Digital Divide at the Council

Item 14 on last night’s City-Parish Council agenda was a “Digital Divide update.” Put on the agenda by Chris Williams, the update had been scheduled for last month but was delayed to accommodate an out of town conference appearance by Huval.

Last night’s short slide show reiterated the ideas of the digital divide committee’s “Bridging the Digital Divide” document and recounted the (slow) progress toward fulfilling the commitments LUS, and LCG made when it was approved by the city-parish council. The presentation was broken up into three logical parts (we are dealing with engineers here): 1) the committments, 2) progress to date, 3) a timeline for completing planning.

The committees’ report focused on suggesting ways to overcome barriers to adoption and ways to check our progress. Barriers were characterized as structural barriers, motivational & historical barriers, and barriers to full participation. In the category of structural barriers Huval reiterated LUS’ commitment to universal service and 20% cheaper prices—making real broadband available to all for less. About the most contentious elements in that category—a refurbished or new computer program—little was said beyond emphasizing how quickly the area of lowcost computing hardware was changing and using the One Laptop Per Child program as an example of network capable laptop computers falling toward the $100 dollar mark. Many of the committee’s other recommendations in the areas of motivating use and encourage full use of the new network were mentioned as areas in which planning was still needed. The one solid committment in these area was the reconfirmation that Lafayette’s users would get full intranet speeds when communicating insystem with other users. No matter how much you are paying for your connection you will be able to connect to other users at the full bandwidth available on the system—and LUS is planning a minimum of a 100 meg system. The planning schedule for the larger digital divide project remains one of getting the plan in place and implementation begining by the time the first customer is served.

A few interesting points were raised in the presentation and the following brief discussion. Apparently the connections to the parish schools are still being finished up with 37 of 45 hookups completed and the rest scheduled to be done before the first of November. While that fits the original timetable of fall of 07 there had been some hope that they’d all be online for start of school this year but it appears that getting pole attachment agreements lined up delayed the project a bit.

In response to a question from Councilor Mouton Huval talked a bit about the wireless end of his system and said again that he saw it as a useful addition to the wired system for customers. He also glancingly mentioned that it might be a way to provide a yet more affordable alternative for some.

Dr. Williams closed the period by calling for plans to be carried forward in the 18 month time frame. He noted that Lafayette was receiving much favorable attention for its netowork and expressed the hope that we could be equally well-know for the way we handled the digital divide issue.

He’s right in that hope.

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