Celebrate July 16

The anniversary of the July 16, 2005, community vote in support of the LUS fiber to the premises project should be celebrated in the community and by the community each year.

That day marked the culmination of one process and the beginning of another. The process that ended was an extended community discussion about Lafayette and the kind of future we want it to have.

Despite persistent campaigns of fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) waged by opponents of the LUS project, the plan won approval because citizens here came to view the fiber project as something consistent with Lafayette’s long-recognized desire to control its own destiny. It also won approval because proponents of the project were able to clearly identify the interests of the community as being separate from the interests of the corporations that opposed the project.

The fact that the project won by a 62-38 margin makes it easy to forget just how uncertain its prospects were when the the election on the project was first called. Remember, it was opponents who wanted the election. Those of us who favored the project were afraid that Cox and BellSouth (remember them?) would bury us with the dollars they could bring to their efforts to oppose the project.

I believe we won because, at the core of the campaign, proponents of the fiber project trusted the intelligence of the citizens of Lafayette to recognize their interests. We benefited greatly by the disdain for the community repeatedly displayed by opponents, but particularly BellSouth.

Now, after nearly two years of court fights, the project is moving forward. Bonds will be sold in a couple of months and money will be in hand to begin the work of building the network for which so many of us worked so long and hard to bring about.

So, with the last serious legal challenge dispensed with (sure would like to know who paid those attorneys for the plaintiffs in those suits!) and the project gaining momentum, the community should now move to a new phase on the project as well.

I believe we can do this by celebrating the anniversary of the fiber election by recognizing what we’ve accomplished and focusing on the new opportunities ahead. One way that we can do this is by bringing in a prominent speaker to inspire us to dream big about the possibilities that will open up to us as a result of every citizen having access to a fat pipe (100 megabits per second?) connection.

What kind of community can we grow here based on that kind of abundance? What kind of businesses can grow here based on the kind of bandwidth and connectivity that won’t be available in the vast majority of U.S. cities for decades to come? What does a community without a digital divide look and operate like? How much will our ability to educate ourselves and our children improve when access to information is a right, not a privilege?

One of the things the legal fight against the LUS project was designed to do, I believe, was to dampen enthusiasm for the project, as if the city’s commitment to using technology to differentiate itself as some kind of fad that would pass if opponents just dragged this out long enough.

They were wrong again.

The enthusiasm has not waned. Now that the project is moving forward, the time has come for the community to begin focusing on the opportunities that will soon be upon us.

Celebrate July 16!

Festival International

Festival International, et en anglais : Festival International Acadiana’s francophone world music festival. T’ain’t nothing like it. If you’re not from here you need to get yourself here. And if you’re from here you need to get yourself over there…..

So it is Festival time again and I’m taking a break from the fun. Just got back from listening to the Malvenas, catching a little distant Brazilian folk, watching grandkids play in the fountain, and mixing up Lebanese and Cajun for lunch. (Spicy Chicken Gyros and Crawfish Maque Choux — both recommended.)

About this time of year every year I’m moved to make a springtime expression of Lafayette’s thanks for the support we’ve has received from around the country and around the world. My server logs and emails, make it clear that our fiber conflict has attracted supporters from all over. The most appropriate expression of our thanks has always seemed to me to be to share with those folks that which makes the community worth fighting for.

So, before you go much further, click over to the KRVS website and catch the ongoing Festival International Stream which will be running all day today (Sat. 28th) and tomorrow (Sun. 29th). Get the music up in the background. Festival International is a great expression of what makes Lafayette and South Louisiana so unique. In a band which runs roughly south of I-10 (but further north near Lafayette) you’ll find a unique and uniquely open culture. Leavened with a healthy dose African traditions the gumbo of cultures here is classically creole–in the anthropological sense: it is an uneven mixture of cultures. The original settler culture here was not British but French and other cultures, including what we call “Americain,” are layered over that, not the other way around. Traditionalists remain amused by the American nervousness over things that can’t be changed in human nature and confused at why anyone would think they should supressed be instead of celebrated. One index of that attitude: While the rest of the country seems lost in an anxiety attack over immigrant culture, Lafayette invites the world particularly if they don’t speak English, to come on over and show us their stuff with the intent of adopting what we like best.

You’re not in Kansas, Toto.

There’s a nice, and growing collection of images and videos over at the Advertiser site that offer up a taste of the ambiance…. [Video index sans flash; images index sans flash]

Thanks all…local and not…here’s what we’ve been fighting for.

Bond Trip Set

The Advertiser reports on the administration’s trip to New York next month. They’ve set up the appointments and so now have a date to make the pilgrimage. This, as the story indicates, is an important trip:

A good credit rating means the city is a better risk to investors, and the bonds would have a lower interest rate. Investors will loan the money in exchange for the bonds. The money will be repaid with revenues generated from fiber services.

Note that this is a credit rating for the bonds themselves…not for LUS or LCG. Their history will count, of course, and LUS in particular has a stellar history. They recently got excellent ratings on a larger bond sale whose purpose was to build new electrical capacity. Some of that demonstrated confidence in LUS’ reliability should rub off on this project.

I’m sure Lafayette’s presenters will be anxious. Convincing the folks at Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s that you are just a cut above the rest can result in huge savings for the people of Lafayette over the life of the project. This is just like a house mortgage in that respect: every fraction of a point really counts; especially over the full term of the loan. Come the 23rd and 24th of next month we should all light a candle.

With any luck we’ll have the money in hand for “Fiber Day,” July 16th–the anniversary of the referendum vote. That would really be something to celebrate.

More on Choosing an Engineer (And What an Engineer Chooses)

The Advocate weighs in with its version of the story on the selection of an design and engineering firm for Lafayette’s Fiber To The Home Network. (The Advertiser story was yesterday.)

There’s a lot of overlap between the two stories. Both stories, for instance, report that Atlantic Engineering will do engineering design but only “oversee” construction. There is some interesting additional detail in this version. One makes a bit more sense of the large warehouse LUS recently choose an architect to design:

Contractors will not be asked to include in their cost estimates the price of fiber-optic cable and other materials, Ledoux said. Instead, LUS plans to separately seek bids for material in bulk, storing it in a planned warehouse, then doling it out to contractors as needed, Ledoux said, adding that approach should save money.

Contractors often handle this themselves–and charge an nice cost-plus markup to take on the trouble. In a project this size cutting out that middle man will save the community an nice chunk of change. By consolidating what might otherwise be a number of separate bids LUS will put themselves in a better bargaining position with suppliers than their subcontractors could manage as well.

Another paragraph briefly describes some of the decisions that AEG will help LUS make (caution: geeky stuff ahead):

LUS has already studied the specific technical decisions needed as related to the type of equipment and technology it will use to build the network. An example is the decision to make the network passive or active, technical terms that describe how it is the actual signals are relayed or split on their way from LUS’ head-end facilities before arriving to the end user.

This is important stuff. It involves the nitty-gritty of how the network will be built. Not all Fiber to the Home (FTTH) builds are the same. One significant difference is the whether you get a direct signal from the headend, unshared by other users or split the original signal with (usually) 32 others in your immediate neighborhood.

<timeout for definitional issues>
The first, direct connection, the FTTH Council calls a Point to Point system (acronym: P2P) and the second a Point to MultiPoint (P2MP). That is a neat, clean, contrast, that focuses on the functional difference. But P2MP systems have been more commonly described locally as Passive Optical Networks (PON) and I’ll continue that mixed usage here. I wish there were a common standard…but there’s not.
</timeout for definitional issues>

P2P systems provide the highest speed/largest capacity to the end user and a less costly and more flexible upgrade path. PON systems do not require “active” electronics in the field, only the aforementioned “passive” splitters and so are easier to maintain. Until very recently PON systems were considered cheaper to install but recent pricing changes, especially in the electronics of the networks, means that there is no longer a decisive difference in price.

(In the image at right the AON (Active Optical Network) is a P2P system)

LUS has long leaned toward a PON system as does its chief advisor, Doug Dawson of CCG. AEG has built both kinds of systems. As I understand it Bristol, VA’s system is PON and Provo’s is a P2P system. Perhaps the AEG’s Jim Salter and associates will have a different take on this issue.

I tend to favor P2P. It’s the natural endpoint in the development of any FTTH system and turns the full power of the network over to the enduser without sharing network capacity with his or her neighbors. It also means that any user could potentially have a completely different setup from their next door neighbor, using radically different speeds, protocols or even providers; a task much more difficult or even impossible to achieve on a passive network where the electronics are shared. With cost differences falling to zero P2P seems like the smarter long-term bet. That said, it is possible to overbuild a PON system and provide capacity to do some P2P connections that bypass the local splitters. Going with an overbuilt PON of that sort would alleviate some of the deficiencies of the PON architecture in that a user that really needed the flexibility could probably, arduously and at significant cost, arrange to have it. But it would not put the best the system can offer to every user’s doorstep–and that, in the end, is what I think a local utility should do.

Interesting days. Isn’t it great to have stuff like this to worry about?

Lagniappe: if you find this stuff fascinating (cough, cough) or if you don’t but think it important enough to understand better anyway you can click over to Wikipedia’s Fiber to the Premises page for a relatively nontechnical explanation of the distinction between the two basic architectures–presented using the terms AON and PON.

Project Design Engineer Chosen (Update)

Atlantic Engineering will design Lafayette’s new Fiber To The Home project, according to a short story posted to the Advertiser web site. Apparently this also includes “overseeing construction” of the project even though AEG will not be the builder of record.

They’ve got the experience and the passion, as we noted earlier.

One step at a time.

Update: A fuller story appears in this morning’s Advertiser.

It’s working in Bristol (TN & VA)

The fiber to the home projects in Bristol, Tennessee and Bristol, Virginia are going great guns according to an article in the newspaper there. The Virginia project got going first and helped its sister city just across the border get started (it has extended its service regionally as well). The good news is that both projects, in a struggling area of Appalachia are signing up more customers than they had planned for and are are considerably ahead of their original business plan. About Tennessee:

Bristol Tennessee Essential Services has added far more customers in its first 18 months than projected, said Chief Executive Officer Mike Browder…

“Our cable and Internet is still growing,” Browder said. “At the end of March, we surpassed the two-year projection of our business plan.”

About Virginia:

“We’ve blown away our original business plan,” she said. “Our original projections were 35 percent of the market – as an over-builder – was good and 45 percent was outstanding. We’re at 65 percent.”

The projects, and their cities, are getting great publicity. Finally. They deserve it. Bristol has been used and abused by the incumbents across the nation. A group of corporate officers and a few well-funded “think tanks” have portrayed the project as an abysmal failure that revealed the incompetence of municipal utilities in general and Bristol’s officials in particular. Since “everyone knows” that government is inefficient and can’t compete too many accepted their claims at face value. It turns out that it was all a crock-a crock that was designed to serve as a PR tool for the incumbent corporations. BellSouth and Cox certianly trotted out those falsehoods here in Louisiana.

Folks who followed the intricacies of The Fight for Fiber in Lafayette will recall Bristol, Va–again and again the supposed failures of Bristol’s fiber to the home project were used to imply that LUS’ project would fail. (You know, Appalachians, Southerners, Cajuns & Creoles…) Trouble was, Bristol’s project was doing, and is doing, great. It was all strategic lies and misinformation.

A partial list of the falsehoods spread about Bristol by anti-fiber partisans in Lafyette:

  • 8/04: Right out of the gate at the so-called “Academic” Broadband Forum Bristol was held up to ridicule and “supporting” documents distributed to the press and the crowd that mislead the people of Lafayette about the true story of Bristol’s network. Mike, in one of the earliest entries on this site, methodically pulled the incumbnet argument apart–and presciently argued that showing disrespect for the citizens of Lafayette by peddling such stuff would boomerang on Cox and BellSouth.
  • 10/04: A Cox mailer to Lafayette’s “Important Leaders” contained the same sorts of misleading assertions concerning Bristol as the general public was treated to two months earlier.
  • 7/05: Stephen Titch, a writer of paid advertorials, published in the Advertiser an essay that compared the Bristol and LUS projects–unfavorably for both. An earlier version of the report the essay was based on had been submitted to the State Bond Commission. That document was funded by the incumbents and was originally designed to support their position that LUS should not be able to issue its bonds. (The commission found otherwise.)
  • 7/05: At the CODA debate between Fenstemaker (pro fiber) and Breakfield (anti) Breakfield repeats false or misleading claims about Bristol and other public utilities, claiming disastrous losses. Don Bertrand and Fenstemaker point out that any capital intensive business won’t make money while it is in the investment phase–even if it is meeting or exceeding its business plan.
  • 7/05: On the eve of the election Fiber 411 distributes a mass mailer prominently featuring a dishonestly manipulated quote from Bristol’s hometown newspaper—a qoute that inverts the real meaning of the paragraph from which it was drawn in a transparent attempt to make the people of Lafayette think the project had failed when, in fact, it was beating its business plan.
  • 4/06: Even after their referendum loss Cox continued to push tall tales about Bristol. A letter to the editor over the signature of Sharon Kleinpeter tied increases in Brisol’s utility rates to that city’s fiber project. However, the local paper there had documented that their increases had nothing to do with the fiber project.

Bristol has earned its day in the sun.

Learning & Teaching—and the Library

Here’s something that is a short, fun, watch but deserves a longer, contemplative, consideration.

It’s a roller coaster ride done in a classic Atari program. Go try it, noting the long, long rise at the end where you get to look down on the roller coaster below you.

Go on, this is fun and the rest won’t make sense unless you’ve actually tried it: YouTube – Real Estate Roller Coaster


OK, now the not-so-fun part. That is a video that maps the cost-adjusted price of housing stock since 1890. (Here’s what that looks like in a NYTimes graph–you’ll recognize the “ride.”) Before you cry “boring–the worst of social studies” let me hasten to say that while I do not find the content boring (after all I was a social studies teacher in another life–and own my home) that is not why I’ve posted this for your lazy Sunday consideration.

I’m more interested in the context of this blog in the very interesting fact that you can learn something from this video that you can’t learn in more standard ways. We learn most usefully from “experience.” Educators mean something pretty specific when they use that term and it doesn’t preclude learning that takes place in schools. It includes things like this video which give you the experience of change over time. This is pretty different from the all -at-once time-abstracted image you get from the graph.

Long story short: this is a fine learning/teaching tool.

What makes that interesting here is that it was made by a “regular person” using the cheapest of hardware and software to help folks understand something which is otherwise difficult to put across about a very special interest of his or her own. That sort of individually localized “production” of sophisticated material is new…and very encouraging.

If we want more of this sort of thing we should do a couple of things: 1) Supply big, cheap, upload bandwidth–so that people can do video uploads or serve a few videos effectively from their own server. 2) Provide access to sophisticated and flexible software…this video required mating graphs with a 3D game program.

We’ll soon enough have #1 covered in Lafayette, and with the amazing bandwidth that will make available, at least on the local intranet, we’ll have the potential to use increasing sophisticated programs located on the net that will help with #2. If we choose, we can buy access to amazingly sophisticated programs and offer fast access to them through a local “library” organization. The library here has some technically sophisticated folks; librarians caught on to the value of communications technology early. I see no reason that the Lafayette Public Library couldn’t offer such a “loan” program and occasional classes on the software. (They already offer more basic computer/net classes.)

It is worth really thinking about how we can set the stage for our community to have access to the creative tools they might need to create really interesting products.

An on-net software library might be an way to exploit the utility of our fast intranet and the power of the pooled resource of the community library for everyone’s benefit.

Opposition: No Longer Relevant

I just discovered that “RightBlog,” the Advertiser’s weekly political traffic builder from the right, is on fiber this week—and I discovered it isn’t building much traffic.

Apparently published 4 days ago the article dropped into our local pond without a splash–or even so much as a noticeable ripple. There was a time when that wouldn’t have been true. I would have expected that someone would email me, or that it’d show up on my daily google search or during my pass through the local media. I even have another regular search through the topix service that catches newspaper material that doesn’t rise very high in the page rankings.

But none of that worked. Nobody has noticed this essay. Nobody bothered to comment online regarding his minority position on what has been the city’s premier issue for the last few years. Considering the pages of commentary on youthful attire that we are sometimes “treated” to in those forums that lack of interest is telling: the city no longer listens to those that want to complain about a settled question. We want it, we voted for it, and now we are going to have it. The message is clear: we’re not interested. Get over it.

Yes, the postal service lead-in is painfully dated. Yes, the mushy position we ought to be able to have the system–but only if we share it with those that have fought us tooth and nail to kill it rather than let us do for ourselves what they refused to do for us just can’t make much sense to anyone. And yes, the lengthy belaboring of the idea that LUS would bring pornography(!) to town that didn’t exist before is the worst sort of silliness–something that can’t be taken seriously by anyone who has perused late-night cable and the pay-per-view channels from Cox or anyone who has noticed what can be found on the internet that BellSouth/AT&T brings into your home.

But my guess is that the lack of response isn’t due to the considerable weakness of Caudell’s positions. It is due to the fact that the time for such complaints is past. With the issue now settled beyond a doubt what once was opposition is now comes off as nothing but whining. And no one is interested in that.

And that, frankly, is the best news I’ve (not) heard all week.

“City is among creative” (updated)

Lafayette has been ranked as one of the Top 10 Cities in the South for the Creative Class by Southern Business and Development magazine.

So saith this morning’s Advertiser. The phrase refers Richard Florida’s book The Rise of the Creative Class. Florida’s analysis points to the fact that fast, clean economic growth has been associated in recent years with a welcoming environment for the so-called creative class. The thesis runs something like this: Wealth in the new economy flows from youthful creativity. To an unprecedented degree the information economy means that those most productive people can live where they want. And they want to live in a cool place. They want to live in Austin, not Pittsburgh… So Austin booms and Pittsburgh languishes. The conclusion is obvious: if you and your community want in on some of that new, cool, clean, high wage growth you make sure that you provide the sorts of things those folks want. A great music scene, good food, tolerance, outdoor fun, diversity, a relaxed ambiance, low barriers to outside participation in the economy, night life, cool tech, an open politics….and so on.

It is encapsulated in the words of the subtitle to a Florida essay in the Washington Monthly: “Why cities without gays and rock bands are losing the economic development race.”

(If all that sounds somewhat familiar it’ll be because you’ve been hanging around with economic development nerds…or, more likely, you caught a whiff of the discussion surrounding last year’s Richard Florida lecture in the Independent/Iberia Bank Lecture Series.)

That’s the category Southern Business and Development thinks Lafayette excels in. It’s a good place to be. It’s fairly easy to see why Lafayette might have ranked. The cool tech factor would be pretty amazing for a major city much less a smaller, laid-back one like Lafayette. The magazine specifically mentions the Fiber To The Home project that is our focus here–and it has to be a nice feature to think that you could tap into your office net at 1 or 200 meg speeds if you want to work from home this week. There’s nothing more laid back than staying home. The food and the music is legendary and if you travel in Zydeco circles you might think tolerance wasn’t obviously a problem. Cajun and Creole cultures are a huge draw–and huge reason why our talented are hesitant to leave. There’s nothing else in the US like Festival International. Francophone music? Really?! From all over the world? Neat indeed.

Sounds pretty good for the hometown…

Of course the effect is spoiled if you scroll to the bottom of the page and read the irrational—and irrelevant—bigotry in the discussion space spouted by some resentful local fool. Talk about leaving a foul taste in the mouth. And putting a stake right through the heart of any feel-good that you might have been harboring. Jeez.

Update: The Advocate also picks up on good publicity the morning after it appeared in the Advertiser. That version points explicitly to Richard Florida and has the following nice fragment:

In naming Lafayette, the magazine pointed out that while the smallest city on its list, “Lafayette keeps strides with the larger metros with the kind of cultural diversity and forward thinking that sets this creative city and parish apart.”

Lafayette Utilities System’s telecommunications project — which will bring an ultra high-speed fiber-optic network to each home and business in the city — is an example of Lafayette’s risk-taking, the magazine wrote.

“Locals still exhibit proudly a ‘wildcatter mentality’ founded on risk taking and entrepreneurial spirit,” the magazine wrote.

So if you need a URL to send those friends from college that you’ve been trying to entice down here for years you can send them this one without fearing that they’ll have to run into evidence that contradicts the upbeat substance of the report.