“LUS’ superfast fiber”

The Advocate published an article, LUS’s Superfast Fiber, this morning as its way of marking the imminent launch of LUS Fiber. I’m pleased to report that it didn’t focus on pricing and marketing details but instead chose to explore “what the new system could mean for the community.”

The top of the story looks at internet speeds:

The fastest connection offered by LUS will be 50 Mbps for a standalone cost of $58 — a speed available in few markets and generally costing more than twice as much.

Connection speeds from customer to customer on the fiber system within Lafayette will be at 100 Mbps, regardless of which connection plan a customer buys.

“100 megs peer-to-peer is mind-blowing,” said John St. Julien, a retired education professor who was part of a grass-roots push for a publicly owned fiber optic system.

It’s so fast that few people see a present need for such speed, which makes it all the more interesting for people like St. Julien.

“The part that I can’t imagine is what I’m most excited about,” he said.

A couple of caveats: As I understand it the 50 meg speed is simply the highest standard tier…if you want more, you can talk to LUS about it. I expect they’ll eventually get around to standardizing a policy on such. LUS’ standard Customer Premise Equipment (the box on the side of the house) tops out at 100 megs at the default internet port but conceiveably that could be doubled by using the second port currently reserved for video traffic.

The 100 megs is indeed mind blowing…and it’s less the speed than the fact that it will be symmetrical which will make interactive, participatory conversations the equal of one-way passive experiences which predominate on our cable and internet media. Right now the quality of passive intertainment and communication far outstrips the quality of active ones because upload speed are a small fraction of download speeds. But we humans much prefer conversation…as is evidenced by the fact that we made texting a surprise essential on cell phones, greedily tolerate cell phone quality audio to continue talking to friends and loved ones on the go, and that (amazingly) email remains the killer app of the internet and the one factor that moves those still offline into the digital realm. LUS’ symmetrical connections makes what we really want —a human connection— an equal player and I fully expect that we’ll find ways to mashup community experiences as soon as we have the bandwidth to make such dreams possible. For instance, I can imagine serving up a high-def video out my local cache to a couple of households around town (say a Northside championship game?) onto nice big TV screeens while holding video chat play-by-plays with four or five special buddies on our laptops. In the background my wife commiserates with their wives in a separate video chat. (The social dynamics remain the same. 🙂 ) Could that swallow up some bandwidth? Is it technically possible now? Yes…yes indeed. If we had the bandwidth. And that’s only the start. Classrooms, good classrooms, are good conversations and tech-enabled teaching will only flourish when tech-enabled conversation is a rich equal to passive teaching designs.

But as mind-blowing as that much symmetrical speed is there’s more…..everyone, everyone, who purchases internet service from LUS will be able to communicate at that unheard-of speed. This punches up the value for all. The fancy academic term for this is “network effects.” The classic example is telephones: when one in a thousand has a phone it’s almost useless. But when we all have phones and cell phones disembodied, at-a-distance speech no longer seems magical and has become a natural, inevitable, even inescapble part of our everyday life. LUS’ brilliance lies in incorporating that bandwidth in all net services at a very low price…in making it ubiquitous they make their cheap connections much more valuable than by merely making them fast. When one in a thousand has interoperable video phones the things are a silly curiousity…but when everyone gets access to such service they suddenly have huge utility.

100 megs of symmetrical, uniformly available, connections is really amazing and the fact that we can’t imagine all the details of how we will use them doesn’t mean that the emergence of such uses isn’t as inevitable as hurricanes in September.

Of course, the story does do some imagining of its own:

At any of the speeds offered by LUS, regular media downloads would be exceptional, multiuser video games on the Internet would flow smoothly, video conferencing would be a more pleasant experience, and interactive virtual classrooms would seem a real possibility.

Huval imagines a city where working at home becomes easier for folks who deal with the types of massive computer files that have trouble squeezing through residential Internet connections.

Video gaming is currently the driver pushing both hardware and network speed and quality forward. Lafayette will soon be the premiere place for tournaments and the local hotelier, gaming outlets, and conference centers really ought to be gearing up now.

Burgess’ exploration of possibilities ends at a review of the digital divide potential of LUS’ set-top boxes.

LUS Fiber customers will be able to access e-mail and the Internet without a computer through a basic Internet browser programmed into the TV set-top box.

A customer could plug a keyboard into the set-top box or navigate the Internet through arrow keys on the remote control and type with a virtual keyboard that pops up on the television screen.

Huval said he is aware of no other system in the United States that allows Internet access through the television.

LUS Fiber will be built out in phases, with the first phase including the area east of Evangeline Thruway and in the Johnston Street corridor from University Avenue past the Mall of Acadiana.

The set-top box solution will surely push internet access into more homes than any conceivable alternative way to connect to the internet. These features are built into current set-top boxes but are so seldom activated by private for-profit corporations that they haven’t been upgraded. Consequently they are underpowered by the measure of most advanced users. But they do allow access to those parts of the web that motivate adoption: email and simple browsing. With luck (and work) the next generation will be more capable and these devices will prove bridges to more robust access. None of that should take away from the fact that LUS is actually doing three VERY substantial things to close the digital divide: 1) lowering prices, 2) offering a much faster, more robust service for that price, and 3) offering a no-additional-price way to get on the network.

Why Lafayette?
It’s a great thing, all in all, and the doubter in us all has to ask: why here? Why does Lafayette get such great stuff? Well the short, prideful answer is that we fought for it. Where other cities backed off scared of the battle or were defeated in the fight Lafayette refused to back off and, in fact, waged an aggressive, scarring battle with the incumbent carriers. So vigorous was the fight that by the time the vote was held the incumbents had largely ceded the field. But that is only a part of the answer as to “why in Lafayette, La?” The rest has to do with the fact that this network is local and publically owned. People, regular citizens, fought for a real digital divide program. Regular, local, geek-types and businessmen insisted that a full-throttle intranet was both possible and desireable and made themselves irritating enough that the possibility was really explored—and found to be perfectly feasible after all.

The secret sauce in Lafayette is local, public ownership with responsive leadership. The sort of ownership that makes its citizen/owners believe they have a real stake and real influence. As long as those factors remain LUS has a bright future and its citizens can and should learn to expect, demand, and indeed create, more of the same.

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.)

LUS to buy user-produced electricity

Lafayette has yet another opportunity to step out front by leveraging its new fiber network. Tuesday’s City-Parish Council meeting put in place rules that will enable citizens to sell electricity back to LUS. With the new ordinance and an LUS supplied bi-directional meter customers can get credit for electricity that they supply the grid—effectively getting paid the going rate for electricity they produce.

The Good
That’s pretty neat; a recent story line in the Advocate focused on solar panels and other green energy with a solar power system at Lafayette Middle School playing the star role in the discussion.

Louisiana actually has some of the more encouraging laws in the nation with state tax credits that can pay half the cost of a new solar system worth $25,ooo dollars; so if you want a gadget-guy dream system the state will eventually pay for half. Even so the raw economics are not quite there yet; at least not in the city:

…Bercier said, LUS rates are low enough that the economic incentive is not great at this time.

“LUS is a hard one. They are still relatively cheap,” he said. “We are definitely never going to put them out of business.”

Of course, the price of oil will be more next year than this and the cost of solar energy continues to drop. We’re very near the break-even point nationally right now from what I read and even with the good deal we get from LUS Lafayette’s turn can’t be far behind.

The Better
All that is good green, conscientious, community-oriented, money-saving stuff. Beyond that, though, lie some pretty exciting opportunities for Lafayette to leverage its new network to do an do an even better job of reducing our carbon footprint and lowering the costs of providing power to the community.

As good as they are those bi-directional meters are the crudest and least efficient way to allow customers to take some of the burden off the electrical grid. We’ve already noted here that the real cost savings come from dealing with “peak demand”—there are huge costs associated with providing a lot of extra capacity that is only used for a week or two during the hottest—and hence most AC-intensive—days of the year. With active metering instead of merely static bi-directional recording LUS could 1) turn off high energy consuming devices (do you really need to heat your water to 150 while the temperature is 102?) 2) charge more for power at peak times–such power costs us all more to generate—and also pay more for power that is produced by individuals. (Your solar panels are likely to be producing real power while that August sun is beating down.) 3) Turn on and off small home generators. (How many Lafayette homes have a natural gas generator sitting on a pad near the AC unit post-hurricanes? Plenty.) We in Lafayette just built a brace of very expensive natural-gas fired electrical plants chiefly to supply peak demand. In fact those two plants cost twice as much as our fiber network. A cost-benefit analysis would, I suspect, reveal that firing up those residential generators very occasionally would be cheaper than building more such hugely expensive capacity. All that is something you can only do if you have your own communications network in place.

Lafayette could well lead the country in devising innovative ways to both lower the use of electricity and lower its costs by using our new network to full capacity.


Langiappe: KLFY has also produced a short story on this.

Local Goverments in Court over Telecom Law

Louisiana’s parishes and small cities are in court this week defending local property rights against what was once known as “BellSouth’s Law” according to a short in Advocate. The law, passed by the state legislature, contained something for every corporation: BellSouth, now AT&T, got to ignore local property rights and get permission to build out a cable network without negotiating with the local governments that actually own and maintain the rights-of-way they want to use and the cable companies got the right to simply cancel contracts with local governments. (More coverage at LPF: on the most recent version of the law (especially); some on the first attempt in 06 which was wisely vetoed by Governor Blanco: 1, 2)

The current lawsuit (there promise to be more, Lafayette, for instance, has a separate beef) is about that latter clause–the one that lets cable companies cancel legal contracts without the permission of the local community. The state constitution expressly forbids new laws that abrogate existing contracts. The local governments are using that entrée to try and invalidate the whole law.

It’d be a good thing if they’d succeed. Moving control away from local hands and up the governmental ladder is generally a bad idea. The argument that AT&T and the cable companies use that claims that such a law would enable competition is simply wrong: competition was always possible, exclusive contracts are illegal under FEDERAL law, and NO local government would dare stand in the way of any competitor to the poltically despised cable company. From a purely practical point of view more competition usually means more business and more business means more income for local governments… So the idea that local governments would somehow want to impede competition is purest nonsense and was always meant for the rubes in the legislature. I suspect laying that claim before a judge is a mistake.

Here’s to hoping that the judge shows good judgment. I’m not particularly counting on it.

Thanks for the Power LUS (Updated)

Lafayette is an island of green in a sea of red…as of the afternoon of September 3rd, two days after Gustav passed, a map of power outages provided by the state shows Lafayette parish with more than half of the population having power. None of the surrounding parishes has even half of its population served. As a parish we are doing much better than our neighbors. (Click for a larger image.)

We have LUS to thank.

My sister who lives in Baton Rouge—a 100 miles from the eye of Gustav— will be coming over to Lafayette—a city that took a direct hit—while she waits to get her power back because she says she expects to be out for more than a week.—When I went online it appears that her estimate of weeks of power loss is possible given that Entergy says that it will take weeks to bring their network completely up and are vocal about complaining that they’ve had more damage from Gustav than from any storm except Katrina.

• In terms of power outages, Hurricane Gustav is the second worst in Entergy’s 95-year history, peaking at about 850,000 early Tuesday – the overwhelming majority of them in Louisiana. That easily bypassed the 800,000 outages in Hurricane Rita in 2005. The only larger number of Entergy outages was 1.1 million in 2005 during Hurricane Katrina, which has been described as one of the worst natural disasters in American history.

On the other hand LUS has 90% of its power back on and plans to be 100% by Friday.

Governor Jindal is complaining bitterly about the slow pace of electricity restoration.

About 1.5 million people are without electricity, Jindal said, and power companies estimated that about half would be restored within 10 days but the others could take up to six weeks.

“I told them that was absolutely not acceptable,” he said.

Six weeks! But he’s not complaining about LUS. According to the Advertiser:

Lafayette Utilities System reported that power is restored to about 90 percent of its 60,000 residential customers as of 1 p.m. …LUS Director Terry Huval said its customers should be restored by Friday.

UPDATE: The IND says that Huval now says that we’ll all be back up by today, Thursday. Amazing.

Compare that with other local providers:

At 11 a.m., SLEMCO said it had restored power to We have restored power to 33,618 customers. Another 51,640 were without power….said it took seven days to restore power following hurricanes Rita and Katrina, and the damage inflicted by Gustav was similar to those two storms.

CLECO, which supplies power to Acadia, Evangeline, Iberia, St. Landry, St. Martin and St. Mary parishes, had more than 82,000 customers still without power as of Tuesday night.

That represents nearly 90 percent of its local customer base.

Entergy had 43,111 customers without power. About half of those were in rural Lafayette and St. Landry parishes.

It is pretty clear that that island of green on the state map is due to LUS bring Lafayette back on line quickly and efficiently–the large population center of Lafayette is 90% back while the private providers in the surrounding towns and rural areas are more that 50% down. Take LUS’ achievement out of the mix in our parish and we’d look just like the rest of the region: more than half still out of power and waiting a week or more to get back to anything like full provision.

It’s good to have a locally-owned public power utility at times like these. (And it will be just as good to have a locally-owned public telecom utility in the near future.)

Louisiana Leg Shoots Itself in the Foot. Again

This morning’s Advocate carried the news that the Legislature has again decided that giving a AT&T whatever it asks for is more important than what local communities want and what would be be good for the people of the state. The House passed Senate Bill 807 94-9. With a bit of reconciliation between the two versions it will soon be put on Jindal’s desk and he will not have the scruples that lead Governor Blanco to veto “franchise reform” when faced with a similarly irresponsible bill a couple of years ago. AT&T will soon be free cherry-pick the few wealthy suburbs it would like to serve on the North Shore of Lake Ponchartrain and in places like River Ranch in Lafayette and continue to ignore serving anyone outside of the big cities (the law doesn’t apply to big cities). It won’t have to even talk to those little local people in towns and rural who actually own the property AT&T must use to run its lines and cart home its profits to San Antonio. Big brother in Baton Rouge has fixed things for them so that AT&T (and now all the cable companies) can just ignore local communities.

It’s pitiful the way that rural legislators ask all the questions that would indicate they understand what a bill of goods Bill Oliver and the lobbyists AT&T pay are peddling and it’s sad that our representatives don’t seem to be inclined to learn from the mistakes of others.

Here, as in North Carolina, the big winner is going to be the cable companies. They’ll get out of real commitments they made to real people in real local governments to serve all the people of a community and to return some services to those people in return for using local property.

It’s not that the phone companies don’t get something, even if the big winner is Cox and Time-Warner. The telephone companies get to ignore local communities about all sorts of things now. Maybe you don’t like the idea of a refrigerator-sized box plopped down in your front yard in the right of way that you must maintain by law. Used to be the city could regulate that. No more. A “video franchise reform” law passed in Connecticut demonstrates how that worked. That state passed a law moving all control from the local governments that own the rights of way to the state, just like ours is preparing to do. Now, several years later AT&T is putting huge boxes in people’s front yards, the communities are outraged, and the state is scrambling to figure out what to do about it. The Department of Public Utility Control (DPUC) is trying to force AT&T to deal with local owners and desperately wants to bring in local communities to help negotiate locally sensitive issues that nobody at the state level could possibly know about. (Be careful what you take on legislators…) DPUC has issued a new ruling that outlines methods for securing the cooperation of local owners and municipalities. AT&T is having none of it. And a law the legislature passed, they pointedly note, means they don’t have to listen to those local guys:

In its motion, AT&T also asked the DPUC to clarify its new requirement that AT&T obtain consent of “all municipalities where equipment is placed.”

AT&T argues that existing law gives the DPUC exclusive rights over the placement of utility equipment in public rights of way, and that municipal approval is not required.

“Municipalities don’t have a place in the approval process,” Carlow said. “That’s not to say we don’t want to work with them, but Connecticut law doesn’t require their approval of our facilities.”

Carlow said gaining approval of municipalities would be difficult and time consuming and disrupt the way many utility providers in the state do business.

[emphasis mine]

What they cleverly don’t mention is that they wrote that law….

So the cable companies get to dump their franchise agreements and AT&T gets to do what it pleases in your front yard.

All courtesy of your representatives down in the legislature…

The Cox, Time-Warner and AT&T have got to be laughing up their sleeves at the rubes.

They’re right to laugh. It’s damn embarrassing to watch.

Digital Arts in Louisiana & Lafayette

Here’s something that Lafayette ought to get one of: “Tipitinana’s Music Coop.” Or at least some of this funding for our native equivalent. An article in last week’s Advocate describes the concept and its utility:

[Tipitinana’s Coops] in New Orleans, Shreveport, Alexandria and now Baton Rouge provide workspace and office and production equipment for musicians and digital artists to help them make more money and fuel the state’s culture industry.

“It’s a job-skills training and economic development project,” said Todd Souvignier, technical director of the Tipitina’s Foundation who has spearheaded the opening of the co-ops.

For $10 a month, the co-ops give members access to technology — from conventional office machines to software such as Pro Tools and Final Cut Pro, “the kind of stuff real musicians need to get their hands on to do some real work.”

Souvignier said 1,200 musicians and digital artists use the various co-ops 12,000 times a year to check e-mail and make phone calls or faxes to book tours or use computers to make press kits, Web sites or MySpace pages.

As I understand it this is pretty close to the concept behind ACFM (Acadiana Center for Film and Media) But where Tipitinia’s starts with music and strays to video ACFM starts with film and strays to “media,” broadly understood.

Tipitina’s appears to be supported by grant funding with a small $10 dollar a month coop membership fee that could do no more than supplement the exterior funding. ACFM appears to impose no fee on users and has at least channels 15 and 16 on cable as farm league placement for the work of folk who do their production using the facilities.

Both concepts are good ideas in as far as they get the tools of production into peoples’ hands. There’s a lot of belief that the near future holds a lot of potential for media production moving away from the big centers and towards very local, artist and fan-produced works. If that vision is to be realized we’ll need lots of places like Tipitinas’ Coop and ACFM. It’s not enough for a thing to be possible–people have to be able to afford the tools and, even more crucially, find the community of folks that will help the learn how to use the tools well.

For my money, Lafayette could easily support both a Music-facing digital studio and a Video-facing one. You have to think the synergy would be good for both. And, you know, real soon now we’ll be getting an in-city network that will open up a 100 megs between local nodes on the LUS network. A Tipitianas or an ACFM could easily put together a “channel” on that kind of bandwidth. Either tap into the multicast stream or download from the growing archival library. It’d be an instant way to make good cultural use of the bandwidth we’ll have.

LUS Update in the Advocate

The Baton Rouge Advocate runs an update of the LUS fiber project in today’s paper.

Begin Meta Media Aside:
Alert readers will note that the story, “Faster service set for ’09, Lafayette Utilities readies fiber optic lines,” is written by Richard Burgess rather than Kevin Blanchard. Kevin, who I had admired unreservedly, has gone back to school and taken a job with Cox researching the (un)Fair Competition Act that he so ably researched and covered as a reporter. As a Cox employee he’s working for a company that he well knows wishes his community ill. I’m hoping that he’s accumulated enough good karma from his years of journeyman reporting to offset a move to the dark side. Be that as it may, Burgess is a reporter cut from the same strip that Blanchard was: a solid worker that follows a beat in depth and whose stories show signs of real background work. His beats have included environmental (the tornadoes, the derailment chemical spill), government (the bus station, police and fire back pay) and general civic issues (like the Attakapas-Ishak bike trail). He’s often assigned work with a challenging technical foundation. He’ll be good on this story and I (with mixed feelings) expect the Baton Rouge Advocate to remain the best source of Fiber To The Home stories as Burgess comes up to speed on the social and business implications of the new system.
End Meta Media Aside

There’s not much that is new news in this story—the point is to review the basics and signal what is coming. So if you want a refresher on the plan and the basics of how the connection will work take a good gander. But the clear overview offers some interesting tidbits for those who’ve been following closely. To wit:

On the build itself:

LUS is rolling out the service in four phases.

Huval said the first phase will make the service available to about 25,000 homes and businesses, nearly half of LUS’ current customer base of about 57,000

That is interesting–you might wonder why LUS is rolling out to fully half of its customers in what is clearly at least two separate segments instead of biting off smaller chunks and doing promotional sign-ups of each small segment to build excitement. The simplest answer is the (un)Fair Competition act. Lafayette cannot do anything that a suit-happy incumbent could call “offering service” until it has the largest possible number of subscribers. That is because the law has set up a minimum date for “profitability” based on when the first “offer service.” So Lafayette is well-served by waiting to start the clock until they can bring lots of customers on quickly–regardless of otherwise smart marketing possibilities. (And, yes, our “conservative” legislature has legislated a time-bound, state-structured definition of success for our project. The big boys at the state house think they know best. As in the looming state video debacle the legislature’s idea of conservativism apparently has little to do with keeping control as close to the people as possible everything to do with pleasing out-of-state corporations. Such is the new “conservativism.”)

On the heart of the system:

The fiber system’s main hub is a building near the intersection of Interstate 10 and Interstate 49, where LUS will tap into one of the main Internet lines running along the interstate system, receive satellite feeds for the television service and operate the telephone switch.

The fiber lines will run from the main center — built with 6-inch concrete walls to survive hurricanes — to one of 13 existing electrical substations and then along city streets.

On what is emerging as the signature feature:

Huval said that regardless of what service someone signs up for, anyone on the LUS fiber system will be able to send or receive at the 100 mbps rate when communicating with someone else within the LUS system.

“It’s just opening things wide open for the creative class of the community,” Huval said.

The high speeds could also give freedom to workers tied to the office because of data-intensive work.

“You will truly be able to work from home,” said LUS Fiber Communications Engineering and Operations Manager Mona Simon.

Simon said at speeds of 100 mbps, the quickness of most file transfers will be limited only by the user’s equipment.

“It’s not going to be bottlenecked by virtue of the system,” she said.

On the services to be offered:

LUS officials are not yet talking about specific service or pricing options, but they tout “breakneck” Internet speeds and a wide variety of TV choices at a price about 20 percent below competitors.

The minimum Internet speed with the service will be 10 mbps — more than enough for casual Web browsing, quickly downloading media, streaming high-quality video or playing multi-user games over the Internet.

Users could opt for up to 100 mbps, which would allow for quick communication of the massive files used in everything from data-intensive oil-and-gas research to filmmaking and music production.

…Simon said the television service will also run at 100 mbps, allowing for seamless video-on-demand and the ability to watch multiple high-definition programs at once.

The Internet and television do not share bandwidth, so intensive use of one service will not cut into the other, she said.

That’s all pretty deluxe.

It’s an understatement of the first order to say LUS’ cheapest, slowest offering of 10 mbps (symmetrical!) is “more than enough” for common web uses…it’s an astonishing speed. That low end product is a capacity that is only available as the most expensive option for the cable incumbent and is unavailable for any price, anywhere from AT&T. It’s national news on the net when one or two private providers begin to offer a “limited to a few subscribers” speed of 20 megs. Here that speed will be cheap, available to all and popular enough to be the basis of real business plans. It is simply not purchasable, at any price, to almost all in the rest of the country–and never at a price regular folks can afford.

That alone is a digital divide story that deserves to be told but on top of all that is 100 megs of intranet “peer-to-peer” service. Giving everyone equal communications access to one another is to lay the groundwork for an equitable community in the coming net-centric era. Lafayette will be in a position to allow participation, both live and asynchronously, that will simply be unparalleled and will allow Lafayette to move onto completely uncharted ground and create new models of community. (We better get cracking with that imagination thing.)

As the story notes, LUS has remained chary of committing to detailed service plans months in advance of market situation when it actually begins to sell product. But a recent bit in a consultant’s critique of iProvo’s recently sold service hints at the initial thinking:

For example, Lafayette has told the public they will be offering three residential products – a 10 Mbps, a 20 Mbps and 50 Mbps symmetrical data products to the Internet. In addition, they plan to offer 100 mbps Intranet for connections between any two customers on the network within the City.

That consultant is LUS’ primary advisor and presumably knows whereof he speaks.

“Cable TV franchise revision advances”

Today’s Advocate covered yesterday’s House Commerce Committee proceedings and the editor even ran the story on the front page. That showed good judgment. The bill is actually much more than most of the “issues” that the legislature spends its time on and the press spills ink on. Unhappily the difference this bill will make will be mostly for the worst.

The gist:

A House committee fought off efforts Tuesday to regulate cable television, then approved Senate-passed legislation that would allow companies to get a statewide franchise to offer cable television service….The legislation would allow companies to seek a statewide franchise, rather than negotiate with each individual municipality and parish….Former Gov. Kathleen Blanco vetoed similar legislation last year [actually two years ago-John] after local governments voiced concerns that there would be a negative impact for them….State Rep. Chris Roy Jr., D-Alexandria, said the legislation specifically does not require companies to build into rural areas or into low-income neighborhoods.

It’s a mess. What is going to happen here is what happened in North Carolina when they passed such a law. There AT&T hoodwinked the legislature with promises that it would spend huge amounts of money upgrading the state’s network and would use the upgrade enter into aggressive competition with the cable companies (chiefly Time-Warner). In fact, they were so eager that they just couldn’t be bothered to actually negotiate with the owners of the land they needed to use: the local government’s rights of way. So the NC legislature gave the corporation “reform” and two years later….well, AT&T hasn’t applied for a single state franchise but Time-Warner and the cablecos have submitted 118 franchises–all of which allowed them to exit significant local responsibilities by revoking previous contracts with local communities. Exactly 1—1!—small new competitor in only 1 locale has provided “new competition” since the law was passed. (We’ve done better than that here in Lousisiana without such a brown nosing law.) The local governments there have lost services, and cash income—income that the citizens will doubtless be asked to replace.

It is simply bad policy to turn control of local property over to some faceless out of state corporation. North Carolina is now trying to patch up a badly flawed law. They shouldn’t bother; admit the mistake and repeal the thing.

I actually spent time yesterday watching the video stream from the house hearing. Sad… In my judgment neither the pro nor the con sides presented their strongest case. The pro side didn’t need to and knew it. But it was disconcerting to see the people’s representatives from around the state flounder and fail to make what should have been a compelling case. (The best speaker by far was a consultant from Shreveport—not a representative of the municipalities and the parishes whose ox is being gored.)

But even more distressing were the raw political facts of the matter. The legislators on the panel exhibited a truly piteous picture of asking, again and again, if AT&T was actually going to use the law to build out to poorer urban areas and rural places. Again and again AT&T said… “No promises.” Just that the chance that some rural folks would get served would be better. Frankly anyone that has watched this issue nationally and read the corporations’ own promises to their shareholders knows that AT&T is planning, at most, over the long run, to serve about 50% of those it has a phone line to today. The “high value” customer. Poor thinly settled rural areas of one of the poorest states in the union? It ain’t a gonna happen. One speaker quoted what he said was a common response to such facts; legislators are reported to have said: “False hope is better than no hope.” That is simply not true. False hope is misleading. And hoping that AT&T will go into rural areas when there is less chance it will here than in North Carolina is just a way to mislead the public—and to delay taking real steps to fix the problem. The legislators also noted that half of the state’s population—the state’s largest cities—would not be included in this bill at all. AT&T’s only even tentative commitment was when they said they’d start in Baton Rouge (sometime) and Baton Rouge is a place where they, in fact quickly got a local franchise and to which this bill will not apply. They wouldn’t make another commitment or even a guess about any other place.

And STILL the legislators line up to change the laws and hand over control of local rights of way to the Lords of the Network on the off chance that some day they’d deign to help out folks outside of the large cities (which this bill, they understood, did nothing to help). The lined up to genuflect even after their questions showed they understood that the likelihood that their law would actually help the state was small to none. They lined up to help even though AT&T said it was a law they wanted to make things convenient for them to do business. They lined up even when they understood that the new law would mean the end of requiring all the people—not just the most profitable households—be offered the new technology. They lined up to help the massa even after the representatives of the state’s governments that are closest to the people, the Louisiana Municipal Association and the Police Juries, stood shoulder to shoulder and vehemently opposed the bill.

When, in Louisiana, you get both the urban Louisiana Municipal Association AND the rural police jury association lined up in vehement opposition and threatening to mount a constitutional challenge if they are ignored and the committee STILL reports it out without opposition or even change you know that the actual representatives of the people don’t matter anymore at all: only the convenience of corporations.

There ought to be some sort of grieving process we can go through when something this blatant reveals the true allegiance of our government. I’m beyond embarrassment and well into shame.

Smart Power, Networking, and Lafayette

(Note: Lafayette is about to get its introduction to this topic when Terry Huval addresses the League of Women Voters tonight. Invited to talk about Lafayette’s new network he says he wants to bring up ways to use that network to cut the community’s electrical costs. Lafayette may be the place where the electrical and the communications networks first merge in ways that preview what will happen more widely as soon as the current, ongoing energy crisis echoes through to electrical market place.)

Want to get a sense of what that is about? Try the AP article that appeared in Sunday’s Advocate that explored smart electricity.

Lafayette’s POV
It’s all about peak demand. Or: It’s all about saving money.

Your choice of focus depends on your Point Of View.

Network Engineers will focus on the first, peak demand. It’s a constant source of irritation for neat, tidy, frugal, engineer types that they have to add hugely to the expense of their networks in order to accommodate a few days in August when all the AC units are chugging on high. The customer POV, on the other hand, focuses on saving money. With the rising price of energy this motivation looms larger every day.

And of course there are those pesky, forethoughtful sorts who claim that we can’t keep on doing what we’re doing to the environment and simply must burn less fossil fuels if we don’t all want to sink into the Gulf faster than is necessary.

All these groups can hope that Lafayette’s new community network will help lower peak demand and cut costs and usage.

Lafayette is positioned on the cutting edge of all these issues: unlike most communities we own and produce our own electricity. We are about to own our own advanced telecommunications system with fast fiber and, eventually, ubiquitous wireless. And, in a time of climate change and rising waters, we sit in a spot where the alluvial plain sinks into the Gulf. Had Rita come ashore southwest of Lafayette instead of south of Lake Charles we’d have seen storm surge in the southern half of the parish and up the Vermilion River to I-10.

Doing Less with More
We can hope to do less (use less energy, spend less money) with what we have more of (networking and community).

The AP article talks about what is being done in some locales–and neglects to mention how important a capable, pervasive network is in making its dreams possible. Without two way communication between the customer and the electrical grid none of the potentials can be realized.

What the engineers at power companies want is to eliminate the spikes in demand that drive the costs of providing service up dramatically and make the network dangerously unstable. Here in Lafayette you might be surprised to know that our Fiber To The Home network is not the most expensive public works project undertaken in last few years. In fact building a set of gas-fired power plants here in the parish to handle merely the occasional peak demand cost nearly twice as much! (Nobody much noticed that project and it sailed through the council with out much public notice or media comment.)

Saving money on that cost is something that, if you have smart communications, you can share with your customers who are willing to help cut such peak demand. Power companies have long sought a way to give customers breaks who cut their usage during such periods–but the technology simply has not been available in a world where the finest grained reading of meters is done monthly. With smart, continuously read meters and a tight connection to a household network a dramatic set of possibilities for helping the power company, the consumer, and the environment emerge.

You can simply charge more for electricity during peak usage periods. Smart consumers and especially businesses can shift their usage cycles to respond to that price savings. Big electricity users like chemical plants have had such capacity for years–and have responded well, running power-intensive processes in the middle of the night helping providers save on new capacity. Other, more sophisticated programs give the consumer a substantial break for allowing the power company the ability to reach in to the home and raise the AC temperature 2 degrees, or to turn off the hot water heater or refrigerator for an hour during crisis moments. Just being able to monitor how much running various electricity-hungry processes costs can have a surprisingly good effect on holding down wasted use.

So, if you’re interested in this sort of value-added convergence of LUS Fiber and LUS Power consider coming to this evening’s LWV meeting. –The focus will be the network but expect Huval to introduce this new potential to the community.

Monday, May 5, 2008, 6:30 @ City Hall, Conference Room
(6:00 for Social/Refreshments)
Lafayette Consolidated Government Building—705 W. University Avenue