WBS: Lafayette Becoming Most Wired Community in America

What’s Being Said Dept.

Geoff Daily over at his blog AppRising has posted “Lafayette Becoming Most Wired Community in America.” He touts LUS’ speed, price, and our access to a 100 mpbs intranet (and bemoans the price he has to pay for his 10/2 connection — more than I pay for a 50/50). But that’s pretty much old hat, the heart of his story lies in a remark that was made at his CampFiber event last week. A Cox rep attending* said that AT&T was planning on bringing U-verse to Lafayette. Add that to Cox launching their very first 5o mbps docsis 3 service here (at a unique discount I might add) and you end up with Geoff’s headline. If AT&T does launch U-verse we could at least try to lay claim to the title. Pretty impressive results for our little city which, however much we may love it, has to be seen as a backwater worth ignoring by the big guys…except for the fact that we own our own local fiber utility. Something they do not want to succeed and become examples to other towns that don’t care for backwater status. I’m not sure that giving Lafayette the best of everything is the way to make that point but I’m happy enough with the result.

U-verse, as you may be aware, is AT&T’s attempt at a “next-generation” network. It’s a fiber to the node (FTTN) sort of architecture which involve pushing fiber optics deeper into the network so as to enable a cable-style video experience and higher speeds over the old phone twisted pair copper. The key metric for Lafayette users is that its internet tops out at a laughable 18/1.5 mbps; nowhere near the Lafayette standard of 50 mbps. Of course that’s a real step up for AT&T whose physical plant is aging badly but it doesn’t hold a candle to the old BellSouth’s VDSL-2 plans which had promised 80 mbps down before they sold out to AT&T.

Supposing that AT&T is coming to Lafayette the most interesting question by far is just where. A big chess game with hidden pieces is emerging in Lafayette. LUS is, so far, is only in the city proper. Cox is parish-wide in its available footprint; presumably at least partly to stymie any LUS expansion. AT&T, unlike Cox, is actually available everywhere in the parish. Will it offer the service to the whole parish? Just to Lafayette? Just to Lafayette and the more densely settled towns and newer subdivisions? It makes a lot of difference in the game being played out here for mind share, market share, and profits. If the point is to try and reduce LUS’ marketshare in video by providing a third wireline provider then they’ll go only to the city and accept that the Lafayette unit will never have the marketshare in a three-cornered market to be remotely as profitable as spending the same money elsewhere. If they want to find a local footing in our regional market where their network is literally 3rd-rate they’ll provide their premiere service in the rural areas where Cox and LUS will experience the most difficulty in providing their products. What folks in the region need to realize is that LUS is setting the pace here—and they are benefiting. Normally three providers do not provide real competition on price. Modern corporations will try just about any trick to avoid lowering their profit margins and what is happening across the country where Verizon and AT&T are competing with the cablecos is differentiation of product (speed, bursts, integration, etc.) and an exploitation of the areas in which they do not compete on a block by block basis. (Verizon, in fact, recently raised its FIOS rates.) Cox has lowered its top rate in Lafayette because, and only because, they are faced with a differently motivated competitor who does not want to maximize the profits it extracts from the community. LUS’ 20% cheaper policy forces a price cut by giving one. Other parts of the country, like northern Virgina where Cox launched its second 50 mbps service, are not getting cheaper prices.

Frankly, I don’t see the business case for AT&T in Lafayette or the parish….so I’m still not convinced that U-verse is coming. I have, from multiple people, heard that an upgrade in the local network has been underway but the Cox guy is the first that I’ve hear claim U-verse was in the offing anytime soon. He said that it was in fact overdue and that the original schedule had said that it should have already been launched. I’ve no doubt that network upgrades are underway and have been for some time. But whether they are being done to simply shore up the current network and make Lafayette’s plethora of iPhones work a little better or as prep for an immenient U-verse launch hasn’t been made clear to my jaundiced eye. I’d love to be told differently. What eagle-eyed readers want to do is look for the tell-tale DSLAM installations. They’ve excited a lot of trouble with local communities in some places where they are considered huge eyesores. If you see a batch of these big new boxes somewhere let me know.

So…Lafayette may be in line for the nation’s most wired; at least in the sense of having multiple, cheap, top-of-their class options available for less.

*Yup, the event was well attended by Cox and AT&T reps, who were mostly extremely reluctant to admit the fact. Fiberina pushed ’em on it. Good for her. 🙂

PS…AT&T’s big advantage is wireless. If they show up here with a better wireline side sometime soon then expect them to find ways to bundle wireless to give them some sort of lever with local customers. But the wireless side isn’t a clear long-term win either. Both LUS and Cox are on record as intending to supply a wireless network. Wireless is a big deal in this three-sided chess game. Expect more on that when I get a little time to write it up.

Google Needs Lafayette

“Give me a place to stand and a lever long enough and I will move the world”

…Archimedes, 220 BC

Google needs Lafayette, and Amsterdam and Vasteras and….any of the fibered-up cities you might care to name. And, of course, Lafayette needs Google. That’s been true for some time. But it recently became much clearer. The big news on the internets these last few days has been Google’s newly announced Google Chrome OS. Most of the coverage has been predictable and mediocre but more thoughtfully analytical stories have finally begun to appear. (cf. the NYTimes) Even in the better articles the focus is inevitably on Google vs. Microsoft. While that might be understandable given that a battle between the two has become a journalistic stock-in-trade that is used to “explain” every move that either makes it really doesn’t seem like the best analytic starting point for understanding what is going on. The fact that Google’s OS isn’t good for Microsoft is incidental to what Google—and a few other web players—are trying to do aid an ongoing process. Exactly what that process is requires a little explaining:

What’s Going On Anyway? The backstory

The world is shifting yet again; this time onto the web from the computer. Not so long ago we moved much of our activity onto the computer —be they mainframes, PDAs, desktops, or laptops. The world shifted from only having physical objects that were unique or functionally identical copies of the unique object (think newspapers) to having perfect digital copies that paradoxically almost infinitely changeable, copyable, and decomposable (think email). The myriad internets focused on finding other computers and on transferring files between them. Mostly you worked on files locally in your own complete environment—even when you were actually a client “your” computer desktop had a separate copy of the document that you worked on. No more: while we struggle to come to grips with the social changes accompanying digitalization we find ourselves undergoing yet another shift off computers and onto the web. This shift widens the scope; it is easy to have a single unique copy that many people alter in addition to single, stable copies and many transforms of the original. That shift promises to make it possible to do our work with less duplication—of files, of storage, and of processing power and promises to pass the savings on to the final user.

Really, it’s all about leverage
The world is shifting and Google, with one of the longest levers, is trying to increase its leverage by moving the fulcrum ever closer to the weight it wants to move. The whole point of levers is to move a huge weight with a small force and the closer your fulcrum is to the weight you want to shift the greater you mechanical advantage. [image] The huge weight that Google wants to move is the “dead weight” of the existing paradigm of single, local, users that periodically transfer files. The emerging model is one which shifts toward multiple, distributed users that remain connected to files that are, themselves located in multiple, distributed “places.”

The new Google OS is all about building an OS that is optimized for that new environment. Right now we have an operating environment in which we are using a computer/local-user-centric OS to access the web. From the standpoint of web-centric use such OSs are bloated, slathered over with useless “features” and surprisingly anemic when it comes to operating quickly and securely within in the new “always-connected” world.

Note that moving us in this direction is what Google has been from the beginning: making it easy and cheap to move to a web-centric mode of interaction. Google’s innovation in web search is all about using web links and web stats to make good guesses about what is sought. That made finding things much easier—and then they made if free…It displaced a hierachical organization (cf. Yahoo’s (still extant!) example) arranged by respected experts that more closely resembled the library’s Dewey Decimal System or Linneaus’ taxonomy than anything that we’d now call search. You can perform pretty much the same analysis for Google Apps, Google Chrome, Android, and, now, the Google OS. Those are all fulcrum points that give Google (and Google’s user) additional leverage as we shift the weight of the past. With Google OS that point is very near the center of gravity of the opposing paradigm…. The point here is not that Google does NOT have want to “beat” Microsoft (or Apple or Linux) at any of these tasks. It will be sufficient for the purpose if the new browser or operationg system forces a shift on the rest of the field. It will be quite alright with Google, I suspect, if MS beats them in the browser war as long as the winners all support HTML 5-Ajax-multiple threading and the like. Google will have won if its Apps—and similar web applications that rely solely on nonproprietary foundations—run beautifully on all browsers. It is investing in winning the war; not the battles.

If Microsoft, or Apple, or Linux responds to a Google OS with popular instant-on, secure, web-centric OSs and Google’s dies a slow and embarrassing death the larger battle will have been won. And, for my money, that is the most likely outcome. Google to date has done an amazing job of creating the ecology in which it can thrive. Google Search made an impossible-to-navigate complexity suddenly usable—and that encouraged the myriad of small, eccentric, impossible-to-classify sources to find an audience and thrive. That in turn made search ever more dominant and gave Google search the page views it needed to thrive through even the lightest-weight advertising. The old hierarchical web was designed by and for graduate students. The new searchable web is usable by almost anyone who has a vague idea of how a topic is discussed.

Now, back to the topic

Google is leveraging the brutal fact of efficiency, its method is so much more cheaper per person than the oldr way that it can afford to give us significant services for free. We do waste enormous amounts of processor cycles and memory storage. The current system is inefficient by design: We buy memory to store our copy of a file stored (but not easily accessible) in a myriad of other places. How much space do you devote to browser cache alone? We purchase computers with several times the processor power necessary to do what used to be called supercomputing (and was illegal to export only a decade ago). Indeed, much current supercomputer design is consists basically of hooking up many personal computers or even game consoles together through a very fast network. We only very occasionally need the enormous power that is at our fingertips in the current personal computer. Web-based apps and systems do not need to waste anything like that amount of firepower. The difficult, processor-intensive tasks can be done on the web. The big storage can be on the web.

The web is, or can be conceived of as, a big, oddly configured computer. It’s got great memory and a great, if wildly distributed, CPU. And it can be radically cheaper to use because of those facts.


The Catch
But, the catch is that the web is great computer that has lousy and expensive I/O by comparison. It is only the beginning of a great computer. You have to be a touch geeky to recognize all three parts of a computer…memory, cpu, and I/O. We are sold computers and parts on the basis of memory and CPU speed; not I/O. I/O is code for input/output. It defines what sort of and, crucially, at what speed, information can flow in and out of the computer. On your personal computer I/O is seldom a bottleneck and its expense trivial. Not so for the web where the I/O is the network itself. On the web I/O IS the bottleneck, always.

Most of Google’s initiatives can be conceived of as trying to find ways to minimize the effect of the webs’ I/O bottleneck. When we hear talk about running faster or yielding a better user experience that is what is typically where the real bottleneck is. Google Apps, Google Gears, Google Chrome, the Google OS and more are all shaped by getting more out of a slow and expensive connection. They’ve bee surprisingly successful. (The idea that you can do good word processing over the web is really pretty shocking.) The Google OS is merely the latest and potentially most powerful way to evade that constraint and keep that huge weight moving.

But, really, it’s all a sad hack.

Google needs Lafayette, and Amsterdam and Vasteras and….
What Google really needs is for everyone to have better, much better, bandwidth. And damn near no latency too, while you’re at it. Google needs Lafayette, and Amsterdam, and Vasteras and every other local fibered-up high-bandwidth network in the world as testbeds to showcase what is really possible. It (and others) need a place with no I/O constraint, with a network that has the quality to take advantage of the infrastructure that it is building and surely wants to extend. It needs to build an on-network cache and server system to explore how it can use a decent I/O network to compliment its current products and develop new ones. It needs real communities to really test those new ideas. (Like Google Wave, which could be launched today in a place with real bandwidth.) Google is creating the conditions for the next big shift. It’d be a pity if like xxx it moved the world only to find that the effort had left in a place where others benefited first and most.

If Google’s attempts to move the system can be understood as trying to shift the fulcrum to give them more leverage, promoting big-bandwidth communities might well be likened to making the lever longer…that is what most needs to be changed to really shift the old world to a new place. And Lafayette just might provide that crucial place to stand and use that longer lever.

Lafayette is a special case…
because Lafayette is a campus—it provides 100 mbps of speed, with amazingly low latency, between every household it connects. It’s hard to overstate the value of that. What make most great networks less great is, ironically in this context, network effects. In most cases network effects are good [http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/0d/Network_effect.png] things…the value of your phone connection only increases when your neighbors also get one. But if your network is great and other networks that contain the people you want to contact are not then the added value of what you get from a great network is seriously diminished. So Google, with its large suite of apps that emphasize interaction finds it difficult to find a population that has a large enough population to use its products who all have the same fortunate circumstance. Even networks, like Verizon’s here in the United States, which have some higher bandwidth tiers sell mostly lower bandwidth tiers. And they do NOT give their customers large bandwidth between themselves. These networks do not form a cohesive pool of high-bandwidth users.

Lafayette’s will.

And, wait, there’s more! What Vasteras teaches us is that a high-bandwidth community can flip from having most of its traffic connect to places outside of the local community to making most of its connections inside its own network. Various reporters say that 70% to 80% of Vasteras’ traffic is internal. That really shouldn’t surprise us; it has happened before. When the first phone networks were built they were conceived of as substitutes for the long-distance telegraph and few thought their use would extend beyond the business world. In short order, of course, it became apparent that the people we actually want to talk to are right down the street; those are the people we know. Phone traffic is, and has been for a long time, mostly local and the widespread adoption much less expensive long distance calling has not changed that.

There is no reason to think that a more robust network, one that is rich in ways to communicate will not follow a similar pattern. People want to communicate and trade information with each other, not someone far away.

Lafayette et al. needs Google
Google can make the local network truly valuable, it can significantly erase the negative weight of the old network by locating caches and services on the local network. Local networks like Lafayette’s need that support to make their own business case. Such networks would be wise to court Google (and many others, Google here stands for the new web aborning) and to suport the company in its efforts. A partnership would be of enormous value to both sides. And would help in shifting that weight.

There’s a major shift underway; it’s hard not to feel everything straining toward that change. But a single constraint keeps the current edifice from falling: Bandwidth. Kick out that constraint and the new web comes into its own. Quickly. There are a few places where that bandwidth constraint is not in place. Those are the places where, with a little judicious midwifery, the new web could be born. And Lafayette shows how the initial densely interconnected communities that would kick-start the process could be developed.

It is a dream. But it is just barely beyond our grasp.

Treasure Hunt gets digital update in WiFi Venice

Now here is a nifty idea for the first July 16th celebration in Lafayette after the fiber is in and the wifi network built: A city-wide Digital Treasure Hunt with a great back story that gets people to really explore the city.

That’s inspired by an article that describes a hunt played in Venice (Italy, you goober, not the fishing port down in Plaquimines) to celebrate the city’s finishing a ubiquitous wifi network built on a fiber backbone (they get big wifi speeds). This is the same Venice that has made internet access a birthright by issuing every child a user ID and password entitling them to free Internet access along with their birth certificate. Someone’s Seriously thinking ahead over there. They have fun there too…(Carnivale, masking? It’s not only a Louisiana thing.)

The idea of the Treasure Hunt, as described on the website, is pretty much what you’d expect with a few twists. Like the Treasure hunt you played as a kid you get a clue that leads you to a place where you can find the next clue and, eventually, solve the puzzle. The three big twists are 1) an engaging narrative, a story that hooks it all together and motivates, 2) exploring the city’s more interesting and obscure nooks an crannies and 3) using text messages instead of paper clues. That last allows the maker to work on a larger scale and to do so asynchronously: you don’t have to lock yourself into a one-time, hard-to-scale, competition. Instead you can play through at anytime with as many people as you want and you can play it as a non-competitive “experience” game.

It’s an idea that can be used to teach folks about the more interesting byways in the place where they live and to help tourists get intimate with the place they are visiting. Once the infrastructure was up (and ubiquitous wifi would really help) it’s easy to imagine different games promoting different aspects of the community (Zydeco, French language, food, Festivals, charities…) and using different themes (Old South, Cajun, Mystery, Sci Fi, Dave Robiceaux novels…) Lots of fun..especially for the person/s creating the games. Any of our fun-loving/creative types up for the task?

Lafayette Commons: “Floor Raising”

There’s going to be a “floor raising” for Lafayette Commons tomorrow at 6:00 PM in the new Southside Library. (6101 Johnston St—map) You’re Invited!

The event will be a floor raising in two senses:

  • first, it will introduce a project that hopes to raise the floor for the people of Lafayette: to make a common set of sophisticated tools available to everyone free of charge;
  • second, the meeting will be the first step in a community barn raising: it will gather users, programmers, admin types, and content producers in one place with to advance the project by laying down the floor….

A bit more:

Lafayette Commons is currently built on an Education Edition of Google Apps. Apps is a pretty shockingly sophisticated platform giving free access to an intergrated suite of email, calandering, word processing, spreadsheet, chat, web-building, and video apps. You get online storage to the tune of 8 gigs. With the Education Edition comes complete access to the APIs and the ability to alter them or bring in new modules or extensions. Each account comes with its own personalized start page giving quick access to your basic functions (like email, calendar, or docs). The start page also offers access to thousands of specialized “widgets” that winnow out the wealth of information availabel on the web; Lafayette Commons will host and encourage specialized Lafayette-centric widgets focusing on subjects ranging from crime and traffic to weather and local events.

A list of those interested in the “floor raising” will include:

  • Users of all stripes,
  • Nonprofits—cheap, sophisticated, cross platform tools should especially appeal to them
  • Programmers eager to learn something new and help out their community
  • Content providers who want their content in front of the public; from local government to the news, to events producers
  • Volunteers wanting to help bring folks up to speed or administer the site functions

In short, we’re looking for you.

(There’s an online invite too…if you’d like to get your very own personal invitation check the web page out and ask there. Similarly, if you can’t make the floor raising, but are interested check the invite and follow out the clicks for that option.)

Now THATS a National Broadband Plan

Broadband advocates here in the good old US of A have been getting a little giddy at the sight of the federal government’s machinery groaning into low gear to actually start the process of formulating a National Broadband Plan. (Yes, that explains why we haven’t appeared to have a plan. We haven’t.) Why just yesterday we started the planning process. First, in the distantly snide tone only the WSJ can pull off: the FCC “approved a broad set of questions designed to solicit opinions from consumers, telecom companies and state and local governments, to name a few.” The FCC is gearing up to gear up because Congress has delegated to them the task of being the big thinkers on the 7 billion of the stimulus plan dedicated to broadband that is to be administered by bureaus within the Commerce Department and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The FCC is supposed to devise the “national broadband plan” that will guide the decisions these bureaus make. (It’s all in the law.)

I’ve been feeling pretty hopeful about the process…hey, it’s a start. And a big step up from facing toward Fort Knox, closing our eyes, bowing low, and repeating the mantra “the market” 20 times as a substitute for telecom policy. Now I know that the money is actually being distributed in bureaus elsewhere and the people making those real decisions are all the way across the District of Columbia from the FCC…and it won’t be ready in time to make a difference with the current stimulus money anyway, but still…to have something on the books that is supposed to be rational and comprehensive would be helpful, won’t it? At least a start?

But all that feel-good sorta melted away when Austrailia announced its broadband policy: FTTP; Fiber To The Premise. At 100 megs. For the whole country, or 90% of the population anyway. (The most rural 10% will have to make do with a minimum of 12 megs—but everyone is offered real service.


And the way they’re gonna do it! The government had been negotiating to fulfill a campaign promise to expand broadband access with the incumbents and some foreign corporations who, of course, wanted to be made lords of the domain for the next 50 years or so if they were to deign to do anything very useful. That part sounds familiar. We’ve got campaign promises and lords of the domain too… But the Austrailian government did something that it is hard for Americans to understand: they took a look at the I-want-it-my-way suggestions of the big corporations and grew a spine. They told ’em that they weren’t offering a “good value” in return for the public’s investment and that rather than accept any of their self-serving plans that they’d rather do it themselves.

They announced that they were intending to fund a Australian 43 billion dollar (30 billion USD) National Broadband Network (NBD). The government would get no less than 51% of the company and effective control; private investors would be allowed to buy in to 49% with the previously rejected telecom corps strongly urged to buy in…and to contribute their network assets to pay for their share. Take it or leave it. And if the telcos want to leave it: be aware that the Aussie national government fully intends to issue a new set of regulations enforcing structural separation that would effectively force open access on the current network assets they retain. The new National Broadband Network will be open as well. The old way of doing business is over; there is no comfortable monopoly—vertical or horizontal—to go back to.

Australian broadband advocates are pretty much stunned. (Imagine the US government saying anything remotely like this to Cox, Comcast, AT&T and Verizon? You know: “Take your greedy plans to feed at the public trough and shove it. We can build our own advanced network for the price your asking buddy, thanks plenty.—and by the way, no more local monopoly for you either, we’re going back to real regulation of you guys.” Oh You can’t imagine it? Neither could the Aussies. Until now.)

We in Lafayette are in a particularly good position to see how much sense this all makes. We were happy to build it ourselves when told by the incumbent lords that we did not need and were not competent to run a modern FTTH system ourselves. That system is up and running and serving customers today—and doing so quite well, thanks. Since making that committment we’ve benefited by consistently being spared rate increases placed on other communities and, most recently, by getting a second 50 meg provider (albeit only 50/5) at a price that is 1/3 off what they plan to charge the rest of the country for that speed. And we got that before any of the big markets Cox serves or even the larger cities in our own market. Almost any other part of our country would kill for that sort of service and absolutely no place has it for as little as we pay. It pays to stand up for yourself in public as in private life.

Good on the Aussies. There’s is a real national broadband plan. It will fix what’s really wrong the current system. The current Aussie system, modeled in part after the mistakes we in the US were making, had resulting in a market with even more of the markers of monopoly dominance than ours. Aussie markets were more monopolized. The equiavalent of AT&T/Verizon, the telecom Telestra, was at least as insistent on maintaining its virtically integrated monopoly position and the cable sector was much weaker. Australians paid even more for broadband than Americans and an even smaller percentage of them were capable of getting really world-class speeds.

Going forward this will no longer be true. Australia will have a truly world-class network running at stunning speeds and capable of massive upgrades at minimal costs. Where homes in places where the villages have less than a thousand people don’t have direct fiber they will have fiber-fed wireless. The final few deep in central desert will get satellite at no less that 12 megs. This is a public policy (and a stimulus) that will bear fruit for generations. When people talk about “forward-thinking” this is what ought to be meant.

While we cheer on the Australians (“Go for it, mate!”) we on this continent have to feel a little bummed and whiny. Why can’t we have a rational telecom policy, too? The up side is that the unthinkable is now finally thinkable. An English-speaking continent has taken the plunge and told their teleco monopolists that the current system is broken and then put forward a credible plan for fixing it that doesn’t grovel and plead before of those that have failed them. Maybe we can do the same. Or at least talk about it!

In fact, not all is yet lost on these shores: One of the guiding lights of the Austrailian success was Paul Budde, long an advocate for a smart national plan in Australia. To read his blog these days is a real joy. He’s as stunned as his fellows but is rallying nicely—telling the doubters in one example “Yes, we can!” in a deliberate reference to the hopes for a positive change that are now dominant in the U.S. Even more encouraging is the fact that he’s also been in consultation with the Obama administration since before they took office and has no doubt been an advocate for much of this before our own leaders. I’d guess that until a few days ago his ideas, while judged rational in some sort of ultimate way, were not considered “pragmatic”—a key desiderata for the new administration. That judgment may now have changed. Indeed, on Budde’s blog he remarks in the comments to his well-worth-reading analysis that:

I also received envious but very supportive comments from the Obama Team, they are very interested and several of the experts are eager to participate in our work group to contribute and to learn.

Not to get your hopes up but, perhaps, just perhaps someone here will say: “Yes! We can!”

If you want a bit more, yes I’ve got the fun references: Budde’s Blog, The NYTimes, ZDNet Australia, Tasmania rollout to start in July, The Netherlands: Telecommunications Breakdown, France’s Fiberevolution, or try your own Google News search.

Lagniappe: New Zealand, who recently announced a great plan too, is also jealous now: “Newman said that while the NZ National proposal looked visionary a year ago, it now looks comparatively limp.” Aussie Envy; it’s the latest syndrome to afflict the digerati.

It’s All Good….

FOF (Friend of Fiber 😉 ) Brent Faul dropped me a note this morning, saying:

Hi John,

I’ve been reading your blog since you put it up during the ramp up to the fiber vote. It’s been great and I’ve appreciated your work mightily. I know that you’ve been connected for a couple of weeks now and I’ve only seen one brief single sentence comment about your experience with the service. It’s so uncharacteristic of you not to comment on it in detail that I find the silence kind of deafening, if you know what I mean. Should I be worried? Is there a fly in the ointment?

I couldn’t help but ask!

Thanks, Brent Faul

It’s a damn good question…and makes me realize that a number of other people have asked the same indirectly. Paint me chagrined.

Short answer: The service is GREAT.

Long story short: Everything works as I expected/hoped. Nothing to comment on there. The phone has few extra fun frills over the bare bones AT&T line I had. No more weird fax noises and rings that signal nothing but a dead line. The TV service has all the stuff I ever watch and is absolutely crystal clear. The internet, which is the biggest change by far, is blazingly fast and is shifting the way that my wife and I spend our time. More time on the laptops, we watch more video online, and we are looking more web-based streaming video on the TV screen now that we get a smooth uninterrupted play. In short: it realized my every expectation. No big deal. 🙂 I will sometime soon get around to doing a more fun, tiresomely exhaustive set of reviews of the various services as they currently exist…now that I have been appropriately prodded.

But that sorta begs the question of why I didn’t dive right in…Well for one thing, I do tend to want to do a thorough take once…and I am still setting up the system to my tastes, rewiring my house and generally keeping things so in flux up that I don’t have a stable experience on which to comment. But also, as I told FOF Brent:

1) I was never all that interested in the services. Still am not. The internet side is awful cool and the speeds are very, very nice… but the TV, online stuff, and phone just work. That’s nifty. They work great. But they are not exciting (to me 🙂 ) —Most of what I want to explore that is personally exciting is how I can use things differently because the internet speed lets me do things differently. And it does! Very gratifying. But I am still trying to figure out just exactly how. (I can report that we watch fewer TV shows and surf more…but am discovering that some stuff that I formerly considered internet stuff is now watched on the big screen.)

2) What always interested me most was the way that having community-owned fiber could enhance our community as well as our individual lives. To that end I am distracted from posting on the fiber services by trying to work on a concept we’re calling Lafayette Commons — to provide a higher base-level of tools and capacities to folks here in Lafayette. We’re starting with a nonprofit Education Edition of Google apps that allows us complete access to the API’s, a very localizable widget-based landing page, and the complete suite of Google productivity tools (email, storage, word processing, site construction, spreadsheet, etc. with very nice collaborative functions like intercommunication and version tracking). This can be distributed free to basically an unlimited number of users. To Lafayette.

Lafayette Commons is in what I’m calling “in Delta” in sly reference to the software “in Beta” concept –the tools are pretty much there which distinguishes it from the usual unfinished beta release, but what is not clear is the “delta,” the “change” we want to effect. We need a nice big stable of visionaries and practical-minded “project wranglers” to create and localize appropriate tools and interface. This is such a tangle that it is very distracting. (In, admittedly, a fun way.)


Anyhow, Yes I should really do a series of posts on the services available and hopefully soon…but I am going to a conference in DC (Freedom To Connect, F2C) late this/early next week that I hope will refresh me in helpful ways so I doubt that it will all get done this week.

Thanks for the prod, John

And thanks, folks out there, for your patience…and to any intrigued by Lafayette Commons…please get in touch we need lots of people doing lots of different things.

Huval to Speak to IEEE VR Group

LUS Fiber is going to be promoted tomorrow in an international venue tomorrow….Right off Pinhook. 😉

The IEEE Virtual Reality conference is being held in Lafayette this year—a big win for Lafayette’s international reputation in that rarified space. LITE and the people there are surely much of what brought them here…but LUS Fiber is also a selling point used to demonstrate that our city is a tech venue even if it isn’t off a major international airport.

Terry Huval will be presenting on LUS Fiber to this group–and interested local tech types–at Tech South’s reception tomorrow evening. It’s open to the public and if you haven’t heard about it through one of the myriad lists that has publicized it you’re invited too…bop on over to the Eventbrite page and register. I, for one am curious as to what Terry has to say to this crowd. My guess is that it won’t be the same talk I heard at the League of Women Voters. 😉

And, by the way, I’m going to give a five minute bit on Lafayette Commons…asking for help in both the vision and the tech implementation departments in order to make a nice set of tools freely available to the community. And provide a commercial-free platform for further development.

Might just be worth showing up for…

“LUS Fiber network generates buzz”

The Advertiser reports on the happy local buzz about the new community fiber-optic network. Ron Guidry is heard promoting a series of workshops for small business owners, I exhibit enthusiasm about our enhanced ability to communicate with each other, and Tim Supple now frets about LUS being too successful (an encouraging change from his earlier tune).

It’s a fun read.

“LUS’ superfast fiber”

The Advocate published an article, LUS’s Superfast Fiber, this morning as its way of marking the imminent launch of LUS Fiber. I’m pleased to report that it didn’t focus on pricing and marketing details but instead chose to explore “what the new system could mean for the community.”

The top of the story looks at internet speeds:

The fastest connection offered by LUS will be 50 Mbps for a standalone cost of $58 — a speed available in few markets and generally costing more than twice as much.

Connection speeds from customer to customer on the fiber system within Lafayette will be at 100 Mbps, regardless of which connection plan a customer buys.

“100 megs peer-to-peer is mind-blowing,” said John St. Julien, a retired education professor who was part of a grass-roots push for a publicly owned fiber optic system.

It’s so fast that few people see a present need for such speed, which makes it all the more interesting for people like St. Julien.

“The part that I can’t imagine is what I’m most excited about,” he said.

A couple of caveats: As I understand it the 50 meg speed is simply the highest standard tier…if you want more, you can talk to LUS about it. I expect they’ll eventually get around to standardizing a policy on such. LUS’ standard Customer Premise Equipment (the box on the side of the house) tops out at 100 megs at the default internet port but conceiveably that could be doubled by using the second port currently reserved for video traffic.

The 100 megs is indeed mind blowing…and it’s less the speed than the fact that it will be symmetrical which will make interactive, participatory conversations the equal of one-way passive experiences which predominate on our cable and internet media. Right now the quality of passive intertainment and communication far outstrips the quality of active ones because upload speed are a small fraction of download speeds. But we humans much prefer conversation…as is evidenced by the fact that we made texting a surprise essential on cell phones, greedily tolerate cell phone quality audio to continue talking to friends and loved ones on the go, and that (amazingly) email remains the killer app of the internet and the one factor that moves those still offline into the digital realm. LUS’ symmetrical connections makes what we really want —a human connection— an equal player and I fully expect that we’ll find ways to mashup community experiences as soon as we have the bandwidth to make such dreams possible. For instance, I can imagine serving up a high-def video out my local cache to a couple of households around town (say a Northside championship game?) onto nice big TV screeens while holding video chat play-by-plays with four or five special buddies on our laptops. In the background my wife commiserates with their wives in a separate video chat. (The social dynamics remain the same. 🙂 ) Could that swallow up some bandwidth? Is it technically possible now? Yes…yes indeed. If we had the bandwidth. And that’s only the start. Classrooms, good classrooms, are good conversations and tech-enabled teaching will only flourish when tech-enabled conversation is a rich equal to passive teaching designs.

But as mind-blowing as that much symmetrical speed is there’s more…..everyone, everyone, who purchases internet service from LUS will be able to communicate at that unheard-of speed. This punches up the value for all. The fancy academic term for this is “network effects.” The classic example is telephones: when one in a thousand has a phone it’s almost useless. But when we all have phones and cell phones disembodied, at-a-distance speech no longer seems magical and has become a natural, inevitable, even inescapble part of our everyday life. LUS’ brilliance lies in incorporating that bandwidth in all net services at a very low price…in making it ubiquitous they make their cheap connections much more valuable than by merely making them fast. When one in a thousand has interoperable video phones the things are a silly curiousity…but when everyone gets access to such service they suddenly have huge utility.

100 megs of symmetrical, uniformly available, connections is really amazing and the fact that we can’t imagine all the details of how we will use them doesn’t mean that the emergence of such uses isn’t as inevitable as hurricanes in September.

Of course, the story does do some imagining of its own:

At any of the speeds offered by LUS, regular media downloads would be exceptional, multiuser video games on the Internet would flow smoothly, video conferencing would be a more pleasant experience, and interactive virtual classrooms would seem a real possibility.

Huval imagines a city where working at home becomes easier for folks who deal with the types of massive computer files that have trouble squeezing through residential Internet connections.

Video gaming is currently the driver pushing both hardware and network speed and quality forward. Lafayette will soon be the premiere place for tournaments and the local hotelier, gaming outlets, and conference centers really ought to be gearing up now.

Burgess’ exploration of possibilities ends at a review of the digital divide potential of LUS’ set-top boxes.

LUS Fiber customers will be able to access e-mail and the Internet without a computer through a basic Internet browser programmed into the TV set-top box.

A customer could plug a keyboard into the set-top box or navigate the Internet through arrow keys on the remote control and type with a virtual keyboard that pops up on the television screen.

Huval said he is aware of no other system in the United States that allows Internet access through the television.

LUS Fiber will be built out in phases, with the first phase including the area east of Evangeline Thruway and in the Johnston Street corridor from University Avenue past the Mall of Acadiana.

The set-top box solution will surely push internet access into more homes than any conceivable alternative way to connect to the internet. These features are built into current set-top boxes but are so seldom activated by private for-profit corporations that they haven’t been upgraded. Consequently they are underpowered by the measure of most advanced users. But they do allow access to those parts of the web that motivate adoption: email and simple browsing. With luck (and work) the next generation will be more capable and these devices will prove bridges to more robust access. None of that should take away from the fact that LUS is actually doing three VERY substantial things to close the digital divide: 1) lowering prices, 2) offering a much faster, more robust service for that price, and 3) offering a no-additional-price way to get on the network.

Why Lafayette?
It’s a great thing, all in all, and the doubter in us all has to ask: why here? Why does Lafayette get such great stuff? Well the short, prideful answer is that we fought for it. Where other cities backed off scared of the battle or were defeated in the fight Lafayette refused to back off and, in fact, waged an aggressive, scarring battle with the incumbent carriers. So vigorous was the fight that by the time the vote was held the incumbents had largely ceded the field. But that is only a part of the answer as to “why in Lafayette, La?” The rest has to do with the fact that this network is local and publically owned. People, regular citizens, fought for a real digital divide program. Regular, local, geek-types and businessmen insisted that a full-throttle intranet was both possible and desireable and made themselves irritating enough that the possibility was really explored—and found to be perfectly feasible after all.

The secret sauce in Lafayette is local, public ownership with responsive leadership. The sort of ownership that makes its citizen/owners believe they have a real stake and real influence. As long as those factors remain LUS has a bright future and its citizens can and should learn to expect, demand, and indeed create, more of the same.

Calling All Tech Types: A Salon

Lafayette CIO Keith Thibodeaux is starting up a Salon tomorrow, Tuesday the 23rd, and you’re invited. The Particulars:

Time: 5:00 – 6:30pm.
Where: City Hall
Purpose: Ideas
Description: The topic of the night will be “the next generation of application programming.” There will be a very small (5 min) opening presentation, then unstructured social discussion for the remainder of the time.
Extras: Light refreshments will be provided. (RSVP requested so he can get that part right) There’ll be a video feed from the Council Chambers so that fiberistas can move down to chamber when Huval comes on.

Ok, so what’s a Salon? (No not a saloon. That’s something else entirely.) It’s a place where folks go to exchange ideas..it goes back to the Enlightenment; the history is pretty rich and you can get a sense of it from wikipedia. But Keith is inspired directly by Alexander Graham Bell (the phone Bell; rember BellSouth?) who had a wing built onto his Washington mansion to accomodate Salons which were, by all accounts (search “Wednesday evenings,”) amazing gatherings.

It’s a great idea for Lafayette. We need to talk more. There are a lot of great ideas out there and they need to be talked about. Ideas that don’t live on in others are dead… With the new network about to be launched there will be plenty of room to play. It’s time to go public with your ideas. Talk to Keith. Listen. Talk