“A Broadband Utopia”

Now surely most Lafayette folks will be going down to festival this afternoon, leaving little time for reflection. But the IEEE Spectrum has a very interesting story on the UTOPIA project in Utah that will repay a little quiet time–the Utopia project presents interesting similarities and contrasts to Lafayette’s fiber-optic plans.

The IEEE (the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers) is a the premier organization of engineering and computer specialists. The IEEE is best known to the public for its standards-settings functions; WiFi is defined, for instance, more formally as IEEE standards 802.11x. So the regional fiber-optic broadband network in Utah is naturally of interest to its membership. Additionally, as we’ve reported, the IEEE has endorsed really big broadband made available to all and recognizes the it’s unlikely that the incumbents will provide what’s neaded. The whitepaper endorses public and particularly municipal alternatives. They do so with an engineer’s notably no-nonsense matter-of-factness that is particuarly refreshing.

So it’s no surprise that this body would be interested in the Utopia porject. The tale is longish but richly enough told that readers with different interests can find parts that are particularly useful. I, for instance, was impressed by the story of how the intial dissatifaction in Provo helped touch off a large-scale regional coalition and the technical details of the network’s design.

But there’s something for everyone: legislative and regional politics, a vision of what big broadband apps might look like, incumbent perfidy, economic models, and the potential for the regional network to expand outside the state. In particular, there’s a contrast with Verizon’s Fios and the Utopia network which details the practical outcomes of building different kinds of fiber-optic networks. (Surprised to hear that not all fiber-optic networks are created equal? Read this story.)

Worth looking at; a smart story that covers the bases.

Wireless in Lafayette

Don’t miss the Advocate article on wireless technologies that keyed off TechSouth events. The upfront part of the story reviews the positions of major players Earthlink and Tropos and their positions are predictable from their positions in the market–but interesting nonetheless.

However the bits of most interest to locals isn’t to be found unless you persist beyond the opening paragraphs. Toward the end of the story the issue of Lafayette’s wireless network appears:

Durel has said before that the LUS project — while bringing high-speed connections to homes and business over fiber-optic cable — could also include a widespread wireless component.

While no decision has been made, especially given the hurdles of lawsuits LUS has faced in the last year, wireless remains an option, Durel said.

Lafayette officials have spoken with vendors who deal in wireless technology, but are still looking at all possibilities — whether it’s all provided by the public, all private or a partnership, Durel said.

Wireless is great for enabling mobility and convenience, Durel said.

LUS’ fiber-network would also allow for future developments of applications in phone, cable and high-speed Internet that need a great deal of bandwidth, Durel said.

Lafayette officials are in lock-down mode on the wireless issue and have been long before the recent deals were cut with BellSouth and Cox. They understandably don’t want to seem to court more trouble wih the incumbents until any issues with the bonds for the current project are settled. But, frankly, the incumbents already understand Lafayette’s ambitions and staying mum about the more exciting possibilities in public won’t lessen their anxieties. It does, however, dull public support–and for my money we should be talking about the exciting possibilities that come from the intersection of big broadband, wireless, and local control. A lot of supporters think that there’s nothing much new on the horizon and that its all a matter of waiting for the fiber to come and getting over or around roadblocks. But there’s a lot more to talk about and plan for than that.

Some lagniappe: Vonage Offers VoIP Mobile-Phone Calls in the UK and Voice over Wi-Fi: cheap, reliable calling uloved by mobile operators

They Get It In Tennessee

Congratulations to people and legislature of Tennessee. The Chattanoogan reports an outbreak of rational behavior in a state legislature.

The Tennessee General Assembly has approved legislation sponsored by Sen. Doug Jackson (D-Dickson) that will expand access to broadband internet service…

SB 3427 will allow municipal utilities to provide cable and other related services. The effect of the bill is that access to broadband will be expanded as municipal utilities offer additional services to their communities, it was stated.

Some folks do see through the BS. What’s wrong with the Louisiana Legislature?

Festival International de Louisiane.

The site logs tell me we get a fair number of visitors from around the country and even across the water. Those folks put up with the decidedly local flavor, jokes, and occasional sardonic and obscure-to-outsider references because, I suspect, they feel some affinity for the struggle here.

So welcome friends from beyond our borders. You’ve shared the less-than-fun stuff and hard times. Interesting, maybe; and exciting at times, but it seems only fair to share the good stuff that makes the fight worthwhile. Festival International is one of those things.

I’ve described Festival before on these pages and the description remains apt:

The festival is the United States’ premiere francophone festival. [History] Music from all over the world with an emphasis on French-speaking lands; a big juried craft fair, un place des infants, mixed drinks, great food stands (really), and dancing..lots of dancing…almost anywhere.

It’s a wonderful experience spread out over downtown’s three stages with activity also running along the turn of the century main downtown drag, Jefferson Street. The festival stages are new, with a clean design, spacious enough for a real crowd but not so large that anyone ends up out of sight or out of earshot. This is what they were designed for and the spaces work. The artwork and the crafts look out from your usual American fare and toward the Caribbean and Africa. There’s an energy and…well..joie de vivre. If you ever get the chance you should come. Folks get happily addicted.

It’s impossible to capture the full flavor of Festival, but here’s a for-instance: I went down to the Fais Do Do Stage on Jefferson with Layne opening night and heard Keith Frank & the Soileau Zydeco Band. Great music. The audience filled up the space in front of the stage and spilled out into the street. We watched from a strategic place in the street that was within striking distance of the mixed drinks booth and the Joe’s Dreyfus Store Restaurant booth. (Recommended: Festival Punch and the deep fried roast beef po-boys (really–some tasty!)) We watched sweet old couples dancing slow and young man who we recognized as one of the (in)famous dancing waiters at Cafe des Amis in Breaux Bridge pulling women from the crowd for some Zydeco dancing. Friends drifted by and we talked about business and the latest in the fiber fight between high energy songs. Tobey, who came down for the referendum, was in town for TechSouth and we got to watch a northeasterner trying to take in the multi-racial, multicultural, laughing, dancing melange and high-voltage rubboard and accordion music. He seemed a bit dazed. But maybe that was Festival Punch. As the evening wore on the family group right behind us started dancing among themselves and one guy started dancing with everyone nearby…In my family Layne, Robin, and Erin all got a turn. His regular dancing partner took pity and showed us some steps–and the women how to properly use their hips. Everyone took pictures but me. I always forget my camera.

If you’d like to participate from a distance, thanks to the wonders of the modern internet you can. Take a listen at KRVS’s live stream. When the music’s on KRVS’s stream will be there. Saturday is the big day. Kick back and participate vicariously. But there is nothing like coming to visit. If you’re not local make a plan to come on down. (Someday we’ll have streaming video out of AOC for you but even then it’ll only be a taste.)

Thanks all…

100 megs

I went by the LUS booth at TechSouth yesterday and had my attention gently directed to a video display that showed LUS fiber providing 100 megs of service in contrast the speeds of various competing technologies. That brought a real smile to my face.

It was also fun to look at the new map of all the fiber buildouts that go beyond the initial wholesale ring. Little black legs reaching into all areas of the city. Lots of the newer legs are for the local school system. I’m told that LUS is gearing up to start stringing fiber for the parish schools now. Apparently Entergy is being difficult about pole attachments but that seems to be being worked out. Slemco is aboard (It’s probably no surprise: a locally-owned coop is being cooperative.)

“Lafayette deal leaves others on their own”

Kevin Blanchard in one of his too-rare analysis pieces discusses the deal-making between Lafayette and the telecommunications incumbents Cox and BellSouth.

As regular readers will recall, I typically think Blanchard’s work accurate and incisive. I think so today as well–and not only because he draws from this blog to make a number of points.

Few people have the luxury of being, not only able, but required to keep up with the arcane goings-on around them that might not mean a lot now but have large implications for the future. Reporters are one of group that is required to watch closely but they are faced with what must be the frustrating constraint of only reporting the immediate “event” that seems newsworthy. What too-often falls between the cracks in reporting is the background understanding that reporters and editors have that helps them determine what makes an event (out of all the things happening that day) worthy of being “news.” The public sees a disconnected series of stories that in themselves contain only a small fraction of what the reporters understand about what makes each story significant. If you read closely, talk to folks, and follow themes over time you can often figure out much of what makes the daily story significant. What’s nice about analysis pieces like the one published in the Advocate today is that it lets you in on the bigger meaning that ties together all the smaller stories with a whole lot less work.

Travel on over to the story. The writer does a great job of laying out the bigger story that connects a series of his articles.

A little commentary on the commentary:

I’m quoted as thinking the deal a bad one. And I do, but actually think the issue pretty complex and the officials’ decisions pretty defensible from the standpoint of Lafayette. It’s a very understandable even “smart” decision for the place that Lafayette finds herself in. Lafayette is is in a tight spot and needs, for several good reasons, to get down to building the network. The entire legislative strategy had been designed to put BellSouth and Cox in a tight enough spot of their own to make them back off and failing that to set things up so as to bloody them enough to perhaps actually get repeal. With it understood that playing the game out to a draw was the looked-for solution and this particular “cease fire,”– while getting Lafayette less than they hoped for (a lawsuit still threatens the bond issue) — does get BellSouth and Cox off their legal backs.

My basic quarrel has been with the strategy of angling for compromise. For my money a better approach is always to go for what you actually need. And what Lafayette and there rest of the state actually needs is repeal. Compromise can come if it is necessary. One day that fight will still have to be fought. Now that we understand that the incumbents intend to twist a badly written the law to their advantage it’s all too apparent that a law which serves only the corporations and leaves endless room for their mischief has to go if not this year, sometime soon. This year, with a massive merger that could be opposed, the corporate desire for hurricane relief, BellSouth’s PR disasters in opposing New Orelean’s WiFi, loosing the referendum in Lafayette, and ugly delaying lawsuits there were a unique set of tools with which to attack. Cox weighed in with a franchise bill, that though under-reported is thoroughly repugnant to local governments, and could have been made a potent issue. Fought hard from the beginning support could have been built on the basis that post-hurricane local governments ought not to have to contend with the state stepping in to protect bad-actor corporations. This was a particularly good year to establish that picture in legislators minds, win or lose. I’m sorry we missed the opportunity.

But, in all honesty, the real problem is a lot bigger than one of strategies and not something that Lafayette can fix on its own. Blanchard hints at the bigger problem when he says:

Of course two years ago, when the state law at issue was first proposed — while the Louisiana Municipal Association backed Lafayette’s efforts — it was individual legislators from the New Orleans area who took the lead in carrying water for private providers’ interests, saying they wanted to make sure New Orleans never tried to dabble in its own communications system.

He’s absolutely right. I sat in that hearing and was appalled. What is really needed is a willingness of local governments to hang together an defend the interests of local communities. New Orleans’ WiFi dilemma is partly of their own making. If communities, rural and urban, had backed Lafayette the original demonstrably lousy bill need never have passed. And if Lafayette’s project were in place now and the bill there would be very substantial benefits that an LUS system could lend other communities. Lafayette deciding it needs to pursue its own interests now is just one piece of this larger picture. What’s really wanted is a firm coalition among local communities to support each other’s best interests. We clearly don’t have such now and the citizens of Lafayette and New Orleans are merely the ones that are suffering for it at the moment.

MSN Money – 5 lousy CEOs include AT&T and BS

So maybe I’m feeling grumpy but…for all those who believe that telecom is one of those areas in which “free enterprise” makes for effective, efficient corporations with enterprising leadership MSN Money notes that AT&T and BellSouth are two of the five worst CEOs with the best pay packages. The gory details:

As chairman and chief executive of AT&T and of SBC Communications before it merged with AT&T, Edward Whitacre earned $85 million during the past five years, or about $17 million a year on average. [list of perks and golden parachute items elided]…Shareholders have a five-year loss of 40% to show for Whitacre’s efforts, as the stock has fallen to $23.50 from $39.30.

Rich pay packages for poor performance seem common in the telecom sector. BellSouth chairman and chief executive F. Duane Ackerman, for example, made about $46 million in the past five years. That works out to over $9 million a year. But shareholders lost 23% as stock fell to $27.40 from $35.60

I guess that you could say that these leaders are “enterprising,” but not in the sense we usually mean the term.

The market’s loss of confidence in BellSouth and Cox is in no small part due to its judgment that their fiber to the node/curb XDSL plan to enter the triple play market simply won’t give them the tools they need to compete against the cable companies.

There’s no reason to believe that merging these two bloated, misguided corporations will make the resulting behemoth any closer to competent.

Lafayette will be a lot better off with LUS giving these guys some competition.

WBS: Lafayette Sued, Again

Whats Being Said Dept.

Broadband Reports includes a short piece on BellSouth and Cox’s latest lawsuit. As always what’s really interesting about BBR is the comments.

If you want to know what tech types in other parts of the country think about this make the jump. Some teasers:

Why can’t the government just wack everyone of Bell South’s lawyers?

They’re getting awfully annoying.


How does this happen….

…when a single corporation, driven by green, can sue a town, of voters/elected members who democratically VOTED on a plan to improve their city.

If corporations can successfully squash government/citizen voted actions out in the open through the court systems, we are in trouble.

Clearly the town wants next gen. type fibre, BellSouth should get on the wagon and offer up some type of agreement to help or anything, instead of doing nothing but trying to suck the town dry. God forbid they have significant competition.


TechSouth Opens Today!

A quick reminder: TechSouth opens today at the Cajundome. If you are technically oriented you’ll want to attend.

Like the festival that it overlaps we tend to take it for granted. It’s a first-class event that makes available speakers and information usually available only at conferences held in much larger cities. Wireless, virtualization, big broadband, hurrican recovery, 3-d visualization, supercomputers, and business opportunities–its all there.

And its Free! Make use of the opportunity. And then hop over to Festival International de Louisiane.

Today’s Advertiser story.

The Website.

Lafayette Cuts a Deal

Lafayette, BellSouth/ATT, and Cox have cut a deal to avert a bloody battle in the legislature and the courts. The surprise agreement includes Lafayette’s promise to withdraw its bills to repeal the Local Government Fair Competition Act which has been the basis for multiple lawsuits delaying the construction of the fiber optic based telecommunications utility voted in last summer. For its part, BellSouth and Cox (dba LCTA) agrees to withdraw the latest of those lawsuits. This ceasefire does not clear the way for the bond sales as a class action lawsuit filed by a Plaquimine firm, whose previous filing had been tied to the incumbents, has not withdrawn its lawsuit. That suit, like the ones withdrawn, seeks again to block the bond sales.

You can get the story from either the Advocate or the Advertiser. Both are pretty good stories though you’ll find more crucial detail in the Advocate who was first out with the story.

For what it’s worth (damned little) this deal seems like a lousy one for the people of Lafayette and Louisiana. What’s most amazing is that we’ve apparently decided to trust the deal-making honesty of BellSouth and Cox Communications. By all accounts “understandings” cut at the negotiating table between Lafayette and the incumbents as the Local Government (un)Fair Competition Act was being hammered out were never honored–in fact the bonding/cross subsidization issue was supposed to have been at the heart of that understanding. Similar games were played throughout the referendum campaign to the point where the city-parish swore not to trust anything they couldn’t get in writing.

This retreat will leave the citizens of the state outside Lafayette to contend with a law designed to make municipal broadband of any stripe–wired or wireless–very difficult to start and regulated by the state to force the prices up and make running it unnecessarilty difficult. The law distorts technological choices that localities make to accomodate the profits of monopoly providers of telecom services. In many cases it will leave small, resource-poor communities to languish. The corporations will refuse to serve them and they will be forbidden to take care of their own by the state. Lafayette will have a moral obligation to pursue this issue once its own system is secured.

The current deal would be easier to see as a strategic retreat if Lafayette actually had cleared the way to sell its bonds. But it hasn’t. The class action lawsuit by a firm associated with and aided in the past by the incumbents still stands.

At the end of the day Lafayette is still being sued to block its bonds and has given away its attempts to repeal the law that might have actually solved that problem for itself and the state in return for BellSouth and Cox not also suing. All in all its hard to see this as a good deal.