LUS Fiber at the State of the Cty-Parish

Archived Broadcast by Ustream.TV
Fiber figured prominently in Mayor-president Joey Durel’s state of the City-Parish address. (All those hyphens have to do with our peculiar consolidated form of government, something which got direct attention in the speech when Durel shared his belief that we’d never have true consolodation.) While political manuvering and recriminations about the failure of the sales tax proposal occupied much of the presenation, friends of fiber had their highlight reel.

The launch of LUS Fiber in early February has to be the signature success of the Durel administration. It was a daring move on Durel’s part to so aggressively develop the fiber initiative in his first months and to unfailingly support it in the face of oft ugly opposition from two of the nation’s largest and most politically powerful monopolies. That courage was tested locally as well; while the community from left to right overwhelming swung into support, the original power base of the City-Parish’s first republican Mayor-president—the monied elite that promoted his candidacy and helped put him in office—was at best tepid and never came through with promised support. Durel’s commitment never wavered and he has earned the credit that he began to claim in this speech. He’s already reaped the political benefits: his reelection without opposition could be attributed to the fact of his high-profile success in this venture, and to the support he built among those who initially thought he’d be a typical Chamber of Commerce politician. By confounding expectations he both won new constituiencies and freed himself from old obligations. Durel is now, without doubt, both independent and the reigning political power in parish. (For an interesting view into his character I’d recommend reading this week’s cover story on Dee Stanley in the Independent. His relationship with his chief luetenant is revealing. Don’t miss, as well, the fact that he unflinchingly backed Tery Huval’s fiber project even though, as the story reveals, Huval had cut an ad in support of his opponent. Character.)

But on to the story of the speech: Both the Advertiser and the Advocate covered the speech. The Advertiser also has its own video and you can get the LCG version off UStream. (The Advertiser’s looks to be of higher resolution but autoplays.) AOC ran it live through convoluted technological tricks and you should be able to find it in rerun there.

The fiberlicious aspects:

It’s Neat:
Via the Advocate:

The fiber system, which went on-line this month, offers residential Internet service up to 50 Mbps, a speed available in few areas of the country and generally costing more than twice as much as in Lafayette.

Connection speeds from customer to customer on the fiber system within Lafayette will be at 100 Mbps.

Via the Advertiser:

Durel also showed a snapshot of what LUS Fiber television customers will see when they turn on their sets. Viewers will be able to see a menu with local and national news, weather, public events and announcements, as well as the current agendas for City-Parish Council and Lafayette Parish School Board meetings.

We’ve Been Bragging on it:
Via the Advocate, Durel said:

“Last March I testified before Congress about our fiber,” Durel said. “I was able to look two dozen congressman in the eye and say that what we are going to have in Lafayette they wouldn’t have 20 or 25 years from now. That’s how far ahead of the curve that I think Lafayette is.”

Others have noticed:
Via the Advertiser

Durel said that LUS Fiber, which launched earlier this month in some parts of the city, has been a major factor in Lafayette’s high rankings on several national lists. In the past year alone, different publications have named Lafayette one of the top 10 cities for the creative class, one of the top 10 innovative markets, one of the top 50 best places to work and play and the No. 1 city in America for new employment, among other recognitions.”What makes many of these recognitions exciting to me is that several mention our Fiber to the Premises initiative,” Durel said. “I don’t think we would have received some of them had we not pursued it. Last March I testified before Congress about our fiber. I was able to look two dozen congressmen in the eye and say that what we are going to have in Lafayette, they wouldn’t have 20 or 25 years from now. That’s how far ahead of the curve I think we are.”

Getting to this point required a political effort and Durel was at the head of that teamwork. He helped make it sure that the inevitable fiber network that will be built in Lafayette will be ours. And make no mistake: The most important feature of our network is that it is our network—not speed, not cheaper fees, not channel lineups, not bragging rights, not jobs, or development: the fact that it’s ours and we can do with it as we think best is by far its most important feature. It is independence that we won; that first and foremost.

My Ordering LUS Fiber Service

When my blue fiber announcement came in the mail I immediately rang up the new LUS call center to sign up and lay claim to an installation date. A comfortingly local accent answered the phone, was overwhelmingly solicitous and had clearly been trained to explain what he was doing and why in patient detail. I’m the sort that likes understanding every little bit so I enjoyed the experience. YMMV. 🙂

The order didn’t go overwhelmingly smoothly. They’ve just started up the ordering process, and clearly have in place an elaborate computer database setup to methodically walk through the necesarily complex details involved complex services—getting you registered, address, identity validation, phone numbers, porting, 911 service, email address, passwords, confirming question (like mother’s maiden name), multiple channel packages, and other seemingly endless bits and pieces. I managed to find oddnesses in the software. (My street name has a St. before it & a St. after & my name has a St. before…that software can be confused by such I know from long, unhappy experience with university databases–my guess is that the software designer didn’t live in South Louisiana…)

I didn’t buy a simple bundled package, but broke it up into high end internet, a middling channel package, and a minimal landline phone order. The folks on the other line handled all that quite easily and when you order you should know that you can unbundle almost anything…including buying phone services a la carte. Just ask. One thing I forgot to ask about in my eagerness was static IP addresses–a beta tester told me that he’s got one and that it is supposed to cost $5.00 a month. If you want such just ask. My experience was that the folks on the other end of the line either actually know all the details or when they are uncertain just ask…a good norm in a service center.

At the end of the afternoon after a couple of callbacks all was done, and I was and remain an exceedingly happy man. (Who now has to take that Cat 6 out of his trunk and actually finish rewiring the house.)

For those who’ve asked for the nitty-gritty details…remember you did ask…here is the long version:

The Process:

  1. You get a nifty sheet folded to make it into a two page (4 page front and back) promotional brochure. The brochure comes folded in half to make a mailer the size of a large postcard. It’s sealed with tape and tucked inside you’ll find two informational sheets with all the prices and the most current channel lineup.
  2. You eagerly tear it open
  3. Get with your significant other/s and decide on what you want
  4. Call the number on the flyer (99-Fiber)
  5. Transverse the phone tree to get to hold of one of those new LUS service reps. Punch 1 and then 1 again… I got a very nice guy with a distinctly local accent who was both methodical and very solicitous.
  6. They go through a process to verify that you really are in the area that is currently open for service. This verification apparently is separated from the sign-up process so they ask for a few things a second time later on. (But my guy told me he was going to be asking again and apologized in anticipation. I was in no mood to worry about such.)
  7. Once you are confirmed as a potential location they want to know who you are. You get to verify your identity, in my case by SSN, and get an identity in their system. I provided a password and the answer to a standard security question.
  8. Then you get to give your address and billing address. That should be easy. But in my case having a “St.” in front of the street name caused problems. We eventually hit on a series of letters that the database acknowledged existed. (Saint needs to be spelled out.)
  9. Part of confirming your address is that you need to have one that the 911 system acknowledges. So the address needs to go in and be accepted in that database. We wrestled with that a bit too…as it turns out that field doesn’t like the other “St.” —the one that denotes “Street.” (That one needs to be left off entirely.) Coming out of that series of retries we got a “unexpected error” error. —Another of those ever so informative computer messages. He couldn’t get unhung and asked to call back.
  10. He got unhung and called back. We managed to duplicate the error. Great for bug tracking. Frustrating to my service guy. He let me go again.
  11. My callback was from a nice, brisk, and apologetic woman who apparently was the supervisor. Anyone who has hung on technical support lines for hours recognizes that I’d had a level upgrade… She muscled past the buggy screens and finalized my setup.
  12. At that point I “just” had to specify my order. That was complex. Even the most minimal land line has to go through a lot to port a number and set up all the required 911 details. I asked a lot of questions (being who I am) about service details on the internet side, got the fancy 50 meg symmetric package, and a digital DVR box with one premium channel…That involved a lot of talk.
  13. She set me up on the spot for an inside install and let me know that the outside installer would be coming but would ring us up first.
  14. She apologized for everything one more time, checked my particulars and let me go. Done!

It’s a lot to get hooked up with, validation details, all those services, myriad supporting details, and to setting up two appointments all at one blow. Especially since I was so eager. But my experience with folks on the other end were that they were methodical with and unfailingly helpful toward even for an over-eager beaver like myself.

I eagerly await.

The Fiber Availability Mailer

I know if I were out there I’d want details…so I scanned the mailer I got and am posting them below. What you see are index pics. Click on them to get the absurdly large images that I made for archival purposes.

Here’s how the experience went for me: My wife brought in the mail, looked up smiling and said: “There’s something here I think you’ll want.” One look told me she was right. (Layne’s always right.)

What I got was a slim glossy mailer taped up on three sides; right there on the front it said: “Service is now available to you.”

And on the back “LUS Fiber is here. Welcome to YOUR Future.”

I slit it open with my trusty, rusty pocket knife and it unfolded to an 81/2 by 11 brochure. The cover was pretty dramatic but what caught my eye was the phrase “Waiting was the hard part.” My sentiments exactly.

Setting aside the two black and white sheets of 12 point type found inside I found a double truck with a note from Terry Huval on the left hand page touting the technical quality and hometown services of the new network.

The right hand page laid out the advantages of the fiber network and gave five reasons to switch. Can’t say as I paid much attention at first; I knew I was going to buy into the system. But they seem pretty sensible to me as I go back over it.

I wanted to sign up as soon as possible (natch) and scanned for that number Huval has been telling us we should only call after we get the notice in the mail. And there it was: 99-Fiber. My wife and I quickly poured over the details; we’d thought about what we wanted before; we were not going with one of the packages but wanted to get the various pieces at different levels and since we wouldn’t be penalized for doing so by LUS it was easy to do without a lot of complex calculation or second guessing. We talked briefly and confirmed our choices with each other quickly. (Yes, she was ok with it if I indulged in the 50 megs symmetrical…you’ve heard smiles described as indulgent? Like that.) Here’s what we looked at. Don’t take it as current necessarily. As I understand it channels are still being added daily. But as an historical artifact…here you go:

Fiber Availability Mailer Appears!!

I’m thrilled to announce that at least one person has gotten his fiber announcement delivered through snail mail: ME!

Thrilled is not really the word. 🙂

Look for the distinctive blue (Cyan, or pretty near) that dominates.

After you cut through the tape that holds it closed it’ll unfold into a glossy brochure with two pages of inserts detailing the services and pricing offered.

At right are what mine looked like when I threw them down on the dining table to take these pics. Click on them to get a larger version.

The cover turns out to be the “newsflyer” I fell across via Google back in January…

WBS: “Fiber optics backers say expect some obstacles”

“What’s Being Said Dept.”

The local paper in Salisbury, North Carolina published an article today that featured the head of Lafayette’s utilities, Terry Huval. Of interest to the folks in Salisbury was an overview of the difficulties and rewards inherent in building a community-owned fiber-optic network. Huval and representatives from Dalton, Georgia’s successful fiber optic network, along with the CEO of the fiber engineering firm involved in both builds, laid out the case for publicly-owned fiber; assured the citizens of Salisbury that they could expect opposition from the incumbents; and pointed to Lafayette’s success in attracting new jobs and Dalton’s 70% penetration as proof of that the concept could work.

As intriguing as such a presentation must be, more interesting to those of us from Lafayette is the odd sensation of looking at ourselves in the mirror that such presentations provide and realizing that that is how we look to others. Some tidbits to whet your interest:

Huval detailed efforts by the private cable providers to have special state legislation passed against Lafayette’s initiative and several costly lawsuits aimed at stopping the project.

“We spent $3.5 million with nothing to show for it,” Huval said of legal defenses.

But Lafayette officials figured they saved cable subscribers $4 million in deferred rate hikes during the court fights, he said.


Lafayette already has landed a Canadian call center, which employs 600, because the company was attracted by the fiber-to-the-home venture. Other companies are on the horizon, Huval said, waiting for more of the system to be installed.

He predicted the high-tech opportunities will bring more of Lafayette’s college kids back home.


Huval, Cope and Salter all said a fiber optic system is the telecom infrastructure of the future, even if wireless improves in capacity and becomes more reliable. The capacity, speed and dependability of wireless will never approach the fiber broadband, they said.

Salter predicted wireless will keep growing in use but not for the wholesale application of bandwidths.

Huval described wireless as “too finicky,” and too often affected by weather. Making it subscriber-based would be a bad idea, he added.

An interesting story, and well written.

Sharing The Wealth

Terry Huval is in Salisbury, North Carolina today sharing what he has learned with the city council there. The Salisbury Post has the story:

Part of Salisbury City Council’s annual retreat Thursday and Friday will concentrate on what the future might hold in the fiber-optic cable business.

As part of its schedule Friday, council will have a panel discussion from 9:45 to 11 a.m. on “Inventing a Brighter Future with Fiber.”

Guest panelists will be Terry Huval, director of utilities for Lafayette, La.; James Salter, chief strategy officer with Atlantic Engineering Group; and Don Cope, president and chief executive officer of Dalton (Ga.) Utilities.

Huval later will be guest speaker at Friday’s luncheon at City Hall. His topic will be “Rolling Out Fiber to the Home; Adopting a Winning Strategy for Your Community.”

Salisbury is hearing the voice of experience at its retreat. Lafayette just launched the nation’s largest fiber project. Atlantic Engineering did the engineering work for LUS (as well as many other municipal projects—especially those in the South). Dalton is one of the oldest (and most successful) municipal FTTH projects.

Salisbury is well down the road toward initiating its own FTTH project and will be blazing a path of its own: Salisbury does not have a municipal power utility, an advantage that other cities engaged in such projects have had. It has had to negotiate a pole attachment agreement with the local power company and will have to build up an entirely new utility. The challenges don’t end there: it is also setting up to pursue a public bond offering in these difficult times. They sound determined in North Carolina.

Man To Watch: Skrmetta & Pay To Play Politics in LA

Put Public Service Commissioner Eric Skrmetta on your guys to watch closely list—he apparently thinks there’s nothing wrong with letting the companies you regulate help pay for your office and then holding a white tie soiree to retire the debt you run up winning a public office that is supposed to regulate them. All citizens should feel obliged to watch this guy but the charge is especially incumbent upon those of us here in Lafayette who now own a piece of one of those companies the PSC regulates.

Back in the old days, before AT&T (née BellSouth) drafted up the (un)Fair Competition Act a publicly-owned and operated company like LUS was not placed under the the thumb of the guys over in Baton Rouge. In fact the constitution appeared to explicitly forbid it. The assumption back then was that local people didn’t need any help from the state to do right by themselves. The old Idea behind regulation, especially the regulation of what are essentially utilities, was that people who had to rely on large for-profit monopolies to provide services needed the protection of at least a state level protector. It’s been a while since it was obvious to outside observers that the regulators did much to control the behavior of companies they regulated; instead it seems that the regulators too often run the show behind the scene and use the state to raise rates, “deregulate” their monopolies, or keep down any incipient competition.

It’s the latter that Lafayette partisans need to worry about: the PSC is notoriously a creature of the phone company and AT&T is hard at work making sure that doesn’t change. LUS, as the only company regulated under the (un)Fair Act, is sure to be the target of rules rigged up by AT&T. And Skrmetta is gonna have some big time debts to pay off.

According to New Orlean’s City Business the newly elected Republican was the only candidate running in that race that accepted campaign money from the industries he was elected to regulate.

Now that he’s actually elected he is apparently an even better investment. Bill Oliver, president of AT&T Louisiana makes no bones about his sponsoring a $1000 dollar a head soiree to help pay off campaign debts. ($5, 000 dollars for corporate sponsorship) Sez Oliver:

“He’s a new commissioner, he’s got a serious amount of debt and my intent is to help hold an event that would eliminate his debt,” Oliver said. “It’s legal and I’m following the guidelines of state laws.”


Oliver said he doesn’t think fundraisers such as his compromise relationships because they are legal. He said if citizens feel the law should be changed, they should approach the Legislature.

Silly me, here I thought that there was a whole category of things that were legal but flat out wrong. Legal or not the real question should be whether it is the right thing to do to either offer to pay of the personal debt of a man who regulates you (or to accept money from a corporation you are morally obligated to regulate).

Good government types think it stinks; PAR, a pro-business organization generally —indeed Oliver sits on the board—has advocated and continues to advocate a law to make such shenanigans illegal since it is apparent that appealing to honor and a sense of ethics is a waste of effort.

Under heavy pressure from public opinion and those obnoxious editorial writers who think that accepting favors from those you regulate is, uh, questionable the PSC recently wrote rules forbidding its members from accepting lunch favors from those they regulate. AT&T was exhibit A spending nearly 2,000 dollars on lunch for PSC members and staffers in ’08. Maybe, just maybe, lunch is less serious issue than helping pay to gain the office itself….you’d think. And they talk about pay to play in Illinois.

At any rate: watch this guy. Skrmetta, Eric Skremetta. He’s made it clear that he won’t do the right thing unless he’s closely watched. And maybe not even then. Congrats and hearty at-a-boy to City Business who shows that they have retained some sense of what justifies papers and journalism: educating the public. Theirs is a truly incisive article.

Lagniappe: In the category of guys to watch: don’t forget Jindal’s legislative liason: Former BellSouth head lobbyist Tommy Williams. He headed up the Gov’s ethics reform. (Convincingly putting to rest the rumor that it had anything to do with stemming the corporate side of corrruption.) He was a VP at BellSouth…and had a history with Lafayette and LUS’ fiber project that included a role at the PSC you might want to recall.

Update-2/11/09: Mike took a look at the ethics reports and says that AT&T and AT&T’s pac contibuted $15,000 dollars to the campaign before the “soiree.” That soiree was apparently meant to retire a $350,000 dollar personal loan that Skrmetta made to his own campaign. All this brings up pretty significant questions about a system in which only the wealthy can afford to run for public office but can, if they see no ethical conflicts, rely on those whose livelihoods they influence, to “generously” retire the large personal debts they acquire running for office. I cannot believe that anyone, including AT&T and Eric Skrmetta, really thinks there is no quid pro qou, no implicit pay to play in such a scenerio.

Watch these guys.

“Stay Tuned”

The Independent came out today and in it is a story on LUS Fiber—the launch, the short delay, and (very little on) the pace of the rollout. There’s info there that I’ve not seen elsewhere; evidence that the reporter probably actually called up and asked some of the more obvious questions—and found the limits of what LUS is currently willing to say.

On immediate service:

This week, it is sending out mailers to a select number of Lafayette residents eligible to begin receiving service. Connecting the service will take approximately two weeks from the time an eligible resident calls in to subscribe. Billing will begin March 1. LUS Director Terry Huval will not say how many mailers will be going out through the week, or how many people LUS is ready to begin providing service to.

On longer-term rollout plans:

As far as a timeline for its rollout, LUS is sticking to its initial projections. Last year, LUS released a build-out map breaking the city down into four rollout phases. Huval did say that all residents in Phase I will likely be able to receive service by the end of this year. Beyond that, he says only that LUS expects to have offered the service to everyone within the city limits by the first quarter of 2011. “That’s the objective we’ve set for ourselves.”

The emphasis on quality appears to partially explain both the delay and the slow rollout:

For those customers who do receive service, Huval says he expects they will immediately notice a difference in quality. “The quality of our system is going to be pristine by all standards,” he says. With an all-fiber network, he contends customers should never experience the kind of TV picture pixelation or delay that sometimes occurs when cable providers push their bandwidth to the limit. “The picture quality even on standard definition is significantly superior to what I have seen on standard definition on other providers,” Huval says. “In fact, in some cases, our standard definition doesn’t look too much different than what you would see on high definition. It really has a difference.”

Huval adds LUS’ controlled rollout is due in part to its commitment to quality service. “This is just the beginning,” he says. “We’re hopeful that our customers will be pleased with our customer service, with our constistency, with our reliability.

There’s also some good, meaty stuff on the struggles to get the extensive cable channel lineup complete—and a bit about the crucial National Cable Television Cooperative (a coop of small independents that are federally chartered and protected) that has recently re-opened membership. As I understand it, there is also a coop for small telecos…and with LUS an official CLEC, a phone company, they might be in the unique situation to pick and choose between different coop schedules and their own independently negotiated contracts. And it’s not just about money—the conditions of use, which could be very important on LUS’ very flexible system—would also be in play. Complex stuff indeed.

Selling Point

Got an email day before yesterday from a guy who was determined to find a rent house in a newly fibered district NOW. I know how he feels but couldn’t much help. —But we should start seeing news of the first “You’ve got Fiber!” mailers soon but I don’t know where the first batch went. (Anyone got their blue mailers announcing service? Let us know in the comments!)

But that interest in a rent house, any rent house, just as long as it was on a street with the new fiber piqued both of the cells in my real estate brain and when I went a-googleing I found the following ad for a house in Broadmoor. (My emphasis.)

Neutral colors throughout. Dramatic floorplan offers living, dining, and kitchen all open to each other. Elevated ceilings, corner fireplace, and stained concrete floors offer lots of charm to this interior. Patio access from master suite- 2 closets in master bath with a beautifully bright skylight … great for busy people. Garage and patio area make the most of this backyard … Just waiting for a gardeners touch. Looks 2-story, but really 1-story plan. No-thru street makes for a very quiet location. LUS installing fiber in the subdivision. Seller can help with buyers closing costs.

It’s a selling point already…..

“Residents consider fiber”

The Sunday Advertiser runs a person-in-the-street story on fiber, talking to a few folks about their decision-making process. (In so far as they’ve formulated one. I doubt that most of us have.) Reported reactions range roughly from “I need to know more.” to “I can’t wait.”

There’s no doubt for me, of course. I’m thinking more like Dr. Feinburg:

…who lives along Twin Oaks Boulevard, said he is eager to sign up for LUS Fiber and is particularly interested in using its Internet service. Officials have said that the almost-unlimited amount of bandwidth and speeds will mean a faster Internet for LUS customers.

“I’m doing more than thinking about it,” Feinberg said. “I think it’s progressive and forward-thinking for our city.”

Sure there’ll start-up glitches. I’m looking forward to grousing about them. It’s all part of being able to brag later that I signed on first chance I got. In the end we’ll get much better service and the chance to use our money to develop resources in our city instead of lining the pockets of somebody in Atlanta or Dallas.