WBS: KillerApp: Take Two

What’s Being Said Department:

Geoff Daily over at the AppsRising blog registers the first of two promised pieces about his trip to Lafayette. This one focuses mostly on his discussions with local business folks…Abigail Ransonet, Ray Abshire, Joe Abraham, Casey Deshotels, Howard Chaney are all mentioned and he talks to Logan McDaniel, the CIO of Layette Parish School District, as well.

Interesting stuff.

WBS: “Back from Lafayette and Pondering…”

What’s Being Said Department:

Geoff Daily, the fella I wrote about yesterday, is back home and promising a two day series on Lafayette sojourn in his AppRising blog. From the setup entry yesterday:

After a long weekend in Lafayette, LA, I’m back in the saddle and ready to share stories from my first immersion in this Cajun community that’s on the verge of deploying a fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network.

…you can look forward to posts tomorrow and Friday that highlight some of the innovation and applications I discovered during my travels in and around Lafayette.

He takes the opportunity to state his own position on municipal broadband in this post before launching into a more specific analysis. The executive summary? In a nutshell: he’s fretful but hopeful.

Geoff struck me as thoughtful and willing to deal with the realities of broadband in the US. I’ll be following his short series here and would recommend it to those who have hopes for our network. An outsider’s eye is always useful.

AT&T’s 10 dollar deal: Is it real?

I recently covered a $10 dollar DSL deal and a promise of a $20 dollar “naked DSL plan from AT&T that ought to be available locally. (It’s got some preconditions, see my post.) David Isenberg dug a little harder and made the case that these plans weren’t actually being “offered” in any real sense of the term. Now he (and I!) would like to know if anyone out there is actually getting this deal.

Background: AT&T agreed, as a condition of its merger with BellSouth, to offer these deals. As we in Lafayette know, the phone company doesn’t necessarily keep its word and this appears to be a case where the company is skirting pretty close to simply breaking the law. I dug around a bit for this post and discovered yet another very real obligation on Ars Technica: AT&T is supposed to make broadband available to EVERYONE in its footprint; it promised to provide at least 85% of its customers with DSL and would tie the last 15% in with satellite or WiMax. So if they tell you they can’t provision you — ask again.!

The question of AT&T keeping its word comes up following a small internet furor over a story popularized on engadget about a fellow that had a real hassle getting the $10 dollar deal from AT&T. I had similar issues when I tried to see how real the offer was locally.

Has anyone out there tried? What’s your story? Were you successful? Did you eventually give up trying and go for the “good” (but more expensive) “deal” that was easier to get?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments here or via email at John2_AT_lafayetteprofiber_DOT_com

Thoughts on Killer Apps and Community

I’ve been chewing over an informal speech/meeting with Geoff Daily of KillerApp Monday evening from which I came away pretty impressed. He was speaking on what drives broadband usage—especially usage of high-capacity fiber networks. Daily actually gets it—he’s not so distracted by the technology itself that he doesn’t see that something more is necessary to create real change.

Daily was in town at the behest of Abigail Ransonet (aka fiberina and mistress of Abacus Marketing) who is hosting him here. Geoff, who is “on tour” of communities which have significant fiber to the home networks, is visiting Lafayette with the dual purpose of seeing what we are doing (or planning to do) with our fiber and informing us about what others have done.

What impressed me was that Geoff didn’t succumb to the implications of the name of the business for which he works—nor the mindset that is so popular that the name was an obvious choice for a business focused on broadband. He doesn’t think there is going to be a “KillerApp” that drives full utilization of fiber networks and leads to broadband utopia.

What Daily pointed out Monday was that most of the applications that people expect will drive broadband usage already exist. Some of them don’t really require big broadband if only a few people are using them—and only a few people are. Those that do require a big pipe don’t appear to be widely adopted where the bandwidth is available. The missing element is adoption. Waiting for “the killer app” is just a way of putting off the real works: preparing the community to make use of the many advantages which fiber’s big bandwidth makes available.

Without community education—and providing a way for that education to occur—networks may be fiscally successful. But they will not realize the dreams of their advocates to provide a foundation for accelerated growth, equity, and a markedly better quality of life for citizens.

The “build it and they will come” assumption is insufficient to those goals. Building a community-owned fiber network is, I believe, a necessary precondition realize such dreams. Privately-owned networks will never be motivated to serve the needs of the community except indirectly. If any community hopes to get ahead of the curve or to simply control its own destiny it must own its own tools. That’s true for carpenters and that’s true for cities. Lafayette did the right thing in building its own network. But Geoff Daily reminds us that this is only the beginning. (Check out his blog at KillerApp for relevant ideas.)

Daily pointed to the Utopia project in Utah as one that appeared to him to be built on “build it and they will come” assumption. In truth, as Daily probably realizes, this attitude was pretty much forced on them by their statehouse: the state of Utah would only allow local communities to build the networks the private providers refused to build if they leased them out to private service providers. In consequence the Utopia project is not, and cannot be, “utopian” in any real sense. The citizens who own and will have taken the risk in providing the network will find themselves with services that are typical of services offered by any private network since what motivates their providers will be no different from what motivates anyone else’s.

That is better than not having such services at all, I’ll grant, but that is not what Lafayette voted for—we voted for the dream.

One point was unmistakable: Geoff Daily wants that dream too. He wants to see the technology lead to better things for communities and their residents. That leads him to think that we need a visionary success in at least one community to kickstart nation-wide usage. The country needs to see a place where an advanced network kicks off accelerates growth, decreases inequality, and results in a markedly better quality of life for all its citizens.

I nominate Lafayette.

But, as Geoff’s presentation and the following discussion made clear, it won’t happen by itself. The the only way that will happen is if LCG, LUS, and the community decide to make it happen.

“Budget ready for LUS project”

Blanchard over at the Advocate runs a story on the budget for LUS’ new telecommunications division—the division that will be responsible for the LUS Fiber project. The budget ordinance will be introduced this coming Tuesday and, if the usual pattern holds true, voted on at the following meeting.

The budget anticipates committing 80 million of the 110.4 million of the money yielded by the bond sales. Because contracts arranged this year will go on this years budget the major part of the money will be committed even though it might not be actually “spent” for several years. Among the interesting details from the story:

It includes more than $20 million for the buildings, electronic equipment, computers and software that will be required at the “head-end,” that will serve as the technical operations center for the new network…

The budget also includes $2.9 million for set top boxes that will be in customers’ homes and $12 million for the boxes that will be placed on the outside of customers’ buildings.

Those are numbers to tuck away—they represent the major technological committments of the system, not just the major capital outlays. The money spent on headend equipment will determine the capacity of the system while the money spent at your house will determine how much of that capacity each citizen can utilize. The specs on all that will make for interesting reading. (Ok, maybe “interesting” is strong. But they will be important.)

But beyond that the story notes an interesting apparent discrepancy in the numbers: LUS has said that we can expect the first segment to be lit up about January of 09. But $5.5 million is allocated for hooking up customers in the 07-08 fiscal year, which begins in November for LUS. That’s earlier than anticipated. On the other hand no money is allocated for dealing with “customer accounts” until the the o8-o9 budget. That is not early and jibes with previous estimates.

What’s the deal? I don’t know but based on previous estimates of the hook-up costs per household 5.5 million will hook up 8000 to 9000 customers. One explanation would be that LUS hopes to light up its first segment in January of 09—perhaps as a New Years gift to the city—and will be completing hookups as the fiber is rolls into the neighborhood and people order service. So if fiber gets to you in, say, September of 08 then they’d hook you up (and charge that year’s budget) and you’d get to wait until Jan 09 to get service. (There is three months of agonizing anticipation!)

However that explanation seems a bit of simple. Hooking up 8-9000 homes by November, at least 2 months in advance of the lighting date, means that you’d have even more homes available when the segment came online. 10,000? 12? That’s better than 1/5 of the total households available in the city. And since the announced plan was to segment the city into 5 zones and build each zone out sequentially that would mean that LUS was planning on pre-subscribing 100% of one segment. That’s not going to happen and I don’t believe that LUS thinks it will. Hooking up that many homes that early suggests that LUS will be tackling more than one segment at a time. Two? Three? All? And if they are going to work on more than 1/5 of the city at once that in turn suggests that they will be pushing hard to complete the network in less than the three and half years previously discussed.

So I’m hoping for an announcement that the construction plan has changed—and that a highly segmented build has been abandoned. That’d be a good thing in my estimation.

Caveat: My line of reasoning on this makes a certain amount of sense but I might not fully understand a document I’ve not seen. Or I might not understand adequately the process of network construction or how costs are distributed. But I find the numbers very suggestive of a faster build with more subscribers brought online early than we’ve previously been led to believe.

Video Franchise Disaster in North Carolina

A weekly newspaper in North Carolina’s Research Triangle, The Independent, has one of those rare, acerbic, factually rich explorations of a significant topic that you only seem to find in alternative weeklies.

The reason you’re seeing it here is that the column’s point of departure is North Carolina’s “Video Service Competition Act”—a phone company sponsored bill that moved control of cable franchise to the state level and thereby removing local control over fees, PEG channel support, and consumer protection. North Carolina’s legislature passed it last year, just as Louisiana’s did, in the name of encouraging competition. But North Carolina’s governor signed the bill while Blanco, citing concerns over local control and damaging municipalities’ income, vetoed the bill.

On the basis of North Carolina’s evidence, Blanco was right.

The History:
Though the legislation promised competition and new investment, in fact no new competition has emerged. Neither Verizon nor AT&T have actually launched any new services in North Carolina and they don’t have any firm plans to do so. No new technology has appeared. Prices have not fallen. Hmmn.

Though they assured municipalities that they’d see no drop in income in fact the state has collected only 62% of what the municipalities had been taking in. Ooops.

Though local PEG channels, like our AOC, were promised a secure share from the state it turns out that the state only budgeted for 80 channels—and 300 applied. Ooops.

The Kicker:
North Carolina is now being asked by the telecomm companies to pass the “Local Government Fair Competition Act.” It’s a law like Louisiana’s law that imposes unfair constraints on local governments and makes it virtually impossible for a small community to make the decision to do so. The author of this piece suggests, on the basis of the outcome of last year’s disaster, that they not do so. So has Lafayette Pro Fiber. Emphatically.

Give the story a read; there are some “rich” details.

Film Studio News

KLFY runs with a news story based on the “River Studio and Filmport” news coming to Baton Rouge. A recent Advocate story mentioned that the new studio, slated for West Baton Rouge, would sport a “satellite facility for animation and special effects along the Interstate 10 corridor in Lafayette and a satellite soundstage in the Minden area.” But that was the extent of the mention.

KLFY talked to Durel about it and a good bit more came out. From the broadcast interview:

You have to remember that, what we’re going to have, in Lafayette, in two years, is not going to exist in 95% of America twenty years from now.

Durel was, of course, referring to the the LUS Fiber network that is planning on serving its first customers in less than two years. He noted all of Lafayette’s bragging points say that the decision to come to Lafayette was

…all tied around the technology between the University, the LITE Center, and Fiber To The Home.

UL and the LITE Center are crucial to this since the animation and digitization technologies that movie makers are interested in will be available there. Being able to access those technologies from anywhere in town will be a major plus for the city.

The new facility in Baton Rouge appears to be a very large one intended for major films, meaning it will spawn a raft of jobs ranging from carpentry and electrical to acting, to costuming and digitalization enterprises—and developing that wealth of infrastructure is what makes the new project so exciting. Film industry interest in Louisiana has been growing and once the basics are readily available it will be much easier to attract new business. An earlier story in the Advocate had already talked about several film stages being planned in and around the River City. But Baton Rouge is not alone—Lafayette has already found some film love in the form of Emerald Bayous. Emerald Bayous, with a film stage in New Roads, was also attracted to the high tech infrastructure Lafayette has and has taken up residence in the LITE Center.

The payoff for a lot of hard work and dreaming on the part of some of Lafayette’s resident visionaries is starting to pay off. They should be feeling a little warm glow of satisfaction.

——For Mac & Linux & Windows users with unconventional systems, a repeat complaint——-
The KLFY page has a link to a video. If you are a Mac or Linux user the weird, broken, javascript prevents you from viewing it. Unwrapping the stuff it calls reveals the real URL http://www.klfy.com/Global/Video/WorldnowASX.asp?os=mac&vt=v&clipid=1574491 Pasting that URL directly into Windows Media Player works fine. So it’s not your system. (The tech guys at KLFY really ought to be embarrassed. Fixes for difficulties like this are as simple as giving the users you refuse to adequately serve a direct link.)

Clarksville is Building its Fiber

Via the good offices of Hank Ballew at Clarksvillefiberoptic.com I discovered that Clarksville, TN has begun its fiber-optic build. The trucks started rolling on June 13th.


Clarksville is interesting to Lafayette citizens because its situation is remarkably similar to our own. Most noticeably Clarksville and Lafayette are aproximately the same size with Lafayette showing 7,000 more people during the 2000 census but Clarksville boasting a few hundred more in the 2005 estimate. Similarly Clarksville serves 54,000 customers while LUS sells electricity to 58,000. The two cities construction schedules will substantially overlap with, it seems, Lafayette running about 6 months behind Clarksville at the beginning but finishing at about the same time. Atlantic Engineering is Lafayette’s network’s designer and will oversee the build while it is both designing and constructing Clarksville’s. So watching should be a little like looking into a mirror—the similarities and differences that emerge ought to be interesting.

One of the differences, as I’ve noted previously, is that Clarksville did not have to fight for its network in the same way that Lafayette did. It’ll be interesting to see if that makes any difference in the way citizens regard the service and therefore in the utility’s subscription rates.