Fabulous Lafayette

2511 It's been weeks since I attended Fiberfete in Lafayette and I haven't written a single word about it. Shame on me. My excuse is that I've been traveling a lot since and also that it took me a while to digest what I have seen and heard in Fiberfete (not to mention some of the thrilling discussions I had).

This posts aims at belatedly correcting this excessive silence and highlight both what I thought was interesting about the Fiberfete event and what I thought is exciting about the Lafayette fiber deployment.

Fiberfete was - even though I missed nearly half of it - a unique event as far as I am concerned. It was designed with a double aim in mind:

  • showcase the things that Lafayette did that might inspire other municipalities and/or stakeholders in the realm of FTTH
  • expose the Lafayette business community to the project and also to experts from the outside to help put in perspective the potential implications of this new infrastructure and the way it could/should be leveraged

Even though I wasn't exposed to all the speakers, I feel that I heard enough from conversations after the speeches I missed to form on opinion on their relevance. From that it seems that Fiberfete met its core aims and then some. The fact that none of the speakers were there to sell their wares and that none of the sponsors were vendors or service companies probably helped too: the conference strived to be relevant locally as well as globally, and it succeeded.

The core conclusions for me on the basis of what I heard and what I've been told of the stuff I missed are as follow:

Getting an FTTx deployment in Lafayette to happen was no mean feat and both telcos and cablecos did all they could to halt the dynamic at every step. They ultimately failed in their obstruction and as Terry Huval eloquently put during the conference, the legal fees that Lafayette had to pay were "the best marketing dollars we ever spent". It publicized the arrogance and disdain that the telcos and cablecos had for inhabitants of Lafayette and got the population to side with their municipal administration and utility company. See this Ars Technica article for more details on this.

Lafayette has understood and internalised the fact that they will only reap the benefits from the infrastructure they are building if they make it happen. Field of Dreams is just a movie. In real life businesses and administrations need to be encouraged to use the infrastructure for their development, customers need to be exposed to unique services that will make them realise the potential of the fiber connection. The fact that half of the conference attendees were local stakeholders was a very good sign, and the next iterations of the event will need to bring these proof points of change forward to demonstrate that the dynamic works.

More widely, ubiquitous very high speed connectivity is a game changer for business and society. David Weinberger did a very good speech exploring the implications of ubiquitous fiber on economy and society. The hurdles are not in deploying the infrastructure, they are in changing the ecosystem that currently relies on sub-par connectivity for its interactions. That's definitely a topic I will give more thought to.

My own speech (which I hope will be made available online soon) revolved around the pragmatic issue of take-up ceilings in fiber deployments and how to address that issue. As I've already mentioned here in the past, there is no large-scale FTTH project that has passed the 30% take-up mark except in Korea, and for a large part that is due to a lack of service differentiation between fiber and legacy copper/cable. I presented the theoretical framework of a fiber app store as a potential solution and opened the floor for ideas and issues about this. This is an area I will be focusing my research on for the next few months, so any feedback (and I got a lot in Lafayette) was welcome.

All in all, this was a great event. It was also unique in that a lot of room was left for discussions, both one on one and collectively. Participants were made to brainstorm on the last day along various topics; the group I participated in tackled economic development, and I'll be posting specifically on that issue soon. It's not many conferences where you can do that, and even less where people would actually stay to participate.

I'm looking forward to Fiberfete 2011. Hopefully by then Lafayette will have some early examples of "cool and wonderful things to do with fiber", other cities will have learned that Google didn't pick them and look at Lafayette on what to do, and maybe, who knows, the idea of a Fiber App Store will have moved forward and I'll be able to talk about its progress!