I’m not sure how useful my live blogging of Broadband Forum II was to people. I notice traffic has gone up quite a bit so I guess there is interest in the notes. But I wonder if the information provided out of context would mean a great deal to most people. Still, it was fun and could provide a record, at least for me, for reference in the future. We (meaning Morse Media) also video taped the entire first day. So, an even more complete record is also available. What will become of the video record is yet unclear.

I should note that Chris Crawford has written a pretty good summary of some the topics covered by BBF II on his blog at the Times-Standard site. Chris also hands out some wonderful praise to the Redwood Technology Consortium for its role in organizing BBF II and other activities as it has grown in stature and reach. Chris, it should be noted, was instrumental in pushing RTC from a small, somewhat insulated organization talking to itself, into a force for public change and awareness while serving on the board for several years. Additionally, I would like to thank Tina Nerat and Gregg Foster, both current RTC board members for putting so much time and effort in to getting this year’s Forum off the ground.

The Issues

I can only speak to Day One of the Forum since I was unable to attend Day Two which was a morning of workshops and discussion specifically targetting groups and individuals interested in deploying wireless solutions for rural areas and municipalities. But all reports was that Day Two was well attended and lively.

I won’t go in to details of the Forum, since it’s all available by reading the posts right here in this category. Start at the bottom of the page for the earliest post.

Instead, I would like to point out a few issues that caught my attention and raised some questions:

The Cost of Redundancy

One of the surprising pieces of information that came out of the Forum and in conversations afterward is that right-of-way fees expected to be charged by CalTrans could double the cost of building a second fiber line. Since there is no statue that requires CalTrans to charge these fess, nor any clear scale on which to base the amount of the fees, this policy seems obstructionist to economic development and technological advancement. Given the tax revenue that would be generated from economic expansion in the region once the redundant line is in place, it is also counterproductive and, I would think, counter to our current Governor’s vision for the state.

The plan that was engendered at the Forum was to organize a campaign to appeal directly to the Governor and, if need be, to address the issue in the Assembly.

Regional Technology Planning

Another idea that began to coalesce and gain some momentum at the Forum was the formation of a region-wide telecommunications infrastructure planning committee. This committee would be comprised of representatives from several counties and potentially municipalities. I have written about this concept in more detail here. Such a committee would be the ideal vehicle to push for elimination or at least reduction of right-of-way fees in laying a second fiber line. While this planning committee could accomplish many things if well-organized, often an issue like this is ideal for getting an enterprise off the ground. Let’s hope we don’t lose the momentum generated at the Forum.

at&t’s Take on Redundancy

I was happy to see at&t (formerly SBC) was well represented at the Forum. Much they had to say was news to me. Most important was they did reveal they had established radio signal backup in the event the fiber line goes down for some reason. This means, in the event of an emergency all telecommunications would not be cut off. It’s unclear to me what would be carried on those radio beams. Just voice or voice and data? Anyone know?

Even they acknowledged that while the radio signal is reassuring, it’s not a complete subsititute for redundant fiber. They noted they had done their own research into the feasibility of building another line, but they, too, discovered right-of-way and other fees and complication make the project too costly to sell to the parent company.

Wireless VS Redundancy

A great deal of time was spent with two WISP (Wireless Internet Services Providers) owners, Rick Kunze of ColusaNet and Marlon Schafer of Odessa Office Equipment & Wireless. They seemed to think spending the money on redundant fiber was less important than getting broadband deployed to more people with the resources we had. Maybe this was a self-serving point of view (don’t waste your money on redundant fiber because the chances of it breaking are very small, spend the money on what we do!). I’m not sure anyone was convinced. Especially if the redundant fiber as proposed by Susan Estrada was owned by an entity other than at&t. If so, the second line would not be just redundant but also an alternate solution. As Mark Geiger, Director of Network Operations for Cox (or Cebridge or whatever they will be called) said at one point during the Forum, an alternate fiber line would mean lower prices due to competition and he would be able to pass that on to consumers. He would be able to offer other services he feels are not possible now.

So, do we really need to choose between broadband (whether through wireless or other solutions) now and redundant fiber? I don’t think so. Given the low cost of the wireless solutions I think we can and should do both. And I think both should be undertaken as soon as possible.