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.

Chris Crawford Was Awesome

Update 2: A memorial for Chris will be held, Monday, April 11, 5-7 PM at the Arkley Center.

Update: Nice article today in the Times-Standard by Donna Tam.

I was deeply saddened when I learned Chris Crawford died this weekend. I knew he had been suffering from cancer that was only recently diagnosed and the prognosis was not good. Still, the news was shocking.

Chris was a friend and colleague. We worked together primarily through the Redwood Technology Consortium. He, along with Rene Agredano and Jim Nelson helped revive the organization when it had lost some of its drive. They led the charge to finally get the (still) only fiber line completed when Pac Bell and CalTrans were at a standstill. After Chris left the board of RTC he continued to promote the best uses of technology by writing for and managing the Tech Beat series that appears in the Times-Standard and other local publications each week. I think I was the last one to submit an arChris Crawfordticle to Chris before he withdrew from that service to focus on his health.

in addition to working with RTC, Chris was a big booster of the Eureka Chamber of Commerce, served on the board there and did a stint as Board President. In his own business he traveled all over trying to improve the efficiency of court systems primarily through the best uses of technology.

Chris loved this community and was passionate about developing the economy and furthering the technology infrastructure of the region. He was one of the most eloquent off the cuff speakers I knew. And he loved to speak his mind.

When I briefly worked as a realtor I was fortunate to sell Elaine and Chris their house on Humboldt Hill. And then enjoyed many great parties there. Talk about a mix of people! Chris was gregarious, poured good drink, and laughed loudly.

He will be sorely missed. Goodbye, buddy…

Broadband and the Stimulus Funds

Update (6/9/09): Access Humboldt recorded the event and the video is online.

Today the RTC sponsored a luncheon that was intended to elucidate the confusing information surrounding the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), how it might affect our region and specifically the prospects of improved broadband deployment. The room at the Red Lion was full of movers and shakers in economic development and Internet access interests.

Before the main attraction, though, we were treated to Nick Roney who won the annual  Don Wolski Memorial Scholarhip award. Nick read, and spontaneously augmented, his winning essay about online games and how they might extend in to useful purposes using their developed technologies and the players’ skills. His essay will appear as part of RTC’s ongoing Tech Beat articles in the Times-Standard. We also honored Chris Crawford for his hard work for RTC and especially the volunteer hours he continues to contribute to keeping the Tech Beat articles running with fresh content.

The main program featured Michael Kraft, Sean McLoughlin and Connie Stewart who each tried to provide a perspective on ARRA and how it will affect our region.

Michael, Executive Director of the North Coast Small  Business Development Center, provided a general look at how small businesses could take advantage of the funds. As the money will largely be delivered to government and non-profit agencies, small businesses will mostly benefit from a kind of trickle down affect wherein they may experience increased business from projects that will require contractors to actually do the work, and, of course, from the result of any large projects generating increased economic activity. However, a loan program that will be administered by the Small  Business Administration (SBA) will offer low cost loans of up to $35,000 to businesses that would otherwise be healthy if not for the recession itself. It’s unclear to me how a business might qualify for this niche loan, but if you feel you might, I would contact the SBA as the program will be available as early as June 15th.

The heart of the program dealt with broadband projects that are being developed to take advantage of ARRA and other stimulus funds. There’s been some controversy over who, what and how proposals are being developed to access the funds. However, it’s increasingly clear that there is no formal group attempting to muscle out others to gain an advantage with the Federal Government. There are, however, individuals who have a vision of widespread deployment of multiple fiber routes creating a robust, redundant and open system for the region.

Among the issues appear to be: 1) How to streamline policies and permitting across multiple regions and agencies in order to make proects feasible within budgets and timelines directed by the stimulus funds; 2) While ARRA funds offer to cover a large percentage of the cost of building mulitple fiber, the region will have to come up with ongoing management and maintnenance costs (how this will happen is unclear and will probably result in many individual solutions depending on the specific project; 3) Policy issues of open access and open competition for last mile deployment of services must be addressed; 4) Ongoing ownership of networks, which is related to the latter is completely unknown, but most systems will probably result in some public/private partnerships; 5) These and many other issues still have yet to be worked out,  yet they need to be in some degree, in a short amount of time, in order to even apply for the funds.

One effort is attempting to pull together several counties in order to create a regional application that would have a good chance of being awarded is using a model that created a regional plan for managing water resources. This model would create a Memo of Understanding between the four counties of Humboldt, Trinity, Del Norte and Mendocino that would become the formal agency (is agency the correct word?) to submit an application for funds to build these multiple fiber lines.

I am aware that other groups (private organizations, local tribes) are also putting forth their own plans. Some may agree to partner with this regional proposal, others will probably go forward with their independent proposals.

If all of this sounds confusing, it is. In fact, while people are trying to figure out the best possible solutions, the rules for applying have not even been solidified by the Federal Government. To add to the confusion, the State of California has its own evolving agenda and will try to influence both local proposals and how the Federal Government decides what proposals should be accepted. All this while California’s budget remains in crisis mode.

These notes are my interpretation of what’s going on and are not necessarily intended to be definitive, nor comprehensive. Even though I am a board member of RTC, I am not writing on their behalf. There is much more I have left out of this report. Feel free to add your own take in the comments.

First Annual Tech Conference in Eureka

The Redwood Technology Conference will hold its first annual North Coast Technology Conference on March 14 at the Humboldt Bay Aquatic Center in Eureka. RTC board member Daria Topousis has a Tech Beat article in the Times-Standard today that covers the Conference pretty well.

I’m doing a presentation on open source content management systems and tools like Joomla, WordPress and Drupal. I will focus mostly on Drupal as I will have just returned for Drupalcon in Washingtion, D.C. and my head will be filled with all the possibilities this system holds.

The RTC web site has more information and registration for the Tech Conference.

Are You Tired of Broadband Talk Yet?

The RTC luncheon on Monday was a great success. Erin Tracy from the Times-Standard did a good recap, and Ryan Burns from the Northcoast Journal has provided some nice personal details to fill out some of the atmospherics, including a little showdown between Mwichale Brinskele, CEO of Broadband Associates and Mike Ireton, owner of a wireless internet service provider (WISP) basee in Willits.

Neither reporter addressed a couple issues I’d like to bring up.

We had a good turn out that included the 2 newest members of the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors, Mark Lovelace and Clif Clendenen. What happened to the other 3? Broadband issues are vital to the regional economy and safety of the region. Are the other Supes not interested?

The financial viability of the Broadband Associates project has brought up, although not directly at the luncheon. One of the stumbling blocks for the much ballyhooed IP Networks fiber project that was supposed use the Highway 36 route has been the reluctance of major tenants such as Suddenlink, CENIC or even AT&T to sign on to use the line. So I asked Marie Bianco from Broadband Associates how dependent their plan is on getting thes major incumbent ISPs to commit to using their new line. She assured me that they have business cases that work with or without their commitment upfront. But it’s hard to imagine an $18 million fiber line being supported by a few hundred, or even a few thousand wireless subscribers. So, it seems that they must believe once they begin to complete sections of the line, once they start to light up fiber, these major players will be ready to sign up. But that’s a big gamble their investors have to be willing to take.

On the other hand, from what I hear the IP Networks line is still in the works. And there may be others trying to bring service to our area. If so, why? What is the true market value of broadband demand in our area?

I just hope one of them succeeds.