Electricity and Internet: Pieces of the Same Puzzle (Episode 63)

Date: 10 Jan 2019 | posted in: Building Local Power, Podcast | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

Host Chris Mitchell speaks with community broadband pioneer Billy Ray. Billy is the Superintendant of the Glasgow Electric Plant Board, the municipally owned electric power, cable television, and internet utility for the City of Glasgow, Kentucky. He brings a plethora of experience in building local power as a longtime advocate for both municipally owned electricity and broadband.

Chris and Billy make the case for restructuring the electric grid and generating power locally rather than relying on giant, centralized utility companies that extract wealth from communities. Billy shares his insights on why it matters that electricity is generated locally and how making the switch can save customers money.

They talk about the parallels between the movements for municipal electric utilities and community broadband networks. The two also identify the ways in which the Internet fight against monopoly is almost word-for-word replaying the electric monopoly history. As a veteran of the movements, Billy explains what a difference it can make to get your internet from a community broadband network versus a monopoly Internet service provider, like Comcast.

Tune in to hear more about overhauling our energy system and Internet infrastructure and how far we’ve come in the past 30 years.


For a public power system, the whole puzzle should mainly be focused on how can we make people’s lives better in this community? And how can we keep this community from being used by some distant corporate board to feather their nest at the expense of our local nest?

Chris Mitchell: Welcome to another episode of the Building Local Power Podcast from The Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I’m Chris Mitchell from the Minneapolis office, and today I’m talking with Billy Ray, Superintendant of the Glasgow plant board. Welcome to the show Billy.
Billy Ray: Thank you, Chris. I’m glad to be here.
Chris Mitchell: Billy, you’re an old time friend of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, I think you’ve been involved with my colleague Stacy’s work with BALLE over the years. And I think of you as being a major thinker about local economies and smart investments for the long haul and things like that. I’m curious, if someone asked you to give your biography in a minute, how would you give it?
Billy Ray: Well, I’m trained as a civil engineer but I’ve spent my whole career in public power. And public power was pretty much invented by FDR and his gang of new dealers and so there’s always been a very direct relationship between public power systems or publicly owned electric utilities and local economies. To a large part, they were invented for two reasons, number one, because rural areas wanted electric power and number two, the ones that had it were generally paying way too much for it and every bit of their local treasure that was spent for electricity was going to some distant board that took that treasure away from ever benefiting the local economy.

So I have been interested in all elements of local economies and local control and trying to implement pretty much the electric power micro grid concept with respect to all aspects of a local economy. There’s gotta be a way to make it work by eating your own dog food as I like to say, and concentrating on things that people are gonna buy that can be provided locally.

Chris Mitchell: I feel like you’ve lived the same story twice, and we’re gonna get to this in a little bit with community broadband, which you more or less created, in terms of community broadband Internet systems. But what you just described about electricity and the dynamic of many people not having it and those who do have it, often unsatisfied with the rates or the quality, that’s exactly where we’ve been with Internet for the past 30 years as well.
Billy Ray: Exactly. There’s nothing new under the sun, is there?
Chris Mitchell: When I interviewed you to talk about the birth of community broadband as I think of it, I told you this to prepare a little bit for it, but you talked about thinking about things as a whole system and not breaking it down too much I think. And the part that I really remember is this idea of like, if you’re running a shopping mall and you see that the parking lot is losing money, nobody comes there and pays you to be in the parking lot, and so a consultant comes along and tell you, “You know what? You should just get rid of that parking lot.” It’s a sign of not understanding how the whole system works together.

So I’m curious, you’re there in Glasgow Kentucky, a place that many listeners may not even be familiar with, but you’ve been thinking about small towns for what I can gather, is your whole life. So what are people missing today when you’re hearing news analysis on the TV and things like that about the way small towns should be thinking about their local economies?

Billy Ray: Well Chris, so often what you hear is generated by those who have an interest in maintaining the status quo. If you’re AT&T, you have an interest in focusing the discussion on whether a community should build it’s own broadband network for example, on the microscopic or the microeconomics as well, there’s been several of these that have failed financially.

And we operate a public power system and a public broadband network in this small community of 15 thousand people and it’s probably a rare board meeting that I’m involved in where if somebody wants to get way down in the weeds of the individual services that we provide and just look at the profit and loss characteristics of an individual piece of the puzzle without thinking about the whole puzzle. And really for a public power system, the whole puzzle should mainly be focused on, “How can we make people’s lives better in this community? And how can we keep this community from being used by some distant corporate board to feather their nest at the expense of our local nest?”

So yeah, I think that’s kind of a epidemic of people that don’t take the time to become fully involved or fully informed or even worse, they allow themselves to be pseudo informed by social networks or what have you and somebody quoting some kind of a indirect reference or just blatantly false reference to the success or failure of one of these networks, is the real problem as communities try to figure out how to make themselves stand on their own two feet. It’s not normally a five minute conversation to really consider all aspects of these things. They’re not simple and people really love simple these days. They like to make decisions based on a 40 column inch Facebook post and a lot of these things are just more complicated than that.

Chris Mitchell: Well, and it’s interesting because one of the things that we can talk about shortly regarding electricity and the way you think about it, you are an advocate for people paying their fair share. You’re not making excuses for a part of the network not being able to generate revenue that is needed or that sort of a thing. And so, I’m curious how you react to that? The network should be paying for itself, right?
Billy Ray: Yeah, it should. But there’s a vast difference in today’s economy between for example, a publicly owned broadband network just paying for itself versus the rates that are often charged by the classic operators of these networks. Which product pretty sizable profits for a lot of stockholders. There’s nothing wrong with it paying for itself. In fact, I’m a big proponent and have gone to a lot of trouble with respect to electric power to try to reexamine the rates that are classically charged for electric power throughout our country and try to interrupt the status quo there.

And the status quo with respect to electric rates is that they are just classically socialized. And it’s not that the people that are designing electric rate structures are socialists, it’s that we have for 100 years, used technology to measure electric power that provided not anything like enough information. For example, everybody gets an eclectic bill, it usually is based on kilowatt hours or some unit of energy that is not differentiated according to time and so it’s just a monthly charge.

But the utility that’s sending you that bill, when they either make the energy or buy it from someone else, they’re not buying it simple, wholesale rate environment like that, they’re paying different during every hour of the day depending on the mix of generation they’re having to run to provide that energies.

Chris Mitchell: I think a good explainer of this is actually down in Texas, where they have so much wind energy at night, that I think it’s basically free to use electricity at night, and during the day, particularly in the summer days, it’s remarkably expensive to use electricity. And that’s because when you’re using electricity at night, it costs practically nothing to the utility, but if you use it during the day, it costs quite a bit because of the amount of demand. And so, if you’re getting a bill that just tells you, “You use this many hours.” Well, depending on how you structured that, you may be overpaying or underpaying relative to what you really owe the utility.
Billy Ray: Exactly. Exactly. That’s why I said, it’s the very definition of a socialized system. And again, that was accidental because the technology lagged to provide the meter what people were using and get a good picture of when they were using it compared to the price of producing it. If we had, oddly enough, a real component of allowing that metering to flourish which would then give birth to more efficient electric systems, is a robust broadband network.

There’s a lot of information to be sent back and forth, information that is dramatically more important than have a better Netflix experience by virtue of having a faster broadband network. That stuff is okay but the center of the universe really is in enhancing the most complicated machine that man has yet constructed on this planet and that is the electric power grid.

So using broadband to make that grid work better and make it more capable of exploiting this practically free wind energy by helping people employ appliances and what have you that recognize energy at night is free. Lets figure out a way to heat and cool the house mainly at night and to restructure the way people use energy with the attempt of trying to make sure that we don’t ever have to build any new fossil fuel generation.

Chris Mitchell: Now, you saw all this coming in ’80s and I’m actually curious if sitting here in 2019, you’re still ahead of the curve. You’re still doing things that a lot of the country may not be dealing with for another five or ten years in terms of how to deal with this world of electricity with broadband available everywhere. But I’m curious, when you were thinking back in the ’80s and even rarely ’90s, did you think in 30 years that we would be where we are or we’d be further along? What did you think?
Billy Ray: No Chris, really I thought this all would play out in five years. In 1988, I thought this deal would all play out in five years so I couldn’t have been more wrong about that, about how long it would take or wrong about the plotting pace of the members of my fraternity.

The electric utility business moves so slowly. And there’s some amazing dynamics that I’ve watched across the country as a few utilities have attempt … Every time it seems that a utility go to a state public service commission and asks to make a move in the direction that I’m talking about by restructuring the price of energy where that it’s more a fixed cost and the actual value of the energy going down to mimic the actual cost of producing it, public utility commissions have a knee jerk reaction, they’re against it. They wanna maintain the status quo.

Every customer or consumer advocate group known to man automatically, against it. It’s this struggle to help people who seemingly don’t wanna be helped. If you restructure the energy industry and price it appropriately so that people begin to demand less capital investment for serving loads that very wildly and unfortunately use most of their energy during three hours of the day, there’s no better way to help consumers than forbidding those additional capital outlays. But we’re struggling to get to that point because consumers apparently prefer the status quo, even though the status quo is screwing them.

Chris Mitchell: So let’s talk about that for a second, because we’ve mostly focused on money. And I actually think, particularly listeners to this show may think, “Well that’s interesting but I’m more interested in the climate impact or other aspects of equity.” How does this impact things like the climate or equity in the community?
Billy Ray: Fossil fuel central station power, is a 1920s concept that we all through the 20th century continue to believe in, and we’ve built larger and larger central station units that burned more and more of different sorts of fossil fuels. And what we’re seeing now is that number one, I think we have to start with the foundation that there is climate change. There are plenty of people that wanna argue about what caused it but in the electric utility industry, we’re able to at least say, look there is climate change, weather is becoming more and more violent, it’s more and more difficult to keep communities with the reliable electric power that they require for anything to function, their economy and just life in general. So, we really need to get the generation closer and closer to the consumption points and kind of give up on this idea of being served by remote giant power production facilities, that may be three or four hundred miles away. And reorganize ourselves into a system that’s loosely called microgrids, that you can break this complicated grid down into components where each component has some generation resources in it. If you can also have a robust broadband network, and the appliances to be connected to that broadband network, where that a system operator or a microgrid operator can say, “Look, we’ve become disconnected from the main world here, we’ve got five megawatts that we can play with, so all of you guys, we’re gonna organize you to make sure that no more than five megawatts is used, as long as that’s what our generation capacity is.” It’s not unlike what mammals have spent three billion years developing through evolution. I’ll give you a cycling analogy.
Chris Mitchell: Oh, I love cycling analogies.
Billy Ray: I like to ride my bicycle, and I may approach a hill that I would like to go up at 20 miles an hour. Now my brain calculates that, and it knows what all the resources that I have, what kind of backup fat I have stored, glucose and what have you. And it comes back and says, “We don’t have that.” We could get up that hill at maybe nine miles an hour, and we’ll organize the muscles and your cells, and your energy resources to do that. And it’s a lot better than just sitting at the bottom of the hill and saying, no, if I can’t go up at 20, I’m not doing it at all. That’s the lesson from biology that we have to learn how to accept in the electric power industry.

Remember, the electric power industry is only 100 years old. It follows that we haven’t figured everything out, and we need to be open to learning from nature about how they have learned to manage energy and what is an effective microgrid. An individual human body is a microgrid.

Chris Mitchell: Well let’s press into that for a second. So, if you had almost the exact amount of electricity you might need from local solar power created in town, would it matter then that you were still doing it at a time of use pricing more or less? Why would it matter in that event?
Billy Ray: Well, because it’s hard to imagine a resource. You didn’t stipulate what kind of resource I had that was equal, but in 2019, the most likely resource that I might have for my little microgrid would be a combination of wind and solar. And so, it still does not negate the fact that price needs to fluctuate to help shape demand. If you had a complete authoritarian system, you could just operate this appliances from central control, and say look, we’ve only got five megawatts, we can’t do more than that.
Chris Mitchell: Like call my utility and ask for permission to use my blender at 3:00.
Billy Ray: You know, I do think that we will see the day, and this is kind of getting to my lunatic fringe part, but it may be that the light switch on the wall that is a simple opening of a circuit, will some day become more like a web browser where when you turn it on, you’re making a request. And if we had the resources to satisfy that request, we’ll do so. And you’ll be billed for the precise usage that you took from the available resources.
Chris Mitchell: And your position, is I should not be scared about that.
Billy Ray: No, because what you get in return for this change from the status quo, is so little of your treasure in the future having to go toward a 50 year generation, I say it, that has to be paid for whether you’re using the energy or not. So we’re gonna learn how this Infotricity concept is a way to skinny down the grid, make it more durable, and less expensive, because it’s closer to home and local people can make more decisions about how they want to invest their money for their energy use.
Chris Mitchell: Now, is this something as you’ve been implementing Infotricity with … you built a community television system that became the first community broadband system, I’m curious if this is something that I think clearly works if you had the entire state of Kentucky working together on it. You have enough demand and perhaps control over those big generation facilities. I’m curious if your scale has limited your ability to implement it or move forward with it in the best way you’d like to?
Billy Ray: Yes it has Chris. It’s a fairly common occurrence when we’re for example negotiating with a software vendor that we need to help us control load shape and manipulate appliance usage, and thermostats and what have you. They will often ask way too much money for the rights to use that software. And we’ll say, “Look, you’re out of your league, you don’t understand the value of this is not $10.00 per customer per month, it’s more like 89 cents.” And they’ll say, “Well fine, if you were PGE or Commonwealth Edison, and you were gonna do five million homes, we could do it for 89 cents. But in Glasgow, you’re doing 15,000. And it’s not big enough.”, and they will often be uncooperative for pricing these products the way that they need to be priced. And they’re shooting themselves in the foot, because if we can’t show how this works in a small laboratory environment, it’s never gonna get to a big rollout.
Chris Mitchell: Hey, thanks for listening to our conversation today on building mobile power from the Institute For Local Self Reliance. As usual, we don’t have an ad, but I wanted to ask your support for our work. Reporting on these great local initiatives, it takes a lot of time and energy. Your donations keeps us working and keeps our spirits high. Please take a minute to go to ILSR.org/donate. Any amount is welcome, and we do sincerely appreciate it. Now, we’re gonna get back to Billy Ray from Glasgow, Kentucky.

So, let’s switch over to community broadband a little bit, just because being conscious of time, there’s so much more to discuss there.

Billy Ray: Yeah, there is.
Chris Mitchell: But you’ve more or less launched community broadband, and it wasn’t just through the Glasgow, it was also a certain student of yours, a lawyer that you worked with at the time, Jim Baller, who has gone to be incredibly influential nationally helping other cities build networks. What, over the past, I’m guessing actually is almost 30 years now, of you having done this. What is different in community broadband that you might not have expected?
Billy Ray: I really think that it’s sort of the same electric utility stuff that I’ve been talking about, I mean-
Chris Mitchell: Just repeat ourselves.
Billy Ray: The cable TV part and then later on the Internet part, were just means to an end. We needed a robust broadband network to touch every home and business, so that we could do the really big thing, which is learn how to reshape electrical demand. I’ve been surprised on several fronts. I’m surprised that 30 years later, you and I both read daily, and in fact Jim Baller is one of the one’s that often, he does a really great email list to try to gather up headlines about communities that are still 30 years later, they’re doing studies on whether municipal broadband would work. It makes me jump and down and think, yes that question has been answered, can we skip on down. I just noticed that TVA, we buy our power from TVA, and they only last year decided that it might make sense, they serve seven states or portions of seven states, and they recently decided that it might make sense to run fiber to connect all the different utilities that they serve, so that we could have better access to … we could have better access to broadband, because a lot of those areas of those seven states are still very rural. And TVA could in turn, get better access to consumption information, so they could operate their system better. And it’s taken 30 years to get to that, and it’s still kind of a nebulous concept.

Just noticed they’re about to do a one or two day seminar called Fiber University, to talk to … these are the same people that are operating the most complicated system on earth, the electric grid, but in 2019, we still need to have kind of an elementary explanation of what broadband is good for and why you might want to do it. That surprises me. I know there’s 10,000 cities across the United States, and everybody can’t do it all at the same time, but in 30 years, I would think that everybody could have done it by now.

Chris Mitchell: Well I am struck when I look at places like Lafayette Louisiana, where they decided to municipalize an 1898 both water and power, and it took 10 years or so, I think there was an effort almost immediately, but every 10 years, they have an effort to try to privatize that utility. It seems like that’s never going to go away. So on a number of these issues, people just … you know, I think it’s an issue that’s kind of boring, right. People don’t want to think about electricity, they just want it to work. They don’t want to think about the Internet, they just want it to work.

So that gives an opportunity for those who want to extract wealth from the communities, to try to take it over, it seems like.

Billy Ray: Yeah, it really does seem to be a fertile field for people that can talk the talk, of this extremely complicated machine, called the electric grid, to kind of pull the wool over people’s eyes, and to a large extent that’s been tried, that happened with the robber barons, and the reason that the New Deal and the Great Depression were necessary, I don’t want to say that the Great Depression was necessary, but to a large extent the reason it happened was the exploitation of the electric power grid. And in the early days, people were being charged prices that were in no way related to the cost of delivering that energy.

The whole concept of natural monopolies and being regulated by state public service commissions was invented to try to protect people, but by 2019, long before 2019, but that just happens to be when we’re talking, to a large extent the state public service commissions have succumbed to the siren song of the electric utilities, and often they are kind of a handmaiden of the electric utilities, and suddenly protector of the consumers, because they too find it really attractive to stick with the status quo, you know. Whatever we’ve been doing probably is good, and we outta just keep on doing that.

But if you really dig into the electric utility industry, and there’s a great book that I would highly recommend for any of you listeners that are turned on by any of this and want to learn more about it, the title of it is “The Grid”, flat cop flat footed here, I can’t remember who the author is. But it’s a really great book that explains all of this. I mean I bought 50 copies to get all of my team to read it, and every time I get I new board member, the first requirement is they’ve got to read this book.

Chris Mitchell:  It looks like there’s one with the author, “Gretchen Bakke”?
Billy Ray: That’s it.
Chris Mitchell: Bakke is a common name, I don’t know in electricity it seems to pop up a lot of places.
Billy Ray: Well, it seems like she is not an engineer, she’s like, is it an anthropologist or something like that? She comes from a strange direction, but she did a lot of really good research on how we got in the shape that we’re in, and where we’re gonna have to go to come out of this.
Chris Mitchell: I’m curious, if you’re familiar with my favorite book that I’ve read so far on it, and that’s Electricity for Rural America, The Fight For the REA by D. Clayton Brown.
Billy Ray: I haven’t read that one.
Chris Mitchell: Okay.
Billy Ray: It sounds like something I should read.
Chris Mitchell: It’s as old as I am, it’s a 40 year old book, and boy, it actually tells the story of the fight for creating the co-ops. I was reading it the same time I was reading a thriller and I couldn’t figure out which one I wanted to read because they were both so exciting.
Billy Ray: Well you know, there’s a guy that I met back in the 80s. Because … It was really weird. I remember the first time he called me and I had read his book. His name’s Scott Ridley and he wrote a book-
Chris Mitchell: Oh yes.
Billy Ray: Called Power Struggle.
Chris Mitchell: That’s an incredible book.
Billy Ray: Oh it’s fantastic! Then we became friends. I went up to New England several times to make talks for him with different community groups and what have you. The Grid is actually a new book but you’re right, a lot of these ones that were written back 40s, 50s, and 60s were the really good books on the electric power industry. Not that much has changed, because it moves in such a plodding fashion.
Chris Mitchell: Well I want to get back to the … In the broadband and then ask you again, what difference it makes. So if you compare the service you offer in Glasgow against mine … I’m a Comcast monopoly. I’m stuck with them. I pay a lot more, although I have faster service than I think is commonly available. What is the difference between what you’re doing there, like, what would change if Comcast just took you over?
Billy Ray: I’ll tell you what would change, Chris. You already said this earlier in some of your comments, is that people don’t want to understand this stuff. They just want it to work.

I have a really good prediction about what life with Comcast is like in your city, and that is that you’re pretty much on your own. If you have some strange issue with your service that you can’t figure out, your download speed is not what it should be, you just are confused, that you got a new laptop and you don’t know how to get it set up on the system, my perception is that you might spend weeks trying to get your problem solved. It may take days out of your otherwise productive life if they need to make a site visit. And just the classic monopoly service, big company, little customer.

Chris Mitchell: Yeah, I would actually just go one further and say that in reality, I have had some of these issues and I just learn to deal with it. Because I just give up. There’s not reason to even think about it.
Billy Ray: That’s the deal. Whereas we’re within three and a half, four miles of every one of our customers and they come right down here with their laptop and they say, “What’s wrong with this? What am I doing wrong?” Or they come with their new phone. They’ve left the AT&T store where they couldn’t get any satisfaction and they come to us and say, “Look, I’ve got my Glasgow EPD email address and I want to get it set up on this.” And we have people that sit there with them and do it.

With respect to cable TV, and this is another absolutely economically perverse situation, but you know, even though all the prognosticators with respect to video entertainment write off cable TV, and I’m probably one of them, it’s going to be dead in X number of years, we just can’t figure out what X is. Everybody’s gonna go to streaming. Well the thing is, there is, percentage-wise, a huge number of customers that are never going to go to streaming. They won’t even use the program guide which is available on all the TV products that we sell now. They still change channels by the plus and minus key. And if somebody sits on that remote and gets it off of the right input where they can’t get that, they often … That’s the only entertainment option that they have, and they expect us to send a truck over there with somebody that will walk in the house and get their TV back on the right input.

And that’s a service we provide. It’s economically insane, but it makes happy customers. We understand that that’s the basis for our existence is because we live in a rural area. People are not going to get this stuff made easy for them. They didn’t get it in 1910 with electricity, so the public power concept came along where people would teach them how to use their washing machine, and it’s just being repeated again in 2019, or in our case, since 1988 when we started building this network. We recognize that it’s fairly easy to get a flow of electrons or a flow of bits to go through conductors and arrive at your home. It’s much more difficult to democratize the technology which is constantly evolving. But that’s the difference … You asked what the difference is. That’s the difference.

Chris Mitchell: Yeah, I think it’s scary out there. I mean I am a deeply technical person and some of these things just drive me nuts. I have a three-year-old son, and I have never gotten as mad at him as I do at my computer on a regular basis.
Billy Ray: Oh yeah, yeah.
Chris Mitchell: It’s scary.
Billy Ray: I had a fit with… Even my garage doors are controlled by an app. And just two nights ago, my wife had somehow gotten into my account with the garage door company and tried to change the password, and did the deal where she tried to open the garage door so many times that it locked me out. And then came to me and said, “Something’s wrong. The garage door thing won’t work anymore.” I said, “Well, I can’t fix it now because I’m locked out!”

I understand where our customers are. It’s more than an inconvenience. It can border on fear that I’m not going to be able to live my life here because this system, this technology is broken down. You know, we understand that the basis for the electric power utilities, at least the public ones, were born of that same fear.

Chris Mitchell: Well let’s wrap up with a fun story. You tell a lot of really good stories. We told one of them in the video we did with you, the birth of community broadband where we talk about Vint Cerf, once of the most credited with creating the Internet people on the planet, got in touch with you back in the day. And people want to see that story, they can watch the video that we have linked in the show notes.

But I want you to tell me about you going to be a guest of President Clinton’s at the time. What was happening around there?

Billy Ray: Well, it’s his first term, and some of his associates that have been active in getting him elected took a liking to the concept of community broadband. And they were trying to talk me into leaving my post in Glasgow and creating some kind of, I guess, a sister agency to the American Public Power Association that they wanted to call the American Public Info Highway Coalition, as I recall. That’s a lot of years ago.

Once, when I was … They had a press release to talk about this, and I got to make a talk at the National Press Club. And that night was the State of the Union address, and they told me to be at a certain bar right there on Capitol Hill right there at a certain time. I showed up and they gave me a ticket to get into the House, which didn’t get you into the chamber. And then somehow, before the speech started, they handed a ticket that was going to let me get on the floor of the House. No more instructions other than that.

Well, you know, I’m just an old boy from a little town in south central Kentucky. And so I went to the door keeper person and presented the ticket and he opened the door and let me in. Of course, there was no place to sit. Every place I tried to sit was taken by somebody important. And I got run out of a couple of seats and I finally wound up just standing through the whole address and President Clinton finished.

Since the only place I could find to stand was right in one of the doors that goes onto the floor of the House … So when it was over and the doors swung open, I was the first one to leave because I was standing in the door.

The only place I knew to go was the last place I had seen my host, which was the office of the guy that introduces the President at the State of the Union address. I can’t remember if it’s the Sergeant-at-arms, or what the right term is.

Chris Mitchell: Sure. Yeah.
Billy Ray: But anyway, I went to that office and was standing around waiting for somebody to show up and tell me what I’m supposed to do now. And there was refreshments there, and beer. So I took advantage of that. I was hungry and thirsty and was standing around.

I turned back around from opening a beer and I was looking right in the face of a Secret Service guy, and right behind him was the President. And so I didn’t know what I was supposed to do next, so I just said, “Mr. President, that was a great speech. Would you like a beer?” And he said, “I’d really like that, but I’d better not.” Of course he was hoarse, sounded like he really needed one. He asked me who I was and I told him. And I’m going to tell you, he said, “Oh, Glasgow. That’s the place where y’all built the community broadband that worked.” I said, “Yeah! That’s right!”

So he either was just a voracious consumer of information, or these guys told him I was going to be there, but I left there impressed. I have no proof of that because there were no pictures made.

Chris Mitchell: Right.
Billy Ray: When I tell the story, I just have to get people to believe me.
Chris Mitchell: No, it sounds exactly right. And it’s one of the things that President Clinton was certainly good at was reading. I mean, the stories about his habits were remarkable.

Yeah no, it is amazing to think of how little has changed, just looking at this and the same sort of discussions. But I do think we’re at the precipice. And I’ll say that in five years, I think things are going to look different, finally.

Billy Ray: I hope you’re right.
Chris Mitchell: Yeah. We’ll stick with that number.

Well thank you so much for coming on. It’s always a pleasure to hear from you, and I’m really glad to know that you stuck around in Glasgow. Because I think it’s easy for people to hop from job to job to job, and it’s hard to see something through. And I’m glad that you saw it through and have continued to inspire people.

Billy Ray: I appreciate that, and I often had opportunities to jump and didn’t because the people here never really gave me a reason to do that. So I stuck, and I’m really toward the end of my career now and I’m satisfied that I never had to really get associated with a lot of moving van companies.
Chris Mitchell: That’s great.

Thank you all for tuning in to this episode of the Building Local Power Podcast from the Institute for Local Self Reliance. You can find the links we discussed today at ILSR.org, clicking on the show page for this episode. That’s ILSR.org. While you’re there, you can sign up for one of our many newsletters and connect with us on the Internet socials. Take a second to rate us, or even shout the name of this show out a window. I’m pretty sure that’s how word-of-mouth works.

This show is produced by Lisa Gonzales and Hibba Meraay. Our theme music is Funk Interlude by Dysfunctional. For the Institute for Local Self Reliance, I’m Chris Mitchell. We’ll be back in two weeks. Let’s build local power!


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Photo Credit: Rennett Stowe via Flickr

Audio Credit: Funk Interlude by Dysfunction_AL Ft: Fourstones – Scomber (Bonus Track). Copyright 2016 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license.

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Hibba Meraay
Follow Hibba Meraay:
Hibba Meraay

Hibba Meraay manages communications for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. She works closely with all of our initiatives to build community power and combat monopolies. A native New Englander, Hibba is a graduate of Boston University. Contact Hibba for media inquiries.