Redwood Technology Consortium Report

Disclaimer: I am a long time member of RTC, past board member and past president of the board. And I do believe in its mission.

RTC LogoOn March 8th, the RTC had a “membership” meeting. That is, they invited members. But really, anyone interested who is on the public RTC mailing list or is a friend of the RTC page on Facebook received the invitation, to a meeting to talk about the future of RTC. There are currently 5  board members. All but one (who was out of town on a family emergency) attended. Of the rest of the 12 or so attendees, most were old timers like myself.

The board expressed its interest in reviving RTC to make it more relevant and to be more responsive to its members and the community at large. These are laudable goals, but they are the same ones the board has been expressing for years. And the question always arises, has RTC outlived its original purpose? The low attendance numbers at the meeting could itself be an indicator. But maybe, just maybe it was due to poor timing, publicity, etc. But again, maybe that’s indicative of the state of RTC. The once thriving mailing list seems to be moribund. There have been precious few interesting messages disseminated through the list the last several months.

Additionally, I have seen no report on the meeting or the results of a survey RTC circulated earlier on the use of social media. Why not? It could be the board is simply overwhelmed by their own work or personal projects and can’t find the time or energy to provide this information in a timely manner. But they do have a paid administrative assistant who should be able to write a little something.

Some good ideas and energy came out of the meeting in spite of the low attendance. The 2 biggest ideas that were discussed were:

1 The Humboldt Internet Marketing Group joining RTC as a sub-group and encouraging cross membership, marketing support and energy. This appears to be moving forward and some information will appear on the HIMG website soon.

2 Patrick Moon presented the concept of reviving the Tech Expo in a smaller somewhat modified form. It’s unclear to me from the meeting what the relationship between the ad hoc group planning a Tech Expo in the Fall and RTC. However there seemed to be a good deal of enthusiasm for some form of collaboration.

3 RTC plans to revive more frequent, less formal meetings that were its staple years ago. They brought people together to talk face to face about what technologies they were involved in and share exciting developments, questions and issues. They will continue hosting luncheons and other events but these member meetings may help generate more of a feeling of connectedness with the tech and business community at large.

I don’t know if these and other, smaller ideas that were discussed will be enough to make RTC relevant again. As always, it depends on the execution. It’s already April and there have been no meetings, and no luncheons (although one is scheduled for April 6).

I can’t help feeling that the illness and sudden death of Chris Crawford, who managed the Tech Beat series of articles that RTC is responsible for hasn’t also dampened the spirits of the group. Indeed, there have been no Tech Beats for several weeks. This further reduces the visibility and stature of RTC in the community. I hope the Tech Beat series is revived soon.

The current members of the board are extremely bright, very tech savvy and have a lot of energy. So, the talent is there to make RTC meaningful again. I wish them well and will help where I can.

Usage Monitoring – Coincidence? I Think Not

Amazon's Instant VideoYesterday, 2 days after I started trying Amazon’s new free video streaming service for Prime subscribers I got a letter from my Internet Service Provider (Suddenlink) telling me about their usage monitoring service. Coincidence? I think not. Fortunately, I’m still in the “normal” range. But also, fortunately, Suddenlink doesn’t have a cap on bandwidth usage. I don’t know how long this will last as video consumption over the Internet is only going to increase. For now, the monitoring service might let you know that someone may be stealing service or a virus may have hijacked a computer on my network and is using the account to do hellish things on the interwebs.

BTW, I am really liking the “free” movie streaming from Amazon. Works really well. Maybe Suddenlink ought to provide an optional email notification when certain usage levels are hit.

Local Broadband News Summary

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything, let alone something about local broadband news. What can I say, I’ve been busy! Most stuff goes on Twitter these days because it’s fast. But there’s been plenty of broadband news and discussion lately, so I thought I’d gather some of that stuff together here. I’m sure I’ve missed things. Feel free to add to the information in the comments.

The Humboldt County General Plan Update continues it’s long and torturous process toward completion. The Planning Commissions will (I hope), be addressing a the new Telecommunications Element (soon to be changed to the Communications Element?)  at next week’s meeting on the 29th. The proposed document is worth a review if you have any interest in how the County might frame communications policies for the next 20 years. Folks from the Redwood Technology Consortium, Access Humboldt and the California Center for Rural Policy have been reviewing the document and are submitting written and oral comment. Access Humboldt has posted the most recent meeting where people gave oral support for the new element. Comments relative to the Communications Element begin around 1 hour and 11 minutes in to the video.

The highly hyped Highway 299 fiber build proposed by Broadband Associates a year or so ago has gone nowhere. As a result the grant from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) that was supposed to help fund the project has been withdrawn, making the money available for other projects. According to Humboldt County Supervisor Mark Lovelace (see the video from RTC’s June 10th luncheon), there are players ready to take up the project and that the 299 corridor fiber build has a lot of support at the state level.

In the meantime a proposal from Redwood Telephone, a company formed through a coalition of local tribes has been tentatively approved pending a comment period and a final decision scheduled for August 12. This is an interesting proposal and it’s well worth looking at as it seems to have the ambition of providing broadband to much of the region, including unserved and underserved areas and even regions already covered by the incumbent ISPs such as AT&T and Suddenlink. It’s not clear to me how this will work. Would appreciate some input in the comments.

Meanwhile the proposed middle mile fiber build along Highway 36 by IP Networks appears to be moving forward at least as far as planning, rights of way, contractual agreements and funding (some of which is also coming from CASF). According to a newsletter put out by the Redwood Regional Economic Development Commission (RREDC), “The fiber optic project is scheduled for completion by the summer of 2011.” Apparently 101 Netlink is involved in providing some local wireless service feeds off this fiber line along that sparsely populated corridor. That’s a good thing. But it’s unclear if this fiber line will provide any blanket redundancy for our region.

We’re still waiting to hear if our regional proposal to Google’s Community Fiber program will go anywhere.

Finally, I have heard an unconfirmed rumor that Charter Communications that services Del Norte County and parts of Southern Oregon with cable and Internet is in talks with Suddenlink to purchase their Humboldt County system. If it does, the story goes, Charter would build another fiber line running north-south along 101 to connect it’s fiber in the north to AT&T’s line here.

I have no idea how any of these plans and projects will play out and whether any of them will lead to more stable service, higher speeds, more coverage, or lower cost for consumers. But one can hope.

Broadband Stimulus Funds Round 2

The Federal government is continuing to announce awards from the USDA (just one in California and it’s not for our region) and the Dept. of Commerce (nothing for California) for the first round of broadband stimulus funds.

Now the second round of the application process is gearing up. They will be holding workshops around the country and providing live Webinars (one from Portland is going on this morning).

FCC Looks at Barely Adequate Speeds for Rural Broadband

According to this Wall Street Journal blog post, the FCC is considering setting an average speed of 2-4 mbs for it plans for improved broadband coverage plan that will be released soon. While this is a much better target than the previous 200 kbs figure the FCC had previously defined as broadband, it still seems terribly shortsighted and will leave us continually trying to play catch up with the rest of the developed world.

Of course, deploying higher speeds will be more expensive, but here is the key sentence in this article:

Providing universal broadband access at 3 mbps would cost about $20 billion, the FCC estimates. The price tag for 50 mbps service across the U.S. would cost more than $50 billion.

That means for an increase of 2.5 times the cost we would get more than 15 times the speed! And while 3 mbps might be adequate for most users today, if you are building an infrastructure for the future 50 mpbs may not even a high enough target. Let’s make a real investment in the future and get a robust data delivery system. Given what the short life of the Internet has already unleashed, there is just no telling what fantastic new products and services will arise from all corners of the country. Even the rural ones.

Fast Internet for All Slows to Crawl

Yesterday was declared the birthday of the Internet. It’s  been an amazing 40 years. And the next 40 years will be even more amazing as the developments are accelerating. But one of the roadblocks to this future online world is our inadequate infrastructure – the too thin, too fragile tubes that are supposed to carry the rising flood of data.

The 7 billion or so dollars the Federal government is supposed to pass out for broadband infrastructure improvements, particularly for rural and underserved areas holds a lot of promise. But the distribution of those funds for real projects is hellishly slow and fraught with confusion.

For example, the first announced stimulus money is going to several states to undertake studies to map where broadband is deployed and where it isn’t. More studies? Don’t we already know where better broadband service is needed?fiber_optic

Now we learn that the current round of proposals that were supposed to be announced in early November won’t be announced until December. Given the number of questions raised by Congress there may be further delays while those questions and issues get sorted out. What constitutes “remote” for example:

Rockefeller echoed concerns expressed in the House about the definition of remote, which is currently defined as at least 50 miles from an urban area.

Adelstein said there is a growing consensus that the 50 miles might have been the wrong figure, and that there were other ways to define remote, like population density or income.

Rockefeller pushed the issue, asking whether that change would be made. “There is really no excuse for us not doing that,” he said. Subcommittee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) also has problems with the current definition. He asked for more specficis.

Adelstein said everything is on the table in what will be a top-to-bottom review of how to better define remote, but at the same time not make the definition too complicated. “We’ll help you,” said Kerry.

Pretty crucial.

In the meantime, locally,  several proposals have been submitted and are waiting to learn if they will receive funding. Apparently, there is a short list but I have not found any information on which projects, if any, are on that list. Among the original proposals is one by Broadband Associates to build fiber along 299 with local access points along the way.

A competing proposal by IP Networks along Highway 36 that would not be providing local access. The latter project has a application before the California Public Utilities Commission’s California Advanced Services Fund (CASF). (Download the PDF for this grant application) Several local entities including the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors and Assemblymember Wesley Chesbro have sent letters of support to CASF for this project.

But others in the region are concerned that if the IP Networks project is funded either by California or the Federal Government, it will preclude funding for any other projects such as Broadband Associate’s 299 fiber build. This confusion and lack of unity as to what’s best for the region suggests a need for creating a region-wide telecommunications committee that would be able to address the region as a whole and provide planning and guidance in a coordinated way. There has been some discussion over creating such an entity, but nothing formal has emerged. It would be a shame if we started working at cross purposes instead of making wise choices that benefit the most people now and in to the future.