Monday, June 18, 2007


Delays Pay in Lafayette Fiber Project!

Opposition has made Lafayette, Louisiana's fiber network cheaper and better!

Last Tuesday, June 12, 2007 was a landmark day for Lafayette, Louisiana. The $110 million dollar bond issue to finance its Fiber to the Home project was officially authorized after three years of vehement opposition by the local telco (BellSouth, now AT&T) and cableco (Cox). Cox and BellSouth forced an unnecessary popular vote on the bond issue (but Lafayette's citizens overwhelmingly endorsed the project). Then they prosecuted a lawsuit that went all the way to the Louisiana Supreme Court! Again Lafayette won.

The city won thanks to heros such as Mayor Joey Durel, who assembled the city's bipartisan support for the network, and Terry Huval, head of Lafayette Utility Services, the city agency that will build and operate the network. Huval expects first service in 18 months, and completion of the build-out in less than four years.

The kicker is that the cost of the delay, including $1.1 million in legal fees, have been more than offset by technology improvements in the last three years that lower the cost and make the buildout faster.

One article quotes Mayor Durel saying,
" . . . the lawsuit saved us $6.9 million because the cost of the technology and hardware dropped."
Another article says:
. . . in the three years since the project was first proposed, the cost of technology has fallen, LUS Director Terry Huval said. That will all make it easier for LUS to meet its goal to provide its bundled services at 20 percent below what its competitors charge, Huval said.
A new technology has become widely available that allows the fiber-optic cable to be more quickly connected to each home or business. That technology has helped LUS trim what was initially expected to be a three-year build-out to two years, Huval said.
Meanwhile, Cox (wanting to avoid bad PR) delayed a rate increase for its Lafayette customers by two years, saving Lafayette citizens another $3.1 million.

Heh! It's worth some extra celebration when incumbent opposition helps what they're opposing. (Of course, we will never know the cost of not having the network in place three years earlier.)

Lafayette officials expect to build fiber to just about every home in the city with fiber, regardless of the economic makeup of the neighborhoods, and there's been talk of helping the city's poor with subsidized service. In contrast, a commercial build out would be motivated to build in "good" neighborhoods where the return on investment is more certain. But cities, unlike for-profit companies, build networks to help citizens rather investors, so the footprint of muni nets is certain to be larger.

What next? I will be surprised if Cox and AT&T give up; Lafayette is too visible a model. I expect they'll be watching carefully for opportunities to throw more monkey wrenches into the works.

But meanwhile, it looks like the Lafayette fiber project is on a fast track. Congratulations to Joey, Terry, Biker Bob, John St. Julien and all my other friends in Lafayette! And to Jim Baller, who had more than a passing interest!

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Enjoyed your write-up on the Lafayette fiber project. (And commented it on my blog.)Thanks for the tip of the hat!

I wanted to underline one point that you made about cities serving a broader base: that's true. And it's true for the reason you mention: the public utilities are judged successful if they serve their customer/owners well while private corporations necessarily put the interests of their owners first.

In the case of Lafayette, and most muni networks I suspect, the utility will offer service not to "just about every home" but to every home without exception.--Just as it does water and electricity. The political consequences of excluding any owner from the service are just too dire. :-)
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