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 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.

The Year in Review

The Year In Review @ LafayetteProFiber

2007 was the year Lafayette’s fiber project emerged from the wilderness and people began to dream in earnest. The final delaying lawsuit was dismissed, the bonds sold, and contracts let for construction. Dreams followed the announcement of intriguing new features like a wireless addition and the 100 megs of intranet bandwidth and people began to dream of what we might do with it it to close the digital divide or provide new ways to strengthen the community.

At the year’s beginning we were still awaiting a decision from the State Supreme Court on the last lawsuit holding up the bond sale. The Fiber to the Schools project advanced, ensuring a parish-wide fiber backbone and early hints of a wireless project were realized when LUS put out a bid for a municipal wireless network — one initially designed to provide government services. The competition was clearly still out there as Cox introduced Video On Demand, upping the ante on what Lafayette’s network needed to provide in its initial offerings.

In early February Durel’s “State of the City” address lauded the fiber build but failed to slake our appetite for new news on the wireless component. The Advertiser’s attempt to move into an internet-centric future advanced in fits and starts but it emerged with arguably the best local video site in town, far outclassing the efforts of the local TV stations and proving that with the construction of new net-based infrastructure the race will not necessarily go to the established incumbents. An attempt to resuscitate the breathless prose of the fiber fight fell flat at the Advertiser as a story about the cost of defending ourselves against the incumbents produced no discernible ripple of concern from a populace immunized against such sensationalism by the long fiber battle.

Late in the month, after weeks of waiting, came the Supreme Court decision we’d been waiting—and hoping—for. The Court unanimously overturned the 3rd Circuit’s ruling and pretty roundly spanked them for their mistakes in letting the argument go on for so long. The final victory for Lafayette was widely heralded as one that would have consequences in locales beyond Lafayette or Louisiana. Cox, after years of vigorous attempts to delay or destroy the project, testily denied that it made any difference to them. Dreaming about what we could do with the shiny new toy starts almost immediately and LUS announced plans to solicit ideas from the community.

The first, and in retrospect apparently last, of the Fiber Forums is held and the community had plenty of ideas. (Cox and AT&T also attended and took conspicuously copious notes.) If nothing else the forum demonstrated that the LUS understood that a generous attitude will pay unanticipated dividends. And that simple insight is one which will do more to make the system a success than any elaborate business plan. Wireless hopes, big intranet bandwidth, symmetrical speeds and more were all promised and their implications discussed.

An old issue, the digital divide, returned, Lafayette was named a “Smart Community,” and the first high paying jobs attracted by the fiber arrived. LUS started to spend visible money on the networks construction, selecting a design firm to lay out plans for the headend building that would house the electronics and for a warehouse to store the masses of equipment that would be needed in the construction phase.

April brought a shower of small advances. The Digital Divide Committee was reconvened, the location of the headend facility at the intersection of I-10 and I-49 was set, and an engineer to oversee the construction and help make crucial decisions was chosen.

March brought a reblooming of the old FUD tactics from the incumbent corporations. Cox kicked off the festival with an embarrassing attempt to pretend its hybrid fiber-coax network was a fiber network in a venue where everyone knew better. Just a bit later we got a whiff of old push poll tactics when a new, apparently limited version was trialed in Lafayette. Then Naquin’s (AT&T’s PR team?) attorneys carried water for the incumbents by engaging in a rather transparently false threat to sue LUS just a week before the city went to New York to interview for the crucial bond ratings.

As the seasons turned Huval went to Councilor William’s “Real Talk” and talked—about the retail wireless plans, about a faster construction schedule, about a larger basic cable lineup than anticipated, about internet speeds where the slowest package would be faster than the fastest speeds available in most of the country. Oh yeah, and symmetrical bandwidth coupled with a 100 meg intranet. Enough to leave the most ardent proponent breathless. Lafayette Pro Fiber floated a dream about a “Lafayette Commons” that would take our commonly owned network and use it to make a place to share local information build community.

The bond sale was authorized and the bonds were put on the market. The first unit sold solidified the legal standing of the entire business plan since bond holders are constitutionally protected from any change in the plan no future legal challenges to the basic plan can be successful.

In July LUS’ Huval was honored by his national peers—he was both given an achievement award and made the chairman of the board of the American Public Power Association. The success of the fiber fight clearly raised his stock nationally as well as locally. The bond sale closed; meaning the money was in the bank and available to spend. The newly hired engineer’s men were in the field surveying poles—making sure there was plenty of room for the fiber to be hung.

Joey Durel took over leadership of the Louisiana Municipal and pledged to work “to give local governments more ability to control their own destinies while not placing roadblocks in the way of our progress.” Among other things, that probably referred to the infamous imposition by the legislature of the (un)Fair Competition Act. An LMA with aware leadership will fight such laws. The City-Parish Council approved the fiber funding plan. Dreaming about what might well turn out to be the nation’s best telecom system continued apace and a new Digital Divide report was made to the council.

Another small media tempest erupted as the kids headed back to school. The headend building came in way over budget and LUS had to scale back and issue a new set of specs to keep its price under control. The headend was one in a series of public projects whose price spiraled upwards in the wake of Lafayette’s post-Katrina/Rita building boom.

Cox fired its most effective shot yet across the bow of LUS by securing a long-term contract with ULL athletics for exclusive rights to telecast replays of coaches programs, sporting events and university athletic programs on its cable systems—and we can rest assured they’ll not be reselling such valuable material to the local opposition. For ULL fans this is a very big deal—such deals have lead to a lot of fan anger on both coasts where such deals are more common.

The Advertiser endorsed the dreams of bridging the digital divide in a supportive editorial and Huval spoke up on Federal broadband policy in his role of APPA chair saying plainly that the incumbent telecom corporations had failed American in spite of massive subsidies and called for letting “the public sector take the reins in communities where citizens want them to do so.”

Dreaming of a better wireless network provided a bit of fun in October. The surprise announcement that LUS would imitate Apple and open its own “fiber storefront” to educate and promote the brand was greeted with approval. And the construction news rolled on with Alcatel being picked to provide the electronic guts of Lafayette’s new system.

LUS signed a franchise agreement with the city-parish that was virtually a copy of Cox’s and immediately tried to reassure folks during its approval that the agreement wasn’t nearly all they hoped to provide the community. One of the few areas where LUS laid out a plan in their franchise agreement for going beyond what Cox had already done was in its support of AOC, the local access channel. That touched of some dreaming about what a 21st century AOC might really look like. Mike weighed in with some dreams about an asynchronous Lafayette in which AOC or a surrogate would play a major role.

If history repeated itself with the franchise agreement, an awareness of the recent fiber battle seemed completely missing from the minds of some candidates for the state representative seats up for grabs this year. Let’s hope their more aware colleagues educate them as to what a successful telecommunications utility could mean for the hopes and dreams of their community.

As the year wound down toward the holiday season the bid on the revamped fiber headend was accepted and the crews were spotted in a North Lafayette neighborhood moving wires on poles in preparation for hanging fiber.

The future is upon us. Since the plan is to light up a section of the city somewhere near the first of the coming year, with any luck next year’s edition of this missive will be able to say that fiber has been lit up in Lafayette and that we no longer need to wait for the future.

It’s a new year indeed.

AOC & LUS’ Franchise

This morning’s Advocate has a story focusing on one benefit from Tuesday’s approval of the LUS’ cable franchise: Acadiana Open Channel (AOC) will benefit to the tune of $50,000 dollars and a new capacity to offer on-demand programming.

As Blanchard points out, most of the franchise agreement is, for legal reasons relating to the (un)Fair Competition Act, a clone of Cox’s 2000 agreement.

There are some differences, however, including the way the LUS agreement deals with the Acadiana Open Channel:

Each year, the Cox franchise agreement requires Cox to pay $50,000 to the open channel to run a public access channel, although that figure can go down if the city-parish doesn’t match funds up to a certain amount.

The LUS agreement calls for the open channel to get a flat $50,000 regardless of any conditions.

While there is a dark lining on this silver cloud, my guess is that Ed Bowie over at AOC’s Lee Avenue offices regards this as a good thing. After all, the perennially cash-strapped organization is getting a new, solid, continuing funding source for the next 10 years. With new federal regulations threatening to further erode the principle of local control of cable media by telling localities that they can’t demand much of anything other than cash for letting cable corporations rent their rights-of-way all public access groups are facing a bleak future. Likely LUS’ commitment will make it politically difficult for Cox to back out of its commitments just because the Feds say they can renege. Cox appears to have a good relationship with AOC. The corporation recently extended AOC’s reach into the surrounding communities recently (you can see AOC’s programming throughout Cox’s Acadiana footprint now) and provides AOC with net connection. (LUS should certainly match that.)

Even as AOC programming has solidified—it now really fills the two channel slots it has been allocated—and in part because of increased demand for its services AOC’s staffing problems have increased. This is especially true in the critical technical area that will be its future and the additional shot of money will no doubt be helpful there.

But there is a downside to the LUS’ unconditional gift to AOC. It’s unconditional. That means that should the council decide it doesn’t want to match LUS’ contribution in the same way it matches Cox’s then their decision to be chintzy doesn’t let LUS off the hook. With the Cox money the local government has to continue to support AOC or let Cox walk away with money that could be returned to the community. The way LUS has set up its contribution the city is freed from that responsibility. Of course that doesn’t free it from the moral obligation to help pay for valuable community resources. AOC is a magnet for creative types and AOC’s broadcasting of public meetings is an essential public resource. The city-parish should do the right thing.

The LUS contribution will give AOC a nice boost on becoming a next-generation public access institution. The addition of a video-on-demand (VOD) capacity is a window into that new world and LUS will be smart to put lots of local programming into its VOD library. LUS wants—or should want—VOD to be become very popular. It is by far the easiest way to get long tail content and very local content onto any network. Satisfying the actual desires every ecclectic and very local taste rather than forcing them to watch lowest-common-denominator stuff that is popular in both Peoria and New York is the best way to satisfy video customers and build market share. Beyond actually serving your customers encoraging VOD use makes a lot of sense for LUS because, frankly, Cox is going to have trouble competing in that arena. It’s current implementation is just plain klutzy and it stresses the network. At least at my house it is possible to try and log into that function and to have the network tell you that it is busy. Their network is already oversubscribed and they’ve not allocated the bandwidth to keep it flowing smoothly at times of peak demand. So to try and match LUS in encouraging a larger percentage of its subscribers to use VOD would mean investing more bandwidth in VOD–and without a system upgrade that means reducing profitable services elsewhere.

But VOD is only a hint of what is possible. Just on the other side of the closed system of downloading video from your cable company through your TV’s settop box (which is what VOD is all about) lies the unconstrained land of real “Downloaded Video,” DV (See “Die TV, Die!, Die!, Die!”). DV replaces the broadcast model based on limited bandwidth and the desire of broadcast networks and cable companies to profit off every minute you spend watching the boob tube with a system that allows you to download video you care about (instead of what some “average” American doesn’t dislike too much) video you want (and only video you want) at any time (instead of on their schedule). Setting up a download server on the LUS intranet would be the next really big leap into the next era for Lafayette and AOC. From there you could download HD versions of the city-parish show (look at the grimace on your councilman’s face in excruciating detail), or your kid’s latest soccer match, or that Monday night political show or last Sunday’s homily. Even better, download the version of the meeting your councilman commented and submitted. Or the edited version by your favorite local cynic. Or a compendium of Mr. Benjamin’s funniest remarks updated with bits from that last meeting. Those outside the intranet would get the YouTube version. (Or they could move to Lafayette.)

In the long run DV is where video is going. Lafayette could be far ahead of the curve if we invest just a little bit in a fat connection for AOC and a minimal investment in a couple of fast servers and a dozen inexpensive terabytes of drive storage. The future is cheap and available at Best Buy. It’s the vision that we’ve got find.

Coming Soon: aL, La and the Magical Municipal Tour

As we head to the end of this year, the pace of progress on the LUS fiber project is increasing. The electronics vendor has been selected; property for the head-end has been purchased; a building for that is not far off.

Some of the specifics of the network offerings have become public, the most notable of which is the fact that every LUS fiber customer will have 100 megabits per second of in-system connectivity. What that means is that Lafayette will have an intranet that will rival any corporate or academic campus in the world.

This will create the opportunity fundamentally change life in Lafayette. With that much in-system bandwidth available, it will be possible for a new, asynchronous Lafayette to emerge — asynchronous Lafayette, Louisiana (aL, La).

Lafayette and The Network

The power of networks to drive change is well documented. There is Metcalfe’s Law. There is the fabulous, thought-provoking 2002 book by Albert-Laszlo Barabasi, Linked: The New Science of Networks, which explores the power of networks and what new, more powerful networks mean for science, business and everyday life. I’m sure you can find other examples and references.

Because of the design of the LUS network and the commitment to create an intranet for customers of that network, Lafayette is going to be a community where the impact of this meeting of network power and the various aspects of network connected life will be explored first. We will be pioneers on the great adventure that will not come to other communities in our country and the world for years — if not decades — to come.

All that bandwidth will mean that access to aspects of life Lafayette will no longer be tied to time. That is, large swaths of public life in Lafayette will migrate to a point where access to events will no longer depend on your ability to physically show up. Any public event in Lafayette will have the potential to be preserved for posterity.

The path to opportunity in Lafayette will run along the ability of government, companies, institutions, associations, clubs and individuals to push the transition from ‘Lafayette in the now’ to ‘asynchronous Lafayette.’

The LUS fiber system and the intranet capability it will provide its customers will make it difficult to leave Lafayette. Life will be different from other places here. We will miss the amenities that the fat connection that the LUS network will afford us. But, if we work this right, we will not have to miss Lafayette in the sense that more of our civic and social life can and will be made available to us via the network in ways that will not require our physical presence at the event in order to observe it or, in some cases, participate in it.

We won’t stop attending these events, but the LUS network will enable citizens here to experience more of Lafayette life because those events will be available to us at times that our hectic lives — family, work, and play — don’t currently allow. For instance, I like good music, but I can’t always find the time to say, go to a Louisiana Crossroads performance. Or, maybe I have to be out of town on the night that there’s a PASA show that I’d otherwise like to catch.

In asynchronous Lafayette, those events could be captured, stored and be made accessible to folks who can’t attend the live event — or who might want to experience the event from a different perspective.

This is one way that the network will set public life in Lafayette apart from life in other communities.

I think it’s important that we focus on this opportunity in order to ensure that the changes resulting from our new distinctiveness enable Lafayette to capture and leverage those aspects of our community that make us unique; that we use our infrastructure to knock down the barriers between us, not to widen existing gaps.

Here are some ideas of how the LUS network might enable asynchronous Lafayette to emerge.


This new infrastructure has the potential to improve the ability of citizens to participate in governmental processes with the result being that government becomes more responsive to them and their needs. In asynchronous Lafayette, public meetings will be recorded, stored and be able to be accessed by citizens who were not able to attend the meeting. Documents presented, discussed or distributed in the meeting will be available for viewing and downloading via the webcast (live and stored) of the session.

Those web-accessed meetings could also have links to allow citizen input on the process. It will mean a number of structural changes will need to take place. First, local government and agencies will need to put cameras and microphones in any room used for public meetings so that the sessions can be recorded. Second, they’ll need to invest in the storage capacity to allow these meetings to be tagged and archived for later access. Third, they’ll need to provided wider windows of opportunity for citizens to submit formal comment on proposals, issues and ordinances.

I’m not talking about the kind of Blog of the Banshees that the comment sections of The Daily Advertiser and other papers have become; but a formal channel for citizen comment and involvement that will become part of the permanent public record of the proceedings, even though the citizens might not have been present at the event when it actually occurred. Asynchronous access to government might actually lend itself to richer, more thoughtful citizen involvement by affording interested parties the opportunity to review the materials and sessions away from the heat of the moment.

Lafayette may need to come up with its own version of public meeting laws to ensure that our rich digital infrastructure is used to enhance citizen access to government and its decision-making processes.


In asynchronous Lafayette, students will never miss another day of class. That is, classrooms could be equipped with cameras and microphones which would enable teachers to deliver their course content in a real-time session that could be available to students too ill to attend class that day. The course could be accessed from home either via a video stream or accessed later when the student was feeling better. When I made this case to my daughter a couple of years ago prior to the fiber election, I have to admit that she was not wild about this idea.

The network will also facilitate more collaborative learning, as students, teachers, even researchers will be able to interact in real time with voice, data and video on projects ranging from homework to science projects to specialized research projects.


We can use this infrastructure to improve and enrich Lafayette’s cultural life and, in the process, bolster and sustain artists and the institutions that support them.

Asynchronous Lafayette will be a boon to businesses built around entertainment and culture. More specifically those places offering ‘live’ music are going to have a real opportunity to emerge as global purveyors of our musical culture. There’s a hint of what is possible by what’s transpired in Austin, Texas. Austin City Limits helped transform that city into a multi-media entertainment center, drawing musicians from around to world to a place that has no obvious other reason to attract them. The show now has its own music festival.

Big whoop.

Imagine asynchronous Lafayette, where we are capturing on video live performances at Grant Street Dancehall, the Blue Moon Saloon, Louisiana Crossroads, Festival International, Festival Acadiens, Downtown Alive, the Heymann Center, and other venues. We could establish our city as THE live music capital of the world by letting the world access all the great live music that we grow and bring here.

Put cameras in the venues, run a feed out of the sound boards and — voila! — shows could be streamed over the web and stored on servers here in Lafayette for later access. The webcast versions could be free or very inexpensive, serving to feed demand for the higher quality recordings of the sessions that could be produced from the archived digital files and sold at a premium.

I happened to catch T. Bone Burnett on The Charlie Rose show on LPB the other night. In that segment (he was on as the producer of the new Robert Plant and Allison Krause album Raising Sand), Burnett said that he believed the future of the music business would revolve around live performance. He added that he wanted to be involved with producing live shows and the recordings that resulted from them.

Asynchronous Lafayette will be ideally positioned to lead this transition by using our wired infrastructure to enable the capture of high-definition, high-quality recordings of all that great music that is some what wasted when it is only captured by the ears that are in the room.

It’ll take some server capacity (hey, Google and Sun both offer ‘Data Centers in a Box‘ that bring huge storage capacity in a modular unit that looks like a shipping container), but opportunities like this are going to abound in the arts in the new, wired, asynchronous Lafayette.


The strictly business crowd (you know, the folks who buy Dell and HP computers) won’t be shut out either. In fact, businesses in Lafayette are going to have a strategic advantage due to the bandwidth that the LUS intranet affords them. For starters, it will be possible for businesses in Lafayette to work in a more distributed way. That is, people here will really be able to telecommute (i.e., work from home) in ways that are just not possible now. Massive bandwidth will make information sharing easier so things like white board sharing over multiple locations will be able to take place seamlessly. This could be a key to our traffic problems since no one seems to want to pay for roads.

WebEx and similar services should be recruited to conduct pilots here because the kind of network capacity we have here is going to be a while in reaching the rest of the country. Imagine the possibilities that engineering firms located here will have to look at problems via a network, fashion solutions and get them to the fabrication floor in a much shorter cycle.

Healthcare and Public Health

Healthcare in Lafayette can be fundamentally different than it is in any other place in the country. Home monitoring of patients will be able to rival that currently available only in ICUs. Any kind of telemetry that can be captured from a patient in a hospital will soon be able to be captured from home via the network. This could reduce hospital stays and with that the cost of care — without adversely affecting the quality of care.

A few months ago, the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals conducted a series of drills across the state to test preparedness for a potential flu pandemic. I happened to attend a meeting in a community where the results of one such drill were discussed. One aspect of the outbreak that the providers did not mention was the impact of an outbreak on the telecommunications system. In the event of an outbreak, there will likely be a good bit of what people near chemical plants know as “evacuation in place.” That is, people will be advised to stay home in order to avoid exposure to the virus that would be causing the flu outbreak.

With the robust telecommunications infrastructure that will be in place in Lafayette, we can diminish the extent of the outbreak by ordering children to stay home from school (with a wired community, teachers could teach from home to students at home). Some companies could have their workers stay home, using the network to conduct their work from there. All of this could have the effect of limiting the extent of the outbreak and, perhaps equally important, limiting the disruption on community life that such an outbreak would otherwise inflict.


People in Lafayette love sports and they particularly love watching their kids play sports. In asynchronous Lafayette, soccer, baseball, basketball and football games could be recorded, as well as swim meets, track meets, and other events could be recorded and shared. Sports leagues could use the network to produce highlights of games/tournaments, post stats, show standings, schedules and other key information.

Again, what will be needed are cameras, servers and the people to operate them.

Religious, Social & Civic Organizations

Churches, community organizations, civic groups will be able to record their meetings and make the content available to those unable to attend the live event.

Scratching At The Surface

Beginning sometime in late 2008 or so, LUS will begin offering services. At that point, the transformation of Lafayette and the potential it offers will move from the dream state to reality. The possibilities mentioned above are a wholly inadequate and incomplete list that doesn’t really even scratch the surface of the potential that awaits us.

Think about your current life in Lafayette. Think of how big bandwidth, affordable network technology can be used to enable you to to connect (or re-connect) to those aspects of life here that interest or intrigue you, but that your schedule will just not allow you to get to.

Thinking this way is how citizens are going to be able to transform life here. It will be a bottom-up process that will be built on the foundation of the Lafayette intranet afforded to us by the LUS fiber network. Digital technology has unleashed revolutions in video, audio, and communications in general. With the bandwidth available to each of us and the institutions we align ourselves with, we can — and will — define new ways of joining, belonging to and participating in these institutions and, through this process, change Lafayette.

This will be an opportunity unique to Lafayette in North America because we will be the largest, most diverse community with access to the fattest network pipes. We can pioneer new and unique approaches to civic, social, cultural and community life using the network, just as our geography shaped those aspects of our life here in the centuries leading up to this point.

As the network builds out and as we begin to capture the potential that our fiber infrastructure will offer us, asynchronous Lafayette can come to embody the notion that you never really have to miss Lafayette at all — at least, not any public event.

The time to think about how to turn that potential into reality is now, just as the LUS network itself is moving from the engineering tables to the streets.

This great adventure of asynchronous Lafayette is coming sooner than you think right down your street. The time has come to start preparing to take advantage of the opportunities that will abound. You’re only limit will be your imagination.

Step right this way!