Cox: Costs too high for high-speed service

Our neighbors in Franklin are being told that it’d be too expensive for Cox or AT&T to serve them all with real broadband. It’s not that the incumbents wouldn’t earn money…they just wouldn’t earn it as easily or as quickly as they want.

A story in the Advocate shows that the nub of the matter is well-understood by Franklin’s Councilmen:

“I think everyone should have it and you all should bend a little, especially if you will be making a profit in 10 years,” Foulcard said.

Councilman Logan Fromenthal argued there are many areas of the parish where Cox is making a good profit.

What Foulcard and Fromenthal have in mind is treating telecommunications as a utility in the same manner that your residential telephone service was understood in years: the company that was granted the right to use our public right of ways for private profit was supposed to serve everyone (not just the low-hanging fruit) and it was well-understood that they weren’t supposed to be making the same high rate of profit that was available to businesses that weren’t dependent upon getting favored use of public resources.

The councilmen are right: That is the way it should be.

Unfortunately, the federal government long ago exempted the telephone companies from any local control and our state legislators have spent the last few years passing a series of bills that transfer most of the power to say how local rights of way are used up to the state level and put up barriers to the local communities that own and maintain the land providing these services themselves. The consequence is that communities like Franklin can’t easily do much more than complain and ask politely.

There is an alternative and Lafayette has shown the way. Do it yourself. Build a world class fiber-optic network yourself. Don’t wait for someone else to do it for you. Yes, it would be costly, but yes, it could pay for itself in a perfectly doable period of time if it didn’t have to pay for itself in a short 2-4 year period as the private companies demand.

There are possibilities out there besides “asking politely.”

Apply for some of the federal broadband stimulus money from RUS (the rural utilies service). Look to Google’s recent offer to supply 1 gig of broadband to up to 500,000 people and make your case. Or just make up your mind to do it yourself.

You do have one advantage in making such an effort: Lafayette. Lafayette just up the road has its own publicly-owned state of the art fiber optic network with a brand new head-end that is the technical heart of the system. If St. Mary were to set up their own network they could farm the head-end work out to LUS and avoid the problems associated with building and maintaining that highly technical facility. And I’d bet that an intergovernmental agreement there would be a lot cheaper than any private alternative. (LUS is already a utility, it doesn’t have to make its money back fast. But would surely welcome any additional revenue.) There is already fiber running down the railroad track between the two cities.

Just light it up.

Lagniappe: A lot of people in Lafayette think that owning its own utilities was the key to Lafayette becoming Acadiana’s “hub city.” Awareness of that history was one good reason the community supported extending the idea to LUS Fiber. Ownership made sure that modern electricity and clean water was reliably available when that was what made a city “modern” and livable. Owning those facilities meant that the city was not dependent on any outside force to provide the necessities and attract new citizens and businesses. And it meant that all those dollars of profit stayed and circulated in the city. There was a day when both New Iberia and Opelousas were bigger and more important than Lafayette…but those days passed. Any community that wants grow and prosper needs to own its own local resources. Owning your own telecom utility is today’s equivalent of electricity. Now is the moment.

LUS/Lafayette to apply for more stimulus funds

LUS received permission from the City-Parish Council to apply for “BTOP” stimulus funding in a special meeting held after Wednesday’s Council session. You can take a gander at the meeting minutes or view it on at UStream online (@ 1:54)

The Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) is part of the ongoing federal recovery stimulus funding. BTOP provides grants to fund broadband infrastructure, public computer centers, and sustainable broadband adoption projects. LUS won’t need to apply for infrastructure—that’s something we’ve already done for ourselves—so the focus of Lafayette’s grant application will likely be in the area of community computing centers and sustainable broadband.

This new application follows the success of LUS’ application in the first round of stimulus funding for which it received $11,630,000 dollars to build a smart grid addition to its electrical and water departments. An attempt to add a computer center component to that earlier application was dropped; reportedly because there wasn’t enough time to get it together and because there was trouble finding community institutions that could promise to sustain the new centers once the initial grant funding ran out.

The new effort, according to Terry Huval, LUS director, looks for locations already available within the Lafayette Consolidated Government such as those already available at library locations in public centers and space within public housing authority sites. It will also look at providing computers and network access to at-risk youth in underserved areas of the city. (Grant guidance for both computer centers and sustainability grants can be found online for those interested in thinking about the possibilities.)

During the brief council meeting at which the enabling ordinance was passed Councilman Theriot raised the question of the matching funds that the community would have to provide should this grant be won. Huval said that the grant was being designed so that the 20% match would be achieved by LUS’ in-kind donations of bandwidth and connectivity. In discussion Councilman Bertrand and Huval raised the point that the city’s investment in its fiber to the home network could be used to leverage federal money to help us “do some good things for our community.”

Doing this right could help fulfill the promise that public ownership of the network could be used to help close the digital divide in Lafayette.

“LUS: Fiber on right track”

If you follow Lafayette’s LUS Fiber but don’t get the Baton Rouge Advocate you’ll want to check out Richard Burgess’ latest story, “LUS: Fiber on right track.” The heart of the story is found in the first paragraph:

Lafayette’s publicly owned fiber-optic based Internet, television and telephone service appears to be moving toward sound financial footing a year after its launch.

and the kicker:

Huval said this week that LUS Fiber should easily achieve the 23 percent market penetration needed to break even.

That’s the story and it should be understood as a huge and exciting one. LUS Fiber is on track to making its financial nut. The bottom line in the story of the new utility division is no more complicated than getting the take rate needed for success.

What’s nice about this story is the careful attention to the right detail. The first thing the citizens of Lafayette need to know about their new utility is whether or not it will pay for itself. This story makes it clear that as of right now it is on the expected path towards that goal. (At a moment when the network is not yet completed.) That path includes large upfront investments in expensive infrastructure that we have always understood would be paid out over the 25 year life of the bond issue.

LUS Fiber should not be “making” money in its first years. In fact the presence of a “profit” in the early years would be a terrible sign since it would indicate that LUS is not taking on the very heavy expenses of customer installations that raise its take rate and result in income which leads to the eventual timely retirement of the bond issue. Stories that lead with the “expenses” and “loses” in these first years are being sensational and hoping for no more than an excited readership. But worse than sensationalism they are actively misleading their readers about what is important about this developing public resource. Burgess’ story does not to succumb to this temptation and so it is not an “exciting” read — unless you understand the basic dynamics of the situation. I’ve argued (repeatedly) in these pages that the first duty of a news story is educational. Kudos to the Advocate on this one.

Click through to the report; there’s more interesting and encouraging tidbits about things like the higher than expected proportion of those taking all three services. It is a good solid read.

Regional Fiber UltraBroadband Network in Lousiana?

They’re beating the drum in Baton Rouge on Google’s FTTH (fiber to the home) project. A facebook page, Bring Google Fiber to Baton Rouge,” was launched almost immediately and quickly became the leading Facebook page devoted to the topic. The page reports meetings within the city leadership. Baton Rouge is enthused.

Lafayette’s cadre of pro-fiber partisans are urged to support Baton Rouge’s effort. Join the facebook page and voice your support.

A fibered-up Baton Rouge would create a regional ultra broadband fiber to the home corridor stretching from Gonzalez through Baton Rouge to Lafayette. My back of the napkin calculations using year 2000 census data shows that network would pass around 419,000 people. That would just about double the bang-for-the-buck that Google would receive for fibering up Baton Rouge alone.

It may well be that Baton Rouge’s strongest argument for Google to invest there will be to leverage the spirit already shown by its neighbors.

The number of people effected is no small issue. As Google is undoubtedly aware, the major stumbling block to developing really big pipes here in the US is that building out little pockets here and there do not provide the critical mass of users that would prod application developers and service provider to provide apps and services that make full use of the available bandwidth. If 90% of your audience is limited to 6 megs or less you develop and plan for—maybe—10 megs. Of download. Upload speeds are a fraction of download in most of the country. Everyone knows we want big broadband and symmetrical up and download speeds eventually but we’re caught in a chicken and egg situation and no one wants to go first. Google is playing on this national stage and hopes that dropping half a million people into the pool of those with really big broadband will: First, drive the incumbents to try and match their efforts, particularly if Google can prove that it is not nearly as expensive or daunting a task as the incumbents claim. Secondly Google hopes that by jump starting a market of a half million (and if they have calculated well another 1 or 2 million more to that in incumbent responses) they will have created a tipping point in the development of truly high-speed, low latency, big pipe applications. That would be a GREAT thing for leading-edge communities like Lafayette.

But its not just the number of people effected—it is the density as well. One of the things we know from studies of new tech adoption in the realm of communications is that it is strongly subject to local network effects. Take telephone service. If you are the only subscriber it really is pretty much worthless. The more people take the service the more valuable it becomes. If you can count on everyone having it you can start organizing everyday activities around it and integrating it fully into your social life. That is what Google wants to have happen on its new fiber. Network effects are most powerful within a city or region. Most telephone calls are local and most of the remaining are regional. By ensuring that an entire region, approaching 500,000 people in that area alone, is fully-fibered Google can have the greatest hope of seeding a game-changing demonstration project. (By the way: my prediction is that one of the first high-bandwidth apps to come out of the famous “google labs” complex will be HD video telephony and conferencing for just these reasons. Google Voice HD anyone?)

And wait, wait, there’s more! 🙂

As Lagniappe Google gets to watch 2 distinctly different FTTH providers closely interact with one of its big pipes project. Lafayette is a utility—a municipal FTTH provider. EATel is a classic rural telephone company. Both are offering some of the highest speeds over FTTH in their categories. How do the 3 differing models interact? What form really drives adoption the fastest?

Google’s 1 gig, low-latency pipes will, I believe, drive the development of amazing new gaming, cloud, and communications applications. They could get an awful lot of additional data by building in Baton Rouge and partnering up with EATEL and LUS.

Wi-Fi, Buses, and Student Productivity

If you’ve got kids (or 6 grandkids) in school these days the following will catch your eye:

Wi-Fi access has transformed what was often a boisterous bus ride into a rolling study hall, and behavioral problems have virtually disappeared.

The story is from the New York Times and it details the tale of a school district in Arizona turned long bus rides into a productive “study hall.” The problem with school bus rides, as any student or parent will tell you, is that there is absolutely nothing useful one can do…and with nothing useful available the next alternative is things you do when bored—like aggravate your fellow students.

…stir-crazy teenagers break the monotony by teasing, texting, flirting, shouting, climbing (over seats) and sometimes punching (seats or seatmates).

But on this chilly morning, as bus No. 92 rolls down a mountain highway just before dawn, high school students are quiet, typing on laptops.

The good idea came, for a wonder, from a group of district administrators that had to make regular rides into the capital city over an hour away (sound familiar anyone?) and would car pool so that the riders in the car could use their laptops and cell cards to get something done during the two hours that the transit took out of their day. A bulb went off when one of them saw an ad for a “mobile hotspot” that paired cellular wireless to a wifi access point. So for the $200 dollar cost of the wifi router plus the 60 buck cellular subscription you had a rolling study hall.

This would be a great idea for any district. My guess is that eternally abused bus drivers would die for a solution like this. The problem is that it costs money. Maybe not a lot for one bus…but real money to equip a fleet and hire someone to keep them going.

That cost would be a lot more manageable if that 60 dollar toll to the telecos could be avoided and you just used wifi. This is a great use case for the delayed LUS wireless network. If you put in a wireless network with mobile capacities. (As would be sensible for serving LUS and municipal employees as well…if you don’t want them checking into to a coffee shop to get new work orders.) It could make a lot of kids (and bus drivers’ and school disciplinarians’ and parents’) lives much easier.

And that’s the point, finally, of a community owning its own network. N’est-ce pas?

Google Hires Baller for I Gig Job

According to Marguerite Reardon, a veteran reporter on these matters now working for CNET, Google has retained Jim Baller. For reasons those of us in Lafayette can easily understand Google feels the need to hire seasoned council to defend itself against the incumbent legal onslaught that is sure to come as soon as they begin to consider actual locales. Baller was the national-level lawyer that defended Lafayette throughout our long battle…from the negotiations over the (un)Fair Competition Act to supporting the city through a long series of lawsuits. He’s earned his stripes and the fact that Google is retaining someone with his history shows that they are at least thinking realistically about the political as well as the technical and economic barriers they and their partner communities are likely to face. From the article:

“Even if Google isn’t planning to compete with broadband providers in the near future, it recognizes that network operators may still feel threatened. This could be why the company has hired Jim Baller, president of The Baller Herbst Law Group, as a consultant. Baller, who is working with Google on this project, has been battling incumbent broadband providers for more than a decade, helping municipalities develop projects to build-fiber-to-the home networks in their communities.

Incumbent phone companies and cable operators have lobbied state governments to pass laws to stop these deployments. Some companies, such as Qwest Communications International and BellSouth, which is now owned by AT&T, actually sued municipalities to stop some projects. Baller has been involved in many of these cases, defending municipal clients against phone companies and cable operators.

In some instances, the incumbent service providers have been successful. But in other instances, they have not. A handful of municipally owned fiber networks around the country have won their battles with incumbent network operators, including one in Lafayette, La., and another high-profile network called Utopia, which connects several communities in Utah. With new federal funding pouring into communities as a result of President Obama’s stimulus package, a new wave of projects is emerging.”

There’s likely to be more work than any one man or firm can handle. Google is smart to hire him on now.

Google To Fund 1 Gig FTTH!

Google plans to build at least one 1 gig FTTH community network somewhere in the United States.

WOW. (Respectful pause while we collectively gather our wits.)

This stunning announcement is, in part, Google putting its money where its mouth is. Google has been a strong advocate of the FCC’s upcoming national broadband plan showing some imagination and has been a strong advocate of fiber to the home in that context. My guess is that part of what Google found out that fiber is the necessary first step during its initial experiment in public networking. In its hometown of Mountain View they built a public WiFi network. While that has been a mild success by most accounts wireless simply cannot push the bandwidth Google wants to watch people explore; especially without a dense fiber network. Fiber To The Home is the endgame here and Google is going directly for the gold in its second experiment.

Google has issued a request for information (RFI) asking communities to express an interest. They’ve announced a few constraints. First, they want to fund full communities projects, 50, 000 to 500, 000—no big announcements and small 100 house “pilots” for Google! Besides size they are also planning to explore open networks—they want to build open networks that any service provider can use. That goes hand in glove with their open source stance in other areas. The model of municipally-centered open networks has show tremendous success in Scandinavia and that is likely the model they are taking as a starting point.

This is, of course, all great stuff. With most of the scuttle-butt about the upcoming National Broadband Plan warning of a less than exciting document Google is offering to blaze a path forward out of the national ennui. Good for them.

Basically this would be great for Lafayette: we desperately need large population in other parts of the country to get onboard with truly high speed broadband. Until there is a sizable population there won’t be much development of new apps. And since research shows that most communications (as opposed to passive consumption) takes place between people who live close by the only way to get a handle on the next generation internet is to wire up whole, concentrated communities. Another several dozen full fiber communities is what Lafayette and the few fully fibered communities in the US really need.

The catch for Lafayette, and the few communities that have already invested in advanced networking, is that, well, we’ve already built our state-of-the-art fiber network. But it would be really great to participate in the “innovative apps” part of the game. And our network is up and running. If I may be so bold: Google, can we play too. You can use our community as a contrast to the one you build elsewhere….

Update: Here’s the smartest analysis of what Google is doing here that I’ve seen. And by smart I mean that once I read it I say. Oh…wow…yes..of course. 🙂 Harold Feld over at Tales of the Sausage Factory does that to me on a regular basis. Recommended

Fiber, Fête and Florida

It appears that the officially sanctioned celebration of the LUS Fiber Network and a coming out party for the project on the national level will take place in Lafayette in April

FiberFête, as the event is being called, was announced via the Baller Herbst email list on February 2. The Baller Herbst firm is a consultant for the LUS Fiber system going back to the early days when BellSouth (now AT&T) tried to kill the project just after it was announced.

David Isenberg (a nationally recognized technology thinker) and Geoff Daily (a technology writer and a paid promoter of the LUS Fiber system) are the event organizers.

LUS is listed as one of the sponsors. So, too, are Lafayette Consolidated Government, Lafayette Economic Development Authority (LEDA), the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce, IberiaBank, and the parent company of Acadian Ambulance.

Like I said, this is the officially recognized fiber celebration event.

The explanation of the “Why” of event says all the right things:

FiberFete is a celebration of our connected future. It’s an effort to bring together a critical mass of brainpower to facilitate discussions around how we can use fiber to improve all facets of our communities. By facilitating these conversations set against the backdrop of a fiber-powered community like Lafayette, FiberFete will serve as a catalyst for establishing the models needed to define what network-optimized communities look like and crafting plans for how to get there. FiberFete will also be an inspiration to community leaders and application developers about the benefits of our fiber-powered future. FiberFete will combine good people with good discussions, good food and good music. The rest will be up to us.

So, cool. So, fatally flawed.

The fatal flaw comes from the fact that neither the event organizers nor the sponsors have any understanding of the social dynamic of Lafayette nor an appreciation of what it takes for 21st century communities to succeed.

They know better. How do I know that? Because I was there when they were given this message.

Think back a few years ago when IberiaBank and The Independent Weekly brought to Lafayette the economist Richard Florida, author of the book “Rise of the Creative Class.”

Florida told several hundred business and community leaders gathered in the Cajundome Convention Center that in order to succeed, in order to attract the creative class that he believes will drive economic and cultural growth in this century, communities must have “the Three ‘T’s“:

“The three ‘T’s of Talent (have a highly talented/educated/skilled population), Tolerance (havea ‘live and let live’ ethos), and Technology (have the technological infrastructur a diverse community, which has e necessary to fuel an entrepreneurial culture).

Lafayette has an abundance of talent and one needs to look no further than the university, the community college, technical college, and the business community to see that this is the case.

We have the technology. The LUS Fiber project is but the most obvious example of the technology investments this community has made, but there is also the LITE Center, the super computer and other resources at UL Lafayette, as well as the substantial private sector technology investments that are being made by entrepreneurs and institutions across industries and business categories across the community.

But, as much as Lafayette has nailed two of Florida’s essential three ‘T’s, we have failed miserably at the Tolerance ‘T’. The examples are glaring to anyone who bothers to look.

Let’s start with the local advisory committee. The entire committee is comprised of white people. Should this matter?

Yes, it should because the digital divide in Lafayette too closely conforms to the racial divide for this not to be acknowledged.

How do I know this?

Because a group of us fought long and hard to get LUS to commission a detailed survey of more than 1,000 City of Lafayette residents on the topic of Lafayette and the Internet that was modeled after the nationally recognized studies conducted by the Pew Center for the Study of the Internet and American Life and on the surveys conducted by The Annenberg Center at the University of Southern California. That survey was conducted late last year. The results were analyzed and summarized by a team of academics from UL Lafayette.

LUS has chosen to sit on those results.

How can any forum, event or conversation about maximizing the impact of the LUS Fiber system in Lafayette have any credibility if it does not acknowledge the most serious obstacle preventing the maximizing of that impact?

Well, it can’t. In fact, it can do great harm by reinforcing the myth that Lafayette can somehow succeed in the world if only some portion of the 70 percent of the white population here is allowed to thrive.

Richard Florida’s message, brought to Lafayette by IberiaBank and The Independent, is that Lafayette does not have the luxury of indulging in its prejudices any more. An all-white advisory panel, it seems to me, ignores his message at a time when the goal appears to be to celebrate the fact that Lafayette has bought in hard on his other two ‘T’s.

Is it really a problem?

Yes, it is.

One need look no further than the recent Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce annual banquet. It was held on January 19, which was also the observance of Martin Luther King Day in Lafayette and across the nation.

In Lafayette, that day is traditionally the occasion for a large community assembly at the Martin Luther King Center where the impact of Dr. King’s life and the implications of that life for today are celebrated as well as discussed.

The Chamber was either ignorant or indifferent in selecting that day as the date for their annual banquet. As a result, photos from the banquet gave the look of an event that could have been held in 1950 instead of 2010. The 40 photos on The Daily Advertiser site from that event are disturbingly monochromatic. These are not photographs of a progressive community.

What the Chamber event and the local advisory committee of this event demonstrate is that in Lafayette, the default community planning setting is “whites only.”

There has always been a divide among supporters of the LUS Fiber project between those who saw it only in the narrow economic terms of what it could do for the city (see the sponsorship list for details) and those of us who recognized the economic benefits but placed them in a secondary role compared to the gap-bridging effect the project can bring to the city. Access to technology can be a great equalizer. It has transformed the music business, it is changing the news business, it is about the fundamentally change books, education, healthcare and other fields. It can bridge any divide that it is applied to. It can transform this community. Like the other fields mentioned, though, it can only do so if there is a focused effort to bring about that transformation.

But, the leadership of LUS, LCG, the Chamber and other pillars of the business community here handicap the prospects of achieving even their own narrower vision by ignoring the interests of the broader community. It is a self-limiting vision executed in a self-limiting way.

Compounding the problem is the myth that Lafayette can excel if only the white ‘leaders’ — business, civic, social — excel. According to Florida’s analysis, this would be considered a self-inflicted wound and our leading organizations are habitual offenders. We are not so exceptional as to be able to afford that.

We know we have leaders in this community who, by their own admission, are not comfortable in the presence of people of other races. If this community is going to wring the maximum benefit from the LUS Fiber system, we cannot afford to have our potential capped by these personal limitations.

FiberFête might have all of the best intentions, but it is disconnected from the reality of Lafayette. If all it wants to be is an external marketing opportunity for the city — impressing some out-of-towners with our smart investments — then it sells us short. But, it aspires to be more. It cannot achieve that if it widens the fundamental divide that limits the potential of this system and this community by trying to ignore it.

Give it up, guys. Go back to the drawing board and re-think what it is you’re trying to accomplish here. This event is fatally flawed.

“LUS: Fiber schedule, meetings, software and more

Who DAT! You Dat! 🙂
If you’re recovering from Saints fever I have just the antidote. A long post on the latest in Lafayette’s fiber fortunes. If you’re starting to think that maybe anything is possible, well, read on.

Amanda McElfresh over at the Advertiser has an article up that apparently derives from following up remarks made by Joey Durel in his state of the city-parish address. In that speech (video) Durel devoted a fair amount of his time to touting the LUS Fiber network (@ minute 8:00). He revealed publicly what had been widely rumored locally: LUS Fiber was far ahead of schedule, and that the city-wide availability was expected by July, 18 months into a 24 month schedule. Durel linked the completion of the network to a series of meetings meant to engage the community with discussing what the “fiber-powered future” could look like.

Discussing that Fiber-Powered Future
As long time readers and friends will recall the general idea that Lafayette’s people need to get involved meetings that would shape the future of the new network is something I’ve long advocated. Both here and and in various community groups like Lafayette Coming Together and the League of Women Voters. So the ears pricked up at the idea that the City-Parish President would be promoting a series of meetings to look at our fiber utility and the future of our city.

The first item on Durel’s list of community meetings is “campfiber” a series, according to Durel, of “participant-driven conferences will be opportunities for local innovators to share their projects, get feedback from the community and for everybody to discuss their fiber-powered future.” There have been several CampFiber meetings already (LPF coverage) and to date they’ve been strongly oriented toward software developers as participants and not toward public response or discussion. If they are to serve the purpose Durel describes they’ll have to change. Engaging the imagination of the technology-types is crucial, of course—they’ve got more to dream with—but two other groups will be needed as well: the public and LCG/LUS. Both are crucial to a worthwhile discussion. The need for public involvement is obvious. But just as critical is a fully engaged LCG administration and LUS. LUS and the administration did attend and engage at the first campfiber. But in the end that participation seemed mostly defensive; real progress here will require the developer and the larger community be given more information with which to work. Two useful models occur to this writer: bring together distinct community groups beyond developers—nonprofits, church, medical, educational, creatives, small business, and neighborhoods all come to mind and ask them what a community-owned network could do for their sectors. (The Lafayette League of Women Voters has held the prototype of this model in two meetings involving nonprofits and community service organizations with fair success.) The other angle would be to organize around specific elements of the new system…for example: channel selection, internet storage, TV-phone integration, TV-internet integration, or set-top box uses (I can guarantee interest in the set top box.) For CampFiber meetings to engage the community will require focus and commitment from LUS and LCG.

The other item on Durel’s list of meetings was Fiber Fete (website) which he described as designed to “bring experts from around the world to Lafayette to meet with local innovators to discuss what our fiber future looks like and plan on how to get to there from here.” I’ve talked with the organizers—David Isenberg and Geoff Daily—and sit on what passes for the local board. The quote from Durel is just about the current extent of the planning; it is only now getting into any concrete planning. I’ve pushed for a more consistently social approach and for bring in speakers who are prepared to speak about how technology can be part of making communities stronger and people within them more active and powerful participants. Too many “visionary” tech conferences are trapped by the amazing technical wizardry and raw possibility of new technologies. Others go beyond that narrow vision only to focus solely on the business potential of these same technologies. While both of those motives are proper enough in their place that is not what a new community network needs and I’d hate to see
Fiber Fete captured by such limited visions. What’s needed is a sense of how powerful communications technologies can be leveraged to create a stronger community and a more active and informed citizenry. (I am aware of the irony of suggesting that at a moment when deconsolidation is the talk of the town.) Having David Isenberg as one of the chief organizers gives me considerable hope that we might actually be able to accomplish this. His Freedom To Connect Conferences (F2C) are directly about promoting the idea that ensuring that we can freely connect to one another over the new network is the modern equivalent of freedom of assembly and free speech…That, rather than technical gee-whizary, is the right starting point for Lafayette and its people (not merely its “innovators”) to start their thinking about a the responsibilities of a community-owned network.

For any of these public meetings to be useful rather than ornamental they’ll have to involve more than the usual crowd labeled “innovators” — they’ll need to involve a real cross-section of the community’s most active citizens and the sense that LUS and LCG are open to sharing the information the community needs to assess what the network can accomplish and the sense that their conclusions will matter after the conference closes. That’s a tall order. But it’s one worth striving for.

The Rest of the Story
But Sunday’s report had a lot of fiber news beyond the revelation of an early completion date and the prospect of public meetings. The new customer service center that we’ve heard about for so long is now scheduled to open by June. Says LUS’ Huval:

a customer service center set to open at the corner of Pinhook and Kaliste Saloom roads by June. The building will include samples of LUS Fiber products, and will also be equipped to handle the needs of utilities customers, thus freeing up some of the gridlock at the customer service center at City Hall.

That will coincide with the completion of the network and, hopefully, a more vigorous public relations campaign promoting the new network.

Huval continues to be coy about adoption rates but says that “many” thousands have joined up. I’ve talked to friends who talk about most of their block or street moving over. I can’t say that of my northside neighborhood and suspect that take rates are a very local phenomena at this early moment.

What should be welcome news was the declaration that LUS Fiber is going to be going through its first major upgrade. Again, from Terry Huval:

“It’s tied to the set-top boxes and enhanced DVR services,” he said. “It was a technology that was not completely ready for us to use when we deployed our system, and it’s something that’s not costly to us.”

The software used on the Motorola boxes just isn’t very good…it’s older and the interface is a pain to use. So I don’t use it. Now I am an interface nerd of sorts and also refused to use Cox’s set top box software. With both LUS and Cox I have done most of my TV watching via the two old TiVo’s that sit precariously perched on a rickity table by the widescreen. My understanding is that the new software will be an iteration of Microsofts’ Media Room. That software package has been used by Verizon in its FiOS FTTH build out in the northeast. Verizon also uses the same family of Microsoft set top boxes that LUS has purchased so it should be a fairly mature implementation and full-featured platform. It will also be a much easier basis on which to build extended services than the Alcatel-supplied software currently in use. Heck it might even be usable.

A real concern has to be the internet capability which was the bright spot in the less-than-stellar Alcatel software. That feature is a great idea but its current reliance on a WAP-based browser both limits its practical utility and makes it extremely dificult to use. That capacity exists in the set top box and represents LUS’ most innovative attempt to date to bridge the digital divide in Lafayette. It should be possible to utilize it on Mircrosoft’s software–after all media room for the PC allows for internet connections. If it is not baked in developing a real net connection would make a great contest with which to involve local developers.

LUS wins rate increase, smart grid

Well, LUS won its rate increase…about 15% over two years, the first rise in electricity costs since 1998. If you want to see the sausage being made you can tune in to AOC or download the video off UStream.

The central story tomorrow will be that increase, of course. And that is probably all you’ll see in the papers. I’ll leave any detailed reporting on the back and forth to them.

On the other hand, I expect that there’ll be no reporting on the sidelight issue of the status of the smart grid funding and I’ll take that up here. (If you’ve not followed this you can catch up the earlier posts on the issue: 1, 2.) The smart grid package, which includes both water and electricity utilities will go forward and the Feds will cough up half the money necessary to pay for communications infrastructure and the electrical side’s new meters—11.6 million dollars. It’s a great deal. But if the rate increased had failed, as it initially appeared to have done, then LUS would have had to turn down the stimulus money that would have made the smart grid deal so attractive for Lafayette. With that would have gone the opportunity for the service improvements that would come with the utility having instant, detailed information on the status of every customer and the potential for home owners to save money by actively managing their consumption.

There was a fair amount of back and forth on this topic and it’s apparent that LUS believes that the grant money is still there and that with the approval of the rate increase they will have no trouble convincing the Feds to turn over the money they have won.

Now that the money has been secured I’m hoping for more interesting news sooner rather than later on just which information technology will be used to connect the meters to the network. Whether it will be wired or wireless will be the first question and the answer will shape the future of the LUS communications division….stay tuned.

Update: The local and regional media has weighed in and as I suspected there no mention of the 11.6 million dollars in federal lagniappe that goes with the decision. From the Advertiser: “LUS rate hike OK’d” and from the Advocate: “LUS rate hike wins approval.” From the Independent: “LUS rate increase approved.”