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July 24, 2009 10:46 AM

Lafayette Becoming Most Wired Community in America

Last week I had the opportunity to head back down to Cajun Country for another trip to Lafayette, LA. While there's much to share about my journeys, there's one thing in particular I want to highlight today: Lafayette is fast becoming America's most wired community.

Of course you all know about Lafayette Utility System's deployment of a full fiber network, but it's worth revisiting what they're offering. Residents of Lafayette can get 50Mbps symmetrical service for less than $60 a month.

Compare that to the $70 I pay a month for roughly 10Mbps down and 2Mbps up in our nation's capitol (though in fairness Comcast supposedly now offers DOCSIS 3.0 in my area so I may have faster options available, though they still won't reach 50Mbps symmetrical).

And potentially even more significant is that every subscriber to the LUSFiber network, no matter what level of broadband they pay for, gets access to a free 100Mbps symmetrical intranet, or community-wide LAN. To date Lafayette is the only community in the country with anything like this that I know of.

But the story of how wired Lafayette's becoming doesn't begin and end with LUSFiber. Cox Communications has decided to make Lafayette the first community in which it's deploying DOCSIS 3.0 cable. They've claimed that this deployment has nothing to do with the availability of LUSFiber, but considering that Cox has been keeping its prices lower in Lafayette than nearby communities like Baton Rouge that aren't deploying fiber, that's hard to believe. Plus it makes logical sense to upgrade your network in the areas where you're facing new competition.

The same impetus is likely behind news that I actually learned from a Cox representative that AT&T; now has plans to bring its upgraded DSL platform called U-Verse to Lafayette sometime in 2010. On the one hand this news doesn't surprise me at all as if AT&T; were to do nothing they'd likely be run out of town, unable to compete with the arms race between LUS and Cox. And yet on the other hand, I'm wondering if even with this upgrade whether or not they'll be able to compete as U-Verse doesn't offer the same amount of bandwidth as LUSFiber or even DOCSIS 3.0 cable. But regardless of that, this makes Lafayette the first community in the country that I know of that will have a full fiber network, DOCSIS 3.0-upgraded cable, and a next generation DSL network, making it arguably the most wired city in America.

I should add, though, that the one area they're lagging is in wireless connectivity. From personal experience I can share that 3G coverage is somewhat spotty, and as far as I know there aren't any plans by anyone to deploy a next-generation wireless network like WiMAX any time soon. That said, I also want to point out that I continue to be amazed by how many of my friends in Lafayette sport iPhones or some other form of smartphone. So even if the networks aren't being built yet, there's a savvy customer base ready to use it whenever it does.

The biggest takeaway from me on this is that competition in wireline broadband can work, but only if there's someone willing to invest in a truly next generation network. Everyone likes talking about how adding a third pipe into homes will supercharge competition, but the reality is that the only third pipe capable of doing that is fiber. Lesser technologies like BPL and wireless don't have the capacity to spur investment in legacy infrastructure. And yet just look at what can happen when that fiber arrives: everyone starts investing in capacity so they can try to keep up.

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