This is a partial reconstruction of the Lafayette Pro Fiber blog that John St. Julien ran for many years, chronicling the grassroots fight for and establishment of LUS Fiber in Louisiana. Many of the links have gone bad and images are missing, but most of the ideas are here and we believe well worth preserving. Site archived by the Community Broadband Networks program of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.
Ben Segura, a lead engineer at LUS Fiber, has been hired away by Google. His linkedIn profile says he started January 1st. He’ll be quartered in Google’s Mountain View, California headquarters and manage the Technical Program (job description) for Google’s widely publicized 1 Gb “Google Fiber for Communities” project. It’s a considerable understatement to say that’s a good job. Google has promised to install a 1 Gb fiber-to-the-home system in one or a few communities around the country and he’ll head up the technical effort for one of the most watched—and most—hopeful projects around.
What that program offers is truly impressive, which accounts for the more than 1,100 communities (including eight in Louisiana alone) that have applied for the very few places that will be available. About the extent of the program, Google sez:
We’re planning to build and test ultra high-speed broadband networks in a small number of trial locations across the United States. We’ll deliver Internet speeds more than 100 times faster than what most Americans have access to today with 1 gigabit per second, fiber-to-the-home connections. We plan to offer service at a competitive price to at least 50,000 and potentially up to 500,000 people
It’s a testament to the prestige of Lafayette’s experiment that Google finds Segura’s experience compelling. Segura’s only related work experience is at LUS (and his degree is from ULL.) As I understand it, a standout item on his resume was developing a way to make our 100 Mb intranet work. The LUS intranet—100 megs between all citizen-subscribers, regardless of the speed of the tier of service they purchase—has been a bragging point for Lafayette and is widely recognized as LUS’ most unique feature. Google makes a point in their project overview of saying: “Our goal is to experiment with new ways to help make Internet access better, and faster for everyone.”
An LUS-style intranet certainly fills that bill and maximizing intranet service will be one way that Google can begin to meet the implied promise it makes by touting a 1 Gig connection. —In most networks in this country the speed of the last mile is the main constraint on your experience but on a 1 gig local network the constraints will be out in the larger internet and users will seldom experience the full power of their enormous pipe. As we’ve discovered in Lafayette having a fast local connection is great, but it does not mean that your internet connection will be able to keep up. Google can, and surely will, put its own services on the local network. (My own suggestion to Google is that it do the same in Lafayette–and in any other muni network that will guarantee the full-bore speed to all its users that Lafayette does. That would expand its support of high-speed networks beyond its few sites and make a larger market for innovation.) Google will, as well, make sure that the connection to the backbone is always 1 gig (that can be an issue in Lafayette); what it can’t do is make the link up and down from the target server to the backbone is any faster; typically that link will not support 1 gig.
Segura’s first project site will likely be the exploratory project Google is putting together in Stanford (where Google’s first server was located back in the day when the founders were doctoral candidates.) The first site or sites in the large-scale project will be announced early this year and Segura will have a huge influence on the technologies they use to accomplish the communities and Google’s goals. It’s a job where a person can make a difference.
Congratulations to Ben; its a great thing for him and his family and a good thing for Lafayette to have a native son heading up a project of this nature at the world’s most influential internet company.
Hmmn. According to the Independent blog Lafayette Consolidated Government (LCG) is undertaking a marketing campaign on behalf of the City of Lafayette and LUS Fiber.
That is all sorts of interesting… The implication seems to be that marketing campaign will be used to promote annexations by the city by using LUS Fiber as the focal point for a campaign that touts the advantages of joining Lafayette rather than one of the smaller cities in the parish. That makes sense…and it doesn’t.
It makes sense to regard LUS Fiber as the easiest, most immediate, and most obvious municipal service that Lafayette can offer…and that the smaller cities cannot. LUS water, the last generation’s trump card, has long since been distributed out into the parish via long-term contracts. LUS’ electrical division would almost certainly be an improvement over Entergy…but only in degree. Better fire ratings, property values, and other city services are nice but not the sort of “point of purchase” incentive that move most buyers. The offer of a competing, local, technically superior, cheaper fiber to the home service on the other hand is unique to Lafayette. So promoting LUS Fiber to envious parish residents makes sense.
What makes less sense is the idea that LCG is going to enter into a contract to promote Lafayette against the interests of the other cities. Admittedly the consolidated in LCG only stands for Lafayette and the unincorporated areas since the smaller cities chose not to follow Lafayette into full consolidation, but the residents of the cities are also citizens of LCG in addition to their towns and I’d imagine that they and their representatives will look askance at this new LCG policy. The tension here underlines the question of sovereignty for Lafayette: If LCG cannot act on behalf of Lafayette’s interests then who can?
It’s also not clear that this plan is in the long-term or even middle range interest of LUS Fiber. Contrary to Broussard Mayor Langlinais’ petulant remark recently that LUS “needs” the expansion, LUS is most definitely not particularly best served by expansion into the least densely populated areas of the parish. LUS is doing just fine in the city proper, its take rate, and the average billing per customer are both higher than they need to make the current plan viable. The narrow passage that LUS Fiber is currently navigating is that of the initial years when large upfront investments in plant and in the initial cost of bringing each customer online for the first time vie with the costs of repaying the bond schedule. The first several years are crucial. A misstep now could unfairly trigger elements of the so-called fair competition act and lead to a forced sale of a perfectly viable service. Oddly it is perfectly possible for there to be too early and too sudden a success…putting costs that would be easily managed if taken over the years into the dangerous first years of operation and producing a paper “loss” that the incumbents would use to force closure.
Given LUS Fiber’s current success this may not be an issue but nonetheless the safest way to add new customers would be by taking in the members of the more densely settled inner portions of the smaller cities.
In the long run it would be best if all the citizens of the parish could join LUS Fiber’s network but it’s pretty clear that the annexation issues will need to be settled before that process can begin.
The Indpendent blog checks in with Terry Huval, director of LUS, and gets a nice chunk of good news for supporters of the system. The system will be complete in “around July,” 9 months ahead of schedule. Even more heartening is:
LUS Director Terry Huval writes in an e-mail. “Early in the planning of the project in 2004, we estimated that our breakeven for the project would be about 23 percent. In the areas where we have done the most of our limited marketing, we are already well-above that target. We are opening up new areas for service every week, so naturally those early take rate level are lower in those areas. But, we are pleased with the response we are getting. All indications are that we will easily meet all our financial obligations moving forward.” He adds that the business has also exceeded its projection of customers who buy all three services — phone, TV and Internet. LUS Fiber first began serving customers in February of last year.
That’s all good news! To unwrap that last a bit…having higher than expected take rates for the full triple play is not only a vote of confidence, it also means that the very large expense of taking on a new customer (paying for the truck rolls and expensive electronics inside and on the side of the house) will be paid off more quickly than expected. Purely in terms of paying back the bonds this is a “better” pattern.
<grump> The Ind unfortunately continues to feel obliged to report meaningless and misleading monthly revenue vs expenditure figures. (I know, this quarter’s numbers are “good” in that for two of the three months it shows a paper profit. It’s still misleading to cite them.) It’s meaningless because now and for several years into the future LUS is making huge upfront capital investments in plant and customer acquisition. NO business like LUS’ should be making money at this time. It’s also meaningless because the figures mix in the revenues from the mature wholesale business with the still-building retail network. Without accounting for build out and separating mature and growing parts of the division it is impossible for reporting on those numbers to be anything other than sensationalistic—whether they look good or not. </grump>
If you follow Lafayette’s LUS Fiber but don’t get the Baton Rouge Advocate you’ll want to check out Richard Burgess’ latest story, “LUS: Fiber on right track.” The heart of the story is found in the first paragraph:
Lafayette’s publicly owned fiber-optic based Internet, television and telephone service appears to be moving toward sound financial footing a year after its launch.
and the kicker:
Huval said this week that LUS Fiber should easily achieve the 23 percent market penetration needed to break even.
That’s the story and it should be understood as a huge and exciting one. LUS Fiber is on track to making its financial nut. The bottom line in the story of the new utility division is no more complicated than getting the take rate needed for success.
What’s nice about this story is the careful attention to the right detail. The first thing the citizens of Lafayette need to know about their new utility is whether or not it will pay for itself. This story makes it clear that as of right now it is on the expected path towards that goal. (At a moment when the network is not yet completed.) That path includes large upfront investments in expensive infrastructure that we have always understood would be paid out over the 25 year life of the bond issue.
LUS Fiber should not be “making” money in its first years. In fact the presence of a “profit” in the early years would be a terrible sign since it would indicate that LUS is not taking on the very heavy expenses of customer installations that raise its take rate and result in income which leads to the eventual timely retirement of the bond issue. Stories that lead with the “expenses” and “loses” in these first years are being sensational and hoping for no more than an excited readership. But worse than sensationalism they are actively misleading their readers about what is important about this developing public resource. Burgess’ story does not to succumb to this temptation and so it is not an “exciting” read — unless you understand the basic dynamics of the situation. I’ve argued (repeatedly) in these pages that the first duty of a news story is educational. Kudos to the Advocate on this one.
Click through to the report; there’s more interesting and encouraging tidbits about things like the higher than expected proportion of those taking all three services. It is a good solid read.
The Advertiser has a very measured piece about the fiber project on its front page today. Titled “Fiber rollout continues” it reports that things mostly are proceeding as expected. New news, such as it is, consists of notes about the locations of some phase 2 areas that are getting built a little early and a new reason for the slow, “controlled” rollout.
On phase 2:
LUS Director Terry Huval said crews are working in Phase II of the rollout, which includes downtown Lafayette and areas along Ambassador Caffery Parkway north of Congress Street and a small area along Johnston Street.
Huval said it can take four to six months to prepare an area to receive fiber service, which is why crews will often be seen working in multiple phase areas at the same time.
As to the slow rollout:
As for Phase I customers, Huval said the rollout continues to be slow, something that LUS officials expected. The main reason is that LUS is still using a manual system to sign up customers. Eventually, an automated system will be in place that will make the process quicker.
“That’s one of the things that keeps our rollout schedule slower than a lot of people would like to see it be,” Huval said. “When we want to serve more customers, we want to have that automated system to do it quickly and seamlessly. That’s probably going to be ready sometime this summer.”
Still, I’ve had several calls or emails from folks in the area who wanted fiber and were hoping to get it…they’re gonna be some especially happy people in the triangle described by the hospital, the university, and downtown—a natural hotbed of high-fiber consumers.
It’s certainly getting to the edges of phase 1; and , I’ve no doubt, is straying over the line in some places.
Be of good heart all of ye hungry hopeful; it’s coming:
LUS is on track to meet its goal of being able to provide service to anyone within the city limits by the first quarter of 2011. Currently, Huval says, LUS is offering service in some areas around the Acadiana Mall and in the Broadmoor subdivision. “We have the system built there,” he says. “And we’re opening up small pockets at a time to take in customers. We’re not opening the whole system, we’re taking bits at a time, just whatever we can handle with the manpower we’ve got right now. But as time goes on we’re going to have more and more manpower installing services so we’re going to get much faster.”
Even though you may see crews laying fiber in your neighborhood, don’t expect the service to be available the next day. Huval says it generally takes four to six months from the time fiber is buried or hung on poles in a subdivision to the time when LUS will actually start taking customers there.
I’m not sure what the title, “Occupational Hazard,” to this IND story is supposed to refer to other than the fact that sensationalized media stories are a mainstay and thus it’s an “occupational hazard” for public efforts to receive breathless coverage. (I’ve complained about this with the Advertiser before. And, when deserved, occasionally praised a media outlet.)
The story is that LUS rented a storefront a little more than a year ago and hasn’t moved into it. LUS has paid up front for the year we are in and so the Independent chooses to report the grand total for the first two years as the cost “to date.” It will be the same figure in December of this year. In fact it’s hard to figure out why this is a story now. The contract was approved in a public meeting of the city council and all the details have bee available for more than a year.
The gist of the story is interesting:
As the launch date neared for the fiber project, LUS re-evaluated its plans, opting to locate its initial fiber-to-the-home customer service center alongside its utilities office at City Hall. This bought time to plan for a more cost-effective way to utilize the storefront on Pinhook Road.
LUS now plans to provide customer service for both its fiber business and its utilities business out of the Pinhook space. A call center will handle customers over the phone, while other reps will be standing by to service walk-in customers. In addition, Huval says the store will double as a floor room for LUS fiber, with computers and widescreen TVs showcasing LUS’ cable and high-speed Internet service. “We’ll have the facilities necessary for customers to be able to actually test the system,” Huval says. He now hopes to open the center this fall
That LUS hasn’t done much with the location is strange—and Huval’s explaination that they felt that they had to snatch up a good property when it came available is surely part of what’s going on. —My extended family owns a fair amount of commercial rental property around town and it is quite true that prime space was extremely tight. On that score LUS might wish it’d waited. Of course, waiting would have been betting on the sort of commercial rental market collapse that still hasn’t taken place even in the wake of the huge financial mess that unexpectedly came down on the country. It’s hard to see how LUS should be blamed for not being more preseient than the financial hig-flyers on Wall Street who had the whole country convinced that the good times would never end.
Another part of the explaination appears to be a change in plans—the initial idea was apparently to open a full-blown LUSFiber-only customer service center in the Pinhook location when the project launched. But, according to the story, they decided instead to house the service center with the other utiltity services at the existing location at City Hall during the early months of the expansion and follow up with a multipurpose, mulitutility store at Pinhook & Kaliste Saloom. That, at least in part, was motivated by a getting a larger than expected estimate for remodeling the location. (That was during the post-Katrina construction boomlet and the headend facility was caught in the cost jump. —LUS scaled back its plans then as well in order to stay within budget.)
The most interesting “explanation” for the long-dormant rental is one that the story itself doesn’t mention: that LUS at one point hoped that a retail “showoff” store would be useful earlier than it now judges it will. This joins the list of things LUS is not doing to promote the fiber. LUS is very noticeably not marketing LUSFiber products. It is available in some areas that have not gotten so much as a notice in the mail that you can buy — much less local sales persons or media advertising. (Some eager people have called in spite of being warned not to call until their mailer showed up and found that they could, in fact, purchase service.) This is the “controlled rollout” that you hear so much about. As long as LUS is in shake-out mode they don’t want the raft of new customers that a retail store is designed to draw and are apparently making the judgment that opening such a store prior to that promotional stage would be a waste of money and energy. I’m sure they didn’t initially think they were renting space for use a 16 months out. But having done so the subsequent decisions appear to be financially conservative rather than extravagant.
LUS Fiber sent out another email to folks on their list recently. It is reproduced below. This one gives some detail about the areas within phase one in which it is possible to order services. There are three elipses in north Lafayette (2 around Louisiana and one east of Pinhook) and two in south Lafyette (near the mall).
LUS Fiber is now serving customers throughout the City of Lafayette! Once access to Lafayette’s only 100% fiber optic network is available to your home, you will be invited to switch your video, Internet and phone services to LUS Fiber.
Currently LUS Fiber is serving homes in the general areas circled below. If you live in or around these locations, call 99-FIBER (993-4237) or visit us at 705 W. University Avenue to speak with one of our customer service representatives to determine if your home is ready for service and to learn about our product offerings. So start planning your switch. We look forward to serving your video, Internet and phone needs.
Click here to review our products, services and channel line-up.
The depiction above represents an approximation of current service area. Call 99-FIBER to confirm serviceability to your home.
Here’s another Flicker set “illustrated story,” this time of the final, interior install. And yes, I love it. Fast. Clean picture. And a phone that sounds just like a “real” phone used to sound.
But on to the install: This, like the first visit, took about 2 hours. For a triple play install that’s likely to be on the quick side. My install was straightforward and the locations easily accessible. The inside work is likely to be of a more variable length than either the sign-up call or the outside install. A lot will depend on how your house is built, where you want to pull service and how many services you’ve bought. Those are all small factors in the outside work but major ones once you start coming inside.
If you’re getting the full package (and I recommend it) the task is pretty convoluted. They’ll need to get power from an inside plug to power up the Alcatel fiber box in order to get much more done. That involves a special bit of wiring to go from an interior plug to largish power brick out to the battery power pack that feeds the fiber box. Cable needs to be run to your entertainment location or locations and a standard phone cable exits the outside setup bound for the old demarcation point between AT&T’s wiring and your house. You’ll usually patch your new LUS services into the already established coax and phone wiring system of your home. But you’ll need to decide where you want the new internet service to go. Give this a bit of thought: right now likely have it coming in where someone, years ago, decided was close to the TV or the house phone. If you have a wireless router (or want one) you’ll want to choose a location that is central to the places where you use your laptop. If you’ve got a real home office with several devices that sit on an ethernet system (desktops, net storage, printers and on..) you might want to consider a closet into which you could drop a switch or router without leaving a wiring mess exposed to spousal disapproval or the ministrations of pets and small children.
A slidehow “illustrated story” of the installation is embedded below. I tinkered with several formats and am not sure which would be easier for most folks…so here are two more links; frankly, I’d probably prefer these to the slicker slideshow but that’s me. Best, IMHO: the familiar standard page with a largish readable image and text easily accessible below. If you want to just peek at the photos and decide if it looks intresting: There’s a “detail” page with good text that lets you decide which, if any, picture you’d like to investigate. And finally there’s the slick slideshow with big, screen-filling pics and floating text with a transulucent background. You can get to all glitz by starting the show, mousing to the bottom left to popup the controls and pausing the show, then click on the expand button that appears at lower right hand corner, go to the upper right and turn on “show info” to get the narration. Then you click through the nice big images and read the story..a lot of work…and all this is way too much to read….
This Sunday The Advertiser runs a fairly substance-free story on LUS fiber at the top of the front page: “First phase of LUS Fiber runs smoothly.” The basic point, of course, is that the service is up and running and that Huval says that it is gathering the expected number of subscribers..but that’s where the story reveals its lack of solid information. That’s not entirely the fault of the reporter: she spends paragraphs 2 through 4 reporting that LUS, Cox, and AT&T won’t say what their subscription figures look like. In LUS’ case this will eventually be pretty easy to discern simply from the public records of the budget—or so I would think. So it’s not clear what long-term benefit accrues from copying the incumbents on this. Though I do know that the infamous (un)fair competition act includes some provision for LUS shielding proprietary data I doubt that the practical politics involved will allow anything like the obfuscation the incumbents have engaged in. The wind is changing at the national level and, it looks like the federal context is changing in ways that may preclude keeping all this secret even for the incumbents.
The not-news aside there is an intriguing picture and one bit of news. The intriging picture shows Huval comparing LUS Fiber with Cox. I’d have loved to hear those claims—Huval is pretty notoriously conservative about the claims he makes and it’d be fun to know what he feels certain enough to remark on. Alas, there’s no clue in the story itself. The bit of news is that work has begun on the buildout for section 2; my guess there is that crews specializing in laying down trunk fiber are simply being moved on to the next pieces of the project as section one’s trunks are are completed. (Anybody in section 2 seeing digging or lines being hung in their area?)