LUS Fiber at a crossroads

A bevy of stories that have been in the cooker for awhile finally landed today. Check out the Advertiser for a Sunday quartet: LUS Fiber at a crossroads, Other municipalities try fiber systems. Details regarding National Cable Television Cooperative are hazy, and an editorial: Fiber system needs realistic plan. That’s a lot of ink spilled for a result that’s pretty hazy itself. There’s not much that looks like new news in the story and it seems mostly the result of researching recent remarks made by a councilman or two and insistence complaints by an old opponent of the project. That research didn’t turn up much that will surprise those of us that have followed the last couple of months of the story. The results are articles which no doubt schooled the reporter/s—and the public that hasn’t been following closely—in just how complex the issue actually is—and how unresolved matters are as they now stand. And maybe that’s not bad. It’s certainly a lot better than the hyperbolic reporting we got too often in the past.

The theme of the front page story, LUS Fiber at a crossroads, is that some sort of decision needs to be made soon about whether or not to commit to the project or dump it. But nothing in the story itself warrants such a theme. There’s nothing in the story that should make any reasonable reader think LUS Fiber is anywhere near failure and plenty of evidence that it is over the hump and is well on its way to success in what is hugely capital intensive business that nobody ever thought would make money in the first years. But more to the point: frankly the choice of whether or not to go forward has already been made: back on July 16th, 2005 when the citizens voted in the new public utility. The community now has the system that the citizens wanted. The discussion is no longer about “whether;” the discussion is now only about how to make sure it succeeds—and having succeeded how to make sure it is run so as to most fully benefit the community. Those are not trivial questions and I don’t intend to underplay them. But pretending that there might be a choice, well, it might make a better headline but it doesn’t help inform the real project at hand.

The editorial, Fiber system needs realistic plan, doesn’t quite succumb to the facile idea that some sort of choice between support and nonsupport might be offing, instead opting to advocate for the hazy idea that in light of changing conditions the plans for the system might need reworking. That’s not exactly news either. Any real enterprise that is not continually reassessing how it meets its goals isn’t doing its job.

What’s disappointing is the claim that the system is rudderless, that it lacks clear goals. That’s just silly. Of course it has a clear purpose and one that its leaders clearly honor: LUS Fiber is a public utility and its purpose is to put an essential service under the control of the community, to provide a first rate example of the service, and to provide it as cheaply as it is possible. That is i’s fundamental purpose and I submit that there is no question but that it is meeting that standard. LUS Fiber is, for every service, cheaper than the private alternative. It is available to each and every citizen of the city; something no private provider would promise. The services are high quality—the video and phone services are at least as good as the former monopolies and the internet is unarguably not only cheaper but better. Yes, it has to “make its nut” and not lose money but considering that Huval has recently said that they’ve got over 10,000 subscribers then it is clear that in a city of just short of 50,000 households they are with a few percentage points of the break-even point.

That is all our new utility needs to do to justify itself. Everything is else is lagniappe…a little something extra. Absolutely we all hope it will boost our reputation and serve as the infrastructure for vibrant new businesses…and at both ends of the economic scale it appears to have already done so: witness the NuComm call center and Pixel Magic’s video studio. Yes, it’s been great for our kids: every school in the parish now has a 100 meg connection courtesy of LUS Fiber—at speeds and prices that it private competitors could not meet. Sure I, for one, have been an advocate of using our community fiber to do more to bridge the digital divide. No, I don’t think we’ve done enough there…yet. But, honestly, I have a million times better a chance getting our community to do really great things for our community than Cox or AT&T would ever find it affordable to do. The strange idea that LUS Fiber doesn’t know what its purpose is just foolish. Especially since it is apparently doing a good job of addressing its obvious purposes.

The other two stories, Other municipalities try fiber systems and Details regarding National Cable Television Cooperative are hazy are just not very interesting. After reading them both you get the feeling that the reporters decided these would be good sidebars and set about a fair amount of work reviewing what was out there and digesting it for us. But it isn’t clear what lesson is there for the reader to take away. I can point to problems with both stories, mainly in what doesn’t seem to be understood by the writer. For instance in the municipalities section the inclusion of Marietta, Georgia is pointless. Marietta never built or intended to build a public fiber to the home network but instead failed at what LUS had already succeeded at before our current network was proposed: building a wholesale fiber network to serve regional businesses. Similarly, you come away from the NCTC story with the sense that LUS is paying more for video because Cox is a leader in the coop…what the story doesn’t bother to tell us is that Cox only joined the NCTC after LUS won the right to build its network; that Cox joining was remarkable because until that period the coop’s purpose had been specifically to unite to get the same sorts of deals a corporation like Cox could already get; that two other municpal fiber providers that applied with Lafayette were accepted after a lawsuit was threatened; and that the only difference between those cities and Lafayette was that Cox, our competitor was on the board. That’s all something the community should know—frankly, there is a notable abscence of anything that could put Cox in a bad light in all four stories but this is a particularly outstanding instance.

So do read the stories, they provide a nice if bland and somewhat incomplete summary of the current situation. But don’t bother to take too seriously the hook of the main story—and don’t believe any mutterings that LUS Fiber doesn’t know exactly what its purpose is.

EATel’s fiber to move into Baton Rouge

EATel, East Ascension’s locally-owned fiber-based telecoms provider, is set to move into the Baton Rouge market and provide Cox & AT&T some real competition. This would be a tremendous change in that market, especially if the local provider was prepared to build-out beyond the sort of limited cherry-picking that Baton Rouge has seen from AT&T’s “entry.” It is conceivable that parts of Baton Rouge could actually have 3 providers for the full range of telecom services. That’s virtually unheard of.

According to the Baton Rouge Business Report EATel is anxious to get things going and objected to any further delay in granting its franchise citing in part the age of the owner:

“I will be here next time, and I will continue to come until we get the franchise. We’re a family company. Our owner is 84 years old,” Britton said, to which Addison replied, “You can tell your 84-year-old owner that you’ll get it.”

The Business Report story is misleading in at least one respect: it talks about EATel bringing “broadband” competition without mention of either the phone or the video aspects of the service. A quick read of the council agenda item in question reveals that a good bit more is at stake: 

Authorizing the Mayor-President to enter into an agreement with Eatel Video, L.L.C. d/b/a Eatel, to offer multi-protocol broadband platform of voice, data and video/television services (“broadband network”), the video/television component of which is a multi-protocol, two-way interactive, ip-enabled video/television service in the City of Baton Rouge and Parish of East Baton Rouge. By: Parish Attorney.

We’re talking voice, data, and video…the full triple play.

I’ll look forward to hearing the details; it’d be a pity if EATel’s intent was more modest than I am assuming. The company is in of East Ascension south of East Baton Rouge and in Livingston in areas southeast of parish. So it has built up networks in striking range of southern East Baton Rouge Parish. The extent of the build is unknown but it may be worth noting that the Councilman whose concern about FCC regulations appears to have derailed immediate approval represents district 2 in the historically poorer, blacker area of northwest
Baton Rouge. If his concern is that his constituents might not see much benefit from the competition EATel brings that is probably reasonably founded on how little the highly touted “competition” from AT&T reached his constituents.

LUS Fiber Financials Covered in Local Media (and more)

I posted earlier about the LUS Fiber budget hearing yesterday. There I focused on the annoying return of the idea that LUS was (somehow) being subsidized — I suspected that Patin had successfully revived a truly dumb idea. Credit where credit is due: Neither the Advertiser nor the Advocate‘s reporters chose to take the bait and emphasize that foolishness. Instead they largely reported on the issues raised by the Councillors and Tim Supple. Take a look at both articles, they are worth the read though, frankly, the Advocate is better on the technicals possibly because Burgess was here during the fiber fight and has a deeper background.

Executive Summary: LUS’ financials are confusing. Financials just are confusing. Always. But LUS Fiber, being a semi-autonomous arm of the semi-autonomous LUS utilities (which is owned by the city but semi-run by the city-parish) is especially confusing. This is exacerbated by a sick state law designed to raise the prices that customers pay that causes LUS Fiber to give money to LUS utilities so that LUS utilities can loan it back to LUS Fiber—at interest. (Which means there is a subsidy: of LUS utilities; not the other way around.) Got it? Confused yet? Anyway:

The Important Stuff: LUS Fiber is doing ok, not great but ok. The “ok” part can be seen by its more than doubling its installed base in the last year; recent statements by Huval confirm that the utility has made over the bump and has the minimum number of users to break even. The “not great” part is due to the fact that it’s not meeting the rosy projections of a 2004 feasibility report that had predicted that LUS would be doing better than just ok, that they would be doing great by this point in the rollout. (The feasibility study was always sketchy and clearly a political document. See my first two blog posts on this issue. #1, #2)

Extras from my Notes: Caution: This is for the dedicated few who’d like a little more on the two and and a half hour session than a dry newspaper article has space for or fits the newspapers’ idea of a budget meeting story.

Attendance: Theriot, Patin, Boudreaux (presiding) Shelvin (late), Castille,  Morrison Conspicuous by his absence: Don Bertrand who was a leader in the fight for fiber and certainly has a better understanding of all matters concerning LUS Fiber than any of fellow councilmen.  His participation would have really helped the rest of the council make sense of the arcane parts of the presentation—some of the questions asked showed a real lack of understanding.

Overall: Part of the confusion that reigned during the presentations was due to a new computer financials program and a new, much more extensive report format that was presented to the council. It was apparent that some had only read (at most) the summary sections and it showed in their questions. LUS Fiber is a big, new, different, retail establishment for the C-P to keep track of and understand and Toups seemed to feel that she was only just getting hold of it all.

Conservative Borrowing: A couple of times during the presentations it was apparent that part of the reason that LUS’ numbers were tight was because LUS was being…tight. One example came up when Shelvin asked whether it would all look better right now if LUS had taken the whole 125 million authorized by the voters instead of only bonding out 110 million dollars. Huval hemmed, hawed, and said that they just didn’t want to borrow more than they really needed. This was in the context of LUS having not yet taken the in-organization loan of 5.5 million that the council authorized. A lot of the noise we are hearing now is a direct consequence of LUS Fiber deciding to make do with the very least borrowing they can get by with.

Competition: LUS estimates that the citizens of the community have saved 5.7 million dollars—in part direct saving from LUS’ cheaper phone, video, and internet services and in part as a consequence of Cox lowering its prices and giving out special rates. Those special rates were discussed in the meeting with Huval pointing out that Cox had petitioned for and received permission to treat Lafayette as a “competitive” area. That meant that Cox could offer special deals to Lafayette users and, as we all know, has offered cuts to anyone who tries to leave. Those “deals.” as Huval pointed out to Patin don’t include the rural areas of the parish where Cox has no competition.

Coalitions: Intriguingly coalitions with other communities that have fiber were mentioned and Terry indicated that this was involved positive attention from the White House. I’m pretty sure that this is the US Ignite project—a project initiated by the administration that will bring together communities that have next-generation fiber projects. Conceivably this could be a “big thing” and bring ideas, financing, and lend emphasis to the movement to develop big bandwidth applications that could be used across these communities. Lafayette’s own FiberCorp has been a player in this effort.

“Subsidizing” Makes a Return Engagement—With a Twist

To begin at the end of today’s LUS Fiber budget hearing: all the old nonsense about “subsidizing” LUS Fiber returned again today. And, surprising no one, it came riding back in with Tim Supple. Supple’s long history of opposition to LUS Fiber has long included this particular falsehood. To give the devil his due Tim was definitely goaded by councilman Keith Patin after Keith and fellow rural member William Theriot failed to come up with a sufficiently news-worthy phrase during the questioning. Tim tried not to answer in the simple affirmative for a couple of rounds while Patin repeatedly pressed him to phrase his characterization of the LUS financials as being a subsidy that had to be being paid for by “somebody.” Supple finally caved and said it was, indeed, just like subsidizing Parks and Recreation as Patin suggested.

That, of course, is utter nonsense. Nonsense that Terry Huval immediately spiked. A loan that must be repaid with interest is nothing like using tax monies to support Parks and Recreations. But  Huval really shouldn’t have had to lay that out. A subsidy would illegal under state law. If LUS were breaking that law both Cox and ATT would make sure we all knew by suing us again. It’s silly to have to treat it as a sensible question.

For those who weren’t following this blog way back when the recurring issue of subsidization first arose way back in 2005 the idea was supposed to be that any publicly owned fiber utility would obviously and necessarily be subsidized by the public. The idea of a publicly-owned competitor being subsidized by taxes was promoted by BS (BellSouth, now ATT) and Cox as “unfair” and an affront to their two monopolies of phone and cable service—which they characterized as “free enterprise.” That was nonsense from the beginning—plenty of utilities are run without subsidies, including LUS’ electrical and water divisions and plenty of private companies are actually subsidized. LUS never, at any point, planned on using Lafayette taxes to subsidize the new utility. But the idea that some municpality might was one of the tools that BS/ATT and Cox used to convince the Louisiana legistlature to pass what would become known as the Municipal Fair Competition Act (or as I prefer: the (Un)Fair act). That state law outlawed any cross-subsidy. But only for LUS–Cox is free to subsidize from its extensive newspaper holdings and ATT from its wireless division.—Hence my preference for (un)Fair. There has been no subsidy, and if there was any half-rational way to characterize anything that has happened as a subsidy Cox and ATT would be happily suing Lafayette—yet again.

Subsidy with a Twist

But as a by-blow to all this an interesting subsidy did emerge. But it runs the other way…LUS Fiber is subsidizing LUS’ other divisions and through that, indirectly, Lafayette city-parish government.

Again it all goes back to the (un)Fair Competion Act. One of the things put in that act during negotiations is a concession that LUS Fiber would be able to borrow from LUS’ other utilities just like any other corporation could set up internal borrowing arrangements. This is not a subsidy, it’s a loan—with real interest. One of the efforts to raise an issue by Messrs Patin and Theriot centered around “imputed” taxes. Those are extra costs that Cox and ATT got the state to require that LUS include in order to force LUS to raise their price to customers (you!) above the actual cost. (Yes, really. See this. And these.) The idea was that LUS should have to pretend to pay taxes that it doesn’t actually pay when setting its pricing—and include those fake costs when competing against Cox or ATT. PSC regulations (not the law) requires LUS Fiber to send those monies to the larger LUS. So LUS utilities is holding money LUS Fiber earned. LUS electricty, water, and sewer loans it back to LUS Fiber—at interest. The net effect of this is to subsidize LUS’ other utilities on the back of the new utility, LUS Fiber.

That’s the only subsidy uncovered today.

You can’t make this stuff up. Only in Louisiana.

Lafayette delegation kills anti-LUS bill

The Advertiser carries a nifty little story that illustrates a basic principle of legislative strategy seldom covered in civics texts; let’s call it: “Killing with Kindness” or KWK

Now the more usual strategy is to kill a bad bill by, you know, arguing against it. That’s in all the civics books. Debate, rational argumentation—you’ve heard of it. But using the standard strategy depends upon your opponent having actually putting forward the real purpose of the bill. If instead he has disguised his real purpose by using some Mom and Apple Pie (MAP) strategy disguise its true purpose—well then, things get a bit harder for opponents of the true bill. After all who wants to vote against Mom or Apple Pie? Or, in this case, for “porn.”

Now faced with MAP you’ve got two choices: 1) Argue against the real purpose and count on your fellow legislators to be smart enough to see through the deception and brave enough to vote against Mom. (intelligence+courage: not available in Louisiana) 2) KWK—Kill it with Kindness, a sort of legislative jiujitsu which turns the strength of the deceptive MAP bill against it in a way that damages the real interests behind the bad bill and so causes its advocates to turn against it. (slyness: something Louisiana has in abundance)

Sooo…now we are in a position to understand the story in the Advertiser report more fully. Franklin house member Sam Jones puts forward an obviously pointless MAP bill—one which he pretends is needed to outlaw something that is already illegal (buying porn on a government credit card.) From the story:

Jones originally explained HB142 as banning the use of public credit cards by state and local officials visiting strip clubs or purchasing pay-per-view movies while traveling,

One of the sly points of a MAP strategy is that it isn’t as clear as with an honest bill whose interests are actually served. So anyone intending to counter it with a KWK (Kill it With Kindess) strategy has to accurately scope out the real intent behind the bill. Michot thought he knew who was behind the bill:

“Lafayette is the only public utility that offers cable service,” Michot said. He said singling out Lafayette would put it at an unfair disadvantage against competitors like Cox and AT&T.

So the Lafayette contingent had to figure out how to kill Cox and AT&T with kindness. If they were right they could kill the bill by causing the incumbents’ agents to withdraw it rather than suffer the consequences. (If they were wrong they’d lose—if the real interest was just some sort of simple silly prudery then the bill’s author would welcome make it more prudish and silly.) The most obvious thing to try is to include Cox in the same trap that Smith & Cox were trying to put the Lafayette legislators and LUS in: include them in the bill:

Michot and Rep. Joel Robideaux of Lafayette were appointed to a conference committee to try to reach a compromise. Michot and other Senate appointees, as well as Robideaux, who was a House delegate to the panel, wanted to make the ban apply to all cable TV providers in Louisiana.

This is the crucial moment in the story—if Lafayette is right and the real interests behind the bill were the incumbents then they’d tell their agent (Smith) to drop the thing; after all this sort of strategy is supposed to use the power of the state to create a disadvantage for your competitor, not “level the playing field.” Apparently Lafayette was right:

Since he couldn’t get Michot to pull his amendment, he decided to allow the bill to die without action.

Robideaux said that to him, Jones’ unwillingness to work on a compromise “tells me it was always about trying to put LUS at a disadvantage. If he would have worked with us, he had every opportunity to have his bill passed and signed.

There you have it: An advanced lesson in civics as she is played out in the Gret State.

Extra Credit: Decide whether the real point of this exercise was purely PR — was it never intended to pass, only to try and lay on LUS (again–this ploy fizzled badly during the fiber fight) the onus of selling “porn?” Or was the hope to impose another long, embarrassing and distracting lawsuit on Lafayette? (This worked pretty well during the fiber fight.) Show your work….

LUS Fiber and Porn (Roll Eyes)

Good Grief….I go out of town for a couple of weeks on a Rockies camping vacation and return to reams of “coverage” of LUS Fiber after a long quiet period. I’ll get around to making some sort of comment on earlier financial stories just as soon as I get it all straightened out in my own head what the issue is supposed to be. But this latest business about porn is just plain silly.

First: Of Course LUS Fiber has porn channels. So does every single other video provider you care to name. Big whoop. Glad to get that moral dilemma out of the way.

Now, about representative Sam Jones (R, Franklin) suggesting a law that was ostensibly only supposed to prevent public officials from using their credit cards to buy porn. He says that it wasn’t supposed to effect the big city right up US 90 from his burg in any way…but then again he’s gonna fight any change that might clarify that it wasn’t his intent. That is purest horse pucky. He’s been put up to this. There is NO need for a law preventing public officials from buying porn…that would be using the public’s credit card for personal purchases and that is already against the law. If his intent was so innocently (and pointlessly) school marmish then he wouldn’t be fighting an amendment that would clarify it.

There is a lot of murkiness behind this article…according to text the Advertiser apparently alerted LUS and the city-parish’s state lobbyist to the existence of the bill following which LUS asked Michot to put in a clarifying amendment. Various confusions followed. What’s most interesting about that story is that we aren’t told how the Advertiser knew this toss away law was being put up late in the session. You can bet that there’s nobody at the Advertiser who is pouring over the legislative daily’s for stories about ridiculous uses of public credit cards while our states financial crisis continues to deepen with no resolution in sight. No, somebody pointed this bill out, and underlined the not-obvious implication it had for LUS Fiber. If the Advertiser really wanted to get to the bottom of this “story” they’d follow that lead. Or at least tell us so who did so that we could trace the implications for ourselves.

Who put this neat little bit of sensationalism before the Advertiser reporter? Follow that trail and you might actually have something to report on that would be relevant to the larger battle.

What do I think? Follow the money as two reporters were famously advised. Who benefits? Nobody but Cox Communications…and anyone who thinks they are above such crassness doesn’t remember the ugliness of Lafayette’s fight to build our network.

ULL Joins Lafayette’s 100 meg intranet!

LUS Fiber announced the inclusion of the entire UL Lafayette campus in its city-wide 100 meg intranet today. The press release (copied below—do take a look, interesting quotes from both Durel and Savoie and more) touts this as the “largest collaboration yet.” While it is certainly that—there’s no larger institution than the university in Lafayette aside from the city itself—the truth is that this is “only” an infrastructure announcement. And infrastructure just ain’t all that sexy. But we should excited about this—the real promise of this news is not the bare fact of the instantly larger intranet network but the future such an enhanced infrastructure makes possible.

Infrastructure & Growth Corridors
Infrastructure is always about possibility. The exciting thing about a new highway is not the concrete strip with yellow lines down the middle; it is the growth that occurs along that corridor. (Witness the the ongoing battle between Lafayette, Broussard and Youngsville over annexing the new Ambassador Caffery corridor.)

The new 100 meg superhighway that now tightly links the city and the university will be just as inevitably a growth corridor. The press release emphasizes the benefit to students and faculty who will now be able to access their university based resources with the same huge bandwidth and low latency in their homes that now forces them to come into the office or an on-campus lab. But that is only the most obvious half of the story.

All Lafayette residents will also have the same potential access to the university’s intranet resources that faculty and students have. Faculty and students have to get onto the community’s intranet to get to the university. So could any other resident. And that is the unspoken possibility here. If you’ve never worked in a fully wired up university campus you’ve yet to experience the huge resources that are available there. Universities are the places that have long since gotten used to having a 100 meg (usually ethernet) connection available in every room connecting everyplace and everything. It’s wonderful, I know, it used to be how I made a living. Being inside Lafayette’s intranet does not, yet, match that experience; the infrastructure is there but content is not fleshed out. By far the largest barrier to full use of Lafayette’s 100 meg intranet is that we don’t yet have the necessary 20 years to develop the nifty on-network databases, distributed computational power, huge archives of text and video and, most importantly, the habits of casually using such resources that only comes with long familiarity. But university folk do have those habits. And they can teach the rest of us. Then we’d really have a city-wide campus in the best and fullest sense of the word. Universities often talk about doing better by its host communities. Gown-town relations are a perennial problem. This new connection opens up huge areas of possible sharing; sharing that would cost the university absolutely nothing to offer to the rest of Lafayette.

Sure most of those resources will initially be behind passwords but that’s just habit born in a day of insecure tech and high costs; today almost any resource that can be exposed to undergraduates could be exposed to the rest of the community. And university students regularly work up projects of community interest that the community would be well-served to know about. Yes, there will be those areas that are rightly cordoned off—certainly nothing that is actively being added to should be exposed to inexpert hands. But those resources are already locked down to keep mere students from fouling the nest. That needn’t change.

There is a huge potential here to jumpstart the 21st century community that our stunning city-wide 100 meg intranet proposes. The problem in achieving that goal is not the technology—that problem is solved technically. The problem is not implementation. We here in Lafayette has, with effort, solved that problem. The problem is social. We don’t yet know how; we don’t have the tools or habits of use that could make our network actively useful to us. That is hugely more difficult to solve than the technical or implementation issues. But we might just have the tools to hand: There could be no better partner in teaching the use of big bandwidth than a university community. And now Lafayette has that. Possibly.

A Note On the Consequences of Generosity:
I’ve written a bit about generosity and the advantages it entails in the past. This announcement bears witness to the promise of generosity. It would not be possible if LUS had not already generously given the community our 100 meg intranet. If both ULL and the community make the effort this might well turn out to be the agreement that propels the newly enlarged community to a vastly more sophisticated use of its network.

The idea I proposed is that being generous generally leaves open more possibilities for great things happening down the road and so we should be generous where ever we can. But that goes against the grain of received wisdom. Most companies don’t give away anything for free. (An exception: look at Google…hmmn?) Not even if they can do it for no cost to themselves. The usual principle seemingly is that selfishness is good—give nothing away. Once LUS realized that it could offer every subscriber, those paying for 10 megs and those paying for 100, access to the same full 100 megs of connectivity within the city for really no more cost they choose to be generous. That’s the way we hope our community-owned network will think and LUS Fiber did. It wasn’t easy to make that choice because nobody else was doing it that way; almost all internet network providers limit your connection speed at the point at which you join their local network. LUS had to figure out how to instead limit individuals only at the place where our intranet touches the larger internet. It was possible , obviously, but it wasn’t the easy no-thought solution to which the rest of the industry was committed. Mostly we all believed that effort would pay off, even if in invisible ways. Small businesses, families and friends would find it easier and quicker to video conference or pass around files. But they’d not much make a big deal out of it. (Nobody expresses much gratitude for “free” stuff, no matter how valuable.)

But in choosing to generously make the entire city a 100 meg campus LUS unknowingly laid the groundwork for this agreement. If all the student in an apartment got was their 10 meg connection this wouldn’t have been an attractive deal for the university. As it stands all that LUS and the University had to do was open up a full bandwidth link between the two intranets…it would have been enormously more difficult and likely impossible if LUS had structured its tiers to speed limit each user at the wall of their home. Cox, for instance, will find this very difficult to match—exactly because they did not choose to be generous with their customers before and don’t have a technical architecture that would facilitate it now.

The LUS Fiber Press Release:

LUS Fiber and UL Lafayette Join Forces for Largest Collaboration Yet LAFAYETTE, La. (May 18, 2011) – LUS Fiber is excited to partner with UL Lafayette to bring high-speed fiber connectivity between the university and LUS Fiber subscribers. Students, faculty, and administration now have the benefit of sharing a 100 Mbps peer-to-peer connection when they are transferring information between the university and their home LUS Fiber Internet service. This new partnership is an innovative use of the community-owned network. The LUS Fiber system is now designed to give subscribers a direct path to UL Lafayette when transmitting data. Other network providers have to route data out of their network, onto the Internet and back to the UL Lafayette network. Now, only with LUS Fiber, will information be shared directly between the two systems with no hops out to the open Internet, which provides a faster, more robust experience with extremely low latency. City-Parish President Joey Durel states, “Lafayette is one of only a handful of cities in the nation able to offer 100% fiber connectivity. Our customers are keenly aware of the value of utilizing our 100 Mbps Peer-to-Peer Intranet – at no additional cost. By providing the same type of connectivity to the university, this great community fiber asset will provide our students with a better and faster connection to support their education.” As a result of this new peer-to-peer arrangement, nursing students can view actual live medical procedures in real-time. Graphic design students can share large files with one another in an instant. Engineering and architecture students can upload AND download drawings in a flash, as a fiber system offers symmetrical upload and download speeds. Faculty can communicate to their students faster. And professors can stream their classes online to students that cannot physically be present. “UL Lafayette, Lafayette Consolidated Government and LUS have a long history of cooperation,” said UL Lafayette President Dr. Joseph Savoie. “This partnership will provide direct connectivity between the university and LUS Fiber customers. It’s another successful effort to bring benefits to the university community and the city through cooperation.” In its largest collaboration yet, LUS Fiber hailed this connection as a triumph for university students and faculty who crave higher speeds as apps and programs require more and more bandwidth. And this collaboration is one of the more innovative ways LUS Fiber is seeking to utilize the full potential of its fiber optic network.

Why no Google Fiber for Baton Rouge? (Updated)

The folks in Baton Rouge are probably asking themselves why they didn’t get Google’s gigabit fiber network. After all for a while the Facebook page “Bring Google Fiber to Baton Rouge” had more fans than any in the country and there seemed a pretty large groundswell of support. There was a heavily rewritten AP article in the Advocate that interviewed a BR Chamber officer and recounted the history of local public involvement. (Unfortunately not online check p. B-6 of 3/31/11 paper.) It all seemed so hopeful. The Chamber held out hope that Baton Rouge might get in on the second round.

I don’t think so. At least not until we put our own house in order.

Here’s at least one reason that Google avoided Louisiana:

See Kansas? It’s Green. Texas and Arkansas are Red. Louisiana is a sickly Orange. Google is only going to green states. This map has nothing to do with solar energy or recycling. The green denotes a place where there are no state-wide legal barriers to a community building and owning its own fiber-optic network. Red states absolutely forbid it. Louisiana is among those who are hostile but do not completely outlaw the idea. (Witness Lafayette’s ongoing battle.)

Google wants to strike out and do something truly different. They are frank about thinking the Cox’s and AT&T’s of this nation haven’t done a good job and that local communities can do better and should be helped to do so. Google has no reason in the world to go to a state that tries to make the sort of community involvement they count on illegal.

They aren’t coming to Louisiana until the “(un)fair competition act” is abolished. If Baton Rouge (or New Orleans, or Shreveport or Bossier, or any of the other Louisiana cities that applied) want to have a shot at Google’s second round the first thing they have to do is get their own house in order.

Repeal Louisiana’s (un)fair competition act…

(Check out the great map at from which I grabbed the above illustration. It chock full of valuable, if depressing, information.)

Update 4/1/11: Stacy Higginbotham, tech journalist extraordinaire over at GigaOm, covers the Texas version of this story. Apparently Austin had a very credible, widely supported effort to get their city picked. The local organizer thinks:

“Austin caught their eye for all the right reasons, and we had support at the highest levels with the involvement of the mayor and the city manager, but given the Texas limitations on municipalities getting involved in network, there was only so far we could go,” Rosenthal said. “So I look at the Texas Legislature, because they really put us in a box with regard to Google, and every response the city gave had to be measured within that box.”

Yup, I expect he’s exactly right. Texas forbids muni networks. Google is doing this to encourage muni networks. The are NOT going to pick a city in a state with lousy laws that forbid what they are trying to get other municipalities to do. That’s only common sense.

Update 4/4/11: Take a look at what the paper in Kansas City, Kansas thinks were the reasons that its city made the cut. The story, understandably, tends to focus on drama and secrecy but there are some very interesting nuggets in there about the underlying factors that might have favored KCK once the first cuts were made.

Update 4/4/11, 8:15 PM: As part of the ongoing discussion in the comments I reviewed the Louisiana law constraining muni networks. There I found what I thought I remembered: The law explicitly includes the sort of public-private partnership that Google is undertaking in Kansas City. So anyone who is murmuring that Google could do a project similar to the KCK one in Louisiana simply has not read the law. You can bet that Google has. See the element of the law which defines a public-private partnership as one that must adhere to all aspects of the law at RS 45:844.47 B(3): “Through a partnership or joint venture.” If Baton Rouge wants Google to consider them in the second round they’ll want to repeal this law first.

Pat Ottinger, City Attorney, Steps down

Pat Ottinger, the city attorney through the entire (successful!) fiber fight is stepping down. The media are all carrying the story; you can look at fleshed out versions from The Independent, The Advertiser, and The Advocate.

Ottinger is the unsung hero of the fiber fight. He worked long hours and fought tirelessly to make sure that Lafayette got the chance to make its own future in spite of well-funded corporate lawyers, Cox, BellSouth and their stooges in the state legislature. His work was instrumental in defending what we had won after the referendum battle. Lawyers don’t get much glory; that’s not the sort of profession you go into if glory and adulation are what makes you run. We’ll surely get a more complete run-down on his accomplishments in the coming weeks as editors put together their stories and in that larger history the legal battles that swirled around Lafayette’s decision to build its own future will be far from the only story. But that is the one I’ve watched closely and I can say without reservation that Lafayette was well-served.

The city has lost a real public servant, one whose earnestness and self-evident competence should serve as a standing rebuke to those who’d disparage those among us who choose to serve.

Lagniappe: I spent a few minutes looking through old LPF stories…the first one to mention Ottinger by name is worth your review as an example of the value of having an Ottinger on your side: The City replies to the BellSouth lawsuit

Double take…Cox & French TV5

Just before Christmas I did a sharp double-take when thumbing through the Advertiser with our morning coffee—Cox was running expensive full-page, color ads promoting TV5 Monde, the french channel. While I didn’t spit out any coffee I was taken aback. Cox, you see, has never before pretended to be a friend of Lousiana’s French speakers and this kind of promotion is a particularly galling extension of the corporation’s continued attempts to ingratiate itself with the Lafayette community after taking a brutal hit to its public relations image during the fiber referendum battle.

One of the mistakes Cox made during the fiber fight was a set of channel changes that included moving the French channel from basic cable into the stratosphere of channel 226, a location that required both a set top box rental and a the purchase of a special, costly, upper tier add-on package. In a city where the last census showed that 13% of the people spoke french in the home that seemed, and seems, pretty outrageous. Many of those speakers will be in our poorer communities and will be disproportionally older and on fixed incomes. If you speak french as a first language, or are simply determined to keep Louisiana’s francophone heritage active this change was a huge blow…making mass media access to french content more obscure and more expensive. At that time—soon after the storms—Cox also moved the weather channel off basic cable and up into a more expensive channel package. These, and changes to the on-screen channel guide were all intended to drive users off the cheaper, bandwidth intensive lower channels and up onto the more lucrative digital channels that required a rental set top box.

Needless to say people weren’t happy with these changes which pretty blatantly were the sorts of decisions made by corporate honchos in Atlanta who were unappreciative of the local cultures or the facts of life for those living in the Gulf’s vulnerable coastal cities. (See examples of LPF coverage @ A, B, C.) After complaints across south Louisiana (in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and Lafayette) Cox moved the weather channel back onto a cheaper tier. But TV5 has been permanently moved to an expensive upper-tier ghetto where it is paired with, of all things, a set of specialty sports sites.

The contrast between LUS and Cox on this issue is stark. If you want TV5’s French language programming and have access to LUS Fiber then your best choice is LUS…it’s on a basic tier that doesn’t require the rental of a set top box or a more expensive digital tier. On Cox you’ll need to rent a digital box to get service and opt for a specialized, mostly sports, package.

The Cheapest Packages with TV5 from LUS Fiber and Cox:

—LUS Fiber: on Expanded Basic @ channel 71: $46.95, no set top box: $0, Total: $46.95
—Cox: on Advanced TV Preferred @ channel 266: $64.98, required set top box: $5.25, Total: $70.23

LUS advantage: $23.28 a month or $279.38 a year…

And that’s before you add on other one-time charges. Suppose that, in reaction to Cox’s full page ads in regional newspapers, your old Tante Sue is so delighted at the prospect of French TV that she decides to take the plunge and get some of that cable television. She’d be hit with a connection fee of $53.95 (and possibly various and sundry other cabling fees to get service where her TV is). Even if Tante already has Cox and only has to upgrade to digital to get that channel back she’ll still pay $53.95 to only upgrade to digital! Cox, your ersatz “friend in the digital age” doesn’t particularly want to come visiting…and charges accordingly. And you’ve got that silly extra set of sports channels to click through. So if you want to watch some of your TV in French you’ll end up paying $333.31 more to buy it from Cox than you would if purchased it from LUS during your first year.

Now maybe Tante Sue already has that fancy digital TV stuff and only has to switch to the package that contains it…but she’ll have to give up one of those other “packages” to switch into the “Sports and Information Pak.” So she sits down and has to decide to give up the Turner’s old movie channel or the Cooking channel, or…some other favorite of hers to get a channel in French. Or, of course she could upgrade to higher priced service to get the privilege of adding TV5. No doubt helpful sales agents will suggest that…and that will cost her an additional $6.00 dollars a month.

By contrast LUS Fiber doesn’t do all that contract, install fee nonsense. It’s simple—French TV is in a basic tier…you get it for no extra cost, no monthly box fee, and don’t have to give up other channels to get it. Pay for “expanded basic” @ $46.95 a month and add nothing on. End of story.

So Why?
Cox’s French language offer is simply not a credible competitor with LUS’. Which brings up the issue of why Cox is bothering to dump substantial advertising dollars into full page color advertising. Well, two reasons. 1) PR, “public relations.” It looks good to be promoting the French language, particularly in Lafayette, the largest city in the French speaking areas of Louisiana. It doesn’t hurt that such ads promote a sense that Cox “cares” about local people and local issues. Cox has been doing its best to counter the lousy PR it gave itself during the fiber fight and promoting French is an apple and babies sort of issue: who could oppose it? 2) through most of the area of Cox’s “greater Louisiana” district, which ranges from Gonzales through Baton Rouge and over to Lafayette there is a distinct, well-established French subculture. Somebody (finally) figured that out. There are certainly many “Tante Sue’s” out there and it wouldn’t take many of them being pushed to buy cable outside Lafayette or upgrade to digital or higher tiers to substantially increase Cox’s profit. And that, I imagine, is what clinched the argument with the higher-ups in Atlanta when the promotion was pitched.

The moral of this story is that there is a difference between supporting local communities and exploiting them…LUS Fiber is providing native language support to the traditional local communities with minimal barriers. Cox is providing French to burnish its local reputation and make some bucks. Motivation matters and Lafayette’s French speakers should be pleased to have a community-owned alternative to the national corporation that offers much better prices and more widely available placement for the French channel.

Lagniappe: Cox has tried (and failed) before to make cozy with Lafayette by pretending a fellowship with the french strand of our heritage; that much cruder era was exemplified by the infamous TJCrawdad. and the “down-home” ad that used an actor delivering the generic “hick” Arkansas accent and a Cox delivery van with Texas plates to tout their local bona fides.