“LUS bonds up to council”

Kevin Blanchard over at the Advocate posts a background update and a timeline to the ongoing saga of the fiber bond sale. He points out that the Naquin lawsuit was filed to prevent the bond sale and that Lafayette’s victory at the state Supreme Court cleared the way for the sale.

The following quotes neatly establish the timeline (date inclusions mine):

  • [5/15/07] The City-Parish Council is scheduled Tuesday to introduce an ordinance that will be presented to the bond markets as part of a proposal for LUS to borrow up to $125 million…
  • [5/23-24/07] Lafayette and LUS officials will be in New York in two weeks to meet with representatives of the bond market…
  • [6/11/07] On June 11, LUS will get an official proposal from the bond market that includes things such as proposed interest rate and other terms of the bonds…
  • [6/12/07] The next day, the council will hold a special meeting to plug those specifics into the ordinance it would introduce Tuesday.
  • [by 6/30/07] If all goes well, LUS could obtain funding by the end of June, Lalumia said.
  • [8/1/07] If the bonds are issued by the end of June, that would place that estimate of having its first customer by October 2008.

The story clarifies (again) the way the bond funding will work, detailing the way it will be paid off from user fees and how the expected shortfall during the start-up years will be handled. In line with the original feasibility plan, they expect to start turning a profit in three years.

Worth the read….


In a story on the LITE center the following thought-provoking bit appeared.

Bryan Fuselier’s company took readings inside the Superdome to measure interference and cell phone signal strength, as part of a contract with a large cellular service company.

LITE took that data and placed it into a three-dimensional space, so that the clients could walk around inside the Superdome, identifying the cold spots and looking for solutions. The same thing could be done on a larger, citywide scale, Fuselier said.

Hmmmn. One of the big problems with municipal WiFi has turned out to be “tuning” the system. —For instance, coverage is dramatically effected by leaves…yes, leaves. So no system, at least in our part of the country, can be adequately tested in the winter. And one season’s growth can really change reception–what worked last year may not work this year. It’s complicated — complex — and a huge computational problem with a staggering number of independently changing parameters.

Perfect for a supercomputer/visualization complex. Wouldn’t it be nice if LITE could shortcut some of the inevitable issues with getting a really functional WiFi network up and sustaining its effectiveness?

Something to think about.

Fiber Engineer Introduced to Lafayette

The Advertiser and the Advocate covered the introduction of the company that will design and oversee the building of Lafayette’s fiber to the home project yesterday at TechSouth. It will be a significant construction project and Atlantic Engineering is the leader in its are. From the Advocate:

Atlantic Engineering Group of Atlanta has designed and/or built 14 of the 20 municipally owned citywide fiber-to-the-home networks like that planned by LUS.

Lafayette’s will be the largest in the country, said James Salter, Atlantic Engineering’s CEO.

The Advertiser specifies that it will be the largest fiber project in terms of homes passed and that the runner-up is another AEG project in Clarkesville, TN.

Both papers emphasize that one parameter of the project will be to make it “future-proof:”

Terry Huval, LUS director, said it is hoped Lafayette will have a fiber network designed to accommodate future technological changes and be the most advanced telecommunication system in the world.

That matches what I’ve been told–by officials and by field techs–and that mixed systems are contemplated. While the teams inclination is still toward a GPON (aka P2MP) network emphasis is on overprovisioning the fiber enought to support both AON (aka P2P) and selective use of Home Run architectures. That pretty much covers the whole range of possibilities and would be pretty innovative. (Is all that is Greek to you? Try the recent post that dealt with architectures for a quickish background.)

Salter, the AEG CEO, emphasized that he was worried about keeping up with demand:

Salter said the most important lesson his company has learned is how difficult it can be to keep up with customer demand.

Because of the high-profile fight over the past three years to allow LUS to enter into the telecommunications business — the state Supreme Court gave its OK earlier this year — there’s a lot of “pent-up demand,” from customers who want LUS service as soon as possible, Salter said.’…

Atlantic Engineering will also work to make sure that enough preparation is done to meet, as best as possible, what is expected to be “extraordinarily high demand,” Salter said.

That isn’t bravado, though many readers might dismiss it as such. It is an honest concern based on AEG’s recent experience. In the Bristol project the biggest problem has been that the system was built assuming a best-case scenerio of a 50% take rate–few really thought that selling fiber services to even half of the homes passed was realistic. Only a few years into the project it is already past that point–and some expensive new laying of supporting fiber has to be done. Now more success than you could have imagined is a great problem to have–but it is a problem that a conscientious system designer will want to avoid. My understanding is that the current idea is to provision enough fiber to cover a 100% take rate from the beginning.

All very exciting…

TechSouth, Atlantic Engineering, and Fiber

LUS is bringing Jim Salter, CEO of Atlantic Engineering which was recently awarded the FTTH home design contract, to TechSouth according to an LUS media release. He’ll be available to answer questions about “products and services.” That’s actually a pretty big deal and its pretty nice that the opportunity is being offered to the public and not only reportorial types. Monday, May 7 at 1:30 p.m.

From the press release:

The City of Lafayette and Lafayette Utilities System will introduce the head of the engineering firm recently selected to spearhead the LUS Fiber-to-the-Home project at a press conference before the start of the TechSouth annual summit and exposition. James H. Salter, P.E., CEO of Atlantic Engineering Group, will be in Lafayette to introduce the leadership team on the fiber project, answer interested citizens’ questions about upcoming products and services and explain how Fiber-to-the-Home will enhance their lives.

The nationally recognized professional engineer from Atlantic Engineering will explain the fiber build-out process and the firm’s role in ensuring Lafayette residents and LUS customers have the latest and best technology and services when the LUS products become available in 18 months from the scheduled bond fund delivery in July 2007.

Bond Trip Set

The Advertiser reports on the administration’s trip to New York next month. They’ve set up the appointments and so now have a date to make the pilgrimage. This, as the story indicates, is an important trip:

A good credit rating means the city is a better risk to investors, and the bonds would have a lower interest rate. Investors will loan the money in exchange for the bonds. The money will be repaid with revenues generated from fiber services.

Note that this is a credit rating for the bonds themselves…not for LUS or LCG. Their history will count, of course, and LUS in particular has a stellar history. They recently got excellent ratings on a larger bond sale whose purpose was to build new electrical capacity. Some of that demonstrated confidence in LUS’ reliability should rub off on this project.

I’m sure Lafayette’s presenters will be anxious. Convincing the folks at Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s that you are just a cut above the rest can result in huge savings for the people of Lafayette over the life of the project. This is just like a house mortgage in that respect: every fraction of a point really counts; especially over the full term of the loan. Come the 23rd and 24th of next month we should all light a candle.

With any luck we’ll have the money in hand for “Fiber Day,” July 16th–the anniversary of the referendum vote. That would really be something to celebrate.

More on Choosing an Engineer (And What an Engineer Chooses)

The Advocate weighs in with its version of the story on the selection of an design and engineering firm for Lafayette’s Fiber To The Home Network. (The Advertiser story was yesterday.)

There’s a lot of overlap between the two stories. Both stories, for instance, report that Atlantic Engineering will do engineering design but only “oversee” construction. There is some interesting additional detail in this version. One makes a bit more sense of the large warehouse LUS recently choose an architect to design:

Contractors will not be asked to include in their cost estimates the price of fiber-optic cable and other materials, Ledoux said. Instead, LUS plans to separately seek bids for material in bulk, storing it in a planned warehouse, then doling it out to contractors as needed, Ledoux said, adding that approach should save money.

Contractors often handle this themselves–and charge an nice cost-plus markup to take on the trouble. In a project this size cutting out that middle man will save the community an nice chunk of change. By consolidating what might otherwise be a number of separate bids LUS will put themselves in a better bargaining position with suppliers than their subcontractors could manage as well.

Another paragraph briefly describes some of the decisions that AEG will help LUS make (caution: geeky stuff ahead):

LUS has already studied the specific technical decisions needed as related to the type of equipment and technology it will use to build the network. An example is the decision to make the network passive or active, technical terms that describe how it is the actual signals are relayed or split on their way from LUS’ head-end facilities before arriving to the end user.

This is important stuff. It involves the nitty-gritty of how the network will be built. Not all Fiber to the Home (FTTH) builds are the same. One significant difference is the whether you get a direct signal from the headend, unshared by other users or split the original signal with (usually) 32 others in your immediate neighborhood.

<timeout for definitional issues>
The first, direct connection, the FTTH Council calls a Point to Point system (acronym: P2P) and the second a Point to MultiPoint (P2MP). That is a neat, clean, contrast, that focuses on the functional difference. But P2MP systems have been more commonly described locally as Passive Optical Networks (PON) and I’ll continue that mixed usage here. I wish there were a common standard…but there’s not.
</timeout for definitional issues>

P2P systems provide the highest speed/largest capacity to the end user and a less costly and more flexible upgrade path. PON systems do not require “active” electronics in the field, only the aforementioned “passive” splitters and so are easier to maintain. Until very recently PON systems were considered cheaper to install but recent pricing changes, especially in the electronics of the networks, means that there is no longer a decisive difference in price.

(In the image at right the AON (Active Optical Network) is a P2P system)

LUS has long leaned toward a PON system as does its chief advisor, Doug Dawson of CCG. AEG has built both kinds of systems. As I understand it Bristol, VA’s system is PON and Provo’s is a P2P system. Perhaps the AEG’s Jim Salter and associates will have a different take on this issue.

I tend to favor P2P. It’s the natural endpoint in the development of any FTTH system and turns the full power of the network over to the enduser without sharing network capacity with his or her neighbors. It also means that any user could potentially have a completely different setup from their next door neighbor, using radically different speeds, protocols or even providers; a task much more difficult or even impossible to achieve on a passive network where the electronics are shared. With cost differences falling to zero P2P seems like the smarter long-term bet. That said, it is possible to overbuild a PON system and provide capacity to do some P2P connections that bypass the local splitters. Going with an overbuilt PON of that sort would alleviate some of the deficiencies of the PON architecture in that a user that really needed the flexibility could probably, arduously and at significant cost, arrange to have it. But it would not put the best the system can offer to every user’s doorstep–and that, in the end, is what I think a local utility should do.

Interesting days. Isn’t it great to have stuff like this to worry about?

Lagniappe: if you find this stuff fascinating (cough, cough) or if you don’t but think it important enough to understand better anyway you can click over to Wikipedia’s Fiber to the Premises page for a relatively nontechnical explanation of the distinction between the two basic architectures–presented using the terms AON and PON.

Project Design Engineer Chosen (Update)

Atlantic Engineering will design Lafayette’s new Fiber To The Home project, according to a short story posted to the Advertiser web site. Apparently this also includes “overseeing construction” of the project even though AEG will not be the builder of record.

They’ve got the experience and the passion, as we noted earlier.

One step at a time.

Update: A fuller story appears in this morning’s Advertiser.

Choosing an Engineer

Kevin Blanchard over at the Advocate published a story this morning on the selection process for an engineer for Lafayette’s fiber to the home project. The essentials:

LUS Director Terry Huval said the firm will design every aspect of the network, from the overhead and underground lines to the connections at the main facility and end users.

In addition, the firm will help LUS define the bid specifications to be followed by prospective contractors. After construction begins, the engineers will help monitor construction, Huval said.

A professional services committee will take LUS’s review of the applicants (there were thirteen) and choose three to pass on to Mayor Durel for his selection. The work load on the committee should be light: LUS says that only three of the applicants have the proper work history to qualify them for the job making winnowing down the list pretty straightforward. LUS also has a favorite: the Atlantic Engineering Group.

Atlantic Engineering is arguably the nation’s premier Fiber To The Home (FTTH) engineering and construction group and is certainly the leading such company in the South. Their projects map reveals that they’ve been involved in many of the largest—and most successful—FTTH projects in the nation. Those who have followed Lafayette’s progress closely will recognize Provo, UT (whose mayor has visited in support) and Bristol, VA (the city regularly maligned by Lafayette’s opponents where the current issue is beefing up the system to accommodate unanticipated levels of success). Regular readers will note that Kutztown, PA, the little town that could (1, 2) is also a client.

The CEO, James Salter, has clearly focused the company on municipal operations and is a fiber warrior in his own right having been president of the Fiber To The Home Council and a regular speaker at conferences where municipal fiber could be defended. I saw him present at the Freedom To Connect conference in ‘06 and wasn’t distracted by his “aw shucks” folksy Southern persona. Like sugar-coating on a bitter pill that persona did allow his message on the necessity of dense, municipal fiber to any robust local broadband network go down a little easier with a crowd enamored of “public-private” wifi networks. In the end he received a standing ovation. A later hallway conversation revealed that Salter was just as savvy about the way that the private incumbents blocked such projects and made it clear that he understood how to deal with such obstructionism.

AEG would make a fine choice. Things proceed apace…

Food For Thought: LUS’ Wireless RFP

A little more than a week ago I posted a piece about LUS’ Wireless RFP (request for proposals) and asked a few questions. Since no one else answered them I decided to go down to City Hall and pick up a copy for myself.

For those who might have missed the story, LUS put out a call for proposals to supply what was described as a wireless network for LUS and city use. No mention of public access was made, though locals familiar with the way that the LUS fiber project evolved from purely utility purposes are reasonably hopeful that a wireless network will evolve in the same way.

The RFP itself is pretty simple as such things go and you have to think that bidders will need to request further specifications. But there is enough there take a stab at answer the questions I asked earlier.

Note: this is an 802.11 “WiFi” mesh network. That’s the same architecture that is being used in metro wireless installations from Philadelphia to San Francisco. For the technically inclined: the hardware standard described involves two radios operating in two different bands. Specifically, the equivalent of Tropos’ most advanced access points, and its software, is specified. (Tropos is the market leader in metro WiFi.)

1. Does it include a very strong backbone “supply” element?

  • Yes, It is hung directly off LUS’s current fiber ring. –It will not be crippled by running off a wireline supply source that has less capacity than it is able to use. (The expense of providing for adequate “backhaul”–and sometimes the ability to find such at any price has been a major limiting factor in most public muni WiFi efforts.)

2. Are upgrade “hooks” part of the proposed deal?

  • Yes, the request makes it clear that there will be at least a “phase 2” (official protestations aside) and that proposal should take into account the networks eventual expansion to full coverage of the 45 square miles of the city. The access point model specified is the first of a new generation from its maker and future models in the family are promised to be interoperable with these and to support emerging technology and standards like MIMO and WiMax and older standards like public safety.

3. Does it assume ubiquitous fiber?

  • Hmmn…well maybe or at least implicitly. Nothing beyond the first layer, “phase 1” is specified. But assuming that what is described for phase 1 sets the pattern for the future it looks like the plan is to make full use of the fiber. Wireless mesh networks are built around ratios between aggregation access points that are connected to backhaul networks and simple mesh network which are only connected to other access points via wireless. Common acceptable ratios are 5 or 6 mesh nodes per aggregation point. All too many systems are using larger ratios and putting up with the resulting performance issues. A gold-plated system would use a slightly smaller number. The ratio LUS is suggesting for phase 1 is 1:1.3. That is astonishingly low and only makes sense where the wireless owner also owns the backhaul network (in our case fiber). Other users would have to pay per drop for their microwave, WiMax, T1, fiber link, or the like and such per drop costs would run up the expenses very quickly. Maintaining such a low ratio would mean deploying a system of pretty astonishing capacity. While policy might limit the bandwidth allowed, nothing in the network itself limit network speeds. They could conceivably run at near the rated speed of 802.11 protocols that underpin it–currently about 54 megs.

4. Does it use owned spectrum for local backhaul? Or open? Or fiber?

  • Fiber. This is certifiably yummy. See above.

5. Does it use open spectrum for the final connection?

  • Yes. This is a “good thing,” for it means that a multitude of low-cost hardware will be able to access the network. Proprietary spectrum has some advantages for local governments and, generally, some is available to it for various safety functions but such networks cannot be practically be opened for public use.

6. What technologies are specified….WiFi, WiMax, etc…?

  • WiFi is specified. The suggested hardware is software upgradeable.

7. What applications are supported; either explicitly or through the specification of indicative standards?

  • Support for a wide range of applications including surveillance video, voice, data, mobile communications-seamless roaming, VPN, and meter reading are in the specs.

Long story short: There is nothing here that would impede using this as the core of a very capable public wireless network. Caveat: there is no particular reason for me to assume that it will be — beyond sheer desire and my own belief that a wireless component will be necessary in the coming competition with AT&T/BS and Cox.