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April 14, 2008 11:56 AM

Why Lafayette Can Be That Shining City on the Hill

During my week in Lafayette a message I attempted to leave behind is that building a full fiber network isn’t enough; it’s as, if not more, important to focus on getting the community engaged with the use of broadband.

While I feel this is true for all communities regardless of whether or not they’re deploying a muni-fiber network, I believe it’s especially true for communities that are making this investment and want to make the most of it.

Along these lines, I shared on more than one occasion that I have yet to find a fiber community that’s taking full advantage of what their full fiber network makes possible. Quite simply: there is no shining city on the hill for fiber.

But I also expressed my strong and growing belief that Lafayette has the potential to be that city, and not just for fiber but for broadband as a whole, to show the world how society can be revolutionized through the use of the Internet.

The reason why I think this, though, has little to do with the full fiber network they’re deploying. Instead, it’s about their history, their culture, and the many wonderful people I met on my travels.

First off, it’s important to understand a bit of their history. From the very beginning, Cajun’s have had to be survivors, first as outcasts, then settling down to make a life for themselves in the wilderness of southern Louisiana, to more recently when the oil crash of the 1980s wiped out their local economy, forcing everyone without deep local roots and anyone with a college degree to look elsewhere for quality jobs. Even those who stayed often ended up having to commute to places like Atlanta to find work.

Today while Lafayette stands poised to take a big step into the 21st century and establish itself as the center of technological progress in Louisiana, there’s still a strong sense that they must never again allow themselves to be pushed to the brink of economic failure. It’s this energy that (I hope) will drive them forward to embrace the possibilities of broadband to make their community better, confident in the fact that through the use of broadband they can establish their path to a more prosperous tomorrow.

Secondly, the strength of their culture is equally important. Being Cajun is what unites people down there. It’s amazing how many people I met during my travels who have family roots in the area that go back hundreds of years. This is a people who knows their neighbors, who gets together with their extended families on a regular basis--whether it’s to roast a hog or boil up some crawfish--who not only knows about but cares for the people around them.

The advantage found herein is that all we need to do is inspire a subset of their population on the wonders of broadband and the message should be able to disseminate throughout the community. In a culture like this, where people still talk to each other, imagine what can happen if we get all the young people engaged with how to use broadband to better their community. Ultimately what better way is there to spread the good word about broadband than through the interpersonal relationships of a close-knit community?

But what this all ultimately comes down to for me are the people themselves. This isn’t about any sort of overarching cultural mindset but instead the steady string of dynamic individuals I met during my time in Lafayette. For a community that twenty years ago couldn’t provide good jobs to college graduates, it now boasts a remarkable array of technology professionals. Whether you want to build a website, market it, develop an application, or learn new computer skills, I met experts in all these areas and beyond. The simple truth is that Lafayette has the creative talent, ingenuity, and power of conviction to harness the full potential of broadband.

Equally important are the quality of its leaders. I continue to be impressed by the practicality and energy of City-Parish President Joey Durel. It’s inspirational to meet a politician like him who doesn’t think anything like a politician. He’s not running for reelection; he’s focused on running government to the best of his ability. And the better I get to know Terry Huval, who heads up LUS and is leading their fiber deployment, the stronger the sense I have that he’s just the kind of good-hearted, pragmatic leader a project like this needs to succeed.

In the end, I know I’ve only begun to scratch the surface of discovering all the great people who call Lafayette home, and I’m looking forward to continuing this process through many more trips there in the future.

Lafayette is a unique and special community that I can’t wait to continue exploring, but for now I’ll end this coverage with the following charge to the people of Lafayette:

Your community is poised to take a bold step into the 21st century.

But your investment in a new network means nothing if no one uses it.

Your community can become that shining city on the hill for fiber and the use of broadband.

But only if you leverage the strength of your history, culture, and people to make the most of what’s possible.

If done right, Lafayette can guarantee its economic prosperity for the next 100 years.

But it’s going to take hard work to do so, not just building the network but getting the community ready to use it.

Cajuns know that through hard work great things can be achieved.

So set the goal to be great, make the commitment to do what it takes, and anything is possible.

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