20100818-news-0101Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Written by Nathan Stubbs

New ‘FiberCorps’ initiative hopes to reboot Lafayette’s tech community.

As a national tech journalist and broadband policy advocate, Geoff Daily has visited and followed several small communities across the country that have pioneered the buildout of municipal fiber to the home telecommunications networks. “It’s a similar story in all of them,” Daily says....

“They have this attitude of if you build it, they will come. If you put up the infrastructure, innovation will magically happen, economic development will magically happen. But that’s not the case. If you want to really kick start that and start reaping the full benefits of this network in a shorter time period, you need to have a proactive campaign to bring the community together around a plan. And that’s what no one’s really put any energy into.”

Daily, who for the past three years has been working as a consultant for LUS and its new fiber optic telecommunications network, is determined not to see that happen here in Lafayette. He argues that a campaign to push innovation on the network should be just as big, if not bigger, than the effort that went into building the network. Lafayette residents will remember it took three years, three lawsuit battles and an election before LUS could begin construction of its fiber network. The public utility began serving its first telecommunications customers on the network last February and is now slated to complete the buildout of the citywide network over the next few weeks. “The network’s just about built,” says Daily. “Now the question becomes what do we do with it?”

Enter FiberCorps. Preparing to launch next month, FiberCorps is a new local nonprofit dedicated to ensuring some entrepreneurial success stories associated with LUS Fiber. Its working mission statement is “to activate the community of Lafayette to become the hub city of fiber-powered innovation.” Daily likens the initiative to the development of the Oil Center by Maurice Heymann in the 1950s: By developing office buildings and community organizations that catered to the oil industry, Heymann laid the groundwork for what would quickly become a cornerstone of the local economy. “The same principle holds true for the digital economy,” Daily says.

Last week, Daily gave the first public introduction of FiberCorps in a presentation to the local tech industry social group Net2Lafayette. Daily says FiberCorps should be incorporated by the end of the month and plans to have its 12-member board in place in September. The board will be made up of several at-large members of the business community as well as representatives from the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce, Lafayette Consolidated Government, UL Lafayette, the Community Foundation of Acadiana and the Lafayette Economic Development Authority. Both the Lafayette Chamber and LEDA have provided seed money to get FiberCorps up and running. UL, LCG and the Community Foundation have all written letters of support for the organization. FiberCorps will operate out of the new Technology Accelerator, an IT business recruiter and incubator at Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise. LITE is offering a year’s worth of free office space to FiberCorps. Meanwhile, the chamber has donated $15,000 in seed money; LEDA has ponied up another $35,000, contingent upon FiberCorps coming up with matching funds from other sources. (FiberCorps also plans to soon launch its own fundraising campaign.)

“We’re excited about the concept,” says LEDA President Gregg Gothreaux. “It seems like the perfect way to help entrepreneurs and the private sector get engaged with the effort to build Lafayette’s digital, high-tech economy.”

With FiberCorps, Daily will be working alongside Marc LeDoux, a former Dell Computers sales rep who recently left the company to focus more on public advocacy interests. The two have four stated goals for FiberCorps and how it will measure success: the formation of startups that are creating new applications and services that leverage fiber; recruiting existing companies to come work in Lafayette to use Lafayette as a test bed for the development of their next generation services and applications; working with local businesses to support their utilization of fiber; and then supporting general philanthropic projects, especially in the field of digital media education. 

In addition to talking big about Lafayette’s potential, Daily recently made a big personal investment in the Hub City: Three weeks ago, he and his wife uprooted from Washington, D.C., to take up residence here. “I believe a lot in this community and the potential of the community,” Daily says.

“That’s why I’ve been working here for the past three years. I think we have a real chance to be the first community to put in place a plan to drive innovation and economic development around the fiber network, which has always been the thing that I’ve been most interested in. And so it felt like the time was right to go ahead and come on down to the community that I love so much, to really make a go at this and see what we can do, see what we can accomplish, do something that’s going to be amazing for the community, and I think maybe even more significantly to set out a path for how other communities across the country and arguably even the whole world can follow.”

Mike Bass, one of the organizers of the local Net Squared organization, says the initiative is helping to get the local tech community refocused and reorganized. “The point of Net Squared is to give techies a time and place to do some of the original social networking,” Bass says, referring back to the times before online sites like Facebook and MySpace changed the way people network. “Geoff moving down here and the launch of FiberCorps has really been a spark to help get people excited about building up the tech community, with fiber as a rallying point.”

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