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.
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.