Old Tricks: Pushy Poll

Somebody is up to old tricks. Cox or BS/AT&T or both are back at the polling game; trying to find ways to push the buttons of local citizens.

Lafayette has had experience with push polls–we saw two ugly ones during the fiber fight; one early on and one in the run up to the referendum which was recorded by a local and made the two incumbents who had collaborated on it a national laughingstock when it was made available on the internet and was widely linked to in broadband forums. The later “poll” contained both the ridiculous–a claim that TV would be rationed to alternate days since lawn-watering is limited in the summer months–and the irresponsible–claiming that only the southern (white) side of the city would get the service.

User Hoov in a comment on the Advertiser site revealed that he’s got a “push poll” call over the weekend. I talked with Hoov and he says that the call last weekend opened with 12 or 15 questions about standard, marketing sorts of things–his service, his satisfaction, etc. But then, abruptly, the tenor of the quesitons changed and the next 7 or 8 questions were probes intended to lead him to to be uneasy about government involvement with his telephone, internet, or cable connection. One question went something like this: “Are you comfortable with the government having access to your internet service?”

He said that the questions were clearly intended to scare.

Hoov, like other Lafayette citizens in the past, pushed back, making it clear that these weren’t fears that he had and that he didn’t think they were reasonable. A question about who the survey was far elicited only the initials of the company the young woman questioners was working for.

I’d be very interested in hearing from other readers who have been called for this survey. (It may be that this is exploratory; in that case only a relatively few will have been called. In a full-fledged push poll all or a large percentage of the population is called in an attempt to plant the misinformation widely.)

Did you get such a call?


I make a desultory effort on Saturdays to provide a link to something you can do–not merely read about. The Advocate this morning provides the perfect opportunity to highlight Wikipedia, the citizen-edited, online, encyclopedia. An article in this morning’s newspaper offers an overview of the project from the standpoint of South Louisiana authors of Wikipedia articles. They’ve done a great job cleaning up misconceptions about our region and making accurate information about their special areas of knowledge available to all.

The message for today is: So can you. We all have knowledge to share and Wikipedia provides a disciplined, peer-reviewed way to do so. After all, if you enjoy the knowledge available on the web it would seem fair to contribute to the wealth.

But first some background…. From the introductory paragraphs:

Louisianians contributing to Wikipedia, at http://www.wikipedia.org, are helping to clear up misconceptions about often-stereotyped Louisiana culture.

“I thought the articles were lacking in accurate information, so I decided to revise them using source material I was familiar with,” said Shane K. Bernard, a Wikipedia contributor who has edited many of the articles about southern Louisiana.

The article goes on to interview Bernard and other regional writers.

The Wikipedia’s ambition is reminescent of the original French Encyclopedists. Their
Encyclopédie is often viewed as the purest expression of Enlightenment ideals: they wanted to make available all of the world’s knowledge in a rational, accessible form—and in doing so invented a new literary form, the encyclopedia, and a new, collaborative review method of writing and editing works too large for any single person. They were clear about wanting to change the way that people think–and arguably their new device for ordering and validating vast amounts of information did much to make their model of the scientific attitude widespread among a newly literate public.

Wikipedia can be understood as the logical extension of the attitude and intents of the original Encyclopédie in an era where the most accessible forms of knowledge and the most powerful collaborative tools are mediated, not by the printing press, but by the internet. What is interesting—and controversial—about the project is that it lets literally anyone contribute. Your work is screened for quality—by other contributors, but you are not screened for certifications. A local Swamp Pop enthusiast can change an entry last edited by a person holding a doctorate in musicology who wrote his dissertation on the roots of the genre. Of course, the professional will keep a close eye on the entry, editing it to make sure it remains accurate. Online discussions among the “wikipeidia community” iron out disagreements and the very public nature of the edits tends to push regular users to only make edits that they can easily defend. The traditions and values of the online community

The result has been (at least in my judgment) an astonishingly good, if not perfect encyclopedia with a breadth that could not be achieved in any other way. It stands as vindication of the idea that a large community can do very good and complex work relying only on self-organization and self-governance. There is no centralized “quality control” and yet it all works quite well.

But back to today’s idea: You can participant. If you do a lousy job you’ll get edited out. If you do a good one it’ll be kept—and you’ll know you’ve made a contribution.

If you’re interested in doing something like this review how the swamp pop entry got put together. It’s a nice little example. Click over to the current Swamp Pop page. Near the top of the page click on the tab that says “History.” This page allows you to compare any two versions of the article by clicking on the radio buttons to the left of each entry. Go to the bottom of the page and click on the date of the first “edit” {14 August 2004}. You’ll see a short “stub” entry. The current sophisticated version grew from that seed by small additions and corrections.

Take a look a the community portal. You’ll see that there are plenty of available tasks. You can become a community member by simply creating an account and doing something.

Have fun and contribute to the web!

WBS: “Lafayette, La., takes broadband to the air”

MuniWireless, an influential website focusing on municipal wireless projects, discusses LUS’ upcoming wireless project in a recent post:

After 18 months and $1.5 million in legal fees, the city of LaFayette won the right to build an FTTH network for its residents. Now it’s forging ahead to add wireless service.

They go on to talk about an eventual build that will cover the entire city an provide wireless services for municipal and utility workers and eventual public safety applications. The muniwireless movement has been regrouping–free public wifi turns out to be a dubious economic proposition–and proponents are now urging municipalities to focus on just such muni services as the “killer app” which makes such wifi clouds justifiable. Lafayette is out in front of that trend; and it is satisfying to be seen as ahead of the curve.

As discussed here previously, municipal services are not the complete story. WiFi will also eventually be offered to the public, most likely as a very low-cost addition to home or business internet service. And, precisely because LUS will own a dense fiber-optic network, it will be able to fund an “extremely robust” bandwidth. That stands in direct contrast to most muncipal systems where the dirty little secret is speeds are lousy–not because wifi isn’t capable of blistering speeds. It is. Speeds are lousy because the links to the backbone are, for physical and financial reasons, kept to as few as tolerable and the link speed is shared among many users on multiple mesh-dependent repeater nodes. LUS’s network won’t be like that. The initial buy of wifi radios was set at just about half “gateways” directly connected to fiber and half “repeaters” that hand off directly to the gateways. LUS’ network will be capable of amazing speeds. In a conversation with a guy at the Tropos TechSouth booth I asked about the expense of each gateway. As it turns out, Tropos’ gateways are just repeaters with a switch flipped. Further, the device to interface each gateway to the fiber is really cheap–so there is very little cost advantage for a fiber network owner like LUS to “make do” with fewer gateways. LUS will have real speed available. LUS’ “generous” attitude makes it likely that such speeds will be offered to the community.

The wireless portion of our network alone will make us the envy of every tech type in the country.

When you add in a fiber to the home network with the lowest tier at 10 megs of symmetric bandwidth and full insystem intranet speed connections between all subscribers (so the techs were saying on the floor of TechSouth) people will be blown away.

There will, quite literally, be nothing that compares with the integrated fiber and wifi big broadband system we will have.


“LUS bonds up to council”

Kevin Blanchard over at the Advocate posts a background update and a timeline to the ongoing saga of the fiber bond sale. He points out that the Naquin lawsuit was filed to prevent the bond sale and that Lafayette’s victory at the state Supreme Court cleared the way for the sale.

The following quotes neatly establish the timeline (date inclusions mine):

  • [5/15/07] The City-Parish Council is scheduled Tuesday to introduce an ordinance that will be presented to the bond markets as part of a proposal for LUS to borrow up to $125 million…
  • [5/23-24/07] Lafayette and LUS officials will be in New York in two weeks to meet with representatives of the bond market…
  • [6/11/07] On June 11, LUS will get an official proposal from the bond market that includes things such as proposed interest rate and other terms of the bonds…
  • [6/12/07] The next day, the council will hold a special meeting to plug those specifics into the ordinance it would introduce Tuesday.
  • [by 6/30/07] If all goes well, LUS could obtain funding by the end of June, Lalumia said.
  • [8/1/07] If the bonds are issued by the end of June, that would place that estimate of having its first customer by October 2008.

The story clarifies (again) the way the bond funding will work, detailing the way it will be paid off from user fees and how the expected shortfall during the start-up years will be handled. In line with the original feasibility plan, they expect to start turning a profit in three years.

Worth the read….

None For You, Former BS Customers

Recent announcements have made it clearer than ever that AT&T is putting the former BellSouth territories in a lower service tier. At least for the next several years it is not going to offer BellSouth’s former territories nearly the level of service that it is trying to develop in its home, the former SBC region. The probability that AT&T will become a serious third challenger in upcoming battle between Cox and LUS has significantly dropped. Should they seriously enter the fray it will be mainly to challenge the idea LUS represents.

Costs More; Serves Fewer
AT&T recently announced that it is revising upwards the cost of its Lightspeed network upgrade project and lowering its estimate of how many people it will serve. (Without that upgrade AT&T can’t offer video competition to cable or a significant bandwidth increase to customers.) They’re now going to spend 41% more offering the service to a million fewer users. And that has serious consequences as Nyquist Capital points out:

Regardless of its true cause, this budget slip significantly changes the economics supporting AT&T’s decision to avoid laying fiber. Previously, AT&T could deliver video services at 1/3 the cost of Verizon. With the slip AT&T’s cost per home went up nearly 50% and is almost 1/2 the cost Verizon FiOS FTTH solution.

Reaction to the fiber to the node (FTTN) plan had already been mixed, with many analysts faulting AT&T for not going straight to a FTTH network. This admission by AT&T is sure to increase that criticism and to increase demands that it follow Verizon in going directly to FTTH without the wasteful interim step. The problem, though, has always been money. AT&T doesn’t have any and can’t afford to go beyond the cheapo solution. They’ve depleted their credit buying up their expensive telephone company brethren instead of preparing to compete with cable as Verizon is now doing. Leveraged to the hilt, they can’t afford to build fiber without causing considerable shareholder pain and the consequent drop in stock price.

BellSouth’s Territories
But if their national plan is uncertain there is little doubt about what is in store for the BellSouth territories that AT&T recently acquired.

They get very little.

AT&T’s plan is now described thusly:

AT&T said it now plans to pass approximately 18 million households by the end of 2008. The company said that number doesn’t include its plans for the Southeast [The former BellSouth region], which could increase the number past 19 million homes.

If you factor in the number of subscribers in the AT&T and BellSouth areas you’ll see that this means that former BellSouth customers will see about 8.3% availability…and the rest of the AT&T country will see 32% availability. The possible one million houses passed in BellSouth territory amounts to about 1/3 of the households in relatively wealthy, densely populated Miami and Atlanta–and that’s not factoring in Orlando, Charlotte, Nashville, or Jacksonville. It’s not likely that southern folks outside the very largest metro areas will see Lightspeed upgrades and the U-Verse video product in the near future.

So what do the rest of us get? Satellite.

Yup. Satellite. AT&T’s latest announcement is that it is extending it’s WildBlue partnership to the BellSouth area. The best subscribers can say about its “up to” 1.5 meg download speeds, glacial uploads, and massive latency is that it is better than dialup. But apparently not enough better to convince most of its rural target population to switch at current prices–satellite broadband has not been much of a success and hasn’t gathered any subscribers in locales where the population can choose DSL or cable modems.

So it doesn’t look like AT&T will change the current equation for most of BellSouth’s former footprint. As no place in Louisiana is any longer list of the 15 largest metro areas in the South, we aren’t likely to see much of what little new tech AT&T rolls out. Welcome to the 21st century Louisiana, courtesy of your incumbent telco.

During the fiber fight BellSouth tried to tell Lafayette that they were about to bring competition to town. It was pretty clear even then that under the most optimstic scenario we’d still see only limited deployment. Now it’s even clearer that we’re unlikely to see even that.

Lafayette made the right decision in voting to build its own network. Without it we’d have to count on Cox to upgrade us even though they would have no significant opposition to prod them locally. With it we’ll have inexpensive access to the best technology available anywhere in the country.

Cox’s Me too, Me too, ME TOO! “Fiber” Network

Cox has been at it again. It’s gotten downright embarrassing. You’d think they’d learn.

Cox does NOT have a fiber network.

And they’re not going to build one. They have hybrid fiber-coax (HFC) network and that hasn’t changed and is not going to change. But if you listened to Cox representatives you’d think they’d suddenly changed to an entirely new architecture. We know just exactly when that happened: Just about the time Cox realized they’d lost the battle to prevent Lafayette from approving a fiber to the home network they started calling their own network “fiber.” This is a bizarre and blatently deceptive “rebranding.” They spent months telling us we didn’t need and didn’t want a real fiber to the home network and when they realize they lost the battle to convince us fiber wasn’t valuable they decided that suddenly–presto! change-o!– their network was a fiber network. This silliness was launched two years ago at the Southwest Louisiana Chamber of Commerce banquet when Cox handed out little “sparklers” tipped with plastic fibers lit with LEDs. Since then they’ve rebranded their Baton Rouge/Acadiana website to include prominent use of the use of “fiber network” and done their darndest to get it used in local media. It all looks pretty childishly desperate from the outside…and a little amusing.

But sometimes it just isn’t funny, and after yesterday’s TechSouth Governor’s technology award ceremony the buzz among people exiting the luncheon wasn’t about the award winners as the recipients had every right to expect. It was about Karmen Blanco’s weird claim that Cox had invested big money in their “Fiber Network” and that it hadn’t “cost the taxpayers a cent.” Everyone there knew that both of those remarks were lies. Lying to the general public is dishonest. Lying to the sorts of folks who attend TechSouth is nothing short of stupid. They know better and they notice. Predictably, they talk about it. For the record: Lafayette’s network won’t be paid for by taxpayers either: it will be paid for by those who use it and the loan to build it is coming from the national bond market. And Cox doesn’t have a fiber network, never has, never will. The people attending a state-sponsored technology awards banquet knew that and the fact that Karmen Blanco was the Governor’s daughter and a Lafayette native only made the deceit more embarrassing.

I hadn’t attended the luncheon, instead using the time to leisurely wander the exposition floor while the crowds were eating. My first inkling that something weird had happened was when the crowd exiting the luncheon stopped on their way out to cluster around the LUS booth…and started grabbing up the freebies. That seemed a little odd–everyone had swag and LUS’ weren’t particularly remarkable: a pen and a little battery-driven, LED lit fan that spelled out a promotional message on the rotating blades.

It wasn’t until after I’d heard the story of Karmen Blanco’s speech from two different groups in the stream of exiting attendees that I put it all together.

That little LED fan that the crowd was snatching up was the perfect response to Karmen’s childish “Me to, Me too, ME TOO” claims about Cox’s network. The message on the spinning blades was the perfect retort to Cox. It said:

LUS Fiber,
All the way,
All the way,
All the way,
To the home.

Sometimes the world provides you with the perfect rejoinder. The fan was perfect. And the crowd snatched it up.


In a story on the LITE center the following thought-provoking bit appeared.

Bryan Fuselier’s company took readings inside the Superdome to measure interference and cell phone signal strength, as part of a contract with a large cellular service company.

LITE took that data and placed it into a three-dimensional space, so that the clients could walk around inside the Superdome, identifying the cold spots and looking for solutions. The same thing could be done on a larger, citywide scale, Fuselier said.

Hmmmn. One of the big problems with municipal WiFi has turned out to be “tuning” the system. —For instance, coverage is dramatically effected by leaves…yes, leaves. So no system, at least in our part of the country, can be adequately tested in the winter. And one season’s growth can really change reception–what worked last year may not work this year. It’s complicated — complex — and a huge computational problem with a staggering number of independently changing parameters.

Perfect for a supercomputer/visualization complex. Wouldn’t it be nice if LITE could shortcut some of the inevitable issues with getting a really functional WiFi network up and sustaining its effectiveness?

Something to think about.

Fiber Engineer Introduced to Lafayette

The Advertiser and the Advocate covered the introduction of the company that will design and oversee the building of Lafayette’s fiber to the home project yesterday at TechSouth. It will be a significant construction project and Atlantic Engineering is the leader in its are. From the Advocate:

Atlantic Engineering Group of Atlanta has designed and/or built 14 of the 20 municipally owned citywide fiber-to-the-home networks like that planned by LUS.

Lafayette’s will be the largest in the country, said James Salter, Atlantic Engineering’s CEO.

The Advertiser specifies that it will be the largest fiber project in terms of homes passed and that the runner-up is another AEG project in Clarkesville, TN.

Both papers emphasize that one parameter of the project will be to make it “future-proof:”

Terry Huval, LUS director, said it is hoped Lafayette will have a fiber network designed to accommodate future technological changes and be the most advanced telecommunication system in the world.

That matches what I’ve been told–by officials and by field techs–and that mixed systems are contemplated. While the teams inclination is still toward a GPON (aka P2MP) network emphasis is on overprovisioning the fiber enought to support both AON (aka P2P) and selective use of Home Run architectures. That pretty much covers the whole range of possibilities and would be pretty innovative. (Is all that is Greek to you? Try the recent post that dealt with architectures for a quickish background.)

Salter, the AEG CEO, emphasized that he was worried about keeping up with demand:

Salter said the most important lesson his company has learned is how difficult it can be to keep up with customer demand.

Because of the high-profile fight over the past three years to allow LUS to enter into the telecommunications business — the state Supreme Court gave its OK earlier this year — there’s a lot of “pent-up demand,” from customers who want LUS service as soon as possible, Salter said.’…

Atlantic Engineering will also work to make sure that enough preparation is done to meet, as best as possible, what is expected to be “extraordinarily high demand,” Salter said.

That isn’t bravado, though many readers might dismiss it as such. It is an honest concern based on AEG’s recent experience. In the Bristol project the biggest problem has been that the system was built assuming a best-case scenerio of a 50% take rate–few really thought that selling fiber services to even half of the homes passed was realistic. Only a few years into the project it is already past that point–and some expensive new laying of supporting fiber has to be done. Now more success than you could have imagined is a great problem to have–but it is a problem that a conscientious system designer will want to avoid. My understanding is that the current idea is to provision enough fiber to cover a 100% take rate from the beginning.

All very exciting…

Cox Leads the Way

According to a story in MarketWatch Cox is the first cable company to agree to disable the fast forward button on its video on demand product. Video On Demand (VOD) has been attractive for the cable companies largely because it emulated a DVR without the expense of providing a DVR box in the home. DVR’s are popular for three reasons: 1) they allow the viewer to “time shift” — to view a show whenever they want; 2) to skip boring and repetitious ads, and 3) to spend less time on a show because you’ve skipped ads. (If you don’t have a DVR, trust me, you want one.)

From the story:

Walt Disney Co.’s two big TV networks, ABC and ESPN, have struck a deal with cable operator Cox Communications Inc. to offer hit shows and football games on demand, but with the unusual condition that Cox disables the fast-forward feature that allows viewers to skip ads, according to a media report Thursday.

Obviously this is not good for users. A little less obviously it is grand news for TiVo who sells the most successful independent DVR. It is easy to to evade the new “requirement” that you watch ads.

Here’s the trick:

  1. DON’T rent a DVR from the cable company (they can make their DVRs reinforce this new policy if they choose)
  2. Do buy a TiVo (or use an PC-based alternative like MythTV)
  3. Tune into your Video On Demand channel
  4. Navigate to your movie or show (cable navigation is a pain you can’t avoid)
  5. Record it on YOUR OWN device
  6. Watch normally: whenever you want, and power through the ads in the way you power through the ads found in normal broadcasts.
  7. (Yes, it really is that easy. This attempt to control consumers watching habits will fail and lead to a resurgence of independent DVRs and a dramatically reduced take rate for Cox’s DVR products. Buy TiVo stock now.)

I already follow the above procedure with Cox’s current VOD, even without the incentive of Cox trying to force ads on me. Recording shows is part of my default behavior, it allows me to pause for the phone, set up supper, catch up on some little chore, rewind to catch critical dialog and the like–recording on my own equipment allows me to pause and rewind using TiVo’s silky-smooth interface and fast local storage. It makes a world of difference in the user experience. Cox’s interface, mediated by a clogged-up network is slow, so painfully slow that my son refuses to use it and called me up to give me the what-for for suggesting that he do so. (I still think it is basically a good thing. Cox is providing you with a very nice library of recorded material. Just use it in conjunction with your own DVR.) (And, yes, Cox’s network is clogged up–I still, months after local launch, regularly get a “network busy” signal which abruptly throws me out the system I try and access the VOD channel. Consequently, I haven’t developed any habit of use. Cox really needs to fix this if anyone is to treat the service seriously.)

I’d like to say that LUS won’t succumb to this ploy by the content providers but, frankly, I don’t believe they’ll be in a position to resist if Cox’s collapse leads to new standards for cable companies and their emerging telecom competition. This is one of those rare places where competition does not work for you. As long as cable companies had an effective local monopoly on wireline video they were able to resist the content providers demands that they not let users skip ads–and up to now they have refused to cripple their DVRs or VOD content despite unrelenting pressure. In truth, content providers had little leverage. If they wanted cable viewers in Lafayette (or Atlanta or Miami) to see their VOD content they had to deal with Cox or simply not sell in that market at all. Enter prospective competition from the likes of AT&T. Now the possibility exists that content providers can give an “advantage” to one provider by refusing to sell content to their competitor unless they restrict their customers. Usually the way to exert this pressure is to refuse to sell to the new entrant–AT&T in our case. It is unusual for an established market leader like Cox to lead in giving in to supplier’s demands. Once one provider in a market gives in the others will have to as well–or decide to operate at a competitive disadvantage in order to preserve their customer’s rights. How likely is that? Easy answer: Not very. And since regional markets differ (Cox and AT&T serve different, if overlapping, regions) each competitor that gives in spreads the new practice to new areas of the country.

Expect a general collapse, courtesy of Cox’s leadership.

I repeat: Buy TiVo.

TechSouth, Atlantic Engineering, and Fiber

LUS is bringing Jim Salter, CEO of Atlantic Engineering which was recently awarded the FTTH home design contract, to TechSouth according to an LUS media release. He’ll be available to answer questions about “products and services.” That’s actually a pretty big deal and its pretty nice that the opportunity is being offered to the public and not only reportorial types. Monday, May 7 at 1:30 p.m.

From the press release:

The City of Lafayette and Lafayette Utilities System will introduce the head of the engineering firm recently selected to spearhead the LUS Fiber-to-the-Home project at a press conference before the start of the TechSouth annual summit and exposition. James H. Salter, P.E., CEO of Atlantic Engineering Group, will be in Lafayette to introduce the leadership team on the fiber project, answer interested citizens’ questions about upcoming products and services and explain how Fiber-to-the-Home will enhance their lives.

The nationally recognized professional engineer from Atlantic Engineering will explain the fiber build-out process and the firm’s role in ensuring Lafayette residents and LUS customers have the latest and best technology and services when the LUS products become available in 18 months from the scheduled bond fund delivery in July 2007.