Good Sense Spreads…Muni Broadband comes of age

Two stories came across my virtual desk yesterday that tell me that the municipal telecom movement is maturing. The time is ripe for Lafayette’s resolution to the disagreements within the camp of those who favor municipal and regional public networks.

The quiet, background, argument within that community has been between those that saw WiFi as the obvious way to provide ubiquitous, cheap internet connectivity and those who saw fiber as the only sensible long-term foundation for a municipal telecomm utility that would provide public capacity for internet, phone, cable, wireless and other services as they emerged.

I’ve argued that muni networks would need both fiber’s capacity and the mobility of wireless if they hoped to provide a valuable and competitive alternative to the increasingly interlocked camps of private incumbents. The opposition between Fiber and WiFi has always been false one but, for a host of reasons, the only practical way forward is to make the committment to building a FTTH network and only then build out a wireless network that would piggy-back on the crucial fiber infrastructure. That’s Lafayette’s plan.

With the recent shakeout of muni wifi market the hope that cities could get a private provider to build a network without any local risk or investment has been revealed as an impractical one. We’re now getting down to a more realistic appraisal of what cities will have to provide—and when it’s their own money on the line cities appear to be taking a more sophisticated view of what their citizens really need and the crucial role of fiber in providing it. When the “free,” “good enough” alternative evaporates people buckle down and actually think about their needs and how to make sure their investment pays for itself.

In Minnesota and Vermont
In the first of the two stories that indicate that muni telecomm is maturing, one a city has made the decision to push for a fiber network even though its neighbor is famous for one of the more successful WiFi builds. In the second, a successful fiber build has announced its intention to add wireless.

In Minnessota’s twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul Minneapolis has gotten a lot of publicity for moving forward, apparently on pretty favorable terms, with a WiFi network. It’s next door neighbor, however, isn’t buying in. St. Paul opted for a fiber network:

Minneapolis can keep its Wi-Fi network. St. Paul says Wi-Fi is too slow, and it wants something faster. Much, much, much faster.

On Wednesday, the City Council unanimously approved an advisory committee’s proposal to seek partners for a publicly owned fiber-optic cable network for high-speed Internet access…

St. Paul’s broadband system would be fixed in place, but the 20-member advisory committee said the city could add a Wi-Fi service later though a private provider. That would let the wireless system piggyback on the fiber-optic network, which it would need anyway to connect back to the Internet.

A sidebar succinctly makes the case:


St. Paul quickly rejected the idea of Wi-Fi, City Council Member Lee Helgen says. Some reasons:

Too slow. Typical Wi-Fi speeds are 1-3 megabits per second, but research indicates average users may need speeds of up to 25 megabits per second by 2012.

It’s flaky. Wi-Fi doesn’t penetrate far into buildings; leaves, rain or snow can interfere with its signal.

In Vermont Burlington’s FTTH system has taken the go-slow approach to success and is now planning its move into wireless.

“We are going to build a wireless network,” said Tim Nulty, BT director, in an interview. “But the best way to build wireless is to build fiber first. That way we already have backhaul [capability] and every telephone pole is a potential antenna site.”

Like many municipalities seeking to deploy their own networks, the challenges in Burlington, the largest city in Vermont with 39,000 residents, were daunting. It had to convince state and city politicians and the town’s voters that the network was a good idea, as well as fend off criticism from established telecom providers. And early financing problems nearly sunk the project.

After picking its way through complicated political and financial minefields, BT developed a city-owned network that will supply Burlington citizens with low-cost triple-play broadband and, when its debt is retired in 15 years, should provide the city with 20% of its general fund.

“BT will be able to pay down its debt very quickly,” said Christopher Mitchell, of the Minneapolis-based Institute for Local Self Reliance. “On the cost side of the equation, Burlington once faced massively growing telecommunications expenditures. It now views the telecommunications sector as an important source of new revenues.”

“…We resisted pressure to do wireless at first,” he [Nulty] said, adding that he expects that BT will one day provide Burlington with a “wireless cloud.” Nulty is beginning to look at various wireless approaches including Wi-Fi, WiMax, mesh, EV-DO, cellular resale, and 700 MHz among others.

BT is reported to have started negotiations with other Vermont cities including Montpelier and Rutland as well as smaller neighboring communities interested in gaining access to the Burlington network.

Dealing realistically with the difficult facts of an endeavor is always a sign of emerging maturity. Muni broadband is coming of age.

Sun’s McNealy Returns

Well Scot McNealy of Sun Microsystems was back in town…and closeted with a lot of the cities tech big wigs (LUS, LCG, the University, and local business—tech enthusiasts) for a couple of hours before a press conference at LITE. Sorry I didn’t get to this earlier, but I was mired in a recalcitrant web site that was too close to launch to neglect. But luckily the regional media covered it in force. What happened in that meeting—why McNealy made a return trip—was not immediately made public though hints could be gleaned from the reporter’s coverage.

The Advertiser lead with and focused on the announcement of Lafayette’s ranking on a jobs growth ranking and didn’t mention the McNealy press conference, at which the ranking was mentioned, until paragraph five. KATC and The Advocate lead with the McNealy visit itself and didn’t mention the job growth ranking which was apparently a reference point in the presentation. The two stories do dovetail, of course, but the focus of interest on this site is the technology issues implicated in the visit.

Seasoned readers will recall that McNealy made a supportive stop here right before the fiber referendum. He appeared on one of Joey’s morning radio shows and was generally encouraging about our building a fiber system. Back then I laid out an enthusiastic, but I think still pretty accurate assessment of the potential of a Sun-Lafayette partnership. The gist is that LUS’ big bandwidth, Sun’s open source source software, and the immense potential of on-system storage and distributed computing in Lafayette’s intranet has got to have smart companies like Sun thinking hard about using Lafayette as a test bed for new technologies. There really will be little to match the size and diversity of our user population, or the intranet-speed in-system bandwidth supplied between customers. That is a match made in heaven for those that have hankered after the bandwidth to make real changes in the (computer, video, cloud computing, name-your-techish-dream) area.

Sun’s bread and butter has been building top-notch servers, and more recently, integrated server farms. That’s a business built on the need for fast networks. Sun has in recent years pursued some pretty interesting ideas pretty relentlessly. Sun signed onto the open-source movement early. Free and more importantly open, readily fixable and extendable software is the result. Sun has also swum against the tide in insisting on a pushing a “network-centric” computing model. This involves big central computing facilities and distributed dumb terminals — though some Sun models can run as traditional independent stand-alone computers. Sun also has relentlesly pursued its vision for JAVA. The hope was for a platform for writing software that was independent of the underlying hardware and could run and interconnect processes on everything from toasters to big iron server hardware. JAVA has yet to becom the platform for realizing the more blue-sky versions of those dreams but much of the intuition is being realized in web-centric AJAX apps.

The potential of having a whole community with fast, cheap, universally available broadband capable of ripping the roof off the network limitations that have kept many of Sun’s ideas barely viable has got to be tempting to the company. And the digital divide and development potential for Lafayette are obvious. There is surely partnership potential here.

But what is on the table now? I’d guess both LUS’ fiber program and the city’s computing needs.

Keith Thibodaux regularly complains about the need to update a creaky computer system. The dark lining on the silver cloud of having had an early strong computer department at ULL is that Lafayette’s networks were developed back in the days of COBOL and significant portions of the city’s core network runs in that crusty framework. Slipping in a modern Sun-based but still centrally organized, terminal-heavy system would allow that sort of mainframe-oriented system to move into the modern day relatively painlessly. As the tenders of that system reach retirement age (yes we are that far into the computer age) such a move might become critical.

The Advocate did a stellar job of focusing on the potential interaction of Sun and LUS’ fiber to the home project. I recommend you go take a look. It is exciting stuff and doesn’t bear much cutting here is a stream the good bits:

Durel said Wednesday that the project’s highest-profile cheerleader reinforced and supplemented the LUS team’s “vision” to not just provide “me too” products with the state-of-the-art network.

“It’s not just about saving customers 20 percent,” Durel said. “It’s much, much bigger than that.”

Durel said McNealy is a big fan of “open source” products, software allows tech-savvy users to upgrade and add their own innovations.

In an open environment, coupled with the vast bandwidth promised by LUS — which has said that traffic inside its network will be unlimited — there’s a great potential for people working out of their garages to develop innovative products in Lafayette, McNealy said.

LUS Director Terry Huval said McNealy talked about the potential for Lafayette schools to utilize, which provides free, open source educational materials.

McNealy said Sun Microsystems offers a product called Sun Ray that could also be of great use with LUS’ system to help get more people using technology in their everyday lives.

Sun Ray is a simple, low-cost computer that serves as a conduit between the user and a massive server, where all information, software and processing power is stored.

The interactive display of Sun Ray is merely a way for the user to tap into the network, meaning that any user — with a pass code or swipe card — could use any Sun Ray to access their information, be it at home, work, the library or wirelessly, Huval said.

It’s a grand dream and could get most of the city on the network in an extremely exciting and potentially sophisticated way. Serving (free) programs off a server to inexpensive computers is clearly the next step a city could take after offering cheap, universal, big bandwidth. Open source is the way to go and Sun is a leader. Partnering with someone who not ony cares about these ideas is a natural–especially when that partner has already bet the company on the ideas.

As always there are caveats, especially in the context of the digital divide: Sun’s terminals are inexpensive–but no longer notably inexpensive in comparison to arguably more capable standalone computers. (And their standalones are more expensive.) The most price-attractive hardware is proprietary and not all open source material is ported to run there. It is a pretty closed ecology without the diversity found in the larger computer market. And it isn’t clear what direction will be open to Sun as the mobile market continues to expand.

Without a doubt, it’s all exciting and the relationship with Sun will bear watching.

Cox Employee Causes BR Phone Outage

An outage in Cox’s Baton Rouge system earlier this week was apparently caused by a disgruntled employee according to a story carried in the Atlanta Business Chronicle:

After being asked to resign, Bryant remotely shut down portions of Cox’s system, causing the loss of computer and telecommunications services, including access to 9-1-1 emergency services, for Cox customers in Dallas, Las Vegas, New Orleans, and Baton Rouge, La. Cox technicians restored service within hours.

This follows Cox’s apology for a “widespread outage” in their cable systems early this week which is likely the incident to which the story referred. In probably unrelated news of Cox troubles, a friend here in Lafayette reports that the LPB channel out of Baton Rouge was so pixelated throughout the showing of “The War” last night that it really wasn’t watchable. Everyone has their occasional problems but it’s not been Cox’s best week.

AT&T kills BellSouth Plans?

Who knew? David Burnstein, the highly respected telcom pundit with the unbearbly clunky html, says that AT&T’s acquistion of BellSouth frustrated BS’s plans to move to an all IP network and rip out the old phone systems antiquated operational guts.

The best minds in this business think it is now cheaper to replace the old PSTN network with a new all-IP network. British Telecom is essentially throwing out all the existing gear and running broadband to every home by 2011. Phone calls will be all VOIP, and there is no technical reason they can’t turn on data to 95% of the British Isles. New Zealand is thinking similarly, parts of Trinidad and Tobago are moving ahead, and BellSouth planned the same thing until the empire took over and cut everything back. (Has anyone else noticed they’ve decimated BellSouth’s network plans this year? Capital spending plunged.) (My emphasis in bold)

While that’s the first I’ve heard of it, the claim that BS planned an upgrade and that AT&T is keeping that money for its own purposes instead is fairly believable. —One of the most reliable patterns of the reconsolidation of the regional phone monopolies into a few national powers has been that those that phone companies that chose to spend their cash on acquisition swallowed their brethren that were investing instead in network capacity. The acquiring companies invested their current profits not in additional profit-generating capacity but in “buying” debt. That is a substantial part of the reason that the newly merged companies killed earlier promises to build national fiber networks. (Take a look at an overview (and then the massive documentation) of these broken promises—it’ll shake your confidence in our regulatory system.) They used the money to buy out each other and enriched the banking industry instead of their shareholders—and the communities they served.

Our regulatory regime allowed two behaviors that destroyed the US’ chance to stay ahead in the network race by allowing the phone companies to seek profit outside their core wireline networks: it allowed the phone companies to spend their monopoly income on buying up pretty much the entire potentially competitive wireless cellular market. We lost both competition and investment in fiber optics at one blow. 2) it allowed AT&T and the other Bells to further waste their substance by transferring huge amounts of money to the financial sector solely to make their companies prettier on the stock market selling block. Capacity was again sacrificed.

I’ve said it before and I’ll repeat it again: Deregulating monopolies is a recipe for disaster.

This time BellSouth customers (who would have benefited from an upgraded core even if BellSouth did not to have the courage for fiber they of all the baby Bells could have afforded) will be paying the price for our regulators’ fantasy that they could magically create a competitive market by allowing monopolists free rein to purchase their competition and reconsolidate.

What were they thinking?

monticelloprofiber: Minnesotans For Fiber (Update)

Light a candle for the people of Monticello, Minnesota.

The citizens of Monticello, MN are going to the polls today (Tuesday, the 18th) in order to vote on a fiber-related initiative. Monticello is at the other end of the big muddy—up near the headwaters of the Mississippi. The vote will be, not to approve the network per se, but to approve using it to provide phone services. —Apparently the Minnesota legislature hasn’t been bamboozled into passing anything as draconian as Louisiana’s incumbent protection law. On the other hand, the phone approval requires a super-majority vote of 65% the people. Apparently it is important to protect the phone monopoly from a mere democratic majority. So maybe Louisiana needn’t be too embarrassed. The city is committed to the project so the vote will only have a negative effect on the construction if it fails to garner a majority.

As you might expect they’ve had the standard opposition. The incumbents say they are just worried about helping out the local taxpayer and intimate that the locals are incompetent to run their own system. But Monticello has also had its loyal defenders. And the defenders are a hardy bunch by all evidence.

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. By that measure Mike and I are flattered. The pro-fiber website’s URL is Nifty—may a thousand “” bloom! Their front page right now points to two incidents that will sound familiar to Lafayette citizens and to the citizens of across the country who’ve faced similar opposition. In one the local cable incumbent has threatened a local business (shades of the Cingular call center) and in the other they’ve had to endure phone calls that lie about the project’s funding (like Lafayette’s, no tax dollars are involved; it will be paid for by revenue bonds). Our series of push polls was similarly misleading.

There are other parallels: The mayor is willing to slug it out toe to toe; such leadership was essential here and the people of Monticello are well served by their mayor:

Make no mistake; this citywide project is a war to the current providers. They don’t want competition. Current providers of telecommunications will use scare tactics and disinformation in communities where municipalities are forward thinking and look to build their own fiber network….

Now this is funny if it wasn’t so sad. Last week I received a phone call at my home from an anti-fiber group caller. They told me two lies. The first was that the City of Monticello was building a fiber network which duplicated services by TDS. Secondly, they told me the fiber network was going to cost the taxpayers of Monticello $25 million. Both of these statements were lies and the spread of misinformation. I told the caller that I read in the local newspaper that revenue bonds were paying for the fiber network and asked if they knew about that? They said, “No.” I told them the fiber network is not going to cost the taxpayers a single dollar because revenue bonds don’t raise taxes. I finally asked where this person was calling from and they told me, “Nebraska.” Obviously, this person was not a concerned citizen of Monticello. They were hired by the big guns to make these calls.

I caution the citizens of Monticello, beware of the lies told in the newspaper ads from cable companies fronting as “Concerned Citizens Against Fiber” and Web site called Monticello Fiber Mistake Coalition when they are supported by industry groups outside of our community. Don’t be concerned with phone calls you receive that are propaganda from the anti-fiber group who is uneducated about the facts here in Monticello.

That kind of forthrightness would do a Durel or Huval proud.

There is also, clearly, an aroused citizenry. Richard Van Allen says:

If you read last week’s Times, you saw a half page ad authorized and placed by Mike Martin of Saint Paul as Treasurer for the “Monticello Fiber Mistake” folks, a coalition comprised of state associations for the Telecom and Cable TV industry. These are not local citizens who live in the Monticello community. He is speaking for the Telco and cable industry which does not want local competition for better services or better prices. Mike is obviously not a citizen of Monticello and speaks for an industry that has fiercely attacked any new services coming into the communities they serve. Why should citizens of Monticello be persuaded by the paid spokesman of the Telco and cable industries?

At the September 18 referendum-Vote YES for Choice; say No to a monopoly.

James B. Fleming:

All I ask is that you take the time to find out the facts before you vote. Don’t be scared into a “No” vote by inaccurate information being pumped into the community by greedy corporations with no interest in Monticello’s future other than their own pocketbooks.

The city also has an informational pro-fiber website.

It’s reassuring to know that the battle is the same all over.

So light a candle for the good guys.

UPDATE: The city fiber site heralds the victory: 1,055 Voted YES • 354 Voted NO. That’s more than enough to win the super majority vote and assure that the city will be able to offer a triple play package that includes phone service.

Inventing the Future in Korea (and Lafayette)

Korean broadband is regularly cited as some of the best in the world ranking number 4 in the percentage of connected users and first in the percent of users working from a fast fiber optic connection.

Lafayette is set on the path toward having an even higher percentage of its population on fast fiber than the Korean average. Some folks (well the incumbent providers Cox and AT&T) suggest in ways subtle and not so subtle that people just can’t use all that bandwidth.

The Korean stats tell a different story. If you build it, the Koreans at least, will come. I suspect that Americans too would find their own field of dreams.

So what do all those Koreans do with all that bandwidth? Invent the future. An article in the Korean Times suggests the shape of that future:

The Samsung Economic Research Institute said that the so-called Web 2.0 movement is the main reason behind the surge of online traffic. For example, the number of blog users has increased 16 fold in the past two years, and the number of monthly blog postings by 10 fold, it said.

The most dramatic growth was seen in the circulation of short video clips, often referred to as UCC (user-created content) in Korea. Visitors to video sharing services at major portal sites more than quadrupled between March 2006 and March 2007.

The volume of information flow on the Internet will continue to expand at an ever-increasing speed, the report said.

The amount of two-way data traffic has soared as the role of Netizens has changed from that of spectator to active participant…” (emphasis mine)

Koreans are becoming producers of content and in the process are eating up bandwidth an ever-accelerating rate. Their patterns of use are changing and they are becoming the worlds first natives of a new communications regime. In that new regime they are becoming the writers and the video producers and easy uploading of their product has become one of the drivers pushing up bandwidth usage.

This bodes well for Lafayette. Our system will provide symmetrical bandwidth to all subscribers. The “intranet” feature—meaning we will be able to communicate with each other locally at the full speed of the local net, probably upwards of 100 megs—will facilitate just the shift that is taking place in Korea. It also bodes well for LUS—LUS’ bandwidth potential will be unmatchable by the competition. It is in LUS’ interest to push this transition and help push bandwidth consumption since a shift to higher consumption broadband habits would play to their advantage.

The most significant difference between Lafayette and Korea is the size of the local population. Korea’s population was large enough to provide for local lift-off without much aid. They were in a position to exchange information between people spread out over a larger region. (Korea is about 75% of the size of Louisiana so Southern Louisiana to above Alex would be a rough equivalent.) Friends in adjacent Korean cities could participate in the net-based exchange. Most of my friends live in the city but some do not–they are in Boussard, Sunset, Baton Rouge or Lake Charles. It would be helpful if all of them could particpate as well.

So if Korea is any indicator LUS will make Lafayette an interesting place to be as far as “web 2.0” usage is concerned. But LUS should try and do two things to help this along:

1) Expand in the region. Take in, as rapidly as possible the surrounding parish and try to move beyond. Not just because this would benefit more of our citizens but because a larger network would drive more of the high levels of broadband usage that will give the advantage to the locally-owned network.

2) Support citizen production of local content and, especially, the local trading of local content. The Korean experience suggests that “ The most dramatic growth was seen in the circulation of short video clips, often referred to as UCC (user-created content.)” Support AOC. Support clubs & classes. Provide an online locale where nice, big video clips can be stored and used for in-system display—let people store the local parent-filmed football and soccer games there. In HD. (No more postage-stamp video). Make it cheap. Make it easy. Supply some online editing and storage to users….LUS should do what it can to make using big broadband the norm.

It’s gonna be quite a ride.

“New” Web Business Models in Lafayette

Food For Thought Dept.

Here’s something worth thinking about: Arguably a Lafayette firm is running its business based on what web-folk will tell you is the hottest new cutting edge business model. That firm, as reported by the Advertiser’s Bob Moser, is Fugro Chance. Fugro Chance is a survey company specializing in the Gulf of Mexio. It sells its ability to locate things accurately on a map. That is its product. But Chance appears to know that what has really kept in it in business for 30 years is trust: its customers believe that they can trust them to locate things accurately and they trust Chance isn’t about to turn their special knowledge into an excuse to rip off their customers. So their customers return…

What got Furgo Chance an admiring piece in the paper is that they gave away their most valuable product, a comprehensive map of the pipelines, old and new, active and inactive, in the Gulf, for free. Apparently no one else has the history and focus to match their expertise and after the storms of ’05 ripped up the Gulf offshore platforms an accurate map of the pipelines was crucial to quick, efficient recovery. Everyone from FEMA to 200 industry insiders needed the map. They got it. From the story:

They could have charged thousands of dollars for this map, and most would have paid it. But this mainstay of oil and gas mapping knew what was right, says Marine Data Manager Lionel Cormier. Plus, generosity builds loyalty.

“We e-mailed pdf files (of the map) possibly to 200 people within a few weeks of the hurricanes, it was a handout to the industry,” Cormier said. “We felt we were the only one who could produce that map in that timeframe. … There was more to win than to lose.”

That might not strike you as exactly a hot, new, cutting edge business strategy. It might seem remarkably long-sighted in a business climate that trumpets short-term gains and ruthless, immediate, exploitation of every advantage over you customers as a some sort of business virtue leading to “maximizing ROI.” You may remember a time when people understood that greed wasn’t good business. But this approach to business probably doesn’t strike you as new; rather it seems like the “old” model.

But that might be because you’re from down the bayou…from a place where shopkeepers used to give away lagniappe in an effort to give “a little extra” in the form of an inexpensive treat for the kids or the customer. That little extra served to prove that the transaction wasn’t purely motivated by faceless profit-taking; that the store owner was willing to give a little back in a form that acknowledged the life of the customer.

Not everybody has that, or a similar experience, in their history.

There’s a lot of hoo-ha online about “new” business models (for example, Google) that involve giving away valuable products (like maps or search) and showing respect for your customers (by not abusing their trust) in return for customer loyalty toward your product (in Google’s case a tolerance for their advertising). Similarly Linux’s open source business model is built around a free “product,” the Linux operating system. What is sold is the expertise to extend the product and to provide high levels of support and integration. In a word: trust.

That trust-based business model is reported to be some sort of new discovery driven by network economics and constructed by brilliant young bi-coastal entrepreneurs and especially suited to the internet’s economy.

Now giving away your central product–as Google arguably does with its search engine results—might seem a new element that would justify.

But right chere in Lafayette, cher, there is the example of Furgo-Chance; who operates successfully in the cutthroat oil industry to prove that the gift economy—the framework for understanding Google, Commons-based peer production, and the open source buisness model—isn’t particularly new nor something particularly suited to the internet.

The old and the new collide in Lafayette. It’d be a good thing—and a wise thing—if local tech businesses were to learn the lessons taught by both Linux and old french shopkeepers: business is about Trust. Dollars are a by-product.

Public-Private-University: The Reality & the Potential

A report from the Advertiser presents an overview of the speakers on “technology and knowledge economy” at a Chamber breakfast at the Petroleum Club (a location redolent of the old rather than the new economy). The Advertiser’s Bob Moser leads with the money qoute:

Lafayette has put itself in a great position to lead the future “technology and knowledge economy,” a Mississippi economic leader told a local business crowd on Thursday.

Randall Goldsmith, head of the Mississippi Technology Alliance, was the leadoff in a session that also featured Lafayette’s Ramesh Kolluru, Keith Thibodeaux, and Doug Menefee.

The Reality
I was pleased to see some positive discussion of the essential role of the University in any hope Lafayette business might have of riding the technology wave. Not mincing words: I am often appalled at the dismissive attitude that I find pervasive in the Lafayette business community regarding the role of ULL as the engine of tech growth. Put plainly, without ULL there would be not tech be a sector in Lafayette. There is no hope of staying ahead of the curve without the academics. They are the essential players. It really is that simple and a Chamber breakfast that seems to treat that as a given is a great relief.

LONI and LITE were apparently the focus of discussion and both, of course, are academic ventures. (Again: without ULL neither could exist—and more pointedly neither would have even been conceived.) LITE will need careful, tolerant, encouragement from the local community. It is a new concept and is a tool rather than a product to boot; as such it so will take time to develop its niche. (Impatient parties should review the rocky early history of Baton Rouge’s Pennington Biomedical Center and consider what the consequence would have been if Baton Rouge’s business leaders had demanded immediate, local payback in terms of focusing on fostering old-style local private medical practices and hospitals in Greater Baton Rouge. —It would have destroyed what has become an outstanding world-class asset.) In a similar vein LONI—and its connections to Internet2/LamdaRail, are all fundamentally academic interconnects. It is a creature which, will benefit a larger community but not something that would exist as an asset for Louisiana or Lafayette if it hadn’t been created by the Universities.

It goes without saying, or should, that without the private and governmental sectors actively and passionately involved the possibilities that ULL offers the community cannot be realized. They, too, are essential. But no one should mistake the reality: while a strong business community and a wise government are central to Lafayette’s growth they could not create the resource that is represented by ULL; they could, however, fail to take advantage of it.

Oddly in my view, the “technology and knowledge economy” event did not include a focus on the most significant (academic or non-academic) initiative in the city—and arguably the very one that will have the greatest immediate impact on the ability of Chamber members to compete from a position on the high ground with their national and international opposition: the LUS Fiber project. That project will provide a ground-breaking 100 or more megs of intranet connection to every citizen who signs on—and that could easily be 50 or more percent of the market. Young and old, poor and rich, white and black, Creole, Cajun, French, and Americain. It will be coupled with a state-of the art wireless network that will actually work. It will all be available in the least expensive parts of the city to large, small, tiny entrepreneurs and regular folks who, if they so chose to grasp it, will have bandwidth previously available only in to mega corps and university campuses. What will we do with all that? Who knows? But rest assured that the vacuum will be filled. Why no mention? What’s up with that sort of blind spot?…The really interesting discussion would have been of how to leverage this uniquely Lafayette convergence of the muscle of private initiative, municipal community-mindedness, and the restless exploratory energy of Academia to benefit the community.

The Potential
It would be pretty easy to imagine a research project that encourages ULL professors to develop an expertise in the popular use of really large bandwidth. It would involve both social and technical research and would draw in artists, playwrights, and mulitmedia folks of all strips in testing content. It’s the sort of research project with tentacles into every department that a first-rank research 1 University would salivate over. But none of them have the essential resource. Consider: Lafayette will shortly have more bandwidth in the hands of a larger number of people of all races, ethnic backgrounds, and incomes than any place in the country. It is going to be the richest feedbed of data imaginable for next generation theorizing and practice in disciplines ranging from networking to interface design; from multimedia art to interactive theater. Properly designed and funded such a program would attract top-notch, ground-breaking young scholars to ULL in numbers sufficient to make the university a national center in a field of interdisciplinary studies it, and Lafayette, could create.

An element in making such a push credible to an outside world that sees Louisiana through the lens of the White Citizens Council and the Jena 6 would be a real digital divide initiative and a strong, community-backed program to encourage every citizen to make the fullest possible use of the potential of the new network. With public, private, and university backing Lafayette could find itself among the Austins’ and Research Triangles’ of the US: places where people come and want to stay in order to build something special that they could build nowhere else. Dell Computer is an engine in Austin (and the US) becaue a student wanted to earn some extra cash and explore what he’d learned in school and for very little other substantial reason. That Hollywood is all but synonymous with riches worldwide is not due to any natural advantage but to an accident of history.

We could create such an accident here.

The real potential of such an open collaboration between the public, private, and university sectors would be in the spin-offs, the Dells, the Steve Jobs—the companies marketing the “inconsequential” by-products of new fields in the form of new services offered by drop-outs and folks who don’t want to leave but have gained new, almost unique skills and put them to productive use. Texas poured its oil revenues into academics and, along the way, into a “far-out” and esoteric “computer science” department back in the days when the internet was a gleam in a researchers eye. An orthodonist’s kid who showed up intending to become a doctor got hooked, got his hands dirty, and decided to drop out to really do this stuff. Dell Computer and a high-tech industry in dusty then-backwater Austin was the payback. That sector alone will return its investment many times long after the last oil is pumped from the sands beneath Texas.

If that strikes you as worthy thing to hope for there are few things you could do. You could support the university and especially its research arms in doing the “far out,” esoteric things they are supposed to do. Hang around and hire the dropouts. Be tolerant of the oddities of those you don’t fully understand. Feed ’em and share the music. Celebrate Mardi Gras. You could support a local survey of Lafayette’s needs to provide all those future researchers a baseline from which to work. You could support LUS fully, regardless of any previous leanings—and say so. You could work to close the digital divide and to bring everyone in our community into full use of the technology we will own.

You could decide the future is worth working for.

Huval on Federal Broadband Policy

Huval, speaking as the chairman of the board of the American Public Power Association, on the problem with American broadband:

Broadband access is a top priority for American Public Power Association board Chairman Terry Huval. “Despite all the promises of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to create a competitive telecommunications market, the mega-incumbents sufficiently intimidated smaller players and succeeded in stifling desperately needed infrastructure upgrades,” he said. “As a result, the definition of American broadband is based on the smallest investment necessary to produce the greatest profit for the incumbents, leaving the United States’ ability to respond to worldwide global competition alarmingly hampered. It’s a dangerous situation that needs to be corrected soon.” Huval is the 2007-08 chairman of APPA and director of utilities in Lafayette, La. After a protracted battle with incumbent telecommunications providers, Lafayette Utilities System is constructing a citywide fiber-to-the-premises project to fill the city’s unmet broadband needs…

Huval believes local governments are potentially the best providers of advanced telecommunications infrastructure. They are accountable only to citizens and will price services reasonably, he said. “Local governments should not be hamstrung in any way that keeps them from meeting the vision and needs of their communities,” he said. “The incumbents have had their share of tax breaks and incentives. . . In a large way, those companies have failed to keep their promises. It’s time to let the public sector take the reins in communities where citizens want them to do so.”

That focuses directly on the real problem—incumbent greed—and the real solution—taking matters into our own hands. (It should go without saying that “the mega-incumbents” haven’t intimidated everyone. Good.)

National Broadband Policy Gem

A real gem:

“We are probably the only industrialized country without a national strategy,” said Copps. “We have let the world go by while we deregulate and reclassify things and move them from one part of the Telecom Act to another, as if we are accomplishing something. We proceed with the naive assumption that an invisible hand will somehow get this done.”

That’s just about as right as one can get in two sentences. And refreshingly tart to boot.

(From U.S. Lags in Broadband Deployment by Cathy Swirbul)