“Locals curious about fiber”

This morning’s Advertiser has a short (though front page) article on public reaction to the imminent launch of the Lafayette fiber project. It’s a color story, with not much in it but the public reactions to what they’ve been informed (and misinformed) about concerning the new system.

On the upside they get the basic reactions of people on the street pretty much right: cautious excitement.

Two things on the downside: 1) The Advertiser persists in repeating the mistaken idea that all LUS has announced so far is the prices of the three “VIP” tiers when Huval clearly has said that the prices announced for services were the same whether you bundled them together or not both in the council presentation and in their own comments pages. (Incidently, this is a feature; something to like…) 2) that bit of repeated misreporting gives the Advertiser’s coterie of local Lafayette-haters something semi-concrete, if mistaken, to whine about…every city (and every barbershop) has its little group of nay-sayers. But it is a pity that the Advertiser has chosen to give their ugliness both anonymity and a semi-legitimate forum.

FYI: LUS Fiber’s First Email

For Your Information

Not too much to report here except that LUS has sent its first round of emails out to what I presume was the list I signed up for way back when. (You can get on what is probably the same list at their signup page: http://www.lusfiber.com/feedback/)

Here’s the text of the message:

Welcome to your future!

The time has come! LUS Fiber will begin serving our first customer early 2009. To ensure quality customer service and a timely installation, we will launch a controlled roll out of our TV, Internet and Phone services. Customers in Phase One of our four-phase city-wide build-out plan will be notified by mail when service is available to them.

We are also very excited to give you the first look at our residential VIP (Video, Internet and Phone) Bundles. Our full suite of products will be announced soon.

Our 100% fiber optic network will provide the highest quality communication services over Lafayette‚s only customer-owned system at competitive rates. Our strategy is to keep our pricing simple and straightforward. In the coming months, we will keep you updated on our products, services and the status of our city-wide build-out.

We look forward to delivering enhanced television programming, lighting-fast Internet speeds and crystal-clear phone services. As always, you can reach the LUS Fiber team by calling 99-FIBER (993-4237) or visiting our website at LUSFIBER.com.

Happy Holidays!
Your LUS Fiber Team

Its-a-Thought: It’s not about the bundles

Its-a-Thought: “your choice packages,” not “bundles.”

It was probably inevitable in our commercial culture that the news about product, pricing, and availability would be almost the sole focus of reporting and comment about yesterday’s fiber announcement. At one level that really isn’t the most important point: ownership of our own resources and the bare fact that the system is real will have much greater impact down the road than today’s list of commercial details.

But even on the level of commerce…you know, “bundles” in the usual commercial sense are not really the best focus of conversation. That’s because LUS is not offering bundles, not in the usual commercial sense.

Bundles in the usual sense are special “deals” for a range of services put together by the operator that includes a long-term contract and lower prices for an introductory period. The idea is common across business sectors but has become an article of faith in the telecommunications industry with triple-play and even quad-play industry focal points.

In the world of telecommunications retailing bundles do two things, one good and the second bad: 1) they provide a convenient one-stop alternative for consumers weary of tracking 3 or 4 different communications bills, and 2) they serve to lock-in consumers into one provider by making the best prices only available if you take multiple services from that provider. Lock-in works in pretty directly: You can be locked into a contract—like the one-year deals Cox is pushing right now—with a penalty for leaving early to go to a more attractive competitor—like LUS. Lock-in contracts also usually include a promise of a cost increase during or at the end of the contract period. Much of the good deal is a temporary come-on designed to entice you to buy beyond your comfort zone and become dependent upon the service by the time the real price reappears. That’s all standard economics. (And one reason why thoughtful people still call economics “the dismal science.”) More subtly: the near-monopoly that some users find themselves facing can result in lock-in as well; if a bundle is the best way to eke out a decent price and, for instance, only one company offer decent internet or cell service in your neighborhood you can feel forced to buy their bundle–for the price–even though you’d be better served by choosing a phone from AT&T, cable from Cox, and cell service from Verizon….

Bundles are all about reducing customer freedom in exchange for a (usually temporary) price break.

But that’s not the way LUS’ bundles work — and why bundles are a misleading way to think about the LUS Fiber offerings. The focus should really be on how much it costs to put together a package that serves you best.

What’s missing from LUS’ systems is lock-in. 1) There is NO contract involved. The deal you get on day one is the only deal. Leave the moment you want with NO penality. NO programmed-in cost jump because there is no contract to hide one in. 2) There is NO linkage involved. Buy one service. Buy two. Buy three. Buy all the extras, Buy none. NONE of that has any effect on your base price for another service. One price, all the time. The price for 250 cable channels or 50 megs of symmetrical service remains the same. No linkage also means NO penalty for using one service from LUS and one from Cox or AT&T.

That’s NOT a bundle in the usual commercial sense. Which is why “bundles” is not the best way to think about the question of getting the best deal on your telecomm services. First ask which services from which providers are best for you? Make up your own “freedom package” —”your choice package.” Then add up the real costs for that “package.” My guess is that mostly that will be three services from LUS. But you can mix LUS tiers freely and tack on services from a competitor without penalty…or at least no penalty from LUS. Do the math. The real math not the fake “bundle math” the incumbents will try to stick you with.

I can pretty easily imagine customers who will decide to pony up for 50 megs of symmetrical internet, drop all phone and cable services and limp by with cell service and downloadable video. I think that’d be rare. But the point is: LUS won’t punish you by jacking up the price on your internet if you drop their phone line. Try dropping Cox’s cable and keeping the phone service. Don’t think you’ll keep the same price on phone…

The reason for the difference, and it can’t be stressed too much or too often, is that LUS’ consumer is also LUS’ owner. LUS is treating you, the customer, with some fundamental respect because, in the end, it is motivated to do best by you, the owner. The privately owned competitors have the same motivation—to do the best by its owners. But, for the private sector, acting in the best interests of its owners is NOT the same as acting in the best interests of its customers. With LUS it is. And, in the end, it is just that simple. We made the right decision on that July 16th, 2005.

So comparing Cox’s or AT&T’s offerings to LUS’ offerings is a little hard. But it’s not really apples and oranges. Maybe more like comparing oranges and grapefruit. You’ll get your vitamin C from either. But you’ll probably find one version goes down a lot more easily.

Media Roundup: LUS Fiber Announcement (Update)

All the usual local media suspects weighed in with coverage of LUS’ Fiber announcements at last night’s city-parish council meeting. If you comb through the media landscape you’ll find bits from KLFY, KATC, The Advertiser and the Advocate.

If you’ve just got time for one: read the Advocate. It’s more comprehensive and is the only one to mention the announcements of features that will truly set Lafayette apart even in the rarefied ranks of fully-fibered cities. On the free internet-over-the-TV feature for digital subscribers:

LUS Director Terry Huval said the basic residential service will also allow customers without computers to have basic Internet browsing capability through the television.

“We think it may well be the first in the world,” Huval said of the television-based Web browsing capability. “It’s for the child at home trying to do a book report and cannot access the Internet today.”

On the 100 Mbps of intranet, customer to customer, connectivity:

All customers on the LUS fiber system will be able to exchange information with other fiber customers at 100 Mbps, Huval said.

The Baton Rouge Advocate also covers pricing, tiers, the launch date, and the likely first neighborhoods to get fiber.

The Lafayette Adverstiser, and local TV station KATC and KLFY restrict their coverage to pricing and rollout details, though KATC does mention the fact that LUS bragged on being the only “100 percent fiber optic network and the only customer-owned telecommunications network” in Lafayette. There’s also a bit of video at KATC.

In a story that headlines the front page the Advertiser fleshes out the details on the residential bundles; lays out the plan for business bundles, and makes clear the places where the first customers will be served.

They’re all worth a gander and report slightly different parts of last night’s ephocal announcement. Take a look.

It’s certainly a nice Christmas present for Lafayette.

UPDATE 3:35: Terry Huval, in the best tradition of local responsivness, went down to the Advertiser site and answered questions from all comers. (Starts here.) Great stuff! It takes several pages and a lot of ground is covered. This is one of the few times that reading the comments is worthwhile—and Terry does it using his real name, a rarity in the not-so-courageous atmosphere of the Advertiser site. It’s all pretty respectful, thankfully. I suspect that this is because the denizens there are stunned by dealing with someone who 1) puts their reputation on the line by using his real name, and 2) really knows what he’s talking about. That’s the natural basis for respect.

(Try getting a response, any response, from Randall Stephenson or Patrick Esser. They’re the heads of AT&T and Cox respectively. Never heard of ’em? And they’ve never heard of you or your neighborhood, nor have any idea that there is an Advertiser or an Advertiser forum. That’s my point. You’re better off with Terry. And he plays a mean fiddle, too.)

Fiber Plans:Deployment, Tiers, Pricing, Digital Divide and More

LUS Fiber is here. Welcome to your future. That was the message as LUS director Terry Huval stood before the City-Parish Council and laid out the near-term deployment plan and the basic products that will be offered by the new community-owned network. Joey Durel, in his introduction, took visible pride in the system, saying that they had under-promised and over-delivered—something which he’s a bit paradoxically claimed was his startegy from the start. If that was the plan; they’ve met their goal. The network’s first offering of services is more than I’d have said possible or likely when we were first thinking about it. —But not more than I and others fought for as ideas about the community’s network matured. (One of the huge advantages of owning your own network is that you can make suggestions, fight for them and sometimes help open the door to new directions. Local, public ownership, frankly, is an innovation as important as any technology to LUS’ success.) It’s a world-class network that we’re building. We’ve every reason to be proud.

I’m goining to hit the highlights here but if you want to see the goods for yourself visit the LCG Auditorium channel at ustream.tv and watch the archived video there.

As always, the LUS presentation was tightly and logically structured: Huval broke the power point into news about the rollout & construction, pricing, unique features, and customer service.

Rollout & Construction
First and foremost, the January date for lighting up the first customers is holding. Just who, when, and how many remains vague but the system will launch with paying customers next month.

Fiber will rollout first at the two ends of the “phase 1” area building out from fiber huts—”hubs”— located on the grounds of the power substations at each end of the build area. The first customers will apparently be signed up in the area around the Acadiana Mall at the southwest end of the build area and those in the Northeastern segment served by the “PEC” substation will also start seeing availability. (See my Google map, or LUS’s version to get an ideaof the geography involved.)

click in to examine your neighborhood or
View Larger Map

When fiber becomes available on your street every address will get a nifty piece of mail announcing: “LUS Fiber is here. Welcome to your future” reversed out of a light blue background. Watch closely for that distinctive piece of mail. And then call.

Pricing & Tiers
The big announcement today was was the service plans and prices. The short story is that more-for-20%-less promise is being kept. And in some situations it MUCH more.

Here’s a list of the pricing bundles. In some ways it’s misleading to call it a bundle since bundle’s usually mean some complicated formula for discounting the price of the services if you buy an approved bundle. LUS’ packages won’t work like that. There will be no penalty for mixing and matching service levels like there are in the incumbent’s bundles. All the service are offered for a single straightforward discounted price. Clean and simple and easy to understand. And no attempts to entice you into spending more for service levels you don’t really want in order to get a price break for something you do want. (Why? Hint: you’re being treated with the respect accorded an owner.) So you could order the top tier internet and the cheapest Video and Phone, or NO video and phone, without penalty.

VIP (Video, Internet, & Phone, get it?)

Video: expanded basic: more than 80 channels $39.95
Internet: 10 Mbps Up and down. $28. 95
Phone with services: 15.95

VIP Silver

Video: over 250 channels incld High Def $63.31
Internet: 30 Mbps Up and down. $44. 95
Phone with a long list of services & 5 cents a minute long distance: 28.95

VIP Gold

Video: over 250 channels incld High Def plus Premium Movie suits $98.09
Internet: 50 Mbps Up and down. $57.95 (wow)
Phone with a long list of services & unlimited long distance: 43.95

More for less. —Now some will try to point to the cheapo bundles that Cox is already offering (and for whose existence you can thank the threat of competition) but those aren’t “real” prices, lock you into a set of services for a year or more that you might not want, isn’t customizeable, and is a LOT less product. How much for an internet tier to compare with LUS’ 30 or 50 meg tiers? There really is no similar product from Cox or AT&T. For value the LUS prices can’t be beat considering the number of channels or speed of the offering. But there is no truly cheap, low end offering. Cox offers a 768 kbps thing they call “high speed internet” for goodness sakes. That’s cheaper than LUS’ 13 times faster 10 meg low tier…but not, I think, much of a value. Of course, LUS really low price for internet is access free…and probably works at at least 768 Kbps—see below.

Unique Features: Digital Divide & 100 Mbps Intranet
These are the bragging points—and pretty impressive they are too…taken together I think they are truly unique to Lafayette.

LUS’ response to the Digital Divide question is to enable the internet capacities of their digital set top box. Using a limited browser a user will be able to read email and do basic web surfing on their TV. And Lafayette is going to do it For Free. There is not surer way to get folks online than to package it into their cable service. Once the rollout is complete Lafayette will inevitably become the most connected city in the nation. Technically, at least. Now helping folks use that capacity fruitfully is a whole ‘nother matter. And properly something the community shold pitch into to do. (Any takers?)

The 100 Mbps intranet has been discussed on these pages for a long time. Suffice it to say that any regular customer will have access to blinding 100 meg speed over the internal community intranet. Want to download the 6 hours of one of those interminable contensious council meeting? In HD? No problem. It will come down in a flash. Video telephony. Shuttling those huge files will become trivially easy—if only inside our net. That will encourage businesses and tech-oriented citizens to locate inside the city…which might do more to encorage “smart growth” than any suggestion I have heard to date.

Customer Service
There’ll be two customer service centers down the road. The customer service people—both in the buildings and on the streets—will be your neighbors.

Finally, I’d have to say that LUS didn’t talk about one of the greatest features of our network: the money you spend on LUS, the money that gets you more for less, will stay here in Lafayette and won’t be shipped off to some high rise in San Antonio or Atlanta.

Frankly, it’s all we asked for initally and more…it’s fiber to the home with its near-infinite expandability. It’s cheap. It will be offered to every last person and business in the area. We will own it and can do with it what we like — and both the 100 mbps intranet and the digital divide initiative are the products of local folks pushing for them and evidence that community ownership can make a huge difference right off the bat. Sure there’s more that I can hope for and fight for now. But on this day to have all the hopes that we held back in 04 realized is enough…It’s amazing. A dream realized.

Fiber Announcement at Tonight’s Council

Terry Huval will make a presentation at tonight’s city-parish council meeting. According to a council member the LUS director will lay out more details about the soon-to-be-launched system. The address will occur during the “President’s Address” segment of the agenda at the beginning of the meeting. This low-key, unannounced address will be the most comprehensive and authoritive description of the network’s products in Video, Voice, & Internet. I expect a status report on the state of the channel lineup, the extent of Video on Demand serivces, service tiers, pricing on tiers, the probability of caller ID and emergency data shown on-screen, Internet speed tiers, digital divide plans….and more.

The council is, in effect, the “board of directors” for LUS and it is appropriate enough for them to hear the proposed details first. The nice thing is that we, the public “stockholders,” get to listen in.

At 5:30…

To Attend In Person:
@ 705 W. University Avenue, Ted A. Ardoin City-Parish Council Auditorium (City Hall)

To Attend via Cable TV:

@ AOC Channel 16
Asychronously rebroadcast:
Wednesday at 5:30 p.m.
Saturday at 1:00 p.m.

To Attend via the Internet:
@ http://www.ustream.tv/channel/lcg-council-auditorium
And Asynchronously, anytime
@ http://www.ustream.tv/channel/lcg-council-auditorium

Calling All Tech Types: A Salon

Lafayette CIO Keith Thibodeaux is starting up a Salon tomorrow, Tuesday the 23rd, and you’re invited. The Particulars:

Time: 5:00 – 6:30pm.
Where: City Hall
Purpose: Ideas
Description: The topic of the night will be “the next generation of application programming.” There will be a very small (5 min) opening presentation, then unstructured social discussion for the remainder of the time.
Extras: Light refreshments will be provided. (RSVP requested so he can get that part right) There’ll be a video feed from the Council Chambers so that fiberistas can move down to chamber when Huval comes on.

Ok, so what’s a Salon? (No not a saloon. That’s something else entirely.) It’s a place where folks go to exchange ideas..it goes back to the Enlightenment; the history is pretty rich and you can get a sense of it from wikipedia. But Keith is inspired directly by Alexander Graham Bell (the phone Bell; rember BellSouth?) who had a wing built onto his Washington mansion to accomodate Salons which were, by all accounts (search “Wednesday evenings,”) amazing gatherings.

It’s a great idea for Lafayette. We need to talk more. There are a lot of great ideas out there and they need to be talked about. Ideas that don’t live on in others are dead… With the new network about to be launched there will be plenty of room to play. It’s time to go public with your ideas. Talk to Keith. Listen. Talk

“Fiber taking shape”

The Advertiser runs up the second local story anticipating the LUS Fiber launch this morning. Like the Independent story it unfortunately leads with what isn’t known. What’s far more interesting is what is… Still, it’s hard to write a story about the product launch when there is so little to report about the product’s standard commercial details. As the story reports:

…there’s been virtually no marketing or promotions surrounding the project, and officials have been quiet on details such as the channel lineup and what kinds of pricing packages will be offered. Also unknown is exactly when in January the system will be unveiled.

Parts of the article repeats things we’ve know but that are nice to see repeated: The January launch is still on. There will be “mulit-hundred” channels—with lots of HD. On Demand and Digital Video Recording (DVR) service. There will be caller ID on screen. And internet capacity will be huge. (Though, in an obvious editing error the 10 meg minimum low-end package gets presented as the maximum offering. That’s simply a mistake on the part of the Advertiser.) We’ll have 100 megs of intranet.

With the Advertiser reportw a few more interesting details leak out. About the set top box:

A small box also will be available in which customers who do not have regular online access will be able to access some parts of the Internet through their television. Huval said some features, such as videos, may not be available, but the goal is to bring the Internet into homes that otherwise might not have it without those customers having to pay additional fees.

That makes it sound as though 1) Any telecom subscriber will be able to get a box that enables limited Internet on the TV and 2) that it will be available without “additional fees.” That sounds good!

It also looks like they are contemplating some sort of community portal:

The televisions also could have several menus for users to choose from, with some featuring community news and announcements.

Terry Huval (LUS head) also addresses the reasons why local denizens would switch saying:

“Our pricing might be more attractive to them,” he said, adding that the costs are expected to be an average of 20 percent less than current providers’ standard rates. “The quality of the product they’re going to get is going to be superior. And it’s a local operation, tailored for Lafayette. We look at what our community needs. This system is owned by the citizens of Lafayette.”

Price, quality & hometown pride. I’m not sure what other reasons there can be…. I’m looking forward to signing up when it becomes available in my section of the first build.

Anecdotal: Fiber in the Lunchhouse

Anecdotally Interesting…

Layne and I walked down to the Creole Lunch House for lunch yesterday after the rush and saw a crew at work burying some fiber on 12th street due to overcrowded poles. (Nice guys) When we went in we mentioned the fiber to Merline and the ensuing conversation between the three of us and some lingering customers surprised and heartened me.

Long story short: People off the street, with no particular expertise, understood some crucial details about a very technical fiber build our community is engaged in and understood the value of having technical assets in their daily lives.

Some details: Before the mail delivery lady went back out to her truck she chimed into the conversation with accurate info about a schedule for inspection and replacement of “telephone poles” and her friend let me know that even though they were replacing poles in Breaux Bridge that fiber wasn’t going to be deployed there. The discussion quickly morphed into an enthusiastic talk about the niece who got a “30 dollar an hour!” job because she “knew the computer” and another whose 17 thousand dollar raise (to around 60) was acclaimed a general wonder and attributed to computer skills. Getting adopted by this niece was jokingly made the task of the afternoon. More seriously, there was a general agreement that they all needed to learn “the computer.”

The point being that far from technically sophisticated people on the street are more knowledgeable than you’d think and recognize the value of the new network. They’d like to take advantage of the emerging resources in ways that make sense in their lives. That’s the sort of understanding that is the necessary foundation for all those dreams some of us have about building some new “city on the hill” here in Lafayette.

Like I said, I was heartened.

(Oh yeah: If you’ve never made it to Miss Merline’s you really oughta. The stuffed bread in that pic is the hot version…that’s the one I’d start with; the plate lunches are a killer too…Layne had the fried pork chop with greens.)