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The Premier and The Province

The Premier of BC and announced his commitment to having broadband available in all of rural BC. Being somewhat naive I wrote a note in Sept/2005 to Mr. Campbell. Here is a copy of my correspondence with his office. A bit of a "we're really quite wonderful people, but don't expect us to help you." And, no, there never was a response to my second message.

I've also written, via email, our then-MLA Blair Suffredine. He contacted me a number of times and did his best to help us out. But, really, he didn't accomplish much.

A few comments on governments. In case you don't know this already, I really hate them. But, I'm also smart enough to know that we need them. For new technologies like broadband I believe they are essential in ensuring coverage to all people; just like they did in the early 1900's to develop telephone and hydro coverage to rural areas. However, we really don't want governments to actually offer ISP services! Remember: Governments are large, slow-moving mechanisms. If one expects them to move quickly, one will be disappointed. Our government has made some nice announcements and says:

Once the access points have been established in each community, links can be made to homes and business. The province will work with local service providers, community organizations, First Nations and the federal government to put in place those last mile connections.

Okay. If you are really interested in some of the government's positions and thinking, have a look at the reports of the Premier's Technology Council. This group really understands the need for boardband!

The Federal Government

According to the feds:

... the Government of Canada has committed to making high-capacity Internet access available to all Canadian communities.

Okay. Not sure how they are going to do all this. And some of the information on the DEAD/Archived website seems to be dated, and not that easy (for me) to follow ... there may be some grant money available. Any volunteers to persue this?

Columbia Open Mountain Network

Our taxes have been funneled to another organization which is supposed to be helping us. Yeah, right. Columbia Mountain Open Network appear to be really wonderful folk. Well, they have an office and a bunch of well-paid employees. I have no idea what they do, or what they might do for us. I contacted them earlier this year. Again, here is the email. I have since followed up with a request to them asking for help in setting up the community initiative.

If you don't want to read the email I'll summarize a bit. They are a membership organization and it costs $4.00 per capita to join up. For our area that'd be about $4000.00 (per year??). Not sure of what the benefits would be. Anyone? But, the CEO at CMON was kind enough to give me some budget numbers which confirmed my own "back of the envelope" stuff.

Just to be charitable, they may be a good organization. The trouble I have is that everyone I've ever talked to about CMON has little good to say. Sad, but true. In my opinion, CMON are probably looking at the wrong solutions, or even the wrong problems. Yes, we all agree (do we?) that broadband is important in rural communities. But, how to achieve it? Is it by having quasi-governements build alternative or even parallel networks? And even if these networks were to be built, the "last mile" problem remains.

The problem with CMON (and, frankly, other groups like them) is that they really can't do much to actually get anyone connected. Our provincial government already has programs to connect schools, hospitals, etc. And, they are having problems ... and have much more authority, influence and money than CMON. And if The Government has problems with it all, do you think that a grass roots group can do better? The skepticism isn't just mine. It comes from other community members (who voice it much more loudly than I do), elected officials from the Regional District of Central Kootenay, "connected" folk working for quasi-governmental agencies, and ordinary folk with some knowledge. So, if you happen to be reading this and think I'm wrong ... please let me know. I'll put up the new information.

Update, April 2012: Alas, CMON has gone the way of the dodo bird. But, fear not. Like the phoenix it has arisen from the ashes. The Columbia Basin Trust has purchased the assets and is running the business as “Columbia Basin Broadband Corporation”. Okay, gentle reader, you might find this strange, but they have made a conscious decision not to have a web site to advertise (and permit public scrutiny). Yes, true ... I chatted to them on the phone and got confirmation. However, rest gentle. They have a plan to help the existing wireless ISPs in the area and provide the various municipalities with fibre. Guess the stuff from Telus and Shaw just isn't good enough for us rural folk! Honestly, I think it's a make-work project to keep a few people employed. Maybe I'm wrong (still waiting for someone to call me on that!).

Network BC

After all the fun I had writing the premier, I did a bit more sleuthing and found NetworkBC Hey, cool. A part of government actually working on our behalf. Well, maybe. Sort of?

After sending a email to them I got a response from Dianne A. Flynn. A nice person, Dianne. Seems she's a (the?) "Community Engagement Manager" and is doing her best to make the Premier's vision a reality. She kindly informed me that we, in Wynndel, have broadband ... ummm, but we can't connect to it. Yup, the Premier has delivered. I should insert here the fact that after I suggested to Dianne that this was really BS, she told me that the vision includes actually getting people hooked up. The "last mile" thing.

Oh, and if we do figure out a way to connect to the T1 line just "hanging" there, we'll have to pay about $1000.00 per month to use it. Correction: the line is an EB1 and the "backbone" charges are about $720.00 plus there is a charge for about $200.00 to actually connect to the net, but this would probably not be charged if we went with a wholesale provider for mail accounts, etc.

Dianne now figures I'm the "community champion" for Wynndel. And that I'm going to spearhead a committee of interested citizens, put a chicken in every pot, etc. Well, maybe.

My "problem" with all this is that the good folk at the government suggest things like "Be Creative", "Think Outside the Box", etc. as if these were magical incantations. They might be magic, but I don't believe in that stuff. Facts and information are pretty scarce, especially when it comes to this issue. Again, I might be wrong and welcome correction, but it seems that the government wants each community to invent or reinvent a wheel ... especially now that they have a cart to put it on.

I've vented a lot of my frustrations on poor Diane. Even to the point where she's told me that if our community doesn't want to play their game there are lots that do. Again, BS. We'll play the game. But, it'd be nice to know the rules. I've also sent her my "back of an envelope" budget and list of alternative technologies ... are we surprised that she has declined comment on either?

Not all is bad with NetworkBC. I had some nice converstations with John Webb and he really seemed to be getting some things going. I understand that he was lead cat herder on the recent deal with Telus. He certainly understood the problems we were having, and was doing his best to solve them. Unfortunately, John passed on to the "big network in the sky". He was way too too young, and he'll be missed! John paid for our initial third party consultation which developed our first technical plan. A big tip of the hat to Mr. Webb.

Kootenay Lake School District

Another mystery player in this game is our local school. Now, as usual in this game, it's taken a number of phone calls and emails to ferret out this information ... and it really wasn't worth the time.

As part of the government's policy to get broadband to the hinterland (opps, that should read Heartland) our local elementary school has a broadband connection. From what I've been told and understand, the connection is supplied by Telus (probably Telus, but the Kootenay Lake School District official wasn't sure) and is something called an EB1 line. I've tried to find out just what an "EB1" line is, but it doesn't exist in my resources. Whatever, according to the school official there is a high speed link into the school.

The Premier's initial announcement also had some reference to "communities developing partnerships" with the local schools. Good luck. The local people just know that their computers are connected, the district folk also know that, plus they know that it was supplied to the school though the province wide network for educational institutions.

And, this is catty, but isn't it interesting that the local school's website is located on a server in California, USA?

British Columbia Community Connectivity Coop

My new friend, Dianne (see above), mentioned to me that the government was funding a consumer/user group. Uhh? Oh, it's so new that it wasn't something we were going to tell you about right away. But, there is. And it's for us. And, it's wonderful ... right.

The British Columbia Community Connectivity Coop is an interesting little group. I had a look at their website, got some contact information, and discovered that they were having some workshops close to Wynndel. I'm not going to berate this group too much at this time since they do seem to be sincere, trying, etc. But, let me tell you, getting information on the workshop was pretty tough. And, I'm still not sure what the workshop is for or what one would learn by spending the day and a tankful of gasoline to get to one (free lunch is supplied if you are interested or hungry). If you are interested, here is the announcement of the session.

Update, sort of. I guess they had the workshop. I've had no feedback from anyone on this. And I think I pissed the organizers off so much that they have taken me off the contact list. Amazing how it upsets people when you insist on getting real information, not just hype.

More update. I was talking to my not-so-good-anymore-friend, Dianne, at NetworkBC and she let it slip that the workshop never did take place. Gee, I'm glad I didn't take the day off and drive 250 miles to find out that I was the only one there. I did write Phillip Djwa, the manager of BC3 a nice note expressing my concern about inviting people to meetings which are cancelled ... but, the poor fellow is so overworked that he doesn't have time to contact a jerk out in the hinterland. Either that, or I'm not the jerk and he is? Gosh, a concept I'll have to mull over.

Being suspicious of all things governmental, I suspect that this is yet another (well intentioned?) waste of money. Please prove me wrong. Phil, you have my phone number. I'm not expecting a call, but who knows what surprises the future might bring. And, since I'm so charitable I wrote a short note of concern to the President of BC3 ... and am I surprised that he didn't reply either?

Despite all the not-so-nice things I've said above, BC3 held a workshop for us in Wynndel in Feb/2005. Please read the details! Thanks go to Mary Holmes for doing the facilitation.

Don't get me wrong about BC3. They are not bad people. But not as organised and/or established as I'd like them to be.

Update April 2012: Their website is still up, but I'm pretty sure the group is dead. Honestly, not a great loss considering the complete lack of accomplishment. Oh, and I never, ever did talk to the mysterious Mr. Djwa.

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