This is the history (Starting in 2002) behind the Lafayette Utility System's effort to bring Fiber to the Home of ever resident, every house, and business in the area.
It's lit. Businesses have signed on. So where do we go from here?
After almost four years, Lafayette Utilities System's 65-mile, 96-strand fiber optic loop, named LUS Powered Network, is available for use. Lafayette has been hearing, "It's coming, it's coming," for a long time now, so what do we do with it now that it's lit, that is, up and running? Well, four companies have signed on with LUS and will begin offering services through the network to their own customers in the near future.
The University of Louisiana and Lafayette Consolidated Government have been using the network for months, along with LUS. It has operated without interruption for them, proving its promised capabilities. LUS has provided UL with fiber optic connectivity between its main campus and the University Research Park. For LCG, the loop has connected the Clifton Chenier Center, Public Works and City Hall with other governmental entities.
But there are many capabilities that have yet to be proven. What will the loop do for economic development? Will LUS' "Build it and they will come" strategy work? These questions and more have yet to be answered, so The Times set out to present the issues surrounding the loop.
The initial purpose of the loop was to connect LUS to its substations and replace its outdated microwave telecommunications system. But it overbuilt, with the hope that having broadband service available at a competitively lower price than other telecommunications providers would bring technology companies to Lafayette and help those already located here thrive and grow. The SONET network offers broadband and Internet services to wholesalers, who must then resell those services to the public.
"We'll be able to bring high-speed bandwidth to smaller companies at competitive pricing," says Frank D. Ledoux, manager of the Powered Network. He adds that this will ensure that Lafayette becomes a profitable business venture for companies.
There have been many assumptions made about LUS' predictions of competitive pricing and Director Terry Huval says, "They're competitive. It's a customized pricing."
In the March 15, 2000 cover story of The Times, Steve Creeden of Cox Communications, which has its own fiber optic system, said decreased prices because of competition or increased efficiency were "very unlikely."
"The burden of building that infrastructure will ultimately be recouped through consumer rate," Creeden said. He went on to say at the time, when LUS' ring was sitting idle and being paid for with taxpayers' dollars, that the ring was excessive.
BellSouth also offers fiber optic capabilities and says it was the first to offer this back in the '80s along Johnston Street. It currently has more than 600 miles of fiber-optic cable in the city and views the LUS project as an attempt to restrict competition.
"The reason that we oppose LUS doing that is the approach of using taxpayer dollars to go into competition with private industry," says Danny Wilson, regional director for BellSouth. He says that BellSouth's prices are competitive and adds, "We want to compete with anybody. We will compete with anybody."
LUS currently uses BellSouth, as well as Sprint, Stratos, Qwest and AT&T as gateways to connect to networks outside of the loop. Its interconnection with these major telecommunications providers enables nationwide access of the services to local customers. But, according to Mike Stagg of digitallouisiana.org, that could be affected in the near future.
The Federal Communications Commission is considering reclassifying high-speed telecommunications services and making them equal to cable modem services. The Broadband Regulatory Parity Act of 2002, introduced in the Senate by Sen. John Breaux in April, says that "cable modem services and digital subscriber line services are subject to disparate regulatory treatment by the Federal Government and by state and local governments."
The bill would put LUS and BellSouth in direct competition and could force LUS to begin offering last-mile services, or service from the actual loop to doors of businesses.
Stagg says, "It's going to be viewed as a setback, but I think it's a real opportunity for them (LUS)." He says LUS should be praised for its vision and deployment of the project, but that "they haven't had the courage or the vision to deliver world-class last-mile solutions.
The Times of Acadiana
Erin Zaunbrecher is business editor for The Times.
237-3560, ext. 160 firstname.lastname@example.org