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?

WBS: Interview with Terry Huval plus Slideshow.

What’s Being Said Department

Benoît Felten, of the French Blog Fiberevolution interviewed Terry Huval (in English) at Freedom To Connect and has posted the video to his blog. Terry roles out the history of the project, the hurdles it has overome, and brags on its qualities for an international audience.

Note particularly the remarks from about the 4:25 mark on the video when Benoit asks about “the next generation of services” to be launched. There Huval discusses two hot topics: 1) a city-wide wireless system and 2) a smart grid for the electrical system. Both of these have been discussed locally but this discussion is particularly succienct and to the point: The wireless network is to “blanket the city with a wireless cloud” and will perhaps be used lower the cost of internet to those who have had trouble affording its cost. (With Cox preparing its own wireless network it will also soon be a competitive necessity.) The smart grid idea involves using the network (perhaps its wifi portion?) to facilitate remote meter reading, outage management, and time of use rates that allows customers to take advantage of cheaper off-hours electricity. Whats new there is the mention of the stimulus funds being made available in the stimulus package for smart grids. LUS clearly intends to apply for those funds and receiving it could make that a sooner rather than later addition.

The video closes up with “lessons learned” advice for other utilities. It’s worth the ten minutes of your time to take a listen.

The talk Huval gave at the Freedom to Connect conference—where the above interview was taped—was accompanied by a slide show that has been made available at the conference website. That, too will likely be of interest to some readers. There’s a short history, the pricing structure, a couple of network diagrams and a bit of laignappe at the end that he didn’t show at conference: a head-to-head list of the channel lineups between Cox and LUS…I’m sure that is changing daily on the LUS side but it makes for an impressive comparison.

Hmmn…While you are looking at Huval’s slideshow you might want to try and decrypt Felten’s as well. It was a very interesting analysis of the European FTTX experience with reference to how that experience might apply to the US. Felten comes down on the side of thinking open networks make the most sense from a purely business standpoint—not a point widely accepted here but much more prevelant in europe. Even more intriguing was his analysis of the different kinds of “open” networks and which types really work best to provide the widest array of consumer choice at the lowest prices…those clever Swedes….

Felten and Huval also have something in common besides a fondness for fiber…they were almost as popular with the crowd for their musical abilities as for the presentation: Felten on the harmonica and Huval on the fiddle. (And no, he didn’t wear his red cap.)

Terry Huval at the fiddle

Felten on the harmonica

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.

Watch the F2C Conference Live! (Updated)

A quick note from the F2C conference. You can watch the live stream—and it looks very good. The conference this year is highly recommended: the speakers are amazing ranging from Pulitzer Prize winning authors to absolutely top notch fiber partisans to the guys who actually build the networks. Some, like Lafayette’s own Terry Huval qualify on multiple grounds.

Tim Nulty, the force behind Vermont’s fiber to the home projects (yes projects, plural) is on as I type this now, next on the same panel is the guy who put together Amsterdam’s ground-breaking system. And that is only the first panel. Watch!

The link: rtsp://

A link to the agenda/schedule might help…

And, should you want to follow the chatter, there is also a chat stream that comments the talks:

Update: 3/31/09 — I’m not sure who else is blogging this conference but the Broadband Census guy just down the isle is doing a pretty good job. Coverage of Tom Friedman’s keynote is provided by CNet. (I’m hoping that the streaming video is being archived somewhere and I’ll be able to post an update with that link…)

A European Fibre Optic Perspective: Fun

Nifty: a “fibre optics” ad from Dutch cable provider KPN

(Yes, I know it is in English, still…I can only say that the Dutch are a literate people. And yes, it is from their phone company. I can only say that the Dutch are a literate people.)

[3/12/09–I misidentified Dutch phone company KPN as the Dutch cable company in my initial post. Relying on my faulty memory…paint me chagrined.]

Venice: Internet Access As Birthright

There’s getting it and then there is really getting it.

“Venice provides free Internet access to newborns”

Venice will become the first city in the world to provide newborn residents with free Internet access, a spokeswoman for the city council said Friday.

Newborns will receive a user ID and password entitling them to free Internet access at the same time as they get their birth certificate, the spokeswoman said.

“The resident’s new digital identity will give free access to the Web, because we consider that’s an important universal right,”


(From NetworkWorld via the inestimable Baller list.)

After Thought: Yes, the remark about New Orleans is snarky. I suppose sad recent news has made the residents of other sinking cities a bit nervous… Another connection: Where Venice is using a fiber infrastructure to power a municipal wifi system in hopes of keeping from sinking financially as well as physically that avenue to pride and hope was closed to New Orleans by the incumbent’s (un)Fair Competiton act and Cox and AT&T’s unwillingness to give the city a break when it became apparent that a law aimed at Lafayette was doing unintended damage to a city staggered by Katrina. We can all hope that one consequence of the change in Washington is real change in telecom policy that would allow communities to use their own resources as they see fit. At the very least maybe they will go ahead and pass that bill that been pending for years to gaurantee that the states can’t forbid municipal networks.

There was a time, not all that long ago where Louisiana voices were front and center on the community side of this issue. If Tauzin and Breaux had had their way maybe New Orleans could be bragging on, and attracting business on the basis of, their shiny new muni wifi network. Landreiu? Melancon? You listening? Want a good way use your new found power and influence? Be seen as progressive? Help communities?

Internet Good for Teens? And US not getting enough?

Apparently, the geniuses over at the McArthur foundation spent a lot of time studying the internet use of teens and how it affected them.

Surprise: apparently hanging out online isn’t really bad for for the under-twenties. In fact it teaches “important social and technical skills.” Touble is, the parents (roll eyes) just don’t get it. (You can get more on this from the source, or read the study, or, hey, more appropriately: watch it on YouTube

So it’s been since the world began: kids hang out together and do weird things, the adults grumble and sputter and it turns out that it really was a good thing “developmentally.”

“The social worlds that youth are negotiating have new kinds of dynamics, as online socializing is permanent, public, involves managing elaborate networks of friends and acquaintances, and is always on.”

So, if it’s good to hang out and geek out on the internet then what about this finding that US kids don’t get as much interenet as kids from, say, the Czech Republic…are we falling behind in the geeking out on obscure interests and hanging out with friends on the net competition?

Probably. 😉

Telecommuting to Korea…or Paris

The Casper Star-Tribune carries an interesting story about a small town in Wyoming, Powell, that is anticipating gaining a 150 jobs. The jobs: teaching Koreans to speak English.

The folks in Powell are understandably pleased. That’s a LOT of jobs in a town of 5,373. But your question has to be: Why Powell, Wyoming, of all places. Not, because there is a secret hotbed of Korean expats in small-town Wyoming. It’s happening because Powell is having its own fiber-optic network built. As a result, the people of Powell will have enough bandwidth in their homew to hold video-based conversations wih “students” in Korea. (That is a mighty long telecommute!)

But Powell has no other advantages beyond fiber. No one there speaks Korean, I’m willing to bet. Being able to speak the native language of the student would be a huge advantage. Which brings us to Lafayette: We’re soon going to have plenty of bandwidth available to our homes “real soon now.” And a fair proportion of the population speaks a French patois — and not a few have acquired facility with “Parisian French.”

How’d you like to make a few bucks chatting with folks in Paris? Lafayette and Paris is surely less unlikely than Powell, Wyoming and Korea….

5:56 update: You don’t have to rely on being hired by some company. You can freelance your language skills at EduFire.

Cox blocking P2P traffic

A new study out of the Max Planck Institute flatly states that Cox is interrupting P2P traffic over the internet…and is one of only 3 large service providers worldwide for whom this is undeniably true. What’s more appalling is that it appears that Cox is blocking traffic without any obvious regard to the sorts of traffic congestion that are used to justify such blocking. This is a worldwide phenomena with local implications: take a look at the map and see if you see a red dot where you live. I think I see two in South Louisiana…BR/Lafayette and New Orleans.

While Comcast is the poster boy — and the whipping boy in Congress and at the FCC — for this behavior it is merely the first company to have been caught with its hand in the cookie jar. It also came in for more than its share of attention because it had the poor grace to first deny it altogether and then to claim that what it was doing was not “blocking” traffic but merely delaying it with the intent of managing traffic in order to improve the experience of its customers. The trouble is that, unknowable intent aside, what Comcast and Cox in the US and Starhub in Singapore are doing is clearly and obviously denial of service—blocking—of a perfectly legal file transfer protocol. (The first time Comcast was caught interferring the file being transfered was the King James version of the Bible!) These companies are using their control of the routers over which you send messages to another net user to dip into the flow of bits between two people and alter that stream to indicate to both sides that the other side has dropped the connection. They lie to both ends. The inevitable and intended result is that after a few retries the two pieces of software drop the connection because the cable company has successfully used its control of the network to convince the users that the other side has hung up. The critical terminology, should you care to google it is: “forged TCP/IP packets with the RST (reset) flag set” or some such…

An analogy from elsewhere in the telecommunications world that illustrates what is wrong with this sort of deceptive practice: The phone company does not send the caller a ring that never gets picked up when their network gets congested. They forthrightly tell you that all their circuits are busy and that you should call back later. They don’t lie and tell you the other person is busy. The phone companies are owning their problem. In contrast the cablecos are lying to you and telling you that they don’t have a problem–the person you want to talk to has gone offline.

Comcast continues to deny that this is blocking but the raw fact of the deception necessarily involved has lead to a renewed interest in Net Neutrality by Congress and a series of very uncomfortable investigatory hearings by the FCC.

The immediate response of the net media to this latest study has been to react with surprise that Cox is also included. That’s just because they’ve not been paying close attention—as readers of this space will know. In fact the fellow that exposed Comcast quickly made the same accusation against Cox whose non-denial defense slipped under the radar in uproar surrounding Comcast’s mishandling of the issue.

The meaningful bits from the AP story:

A study released Thursday found conclusive signs that file-sharing attempts by subscribers of Cox Communications were blocked, along with customers at Comcast and Singapore‘s StarHub….

The percentage of blocked connections for Comcast and Cox subscribers did not appear to correspond to periods of high congestion, despite Comcast’s assertions to the FCC that the filtering only happens at certain times. Subscribers were roughly equally likely to be blocked at all times of day and night. FCC Chairman Kevin Martin told Congress in April that testimony collected by the agency indicated that Comcast’s filter was active even when there was no congestion.

What should be at the top the news is that substance of the report:

  1. the interference is undeniably occurring
  2. It is NOT normal practice and it can only be reliably show for a very few cable companies worldwide.
  3. It is NOT being used to decongest the network in any systematic way. (Network congestion is very predictable and occurs in 24 hour cycles. If this technique were honestly being used to limit congestion you’d see increasing percentages of blockage during periods of high usage like when the kids get home from school or early evening. There is no such pattern in the data.)

Comcast, under intense pressure has pledged to stop this practice soon.

I wonder if Cox will do the same?

If you’d like to know if your connection is being lied to you can run the Max Planck test on your own connection; just click on over. Try a couple of times. Cox’s is apparently blocked about half the time, for instance, so you’ll need to run multiple tests to see if your local network is one that is being “managed.” PS: When I tried it was busy…and told me it was too busy. At least they’re honest about it. 😉 I’ll try again later.