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.

Kansas City Kansas Gets Google’s Gig Network

50, 000 to 500, 000Google announced that Kansas City (in Kansas) will be the location of its fiber-optic gig network. Congratulations to the people of Kansas City!

Googgle will build a 1 gigabit network in Kansas City that will be available to every person and institution in town. A gigabit is 1000 megabits—in a nation where the most common speeds are something between 1 and 10 megabits that is a quantitative change that promises to make a qualitative difference. Google will also provide the weight of its own resources and especially its research arm to support the effort.

Google has been straightforward about the purposes of the network. It believes that modern ultra-high speed internet has been lagging in the United States and that it should be possible to build new fiber networks that are both faster and cheaper than the old copper networks of the incumbent providers. It also hopes to show such networks can be run successfully as open networks; that is, as networks that allow anyone to offer services over the fiber. But Google was unable to name any companies that had committed to use its network. That will have to happen fast as they’ve promised to launch the network in 2012. Getting any of the incumbent phone and cable networks to offer service over superior but locally-owned fiber has been a major stumbling block for other community-based networks that hoped to make a go of the open network model.

 The question, especially for the 1,100 other cities and towns whose applications were not as successful as Kansas City’s, will be “Why them?” We’re unlikely to get a clear answer but one thing that Google prides itself on itself on is its adherence to “data-based” decision making. (Example) So I tried to see Kansas City through that lense. The first thing that leaps out is that KCK (Kansas City, Kansas) is in the middle…in a lot of senses. It’s about midway on a line between the geographic center of the lower 48 states and the population center of the country. It’s also about the right size—about 150,000 people— between the  50, 000 to 500, 000 that to which they’d originally committed. And if you take a peek at KCK on wikipedia you’ll find that the demographics are pretty middling too…a sizable minority population and a high-middle income level. So its a nice middle-american kind of city from which to get their implementation data. If it works in Kansas City.

Well at least now Lafayette will have someone to envy the way that others envy us—Google’s KCK network will be faster than ours by the same sort of factor that ours is faster than the rest of the country’s. Until we fix that. There’s also comfort in the fact that one of our own will be leading the technical effort for Google. The real upside, for us and the country is that another community-based network will be lit up and in position to light the way.

Welcome aboard Kansas City.

LUS Fiber as Background…

Lafayette’s community-owned fiber network is well on its way to becoming a background factor in the city’s self-image. At one point most public mention of LUS Fiber was a—contentious—foreground issue. The story was about the fiber network. That’s changed. And that’s good.

These days stories tend to mention LUS Fiber as an assumed “good thing” and are focused on the immediate foreground issue. The next step is for our massive connectivity to be simply assumed without mention—after all nobody talks about the water utility when discussing gardening. We’ve not quite reached that point. For now at least we are still aware that we’ve got something special.

A couple of recent experiences reflect that new state: In a bragging speech, our “state of the city-parish address,” LUS Fiber rates a nice mention—but only a mention. On a website touting a new “traditional urban village” development one of the advantages of the new subdivision is Lafayette’s fiber to the home network. In a blog post focusing on education and technology at a Catholic high school making use of the 100 meg intranet is merely one of several bullet points on the to-do list.

It is a sign of maturity I suppose. LUS Fiber is now part of the community.

That’s what was supposed to happen.

It’s Official: LUS Apps

Emailed Announcement

This morning LUS officially announced its newly implemented TV Apps in an emailed publicity release.  (see PDF)

Lafayette Pro Fiber reported this development on December 30th shortly after an alert user posted the appearance of a new “Extras” button in the menu bar on a local tech talk board. A more extensive review, replete with pictures, an alternate method of access, and hints at further services can be found in that day’s post.

The significance of this announcement lies less in the apps we see today—they’re pretty mundane for anyone using a smart phone—than what they offer for the future and the promise the keep in the present. LUS opted for an IPTV-based system rather than run its new video service using more traditional technologies. IP based systems are much more flexible and extensible. The internet functions as an IP based framework that supports a fantastic range of functions. The appearance of apps on the system shortly after the completion of the network makes good on the promise that LUS Fiber’s IPTV will offer its users new and excitingly different ways of using their TV. It also validates the choice of Microsofts’ MediaRoom as an interface platform. MediaRoom provides a layer that allows the apps to coexist with the video stream and provides developers with a relatively comfortable environment that does NOT require that they learn arcane set top box commands or limited-only-to-cable development environments. The developer interface is a minor variant on the familiar .Net framework.

It is easy to imagine chat apps that float over popular “event” shows like the Saints or Ragin Cajun games, or scrabble games played between different family households or…(your favorite idea here). LUS’ system will allow users to link video, phone, and data functions. Almost anything you can imagine could conceivably be presented on the TV screen and manipulated there. The MediaRoom layer makes it much easier to get between here and there without depending upon extreme specialists that, frankly, a smaller city like Lafayette simply cannot afford on its own. We’ve already got a (small) .Net community. And the developer base worldwide is simply huge.

We live in interesting times.

“LUS Fiber now available to most of city”

Regardless of the title “LUS Fiber now available to most of city” the real story is that LUS Fiber has officially finished its build out.

“We were planning initially to have the build out finished by March or April, but we completed it ahead of time and on budget,” said Terry Huval, LUS Director. “We’re on every public street now.”

Mayor-President Durel added his remarks to the occasion:

Durel described the technology as “the infrastructure of the 21st century,” and said most of the country won’t have comparable services in 15 years.

“In 1896 the people of Lafayette voted to bring electricity here,” Durel said. “Where would we be if we didn’t have the leadership and community support we had back then? What we’re doing today, we’re doing for Lafayette 50 years from now.”

Now the build is essentially complete; further expansion of the system to some larger buildings and apartment complexes will look more like retail installs than full-scale infrastructure construction.

It is a pivotal moment in the project.

It is time to turn our attention to what we can do with our new network. Attention within LUS has necessarily been focused on getting the thing built. Now the focus can move to longer range questions. It’s both a happy day and a day for serious reflection.

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.

Lafayette, Google and 1 Gig Fiber

LPF noted LUS’ application to the “Google Fiber for Communities” project several weeks ago as a bit of lagniappe to an article about the city’s tech efforts more generally. Both the Independent and the Advocate caught the story late this week, in advance of Fiber Fête. Google’s Minnie Ingersoll, a product manager for alternative access and one of the people shepherding the project will be a speaker at Fiber Fête on Tuesday of next week and that connection is noted by the Independent.

[For those of you who were on a different planet for the last two months—or just from a place which already has its fiber—and missed the fevered internet excitement, here’s the short version: Immediately prior to the unveiling of a National Broadband Plan that pushed an anemic goal of 100 megs in 10 years Google announced that it would fund a testbed project that would offer communities a gig FTTH network. Conditions to apply were minimal: not more than 500,000 people, and a demonstrated eagerness to “accept” a 1 Gig, open network. More than 600 communities officially applied and another 190,000 individuals applied on behalf of their communities.]

Both stories reported that LUS based their appeal on Lafayette’s vision, willingness to battle to build its own network, and on how cheap it would be to up grade LUS current system to the 1 gig standard. As the Independent wrote:

“We already have a system in place and that’s what we were trying to sell to them,” Huval says. He notes that LUS’ fiber network, which reaches internal speeds up to 100 megabits per second, could be upgraded to 1 Gig per second speed relatively easily. “We looked at what kind of things do we bring to the table that might be unique,” Huval adds, “and yet still substantive enough to attract Google’s attention and we felt that the fact that we already have a fiber to the home infrastructure almost completely in place that we have clear unambiguous community support because we had a vote of the people [on fiber] with strong support. We also talked about the strength of the utility system and we talked about our visions for the future, that we didn’t build this system only to have competitively priced cable TV, telephone and Internet, we were looking at building an infrastructure for the future.”

The Advocate’s coverage made it plain that LUS was intent on moving to a 1 gig to the home network even without Google’s help, even but that it would take till the next scheduled round of network upgrades to get there:

The city’s LUS Fiber system already offers top-tier Internet speeds and has the capacity to eventually offer 1 Gbps service, but Huval said Google’s project could speed the pace of development.

He said the advantage that Lafayette offers for Google is that the 1 Gbps speed would be easier to achieve here because the city has already installed fiber lines in most areas.

LUS application chose to present what some might say were Lafayette’s weaknesses in such a competition into strengths—to turn the fact that we already have fiber and some of the fastest, cheapest speeds in the nation into a testament to the community’s dedication to the vision of a faster, cheaper, community-controlled network.

But another part of the difficulty in applying for Google’s support is that the LUS network is not an open network in the sense that Google set down as a condition for gaining its support. Google’s version of network openness is that of “open access” which means that any service provider could provide services in competition with LUS. LUS almost certainly can’t afford to travel that path. It can’t afford to take the risk that the much maligned (un)Fair Competition Act would be used to force it into a premature forced sale if it ran for even a short time a loss—particularly as the law’s chief consumer effect is to put a limit on how low the local utility can drop prices in response to price competition. (The enormity of that unfairness is whole ‘nother post. Or two.) The most immediately obvious problem is that opening the network to Cox invites the cable operator execute a double edged strategy that would use Lafayette’s superior network to undercut LUS’ network offerings on, say the high end, where its own network is bandwidth-constrained, while lowering its price for its low-end offerings to levels LUS would not be able or even allowed to follow. Cox would not, of course, be under any obligation to offer its low-end network to LUS at prices that would allow it to compete fairly over the cheaper, slower network. The slightest misstep in such an open access scenario would put our community’s hard-fought and very expensive network on the block for fire-sale prices. As much as it pains me to say it, unless circumstances change it simply would be irresponsible to open Lafayette’s network.

Of course, circumstances can change. LUS could conceivably reach a tête-à-tête with Google by promising to open their network to any provider that does not own a competing network in Lafayette….there might be something to talk about. Or Google could simply agree to shoulder Lafayette’s risk. It’d still be a cheaper way to build a network as all Google would have to do is promise to get the city out of any hole the new policies put it in. I doubt that LUS suggested any such thing (but would be pleased to stand corrected). Much more likely is that they put their best foot forward where they had a good argument and intended to deal with the hard parts when, and if, Google decided on further talks.

There is, however, another way to try and dodge the bullet of Google’s desire to experiment with an open network; one that I suggested. Eventually I went ahead and made citizens application on behalf of Lafayette that tried to make lemonade not only out of the lemon of already having a network (using the same approach as LUS) but also leaned on the fact that Google went to great lengths to insist that their experiment, well, was an experiment. As far as I can tell most analysts cynically assumed that all that “science” talk was feel-good misdirection meant to underline the fact that Google wasn’t trying to establish a toehold in the business of building a national network. It’s more likely that Google is being perfectly honest. Anyone who has thought much about the roots of their search engine and then watched them build services like Google Apps has to believe that experimentation is is the company’s genes. Google looks like a company that actually took the “knowledge-based” economy seriously. The bit about being the most profitable business in the world is a by-product of successfully making that commitment; not the goal.

What Lafayette could do is offer to make Google’s experiment a LOT better. To improve their knowledge.

Science wienies will tell you that a good experiment controls independent variables…and to make even a stab at that you have to have multiple conditions. Helping Lafayette reach a gig and installing the same experimental apps and resources it does in other “Google gig communities” would give the overall experiment a lot needed validity; it would let you, for instance, decide whether open networks OR local ownership or experimental apps were more important factors in rates adoption and levels of innovative use…or at least it would allow a researcher to think about it with at least some contrasting data. (To prove that Lafayette also cares about research itself I’d point you to the fact Lafayette did its own full-throated “pretest” evaluation of internet attitudes and usage—on its own dime. The DIY attitude extends beyond simply building our own network.)

Sooo…if you want a look at the ridiculously dense, full-throated, Lafayette fan-boi version of the idea that I submitted to Google you can have a gander for yourself: Google Lafayette, La Proposal

“City seeking $9.2 million in stimulus grants to address digital divide”

The Independent blog reports that LUS and LCG have submitted a pair of stimulus funding grant applications worth 9.2 million dollars that are directed at reducing Lafayette’s digital divide. This has been a central issue in Lafayette for a long time and this is the first attempt to move beyond lower prices for better services as a way to close that divide. (See LPF digital divide coverage—LPF also offered some background on this grant application back in February when the authorizing ordinance was proposed.) The Library, the Housing Authority and Je’Nelle Chargois’ Heritage School of the Arts and Technology are also partners. The grant money would come from the second round of BTOP (Broadband Technology Opportunity Program) stimulus grants. LUS won a first round stimulus grant for its smart grid program back in February.

BTOP provides separate programs to fund broadband infrastructure, public computer centers, and sustainable broadband adoption projects. These two applications are for the computer center and the sustainable broadband adoption sections.

The coalition has applied for $3.9 millon to build out or expand public computer centers in the library, senior centers, and the Housing Authority. The money will be spent on new computers and personnel.

The second grant is focused on “sustainable broadband adoption.” That’s bureaucratese for finding ways to help folks who are not currently getting service or who underutilize service available to get up to speed. That one is worth $5.3 million and:

would go toward 55 direct or indirect jobs in providing 35,000 hours of computer training and 1,000 new PCs, as well as pay for two-year subscriptions to high speed Internet through LUS Fiber for graduates of the program.

Details on the plans for the training program would be very interesting.

The Independent is also the first local news source outside this blog to mention the community broadband survey that will be providing supporting evidence for this grant. Hopefully we will soon see the release of the study and the supporting dataset.

Regional Fiber UltraBroadband Network in Lousiana?

They’re beating the drum in Baton Rouge on Google’s FTTH (fiber to the home) project. A facebook page, Bring Google Fiber to Baton Rouge,” was launched almost immediately and quickly became the leading Facebook page devoted to the topic. The page reports meetings within the city leadership. Baton Rouge is enthused.

Lafayette’s cadre of pro-fiber partisans are urged to support Baton Rouge’s effort. Join the facebook page and voice your support.

A fibered-up Baton Rouge would create a regional ultra broadband fiber to the home corridor stretching from Gonzalez through Baton Rouge to Lafayette. My back of the napkin calculations using year 2000 census data shows that network would pass around 419,000 people. That would just about double the bang-for-the-buck that Google would receive for fibering up Baton Rouge alone.

It may well be that Baton Rouge’s strongest argument for Google to invest there will be to leverage the spirit already shown by its neighbors.

The number of people effected is no small issue. As Google is undoubtedly aware, the major stumbling block to developing really big pipes here in the US is that building out little pockets here and there do not provide the critical mass of users that would prod application developers and service provider to provide apps and services that make full use of the available bandwidth. If 90% of your audience is limited to 6 megs or less you develop and plan for—maybe—10 megs. Of download. Upload speeds are a fraction of download in most of the country. Everyone knows we want big broadband and symmetrical up and download speeds eventually but we’re caught in a chicken and egg situation and no one wants to go first. Google is playing on this national stage and hopes that dropping half a million people into the pool of those with really big broadband will: First, drive the incumbents to try and match their efforts, particularly if Google can prove that it is not nearly as expensive or daunting a task as the incumbents claim. Secondly Google hopes that by jump starting a market of a half million (and if they have calculated well another 1 or 2 million more to that in incumbent responses) they will have created a tipping point in the development of truly high-speed, low latency, big pipe applications. That would be a GREAT thing for leading-edge communities like Lafayette.

But its not just the number of people effected—it is the density as well. One of the things we know from studies of new tech adoption in the realm of communications is that it is strongly subject to local network effects. Take telephone service. If you are the only subscriber it really is pretty much worthless. The more people take the service the more valuable it becomes. If you can count on everyone having it you can start organizing everyday activities around it and integrating it fully into your social life. That is what Google wants to have happen on its new fiber. Network effects are most powerful within a city or region. Most telephone calls are local and most of the remaining are regional. By ensuring that an entire region, approaching 500,000 people in that area alone, is fully-fibered Google can have the greatest hope of seeding a game-changing demonstration project. (By the way: my prediction is that one of the first high-bandwidth apps to come out of the famous “google labs” complex will be HD video telephony and conferencing for just these reasons. Google Voice HD anyone?)

And wait, wait, there’s more! 🙂

As Lagniappe Google gets to watch 2 distinctly different FTTH providers closely interact with one of its big pipes project. Lafayette is a utility—a municipal FTTH provider. EATel is a classic rural telephone company. Both are offering some of the highest speeds over FTTH in their categories. How do the 3 differing models interact? What form really drives adoption the fastest?

Google’s 1 gig, low-latency pipes will, I believe, drive the development of amazing new gaming, cloud, and communications applications. They could get an awful lot of additional data by building in Baton Rouge and partnering up with EATEL and LUS.