Reminders of the Fiber Forum

Both the Advertiser and the Advocate remind us of the Fiber Forum this afternoon.

Durel and Huval will be in the atrium at city hall this evening at 5:30 to talk to citizens about Lafayette’s fiber optic network.

You can expect the session to open up with a road plan for the construction of the network that has the potential to reveal new details about a system whose exact nature has been shrouded by the need to defend the very idea from incumbent opposition. With the right to build the network now secured we can hope for the sorts of details to emerge that could fuel our imagination as to what unique services could be developed.

Both articles talk about LUS wanting input on “services” it could provide over the new network. From the Advocate:

Director Terry Huval has said that LUS is interested in hearing from people the type of services and products they would like to see in an eventual system because those preferences will help LUS decide which technologies to pursue.

The Advertiser expands on this point:

“Our system is going to have a tremendous amount of capacity,” he said.

It will be unlike anything ever seen in Lafayette, Huval said.

With that huge amount of capacity goes enormous potential.

An earlier release by the Advertiser First Fiber Forum Thursday” (web only) indicated that other forums might be in the offing. Likely that is dependent upon the participation today.

I urge readers to take advantage of this opportunity to participate in the discussion. Come; ask questions about the plan, toss in your own ideas; talk to the guys who are actually in charge. This sort of meeting is part of why we want our own system. Go downtown, pull into the parking lot, stroll into a building you own, and talk the men who will build this system. Put your own ideas on the table–and reasonably expect to get a hearing. Ask real questions. Get real answers from people who have to answer to you locally.
Try and imagine anything remotely like this happening with Cox or AT&T/BS.

This is why we fought for local control. Now its up to you folks to go down and make use of what you’ve won. So make a moment after work today to go down to city hall, to watch, and if so moved ask questions and suggest answers.

After all, it’s your system.

WBS: A turning of the tides

What’s Being Said Dept.

Wifi Networking thinks changes are afoot:

The municipal broadband scene is seeing a turning of the tides: Oh, yes, Master Shallow, I have heard the chimes at midnight, and it seems that an old way of doing business may be passing away, as incumbents refocus their efforts and state bills are poised to reverse to disable incumbent-benefiting municipal and utility restrictions.

Washington state and Pennsylvania are both considering legislation that would undo incumbent-sponsored legislation that crippled local communities that wanted to roll their own broadband.

And long-suffering Lafayette is finally going to get its chance to build the fiber to the home project it has been planning:

Home of a long-running feud over fiber, Lafayette will start work: The Louisiana town has wanted to roll out its own city-owned fiber-optic network for years and years, and was fought on several fronts by incumbent operators and others. The Lafayette Utilities System received a 7-0 state Supreme Court ruling in its favor to allow it to sell bonds to finance the project. Cox says it already has a state-of-the-art fiber installation and will invest another $500m in the region. In most cases, incumbents rarely upgrade facilities until the threat of municipal competition is invoked. BellSouth also fought the effort. Neither offers fiber-to-the-home (FTTH), which is what Lafayette will build. The utility is rapidly getting its house in order to sell bonds and start building. Some service could start in 18 months.

Everywhere the tide is running against the incumbents.

LITE and Fiber attract new business services

The Advertiser trumpets the addition of a new tech support company, General Informatics, to the stable of companies located at the LITE center. According to the company it was Lafayette’s technological resources that attracted the business:

[Company technology advisor] Camel said the main attraction for the company was Lafayette’s technology that allows for fast transfer of information.

“We have a temporary office in Abdalla Hall now, and the speeds there are just amazing,” Camel said. “It was great for us to find a place like Lafayette that has so much, in terms of fiber and the other technological advances that will allow us to do our work well.”

General Informatics has an impressive resume for a young company:

Microsoft has awarded the company’s solution as the top solution for small business, and in 2006, it was named Company of the Year by LSU’s Louisiana Business and Technology Center.

The company specializes in providing technical support to small businesses:

“We really try to focus on the small mom-and-pop type businesses and allow them to be on a level playing field with other, larger companies.”

Notice please, that this, formal announcement takes place within weeks of the court decision that clears the way for Lafayette to build its delayed fiber to the home network. It is hard not to wonder if those two are connected. Companies like General Infomatics are service companies. They locate where they think plenty of small businesses needing their help are or will be located. All other things being equal that means large cities. But sometimes all other things are not equal: a top-notch company will also be VERY aware of how the available infrastructure limits the solutions that they can reasonably propose for a small business. If you’ve got three dental surguries scattered around town you simply can’t afford solutions that demand a private 100 meg intranet to achieve the efficiencies that otherwise might be possible. But Lafayette will have pervasive fiber; no private, expensive, one-off networking will be necessary. In Lafayette companies like General Informatics won’t have to see their solutions constrained by bandwidth availability.

So, it seems to me, General Informatics has simply made the judgment that smaller Lafayette will be a fertile field for the development of new “mom-and-pop type businesses” because Lafayette’s fiber network will “allow them to be on a level playing field with other, larger companies.”

Make no mistake: this is VERY good news. What would really benefit Lafayette is not so much one-shot big employers (though we will take all of those we can get, of course) but a growing and healthy small business community. Some of those will grow big enough to notice but by and large their successes–fueled by their energy, fiber, and support companies like GI–will be what really makes a difference in the lives of Lafayette citizens.

F2C: Recommended

The 2nd Freedom To Connect Conference (F2C) is being held tomorrow. And you should feel free to connect via the wonders of your broadband connection to a live videocast. And even play on the chat box during the sessions. If you’ve got the time tomorrow and Tuesday check in. I went last year and learned a lot. You’ll miss the hall discussions–always the best part of any real conference–but Isenberg gets speakers who are actually interesting and lets them talk about what interests them. Good Stuff.

F2C is the brainchild of David Isenberg, a funny, fiesty fellow of just the gadfly sort we approve of here at LPF. The idea is to get a bunch of smart committed people interested in sustaining our “Freedom To Connect” over modern networks together and let them go to it. (Isenberg has a more reasonable-sounding description, I think he’s being politic.) This year the theme is “The Wealth of Networks” and that ought to be a good framework to bounce ideas off of. Isenberg is no naif at this game; he is the fellow who coined the approving phrase “the stupid network” to describe the architecture of the internet, which places processing “intelligence” at the edges of the network (i.e. at Google and at your ‘puter) and to contrast it with the old telephone network (where all the intelligence is in the switches and your phone is as dumb as a rock). Much of the intellectual ammo being used by the new Network Neutrality warriors traces back through Isenberg.

Here’s the agenda; reserve some time for what might interest you. Times are all Eastern. [Red notes are mine.]

March 5, 2007 (***subject to change***)

  • 8:00 AM — Registration, breakfast
  • 8:45 – 10:00 AM — Jim Douglas, Governor of Vermont, intro Tom Evslin, welcome David Isenberg [Vermont is planning to wire the whole state; Douglas actually seems to understand why that would be a good thing.]
  • 10:00 – 10:30 AM — Break
  • 10:30 – 11:15 AM — Yochai Benkler on The Wealth of Networks [Amazon 5 star, #9,281]
  • 11:15 – Noon — Panel: Benkler, kc claffy, Mark Cooper, Elliot Maxwell, Gigi Sohn
  • Noon – 1:00 PM — Lunch, box lunch on premises
  • 1:00 – 2:00 PM — Demos: David Smith (Qwaq), Cory Ondrejka (2nd Life)
  • 2:00 – 2:45 PM — Enabling Technologies — James Salter, [A sleeper speaker see him if you can. A fiber proponent. (DO NOT be fooled by the aw shucks Southernisms)] John Waclawsky, [smart] Sanjit Biswas [Meraki, you’ve read about Meraki]
  • 2:45 – 3:15 PM — Break
  • 3:15 – 4:00 PM — Network Enabled Government, Rep. Steve Urquhart (Politicopia), Fred Hassani (Intellipedia), Micah Sifry (Sunlight Foundation), Allison Fine (Moderator)
  • 4:00 – 4:30 PM — Sean Moss-Pultz (OpenMoko)
  • 4:30 – 4:45 PM — Jeff Chester on Digital Destiny [the kind of guy who is right about everything–before anyone else]
  • 4:45 – 5:00 PM — Book signing preview, Allison Fine (Momentum), Yochai Benkler (Wealth of Networks) & Reed Hundt (In China’s Shadow)
  • 5:30 – 8:30 PM — Reception/book signing in nearby restaurant, reception keynote by David Weinberger

March 6, 2007 (***subject to change***)

  • 8:00 AM — Registration, breakfast
  • 8:45 – 9:00 AM — Welcome to Day 2, David Isenberg
  • 9:00 – 9:45 AM — Peer Production News Panel, Dan Gillmor, Mark Tapscott, Bill Allison, Jonathan Krim (moderator)
  • 9:45 – 10:30 AM — Community Networks Panel, Sascha Meinrath, Michael Calabrese, Becca Vargo Daggett, Drew Clark (Moderator) [Admirable bunch, should be very interesting.]
  • 10:30 – 11:00 AM — Break
  • 11:00 – Noon — FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein, Ron Sege (intro).
  • Noon – 1:00 PM — Lunch, box lunch on premises
  • 1:00 – 1:20 PM — Demos: Yuval Klein (Plymedia), Nora Abousteit (Burda Style)
  • 1:20 – 2:30 — Adam Thierer, Peter Swire, Jim Baller [Baller is very own attorney, might even mention Lafayette.]
  • 2: 30 – 3:00 PM — Break
  • 3:00 – 4:00 PM — Susan Crawford, Reed Hundt
  • 4:00 – 5:00 PM — Bruce Sterling sums up (with Jasmina Tesanovic). [Sterling is a favorite SF writer of mine, wrote a novel, Distraction, set in a world that had to deal with global warming back in 2000 that takes place partly in Louisinana.]
  • 5:00 PM — Adjourn

Worth the click.

Sunday thought: it’s over; it’s beginning

Here’s some food for thought:

The battle for fiber is over.

It is over. We are going to get our own network.

What isn’t over is the “battle” for its success.

The point of the fight wasn’t to win; it was to make possible a different future for Lafayette than would be possible without such a network. That future is now possible. But it is merely possible.

During the fiber fight everyone walked on eggs–we were negotiating, together and without much coordination, a battle in which any slip could endanger the project. We learned patience, and a kind of discipline. We held our tongues and expended our energies where they could do the most good. What I am hoping is that we’ve also learned a kind of trust. Earned a kind of trust.

Neither the incumbents nor their few, discredited, local allies are any danger to the basic project any longer. We need to get used to the idea that what they think is now inconsequential. Shaping our conversation to worries about how “they” will use it against us no longer makes sense.

Worse than making no sense: it keeps us from having the conversation among ourselves that is now needed. We need to be dreaming: big grandiose, silly, marginally possible dreams. Noble dreams. Wild dreams. All that dreaming needs to collide within accurate, abundant, information about the network and the various paths for building it. We’ve got a big helping of fiber on our plate but that does not make a complete, satisfying meal. When all this settles down in a decade or so fiber itself will be merely a unique element of the feast on Lafayette’s table. How we build that fiber into what we put on the table–economically, socially, and culturally; in terms of the digital divide and local development–is best served by an open, even messy, conversation.

It would be a loss for Lafayette if, out of a mistaken fear of a vanquished enemy–or even fear of a new crop of dissidents–we didn’t take advantage of the moment to consider every way to maximize the value of the network to our community.

The fear should be over: let the good times roll.

“This is just the beginning”

Don Bertrand of the Advertiser’s RightBlog congratulates Lafayette on its victory in the fiber fight. He emphasizes Lafayette’s unity during the battle:

There are many to thank, quite frankly, too many to name individually because the whole campaign from beginning to end was a group effort, truly Lafayette Coming Together. So many people from different backgrounds and perspectives came together to give the synergy and energy to create the successful effort. My counterpart on the Left, Stephen Handwerk and I had the occasion to labor in a joint effort to get out the vote and participate with others in the steering of the grass roots effort. Yes, not so hard to believe that Republicans, Democrats, Independents and others can achieve agreement and consensus when they visualize mutual benefit for their community.

Handwerk, now of LeftBlog, has written a parallel piece on the topic. They labored together under the banner of Lafayette Coming Together, the local grass-roots organization that coordinated most of the referendum campaign.

Bertrand closes with the proper call for the moment:

So as we all take pride in the accomplishments of the Fiber battle, let’s all remember we are just beginning. There is more heavy lifting yet to do. We will have differences in opinion from time to time, but in the success of this endeavor we need to remain focused.

Indeed, this is just the beginning.

More on the Fiber Forums

Both the Advocate and the Advertiser (apparently online-only for now) report on the upcoming fiber forums. Announced yesterday, (see LPF’s take) the press release promoted the forum as a way to gauge the citizens’ desires in a new system.

The essential information:

Thursday, March 8, 2007,
at 5:30 p.m.
in the first-floor atrium of City Hall,
705 West University Avenue.

From the Advocate:

LUS said, it is designing its system, figuring out the best hardware to deliver phone, cable and high-speed Internet, as well as developing the specific packages of services and products it will offer.

That’s the point of the public meeting, Huval said.

“The people of Lafayette will own and operate this system, and we are looking to them to help prioritize what services will be offered,” Huval said in the release.


“Right now, I want to keep the process open to new ideas that can make Lafayette’s system more ‘Lafayette-like,’ ” Huval wrote.

Here’s the thing:
Lafayette’s network will be extremely capable, and enormously flexible, chiefly because it will simply have enormous capacity. Giving us the standard applications like phone, cable, and internet reflects what can be done with much less capable systems. That’s impressive and will be phat indeed. Fat pipes will make each of those capacities free from the drop-outs and compression issues that plauge digitial systems operating at their limits.

But our system will be capable of much, much more. We will have an intranet (get used to distinguishing it from the internet) that will have a carrying capacity that very few or no other American community has. We’ll be able to communicate with each other at speeds that make your current internet experience seem puny. (If you’ve ever worked at a university or on a large corporate campus you’ll know what I mean.) Want full screen video-conferencing? NOooo problem. Want to throw in white-boarding applications? Just open it in another window. Want to jointly edit the outline for next week’s meeting and, by the by, trade grandkid pictures in a back channel? Go for it. You’ll not bog down our system. Those applications exist today. Outside intranets nobody uses them–just not enough capacity. But Lafayette will have that intranet and for the first time that capacity will be available between people who are not working together. Regular folks will be able to do video calls and video conferencing (within Lafayette) easily.

The gist is this: to get the full return out of our shiny new network we’ll have invent new ways of interacting with each other and new ways of using technology. We’ll only be able to take hints from other’s situation since ours will be so different as to be almost unique. Lafayette is in a position to invent the future.

But to do that we will have to start thinking outside the box about what we want. Technicians and even “visionaries” can’t do it for us. So it’s not just a gesture to ask what the community wants: it is a critically important unsettled question.

And that process starts (but does not end) on March 8th.

Now comes the good part.

LUS to hold public forums

It’s been confirmed: LUS has issued an official press release announcing it will hold at least one public forum to solicit input from citizens about the sorts of services that they would like to see.

Thursday, March 8, 2007,
at 5:30 p.m.
in the first-floor atrium of City Hall,
705 West University Avenue.

This is a great thing–and LUS/LCG’s willingness not actually engage the public is a good indication of the basic difference between the public utility system that LUS will operate and the privately-owned competition: Cox and AT&T/BS will not be coming to you to ask you what you want. They are interested only in what you can be convinced to buy. The difference is not subtle.

One of the best things about the announcement is that we finally get more details on upcoming plans. We’ve been in a long, far too long, confrontational period that caused our leaders to be closed-mouthed (and the community to be tolerant of that). While arguably smart strategically it was almost certainly unwise socially: It’s hard to get a community excited about a system the when nobody is willing to to utter the exciting details in public. Those days, hopefully, are over though old habits die hard. Durel says:

“Finally we can get down to the specifics of what features the LUS Fiber system will have and what residents can expect in the next 18 months as the Fiber-to-the-Home system gets up and running,”

That’s good to hear…I really want to hear those details. But more than that: LUS also wants input on what we want to do with the network. They want us, indeed, need for us, to dream about what the community can do with that much capacity. Knowing the capacities of the system will be a big chunk of what inspires ideas about what you can do with them. Says LUS director Huval:

“Now the fiber vision can become a reality. The people of Lafayette will own and operate this system and we are looking to them to help us prioritize what services will be offered,” added Terry Huval, LUS director…

“We hope that residents will join us for a productive discussion that will help us plan the fiber network they want.”

That’s careful language from a careful man. The sentiment, though, is genuine–and not particularly saccharine. Lafayette is stepping out into the unknown. We’ll be offering the standard services that standard networks can offer: cable TV, phone, and internet.

But we won’t have a standard network: we’ll have one of the fastest and most flexible networks in the country. We’ll be able to do more things at once and do them faster than elsewhere. With room to spare we can try things that there just isn’t room for elsewhere. Applications that wouldn’t be practical over standard networks will be useful here. The point is this: if our network is to be fully utilized WE will have to figure out, and get comfortable with, and USE the more exciting services. We simply won’t be able to follow the leader there.

We are the leaders.

So it’s important, and not just a pleasant sentiment, to ask us what we want to do with the network–the ultimate success of the system we have fought for and won depends, in the end, upon our imagination and our ability to figure out new ways to fully utilize it.

St. Charles: Disgusted with Cox; Join Lafayette?

St. Charles Parish, according to a recent article in NOLA, has gotten pretty disgusted with Cox and has voted to actively seek another franchisee and sets itself up as a committee of the whole to look into Cox’s franchise contract–a contract which ends in December. Both votes were unanimous.

Ooo ouch.

To add to the pain at least two members are already advocating municipal ownership according to the St. Charles Herald-Guide:

Duhe and Ramchandran said the parish should consider building its own cable network as Lafayette Parish has done.

“We have met with the city president of Lafayette Parish and they are using a fiberoptic system that combines digital cable service, the internet and telephone service, and we were really impressed with the system they are using,” Duhe says.

“When we return from Washington, D.C. we plan on meeting with the Lafayette Parish Council again to get more information on their cable system.”

Duhe says residents are seeking other options besides cable service to watch television.

The best alternative to cable is raw broadband. Wanna watch ABC news or shows?. Cut out the middleman and go directly to the source. The catch is that you need real broadband–and Cox, its protestations aside doesn’t reliably provide it. For example: despite the “up to” 5 megs of download that my contract with Cox describes, ABC just refused to give me a full screen rendition of “Lost” when I surfed over there for URLs for this story, claiming that I need 864 k to see it at full size. If you want to get off the cable wagon go broadband. Cox will be reluctant to sell you really adequate broadband to make that transition as long as cable revenues are their cash cow. If you want to ensure the availability of that option you’ll have to do for yourself.

I hope St. Charles seriously considers dumping Cox in favor of providing their own, real, broadband. Lafayette might even be in a position to lend a helping hand. US 90 and the railroad, the combo that splits Lafayette snakes over to St. Charles and divides that parish on its way to New Orleans. There’s significant dark fiber along that path should someone want to lease Lafayette’s back-end services or partner on a bandwidth buy.

The complaints about Cox’s service that are fueling St. Charles’ anger sound similar to those voiced in Lafayette: a recent 9% price jump coupled with taking locally popular channels and the program guide off the basic, analog, tier. The weather channel, a bone of contention in Lafayette, is still on basic cable in the New Orleans area.

(St. Charles, for those of us across the basin whose geography might be a little shaky, is usually considered part of Metro New Orleans. It spans the Mississippi just north of Jefferson Parish.)

A National Broadband plan? Europe and Eisenhower Show the Way

Everybody from Lafayette’s Mayor Durel, to Jim Baller of Baller-Herbst, to Michael Dell of Dell Computer, to the president of the United States seem to think that we really, really ought to have a working National Broadband plan. We should. And friends, it’s not rocket science.

We’re not nearly as clueless as we think. Some developed Western countries have figured it out–their experiences should apply to ours. Filter that through the US’ own success in building a complex, expensive national infrastructure network and you’ve got a pretty detailed outline.

The European Experience:
VuNet reports on the Fiber To The Home market in Europe. While France, Scandinavia and The Netherlands are deploying significant fiber, the rest of Europe is not moving forward. The article notes that:

“In part, this is due to a lack of initiative from utilities and local authorities, but also because markets are dominated by incumbents and cable operators which have no incentive to make hefty investments in brand new infrastructure.”

…Generally speaking, there is less interest in building FTTH networks from conventional national telecoms operators, which argue that the approach is too expensive to carry out on a widespread basis.

…The majority of former state-owned monopolies, for example, have instead committed to fibre-to-the node.

Sound painfully familiar? It should. That could be AT&T they’re talking about. Incumbent duopolies have little incentive to build new systems which would provide abundant bandwidth when they can continue to sell an expensive, scarce resource over a paid for, if antiquated, network. The US is in exactly the same fix.

What’s the solution? Don’t worry about cajoling the incumbents. Find a infrastructure provider that is differently motivated. Sweden shows how that works:

FTTH is most advanced in Sweden, where the technology is used for 650,000 broadband subscriptions, or over 27 per cent of the country’s 2.3 million residents.

The study pointed out that the 150 municipal networks serving these customers tend not to be owned by conventional telecoms operators, but by utilities or local authorities.

So Sweden, with about 2% of the EU‘s population has more than half of its fiber-connected homes and a take rate (NOT homes passed, actual subscriptions) of 27% of the population. That is amazing.

You’d think any country that wanted to figure out how to encourage real broadband and extensive use in a modern Western economy would take a lesson from this. Here’s a proven national strategy: encourage local communities to take on the task. They know what their citizens need. They’re willing to take the longer view. They’ve got no baggage of old networks to protect. And they’re not interested in squeezing the maximum return out of their customers.

The American Experience:
The Eisenhower Interstate Highway System.

No one any longer argues that the Interstate Highway System wasn’t the best economic investment since the Louisiana Purchase. The return on investment has been astronomical and it hard to imagine the modern US economy without it.

That system is owned and operated by the states and the states provide 56% of the funds necessary to build and maintain them. There is an elaborate set of standards and inspections and a significant amount of federal “guidance” in contracting and costing.

An extensive, expensive, successful state-of-the-art national infrastructure has already been built in America. We know how to do it. Just apply the lessons learned:

So here’s a real national strategy in a nutshell: Adapt the Interstate Highway model to a municipal ownership model.

1) Offer a 60-40 local/federal split to communities everywhere for the expensive last mile builds on their locally-owned rights-of-way.
2) Offer the same for the states to build the interconnects within their own states and tie-ins to neighboring states using rights-of-way along state highways (and their interstates).
3) Every community decides how much it wants to spend and the nature of the network they want; if it accepts the Federal money it adheres to federal rules in its construction and maintenance.

Sure there are details. I, for one, would impose traditional common carriage rules on the communities that accept federal money or federally funded interconnects. And I’d want a “no speed limit” clause built into the law. (Yes, that’s a joke.)

But those sorts of things would be extras. They’d not be necessary to accomplishing our national goals. The above is all that is critical. In a decade we’d have an “Interstate High Broadband System” that would be the envy of the world.