How fiber supercharges economic development: Lafayette, Louisiana's success story

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 02/12/2014 - 13:43

Broadband Communities magazine has a story that should be required reading for every community wondering if there is linkage between Gigabit fiber and economic development. Lafayette's municipal Gigabit fiber network has brought Hollywood special effects jobs to the community, more than a hundred, because the high performance Gigabit network lets Pixel Magic move the computer files back and forth between Lafayette and California quickly.

Pixel Magic brought jobs to Lafayette because the local economic developers created a 3D visualization facility (Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise, or LITE) that was designed specifically as an economic hub. LITE has been a huge success that has attracted several new companies to Lafayette. You don't think of Gulf Coast Louisiana as a high tech destination, but the combination of Gig fiber and a broad economic development vision has been successful.

Lafayette's success also demonstrates that you can't rely on the Field of Dreams model: "If we build it, businesses will come." Lafayette has been successful because they linked their fiber network to a carefully thought out economic development strategy. Be sure to read the whole article. It's an eye-opener for those arguing that communities should not be investing in fiber.

Interesting comment on community broadband

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 03/29/2010 - 15:34

Here is an interesting comment on the Lafayette, Louisiana fiber network.

All of this is just the tip of the iceberg. There is much more to come, and much of those are things that I don't even envision myself. If we go back to the early days of electricity in the 1890s, I'm convinced that Thomas Edison never envisioned the microwave oven or the TV-- much less the computer. This fiber capability, this infrastructure, is in its infancy and that's why Lafayette is going to be on the front edge of that development.

Lafayette's Third Pipe goes live

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 02/09/2009 - 10:38

Lafayette, Louisiana's "third pipe" community broadband network has started signing up customers. Lafayette fought and won a difficult battle against an incumbent lawsuit that tried to stop the community broadband effort, but the city ultimately prevailed in court. The most significant part of the community broadband network is that it offers much higher bandwidth and symmetric bandwidth, which will enable and support small business telecom services and a wide array of work from home and home-based businesses.

Fiber or Wireless--It's both!

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 03/28/2006 - 14:01

This article notes that the only working telecom infrastructure left in New Orleans after the storm was cheap wireless. And even today, WiFi is playing a big role in the city's recovery. In areas prone to flooding, WiFi has an advantage because it is usually installed on something that is above the flood levels. If you can get power to it, it works. And there are some WiFi hotspots powered by batteries and solar power, making them even more resistant to power outages.

I was on the phone today talking with some folks about the direction of infrastructure in rural communities, and the consensus was that no matter how good wireless gets (in terms of bandwidth), you will still need fiber to provide a backbone. Paradoxically, as wireless bandwidth capacity increases, you need fiber more, not less.

All that wireless bandwidth eventually has to hop back onto the wired Internet, and so you will need a fiber backbone, not something lashed together using copper T1 and DSL lines (which is common today).

Every community is different, so there is no one way to start investing in broadband infrastructure, but one rule of thumb does hold true everywhere: don't put all your eggs in one basket.

Will your emergency power work?

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 08/31/2005 - 07:15

Catastrophes like Hurricane Katrina are often remembered by a few enduring images. One of them may well be the widely circulated photo of a New Orleans cop, wading through chest high water with an empty gas can, looking for fuel for an emergency generator.

It's unfortunate that we tend not to think very much about worst case scenarios unless we see one somewhere, but it is as good a time as any to review your region's disaster recovery plans, especially with respect to telecommunications.

With most of New Orleans flooded, wireline communications (phone, cable, Internet) are not working. Most wireless Internet systems (e.g. WiFi hotspots) are also out, because electric power and the wired Internet connections that feed them are out.

Lafayette says "yes" to fiber

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 07/18/2005 - 08:01

In what may become a milestone in the quest for broadband, a public referendum in Lafayette, Louisiana to use municipal bonds to fund a fiber network passed by a wide margin (62% of voters said "yes"). Lafayette's public electric utility wanted to offer fiber broadband to its customers a couple of years ago, and the city became ground central for a bitterly fought battle led by the telephone and cable companies, which spent millions to stop the initiative.

Lafayette was probably a poor choice to fight the community. In 1896, the town had to form the Lafayette Utilities Service because the big electric companies refused to provide service to the rural community.

The Lafayette vote is significant. It was held on a Saturday, and received a 27% turnout, which is pretty high for a single issue vote (it was the only item on the ballot). Politicians across the country will have to look more closely at broadband issues going forward, because the one weakness of the telephone and cable companies is that companies do not vote--but citizens do, and in Lafayette, the citizens spoke loudly and clearly on the issue. All the lobbyist money in the world can't offset citizens determined to make a change.

The city says the first customers will get their fiber connections in about two years, and it will take a total of three and a half years to get fiber to every home and business in the community. That's not bad, considering it took almost 40 years to get a telephone to most homes.

Lafayette, Louisiana beaten by BellSouth

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 01/11/2005 - 20:51

USA Today has an article about Lafayette, Louisiana, which has been trying to put together a community fiber project for the past year. The southern Louisiana community has apparently been beaten down by BellSouth, which has vigorously opposed the deal.

BellSouth has claimed it is "unfair" for communities to offer a service the company could offer, even though it provides only DSL in the community, a pale shadow of the robust fiber network the city was planning.

At the risk of boring my regular readers, there are two ways to approach community telecom projects. One is to regard telecom infrastructure just like roads. Communities build the roads, but private companies (like BellSouth) deliver services (like dialtone or TV programming) to customers. The other approach is to regard telecom infrastructure like the municipal water or electric system, in which the city itself provides the customer services.

The latter is certainly more efficient, but given that many of our elected leaders still don't take any of this very seriously and given that we have a ridiculously complex regulatory environment, I think the former approach (a public/private partnership) is the only alternative.

Rightly or wrongly, communities that are trying to create public monopolies in this area are losing. The telecoms are outspending them and are buying whatever laws are needed to prevent community investments. But communities must invest to stay viable in the global economy, and Lafayette knows that. From the article:

"The future of Lafayette shouldn't be left to the whim of the big telecommunications companies, insists City Parish President Joey Durel. Installing fiber-optic cable, he credibly argues, is no different from laying down sidewalks or sewer lines.

In fact, the "triple play" plan mirrors the action Lafayette's city fathers took a century ago when they realized the private power companies were passing them by in favor of larger, more lucrative markets in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. To survive, they built their own municipal power system.

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