By Daniel Smith:

New Orleans blogger Dambala inspired me a couple of weeks ago in a post at The American Zombie, titled even zombies dream. It recalls the aspirations of New Orleanians (and indeed, all Louisianans) as possibilities for rebuilding and revitalization were first being discussed after the storms. Now, people are still struggling for the most basic elements of recovery. Dambala’s highly-recommended post concludes with a vision of uniting the Gulf Coast and Northern and Southern Louisiana with bullet trains. Eventually the whole region would get involved, “but we would be the leaders…something we’ve never been. We could develop the mag-lev factories in Alexandria and/or Lake Charles and build an entirely new industry…”

I recall telling my father back then that New Orleans could become a national center for neuroscience. He replied, “What’s the point of doing that if we can’t even deliver mental health services to the poor?” He had me there. Should we allow ourselves to dream big? In Dambala’s words,

One thing about Louisiana which has always irked me is the phenomenon of what seems to be a cumulative self-esteem complex of it’s inhabitants. It’s like we’ve been told we’re at the bottom of the barrel so many times we have just come to accept it as inevitable. I think we have developed a hive mind inferiority complex and it’s so bad….it seems we have lost the ability to even dream. I think we cover this attitude up with sarcasm and dark humor…we laugh at our problems and make fun of our plight, ie. “Vote for the crook…it’s important.”

I don’t know about anyone else…but I’m pretty sick of this. I don’t think it’s funny anymore. Corruption, crime, poverty, and poor education just don’t make me laugh…no matter how you package it.

My father was right, but remedying the negative and unleashing the positive are two sides of the same coin. They must both be addressed by the kind of big thinking that creates neuroscience centers and mag-lev trains. Soon we’re going to have a new Governor, new faces in the State Legislature, and a new President to boot. The priorities of our region and state could change dramatically, and the quality of that change will depend on our ability to anticipate what’s best for the future.

Facing South reports that Google plans to build two large server farms in South Carolina, outside of Charleston and Columbia. This is the definition of what Facing South calls the “new economy of the old south,” which has been featured by both Emily Metzgar and Cenlamar. According to Facing South,

Google was said to be attracted to SC because of the availability of cheap electricity, abundant water (which they need for cooling towers for their server farms) and access to fiber optic networking connections.

In addition to port access, Cenla has had fiber optic cable for years. Owing to the fiber optic lines that run from Shreveport to Lafayette along I-49, Alexandria enjoys a strong backbone of fiber optic broadband for commercial use. Rapides General and City Hall use fiber optic broadband. Cenla’s fiber optic providers and capacity are discussed on the websites of The Cenla Chamber of Commerce and the Louisiana Department of Economic Development, which states (under Summary),

Furthermore, the downtown area of Alexandria has the capability of establishing fiber optics and all the elements necessary to have your business transmit voice, data, video, text, and graphics.

At some point, fiber optic broadband will become available to all American homes. The national telecommunications industry will eventually take advantage of the skyrocketing demand for cheap bandwidth, fueled by online games, and media downloads. Lafayette, on the other hand, has already recognized the potential of expanding their fiber optic network to the residential sector. They chose not to wait for private phone and cable companies to consolidate their monopoly on delivering internet, premium television, and telephone service. The people decided that the city’s coming fiber optic network should rest in public hands. Two summers ago, 68% of the citizens of Lafayette voted to allow the city to issue $125 million of 25-year bonds to finance a public fiber optic utility. The bonds will likely be paid off in less than twenty years.

Implementing the plan was a bit tricker. The City of Lafayette faced a series of lawsuits, including ones filed over the bond issue by the telecommunications companies themselves. At fiber speeds, wireless home phones and internet cable would provide cheap alternatives to a digital cable subscription. The city was eventually forced to spend a few million dollars defending the project. Two months ago, the Louisiana Supreme Court decided in favor of the City, and the residential installation of public fiber optic broadband began.

Even before the litigation was settled, Lafayette started to reap the benefits. In an editorial from last August, Governor Blanco highlighted the advantages, writing

NuComm International of Canada will open a call center that will employ 1,000 people, with hourly wages starting at $9.05 for unskilled workers.

A primary reason NuComm cited for selecting Lafayette is the community’s aggressive plans to provide fiber-optic connections to homes. That’s a huge point talking point for Cenla, which has miles of “dark” optical fiber buried along Interstate 49 waiting for private-sector demand and public-sector vision to “light it up.”

Light it up, indeed.

Instead of fiber optic broadband, many municipalities are going the route of public wireless, which is notable. On the other hand, wireless infrastructure is inferior to DSL and cable broadband, and would be functional for the public at decent speeds only with a residential fiber backbone already intact. I’m not necessarily advocating that Alexandria initiate a new utility in the mold of Lafayette, but I am saying that it’s no longer the 1990s. Wake up: We can be taken only as far as we dare to take ourselves.

By opening the market to real competition, Lafayette’s fiber to the home utility can improve quality and lower prices for digital services. Everyone in the city who wants more affordable residential broadband service will get it. This addresses the economic “digital divide,” and avoides the possibility that private industry would not provide services to certain low-income areas to defray costs. By keeping the ownership of media delivery and media production in separate hands, it and also promotes Net Neutrality. Poor schools have new grant opportunities. The project pays for itself.

For more information about local and national efforts for universal broadband, please visit this website and never be afraid to look for answers on your own.

8 thoughts

  1. Not only Louisiana (although I think New Orleans would be a great place to start) we need high speed fiber access across the nation. The underserved areas of the country have been ignored for too long. There needs to be incentives for providers to buildout in these areas. But there also needs to be a National Policy that would guaranty deployment, timeframes and minimum speeds at a reasonable cost. This would also create good jobs across the country. To check out some ideas on how to get this accomlished go to:

  2. The state of Louisiana has been actively pursuing the goal of lighting up the state with a 40 GB fiber optic ring aournd the state. Called the Louisiana Optical Network Initiative, LONI is in its final stages of completion. Check it out:

  3. I REALLY wish you guys would get your heads out of the books and sit down with people who have worked on projects like this and have the wounds, not scars to prove it. Rick Ranson, while a council member, worked hard to consider whether a fiber loop should be built out in Alexandria. Business surveys were conducted. Costs estimates were configured. Seminars were held. Discussions with fiber owners were held. In fact, on the day the planes were hitting the twin towers we were told hold a conference call with Lafayette.

    The REASON we have StarTek USA is because we have fiber. We have fiber on Jackson Ext. We have fiber on MacArthur, we have fiber build outs throughout the City. Union Tank has fiber. The hospitals use it. In fact, we were working on a program to connect hospitals in 12 parishes to fiber pre-Katrina.

    This is NOT a build it and they will come. There has to be a density ratio reached first. Like it or not, we don’t have it here yet. The federal funding that is available is limited. State funding is practically non-existent.

    I’m not saying it’s impossible, there are just challenges and those of us who have spent the last 6 years working on it know what they are. You come in, read something about what Lafayette has done and a few theories and think you can snap your fingers and just light it up, end of story it’s simple. Well its not. Come live in reality, get burned a few times, get wounded with the rest of us and then write your stories.

  4. Bird, thank you for your comment. You have obviously worked on this issue in the past, and we would be more than willing to speak with you about your experience.

    We are fully aware of the existing fiber optics lines in Alexandria and how businesses like Kinetix have used fiber optics to help local healthcare businesses, among others, transmit information via fiber. But Daniel’s article, which was written five months ago, was intended as an introduction on fiber optics in Cenla, not as a cogent or executable plan of action.

    I commend your work on this issue, and I am disappointed that it did not come to fruition. But instead of insulting Daniel’s grasp on “reality” or his experience in the real world (how do you know whether or not he has been “burned a few times” or “wounded with the rest of us”?), perhaps you should share your knowledge in a productive and respectable manner. I am not sure what caused the subtle animosity.

    But again, we are more than willing to discuss this issue with you, provided we can engage in a respectful conversation.

    Daniel: DanTSmith at gmail dot com
    Lamar: LamarW at gmail dot com

  5. When someone writes an piece of writing he/she retains the plan of a user in his/her
    mind that how a user can be aware of it. Therefore that’s why this piece
    of writing is outstdanding. Thanks!

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