Background Perspective on Community Empowerment


I thought that I would give you insight into why and how I got into this endeavor, and why I believe cooperatives are a fundamental necessity to community empowerment through broadband endeavors.

My career background commenced with a degree in mathematics and computer science and working for Control Data in the 70s on their mainframes.  It was Control Data that introduced me to communications and the ARPANet, the forerunner to the Internet.  Since then I’ve worked for a number of major corporations such as Storage Technology, Memorex, Paradyne, etc.  In 1993 I decided to venture out on my own and contracted my expertise.  Several years ago I was asked to investigate under Canada’s BRAND (Broadband for Regional And Northern Development) initiative communications for some of the First Nations on Vancouver Island, British Columbia.  I had the privilege of visiting many remote communities, many only accessible by helicopter, seaplane or boat.  It quickly became apparent to me that broadband connectivity wasn’t really the issue.  The issue was not only in preserving native culture and language, but ensuring self sustainability.  Consequently, I investigated alternative solutions to empower the region with their own resources with technology.  Clearly what I use to call timesharing, which is now referred to as cloud computing, would not work as satellite backhaul was too expensive, and the only other backhaul to the region was quite often wiped out by logging trucks, avalanches and severe storms.   So I looked to server technology being placed within the region to form a community media center with radio broadcast capability and a wireless network to do all the local hosting, e-mail, voice, etc., and thereby mitigate backhaul reliance through a sophisticated caching server. 

Interesting enough in the course of my investigations, I determined that 80% of communications were within the region so this further substantiated my solution.  In addition, I discovered another interesting aspect in working with the First Nations and that was when you are born into a tribe and become of age you have a vote for the band’s council.  This is similar to a cooperative, one person, one vote.  In addition, several of the enterprises in the region were owned and controlled by the native council with minority equity share offerings to facilitate acquiring resources and incentivizing expertise not available in the region.  A cooperative model began unfolding to me as a solution to community empowerment, basically a tribal model using the cooperative philosophy.  The venture never went much further as we never got the BRAND funding necessary to realize the business plan.  I suspect that this was in part due to the solution contravening the incumbent ILEC’s perspective in that everything should be switched and hosted on their premises hundreds of miles away.  This was substantiated some years later when I was informed that the solution proposed was deemed “disruptive technology” by the incumbent ILEC’s board of directors because it contravened their legacy systems and approach.

Well, after almost two decades I’m still promoting the same solution.  As I mention elsewhere, if DaaS (Distribution as a Solution) were embraced by corporations through cloud dispersion technology, that is, having cloud technology and applications within a community, the benefits would be overwhelming for everyone. 

With respect to the company behind this, several years ago a friend asked me for business assistance with his company, Virtual Networking Services Inc., a community WISP, that is, Wireless Internet Service Provider.  He wanted me to bring in our solution and the corresponding wireless networking and back office technology that I was involved with into Maple Valley, Washington, in order to empower the community more.  John and I had known each other through mutual interests, wireless communications, and asked me to give a presentation to his customer, the City of Maple Valley, on wireless communications in 2003.  When he subsequently asked my fourteen year-old computer enamored son to work with him and his business partner one summer we became the best of friends whether John liked it or not. 

When John asked for assistance he had been diagnosed with cancer for the third time, this time renal cancer, and he told me that he had two years to live and that was late in 2006.  This began a story second to none and quite worthy of book and movie rights, at least a separate blog.  What really was needed was far more than business assistance, as his mother who was suffering from dementia lived in a rambler up behind John’s home from which he ran his business. 

John’s life had not been easy despite being gifted with an extraordinary technical capability.   A few years earlier, Washington State put an expressway through which disrupted the business to the extent that John sued and was awarded something like $75,000.  The State appealed and won leaving John with legal expenses and substantial out-of-pocket expenses and business losses.  If that wasn’t enough, King County went after John for having an RV business for which the area was not zoned despite being next to an expressway and across from a hydro substation.  The RVs were still there when John asked for my assistance.  I went before King County council regarding the duress that they had not only put John under, but his mother as well who was so frightfully worried for her son that it seemingly aggravated the dementia.  It was to no avail, so it was up to us to look at other ways to use the property, another story here as well.

John liked to verbally joust, and it was always in great spirit and fun, and a much-needed distraction from his health.  He was an avid reader belonging to two book clubs and was never without a novel in hand.  He was intimidating, not only because of his knowledge and ability to pick up things readily, but also because he stood 6’4″ and went 350 lbs.  He knew just about everything and anything, and he would gladly debate on a whim.  Most times I was able to stand my ground against him, mostly due to the fact that I chose my battles carefully, and he would take as much delight and pleasure in losing as winning.  Losing to him was a learning experience, as it should be.

There was an instance, actually several, but one in particular was in regard to a fridge that John was having installed, as his deluxe fridge had died on him.  Well, John bought the best that he could as he enjoyed food and cooking despite being a diabetic.  I never thought that you could spend $8,000 on a fridge before.  Anyway, the fridge was to be installed on a Saturday and about 10:00am in the morning I got a call from John to come over right away before he got into a fight with the delivery people.  At the time we lived in Fairwood about 10 minutes away, so I rushed over.  Sure enough when I got there and entered through the back door to the kitchen John was standing in the doorway from the hallway fuming, with two delivery men just about as agitated.  I suggested to John that he go to his office and that I would take care of everything.  Well, it took a few minutes to settle the workers down to the point where they were willing to finish the installation.  Apparently John was trying to tell them what and how to do it.  When they finally installed the fridge they tested the water supply dispenser on the front of the fridge and told me that it was hot water coming in.  Knowing that John had acted as general contractor for his home, I pretty much guessed what had happened.  I told the installers that I would take care of it and they left.  When John reappeared I asked him, ” by any chance did you piss off the plumber when he did your house”.  John said, “yes, why?”.  When I told him about the hot water he just laughed.  I arranged for the plumbing to be changed.

Gratefully we have an extended family but I digress; but there is so much to relate for the benefit of many.  Anyway, the company Virtual Networking Services Inc., formerly a WISP, is now an integrator having acquired the intellectual property, me, of Cardinal Technology Inc..  The transition has been needlessly an inordinately difficult one, and consequently a separate, costly and painfully educating story in itself, rivaling any soap opera.  The company is basically the sponsor for this website and the test bed for technology as well as the methodology, the Community Development Cooperative, hence the “Donate” button as suggested by a reader.

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