Lafayette is building the fastest community intranet in the world. ultoday.com interviews LUS Director and UL alumnus Terry Huval, the engineer behind Lafayette's bid for world-wide leadership in Internet connectivity.

Theoretically, home Internet speeds vary from 0.0024 to 30Mb/sec. In reality, the US lags far behind the rest of the developed world (and even many developing countries) in Internet speed; it is unusual for a home broadband user to enjoy greater that 8Mb/sec, and the average home has access speeds below 5Mb/sec.

In opposition to the rest of the United States, however, the city-owned Lafayette Utilities System is launching what is believed will be the most advanced fiber-optic community intranet in the world. Transmission speeds among LUS subscribers will reach 100Mb/sec. In the future, LUS is expected to dramatically increase even that extraordinary speed, to perhaps 1,000Mb/sec or more.

The man leading this effort is Terry Huval, a Breaux Bridge product, and UL Engineering graduate. But that is only Huval's daytime hat; at night, he is a Cajun fiddler, guitarist and vocalist. In 1995 the Cajun French Music Association named him "Fiddler of the Year," and in 1993, named his work "Best Recording with a Fiddle."  In 2007, he, D.L. Menard and The Jambalaya Cajun Band performed at the National Folk Festival.

ultoday.com spoke with him recently.


Tell us about yourself.

I have the good fortune of being the Director of Utilities in Lafayette, a position I've had for the past 14 years.  I have been in the utilities business ever since I graduated from UL.

It's really special to be in this role, having lived in this area almost all my life. I never wanted to move away. It's special to be able to live and work with people who are looking for ways to make this place better for us, and our families.

This is my culture. Who I am is about investing myself into this area, in all the ways that I am capable of doing.

That seems to be a consistent theme among so many people here.

People who have chosen to stay here and not take advantage of what the big cities and other parts of the country have to offer, stay here because it's in their heart to stay here. They feel that they can make a contribution, and that makes staying here all worthwhile.

Tell us about your background.

I was born in Port Arthur, Texas.  My dad was one of the Cajuns who was looking for a better way of life beyond working on the farm. So he took a job with a chemical plant in Port Neches. That's where I was born, and about a year and a half later we moved back to the Breaux Bridge area, where my parents were from.

My Dad had gone back to school under the G.I. Bill. He went to the trade school, and he became an appliance repairman. He was basically a one-man shop his whole career.

I was the oldest in my family, so when I was at the ripe young age of 8 years old, my job was to work with Daddy on the appliance truck, which I did until I got out of high school.

What did that mean to you all those years, working along side your father?

It was excellent training in meeting with people, and dealing with people.

While our household was typical in that the spoken language was English, my parents both used French as their first language. So one of the important things I learned alongside my father was French, because he and all of his customers exchanged discussion in French. So that's where I really picked up my French as a child. And I got to meet a lot of interesting characters.

Daddy was very much a raconteur, he liked to visit with people, he liked to share stories, he always found a jovial side to things. I'm not as comfortable in that world as he was, but I learned a lot from him, and I've borrowed some of his techniques to lighten up the mood in my career.

There's no question Daddy and I were very close, and I was very inquisitive. After I began learning the trade, I would challenge him on different ways to do things-- challenging in a nice way, of course. We had some great discussions.

So on the technical side, I was fascinated with how machines worked: how a refrigerator worked, what the compressor did, what the evaporator did. I think it was through that exposure that I became more interested with things you could tinker with, and engineering became my field of choice when I went to UL.

I had no intention or desire to go to college when I was in school. I was two months before graduation, with the top grades in all of my classes, but I had already decided to become a refrigeration repairman like my Dad. A couple of parents of my friends really worked me over in trying to convince me to go to college. It wasn't until they brought up this concept of engineering that I became interested.

As a result, I went to UL, graduated in 1978, and worked for CLECO while I was at UL, for Gulf States Utilities after college, and with Entergy for one year after they merged with GSU. After that, then-Mayor of Lafayette Kenny Bowen offered me a job as director of LUS in 1994.

You say "French" instead of "Cajun."

When I was growing up you spoke English, or you spoke French. The concept of being Cajun was something that I didn't pick up until I was at UL. I didn't start calling myself a Cajun until then.

On the music side, as a child I always envisioned that the music that I heard here in Louisiana was the same music I would hear in France.

Lafayette is implementing what we believe will be the most advanced community intranet in the world.

In January of 2009, LUS will begin providing telecom services to our first retail customers. While the basic plan is to provide cable television, telephone, and Internet, the real purpose for that infrastructure is to set Lafayette apart in a very progressive way.  We will have the most advanced community-wide Internet system in the country. On Day 1 of providing our services, we will have 100 Mb peer-to-peer transmission that will open the gates for advanced applications to be developed and utilized by our citizens and businesses.

In addition, we will launch a digital divide product that will provide Internet accessibility in homes where there are no computers, and no Internet services today.

All of this is just the tip of the iceberg. There is much more to come, and much of those are things that I don't even envision myself. If we go back to the early days of electricity in the 1890s, I'm convinced that Thomas Edison never envisioned the microwave oven or the TV-- much less the computer. This fiber capability, this infrastructure, is in its infancy and that's why Lafayette is going to be on the front edge of that development.

You said we will be the most advanced in the US. Are there any communities with this sort of intranet that you know of anywhere in the world?

I don't know of any others. I presume that someone would have told me, but I don't know for sure.

Talk about the potential implications for the University.

The LUS fiber network has been tied into the University since about 2001, and that initial tie was to allow the University to connect its main campus with the Research Park.

The LUS fiber system is also connected with the LITE center, so basically we have seamless connectivity between UL, LUS, LITE, and other governmental institutions-- including the public school system.

What about extrinsic effects on UL?

If this advanced connectivity starts to attract entities from outside the area into our community, then UL will be a recipient of the benefits, especially if those companies are high tech enterprises.

It should also make us attractive to technology-oriented students. This will be a sort of techie playground, for trying new ideas and new technologies.

What sort of companies would want this kind of bandwidth?

I think it's a great fit for the gaming community, for advanced education, for data centers, and for any other enterprise that can thrive on big broadband connectivity.

On a different topic, you play fiddle.

I actually started playing guitar when I was young and bought my first guitar when I was 10, with money I made working for my Dad and from having won $8 by answering a question correctly on "Meet Your Neighbor." Dad did not pay very well, so it took a whole summer to get the rest of the money to buy a $20 guitar. To be fair, Dan's contention was that he also provided me room and board.

That guitar came with a little instruction book and a 45 rpm record that showed me how to tune the guitar. I had no musicians in the family, and no musicians near where I lived, so that little book and that little record taught me how to play. It wasn't much after that that I started singing and accompanying myself in English and in French. When I was 18 I bought an electric bass and learned how to play that pretty easily, because it was so similar.

And then when I was a sophomore at UL, I bought my first fiddle from Stagg's Music Shop. I brought the fiddle back the next day to tell the clerk that it didn't work, because when I rubbed the bow against the strings it would not make a sound.

She said, "Did you put rosin on the bow?"

I said, "What's that?"

And then I went back home and looked in the World Book Encyclopedia to find out how to tune it.

Learning the fiddle was very difficult. The whole approach to the instrument is completely different from guitar. I ran off two college roommates. I don't know how many times I heard the comment, "Terry put that fiddle up; you will never learn how to play it."

I went home one weekend from UL with my fiddle, and I was practicing in the living room of the house. I was practicing a song I was starting to play.  I asked my Mom, "How does it sound?"

She said, "It sounds nice. Can you play 'Jolie Blonde'?"

I told her, "I just played it."

Eventually I unlocked the combination, I found the keys to unlock the secrets to playing.

Photograph of Terry Huval on fiddle courtesy of David Simpson, LSUE.