June 29, 2005  ·  Lessig

There’s a fascinating and important battle going on in Lafayette, LA. Citizens are pushing a referendum to permit the Lafayette Utility System to sell bonds to fund a project to “expand its existing fiber-optic network in Lafayette to everyone in the city.” The move is being fought by the telcos — who would rather bring much more expensive DSL and cable to everyone in the city. John St. Julien and Mike Stagg have been blogging the fight. There’s a great website explaining it. And today they’ve announced the winners in the “Fiber Film Festival,” a film contest run to explain the benefits of fiber.

The theorists, of course, who live life in theory-land, object. In theory-land, all this stuff should be provided by the market. In theory-land, the government should stay away. And I’m quite sure, in theory-land, there’s lots of cheap, fast broadband available to everyone. Yet most of us don’t live in theory-land. And some of those unlucky real world people living in Lafayette have a good shot at getting something that the rest of us real world sorts only dream about — cheap, fast broadband access.

Good luck with the referendum, Lafayette. Your example might well bring the rest of us down from the clouds of theory-land.

  • http://www.gqmc.com MIchael Grasty

    I am President of the American Chamber of Commerce in Chile (Amcham) and one of the issues we are pushing as hard as we can is cheap, fast broadband access. For this country it is an issue of equal access to education, including the teaching of English. We wish you the best in your fight with the telcos and hope you will feel strengthened by knowing that the results of what you are doing can help the plight of individuals all over the world who are struggling in the real world.

  • Anonymous

    Hello, I am a happy resident of the Republic of Theory-land and I would like to respond to your incorrect statements about Theory-land. Theory-land is a Communist utopia where all industries are owned by the people, and Internet connection is no exception. We all have free and uncensored T5 connections provided by the government. Sincerely, Anonymous

  • Bruce Adams

    Why so down on free markets?

    I appreciate the public utility action in Lafayette as an appropriate response to the telcos and cable companies. Telcos and cable also operate as utilities. Broadband to the home has very little to do with free markets in the U.S.

    - Bruce

  • Anonymous

    Actually, as a theorist, I would argue that broadband, like the distribution of (but not production of) cable, telephone, water, and electricity, or like the US Postal Service, is a natural monopoly best provided by the government. Natural monopolies occur when the cost per unit of providing more goods (or services) keeps going down the more you provide.

    When you’re producing (say) cars, your cost goes down for awhile until your factory becomes unmanageable and you need to build another – there’s a limit to how low your cost can get. When you’re distributing broadband, your cost per house (in theory) goes down as you string wire to each additional house.

    Natural monopolies are best provided by the government because, most simply, it doesn’t make sense from a societal point of view to string TWO sets of wires, pipes, etc. to everybody’s house.

  • http://snapgrid.com NathanB

    Bruce is right, the problem is that there is too little free market action in broadband. The distortions of local monopolies granted to telcos and cablecos encourage incumbents to lobby against change and provide substandard product at inflated prices. These market distortions should be familiar to regular readers of this blog *cough copyright cough*.

  • http://www.muniwireless.com Anonymous Smart Guy

    Lessig, speaking of living in the clouds. Being that you are such a supporter of the ‘free information society’ why are you not using linux? These so called ‘commons contributors’ have existed for a long time, they are linux people. Find a good one and have her get you running on linux, she doens’t work for free buts its worth it in the long term. With Fedora you can do most of your tasks from email to web with little learning curve. I doesn’t do what you want it to? ooh poor baby! tell the community and they will probably add it. With Open Source the responsibility is distributed amongst both users and developers. Keep using the software and you go from luser to developer! put your money where your mouth is! “You must become the change you wish to see in the world.” – M. Ghandi

    Oh as for Municipal Wireless, it makes sense to regulate when the definition of the product is clear( commidity ). Most technological organizations work very hard to make sure that technologies to not become commodities, such as Microsoft. By remaining ambiguous, the value is not clear and hence the price tag remains afloat. The world knows enough about IP to know what it is and what we can do with it( most specifically employ a high speed encryptable communications network that will be dirt cheap ). US tax payers have already payed for an infrastructure. The telcos are paying us to sell a service back to us that we already own! This guy is great.

  • Fred Heutte

    Coincidentally, the Portland, Oregon city council voted this morning 4-0 (one commissioner was not present but supports the proposal) for a somewhat related project, a public/private partnership to provide citywide wireless. Commissioner Erik Sten is the lead on this.

    The Oregonian had a story this morning prior to the vote

  • anon

    Many of these hybrid projects are trouble. Naturally the large telcos will work to design a configuration that is locked into their service. Many of them are designed to fail to give the whole Muni wireless movement bad press. It appears that Lafayette is taking the correct approach in dictating the tech structure down to the physical level. If the thing goes through the Telcos will be most dejected. Many of the other Muni projects are seriously technologically troubled. The Tempe, AZ project appears to be having problems with Cox cable. Most of these projects would benefit by finding a good independent tech consultant like Isenberg. Isenberg would stand to make a lot of money as such a consultant, I am surprised he has not already tried this. He would be an excellent technological spokesperson in this space. In addition to a background at AT&T hes got good street cred.

  • poptones

    Lessig, ASG has a really good point. Recently you were complaining about some MacMail related issues… why do you not put yer money with yer mouth? This is very much a cultural issue, and as an advocate of that culture…

  • http://www.muniwireless.com Anonymous Smart Ass

    The Municipal Wireless controversy is, once and for all, the stupidity of business leaders blowing up in thier own faces. The technology business, like every business relies on locating buyers markets for suppliers and sellers market for customers. This market asymmetry that is required for profti is maintained by a variety of techniques, historically it was by user-base lock-in, most recently the idea of patenting business processes, etc. The fortification of the patent system is an absolute requisite for a plan by the top %1 of the worlds wealthy to stay that way in a global marketplace where consumers have direct access to cheap goods and services. It is very hard for these large tech firms to justify themselves in the American market, and one of the ways they do it is by paying local politicians. What the masses have decided, much to the dismay of the corporate leaders, is to effectively outsource the very companies that outsourced them. And they want to make it illegal! It only makes sense. Its the American way! The fact is that if the quality of these technologies are maintained, then the price drops( eventually to nothing ). It is this very situation that these various corporate motives try to prevent by ‘adding value’ and making networks ‘smart’. Don’t believe it. What these business leaders have to understand after all, that the people must do things the cheapest way possible. Sorry corporations! youve been outsourced!

  • Adbul Al Wassid Maduliban

    Hello my friends, I think that it is good to be putting money inside your mouth also my friend Lessig. Praise Allah!

  • http://dinnertimebandit.blogspot.com Alan Golder

    I am a second-floor burglar. I strike while they eat dinner downstairs.

    Lawrence, do they really need jewelry to live?

  • raoul

    Broadband over physical wires is a utility. All utilities with physical infrastructure operate at the pleasure of government. They cannot work without imminent domain and public easements. Therefore, they can never be an actual free market, as they exist as de facto, if not actual, monopolies supported by the government. So the very idea that the telecoms ever operate in a free market is absurd. For their to be a free market there must be competition. The recent FCC rulings and Supreme Court decisions on the subject demonstrate the telecoms desire to operate outside of the free market. Thus, since they already operate pursuant to the pleasure and power of the government they are subject to governmental regulation and if the government can provide cheaper services then tough shit. If the government can do it cheaper, that is plenty evidence to establish that the telecoms are gouging the public and doing so pursuant to anti-free market practices.

  • http://www.tekstadventure.nl/branko/blog/ Branko Collin

    Here’s my prediction: some local governments will provide broadband/wifi themselves, others will leave it to the market. As soon as the former need to save some money (which government doesn’t from time to time?) they will flog off their networks to the highest bidder. This highest bidder will recoup their purchase price in the first year they are allowed to up their price. Prices will remain sky-high because of reasons outlined before by other commenters, but the free samples provided by the local government will have gotten a lot of people hooked to “internet everywhere, allways”.

  • http://www.rotten.com/library/bio/hackers/captain-crunch/ Kaptian Krunch

    Or, more likely it will be an ongoing struggle between the municipalities that are paying for it, and the companies that want to make a buck off it. The only real effect of which will be a dwindling stock valuation( welcome to reality ) as internet companies find they can no longer make the profit margins they once did. Why? Because all the people they fired and replaced with asian labor are now working against them. Nothing really new here… either way internet will get cheaper for the end user. I think these struggles of the tech firms to priviledge themselves in the market are in the end totally pointless. There is too much public knowledge of these utilities to keep them at such a high cost. With good organization the public could get basic communications costs to a mere fraction of what they are today. Another very important factor here is that Big Guv’ment is partnering with Big Biz’nuss because there is one crucial critiria for communications structures that the Guv’ment requires, the ability to intercept communications anywhere they please( a municipally run network is very hard to sniff ). This is the hidden variable in this equation and the major reason for the cost inequity( the difference the US government will likely forgo given what has occured, and pass this cost onto the tax payer in the form of a military expense, in other words creative accounting will try to make up the difference in costs ). The technical people then will be left dumbfounded, and the public will be placated. And our fiscal budget will descend yet further into hell.

  • http://blawgandecon.blogspot.com Noah Popp

    Justice O’Connor just announced retirement.

  • http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0073486/ Anonymous Sedated Guy

    It doesn’t matter. We have Prozac(tm). Thats just the way it goes(tm). Things have always been this way(tm). Your political gripes are really psychological problems. People who talk about municipal internet or complain about Microsoft are faggot pinko commies. Its all a matter of proper medication. It all a matter of proper education.

  • http://wipe-out.blogspot.com Terry Jones

    I think this is an excellent idea. This is exactly the sort of thing that local should be doing. This is the purpose behind government in the first place. People cooperate to create needed services that they couldn’t afford individually.
    Of course, in theory, I agree with the idiots who think we should let the marketplace (meaning the tele and cable companies) handle this. Except they’re really in no rush to provide it.
    It wouldn’t surprise me if more local governments started doing this. Someday broadband may be as ubiquitous as any other utility.

  • http://lusftth.blogspot.com Douglas Menefee

    I’m a Lafayette resident. We have been working on this plan for many years. The state of Louisiana has made a turn when it comes to broadband and the high-tech environment.

    Louisiana’s wealth of Healthcare and Oil and Gas companies make it a prime breeding ground for the development of killer apps requiring broadband. More and more businesses are turning toward “true telecommuting” – not just with a web browser – but the current providers don’t feel that end users need to be “publishers” the incumbant networks are too limiting… they refuse to upgrade to stay comptetive in the global digital economy.

    Lafayette’s current leadership comes from private industry and struggled with government vs. private industry… but then private industry (Cox / Bellsouth) told the community that FTTH is unnecessary and they they will never do it. They have gone so far as to say that Verizon will fail because of its deployment.

    The reality is that we are a community of 100,000… there are hundreds of communities like us competing for new businesses. Businesses today are looking for affordable electricity, affordable bandwidth, knowledge workers, and low business taxes. We already have 3 of the four and are working on the biz tax issue. LUS’ whole sale model has enabled businesses like the one that I work for get 10Mbit fiber service for around $800 a month.

    Our office in Dallas pays more than that just for a T-1 line. Getting fiber in Dallas has proven to be a near impossible task b/c of ROI. In Lafayette I have 3 companies knocking on my door with Fiber. Though bellsouth sells a pseudo-fiber connection (much like their fiber to the curb proposal).

    The fact of the matter is – BANDWIDTH is an infrastructure issue. I’ll repeat my mantra – I don’t care who builds it … as long as it works and its affordable!

  • Fred Meyer III

    I fully support the return to a copyright law that supports the commons. In fact I find Lessig to be a little to conservative.

    Concerning Lafayette LA, I fully support the referendum. There is no reason that governments should not compete with enterprise when they are more efficient. The voters of Lafayette will stop voting for expansion of the the local fiber optic service when it becomes too costly.

    By the way, I take offense with the misuse of the word “theory”. In science, theory is generally a consistant explanation of a situation that has been verified by experimental results. Instead of “theoryland” please use “conjectureland”. Those who claim to be supported by theory have not shown that their ideas are consistant.

  • http://www.liberaassociazioneilpopolo.it/inglese/ 2010: Poverty Elimination

    What do you think about Live 8?

  • a

    In addition to the advisory, the FDA also updated its Web site with a notice about a higher-than-expected rate of suicide attempts in research with the nation’s newest antidepressant, Eli Lilly’s Cymbalta. Those studies were in women trying Cymbalta as an incontinence treatment; it was never approved for that use. The FDA insisted when it approved Cymbalta last year that studies of depressed patients showed no suicide link. These are people not monkeys. Who is responsible??????

  • http://www.eire.com/ Antoin O Lachtnain

    Well, why doesn’t the city just build a ducting system and let the private sector put the fiber into it, at a yearly rental?

  • gary gnu

    Yes the ‘buy the well, not the water’ strategy is the best, but most telcos are not willing to go that route…

  • Charlemagne

    More EU Patent Problems
    Oh BTW- if you are one of the stupid clods who thinks that Live 8 is going to buy Bill Gates forgiveness, fuck you and your stupid boss. Microsoft is responsible for this heavy lobbying in Europe. If bill gates really wants to help, try stopping the constant barrage of IP litigation preventing African AIDS victims from obtaining life saving drugs. Fuck you Bill Gates, your business is not welcome in America- we will cut you loose as soon as we can. As long as the EU continues along this route, it will be a socialized nightmare for years to come- for most of the lives of young Europeans today. This includes you lower class British- you M$ dragoons that have been posting here may you be damned to hell- you are traitors to your own people. I suggest you buy real estate in India while it is still affordable. Young Europeans, those people who are complaining about these laws are looking out for you, listen to them and support them! Do you want all opinion and consent created in a machine that the public does not even own the rights to? Welcome to the 21st century.

  • Paul

    It is great that the people of Lafayette will get fiber access to the internet. However, I would investigate the pending 802.22 specification for WiMax access instead. It will be a lot less expensive for them to push for this instead.

    BTW, I am surprised that the Telcos aren’t pushing WiMax at a cheap price as an alternative.

  • http://www.extenze-alternative.com/ extenze

    This comment is directed toward another comment by bruce.

    Bruce, I too believe in free markets. Unfortuantely, there has never been, nor will there ever be a free market. Governments and people always seek out ways and enact laws to protect those who have political might. Please show me one example of a truly free market.

    It all comes down to how corrupt a government is.

  • WiMax opponent

    Why does every effort to explain how telcos are fleecing the public result in an anonymous post about the benefits of WiMax? The fact is that many analysts have labeled WiMax as a highly problematic technology that puts the telcos back on high ground. It will 1) enable them to use cell towers, 2) it requires a portion of private bandwidth and would allow telcos to leverage their monopoly on these frequencies. Sasha Meinrath is the worlds leading expert on the problems of WiMax( and the advantages of Mesh ). If you are a municipality: DO NOT USE WiMax!

    A Thread by Sascha