Gaming…What’s next

These guys need Lafayette….and Lafayette needs these guys.

Lafayette has been chasing the star of the movie industry. Maybe it would be a better fit for the city to go after the new rising star of the entertainment industry: video games. And Lafayette would certainly be the place for a new streaming-on-demand version of video games to test their chops.

Games are big business these days with the game industry surpassing the movie industry for the first time last year and posting a 40% increase in size while doing so.

Cnet carries an interesting story on the latest “platform” to challenge the console gaming platform troika of Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo (with ‘puters making a fouth leg): OnLive. Admitedly, OnLive is only a startup but it is hard to argue with their basic concept: move the gaming industry online.

That is basically the same idea that has undermined the CD-based version of the music industry, is destroying the phone company, is arguably killing newspapers, and has radically restructured the retail industry in just about every business category from booksellers to auctions.

OnLive’s version of the idea is to stream games. If their idea wins out—and why shouldn’t it?—there’ll be no fancy console or monster PC, no physical game cartridge/CD/DVD at all. Just stream the gameplay down to your computer’s screen. All the fancy processing and video magic takes place on the server. Along the way, one presumes, the console goes the way of the dodo and the CD.

Now the problem, arguably, is that this model seems to be before it’s time. It needs a lot of bandwidth to run a quality experience. And most people in most places simply don’t have the bandwidth. LiveOn contends that they’ve got compression tactics that will allow them to run HD games over 5 megs. Maybe. But it seems a stretch. And latency is a BIG issue for gamers and is something that no amount of server-end trickery will alleviate—pulling the trigger in a first person shooter needs to be followed by an immediate spray of bullets for the game to work. Locating on a server on the other side of the contenient will be dicey on latency regardless of whether or not they can really compress their video stream into 5 megs.

Reading between the lines I am under the impression that a big part of their current business model is to give game sellers a place to market their wares that give game users a “taste” before buying. If streaming a game gives you a good idea of how it will play then OnLive’s streaming games could substitute for offering crippled or time-limited versions that run the danger of being opened up by software crackers and widely distributed. For game developers and marketers a slightly “glitchy” streaming might be feature of the system rather than a bug. They’d probably rather you’d buy….and if the streaming actually works well enough in some cases to substitute for phyical ownership then they still get a nice revenue stream and an easy way to upgrade or extend their games to keep that revenue stream from established games going. You can see why game developers might be really entranced with the model.

But OnLive clearly has bigger ambitions; it is in their interest to have steaming games actually work well for all types of games. That way they get to stand in the middle of all that money streaming between the user and developer. But, fact is, streaming is not likely to be satisfactory for a lot of the fast action, quick reaction games that people play on consoles. Most networks just won’t support it.

But here’s the kicker (you saw it coming): the LUS system in Lafayette will fully support streaming games: If OnLive locates a server on-network they’ll have an open 100 meg pipe to every user in the city inside the LUS “campus.” No fancy compression algorithms that pixelate on fast motion, no latency to make reaction times feel sluggish. Very, very few places in the world offer that sort of connectivity and locating a server on LUS fiber will give OnLive a place to showcase the very best of what they can offer, running as it should on a thoroughly modern, fiber fast, low latency network.

Of course, Lafayette benefits too. The community needs a way to showcase that network and point to the sorts of applications and uses that will make full use of what we have built.

These guys need Lafayette….and Lafayette needs these guys.

How My Internet Connection Spent New Year’s Eve — Or, Please Hurry LUS!!!

I recently shot some video for some friends of mine in a band when they played at the Blue Moon Saloon. It’s going to be released as a DVD in the next month or so.

The band members are scattered across the South but I wanted to let them see the near final cut of the video. I saved it as a Quicktime movie in a small (480 x 270 pixels) widescreen format and it came in at a grand total of 1.69 gigabytes. Too big to send via conventional email.

I tried Pando (a service a friend in New Orleans and I had used to exchange video) but that service has a 1 gig file size limit.

Googling around, I found which has a 2 gig file size limit. Ah, we’re good to go.

So, I signed up, linked to the file and began sending it.

There is a handy/scary network speedometer on the upload page. I finally got that baby up to 104 kbps via my Cox Internet connection. But what was really scary was the “Time Remaining” figure: four hours and fifty-plus minutes!

Well, it was what it was, so I went to read a couple of things on my laptop while the iMac, Cox and Filemail did their thing.

A couple of hours later, I returned to the iMac only to find an error message!

Not knowing the source of the error, I decided to try to FTP the file to a domain that I own. FTP is supposed to be pretty fast (faster than email, any way). But, looking at the progress dial on Fetch, it was clear that this process would take about five hours at the connection speed I was able to achieve.

Sure enough, five hours later, the file was on the website. I linked to it and it began to play.

Still, knowing that video over the Internet is network speed sensitive, I went back to Filemail to see if I could successfully send the file so that the band members could download it onto their respective desktops and get a better playback experience.

I figured out that the original problem had been that my hard drive had ‘gone to sleep’ in the initial transfer process — and who wouldn’t after three or four hours? 😉

So, I resent my system preferences to keep the hard-drive ‘awake’ no matter how long the transfer took.

Sent the file again and — again — delivery time was going to be about five hours.

This time, the process was completed without a glitch.

But, using that great Cox fiber to the neighborhood network with the asymmetrical upload and download speeds, I spent at least 12 hours of time moving a 1.69 gigabyte file to a mail service and/or a website for viewing.

I am happy to see that LUS has announced their pricing on packages and I’m thrilled about the network speeds. But, they can’t get here soon enough as far as I’m concerned.

I’m tired of the giant sucking sound Cox’s network is making in my wallet and with their underperforming network.

App-Rising on CampFiber

Mea Culpa, folks: I’ve fallen far behind in my posting. One thing I must get to soon is some reflections on Saturday’s CampFiber. It was both invigorating and informative—”in” in the best sense.

Happily, Geoff Daily over at App-Rising has had a series of commments trying to come to grips with the event. (1,2,3) His last post, though, comes really close to hitting it on the head. Geoff’s long been an advoate of Big Broadband and has recently refocused on the idea that filling the big pipe is a “problem.” Discussion at CampFiber has had the effect of making him rethink that basic question once again:

…one of the more interesting takeaways I got from CampFiber. It made me realize that the goal isn’t filling up the pipe, it’s figuring out how not having to worry about capacity constraints can free the minds of developers to worry less about compression and squeezing things down and more about the functionality, usability, and overall impact of their apps on improving society.

That comes very close, IMHO: Big Broadband is all about, or should be all about, destroying the constraints we currently suffer under—reconfiguring the playing field to make it more radically generative. A big fiber pipe is only a precondition and enabler for the fuller transformation. A necessary precondition, without any doubt, but a waystation on the path, not the final end in itself.

The next steps really need to be aimed not at filling a pipe or spending X amount of dollars to generate some mythical “killer app” but to increase the numbers of people that are participating and dramatically enhance the utility of the network for them. We’ve got a big leg up here in Lafayette on that score and it is not surprising that Lafayette developers immediately focused on some issues that initially surprised Geoff: the settop box and mobile computing….the big pipe is already accepted as a done deal here in the city. We will have that. We trust LUS to follow through. We trust LUS to lower the cost as much as possible so as to build usage in the most obvious way. Onto: “Next problem.” And the next problem is expanding the user base and expanding the range of things that can be done over the network: Set top box and wireless. Penetration and ubiquity.

We’re shockingly far down the road. But we need to recognize just how far out front we are least we squander our lead by imitating those who won’t really catch up for a decade.

But more on this in my next post……….I promise.

“NuComm looks to grow”

Long-time readers will recall NuComm as one of the signal successes of the Lafayette Fiber to the Home project. The community’s do-it-for-yourself spirit, and the huge capacity that community fiber will make available in Lafayette, attracted the Canadian call center business NuComm to a location in an underutilized North Lafayette shopping center. (Take a look at our original coverage.) The 1000 jobs they were to bring was proof positive that having fiber would provide job benefits to all segments of the community.

NuComm is in the news today looking for more employees. They are currently up to 505 onsite with 50-60 offsite employees working from home. (That 50-60 has plenty of room to grow when the 100 meg intranet that LUSfiber will bring makes working offsite just as fast as working in the cubicle down at the main office – and a sight easier location from which to care for the kids or grandma.) 560 or so citizens with new jobs is nothing to sneeze at, but apparently there are 125 positions going begging now. NuComm would still like to hit the 1000 number but is finding recruiting the right candidates hard. LEDA and South Louisiana Community College are trying to help out but training funnels take more time than NuComm apparently has.

If you know of anyone who is looking for an entry-level job point ’em that way. Starting pay is $9.05.

Coming Soon: aL, La and the Magical Municipal Tour

As we head to the end of this year, the pace of progress on the LUS fiber project is increasing. The electronics vendor has been selected; property for the head-end has been purchased; a building for that is not far off.

Some of the specifics of the network offerings have become public, the most notable of which is the fact that every LUS fiber customer will have 100 megabits per second of in-system connectivity. What that means is that Lafayette will have an intranet that will rival any corporate or academic campus in the world.

This will create the opportunity fundamentally change life in Lafayette. With that much in-system bandwidth available, it will be possible for a new, asynchronous Lafayette to emerge — asynchronous Lafayette, Louisiana (aL, La).

Lafayette and The Network

The power of networks to drive change is well documented. There is Metcalfe’s Law. There is the fabulous, thought-provoking 2002 book by Albert-Laszlo Barabasi, Linked: The New Science of Networks, which explores the power of networks and what new, more powerful networks mean for science, business and everyday life. I’m sure you can find other examples and references.

Because of the design of the LUS network and the commitment to create an intranet for customers of that network, Lafayette is going to be a community where the impact of this meeting of network power and the various aspects of network connected life will be explored first. We will be pioneers on the great adventure that will not come to other communities in our country and the world for years — if not decades — to come.

All that bandwidth will mean that access to aspects of life Lafayette will no longer be tied to time. That is, large swaths of public life in Lafayette will migrate to a point where access to events will no longer depend on your ability to physically show up. Any public event in Lafayette will have the potential to be preserved for posterity.

The path to opportunity in Lafayette will run along the ability of government, companies, institutions, associations, clubs and individuals to push the transition from ‘Lafayette in the now’ to ‘asynchronous Lafayette.’

The LUS fiber system and the intranet capability it will provide its customers will make it difficult to leave Lafayette. Life will be different from other places here. We will miss the amenities that the fat connection that the LUS network will afford us. But, if we work this right, we will not have to miss Lafayette in the sense that more of our civic and social life can and will be made available to us via the network in ways that will not require our physical presence at the event in order to observe it or, in some cases, participate in it.

We won’t stop attending these events, but the LUS network will enable citizens here to experience more of Lafayette life because those events will be available to us at times that our hectic lives — family, work, and play — don’t currently allow. For instance, I like good music, but I can’t always find the time to say, go to a Louisiana Crossroads performance. Or, maybe I have to be out of town on the night that there’s a PASA show that I’d otherwise like to catch.

In asynchronous Lafayette, those events could be captured, stored and be made accessible to folks who can’t attend the live event — or who might want to experience the event from a different perspective.

This is one way that the network will set public life in Lafayette apart from life in other communities.

I think it’s important that we focus on this opportunity in order to ensure that the changes resulting from our new distinctiveness enable Lafayette to capture and leverage those aspects of our community that make us unique; that we use our infrastructure to knock down the barriers between us, not to widen existing gaps.

Here are some ideas of how the LUS network might enable asynchronous Lafayette to emerge.


This new infrastructure has the potential to improve the ability of citizens to participate in governmental processes with the result being that government becomes more responsive to them and their needs. In asynchronous Lafayette, public meetings will be recorded, stored and be able to be accessed by citizens who were not able to attend the meeting. Documents presented, discussed or distributed in the meeting will be available for viewing and downloading via the webcast (live and stored) of the session.

Those web-accessed meetings could also have links to allow citizen input on the process. It will mean a number of structural changes will need to take place. First, local government and agencies will need to put cameras and microphones in any room used for public meetings so that the sessions can be recorded. Second, they’ll need to invest in the storage capacity to allow these meetings to be tagged and archived for later access. Third, they’ll need to provided wider windows of opportunity for citizens to submit formal comment on proposals, issues and ordinances.

I’m not talking about the kind of Blog of the Banshees that the comment sections of The Daily Advertiser and other papers have become; but a formal channel for citizen comment and involvement that will become part of the permanent public record of the proceedings, even though the citizens might not have been present at the event when it actually occurred. Asynchronous access to government might actually lend itself to richer, more thoughtful citizen involvement by affording interested parties the opportunity to review the materials and sessions away from the heat of the moment.

Lafayette may need to come up with its own version of public meeting laws to ensure that our rich digital infrastructure is used to enhance citizen access to government and its decision-making processes.


In asynchronous Lafayette, students will never miss another day of class. That is, classrooms could be equipped with cameras and microphones which would enable teachers to deliver their course content in a real-time session that could be available to students too ill to attend class that day. The course could be accessed from home either via a video stream or accessed later when the student was feeling better. When I made this case to my daughter a couple of years ago prior to the fiber election, I have to admit that she was not wild about this idea.

The network will also facilitate more collaborative learning, as students, teachers, even researchers will be able to interact in real time with voice, data and video on projects ranging from homework to science projects to specialized research projects.


We can use this infrastructure to improve and enrich Lafayette’s cultural life and, in the process, bolster and sustain artists and the institutions that support them.

Asynchronous Lafayette will be a boon to businesses built around entertainment and culture. More specifically those places offering ‘live’ music are going to have a real opportunity to emerge as global purveyors of our musical culture. There’s a hint of what is possible by what’s transpired in Austin, Texas. Austin City Limits helped transform that city into a multi-media entertainment center, drawing musicians from around to world to a place that has no obvious other reason to attract them. The show now has its own music festival.

Big whoop.

Imagine asynchronous Lafayette, where we are capturing on video live performances at Grant Street Dancehall, the Blue Moon Saloon, Louisiana Crossroads, Festival International, Festival Acadiens, Downtown Alive, the Heymann Center, and other venues. We could establish our city as THE live music capital of the world by letting the world access all the great live music that we grow and bring here.

Put cameras in the venues, run a feed out of the sound boards and — voila! — shows could be streamed over the web and stored on servers here in Lafayette for later access. The webcast versions could be free or very inexpensive, serving to feed demand for the higher quality recordings of the sessions that could be produced from the archived digital files and sold at a premium.

I happened to catch T. Bone Burnett on The Charlie Rose show on LPB the other night. In that segment (he was on as the producer of the new Robert Plant and Allison Krause album Raising Sand), Burnett said that he believed the future of the music business would revolve around live performance. He added that he wanted to be involved with producing live shows and the recordings that resulted from them.

Asynchronous Lafayette will be ideally positioned to lead this transition by using our wired infrastructure to enable the capture of high-definition, high-quality recordings of all that great music that is some what wasted when it is only captured by the ears that are in the room.

It’ll take some server capacity (hey, Google and Sun both offer ‘Data Centers in a Box‘ that bring huge storage capacity in a modular unit that looks like a shipping container), but opportunities like this are going to abound in the arts in the new, wired, asynchronous Lafayette.


The strictly business crowd (you know, the folks who buy Dell and HP computers) won’t be shut out either. In fact, businesses in Lafayette are going to have a strategic advantage due to the bandwidth that the LUS intranet affords them. For starters, it will be possible for businesses in Lafayette to work in a more distributed way. That is, people here will really be able to telecommute (i.e., work from home) in ways that are just not possible now. Massive bandwidth will make information sharing easier so things like white board sharing over multiple locations will be able to take place seamlessly. This could be a key to our traffic problems since no one seems to want to pay for roads.

WebEx and similar services should be recruited to conduct pilots here because the kind of network capacity we have here is going to be a while in reaching the rest of the country. Imagine the possibilities that engineering firms located here will have to look at problems via a network, fashion solutions and get them to the fabrication floor in a much shorter cycle.

Healthcare and Public Health

Healthcare in Lafayette can be fundamentally different than it is in any other place in the country. Home monitoring of patients will be able to rival that currently available only in ICUs. Any kind of telemetry that can be captured from a patient in a hospital will soon be able to be captured from home via the network. This could reduce hospital stays and with that the cost of care — without adversely affecting the quality of care.

A few months ago, the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals conducted a series of drills across the state to test preparedness for a potential flu pandemic. I happened to attend a meeting in a community where the results of one such drill were discussed. One aspect of the outbreak that the providers did not mention was the impact of an outbreak on the telecommunications system. In the event of an outbreak, there will likely be a good bit of what people near chemical plants know as “evacuation in place.” That is, people will be advised to stay home in order to avoid exposure to the virus that would be causing the flu outbreak.

With the robust telecommunications infrastructure that will be in place in Lafayette, we can diminish the extent of the outbreak by ordering children to stay home from school (with a wired community, teachers could teach from home to students at home). Some companies could have their workers stay home, using the network to conduct their work from there. All of this could have the effect of limiting the extent of the outbreak and, perhaps equally important, limiting the disruption on community life that such an outbreak would otherwise inflict.


People in Lafayette love sports and they particularly love watching their kids play sports. In asynchronous Lafayette, soccer, baseball, basketball and football games could be recorded, as well as swim meets, track meets, and other events could be recorded and shared. Sports leagues could use the network to produce highlights of games/tournaments, post stats, show standings, schedules and other key information.

Again, what will be needed are cameras, servers and the people to operate them.

Religious, Social & Civic Organizations

Churches, community organizations, civic groups will be able to record their meetings and make the content available to those unable to attend the live event.

Scratching At The Surface

Beginning sometime in late 2008 or so, LUS will begin offering services. At that point, the transformation of Lafayette and the potential it offers will move from the dream state to reality. The possibilities mentioned above are a wholly inadequate and incomplete list that doesn’t really even scratch the surface of the potential that awaits us.

Think about your current life in Lafayette. Think of how big bandwidth, affordable network technology can be used to enable you to to connect (or re-connect) to those aspects of life here that interest or intrigue you, but that your schedule will just not allow you to get to.

Thinking this way is how citizens are going to be able to transform life here. It will be a bottom-up process that will be built on the foundation of the Lafayette intranet afforded to us by the LUS fiber network. Digital technology has unleashed revolutions in video, audio, and communications in general. With the bandwidth available to each of us and the institutions we align ourselves with, we can — and will — define new ways of joining, belonging to and participating in these institutions and, through this process, change Lafayette.

This will be an opportunity unique to Lafayette in North America because we will be the largest, most diverse community with access to the fattest network pipes. We can pioneer new and unique approaches to civic, social, cultural and community life using the network, just as our geography shaped those aspects of our life here in the centuries leading up to this point.

As the network builds out and as we begin to capture the potential that our fiber infrastructure will offer us, asynchronous Lafayette can come to embody the notion that you never really have to miss Lafayette at all — at least, not any public event.

The time to think about how to turn that potential into reality is now, just as the LUS network itself is moving from the engineering tables to the streets.

This great adventure of asynchronous Lafayette is coming sooner than you think right down your street. The time has come to start preparing to take advantage of the opportunities that will abound. You’re only limit will be your imagination.

Step right this way!

Follow Up: The 100 meg Intranet & Innovation

Thursday’s press event announcing the hiring of Alcatel to provide electronics for the Lafayette Fiber To The Home network touched of some thoughts that didn’t fit into yesterday’s media review post… Here are a few on the 100 meg Intranet & Innovation

The Advocate quotes Durel as saying:

Having such a unique capability in Lafayette could help drive innovation, Durel said.

Durel is right; it is hard to adequately imagine what could be done with 100 megs of intranet bandwidth.

A first stab at thinking about it suggests that

  • transferring HD video of soccer games and birthday parties to grandma’s TV screen would be trivial. Given the plummeting cost of hard disk storage there’s no reason that items of general interest couldn’t be stored in an online archive.
  • A Second Life (a simulated world—described) outpost on the LUS intranet could be photo-realistic and stunningly intricate. A version could be drawn on top of the geography of Lafayette. A version for high school students might start in 1821 and student could draw lots to be founder Mouton…and slaves. A ULL design and planning class might want to launch a version that starts with the present real world as the starting state and games out the effects of various smart growth plans.
  • Suppose communication were easier, richer, and cheaper? What could you do that is hard, or expensive now? How ’bout interactive online boutiques? Not today’s virtual warehouses—basically only catalogs, more or less attractively presented, of goods. Instead we could have stores where an actual, knowledgeable person could show off products, talk about the choices intelligently and interactively, helping people find solutions to the problems they have. This needn’t be about high-end goods. The value of local hardware stores lies in the expertise of the floor staff. (Think Guidry’s Hardware.) A lot of today’s buying decisions are made without adequate help–from car stereos, to home networking to which flat screen to buy for which purpose, to finding a tailored suit for a family member’s wedding. Full screen video and virtual displays coupled with competent help that is cognizant of the local context could make a big difference–and pretty cheaply once the network infrastructure is in place.
  • AOC‘s homegrown TV could take on an entirely new cast and develop in amazingly rich directons: imagine news shows where the “anchor” tosses icons of articles, online resources, interviews, additional, detailed video footage, links to older shows, and relevant speeches by public figures onto the screen as they present the 40 second version of the news story. Since the show is an IP data stream (like YouTube’s) it can be paused by users interested in the more detailed story and those additional resources viewed or saved for later use. The technology to do that is available today and is little more complicated than the spinning logos you see between every TV news story to execute. What doesn’t exist is the bandwidth to make them useful and a critical mass of IP-based viewers. Lafayette, as the largest fiber build will have the size and it will have that bandwidth in-system. The potential for innovative use is endless–what is out of reach in other place will be available here.
  • Your idea here: _______________. Or in the comments.

If we sell this right creatives in many fields will flock to Lafayette. There are things right now that can’t be done without both big broadband and a large, varied population. Lafayette will be just about the only place in the US to try those things out. The temptation will be to go for the easy—and easily quantifiable—”big business” targets. Bringing one of those in validates an economic developer’s job. But the real future lies in 400 small business and 500 artists of various strips along with their supporting web design and network support cadres. For that we need articles in Time magazine and articles on slashdot…..I hope someone is pursuing those.

And, while we are suggesting: LUS and LCG need to develop home-grown talent. They need to recognize that they are not only competing in an established market. More importantly, if they are to realize their own dreams of making the network a unifying tool for economic devlopment and hopes of vaulting Lafayette into the the tech forefront they need to understand that they build a new market. There is no existing market built on a 100 megs of bandwidth available to a whole community. We will have to invent it here. What the market or old, established habits and skills do in a stable economy won’t be adequate here. LUS needs to be generous with and supportive of every Linux club, kids’ webmaster group, home networking business, and AOC (especially AOC) that even threatens to build new, socially sustainable expertise. It’s a bootstraping operation and in our situation the only institution with the “pull” to get those feet up off the ground is the network owner.

Sun’s McNealy Returns

Well Scot McNealy of Sun Microsystems was back in town…and closeted with a lot of the cities tech big wigs (LUS, LCG, the University, and local business—tech enthusiasts) for a couple of hours before a press conference at LITE. Sorry I didn’t get to this earlier, but I was mired in a recalcitrant web site that was too close to launch to neglect. But luckily the regional media covered it in force. What happened in that meeting—why McNealy made a return trip—was not immediately made public though hints could be gleaned from the reporter’s coverage.

The Advertiser lead with and focused on the announcement of Lafayette’s ranking on a jobs growth ranking and didn’t mention the McNealy press conference, at which the ranking was mentioned, until paragraph five. KATC and The Advocate lead with the McNealy visit itself and didn’t mention the job growth ranking which was apparently a reference point in the presentation. The two stories do dovetail, of course, but the focus of interest on this site is the technology issues implicated in the visit.

Seasoned readers will recall that McNealy made a supportive stop here right before the fiber referendum. He appeared on one of Joey’s morning radio shows and was generally encouraging about our building a fiber system. Back then I laid out an enthusiastic, but I think still pretty accurate assessment of the potential of a Sun-Lafayette partnership. The gist is that LUS’ big bandwidth, Sun’s open source source software, and the immense potential of on-system storage and distributed computing in Lafayette’s intranet has got to have smart companies like Sun thinking hard about using Lafayette as a test bed for new technologies. There really will be little to match the size and diversity of our user population, or the intranet-speed in-system bandwidth supplied between customers. That is a match made in heaven for those that have hankered after the bandwidth to make real changes in the (computer, video, cloud computing, name-your-techish-dream) area.

Sun’s bread and butter has been building top-notch servers, and more recently, integrated server farms. That’s a business built on the need for fast networks. Sun has in recent years pursued some pretty interesting ideas pretty relentlessly. Sun signed onto the open-source movement early. Free and more importantly open, readily fixable and extendable software is the result. Sun has also swum against the tide in insisting on a pushing a “network-centric” computing model. This involves big central computing facilities and distributed dumb terminals — though some Sun models can run as traditional independent stand-alone computers. Sun also has relentlesly pursued its vision for JAVA. The hope was for a platform for writing software that was independent of the underlying hardware and could run and interconnect processes on everything from toasters to big iron server hardware. JAVA has yet to becom the platform for realizing the more blue-sky versions of those dreams but much of the intuition is being realized in web-centric AJAX apps.

The potential of having a whole community with fast, cheap, universally available broadband capable of ripping the roof off the network limitations that have kept many of Sun’s ideas barely viable has got to be tempting to the company. And the digital divide and development potential for Lafayette are obvious. There is surely partnership potential here.

But what is on the table now? I’d guess both LUS’ fiber program and the city’s computing needs.

Keith Thibodaux regularly complains about the need to update a creaky computer system. The dark lining on the silver cloud of having had an early strong computer department at ULL is that Lafayette’s networks were developed back in the days of COBOL and significant portions of the city’s core network runs in that crusty framework. Slipping in a modern Sun-based but still centrally organized, terminal-heavy system would allow that sort of mainframe-oriented system to move into the modern day relatively painlessly. As the tenders of that system reach retirement age (yes we are that far into the computer age) such a move might become critical.

The Advocate did a stellar job of focusing on the potential interaction of Sun and LUS’ fiber to the home project. I recommend you go take a look. It is exciting stuff and doesn’t bear much cutting here is a stream the good bits:

Durel said Wednesday that the project’s highest-profile cheerleader reinforced and supplemented the LUS team’s “vision” to not just provide “me too” products with the state-of-the-art network.

“It’s not just about saving customers 20 percent,” Durel said. “It’s much, much bigger than that.”

Durel said McNealy is a big fan of “open source” products, software allows tech-savvy users to upgrade and add their own innovations.

In an open environment, coupled with the vast bandwidth promised by LUS — which has said that traffic inside its network will be unlimited — there’s a great potential for people working out of their garages to develop innovative products in Lafayette, McNealy said.

LUS Director Terry Huval said McNealy talked about the potential for Lafayette schools to utilize, which provides free, open source educational materials.

McNealy said Sun Microsystems offers a product called Sun Ray that could also be of great use with LUS’ system to help get more people using technology in their everyday lives.

Sun Ray is a simple, low-cost computer that serves as a conduit between the user and a massive server, where all information, software and processing power is stored.

The interactive display of Sun Ray is merely a way for the user to tap into the network, meaning that any user — with a pass code or swipe card — could use any Sun Ray to access their information, be it at home, work, the library or wirelessly, Huval said.

It’s a grand dream and could get most of the city on the network in an extremely exciting and potentially sophisticated way. Serving (free) programs off a server to inexpensive computers is clearly the next step a city could take after offering cheap, universal, big bandwidth. Open source is the way to go and Sun is a leader. Partnering with someone who not ony cares about these ideas is a natural–especially when that partner has already bet the company on the ideas.

As always there are caveats, especially in the context of the digital divide: Sun’s terminals are inexpensive–but no longer notably inexpensive in comparison to arguably more capable standalone computers. (And their standalones are more expensive.) The most price-attractive hardware is proprietary and not all open source material is ported to run there. It is a pretty closed ecology without the diversity found in the larger computer market. And it isn’t clear what direction will be open to Sun as the mobile market continues to expand.

Without a doubt, it’s all exciting and the relationship with Sun will bear watching.

“Group Tries to Close the Digitial Divide”

The Advertiser surprises this morning with a story—a good one—on Lafayette’s Digital Divide Project. It’s surprising because there is no particular “event” to hang it on and events are usually requried to make the paper. Instead this is an educational article that straight-forwardly informs the public about that which they should be aware. Education is a too-oft neglected function that legitimates real reporting—good for the daily.

The author interviews Huval and Walter Guillory on the efforts of the Digital Divide Committee. That committee has been quiescent since the referendum battle heated up but before that produced an excellent roadmap for “Bridging the Digital Divide” in our community. (Full disclosure: I am a member of that group.) After the fiber bonds were cleared and the process of building the network gotten underway the committee was reconvened.

The article outlines the roadmap pretty clearly; it gets the goal right:

A committee set up as part of Lafayette Utilities System’s fiber-to-the-home project is moving forward in its efforts to try to provide Internet service to all residents.

That is the point; that and trying to make higher-level, more valuable capacities usably available to the people of Lafayette—to make the city truly “digital” for all.

The paper also focuses attention on what research shows is, hands down, the most effective way to increase participation:

LUS Director Terry Huval said that one major goal of the fiber initiative has been to provide telephone, cable and Internet service for about 20 percent less than what consumers currently pay…”If we offered that ‘triple play’ pricing, a consumer could pay the same for all three services as they pay now for phone and cable.”

Walter Guillory, chairman of the Digital Divide committee, said that with that type of pricing, more residents could use the Internet for personal, business or educational purposes.

Guillory is right….and Huval is right about the target:

“Whatever we do, we want something that could be available to every residential consumer,” Huval said, adding that consumers may be able to pay for the devices over time.

Things are moving to the next level and the list of projects (read work) is growing:

Huval said committee members and LUS are still examining what type of products could be used to help bridge the gap. Among the possibilities are devices that connect to TV sets and laptops that could be sold at a reduced price.

That’s a difficult project all by itself….Computing power is getting cheaper and it’s moving into all sorts of mobile devices—think Blackberries and the iPhone. Laptops originaly designed for 3rd world countries and children are now falling below the 275 dollar mark with a clear target of 100 dollars. (See the OLPC project for the best-known example.) Making wise decisions about what to support and promote is critically important to the future of the community.

More for the to-do list:

  • Make donated or low-cost computers available to qualified customers.
  • Develop community training facilities.
  • Support high-level local products that would reflect local cultures.
  • Provide low-cost or free Web-based programs.
  • Provide CD-based free software for off-line use.
  • I encourage any reader to consider joining up to tackle the job. Lafayette’s advanced network is already slated to be more than mind-numbingly fast and cheap. It will have the unique feature of being configured to give everyone the same, high, at least 100 megs of intranet bandwidth. We’ll all be able to pull things off the local network at speeds limited not by our income but only by the limits of the network itself. And those limits boggle the mind. Lafayette is poised to become the world’s largest big bandwidth community; it could easily have the majority of the population connected at the same internal speed to that enormous pipe. Developers and users will be able to count on that capacity in developing new products and services. No one will have to “dumb-down” their offerings because a large part of the audience has to take their data in little dribs and drabs.

    The major impediment to realize some pretty fantastic dreams (what’s yours?) is simply finding people with the time and energy to further these goals.

    Sign up, for the committee or simply to work on a project. Get in touch with Terry Huval at LUS. Or I’d be happy, more than happy, to talk to anyone about any aspect. (JohnDD(at)

    Clarksville Chronicles: 3 Points

    I’m following the news on Clarksville (the Tennessee city whose fiber deployment rivals Lafayette’s in size) since they’re a bit ahead of us on their deployment schedule and their experience should help us anticipate our own. (LPF coverage) Today’s chronicle of their progress includes the selection of their marketing director, a map of their progress, and a few thoughts about their newspaper—and ours.

    A Marketing Director
    Clarksville, according the The Leaf, has chosen a Marketing Director with an interesting history in the cable business and, most recently, as executive director of the local Chamber of Commerce. She talks about her new job:

    As the telecommunications marketing manager, I will be responsible for providing the management, direction and planning of the marketing and promotion of CDE’s services offered through the fiber to the home project.

    This will include developing product strategy, product pricing, packaging, research and training of the products.

    The biggest benefit for the consumer here is choice. CDE’s new fiber-to-the-home technology will allow them to offer services such as video, Internet and telephone. CDE has invested in the most up-to-date technology for the delivery of these new services.

    With her history, she’ll likely also be the public face of the project. Given Huval’s high profile that part of the job description may not apply here. But we should look forward to the appointment of a person to manage the marketing of Lafayette’s system. The Lafayette system will have to be sold; this is a spot where LUS will be learning new skills. We may be thrilled to have a telecom company with the sensibility of a public utility (I’m looking forward to it!) but it will have to be sold vigorously and smartly—a skill that the wasn’t necessary for the old municipal utilities. The selection of someone to fill the marketing director’s job will be crucial.

    A Contruction Map
    They’re already building and have a nifty-keano map of the current build. I’m looking forward to a similar one here in Lafayette and to seeing my area of town turn green.

    Gannett Newspapers
    The Leaf-Chronicle, like The Daily Advertiser, is a Gannett newspaper. That means that the two largest cities in the country with municipal FTTH builds are both “Gannett Towns.” That opens up a pretty large opportunity for the media chain. The corporation is in a position to do itself a favor and come off like local heroes.

    Its presence in these cities gives it a window onto a digital world that won’t exist in most places in this country for 20 years. If Gannett were to put some real resources into developing not just a state-of-the-art web presence but a cutting edge, research-driven project in the two cities it could learn something about how to survive in the emerging new network-dominated news environment. And it could do it in a way that teams with the local community; helping with the research, sharing data, and building applications that drive usage and celebrate the new ultra high-speed intranet connections of the Lafayette network. Thats the sort of thing that is really “local.”

    Anyone who follows modern media at all knows that newspapers are seeing very troubled waters ahead and are floundering about how to survive, much less thrive in an environment where the news (and hence advertising dollars) flows outside their pages. No chain will ever get a better chance to learn in a relatively safe environment than Gannett.

    In Lafayette and Clarksville Going Local means going high-tech on the local network…or going under.

    Film Studio News

    KLFY runs with a news story based on the “River Studio and Filmport” news coming to Baton Rouge. A recent Advocate story mentioned that the new studio, slated for West Baton Rouge, would sport a “satellite facility for animation and special effects along the Interstate 10 corridor in Lafayette and a satellite soundstage in the Minden area.” But that was the extent of the mention.

    KLFY talked to Durel about it and a good bit more came out. From the broadcast interview:

    You have to remember that, what we’re going to have, in Lafayette, in two years, is not going to exist in 95% of America twenty years from now.

    Durel was, of course, referring to the the LUS Fiber network that is planning on serving its first customers in less than two years. He noted all of Lafayette’s bragging points say that the decision to come to Lafayette was

    …all tied around the technology between the University, the LITE Center, and Fiber To The Home.

    UL and the LITE Center are crucial to this since the animation and digitization technologies that movie makers are interested in will be available there. Being able to access those technologies from anywhere in town will be a major plus for the city.

    The new facility in Baton Rouge appears to be a very large one intended for major films, meaning it will spawn a raft of jobs ranging from carpentry and electrical to acting, to costuming and digitalization enterprises—and developing that wealth of infrastructure is what makes the new project so exciting. Film industry interest in Louisiana has been growing and once the basics are readily available it will be much easier to attract new business. An earlier story in the Advocate had already talked about several film stages being planned in and around the River City. But Baton Rouge is not alone—Lafayette has already found some film love in the form of Emerald Bayous. Emerald Bayous, with a film stage in New Roads, was also attracted to the high tech infrastructure Lafayette has and has taken up residence in the LITE Center.

    The payoff for a lot of hard work and dreaming on the part of some of Lafayette’s resident visionaries is starting to pay off. They should be feeling a little warm glow of satisfaction.

    ——For Mac & Linux & Windows users with unconventional systems, a repeat complaint——-
    The KLFY page has a link to a video. If you are a Mac or Linux user the weird, broken, javascript prevents you from viewing it. Unwrapping the stuff it calls reveals the real URL Pasting that URL directly into Windows Media Player works fine. So it’s not your system. (The tech guys at KLFY really ought to be embarrassed. Fixes for difficulties like this are as simple as giving the users you refuse to adequately serve a direct link.)