Report on the February 3, 2005 Workshop

Why, When and Who

On February 3, 2005 we held our first(?) broadband workshop at the Wynndel Community Hall. This event was sponsored by BC3. How this came about is a somewhat interesting story. I've been highly critical of the BC3 group and was surprised when I got a rather large PDF file in my mailbox from them announcing a second round of workshops. I called their office, not to get a workshop, but to question the intelligence of sending out questionnaires (the PDF) in the form they did. And to ask if they'd considered the fact that the large files they were sending out, were going to people with slow, dialup connections. Honestly, they never did understand my point ... but, they really, really did think that a workshop in Wynndel would be wonderful. So, we booked it.

The next issue was setting up an agenda, venue, etc. Again, we in the rural hinterland are faced with big-city centric folks who really think that everything should be directed from their office. I could go on, but my life is not forever.

The attendance at the workshop was a little less than I'd hoped for. But, for what we lacked in numbers, we really did make up for that in quality: Menno Pauls (Wynndel), Keith Brookfield (Wynndel), Bob Carter (Crawford Bay), Bob van der Poel (Wynndel), Gordon Rodney (Wynndel), Peter McLennan (Lister), Hans Garritsen (Wynndel), Hugh Grant (Wynndel), Mike Corcoran (Wynndel), Peter Fulcher (Rossland, Networking Guru), Travis Neel (Assistant Workshop Leader), Mary Holmes (Workshop Leader). I know that RDCK directors John Kettle, Verna Myers-Mckenize and Tom Mann did their best to get some interest up, but were unsuccessful.

Provincial Government representation was invited:

John Webb: It would be nice to come up for the workshop but we are in the middle of trying to get a better deal from Telus and have to be close to the office for the next couple of weeks.
And our MLA, Blair Sufferdine, did drop by. But, he did so on the wrong day ... so he missed it all.

The workshop was facilitated by Mary Holmes and Travis Neel. They did an adequate job of getting us all to participate and to get a large number of issues on the table. I'd spent a lot of time getting an agenda prepared, and as so often happens in these situations, it was largely ignored. However, we did address a large number of issues and raise even more questions. In the following paragraphs I'll do my best to review them and to add additional information I've received since the workshop from John Webb at NetworkBC.

Disclaimer and Thanks

Remember, please, that I'm not acting in any official capacity here. I'm just a self-annointed, annoying person who wants broadband. This document is my unofficial view. If you want the official version, go ask BC3.

The ladies from the Wynndel Community Club did a wonderful job in making sure we had lots of coffee, juice and a very nice lunch. Good job, and many thanks.

The folks at BC3 paid for the facilitators to come out, the hall rent, and the food and coffee. Thanks.

All the volunteers who attended and gave up a day of their lives. I thank you for participating in the future of your community.

What is Broadband

We spoke a lot about "broadband" without, I believe, really understanding just what that is. Certainly one view is that it is always on and faster than dialup. The government position:

John Webb: The Premier's Technology Council used the national broadband taskforce's definition of symmetrical 1.544mps per user. However that is way better than current cable modem or ADSL service and we are certainly allowing that as broadband. So pragmatically there is no definition.

We'll come back to this issue later, but remember we are talking about putting an unknown number of users on a 1.5 mps T1 line. I think I'm missing part of the logic already.

Another issue here is price. We've done a number of spreadsheets and we really think that even with some grants we're probably looking in the area of needing about $500.00 upfront and $50 to $60 per month. The more grant money we can find, the lower the cost. These are very "guesstimate" numbers, but probably close. I have no idea how we can offer the following:

John Webb: I have been telling wireless providers who suggest that they should be considered as providing affordable broadband in communities that they should be providing at least 1mps and the service should cost no more than around $40 a month.

Government and Telus Pipes

We spent a fair bit of time talking about the bandwidth we may or may not need. Frankly, I'm more confused than ever on this.

When I talk to people I know and suggest that we're going to run a community ISP on a T1 line they usually giggle a bit, smile, pat my head and then say something like "well, yes, that should work." At the workshop our experts suggested that with proper bandwidth management we could expect 20 to 50 users to be somewhat content sharing the T1. Again, the official response:

John Webb: 100 customers should get a very good level of service from that. I am not an engineer but traffic is sent in burst of packets and they are not continuous. The pipe can sustain speeds of 1mps for as many as 100 users if there are no bandwidth hogs out there using bandwidth that does require continuous connections like downloading music and video through peer to peer services. Arvo Koppel of the Peace River Internet Society operates wireless systems in at least 6 communities and he uses bandwidth shaping software to manage this problem - if the peer to peer users start dragging the network down it turns down their connectivity. In the middle of the night when there is not as much demand it can go up again.
So, if you want to really get the most out of our newage system we'll have to use it in shifts. I really look forward to setting up automatic software to download my files in the middle of the night. Good thing my history on all this goes back far enough to remember punch cards and batch processing.

A few other issues to think about: static websites (which can be cached) are becoming rather "old fashioned"; streaming music is a constant, not burst; VoIP and VOD can't be cached. The future of the net is in streaming, not caching.

But, the good folks at the government are working hard to help us. They understand the problem.

John Webb asked Arvo Koppel of the Peace Region Internet Society for some comments on the bandwidth issue. According to him, 100 people on a T1 should not be a problem.

Arvo Koppel: John is right when he said that I claimed that you can easily put 100 people on a T-1, because of the bursty nature of broadband traffic. That would meet all business-needs . However, if you are building for the entire community, AND if there are competitive services, you will have to fill WANTS, rather than NEEDS, and in that area, we are finding that more and more people are demanding bandwidth so that they need not worry about people from Denmark, Botswana, Latvia, and Chicago uploading movies from their machines. This changes the picture, and to meet these silly WANTS, you can NEVER have enough bandwidth. (nor afford it). You will never completely get away from having to exercise some control over bandwidth.

Arvo's emphasis in all this is that we need proper bandwidth management resources. I'm sure that this will all work. But, please be aware that increased management means more work for whoever is running all this. And on-going costs for a small system add significant per user costs. This is not a minor issue!

I also disagree with Arvo's differentation between WANTS and NEEDS. If we follow his logic though, then we probably don't need broadband at all. Take out "flash" movie introductions from webpages, can interactive entertainment, etc. and everyone should be pretty happy with 56K dialup. So, what's the point?

John Webb :All of that being said I am hopeful that our current negotiations with Telus will render these EB1s obsolete. Keep going with that we can morph it into the new (and improved) model when it comes along.
Okay. I believe that.

One suggestion made at the meeting was that we don't have to get our bandwidth from the government T1 (I know that they call it an EB1, but there is no such thing and it really is a T1). According to Peter Fulcher, we should be about to get things like a "managed ADSL" or "business class" connection in Creston with 3 to 8 mps throughput in the range of $100.00 to $400.00 per month. Note that this is 2 to 4 times the throughput for a fraction of the price (the T1 will cost over $900.00 per month). The idea here is to route the traffic from Wynndel to Creston via a radio tower link. I put this to the government:

John Webb: I don't know what he is talking about. It may be possible to purchase a high speed circuit back to Creston for $1000 a month but it would be just to Creston and there would be no Internet on the circuit, you would need a circuit to Vancouver to get that. I would forget it. Maybe Nick Moss would like to comment.

Project Scope

The topic most debated and seemly the "hot topic" of the day is: Are we going to do a small system for the Wynndel community only; or do we look at a valley solution which will serve the people in all the underserved areas in our area?

We did a bit of yelling back and forth on this. But, I think that we agreed that the bigger solution would be the preferred one. Several reasons:

With the above in mind, I again asked the government some questions. First, can we get as many of the overpriced T1 lines as we want? John Webb did not directly reply to this, but according to the government website we are entitled to only one T1 at the special price. Anything beyond that would need to be negotiated with Telus.

Even if we serve the entire Creston Valley? Well, sorry, but folks in areas like West Creston, Kitchner, etc. aren't even on the government's list. The only communities they are concerned with are those with a "library, government office or school." The official list has Wynndel, Lister (odd, maybe they don't know that the school there has been closed for 15 years?), Yak, Crawford Bay and Riondel. If you live in Boswell, or Arrow Creek or any one of a dozen other areas ... the government doesn't seem to even know that you exist.

John Webb: The communities where there are EB1s are listed on our website. The ongoing negotiations could help this along. If you did want to do something on a regional basis tell me what CMON says about it. They may want to step up and at least give you good advice.

I could comment on CMON. But, I'll leave that to the obituary writers. Really, John, don't you know that CMON has done nothing in our area expect to spend taxpayers' hard earned money?

The big picture vrs. rinky-dink system argument is further complicated by the "will Telus compete" discussion. I have been told by John Webb (only verbally, never in writing) that if we go for the T1 offering the government would get an agreement from Telus saying that they would not compete in the served area for three years. I've got some problems with that:

Lots of smoke from the government. Little substance. To me, this whole no-competition issue is a wonderful excuse for Telus to continue to do nothing in our area. And why would even consider spending heaps of money on ADSL (or wireless) they if they are making $900.00 from their existing T1 infrastructure? Hey, if I were Telus I'd promise no-competition in a heartbeat.

A further "thing to thing about" is this: If we create this beast and get the no-compitition argreement from Telus there is still nothing to prevent other competitors from entering the market. Does Shaw Cable have thoughts about extending their plant? Could a local ISP extend their networks via wireless and lower priced POPs? Lots of other possibilities. I don't know ... but I certainly would be very cautions about investing my money in a scheme without having a very good feel for this.

Big Decision

One of the issues that we really are guessing about in all this is "just how many people even want broadband?" We keep doing what we think are "good guesses", but in the end they are just that. Frankly, judging from the the long line of people not lining up at my door since I've started my new role as "Community Champion" is that the demand is a lot less that we might think. I may be wrong.

The group decided that the first thing we had to do is an initial market survey. Two volunteers were selected: Menno Pauls and Keith Brookfield are going to put together a survey form and collate the results. Since the workshop Hugh Grant has arranged for $200 in funding from the "Creston Area Economic Development Committee". Thank you Hugh!! And, RDCK Director Verna Meyers-Mackenzie has verbally agreed to free up some additional funds if the $200 doesn't cover the cost.

Our next steps will be really depend on the survey results. Join us next time. Same place, etc.

Me? Well, I'll continue to be a group member. But, don't expect too much leadership from this point on. I'm quite convinced that I'm not the person to lead this charge: I have neither the political acumen or the visceral need to win this battle. And, a battle it will be. With the less than overwhelming community response to date and the really confused messages from big brother ... need I say more? I'm on the list to get an InfoSat system ... soon as we hear the price and rollout dates.

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