“Lafayette Dealing with Expected Headaches”

What’s Being Said Dept.

Christopher Mitchell over at muninetworks.org has picked up the recent Advertiser story on LUS’s Fiber division and various responses to it. His take is as succinct as the title: “Lafayette Dealing with Expected Headaches.”

That title is pretty much the story; the author walks carefully through the questions, starting with the fact that these “issues” were long-anticipated and were part of the community’s discussion from the very beginning. He notes that the title is not justified by the story and that which path to take at the crossroads was decided when the citizens voted to create the new utility. The story also notices that LUS Fiber came of age during the worst recession that the US has seen (and, I’d add, that this timing was largely due to delaying lawsuits initiated by the incumbents).

Most important, however, are his final words addressed directly to us in Lafayette:

But it should also make sure that someone is telling the LUS story. Where are the charts showing community savings as a result of more competition? Who is shouting out the success stories? Who is calculating how much more money stays in Cajun Country because it goes to Lafayette Utilities rather than Cox Communications?

This isn’t just LUS’s responsibility — after all, it is a community network.

That, of course, is perfectly true…So, what are we going to do about it?

WBS: Lafayette as the Example

Glenn Fleishman has an article up that mentions Lafayette as the premier example of a city that has built a network in order to bring advanced technology to all its citizens:

In Lafayette, Louisiana, the city fought a multi-year battle against incumbent providers for the right to build its own fiber network. It won, and the FTTH network went live for the first phrase of the city–with about a fifth the households of Seattle–in February.

The reason for the fight wasn’t about the right to 500 channels, about low prices, or about the city wanting a piece of the action. It was about the city’s desire to have 21st century technology in place reaching every person, company, and institution. (emphasis mine)

The context is Seattle’s mayoral race; the candidate who came out of the primary in first place, McGinn, has made providing a city-owned FTTH network a major plank in his campaign for office.

Fleishman’s point is a good one: The real reason for building a community-owned communications utility is to gain control of your future and to directly benefit the citizen-owners of the new utility and their community. Other oft-mentioned rationales, from fancy services, to the benefit for businesses is derivative of that motive and not the main rationale.

It’s a good thing to have our real motives recognized by someone outside the city—and nice that the real meaning of the victory in Lafayette is being learned.

WBS: Lafayette Attracts Talk

WBS Dept. In my catchup from being in B.R. series…two more

One of the more interesting (and, ok, personally gratifying) things that have resulted from the fiber fight and the creation of LUS Fiber is that Lafayette has gotten a pretty iconic status in the admittedly small (select?) world of high speed internet mavens. Lafayette is seen as something of a touch-stone…people watch and people compare what they’re getting to Lafayette.

People watching includes Benoit Felten in France who runs a well-respected fiber-oriented blog called Fiberevolution. Benoit’s day job is as an analyst tracking this sort of thing in Europe for the Yankee Group so he’s pretty much up on this stuff. After reading the recent Ind article he says:

When I look at the delays of the French commercial FTTH deployments, what LUS is facing is, at this stage, fairly insignificant and certainly doesn’t seem to compromise the operation (despite what a number of telco/cable lobbyists seem to be implying if I read the comments below the article…)

Those comments are not from lobbyists—they are just lobbyist-inspired…

Lafayette also comes up on dslreports when Cox launches its 50/5 meg package in Arizona. The news is, that for the first time, someone else is getting the 1/3 off deal Cox gave Lafayette when it launched the new tier. From the write-up:

Cox is offering the service in Arizona for $90 for the first year, the same low price they’re offering customers in Lafayette, Loisiana, [sic] where Cox does battle with dirt cheap municipal fiber. Other markets aren’t so lucky, with customers in Northern Virginia paying $140 for the tier, and customers in Rhode Island paying $145. Behold the benefit of actually having competition in your local market.

Qwest, the west’s equivalent of AT&T or Verizon, recently launched a fast new 40/4 mbps tier at a cheap $99.99 and the new service, and lower price are responses to that development. —Cox’s deployment strategy with its new 50/5 meg tier seems to be reactive rather than proactive. It offers the tier where it has competition that is much faster than its regular offerings and only lowers the price where the regional competitor has a much-cheaper-than-US-standard pricing structure.

WBS: Slick Sam Slade Rides Again…

Governing Magazine has a good story on Lafayette’s fiber network: “Bandwidth on the Bayou.” The heart of the article is to inform its readership about the obstacles they’ll have to overcome if they try and pull down some of the broadband infrastructure stimulus money for their unserved or underserved communities—and Lafayette is their comprehensive example. Apparently we’ve seen it all!

The tale opens with the Now-famous slick Sam Slade “fast-talking his way through a mock TV commercial comparing an exotic sports car to a bicycle.” (The video is embedded in the story or you can travel directly to the YouTube video if you’d like to sample it.) From there you are walked through a very nice history of the fiber network—most of which is the story of incumbent opposition to the community’s plan and how Lafayette overcame the obstacles. It makes for a pretty stirring read (if you think public engagement in policy issues is exciting).

WBS: Lafayette Becoming Most Wired Community in America

What’s Being Said Dept.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WBS: “The Future of the Internet is in Lafayette, Louisiana”

What’s Being Said Dept.

A reporter for Governing Magazine has blogged a nice piece on Lafayette’s Fiber network. An excerpt:

What if you could hold a video conference from your home? What if your doctor could send your MRI electronically to another of your doctors who needs it? What if you could upload a video of your child’s soccer game and send it to grandma in seconds?

…we may all be looking to Lafayette for the future of the Internet.

The post is a teaser for an August story that I’m now looking forward to. It briefly points to the local struggle, to critics of the idea of a city showing such gall, and promises the final story will set out more detail. It’s nice to see the positive publicity—and in a place that may well influence other communities to follow our lead.

One caveat: the author talks about the intranet as having “bursted” speeds of 100 mbps. That’s a misconception; the up to 100 mbps intranet is a real speed, not a short, temporary burst. I get 95-96 mbps on the intranet in a constant stream. —And with low latency to boot. (Bursting is what Cox does when it gives you a few seconds of higher speed on a large download; it’s a widespread cable company extra—and a gimmick allowing advertising I consider deceptive. Cox will not “burst” your video chat or gaming stream. Don’t confuse those numbers with real speed.)

WBS: But Lafayette prevailed

WBS; What’s Being Said Dept.

Here’s something I missed: Bunnie Reidel, the impresaria over at Telecommunications Consulting posted a nice piece of Lafayette Envy. She leads of with the sorts of news stories that get under the skin of US broadband advocates: the farmer in Japan who likes his 50 mbps broadband; the one about laying fiber in Kenya; the Australians putting together a real national broadband plan (one that involves actual broadband) and then to add to her general frustration:

… it was only last week that I listened to a presentation by Terry Huval of the Lafayette Utilities System on how Lafayette took things into their own hands and built their fiber ring because they knew if they waited for Cox or any other provider to do it right they might as well wait for pigs to fly…

After laying out how much she had to pay for her measly broadband she notes the lower price and higher (symmetrical!) speeds folks in Lafayette can get from LUS. Suffice it to say that for the amount she’s paying for a 6 down/1 up connection she could get 30 mbps symmetrical from LUS. Leading her to grumble:

I hate those people in Lafayette.

But then to fairly, if grudgingly explain:

They do have a history of being cranky. Seems in 1896 they decided to build their own electric and water system because they knew there was no way the utility providers would provide water and power any time too soon to what was an outback Cajun village. And they had to fight in the 1940’s to keep the big utility companies from taking over their system. Imagine the hubris of those people in Lafayette! It was déjà vu when they proposed to build their own fiber, and the public overwhelmingly approved the initiative, in 2005. The incumbent cable company that starts with a C and ends with an X, did everything to stop them, including taking a case all the way to the Louisiana Supreme Court. But Lafayette prevailed.

Bunnie, as you might have gathered, is a pretty cranky gal herself. She thinks this is exemplary behavior and recommends it to the FCC as an example of the sort of inspiring broadband “best practices” story that would encourage others to roll out broadband in difficult places.

And I’d like to recommend the first place they start is by putting in a call to Terry Huval in Lafayette. He plays a mean fiddle by the way.

I’m liking the idea that people see us as determined and an example in this way….it’s what I’d call a good reputation.

But then, with Bunnie, I’m pretty much the cranky sort.

Cox’s 50 Mbps Tier in Virginia

What’s Being Said dept.

Lafayette got some good press in the national broadband media* lately…not because of anything we did here but because Cox offered its 50/5 meg tier for the first time outside of Lafayette and Lafayette got mentioned as the first place it was offered. The new area is in Northern Virginia, a region which 1) has some of the nation’s small areas of overbuilder competition, RCN competes sporadically with Cox cable there and in DC., 2) is one of the first areas where Verizon’s fiber service FIOS was launched and where it has a 50/20 meg tier, and 3) is a commuter center for some of DC’s most influential people….

That’s northern Virginia, the sort of privileged place that gets Cox’s latest and greatest tier second is a real testement to how much Cox must be worried about LUS and municipal broadband in general. Not convinced?

Well consider this: Cox is offering their 50/5 meg for $139.99 per month in Northern Virginia where it has substantial private fiber-based competition (Verizon sells its 50/20 tier for $94.50 a month in that area.) It’s not really competing on price or speed and is thus essentially conceding the upper end of the broadband market to Verizon in the limited areas where they overlap—What this offering really achieves isn’t competition, it’s simply piggybacking on the excitement created by other firms about really high bandwidth offerings. Cox picks up a lucrative set of upgraders as their established customers in that region develop a taste for really big broadband as a result of hearing friends brag about the fantastic capacities Verizon and other regional powerhouses are giving their customers.

But ONLY in little ole Lafayette does Cox bother to cut its price—in Lafayette parish you can get Cox’s service for $90 bucks. Washington lobbyists and congressmen get to pay $140….I’d say that tells us a lot about how Cox views the competition here. Of course LUS’ 50/50 tier is only 58 dollars and Cox isn’t really competitive with that — so even down here in Louisiana it is more about taking advantage of the demand some other company developed and not much about real competition. In the city anyone desiring high speed connectivity would be crazy pay a 33% premium to get a slower speed tier and higher latency…. No in Lafayette, as in Northern Virginia the real play is to get those outside the competitive islands to buy a higher priced package that has already been proven a winner by companies that pioneered those speeds. It is just that in Lafayette the local competition’s price is so much lower than what Cox wants to charge nationally that it’d be more embarrassing than helpful to try an market a service for $140 dollars that could be had down the street for 58 bucks from the local public provider (and at better upload speeds and latency too…) Big broadband adopters out in the parish have a lot for which to thank LUS— availability and 50 bucks a month.

*See the coverage in Broadband Reports (the most detailed), Gigaom, and PCMag for examples.

WBS: “VidChat: LUSFiber is Live!”

What’s Being Said Dept.

Geoff Daily of App-Rising posts a video chat with Terry Huval, LUS Fiber head celebrating the launch of LUS Fiber. Terry brags on the speed, the reliability, and the 100 meg intranet. Geoff notes that the speed he can get in the nation’s capital with the dome visible from his window is less than the slowest speed that LUS sells.

Impressive. Fun.

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WBS: “Fiber optics backers say expect some obstacles”

“What’s Being Said Dept.”

The local paper in Salisbury, North Carolina published an article today that featured the head of Lafayette’s utilities, Terry Huval. Of interest to the folks in Salisbury was an overview of the difficulties and rewards inherent in building a community-owned fiber-optic network. Huval and representatives from Dalton, Georgia’s successful fiber optic network, along with the CEO of the fiber engineering firm involved in both builds, laid out the case for publicly-owned fiber; assured the citizens of Salisbury that they could expect opposition from the incumbents; and pointed to Lafayette’s success in attracting new jobs and Dalton’s 70% penetration as proof of that the concept could work.

As intriguing as such a presentation must be, more interesting to those of us from Lafayette is the odd sensation of looking at ourselves in the mirror that such presentations provide and realizing that that is how we look to others. Some tidbits to whet your interest:

Huval detailed efforts by the private cable providers to have special state legislation passed against Lafayette’s initiative and several costly lawsuits aimed at stopping the project.

“We spent $3.5 million with nothing to show for it,” Huval said of legal defenses.

But Lafayette officials figured they saved cable subscribers $4 million in deferred rate hikes during the court fights, he said.


Lafayette already has landed a Canadian call center, which employs 600, because the company was attracted by the fiber-to-the-home venture. Other companies are on the horizon, Huval said, waiting for more of the system to be installed.

He predicted the high-tech opportunities will bring more of Lafayette’s college kids back home.


Huval, Cope and Salter all said a fiber optic system is the telecom infrastructure of the future, even if wireless improves in capacity and becomes more reliable. The capacity, speed and dependability of wireless will never approach the fiber broadband, they said.

Salter predicted wireless will keep growing in use but not for the wholesale application of bandwidths.

Huval described wireless as “too finicky,” and too often affected by weather. Making it subscriber-based would be a bad idea, he added.

An interesting story, and well written.