Business Cover

Wired for the Future

by Nathan Stubbs

The promise of world-class, high-speed broadband is here, and businesses are finding innovative ways to take advantage

When Kleinpeter Dairy makes one of its routine delivery stops at Wal-Mart, the process is much the same as it's always been. The driver-salesperson goes in the store to check inventory and see what size order is needed, before hauling the milk out the back of the truck.

When Kleinpeter Dairy makes one of its routine delivery stops at Wal-Mart, the process is much the same as it's always been. The driver-salesperson goes in the store to check inventory and see what size order is needed, before hauling the milk out the back of the truck. But now, when he hands the store manager an invoice, he presents his handheld computer, rather than a piece of paper. And in the case of Wal-Mart, the invoice processes immediately with the Fortune 500 company's headquarters in Bentonville, Ark.. Kleinpeter gets paid for that order the same day. No paper receipts or billing statements necessary. That entire process used to take an average of 50 days.

"Within two minutes we've already invoiced Bentonville," says Kleinpeter Farms Dairy President Jeff Kleinpeter, "and they pay us daily, so can you see what a difference it makes with cash flow? It's huge."

Wal-Mart isn't the only store operating that way. Kleinpeter says Albertsons and many of the larger grocery chains also prefer the new immediate and totally paperless billing system. So does Kleinpeter Dairy. Since instituting the system just under a year ago, Kleinpeter estimates the company is now saving almost $5,000 a month on paper costs alone, and another $5,000 a month in accounting and data entry costs.

Kleinpeter says that his IT department worked directly with AT&T to come up with the solution. "It was a really big thing when we did this," he says. "No one else had it that we were aware of, not in the dairy industry. It's pretty neat stuff. You know you would think some huge conglomerate out there would have done it before us, but here's little old Kleinpeter Dairy in Baton Rouge doing innovative things working with a partner like AT&T. That's huge. I mean, even AT&T was kind of taken aback by our approach to doing this."

Kleinpeter Dairy worked with AT&T on a paperless billing solution.

With the ever-expanding broadband capabilities available today, companies like Kleinpeter Dairy are finding creative ways to take advantage. In Lafayette, businesses have a healthy array of competing Internet service providers to choose from, including Cox Communications, AT&T and now LUS Fiber, along with other smaller and more specialized providers.

Each ISP offers custom solutions for businesses and touts its unique advantages. AT&T boasts the largest wireless network of the three companies. "The trend is having all these services integrated and to be un-tethered," says AT&T Louisiana spokeswoman Sue Sperry. "Being able to have services that tie into your business network with a mobile device and applications that go with it is another way of making it more efficient, and small- to medium-size businesses really benefit from this." AT&T also offers DSL Internet and phone service. It recently launched an Internet protocol cable service, U-verse - available in Baton Rouge, Houma and St. Tammany Parish - which boasts unique features such as allowing customers to remotely program their DVRs from a computer or smart phone. Sperry says U-verse will be coming to Lafayette, but she is not certain when.

Jon Fitzgerald of Forward Link,
a startup tech company in Travis Technology Center.

At Cox Communications, Vice President of Business Services Leigh King notes the company is currently serving some 6,500 business clients in Lafayette and more than 10,000 throughout Acadiana. King says Cox counts among its clients some of the largest hospitals and data centers in the state, all of which want to tap into Cox's extensive high-speed network.

"Really it's about accessibility," King says. "Accessibility to a broadband connection, and we've got such an accessible network to all of our business customers, not only from a distribution standpoint, but also the speed requirements that we currently offer to our customers are the highest speeds available in the industry today."

King notes that because Cox's footprint extends throughout south Louisiana and beyond, the company has been able to provide a variety of solutions, like Metro Ethernet, to help businesses like regional hospitals and banks get a secure, low-cost connection to all their locations or branches.

Cox offers up to 15 megabits per second download speed and 3 megabits per second upload speed in its standard business packages. It also can offer greater speeds to clients in need of greater, dedicated bandwidth. "If a customer needs dedicated transport services between two hospitals for digital imaging," King says, "we're already providing that."

He continues, "The applications have just started to develop, where you can utilize the capacity that's out there at this point. So we've really seen the application side of it increase over the last couple years, and that's good news for us because we do have the infrastructure in place. We've already got relationships with many of these businesses that require this high-speed connectivity because we're already there and are available to deliver what they need today."

Cox also is getting into the wireless game. The company recently began testing its own wireless cellular phone and data service in two markets outside Louisiana. King says Cox Wireless should be coming to Acadiana in the next two to three years.

Both Cox and AT&T also offer businesses secure data storage services.

Cox's VP of Business Services, Leigh King says
his company has 6,500 clients in Lafayette alone.

LUS Fiber is the much-hyped newcomer in the game. The business, which services customers with a 100 percent fiber optic network, launched to some city residents in February 2009. LUS Fiber just recently began serving business clients. Its citywide network build-out is ahead of schedule and should be completed in July.

The nascent business is now only offering limited video service to its business clients, due to different terms required by network providers for businesses, but LUS Director Terry Huval says those cable offerings will be expanding in the next few months.

LUS Fiber's main selling point has always been its Internet speeds. Standard business packages include symmetrical download and upload speeds of up to 100 megabits per second.

From the beginning, LUS Fiber has been about more than just low-cost cable; its mission has included such ideals as bridging the digital divide, spurring the competition to make Lafayette a priority and fostering economic development. "The LUS fiber network puts Lafayette in a unique league as far as its broadband capability," Huval contends. "We're confident it will be one of the things that help make Lafayette a more attractive place for businesses to locate and grow."

In 2005, the old Atlantic Richfield Co. building in the Oil Center had been collecting dust, abandoned for seven years. The combined forces of Hurricane Katrina and Lafayette's expanding broadband capabilities changed all that. Katrina brought native daughter Ruth Ann Menutis back to town from New Orleans. A prolific entrepreneur, Menutis bought the ARCO building and began exploring different possibilities. Soon, she had teamed up with Abigail Ransonet of Abacus Data Exchange with the idea of creating the Travis Technology Center. Wired entirely with fiber, the center began recruiting businesses with newly renovated offices along with deals on cost-effective broadband and phone service from Abacus.

"Within 12 months we had the building 100 percent occupied," Ransonet says, "and we've had a waiting list ever since."

Today, the building, constructed specifically for ARCO with the 1950s development of the Oil Center, hardly resembles its old self.

Twenty-eight tenants - ranging from the likes of the Women's Business Center to Forward Link commercial wireless integration to McMoRan Exploration Co. to The Acadiana Regional Development District - rent offices in the 40,000 square foot space.

Jo Burgoon, Executive Concierge of the
Travis Technology Center, with Abigail Ransonet of Abacus.

A central multimedia studio, replete with touch screen monitors and a video green screen, is also a gathering spot of sorts for young programmers, software developers and engineers, hosting meetings for IT networking groups like Adobe User's Group, Lafayette Dev Net and Lafayette Net Squared.

Visitors to Abacus' suite enter a dimly lit front room, where a leather massage chair and an array of lava lamps provide a respite from the work day. Inside the main office, which has maintained the bright retro orange carpeting of previous tenants, monitors display the broadband use of all Abacus clients.

Cox, AT&T and LUS Fiber, through Abacus, are all wired into the building, offering broadband telecommunications to different tenants. Abacus Data Exchange is one of 11 wholesale buyers of LUS Fiber that first began selling direct fiber connectivity to businesses of the LUS network, along with other IT services. Ransonet is quick to give credit for her success back to LUS' visionary fiber project. When LUS completes its build-out of a citywide fiber network , Lafayette homes and businesses will have some of the highest broadband speeds and capabilities in the nation. (Ransonet worked as a consultant for LUS Fiber prior to starting Abacus in 2005).

"This is all a direct outgrowth," Ransonet says. "It's a business development project that has proved successful. We rent space. We pay for utilities. We pay for broadband. We hire developers and programmers and engineers, and we spend our money here. None of this would exist if not for the LUS broadband project."

The Travis Technology Center has managed to attract a broad range of tenants, including young entrepreneurs Ransonet and Menutis hope will continue to build Lafayette's IT community. For Ransonet, both Abacus Data Exchange and the Travis Technology Center are a testament to how expanding broadband capabilities are creating new opportunities and optimum environments for businesses.

"I just wanted to be ready for what was possible," Ransonet says. "And if I had that, then I could be ready for whatever's coming. And for me it's all about economic development; part of me wanted to just prove to other business people that you can build a business on true broadband, you can build a solution. I mean mine's just one of many that's going to be up and coming. I just happened to be ahead of the curve and could do it."

The LUS Fiber network and Lafayette's blooming broadband infrastructure are generating much excitement among local public officials and those in the tech industry. At his annual State of the Parish Address in February, City-Parish President Joey Durel hit on the benefits of fiber early and often. "Lafayette is setting out to be nothing less than ground zero for the development of the next generation of the Internet," Durel exclaimed. "We're now getting hooked up to the fastest broadband network in the country. I'm committed to seeing Lafayette build on what's already great about our city and our parish, by us becoming a leader in driving fiber-powered 21st century innovation."

Twenty-eight businesses lease space in the
Travis Technology Center; more are on the waiting list

Industry leaders are taking notice. This month, Durel was one of the panelists at America's Digital Inclusion Summit in Washington, D.C., put on by the Federal Communications Commission and James L. Knight Foundation. He was invited back to the nation's capital last week, along with LUS Director Terry Huval, to participate in a series of discussions on national broadband developments at Google's D.C. office.

Lafayette's world-class broadband infrastructure also is becoming a common refrain at the Lafayette Economic Development Authority. LEDA recently created two new positions that will focus on pursuing companies in digital media fields. LEDA also is partnering with Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise for a technology business accelerator program to incubate new companies and help recruit existing businesses to the area.

Bryan Fuselier, Senior Systems Administrator at Abacus.

LEDA President Gregg Gothreaux says how far these initiatives go will be largely influenced by the local community. "When we built LITE," he says, "when the state built the Louisiana Optical Network Initiative, when the community decided to build fiber to the premises, a challenge was issued. These were steps taken by the community in a unified challenge to the entrepreneurs and the business people of this community to take advantage of these resources. It is no different than the development of the Oil Center, the starting of our university, and the original founding of LUS in our community over 100 years ago in that it will only be as great as the entrepreneurial ability of our community."

LEDA also has been involved with planning a series of CampFiber events that will seek to engage the community on ways Lafayette can build on its fiber infrastructure, as well as a FiberFete conference at the end of April that is drawing in public officials and business leaders from around the globe.

David Isenberg, a nationally respected telecom consultant who has been working with LUS Fiber, is one of the organizers of FiberFĂȘte who sees big potential in Lafayette. "Having the LUS Fiber network is going to make Lafayette one of the most wired cities in the world," he says. "There's no disputing that. When it's fully built out and it passes every home in town and it makes affordable broadband available to just about everyone, that will put Lafayette in an extremely favored position."

Mike Bass, IT Supervisor for the Lafayette Parish Clerk of Court

Isenberg likens fiber to the home to the advent of electricity a century ago. "Because electricity could come to every home in a city," he says, "new, amazing things could happen. We believe the same is true for broadband."

Mike Bass, the IT supervisor for the Lafayette Parish Clerk of Court, is one of the co-organizers of Lafayette Net Squared, a networking organization formed to foster Lafayette's tech community. Bass also believes Lafayette's digital media and IT industries stand poised to make great leaps forward because of citywide fiber.

"What makes it exciting now," he says, "is we're one of the few, so we can kind of get out there and say, Hey, look at us, look what we're doing. Right now, there's that excitement that we could kind of be a trendsetter."

With the infrastructure in place, Bass hopes to soon see a few entrepreneurial success stories to help light the way to further innovation.

"If everybody in Lafayette has this broadband straight to the house," he says, "what sort of businesses could you create? What kind of services could you create? Right now we're just thinking of all those sorts of things. Nobody's building them yet. If just a couple of people would start building these companies and these services, I think it would snowball."