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.

“Tech efforts getting noticed”

Sunday’s Advertiser carried a story that —as my father might have said—”Does Lafayette proud.” I recommend locals and fans give the full story a read. The article hangs its hook on Kit Becnel’s Academy of Information Technology (AOIT). A school within a school at Carencro High, AOIT prepares students for careers in the broad field of information technology and is affiliated with the national academy foundation. AOIT is a leader in the national academy and its leadership sits on several committees driving changes in the national program. The award cited in the story was actually given to Louisiana Public Broadcasting and showcases several of Lafayette’s tech jewels including LUS Fiber, LITE, AOC, and AOIT:

Louisiana Public Broadcasting partnered with Lafayette Utility System, Bay Area Video Coalition and Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise (LITE) to enhance technology and instruction at Carencro High School. This project provided more bandwidth to the school, expanding instruction to include creation of 3-D models and training students for careers in technology.

But beyond AOIT’s award the article also delves into Durel, Huval, and Bertrand’s recent appearance at Google’s DC headquarters. Not surprisingly, since attendees at that conclave included the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Bay Area Video Coalition, and the CIO of San Francisco AOIT’s reputation was already well-known.

…many of those invited to the event at Google’s headquarters already knew about the academy and Becnel’s work.”The pioneering spirit exists in Lafayette with our LUS Fiber and the work and energy of people like Ms. Becnel,” Bertrand said at the meeting. “You’re going to hear her name again and you’re going to hear it a lot. The entire United States is envious of what we’ve done. It’s no small feat.”

Also in this mix is Acadiana Open Channel (AOC) who is providing support and training for AOIT. Part of the conversation

The invitation-only event in D.C. was a workshop on broadband and the public interest, and was co-presented by the Ford Foundation and the Paley Center for Media….”Their purpose was to talk about how digital public media networks should advance in broadband and enrich connected communities,” Huval said…

Lafayette officials discussed LUS Fiber, including how it is used in all Lafayette Parish public schools and is expected to be throughout the whole city by this summer. As the infrastructure portion of it nears completion, Huval said the focus will turn toward how fiber can be applied in both schools and the community.

That last (my emphasis) is what the community is waiting to hear. The benefits to education through the school system and to public media through AOC are simply the entering edge of the wedge.

The dreams continue to come…Huval, widely know for his prowess on the fiddle and his advocacy of Cajun culture, tossed out this one which will surely resonate with Lafayette’s Creole and Cajun communities:

“You could have the ability for a French immersion school to work on a project with students in Paris, France, and have this real-life collaboration,” Huval said. “The technology now allows you to have the exchange of ideas and understanding that you could only get in-person before. This is only the beginning. To have this little oasis of Lafayette, La. have the ability to do these kinds of things is really exciting for a lot of people.”

Perhaps unknown to Huval the futuristic dream of cross-cultural francophone educational collaboration is already being realized in a project organized by WSIL (World Studies Institute of Louisiana). The pilot project, underway currently, connects classrooms in New Brunswick, Louisiana, and Haiti. Students and their teacher collaborate through Lafayette Commons, a Lafayette nonprofit that supplies the educational edition of Google Apps and support to the project.

The benefit of a community-owned fiber-optic telecommunications system to Lafayette and communities like Lafayette lies less in the technology than in the fact of public ownership. Having built our own network we can now choose to do things to benefit the people and community institutions.

Building our network was the first step—and that is nearing completion. Taking the resource of our new network and firing up the process of doing something useful with it was the next step. That process has already begun.

(full disclosure: I sit on the board of AOC, the advisory board of AOIT, and help supply services via Lafayette Commons to WSIL’s project.)

Lagniappe: LUS and Lafayette have applied for the Google Gig FTTH project; apparently as a direct result of conversations held at the meeting in DC according to an exchange I had with Huval…more on that surprise when I get a little time.

There’s NOT an App for That…

But if you write a good one you could win $100,000

A digital inclusion App that is…

The FCC and the Knight Foundation are teaming up to offer an “Apps for Inclusion Challenge” that asks:

technology innovators to review government and community services and develop tools that will improve lives by making it easier for citizens to receive these services through mobile and online applications.

For the FCC’s part—they are interested in increasing the rate of broadband adoption in “lagging” sectors and see potential in useful apps for achieving that goal.

The Knight Foundation is fronting the money. Details are not yet available but the Knight Foundation suggests that they’ve got three core beliefs that this challenge would serve:

First, our ideal of informed, engaged communities; second, our conviction that universal broadband is key to achieving this ideal; and third, our deep interest in using new approaches to connect with innovators.

The inclusion of mobile platforms and highlighting it with the allusion to “Apps” is probably pretty good policy. Recent research shows that more of the poor and minority populations that are lagging in net connection are adopting wireless devices more rapidly than the rest of the population…mobile’s probably a pretty good target.

There’s been a recent push in Lafayette to get more governmental data available online. We’ve even got a placeholder location for hosting data in an accessible form. Some places, like San Francisco, are a bit further along in having its data available in a form developers find useful. It’d be a neat project for somebody—or some civic-minded group of geeks. I’d sure like to have a version for the Lafayette Commons’ gadget page….


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 [] 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.

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.)

F2C: Freedom to Connect

Well, I’m about to take off for the Freedom to Connect conference in Washington DC. That’ll explain any upcoming odd missives posted from D.C. 🙂

The agenda is great—and the conversations in the lobby even better. (Organizer David Isenberg-—yes, that Isenberg—explains the theme of this year’s conference quite nicely.) If you have an interest in the internet and public policy and ever get a chance to go you really ought show up. I hope to visit with good people, a few of which occasionally read this blog, and soak up a some bright approaches to my most recent interest: Lafayette Commons.

(Oh yeah: Lafayette will be well represented…Terry Huval will present on our Fiber to the Home project. David has been a stauch supporter.)

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…

Wikipedia and Knowledge and Lafayette Commons

Food for Thought Dept.

Every once in an while I put up something that is more for chewing on in the context of Lafayette and Fiber than it is on those topics directly. Sunday Thoughts. Food for Thought. Those are the usual tags long-time readers will have noticed. Today the pointer is to a new bit from Kevin Kelly; an intellectual hero of sorts for me.

Kevin Kelly has changed his mind about Wikipedia. It works. Most folks that “knew anything” knew it wouldn’t work. Kelly knew it wouldn’t work. And knew why. He, and they, were wrong. I think a lot of folks have made that admission. But few are as rigorously self-critical as Kelly. He tries to understand which of the assumptions that he brought to the table mislead him—and asks what other judgments of his might be based on those now-disproven assumptions.

His conclusion about Wikipedia:

How wrong I was. The success of the Wikipedia keeps surpassing my expectations. Despite the flaws of human nature, it keeps getting better. Both the weakness and virtues of individuals are transformed into common wealth, with a minimum of rules and elites. It turns out that with the right tools it is easier to restore damage text (the revert function on Wikipedia) than to create damage text (vandalism) in the first place, and so the good enough article prospers and continues. With the right tools, it turns out the collaborative community can outpace the same number of ambitious individuals competing.

This makes Kelly—who calls himself an individualist with a deeper sense of what that means than most—rethink his individualism and ask if there is a new and desirable sort of community emerging:

The Wikipedia has changed my mind, a fairly steady individualist, and lead me toward this new social sphere. I am now much more interested in both the new power of the collective, and the new obligations stemming from individuals toward the collective. In addition to expanding civil rights, I want to expand civil duties. I am convinced that the full impact of the Wikipedia is still subterranean, and that its mind-changing power is working subconsciously on the global millennial generation, providing them with an existence proof of a beneficial hive mind, and an appreciation for believing in the impossible.

That’s what it’s done for me.

Read carefully this post points to the way that Wikipedia’s basic structure, its architecture, its rules, its algorithmic frame, encourage real, competent, participation and discourage and make inconsequential sabotage and ignorance. You just don’t need a controlling hierarchy if you get the architecture right. It turns out that the “undo” command might be a critical social invention, or at least that’s the way I read it. Maybe that(‘s why we should prefer a digital world. Wanna know what “undo” has to do with it? Read the article. It’s well worth it.)

That’s really interesting. And maybe it’s something that is not only interesting globally but locally—here in Lafayette. We here in this little place will have the monster bandwidth of our generous intranet connection (100 megs or more to all!—locally) and the absurdly cheap storage that comes with our era. What can we do with big storage and unthrottled bandwidth—more what can we do that is worth doing? We on LPF, and the Lafayette Digital Divide Committee, have floated the idea of a Lafayette Commons—a deliberately vague notion about a site that would aggregate information and provide on-network resources to our community. Now our community doesn’t need an encyclopedia…it needs something more focused on local needs, local events, and local, timely knowledge. We need to know what’s going on down the block, who is hot in the local bar scene, what the real skivvy is on the district four councilman’s connections, how to get funding for a new pocket park…and a lot of other things that I can’t but you can imagine. The knowledge and understanding is out there. It is only getting the architecture of making it accessible right that stands in the way of our turning an amazingly fast and cheap local infrastructure into a something really valuable.

And it might be that Wikipedia—and a new generation that thinks Wikipedia is normal—is worth learning from. Kelly remarks:

When you grow up knowing rather than admitting that such a thing as the Wikipedia works; when it is obvious to you that open source software is better; when you are certain that sharing your photos and other data yields more than safeguarding them — then these assumptions will become a platform for a yet more radical embrace of the commonwealth.

What sort of common wealth could we create? If we can just get the architecture right.


The Year in Review

The Year In Review @ LafayetteProFiber

2007 was the year Lafayette’s fiber project emerged from the wilderness and people began to dream in earnest. The final delaying lawsuit was dismissed, the bonds sold, and contracts let for construction. Dreams followed the announcement of intriguing new features like a wireless addition and the 100 megs of intranet bandwidth and people began to dream of what we might do with it it to close the digital divide or provide new ways to strengthen the community.

At the year’s beginning we were still awaiting a decision from the State Supreme Court on the last lawsuit holding up the bond sale. The Fiber to the Schools project advanced, ensuring a parish-wide fiber backbone and early hints of a wireless project were realized when LUS put out a bid for a municipal wireless network — one initially designed to provide government services. The competition was clearly still out there as Cox introduced Video On Demand, upping the ante on what Lafayette’s network needed to provide in its initial offerings.

In early February Durel’s “State of the City” address lauded the fiber build but failed to slake our appetite for new news on the wireless component. The Advertiser’s attempt to move into an internet-centric future advanced in fits and starts but it emerged with arguably the best local video site in town, far outclassing the efforts of the local TV stations and proving that with the construction of new net-based infrastructure the race will not necessarily go to the established incumbents. An attempt to resuscitate the breathless prose of the fiber fight fell flat at the Advertiser as a story about the cost of defending ourselves against the incumbents produced no discernible ripple of concern from a populace immunized against such sensationalism by the long fiber battle.

Late in the month, after weeks of waiting, came the Supreme Court decision we’d been waiting—and hoping—for. The Court unanimously overturned the 3rd Circuit’s ruling and pretty roundly spanked them for their mistakes in letting the argument go on for so long. The final victory for Lafayette was widely heralded as one that would have consequences in locales beyond Lafayette or Louisiana. Cox, after years of vigorous attempts to delay or destroy the project, testily denied that it made any difference to them. Dreaming about what we could do with the shiny new toy starts almost immediately and LUS announced plans to solicit ideas from the community.

The first, and in retrospect apparently last, of the Fiber Forums is held and the community had plenty of ideas. (Cox and AT&T also attended and took conspicuously copious notes.) If nothing else the forum demonstrated that the LUS understood that a generous attitude will pay unanticipated dividends. And that simple insight is one which will do more to make the system a success than any elaborate business plan. Wireless hopes, big intranet bandwidth, symmetrical speeds and more were all promised and their implications discussed.

An old issue, the digital divide, returned, Lafayette was named a “Smart Community,” and the first high paying jobs attracted by the fiber arrived. LUS started to spend visible money on the networks construction, selecting a design firm to lay out plans for the headend building that would house the electronics and for a warehouse to store the masses of equipment that would be needed in the construction phase.

April brought a shower of small advances. The Digital Divide Committee was reconvened, the location of the headend facility at the intersection of I-10 and I-49 was set, and an engineer to oversee the construction and help make crucial decisions was chosen.

March brought a reblooming of the old FUD tactics from the incumbent corporations. Cox kicked off the festival with an embarrassing attempt to pretend its hybrid fiber-coax network was a fiber network in a venue where everyone knew better. Just a bit later we got a whiff of old push poll tactics when a new, apparently limited version was trialed in Lafayette. Then Naquin’s (AT&T’s PR team?) attorneys carried water for the incumbents by engaging in a rather transparently false threat to sue LUS just a week before the city went to New York to interview for the crucial bond ratings.

As the seasons turned Huval went to Councilor William’s “Real Talk” and talked—about the retail wireless plans, about a faster construction schedule, about a larger basic cable lineup than anticipated, about internet speeds where the slowest package would be faster than the fastest speeds available in most of the country. Oh yeah, and symmetrical bandwidth coupled with a 100 meg intranet. Enough to leave the most ardent proponent breathless. Lafayette Pro Fiber floated a dream about a “Lafayette Commons” that would take our commonly owned network and use it to make a place to share local information build community.

The bond sale was authorized and the bonds were put on the market. The first unit sold solidified the legal standing of the entire business plan since bond holders are constitutionally protected from any change in the plan no future legal challenges to the basic plan can be successful.

In July LUS’ Huval was honored by his national peers—he was both given an achievement award and made the chairman of the board of the American Public Power Association. The success of the fiber fight clearly raised his stock nationally as well as locally. The bond sale closed; meaning the money was in the bank and available to spend. The newly hired engineer’s men were in the field surveying poles—making sure there was plenty of room for the fiber to be hung.

Joey Durel took over leadership of the Louisiana Municipal and pledged to work “to give local governments more ability to control their own destinies while not placing roadblocks in the way of our progress.” Among other things, that probably referred to the infamous imposition by the legislature of the (un)Fair Competition Act. An LMA with aware leadership will fight such laws. The City-Parish Council approved the fiber funding plan. Dreaming about what might well turn out to be the nation’s best telecom system continued apace and a new Digital Divide report was made to the council.

Another small media tempest erupted as the kids headed back to school. The headend building came in way over budget and LUS had to scale back and issue a new set of specs to keep its price under control. The headend was one in a series of public projects whose price spiraled upwards in the wake of Lafayette’s post-Katrina/Rita building boom.

Cox fired its most effective shot yet across the bow of LUS by securing a long-term contract with ULL athletics for exclusive rights to telecast replays of coaches programs, sporting events and university athletic programs on its cable systems—and we can rest assured they’ll not be reselling such valuable material to the local opposition. For ULL fans this is a very big deal—such deals have lead to a lot of fan anger on both coasts where such deals are more common.

The Advertiser endorsed the dreams of bridging the digital divide in a supportive editorial and Huval spoke up on Federal broadband policy in his role of APPA chair saying plainly that the incumbent telecom corporations had failed American in spite of massive subsidies and called for letting “the public sector take the reins in communities where citizens want them to do so.”

Dreaming of a better wireless network provided a bit of fun in October. The surprise announcement that LUS would imitate Apple and open its own “fiber storefront” to educate and promote the brand was greeted with approval. And the construction news rolled on with Alcatel being picked to provide the electronic guts of Lafayette’s new system.

LUS signed a franchise agreement with the city-parish that was virtually a copy of Cox’s and immediately tried to reassure folks during its approval that the agreement wasn’t nearly all they hoped to provide the community. One of the few areas where LUS laid out a plan in their franchise agreement for going beyond what Cox had already done was in its support of AOC, the local access channel. That touched of some dreaming about what a 21st century AOC might really look like. Mike weighed in with some dreams about an asynchronous Lafayette in which AOC or a surrogate would play a major role.

If history repeated itself with the franchise agreement, an awareness of the recent fiber battle seemed completely missing from the minds of some candidates for the state representative seats up for grabs this year. Let’s hope their more aware colleagues educate them as to what a successful telecommunications utility could mean for the hopes and dreams of their community.

As the year wound down toward the holiday season the bid on the revamped fiber headend was accepted and the crews were spotted in a North Lafayette neighborhood moving wires on poles in preparation for hanging fiber.

The future is upon us. Since the plan is to light up a section of the city somewhere near the first of the coming year, with any luck next year’s edition of this missive will be able to say that fiber has been lit up in Lafayette and that we no longer need to wait for the future.

It’s a new year indeed.