Thanks to Jeff Hoel for providing the transcript for Episode 25 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. Dewayne Hendricks returns to discuss the complementary nature of wired and wireless technologies. Listen to this episode here.
Lisa Gonzalez: Hello, and welcome to the Community Broadband Bits Podcast, from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and muninetworks.org. I’m Lisa Gonzalez.
It’s hard to believe it, but this is our 25th episode. This week, we have a return visit from our guest, Dewayne Hendricks, entrepreneur and CEO of Tetherless Access. Last time Dewayne visited with Christopher, the two discussed how the possibilities for wireless technologies have been stifled, due to DC lobbying. This time, Chris and Dewayne discuss the interplay between fiber and wireless, and how both are essential in today’s technology landscape. Dewayne shares his needs as a businessman, and explains why today’s approach holds back entrepreneurs like him. Now to Chris and Dewayne.
Christopher Mitchell: Dewayne Hendricks, CEO of Tetherless Access, we’re very excited to have you on for our first repeat guest performance. You were on a few months ago. And — so thank you for coming back on the show.
Dewayne Hendricks: You’re welcome, Chris. I’m glad to be back, and I’m also glad to be honored to be the first repeat guest.
Chris: We have an opportunity here to continue our discussion. And I do so a little bit better informed. You’d recommended reading, “The Myth of Interference,” by David Weinberger, which I hadn’t read before, and I comment our listeners to Google it and find it, because it is a very good paper. But, in short, it fills in some gaps, and reinforces what we talked about last time, which is how we can better use spectrum. And so I don’t think we’re going to revisit that today, but we will be talking more about how we can use wireless effectively, and where wired networks are perhaps better, and how they interrelate.
Dewayne: To me, I’ve always thought about the — how to make the best use of both. So I look at it basically, how you would use fiber and wireless together in sort of a hybrid fashion.
Chris: Let’s, perhaps, start with a short explanation, for people who aren’t very familiar with how modern networks operate. I think some people believe that cell phones use satellites, and that a cell phone connection is wireless the whole way, whatever that might mean. So, maybe you can walk us through how wireless — and wired connections, like fiber or copper — interrelate right now.
Dewayne: So, basically, your cell phone talks to a base station. That base station could be tied to a network upstream in either of two ways. It could be wirelessly, which is not usually the predominant way to do that, except in, say, rural areas. But let’s say, in an urban area, it would — a base station would be connected to its upstream network by some kind of wire. So, usually it’s wire and not fiber, but it can be one or the other.
Dewayne: The issues are, who owns this infrastructure? And in the United States, pretty much the existing telco cartel owns the wired — and wireless — infrastructure.
Chris: Right. So that would be your AT&T, you Verizon, for the most part.
Dewayne: Right. Comcast. Comcast is the biggest Internet service provider in the United States.
Dewayne: And think about that. They have all those end users out there. More than anybody else. It’s a monopoly. To a large extent.
Chris: You and I both live in cities in which we have a choice between slow DSL or a faster Comcast network. And so, for people who care about fast connections, indeed, I think it’s correct to call it a monopoly.
Dewayne: So, I’m a Comcast business class user here at my home. So I have a number of machines on my network here. And I have static IP addresses, which I pay for. So I’m essentially paying Comcast about $120 a month to get 22 [Mbps] down and 2 [Mbps] up. So, that’s a lot more than a regular Comcast user does. But, basically, the business division of Comcast — it’s a different division. So they treat it like a business. And so, if I have a problem, they send a truck out right away. As opposed to a regular Comcast customer. And, you know, you wait several days for somebody to show up.
Chris: Um hum.
Dewayne: So that’s the difference. So it does give you some idea about your infrastructure choices.
Dewayne: Which is important here. So, as an entrepreneur, I want to do wirel- — do a wireless business. OK? And to do that, I can deploy a wireless network. I mean, I’ve got great equipment to do that, like from Ubiquity and other vendors.
Chris: I’m sensing that there’s something holding you back from that.
Dewayne: Because I need an upstream infrastructure. And I can’t go and get that — and buy that from anybody. If I want to do a business, I have to essentially build all of that infrastructure. So if I want to be able to match the speeds that I’ll be able to deliver to my end users with the wireless equipment that will be available, I’ve got to have a lot of upstream bandwidth. Which calls for fiber, rather than a wired connection. Or a coax connection.
Chris: Right. And, actually, I do think there’s an interesting lesson, which Benoit Felton has made, in talking about Stockholm, which has this very large, citywide fiber network. And that’s that they have four 4G/LTE competitors. Which is unique in the world. It’s the amount of fiber and high-capacity infrastructure that allows so much wireless to exist.
Dewayne: Well, I just came back from a business trip to Amsterdam. And, like Stockholm, they have an open fiber infrastructure that’s citywide. So that they allow multiple players to use the fiber infrastructure. So there’s all kinds of competition, and all kinds of Internet service providers that you can go to to get service in Amsterdam.
Chris: The lack of a robust network opportunity — the robust network connections for entrepreneurs such as yourself is what is holding us back, in the US, from having not just better wired networks but also better wireless networks.
Dewayne: Exactly. Exactly. I couldn’t raise enough money to build the infrastructure I need just for even one city. The existing players have “favored nation” status. The telcos — because they’ve been subsidized by us, the taxpayers, for a long time. And then, the cable companies, they have these unique franchises, where they are essentially monopolies in the city. So they’ve all had preferences to get to where they are and build their infrastructure.
Chris: Right. Although I would like to just clarify — and you can correct me if you’ve had a different experience, but — in most cities — certainly over the last 20 years, and even before that — the video franchise was not an exclusive one. It just ended up being that way because no one really wanted to build another cable network on top of an existing one.
Dewayne: That’s true. Yeah.
Chris: A lot of people want to blame local governments for the lack of competition. And I think that’s inappropriate.
Dewayne: I agree. However, the agreements did turn to that. I watched what happened in the Bay Area, where there were multiple providers, and then Comcast came in and kicked — and everybody else was gone. They bought them.
Chris: Um hum. My intention was to talk about fiber versus wireless. But we immediately came to this conclusion that they’re so interrelated that — I sometimes say that it’s like arguing what you’d rather have, a shoe or a hat. It ignores that they perform different functions.
Dewayne: But you need them both to build a MODERN high-speed broadband network.
Chris: Right. And this is where I’ve long been interested. I think you’ve been very passionate about the need for wireless. And I’m curious if you can talk a little bit about why you think it is important to have that wireless, rather than just stopping with a fiber connection into everyone’s home.
Dewayne: Because you’re not home all the time. We’re a mobile culture — worldwide now. We’re out on the hoof. And we want to have our Internet wherever we go. And there really shouldn’t be a difference between the amount of bits you can sip when you’re sitting in your house as opposed to when you’re mobile.
Chris: Absolutely. It makes sense to me. I mean, I would love to have that sort of arrangement. What’s stopping us from having that?
Dewayne: Well, it’s that infrastructure thing again. In that — you know, think about it. Early on, there used — we used to — app developers had to say, well, if we’re going to do an app over the cellular network, it’s slower, so we got to design the app to deal with this, this, and this. And so you had infrastructure-kind-of-dependent kinds of apps. That’s crazy. We infrastructure builders shouldn’t make it difficult for app developers. The app-lication is the king. That’s what makes money. So we shouldn’t put barriers in the way for that. And so that means that we may need to make a wireless and wired infrastructures be — have as much parity as possible in terms of performance. So that’s my goal as an entrepreneur.
When you start supporting multiple users, you need a lot of upstream bandwidth, to really do those access technologies justice. Which means you gotta have fiber. But given the way things are set up from a business standpoint, in the United States, there’s just no way — And that what we really need in municipalities is open fiber infrastructure that can support multiple players.
Chris: What sort of fiber infrastructure are you — how deep does it have to go?
Dewayne: It doesn’t have to go to every home — you know, from my standpoint. I need it to go to, let’s say, neighborhood peering points. Because I would have the wireless technology to get to a peering point.
Chris: Um hum.
Dewayne: If you look at the FCC’s National Broadband Plan, “broadband” — that word, “broadband,” — is mentioned throughout the whole plan. But not the Internet. Not the Internet. And, from my view of looking at things as an entrepreneur, I want to see lots of Internets. Because what an Internet means to me is a competitive opportunity, in that it’s a bunch of independently owned and operated networks.
Chris: Right. So you’re contrasting the idea of sort of ecosystem, with lots of different networks, versus just a comparatively high-speed connection that may be offered to everybody by a single provider that makes all kinds of decisions about what kind applications can run, and that sort of thing.
Dewayne: Exactly. Like, for instance, Comcast — again being the biggest ISP in the United States — there’s two classes of users. There’s business users and there are regular users. Their business users they great like a business, in that I can have as many machines on my network as possible, I can redistribute the service downstream however I want. I don’t have any caps. You know, you get the idea. Like the regular residential user.
Dewayne: So, they’re making business decisions. And, basically, I pay more for that privilege. There’s nothing wrong with that. But then, for instance, I wanted to do IPv6, now, today. And I just got off the phone with Comcast this morning saying, hey, what do I need to do to — when are you going to support ‘v6? And they’re saying, well, maybe some time in mid-2013. I can’t go to anybody else, where I am right now, that can give me ‘v6.
Chris: Um, there are some cities that have something that I would think would be close. Perhaps not throughout the entire city, but — For instance, you could lease dark fiber from Palo Alto. And I’m curious if that would be an opportunity, or what the barrier is there.
Dewayne: No, I could, in Palo Alto. Yeah. That’s poss- — that’s a possibility. And that would allow me to do, for Palo Alto, the kind of network I’m talking about. But that wouldn’t get me very far in other places in the Bay Area.
Chris: This — so, there are some cities where it may be possible. I was curious if there was something that local governments were missing, in terms of making sure that they would be open to the kind of network that you want to provide.
Dewayne: Well, I don’t think they’re really aware, because — That’s why I brought up the FCC’s Broadband Plan. You’ve got to react to a vision. And, to me, the vision that was presented in the Broadband Plan was not an Internet vision. It was about — it was a carrier vision. It was like, we’re going to provide these pipes, and — these people will provide these pipes. That’s the way the world should — So it imposed a structure on our thinking, here in the United States, about how networking should be done.
Chris: And, in fact, it seems that all the analogies we use with electrification are, perhaps, too much of a straitjacket, in terms of how we think about the Internet.
Dewayne: Yes. Because the way I learned the Internet was, a bunch of independently-owned and -operated networks. And we use this common language, called TCP/IP, to talk to each other. And that we each run our own autonomous networks. And then we have these gateway routers. And we use the gateway routers to go to other autonomous networks. And we have peering rules that say, hey, I’ll route all your packets to my network, and you route all the packets — my packets — to your network. And I won’t charge you for that, and you won’t charge me for that.
Dewayne: So, if we had that kind of thinking, and vision, then, if I had a citywide fiber network that was open, that I could use, then I could make decisions about how I would structure my wireless access network, and then how I would use that resource — that fiber resource — to provide my backhaul.
Dewayne: That’s what I would like to see. And that’s what I had hoped our government would get the message. But, again, they’re not thinking Internets. They’re thinking carriers. Somebody, like, would own all the fiber infrastructure in the city. But they don’t have to share it. They made the investment, and then they decide how that resource gets used. And it’s their way or the highway.
Chris: I understand why they came to that approach, based on who wrote the plan, and who advised on it, and that sort of thing. This is their mentality.
Dewayne: And what I had hoped from the government, as we got a more expansive — We invented the Internet. But we sort of — our governments walked away from it.
Chris: They were dragged away from it by industry lobbyists.
Dewayne: Yeah. If people like me had a chance, we’d say, look, give us some infrastructure that’s open — OK? That we can share — and I’ll pay my share of it — OK? — or, for the use of it. But we need peering points. You know, we need cooperative — co-op — peering points. That’s how the Internet is structured to be built.
Chris: I’m curious, what — how many peering points do you need in a city? And I’m trying to think of a — a, maybe, Detroit, or maybe a, you know, a Minneapolis, or a St. Paul. Not the largest cities in the county, but modest-sized cities. What are we talking about?
Dewayne: Well, peering points, and how they get set up, should be determined by the local constituency. Because you never know how many people are going to set up an Internet in an area. Because with wireless, you see, you’ve got this ad hoc capability to throw up a network. You know, you could throw up a network in your neighborhood and start offering services. That would be your own autonomous Internet. Then you would want to have a gateway to other autonomous networks. And that gateway would be at a peering center. You don’t have to have just one in the city. You could have multiple ones, just based on like-minded people getting together and decided they wanted to route each others’ traffic. And they they’d work out a way to share some upstream connection, and share the cost of that. So it all becomes ad hoc, which is the way business should be.
Chris: Right. I want to plug a book I read that I think would be very helpful for people who are maybe drawing a blank, and are a little bit confused about hoe the Internet works in this model you’re developing. It was written for that sort of person. It’s called, “Tubes,” by, I believe, it’s Andrew Blum. And it came out earlier this year. It was reviewed on Fresh Air and a number of other places.
Dewayne: Chris, the way I see getting — as an entrepreneur, getting around this problem we face, here in the United States, is that we’ve got a top-down infrastructure now in this country. We have the tools — the technology gives us a way now — to build cost-effective ad hoc networks at the edge. If you remember Eben Moglen’s talk at Freedom to Connect this year, his talk was called “Innovation Under Austerity.”
Dewayne: Eben’s sort of backing something called the Free Network Foundation. And what the Free Network Foundation is about is getting this vision across to people. It’s a nonprofit corporation, and — of people building their own autonomous Internets. And they’re providing the tools, in terms of routers — gateway routers and stuff — that people need to do that. And they sort of have a model of, you know, how people would be able to have neighborhood gateways, and how all that would work. You know. And that people would have their own personal networks. And that would aggregate up to community networks. And so on, and so on, and so on. But the idea is to have customer-owned and -operated infrastructure. Now, that may be a fantasy in and of itself. But it gets back — us back to the idea of the Internets that was there originally. About how it’s like, there shouldn’t be just one.
Chris: Absolutely. I think, one of the ways I tend to think about it is that, at the very least, we have to have that option. That option cannot be taken away from us in policy or law.
Dewayne: Exactly. Exactly. Well, right now, it is. And I don’t see any way — easy way — to get us out of this. OK? Except for — usually what happens is, a small minority takes the plunge, and takes the heat, you know. The pioneers get the arrows and the settlers get the land.
Chris: What’s seems like we need — and my question about Palo Alto and your response suggests that it’s not just enough for one or two pilot communities, but you would need something that can more catch the attention of others, in a larger area or a contiguous area. Is that fair?
Dewayne: That’s fair. And how’s the time for me to comment about the Google Fiber experiment in Kansas City.
Dewayne: Because I think that they made a big mistake — from MY perspective, now, not theirs. I mean, they’re essentially following the classic model. Like, they’re becoming like a Comcast in that city.
Dewayne: And — instead of laying a fiber infrastructure that’s open to all, to allow multiple providers to transit that infrastructure.
Chris: If — whether it’s Google, of whether it’s another city — as they’re — this is a new and what not. Do you think you would generate enough revenue to compensate another actor — local government or business — building these connections throughout cities?
Dewayne: Well, [sigh]
Chris: Is it the wrong question? [laughs]
Dewayne: No. It’s the right question. In that — like I said, I just came from Amsterdam earlier in the month, where it works there. And it works in Stockholm. And it works in a lot of other places overseas. It just works. They — they’re — they’ve got a robust competition over there. And the prices are different. But we don’t have it here. And, again, I don’t see any clear route for us to get it here, except by peaceful civil disobedience, in a way. OK? I mean, somebody’s got to build this stuff, But, again, doing another pilot, or — like, doing it in Palo Alto is great for Palo Alto, but it’s like — I hear about Chattanooga, and I hear about Lafayette, and stuff. And it’s like, these places might as well be, again, Shangri-La. You know, some place that’s off in the distance somewhere, where unicorns play every day.
Chris: I’m a tremendous — obviously, a tremendous fan of what they’ve done in those municipal networks. But, you know, those networks are a different version of the cable model. You know. They’re closer to the cable model, in that they envision themselves owning the network and providing services. Chattanooga is one network, right? And so, even though it’s far more responsive to the community and business needs than is a large national carrier, in some ways, I don’t think Chattanooga gets us closer to your vision, either.
Dewayne: No, it doesn’t. But “my vision” is not just my vision. It’s, like, the Free Network Foundation’s vision. There are, you know, a growing group of network people — geeks, whatever you want to call it — that have this shared vision. Our task, now, is to get it to become more than just our vision. To get it up to the national level, and get people to say, hey, this is what we want.
Chris: Yes. I’m just imagining how we can move in that direction.
Dewayne: Look at the Free Network Foundation site. And they have an articulation of what their vision is. And if you like what they’re talking about, and you sort of want it yourself, tell other people about it. Word of mouth. That’s the way it works. So, you take people, and you turn them into revolutionaries. One step at a time.
Chris: Yes. Yeah. Yeah. It’s all about building relationships. That’s how we make big change.
Chris: This is, I think — it’s been incredibly enlightening for my thinking, in terms of trying to understand what is possible with the future of wireless. Because, to the extent that I’ve been dismissive of wireless in the past, it’s often been predicated on the idea of wireless as we’ve known it — LTE, big carriers, that sort of thing. And this is a vision of where wireless is heading, and what the technology will allow us to do if we allow it.
Dewayne: Yes. I mean, we’re moving towards Wi-Fi everywhere. But for that to really work, we’ve got to have backhaul everywhere, too. You can’t have one without the other.
Chris: Well, thank you so much for coming on again. I’m sure it won’t be very long — it will probably be some time in 2013, though, when we find an excuse to talk again.
Dewayne: All right, Chris. Happy holidays.
Chris: You, too. Thank you so much.
Lisa: That was Christopher and Dewayne Hendricks, of Tetherless Access. If you are interested in learning more about the community-owned and -operated networks vision that Dewayne described, visit the Free Network Foundation at thefnf.org . And if you missed our first discussion with Dewayne, we encourage you to listen at muninetworks.org . Our talk with Dewayne was Episode 18. If you have any questions or comments, e-mail us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org . Our handle on Twitter is @communitynets . This show was released on December 11th, 2012. Thanks to the mojo monkeys for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is called, “Bodacious.”
This article is apart of MuniNetworks. The original piece can be found here