You CAN get there from here! Or, at least you used to be able to.

The story making the trade papers today is that Level 3 Communications is going to apply for some of the broadband stimulus money. That’s a good thing and could also be a good thing for Louisiana.

Here’s why.

Level 3 owns and operates one of the largest fiber networks in the world. You can download their network map here (PDF).

You’ll note on the map that Level 3 has two routes in south Louisiana. The original route runs along I-10. The second route runs a bit north of there along a natural gas pipeline right of way that connects Houston to Atlanta. Going back to the days when I used to map these networks as they rolled out across Louisiana, arguing to the Mike Foster administration that these were the Rivers of Light (PDF) that could produce corridors of opportunity in this state, that second route was built by the Williams Company of Tulsa, OK, and sold when the telecom branch of the firm went bankrupt around the turn of this century.

So, what does this have to do with broadband in Louisiana?

Let’s let Level 3 explain:

Edward Morche, senior vice president of the Federal Markets Group for Level 3 Communications, said last week that his company would partner with cable companies, LECs, wireless providers or state and local governments in seeking to offer broadband access in unserved and underserved areas, building off its national network.

“When we built our national fiber optic network, we had to put in regeneration nodes, to re-amplify the signal, in tier 2, tier 3and tier 4 markets,” Morche said. “If you look at where we have those regeneration nodes – and there are about 500 of them – we are looking at a couple of dozen that we could use [to apply for stimulus funding] for the first round.”

At the time this and other networks were built, these regeneration stations were needed about every 35 miles along the network. As you drive along I-10 now, there are two fiber regeneration stations not far from Lacassine. One on the north side; the other on the south side. The station north of I-10 is Level 3’s. Each serves a different fiber network but serves the same purpose — generating the light that carries communications signals down the network. Neither Google Maps nor Mapquest provides high enough resolution images to definitively identify those stations through their satellite or aerial formats.

Level 3 has their own regeneration station in Lafayette, located in a LEDA industrial park north of I-10, in a lot adjacent to LUS’s cable head end facility. Ironically, Level 3 provides network backbone nationally to Cox Communications.

Qwest Communications owns a lot of fiber in south Louisiana. It’s original route runs along the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks. They have a regeneration station in downtown Lafayette that sits across the tracks and towards Johnston from the train station. The next point is about 35 miles down the track.

All of these fiber networks are the same. All of these regeneration stations are the same. Each offers the opportunity to plug into a regional/national/global fiber network.

Had Lafayette Consolidated Government and the Durel administration not agreed to the colossally short-sighted provisions of the Louisiana Municipal Fair Competition Act back in 2004, many other Louisiana communities would now have the opportunity to follow Lafayette into the business of building the networks that for-profit companies do not find profitable enough. How many cities? Back in 2000 I had compiled a list of those Louisiana cities with the access to fiber and other assets that made them prime candidates for such development.

Instead, Lafayette is getting its fiber network. But it erected a high barrier behind it to impede others from taking a similar course.

The price of that short-sightedness is now becoming apparent as Level 3 makes clear that it is willing to open its network at those regeneration points to non-incumbent providers.