Market Share – The Independent Weekly

20101124-cover-0101The Independent has published its second and final installment in the series on “LUS Fiber — where it stands and where it’s headed.” This one focuses on the immediate road ahead. The issues are ones that would be of interest to an partisan of Lafayette: marketing, market share, financing, the competitive landscape LUS Fiber has created, and innovation.

This series marks the beginning of the inevitable “friendly critique” of LUS Fiber. Supporters—not detractors—are beginning to voice disagreement with LUS over specific points while continuing to be broadly supportive. That’s the beginning of a more healthy relationship between LUS Fiber and its public. The inclination of supporters, and that includes a large majority of the citizenry, has been to close ranks with LUS against the (accurately) perceived hostility of the incumbent providers to our venture. That supportive criticisms are now being made of the still unlaunched advertising claims, and the sort of innovation that LUS has is seen to have encouraged is probably a good thing and indicates that people are seeing LUS Fiber as an accepted, “normal,” part of the landscape. Now I’m sure LUS is not feeling nearly so secure just yet and would prefer a longer stretch of reticence from the public but it should take some comfort in the implied confidence such quarrelsome talk represents.

Apparently some in the marketing community want a bang-up, high tech projection of LUS Fiber’s advanced network and object to what they see as the stodgy utility orientation of the ads they’ve seen. Just to stoke the fires of community discussion: I disagree with both sides either/or… I’d like to see ads that first, emphasize the home-town, local benefits that owning our own fiber accrues and that includes the utility orientation that LUS projects, then, second, I’d like to see the evokation of civic pride in what we’ve got and that in turn includes bragging on the unique aspects of our network. I can see why we can’t have, and benefit, from both. The point though is until recently all I heard was how badly people wanted to see some, any marketing strategy enacted. That the situation has matured to the point that we can now disagree over the style of a marketing strategy is a happy development.

Similarly others in the space between tech and business want to see LUS pursuing Google and the likes as it opens the public network to innovation. Shoot, so would I and have long advocated that the city pursue a Google “internet in a box” located on network. But I am located in the space between tech and community and would see the real potential for innovation occurring around decisions to give us all 100 megs of intranet bandwidth (check!) and opening the set top box to internet access…the really innovative things, in my judgment, will involve pulling in greater levels of participation at higher levels of usage. But again, until recently folks were just looking for “innovation” — arguing about what sort of innovation we should emphasize is a good sort of disagreement…and one that LUS should be proud (if not always comfortable!) to have inspired.

There’s more in the article worth looking at and discussing but none of the financial stuff beside upping the take rate number to 30% strikes me as news.

The real news is that we are beginning to talk about our network openly enough to disagree. And that’s a good thing. A very good thing. Just not a comfortable one.

Championing Fiber—And Our Advantage

1012 Corridor, a regional business mag run by Baton Rouge’s Business Report has a rather late recap of the April Fiber Fete here in Lafayette. The news, such as it is, centers around the revelation that the organizers are now characterizing it as the “first annual” fiber fete and that an ancillary group “FiberCorps” is being formed that ogranizer Daily says is:

 “an entity that can coordinate the people and resources of Lafayette to work toward the common goal of being the Hub City for fiber-powered innovation.”

The story closes with a worth-repeating quote that emphasized maintaining the momentum Lafayette has now:

“Right now, Lafayette has the attention of the outside world, and I think a good goal would be, by the start of next year, to have made a whole lot of progress.”

The question is: What sort of progress?

It’d be good to see a second event and good to see a community support organization—though I have to say that one that supports only for-profit business forms of “innovation” would be show a massive lack of imagination about what is possible for a community-owned fiber network. The real value, the unique value, of a powerful, affordable network that runs past every home and corner grocery lies in those many homes and micro businesses. We’d be smart to compete in areas in which we have a clear and sustainable advantage—and not for businesses that could be developed in any decently-appointed business park in this country. I’ve no objection to devoting some resources to big blue-sky business projects and even more energy to encouraging private investment in private businesses that utilize our resources. But I do think that the real value lies in the fact that we are well on our way to providing the resources of that enable a top-notch business park to even the least well-appointed neighborhood in our city. Why not build the sorts of resources on top of our network that you see in those “incubators?” Big bandwidth is a nice start. Community WiFi at full speed? Shared supercomputing resources? Shared storage? A streaming video server? A server with free cloud services like Google’s Apps?

What would a community look like if it didn’t take thousands and thousands of dollars to use the tools that are now restricted to large businesses and college campus but would instead be available to all for a cheap, shared price?

Nobody knows, of course. But then again almost nobody else has the basic resource of a community network upon which to build these new sorts of community infrastructure.

But we do.

And that is our advantage.

Fiber Fête, bandwidth touted

Fiber network looks to bolster local economy” appears on the front page of this morning’s Advertiser and focuses on the value of big bandwidth and Lafayette’s upcoming fiber fête conference. Tom Cox and are featured as a business which is already using LUS fiber to real advantage and that plans to use the speed even more in the future. Cox, not surprisingly, will be on Thursday morning’s panel “Driving Lafayette’s Digital Economy.”

“Pixel Magic to make 100 hires in Lafayette”

An update on today’s Advertiser website says that Pixel Magic has committed to hiring a 100 artists to work at its new Lafayette location. They will work at rendering “old” 2-D films into new 3-D formats. That type of boost to the digital arts community plants the sort of seed that every community is looking for these days. It is the potential beginning of a hothouse economy built around the digital visual arts. 100 highly trained visual ‘magicians’ will have to have something to do in their off time…and some other personal projects to keep their juices flowing. For Lafayette it’s those spin-offs that will be the real payoff. [If the economic development people haven’t put aside some petty cash to sponsor a visual arts club for kids built around these folks as the core group then they aren’t doing their job. It’s stunning how much real development has sprung from cold pizza and warm coke…]

Looking for some of that work? From the article:

Pixel Magic will work with Louisiana FastStart to provide training for interested candidates. Knowledge of stereoscopic 3-D is a plus, but anyone with a visual arts background is eligible.

Candidates who are selected will complete a specialized training course taught by Pixel Magic artists. The course will be taught over 2-3 weeks starting May 2.

This announcement a tremendous success for LITE. And Louisiana, and Lafayette, and, I very strongly suspect, LUS Fiber (even though utility companies seldom get a fair share of the glory).

Pixel Magic is the real item—it’s not a start-up hoping to leverage the fallow assets of Lafayette into some star gig that lets them move up and out…it’s a major established house that has come here because it can accomplish more of what it wants to do for less money than elsewhere. It’s up to Lafayette and the region to set the hooks deep so that nobody ever wants to leave. Festival International will be a good start….and Mardi Gras and crawfish etouffe. [Never heard of Pixel Magic? Shame on you. Check out their site, with the Lafayette location prominently featured on the fly-in, and their list of movies, and, for real fun, go to the “reel” they’ve put up of special effects. Imagine being able to do that sort of stuff…it really does look like magic.]

Pixel Magic bringing employment to Lafayette is not the result of any simple, “silver bullet” approach to development. This had to look good to the company from a number of different angles. Starting at the state level a big chunk of their favorable decision has to be Louisiana’s “aggressive” tax benefits for film and digital production. The company will get some extremely nice tax credits for the work that is done in the city. But that’s not nearly enough. Many states have copied Louisiana’s generosity. There’s also Lafayette’s location on big backbones like the Internet2 and LambdaRail consortiums. Shipping big buckets of bits back to Los Angeles won’t be an issue. Then there’s LITE itself—with a 3D rendering setup and multiple varieties of 3D visualization venues testing out films in settings from theatrical to flatscreens will be easy. LITE also has a couple of monster underutilized rendering farms on site. Pixel Magic no doubt gets a good deal and LITE gets a client that will actually use its massive facilities for more than a prestigious address.

Finally, we’re down to LUS Fiber. You have to know if you’ve been down to “the egg” at the LITE building that they’re not going to put 100 cubicle workers in that facility. No way they’d fit. However they do have to do the tedious work in Louisiana to get those credits. So some large percentage of those 100 workers will have to be off-site. But they’ll have to be able to do their work as if they were in the same building with, at a minimum, the 100 megs of connectivity that standard ethernet LANs provide. That, of course, is exactly what LUS provides on its justly acclaimed 100 meg intranet. A person setting behind a nice workstation setup on Moss Avenue with a nice VLAN setup could work within the Pixel Magic network as if they were just down the hall from the boss’s glossy corner office (something both would probably prefer). The ultimate in working from home. I’ll not be surprised if Pixel Magic opts for an offsite work center like NuConn did—but there too LUS’ fiber-to-every-nook-and-cranny make it possible to shop for the cheapest appropriate location rather than the cheapest location that has something close to real connectivity. In that sort of situation it would be easy and damned inexpensive to leverage LUS Fiber to provide a gig or several of commercial grade connection between the two points.

All of that taken together—each element individually impressive but not uniquely decisive—turned out to make Lafayette very hard to match.

The best thing is that this little coup will put the “three ‘L’s”—Lafayette, LITE and LUS Fiber on a lot of people’s radar in the digital video arts. Rev up your motors guys….the race is now beginning.

One Story? Economic Development

Some days there’s not “a” story but several stories taken together that tell the tale. I suspect that today is such a day.

Here’s a list of marginally interesting stories that have hit today: Firm relocating to Lafayette (Advocate), City lands corporate office (Advertiser), LUS Fiber expands Internet service (Advertiser), Lafayette, LA: Best places ranking: #2 among midsize metro areas (CNN Money) and Lafayette Location Of Transcom Announces 700 New Jobs (KATC–from earlier this month). Each one interesting and encouraging enough in its own right.

Together they tell a tale of a city that, even in these hard times, is expanding its job market, making itself attractive to newcomers, and is providing shockingly cheap net services to small businesses. Most of the story, frankly, is in those headlines…the meat of the stories add detail but not substance.

Without making the silly claim that all of this was driven by fiber, I have to say that I think that LUS’ fiber network is not getting its fair share of the credit in the stories. The 700 jobs that Transom brought? Don’t recall those guys? Well, Transcom is the new corporate parent of NuConn…the call center guys that constituted Lafayette’s first big, directly-connected-to-the-fiber-vote win. Back when NuConn/Transcom first came to town they were clear that fiber—and the community’s gumption in voting it in—were the deciding factor in coming to Lafayette. As far as being able to run an engineering/consulting firms’ national corporate office out of a mid-tier city like Lafayette? NOT possible without really massive, really world-class connectivity. The fact that it is as cheap as dirt here is only a huge cherry on top of having that sort of connectivity available at all. Engineering firms are among the most voracious of bandwidth users. Without really good connectivity there’d be no such firm considering a move to our fair town. And that brings up the announcement of a 100 megs of symmetrical bandwidth being available to every business, small or large, in every neighborhood, rich or poor, in the city for the crazy price of $199.95. Or the low end (low?) version of 10 megs symmetrical for $64.95? This has got to be the best place to start up your own garage internet business around.

Credit where credit’s due: LUSFiber is making a big difference.

Digital Media Facing Cuts

Lost amid the stories of the Louisiana Legislature’s most recent set of follies is the damage being done to those odd corners where people actually try and develop a better future. We’re not talking here about the gauzy langauge that always envelops grabbing the state’s cash for perfectly standard special-interest projects like funding I-49 South or giving money to some California company to help them buy a chicken plucking plant. No, what’s actually future-oriented is much more vulnerable almost by definition. The real deal has yet to develop it a “constituency” beyond a core of the most creative and imaginative. And those folks are not special in any sense that a state legislature can recognize.

This is all in reaction to a story in this week’s Independent that surveys the probable cuts to some of Lafayette’s technological jewels. Interestingly, they’re all into digital media of one sort or another…the LITE Center, 3D Squared’s game/education curricula, and the UL Cinematic Arts Workshop at UL. The cuts to those programs aren’t the end of the story either: cuts to the Louisiana Division of the Arts and the Louisina Endowment for the Humanities indirectly cuts alternate funding to these efforts and to the rest of the digital arts band in Lafayette. Long-term infrastructure is losing its opportunity as well with Regent’s declaration that no new degree programs can be launched this year putting the breaks on UL’s proposed moving image arts degree.

The sad thing is that these programs are just the sort that plant the real seeds for the future; its a pity that our legislature doesn’t see the long-term value for such in the future and have the courage to actually support what’s right rather than what’s expedient. It’s short-sighted. But then short-sightedness is what got us into the state’s current mess. The legistlature last year tossed decades of hard-won fiscal reform into the toilet when it repealed critical parts of the Stelly reform plan during a freak year when a massive influx of federal dollars due to hurricane recovery and a predictably temporary spike in the price of oil produced a large surplus. Rather than husband that windfall for the easily foreseeable rainy day they did the easy—and irresponsible—thing of giving the voters a tax break in perpetuity. Without that we’d have enough money to fund higher education….and maybe a few other things that would actually be the seeds of a better future.

Maybe next time.

Gaming…What’s next

These guys need Lafayette….and Lafayette needs these guys.

Lafayette has been chasing the star of the movie industry. Maybe it would be a better fit for the city to go after the new rising star of the entertainment industry: video games. And Lafayette would certainly be the place for a new streaming-on-demand version of video games to test their chops.

Games are big business these days with the game industry surpassing the movie industry for the first time last year and posting a 40% increase in size while doing so.

Cnet carries an interesting story on the latest “platform” to challenge the console gaming platform troika of Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo (with ‘puters making a fouth leg): OnLive. Admitedly, OnLive is only a startup but it is hard to argue with their basic concept: move the gaming industry online.

That is basically the same idea that has undermined the CD-based version of the music industry, is destroying the phone company, is arguably killing newspapers, and has radically restructured the retail industry in just about every business category from booksellers to auctions.

OnLive’s version of the idea is to stream games. If their idea wins out—and why shouldn’t it?—there’ll be no fancy console or monster PC, no physical game cartridge/CD/DVD at all. Just stream the gameplay down to your computer’s screen. All the fancy processing and video magic takes place on the server. Along the way, one presumes, the console goes the way of the dodo and the CD.

Now the problem, arguably, is that this model seems to be before it’s time. It needs a lot of bandwidth to run a quality experience. And most people in most places simply don’t have the bandwidth. LiveOn contends that they’ve got compression tactics that will allow them to run HD games over 5 megs. Maybe. But it seems a stretch. And latency is a BIG issue for gamers and is something that no amount of server-end trickery will alleviate—pulling the trigger in a first person shooter needs to be followed by an immediate spray of bullets for the game to work. Locating on a server on the other side of the contenient will be dicey on latency regardless of whether or not they can really compress their video stream into 5 megs.

Reading between the lines I am under the impression that a big part of their current business model is to give game sellers a place to market their wares that give game users a “taste” before buying. If streaming a game gives you a good idea of how it will play then OnLive’s streaming games could substitute for offering crippled or time-limited versions that run the danger of being opened up by software crackers and widely distributed. For game developers and marketers a slightly “glitchy” streaming might be feature of the system rather than a bug. They’d probably rather you’d buy….and if the streaming actually works well enough in some cases to substitute for phyical ownership then they still get a nice revenue stream and an easy way to upgrade or extend their games to keep that revenue stream from established games going. You can see why game developers might be really entranced with the model.

But OnLive clearly has bigger ambitions; it is in their interest to have steaming games actually work well for all types of games. That way they get to stand in the middle of all that money streaming between the user and developer. But, fact is, streaming is not likely to be satisfactory for a lot of the fast action, quick reaction games that people play on consoles. Most networks just won’t support it.

But here’s the kicker (you saw it coming): the LUS system in Lafayette will fully support streaming games: If OnLive locates a server on-network they’ll have an open 100 meg pipe to every user in the city inside the LUS “campus.” No fancy compression algorithms that pixelate on fast motion, no latency to make reaction times feel sluggish. Very, very few places in the world offer that sort of connectivity and locating a server on LUS fiber will give OnLive a place to showcase the very best of what they can offer, running as it should on a thoroughly modern, fiber fast, low latency network.

Of course, Lafayette benefits too. The community needs a way to showcase that network and point to the sorts of applications and uses that will make full use of what we have built.

These guys need Lafayette….and Lafayette needs these guys.

Selling Point

Got an email day before yesterday from a guy who was determined to find a rent house in a newly fibered district NOW. I know how he feels but couldn’t much help. —But we should start seeing news of the first “You’ve got Fiber!” mailers soon but I don’t know where the first batch went. (Anyone got their blue mailers announcing service? Let us know in the comments!)

But that interest in a rent house, any rent house, just as long as it was on a street with the new fiber piqued both of the cells in my real estate brain and when I went a-googleing I found the following ad for a house in Broadmoor. (My emphasis.)

Neutral colors throughout. Dramatic floorplan offers living, dining, and kitchen all open to each other. Elevated ceilings, corner fireplace, and stained concrete floors offer lots of charm to this interior. Patio access from master suite- 2 closets in master bath with a beautifully bright skylight … great for busy people. Garage and patio area make the most of this backyard … Just waiting for a gardeners touch. Looks 2-story, but really 1-story plan. No-thru street makes for a very quiet location. LUS installing fiber in the subdivision. Seller can help with buyers closing costs.

It’s a selling point already…..

NPR Download: Feufollet

NPR today provided the nation with a look a the hot young band Feufollet with an Acadiana swamp story that gratifyingly contrasted with the recent news out of the red hills of Bogalusa.

Feufollet is the revered band of “youngsters” that that started playing the festival circuit together at ages like 8 or 12 and have matured into one of the most respected bands in the region. The story nicely captures both their respect for tradition and their willingness to expand the boundaries.

This is the sort of tale that displays NPR is best at: a bright, sharp, fond look at a bit of lived culture. It’s also an example of the quality multiple media that you can only find on the net. A user can check out the story page, which contains an edited textural version of the radio story. There you can find links to listen to the full story, and you can listen to 3 full songs from the band that illustrate some of the points made in the story. And, if you are so moved, travel to the artists pages and buy some songs. This is what is meant by “rich media.”

One of the advantages of a community-owned fiber-optic network is that we could make it dead-easy to do this sort of thing for ourselves and not wait around for occasional good publicity from the national media. Every ISP (Internet Service Provider) that you care to name puts up a server and gives its subscribers storage space on the network. Sometimes this is mainly a server to handle the email accounts that are given to subscribers and some online storage to keep the email. They do it because it brings in users by boosting the value of being on their network—and because, frankly, it costs next to nothing to offer it. Cox, AT&T and every other provider understands that providing services that add value to the network and are cheap when spread out over the subscriber base is a huge win for them. It’s so cheap that organizations like Google and Yahoo provide free email, massive storage, and even free applications over the web.

There is no reason that a community-owned network couldn’t do a much better and more thorough job of providing on-network services. After all providing service is not an incidental part of the job of making money (like it is for Google or Cox) but is the core reason that a utility like LUS exists. We can, and should, offer every community member a place on the network and the tools to work with. With 100 megs of internal bandwidth serving real applications—and even a full virtual desktop—would be easy. And it would differentiate Lafayette’s service and make its competitive advantage clear. No one would consider using an ISP that didn’t offer email. If you got hassle-free web space and the tools to use them from Lafayette’s network I’d bet good money that it would soon become a must-have part of having a network connection locally.

If LUS didn’t want to offer that directly (and I can see a few valid reasons why it might not) then pass the responsibility over to a funded nonprofit built on the PEG model—like Acadiana Open Channel—give it bandwidth and funding and make it an independent, nonpartisan, open resource for the whole community.

We talk here in Lafayette, based on Richard Florida’s work on the creative class, about how necessary it is to pushing Lafayette ahead to build a community around the synergies of Talent, Technology and Tolerance. We’ve even made some strides toward that goal. The Feufollet article suggests that we could go much further toward harnassing the creativity and talent of the local community if we made the technology to present it to the world (and each other) much more available.

Hell, it would even be good business—and a development project to boot.

(A hat tip to the Independent’s blog where I found this tidbit.)

App-Rising on CampFiber

Mea Culpa, folks: I’ve fallen far behind in my posting. One thing I must get to soon is some reflections on Saturday’s CampFiber. It was both invigorating and informative—”in” in the best sense.

Happily, Geoff Daily over at App-Rising has had a series of commments trying to come to grips with the event. (1,2,3) His last post, though, comes really close to hitting it on the head. Geoff’s long been an advoate of Big Broadband and has recently refocused on the idea that filling the big pipe is a “problem.” Discussion at CampFiber has had the effect of making him rethink that basic question once again:

…one of the more interesting takeaways I got from CampFiber. It made me realize that the goal isn’t filling up the pipe, it’s figuring out how not having to worry about capacity constraints can free the minds of developers to worry less about compression and squeezing things down and more about the functionality, usability, and overall impact of their apps on improving society.

That comes very close, IMHO: Big Broadband is all about, or should be all about, destroying the constraints we currently suffer under—reconfiguring the playing field to make it more radically generative. A big fiber pipe is only a precondition and enabler for the fuller transformation. A necessary precondition, without any doubt, but a waystation on the path, not the final end in itself.

The next steps really need to be aimed not at filling a pipe or spending X amount of dollars to generate some mythical “killer app” but to increase the numbers of people that are participating and dramatically enhance the utility of the network for them. We’ve got a big leg up here in Lafayette on that score and it is not surprising that Lafayette developers immediately focused on some issues that initially surprised Geoff: the settop box and mobile computing….the big pipe is already accepted as a done deal here in the city. We will have that. We trust LUS to follow through. We trust LUS to lower the cost as much as possible so as to build usage in the most obvious way. Onto: “Next problem.” And the next problem is expanding the user base and expanding the range of things that can be done over the network: Set top box and wireless. Penetration and ubiquity.

We’re shockingly far down the road. But we need to recognize just how far out front we are least we squander our lead by imitating those who won’t really catch up for a decade.

But more on this in my next post……….I promise.