussed in Lafayette just now.

What grid computing is:
Wikipedia offers a technically oriented overview that’s pretty complete if you want the whole nuanced story.

But for the rest of us: Grid computing is a way to make massively effective supercomputers out the leftovers of everyone’s desktop computer. We look at our computers and see amazingly effective, plastic machines that can do an astonishing range of things. Network managers and uber tech types look at them and think: WASTE. All that processing power going to waste. Most of the time nobody is using any cycles and even when they are working 90% of the cycles are still going to waste. For the tidy-minded this is just silly. For those with real, unfilled compute-intensive needs it is offensive.

Not surprisingly these guys ran out and developed network models that would make unused cycles available to those who needed it.

Why Grid Computing is Important:
Well waste is bad. (Your grandparents told you so and they were right.) But beyond that there really are problems that are either too big to run in real-time on even the most expensive supercomptuer and big, real computational problems that nobody can afford to purchase time to solve. Those are the sorts of problems for which Grid Computing is most likely to be implemented to solve.

One of the virtues of grid computing is that the resulting supercomputer is super cheap. Cheap is good. Suddenly the little guy can do things that only those that could own “big iron” could do before. You’ve heard of render farms? Expensive. Exclusive. Anyone with cheap access to a muni-sized grid system could compete cheaply George Lucas. The most powerful supercomputers are built to model the weather–globally. We could use the same powerful methods to apply to, say Lafayette parish, and begin to get a handle on truly local weather. (Those summer thunderstorms in Louisiana that drench one field and leave another 300 yards away bone dry? We could understand that.) Trouble is, the finer-grained analysis uses almost as much compute power as the continental-level projections. We trouble ourselves to afford large scale predictions whose accuracy–say about hurricanes–would have astonished the best metereologist in our parent’s day. But we can’t afford to do the same locally. Grid computing could change that. (The list goes on…)

Why is Lafayette talking about this:
The big hangup with large-scale grid computing is bandwidth. There’s never enough of it. People don’t want to give it up and private providers, who profit off maximizing the difference between the bandwidth you buy and that which you actually use, don’t want to do anything to encourage a new, big drain on their resources that they don’t get paid for. All that is why grid computing is rare and why most small models are on public networks like those at universities who view local network usasge as something to maximize. (They’ve paid for it an want to use it fully–short of the point of congestion, of course.)

When Lafayette gets it big bandwidth 100 megs internal fiber-optic system from LUS most of us will have that bandwidth to burn. It won’t cost us anything noticeable to share our cycles and bandwidth with others. Maybe those who chose to do so could get a small rebate on their bill and/or cheap or free access to the computational power that the community has provided itself. The 100 megs would make the grid plenty quick enough for distributed computation. Everyone benifits and a major, cost-saving, unique, and radiacally disruptive tool is added to the resources of Lafayette residents and businesses.

Uniquely cheap services are the kind of thing that businesses travel to a locales to take advantage of–the food and music here would be a nice plus.

Worth thinking about, no?

Breakfield Back At It for AT&T (aka BellSouth)

It’s hard to know where to start.

Neal Breakfield, unrepentant sock puppet extraordinaire, is back at it again with a guest editorial in the Advertiser. Talk about misplaced loyalties. Even as BellSouth prepares to sell out to AT&T to create America’s largest phone monopoly, Breakfield continues to act in ways that benefit the telecom incumbents and damage the interests of a project the local community has overwhelmingly approved.

While Breakfield neglects to mention his long-standing opposition to Lafayette’s project, readers should be reminded that Breakfield was one of the very few voices to be raised against the project locally. He vociferously opposed the idea with various rationales and ran a distasteful site called fiber 411 on which posters regularly trash-talked the project and the character and motives of local citizens from behind its wall of anonymity.

But the best place to start is with Breakfield’s charge that Lafayette somehow considers itself “above the law” for pursuing repeal of a law that has repeatedly been used to thwart the will of the voters. It’s hard to understand where Neal finds the gall to claim that Lafayette considers itself above the law. Talk about hypocritical. Beyond running fiber 411 and appearing at press conferences Neal’s main claim to fame was to file a dubious, “unsworn” complaint against Mayor Durel which, apparently, was found to be without merit since the time has elapsed when a verdict to the contrary would have been announced. In the normal course of events a finding against a person like Mr. Durel would be the first the public would have heard of the matter since it is against the law to discuss unsworn complaints publicly–precisely to prevent folks from using the ethics commission to publicize and give weight to what is essentially rumor-mongering. But Neal’s unsworn complaint was announced on the editorial pages of the Times of Acadiana. Neither he nor his partner in unethically discussing a charge he wasn’t willing to swear to (Eric Benjamin) has found it convenient to apologize for illegally publicizing a complaint that turned out to be baseless. This makes his strange plaint about others believing that they are “above the law” more than a little hypocritical.

This guest editorial represents a return to the Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt (FUD) strategy so long pursued by the incumbents. Powerful, dominant, corporations have long used such tactics to smear their upstart competition. Issues are raised that are, generally, either untrue or irrelevant but which always raise doubt about the character or the competence of their opposition. The point is not to lay out a good or even defensible line of reasoning in opposition to what a corporation dislikes. The purpose is simply to raise a long series of scary “possibilities” that surround the opposition’s product with so many ugly suppositions that people come away with the impression that something must be wrong.

In the odd, mirror world that Neal occupies trying to repeal a law is the same as being “above the law.” It’s not–it is obviously the opposite of that. Neal has no objection to the endless lawsuits and obstructionism at the Public Service Commission that has served to delay a project Lafayette voted to approve. His emphasis is entirely on the successes that the incumbents have enjoyed with this strategy. He ignores the fact that the ordinance we all voted on and approved is the same one which BellSouth finally found a court to take it side on–after the author, Cox, the city, the public service commission (who filed a brief in support) and various legislators have all indicated that they think BellSouth is betraying deals made in conference and misinterpreting the law. He rhetorically asks whether we voted on that ordinance. We did! Explicitly. On July 16th

Breakfield ignores the fact that the co-sponsor of the Local Government Fair Competition Act is now spearheading the effort for repeal in the Senate just as he ignores the fact that the people did in fact vote on the ordinance BellSouth sued us over. He’s not eager to ask why the Acadiana delegation has lined up for repeal. He doesn’t ask why Cox refused to join BellSouth’s suit over this ordinance.

Breakfield wants to pretend that the city joining all these folks in thinking BellSouth wrong and defending itself in court when sued by its potential competition was to engage in “blatantly illegal” behavior. Wildest nonsense. Defending yourself in court is the opposite of “illegal” behavior just as seeking repeal of an unjust law exhibits the opposite of considering yourself “above the law.”

At some point you would think that having been repudiated at the polls would end this type of self-indulgent foolishness. Or that a decent regard for the judgment of the community would induce a little more care in attacking its interests. Apparently not. The community has ignored this sort of nonsense from Neal before and I’ve little doubt that it will be ignored once again.

“Political Gambit”

Nathan Stubbs at the Independent has a wrap-up story on the original trio of bills that propose to neuter or repeal the “Local Government Fair Competition Act.” He focuses in on Joel Robideaux who is happily fronting the bills in the House.

The story highlights heroic dimensions as the unassuming first term representative takes on not one but two telecommunications Goliaths in defense of home and hearth. But it hints, as well, at intricate behind the scenes maneuvering:

Passed in 2004, the 21-page law was touted as a compromise agreement between LUS and private telecom providers, enacting detailed guidelines and scrutiny over any public entity’s bid to offer telecommunications services to the general public. Last year, BellSouth used the law to file a lawsuit that tied up LUS’ bond ordinance in court. LUS and city leaders felt burned, claiming BellSouth was underhanded about its intentions during the bill’s negotiations. BellSouth Rep. John Williams did not return calls for comment for this story…

Cox Communications spokeswoman Sharon Kleinpeter says her company was a bit taken aback by Robideaux’s bills….

The bills prompted the scheduling of a pre-session meeting with all interested parties to talk about possible compromises — a meeting that was abruptly canceled late last week. Even before that development, Robideaux wasn’t holding out too much hope that everyone would come to a friendly agreement.

“They had these meetings before the [Local Government Fair Competition Act], and Lafayette thought it would be allowed to progress, and that wasn’t the case. So I’m not sure what could come out of this meeting that everybody would feel like, ‘OK, good, we know exactly what’s going to happen after this point.’ But, I’m an optimist, so we’ll see.”

You begin to see an emerging strategy perking out when Robideaux nonchalantly suggests that the bill that would make many of the restrictions apply equally to the parties is pretty much common sense–for any entity that wants a shot at government money or subsidies:

HB 244, would require any private telecommunications company that receives public funds to adhere to all of the regulations in the Local Government Fair Competition Act. Telecom companies have received government assistance in the past, in the form of tax incentives and grants for opening new offices and expanding services into rural areas. Robideaux won’t be surprised if BellSouth or Cox look to capitalize on federal funds or tax incentives now being offered to spark rebuilding in the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

“If they see this as an opportunity to put down some infrastructure in the state, which is not necessarily a bad thing, [under this bill] they would then be subjected to the same rules and regulations that any other governmental entity would be, since they’re receiving government money to do it,” says Robideaux.

What a fun little trap; it is a classic double bind: Damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.

While Robideaux lays it out as a common sense measure, the bill appears to be a long shot.

A long shot? Sure. And so? It’d be fun to pass it, no doubt, but the real reason to put it out there has to be to set the stage for what should be the real argument: Just how FAIR is the fair competition act anyway? After all if it is fair, and if it actually does establish a “level playing field” which is all the incumbents piously say the want, why shouldn’t the law’s restrictions apply equally to any publicly subsidized entity? Cox’s Sharon Kleinpeter unwisely took the bait:

If enacted, it would open the door to placing unprecedented government auditing and financing restraints on private telecom companies. Cox’s Kleinpeter says public and private businesses are different animals that can’t be covered by blanket guidelines.

“I think you’re comparing apples and oranges, and those two things could not ever be put in the same basket,” she says. “All of us in business have to follow rules and guidelines from the FCC, the SEC and anti-trust laws.”

Really, all you can do is bluster. And bluster is just not very convincing.

You get a little hint of a further strategy in the following (LPF analysis here) remarks:

The triple-threat political gambit could not come at a more auspicious time for LUS. Last Wednesday, the city-parish council approved the public utility’s latest bond ordinance for the project, starting a 30-day window for anyone to issue another legal challenge to the bond ordinance. The benefit of having a fresh debate on the Fair Competition Act opening at the same time as the window for a new legal challenge to LUS isn’t lost on Robideaux, who smiles and says, “It just happened to work out that way.”

Nah, it didn’t just happen to work out that way. The ball is in play.

Louisiana & Lafayette’s Tech Story Gets Told

In the heart of Cajun country, Louisiana state and municipal officials are completing the construction of a $27.5 million, supercomputer-powered 3-D visualization complex that they hope will become the nucleus of a new Silicon Valley.

Ok, so it’s a little over the top and bit hyperbolic. Still the story in FCW is great publicity for the state and Lafayette. National publicity for all your best toys is always welcome:

The Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise (LITE), which could be operational by late April or early May, would immediately support research and development activities for independent oil and gas companies that don”t have the expertise or investment dollars for such immersive technologies….

There’s a fairly detailed description of the netw LITE center for the curious. Unfortunately there’s no picture of the futuristic building that’s currently being finished.

If researchers need more computing capacity than the facility can provide, officials said, the center can draw aggregate supercomputing power statewide through a 60-gigabits/sec connection to the Louisiana Optical Network Initiative. It is a $40 million statewide fiber-optic network that links mainframe computers at the state’s major research universities.

The statewide network also connects to the National LambdaRail, a transcontinental optical Ethernet and IP networking infrastructure built on more than 10,000 miles of fiber-optic cable. National LambdaRail is designed for national-scale research and experimentation in networking technologies and applications….

Gothreaux said the project was conceived three years ago to help Lafayette, located in south central Louisiana, diversify its economy. The city has a relatively low unemployment rate, and the community voted last year to spend $125 million to bring fiber optics to every home. “We were looking for an economy-changing–even, to a certain extent, a society-changing–science,” Gothreaux said.

LITE, LONI, the LambdaRail and FTTH! That’s a big chunk of the new Zydetech grand plan being mentioned all at once. Somebody’s happy. Too bad they didn’t mention grid computing or Tech South.

Update: A recent email delivers a blast from the past on grid computing. Does anyone recall the Acadiana Virtual Supercomputer project? The upcoming Zydetec public forum on grid computing should be really interesting for those with the taste for a little productive dreaming. (Here’s a dream: a distributed computing network built on the back of Lafayette’s 100 megs of internal bandwidth could power an extremely cheap, easy way to make the hugely compute intenstive elements of digital special effects and various levels of cartooning possible as a cottage industry. Currently those activities are forced by limited bandwidth to put the artists involved in a cubicle farm perched on top of a fast LAN full of servers. In Lafayette contract workers or cottage industries could sit out on the fast local network and pull on distributed computing network. We’ve already got creative video development going on at the University, Carencro High, and Game Camp. Those folks don’t necessarily have to go away to put their talents and traing to use if we can get something like that going.

(You can peek at an earlier version of the Lafayette video gaming distributed network if you find the idea intriguing.)

Watching Sausage Being Made

We’ve all heard the old saw: “People who enjoy sausages and respect the law should never watch either being made.”

The author clearly wasn’t from Louisiana where getting up close and nasty with what we eat is part of the feast. Consider boucheries, corner-store boudin, and boiling crawfish alive. Folks with a delicate constitution don’t hang around long. What’s true of food is equally true of legislation. Politics is a spectator sport in the “gret state.”

The sport has been waning in recent years, what with cheap cable television and TV preachers providing an unwholesome entertainment alternative to Dudley LeBlanc, Puggy Moity, Mr. Edwards and their colorful commentators.

With modern telecommunications you needn’t get your legislative entertainment at one remove. You’ll be able to watch much of the proceedings this year for yourself–and judge for yourself the quality of work done in your name. (Mostly, the few times I’ve attended such, I’ve been pleasantly surprised…but the moments of duplicity are rewarding to the cynic in me.)

One of the advantages of a modern telecommunications network is that you can watch the sausage being made every day on regular old cable TV courtesy of LPB and the Cable companies and get streaming video of the actual committee meetings from the legislatures website. Louisiana’s cable companies and Lousiana Public Broadcasting have teamed up to provide widespread access. (Here is where Cox Lafayette has done a good thing: this is the first year they’ve carried LPB’s signal; maybe hiring the Governor’s daughter to dispense PR has had some positive effect.)

LPB/Cablecos provide:
Access on the cable channels from 2 to 6 every legislative day. I presume that will be mostly shots from whichever house has the more interesting “action” going on. Here in Lafayette tune to channel 98; the channel location for other participating cablecos is located on the web. LPB will also provide occasional live coverage on its stations across the state starting with Blanco’s opening address on today, March 27th @ 1:00.

The Legislature provides:
For more discerning viewers with the dollop of broadband needed for small steaming video windows you can can choose from multiple committee hearings. (Obligatory remark: this is another reason we need real broadband.) In my experience, this is more likely to be rewarding than trying to decipher the goings-on on the floor of the legislature. All legislative downloadable video requires a copy of the (free) RealVideo player be installed on your machine.

The House:
House Committee Streaming Video Schedules. Even more nifty is the House archives of the netcasts. Time shift your viewing, it’s like an online TiVo. (The commerce committee will be venue for issues relating to Lafayette’s fiber to the home project and repeal of the Local Government Fair Competition Act.)

The Senate:
The Senate’s live netcasts (and they are ONLY available as streams, no archives are publicly available) are more awkward to use than the House’s. You’ll have to track the bills (LPF cheatsheet) you are intersted in; find the bill’s info which will list the committee where they will be heard, find the committee’s page and then see when that bill shows up on the agenda and the rooms that those committees will meet open the steam from that room. Again, for most of our purposes here, that will probably be the commerce committee. Waaay too complicated. But still, it’s possible and the fact that you can look over their shoulder as they do a lot of this work is a very good thing.

It’ll be serious entertainment. Real things will happen in the public view if the public cares to pay attention. It’s a level of access that modern technology makes available that used to be pretty much the sole province of paid lobbyists. What’ll be really fun is when the pieces fall into place to put the video on something like an RSS feed and integrate it with your own PVR. At that point you’ll be able to graze through the recordings, find the good parts, and share them with others. That would be real sunshine.

“Vidalia can learn [Fiber-Optic] lessons from Lafayette”

Vidalia, according to the Natchez Democrat, is considering building a fiber optic network similar to Lafayette’s and is hoping to learn from Lafayette’s experience. The recent story, and an earlier one, outline the basic suggestion. Vidalia, across the Mississippi from Natchez, is considering a suggestion put before its council by what is apparently a Natchez firm.

Vidalia, at 4,543 souls in the 2000 census, is a lot smaller than Lafayette. But by the same token it may be in line for support from federal and state programs designed to help small and rural communities bring their telecommunications networks into the 21st century and enhance the areas’ hopes for modern development. Also in Vidalia’s favor is the fact that they own their own electrical utility company–and, in fact share membership with Lafayette in the public Louisiana Energy and Power Authority, headquartered in Lafayette. Not owning their own poles and having their own line maintenance and technical crews already available would have likely put the project out of reach. The economics of smaller size pushes developers to offer as many services as they can over the same pipe, in order to realize the greatest revenue from the expensive investment. Lafayette’s model of developing the full array of services might well prove attractive.

The downside of offering the full smorgasbord of cable, internet, phone and perhaps wireless on top of a fiber network is the “central office” costs. Each of those services requires a substantial investment and a fair amount of uncommon expertise. That might be one place where LUS could help. Conceivably at least the “headend” equipment could be located in Lafayette–commercial enterprises often centralize such equipment far from some of their eventual customers and serve services out over fiber, the phone companies have always done this, cable companies do their own version, and Verizon has been following suit with its “super headends.” In the past there have been hints that LUS might do some of this for New Orleans. by partnering up with LUS towns like Vidalia (and, for that matter cities like Alexandria) could minimize the expense of acquiring and maintaining expensive central office equipment and technical staff. LUS as the backhaul hub of a Louisiana public network could be a huge accelerator for regional growth and could be a key factor in making next generation technologies available to smaller towns in economically underdeveloped regions like Concordia parish where Vidalia is a major hub.

Louisiana in fact has a “Louisiana Broadband Advisory Council” that Governor Blanco promoted for the express purpose of encouraging rural broadband development. Vidalia’s Senator, Noble Ellington, has a seat on that council. So the Vidalia project would seem like an obvious candidate for their support. Trouble is that to make that happen Ellington will have to decide between his loyalty to his constituents and his solidly documented loyalty to BellSouth (the latest)–and the Council would have to decide that promoting rural broadband is what it wants to do. Mike has commented on the dubious composition of this body that makes it unlikely to take much action that would disturb the incumbent providers.

In fact there’s substantial irony in this whole situation. Noble Ellington was the author of the Senate bill that was to have created the Council. Unfortunately, the bill never became law. (A bill started in the house eventually completed the task.) The reason? Ellington decided to hollow out the bill to make room for a BellSouth bill whose intent was to shut down Lafayette’s fiber to the home (FTTH) project before it ever got started.

LUS and the city government had waited until after the last date to file new bills in legislature before they announced their intent to research the possibility of FTTH in Lafayette. They feared that BellSouth and Cox would immediately run to the legislature to get the state to block Lafayette from even thinking about so scandalous an idea. They were right. Running to the legislature was the first thing the incumbents did.

What Lafayette didn’t anticipate was that someone (Ellington) would be willing to yank a pro-broadband bill and hand over the docket number in the appropriate committee to BellSouth to fill with a bill of their own devising. Yet that is exactly what happened. After much wrangling the Local Government (un)Fair Competition Act was passed that made municipal utilities difficult to start and unnecessarily expensive to run. But it did not make it completely impossible to go forward. Lafayette persisted and eventually voted 62 to 38 percent to authorize the construction of such a system. Several BellSouth lawsuits that have delayed the construction of the system are based in this law. It’s the same law that limits New Orleans municipal WiFi system that BellSouth so strenuously opposed to public use only in emergency situations. Ellngton’s “Local Government Fair Competition Act” has turned out to be lousy law; and now a town Ellington’s own rural district will have to look at his law with an eye toward how it will block possibilities for their community.

So Representative Ellington is on the horns of dilemma. BellSouth or Vidalia? Is there any possibility that Ellington will join his co-sponsor (Michot) on the original legislation and endorse repeal? I wish I thought this a real possibility. Having the author and the co-sponsor of the original bill sign onto repeal would send a powerful message to their colleagues in the legislature.

You could ask him, I guess.

Ellington is term-limited and and his membership on the broadband council argues that he cares about getting advanced communications networks to rural areas. It’s hard to see what is stopping him from doing the right thing. If you know anyone up Vidalia way in Ellington’s district you might ask them to drop him a line as well.

“Bandwidth to the home, how much is enough”

Mark Cuban, tech entrepreneur, owner of the Dallas Mavericks and something of a maverick in all his manifestations runs a thought piece in his personal blog on how much bandwidth folks will really need in the future. An interesting issue to contemplate on a Sunday morning.

It’s a lot; more than 100 megs. He creates a family, “the Whales,” to illustrate why he thinks that high value families will push the telecom companies to deliver a 100 meg or more pipe to its most valuable customers.

A sampler….

So lets look at our customer, The Whales, and their 3 kids and see what services they use.

First, each of the 3 kids has an LCD HDTV that operates both as a HDTV and a PC monitor. Their PC is of course connected to the net and is their stereo. It is not their TV PVR because of the hassles of cable card or lack of satellite PC connectivity for programming. Instead they have a provider installed HD PVR that shares a multi terabyte drive with their PC.

The kids are collectors…

When it comes to TV content, they use the same front end to programatically control the provided PVR. With the front end, they don’t use season passes any more. They save networks. Everything on MTV. It gets saved to the PVR. Everything from HDNet and HDNet Movies, CBS, NBC, HBO, Showtime, ABC, TNT, ESPNs, they all just automatically get saved…So their PVRs have basically become network spiders pulling in content 24x7x365.

You can see where this is going. Add in mom and pop doing a few work projects and a little IPTV and pretty soon it adds up to real bandwidth. (I’ve ranted on this line of reasoning before in the context of Lafayette and the fiber referendum, if some of this seems a little familiar.)

Now be aware that Cuban’s not a disinterested observer; he’s made a bundle off the sale of broadcast.com (an early “IP video caster”) and is a big investor in HDNet, a high def satellite network. So he’s putting his mouth where his money already is, so to speak. Of course, his bets have been pretty good so far.

At any rate, it’s an amusing read and worth thinking about for the rare locale, like Lafayette, which will have access to a local high speed network at 100 megs. The real reason we can’t have cheap access to the world wide web at 100 megs is the cost of transport to the backbone and transport over it. But we can, and will, have that much transport locally. How much of the capacity that Cuban attributes to his upscale family can be recreated locally and cheaply if we decide to do so?

I suspect a lot of it. Much of Cuban’s dream is premised on terabyte storage in the home. And that’s not too far out considering the cost of storage. But with a fat local pipe we don’t all have to own the terabyte. It’d be a whole lot cheaper to share it online with our friends and family, or cheaply through small local businesses, or as a small tack-on fee to our telecom utility bill. If 400 people in Lafayette want to watch Desperate Housewives the next day they can record it up to net and watch it later. And there need be only one copy on the net. My guess is that most of what Cuban locates in wealthy households could be located on the local backbone for a pittance.

Worth thinking about, Lafayette?

Our New Overlords: ATT’s Fiber To The Rich Nodes

The new AT&T (recently SBC) is set to absorb BellSouth as soon as the regulatory bodies scuttle out of the way. So it seemed useful to do a little checking on what we can expect from our new telecom overlords. It seems that if you and your neighbors don’t average a phone bill in excess of $110 dollars a month you will not get a network upgrade from them. (Not even the stangled fiber to the node kind that ATT and BellSouth are currently touting, much less real fiber to the home.) I spend about 19 dollars with BellSouth each month. Not a few of my neigbors get by on cell phones. I guess we up here in north Lafayette aren’t on the list. No surprise.

AT&T and BellSouth are hot to abolish Louisiana’s local video franchises and wanting to sell only to the wealthy is a big part of the reason. They don’t want to sell to poor folks. Cox does, their local franchise agreement requires them to serve everyone. LUS will serve all too–they’ve pledged to do so and politcs will make it certain that they do. ATT/BellSouth doesn’t think they should have to follow suit. Their profit would be a lot bigger if they didn’t have to mess around all those little accounts. That explains two bills lined up in our legislature that forbid local governments requiring a new competitor to serve all equally. (That is really what they say. Check it out for yourself: SB 386, HB 699.)

A bit of googling around popped up the following article from USATodays’ Leslie Cauley, whose coverage of muni/telecom issues has been stellar. Here’s a telling clip from her article when the franchising issue first heated up in late ’05 and SBC had yet to finish swallowing up AT&T and adopting its name. In the story SBC/ATT reps have been complaining that the cable companies attempts to make the phone companies play by the same rules the cable companies do is unfair “regulation.” Cauley writes:

Yet, SBC itself has been using regulation to strangle its rivals for years, complains Mark Cooper, director of the Consumer Federation of America. So have the other Bells. Cooper notes that SBC and the other Bells are seeking to bar municipalities from building broadband networks that might compete with their own.

In many cases, he says, the Bells are making these arguments in the same states — Texas, for example — where they’re seeking to evade cable-franchise rules.

“My heart doesn’t bleed for them,” Cooper says of the Bells and their complaints about franchising rules. “They don’t have a public-interest bone in their body.”

Cooper says SBC reinforced that idea last fall when it unveiled plans for “Lightspeed,” its broadband project. SBC plans to spend $4 billion over four years to reach 18 million households, and ramp up from there.

During a slide show for analysts, SBC said it planned to focus almost exclusively on affluent neighborhoods. SBC broke out its deployment plans by customer spending levels: It boasted that Lightspeed would be available to 90% of its “high-value” customers — those who spend $160 to $200 a month on telecom and entertainment services — and 70% of its “medium-value” customers, who spend $110 to $160 a month.

SBC noted that less than 5% of Lightspeed’s deployment would be in “low-value” neighborhoods — places where people spend less than $110 a month. SBC’s message: It would focus on high-income neighborhoods, at least initially, to turn a profit faster.

Some policymakers, though, said they were appalled. “It was one of the worst self-inflicted wounds in the public policy arena that I have ever seen,” says Blair Levin, who served as an adviser to former FCC chairman Reed Hundt.

At a recent congressional hearing, Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., accused SBC of offering Lightspeed “for the well-off and ‘Snailspeed’ for everybody else.” Cable operators also piled on. Brian Roberts, Comcast’s CEO, dubbed SBC’s FTTH (Fiber to the Home) project “FTTR” — Fiber to the Rich.

This will come as no surprise to anyone who watched BellSouth evade the digital divide issue during the refendum here in Lafayette. Even under duress they wouldn’t say they’d serve everyone. 80 percent was all they were willing to promise.

If you figure out the “promise” SBC/ATT is making it works out to about 52. 5 percent of the total population. A little over half of the people in the communities they serve. The wealthiest half.

It doesn’t look like our New Overlords will be any improvement over the old BellSouth ones.

Statewide video franchising. It’s a simple way to exclude half of our citizens.