The Lafayette Utilities System is giving Lafayette the fastest community Intranet in the world. What might that mean for us? And should you put it in your home?

Joe Abraham, MDA friend recently contacted me about whether she should switch to LUS fiber from her current Internet, cable, and phone providers.  I strongly urged her to, for several reasons. 

First, the system that LUS is providing Lafayette is much, much faster than anything currently available anywhere outside of a handful of large corporations and large universities.

Second, LUS is provided locally, by local people.  More of the money we spend stays in the local economy, and enriches us all.

Third, because the management and employees at LUS are local, they are much more strongly committed to the end product.  Indeed, we have seen after hurricanes and other disasters that LUS restores our utilities much faster than comparable communities around the country.   And we have been hearing from people who have begun using LUS that, although there are glitches and growing pains-- which would happen with any new provider-- LUS has been taking our complaints very seriously, and has been clearing up problems very quickly, as they arise.

Fourth, LUS is cheaper than the competition.

Fifth, LUS doesn't require a long-term contract.  So there's no harm in trying it out.

But perhaps more than all of these, we all have a vested interest in insuring that LUS succeeds, because of the impact it will have on everything else in our community:  education, business, government, law, medicine, energy, culture, tourism, everything.  Try to imagine what the world's fastest community Intranet will do to enrich every aspect of our community.

But don't try too hard. 

Because it's impossible to predict innovation.  Who predicted YouTube, the blogosphere, Wikipedia, open source (Firefox to replace Internet Explorer, Open Office to replace Microsoft Office, Linux & Ubuntu to replace Microsoft Windows, Gimp to replace Adobe Photoshop, & 300,000 other free programs) eBay, Twitter, instant messaging, and a myriad of others?  If we knew what innovative people were going to create with new tools & technologies, then we wouldn't need innovation. 

Inherent in democracy, in the First Amendment, and in free markets, is a central concept: we have no idea what these things will produce.  We only know that they are the means-- they are the how-- to produce an endless supply of very important & valuable things.  The Internet has proven to be the same, it produces a continuous stream of innovative, valuable things.  It should be obvious that building the most advanced community Intranet will attract a lot of innovative people to our city, and encourage our own people to be innovative, as well.

To that, I would like to reprint a letter I wrote to the local media back in 2004, when Lafayette was still debating whether to allow LUS to proceed with Fiber To The Home.

Dear Editor,

Imagine you live in an exciting community, with many people of great dreams and ambitions. Your government leaders wish to begin offering services in an area where government will compete with private business. Should you go along?

But what if, instead of public vs. private fiberoptic lines early in the 21st century, you find yourself in the early 18th century, and the question is building state-owned roads and bridges that will decrease the profitability of privately-held services?

What if you live in the early 19th century, and the question is building public libraries that will compete with for-profit bookstores?

What if it is the early 20th century, and the question is creating public schools that will pull students from private institutions?

Everyone agrees that universal fiber-optic services will greatly increase economic and intellectual activity in Lafayette, and improve our quality of life. There are those, however, who insist that government should never compete with private industry.

The future cannot be designed by substituting rules for critical thinking. Such an approach generally leaves our oxen– and our children– in the ditch.

We are faced with a tremendous opportunity. Bold vision is the exclusive mark of a progressive community.

And it is quite clear that telecommunications are the roads & bridges, libraries, and schools of the future.