Building a Citizen-Centered, Smart City Public Network in Tucson - Episode 459 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast

A couple of months ago we wrote about the city of Tucson’s efforts to bridge the digital divide by building a wireless citywide network. On this episode of the podcast, Christopher talks with Collin Boyce, the city’s Chief Information Officer, to hear more about how the effort started, what they’ve learned along the way, and the impact it’s having on the community.

Boyce tells us about the city's efforts to bring service to the tens of thousands of Tucson residents who either didn’t have options for or couldn’t afford Internet access. He talks about building a hybrid CBRS and LoRaWAN network from the ground up, leveraging existing fiber network to bridge the digital divide but also expand the city’s tools to get smarter, reduce pollution, and increase utility efficiency.

This show is 35 minutes long and can be played on this page or via Apple Podcasts or the tool of your choice using this feed

Transcript below. 

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. See other podcasts from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance here.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.


Collin Boyce: This technology will fuel stuff that will be smart city initiatives, not for the city, but citizen-centered smart city infrastructure.

Ry Marcattilio-McCracken: Welcome to episode 459 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. This is Ry Marcattilio-McCracken here at the Institute for Local self-Reliance. A couple of months ago we wrote about the city of Tucson's efforts to bridge the digital divide by building a wireless citywide network. Today, Christopher talks with Collin Boyce, the city's Chief Information Officer to hear about how the effort got started, what they've learned along the way, and the impact it's having on the community. Collin tells us about their efforts to bring service to the tens of thousands of Tucson residents who either didn't have options for or couldn't afford Internet access. He talks about building a hybrid CBRS and LoRaWAN network from the ground up leveraging existing fiber infrastructure to bridge the digital divide, but also expand the city's tools to get smarter, reduce pollution, and increase utility efficiency. Now here's Christopher talking with Collin.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another episode of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. I'm Christopher Mitchell at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and I'm coming to you again from St. Paul, the better of the two cities. Today I'm speaking with Collin Bryce, the Chief Information Officer for the City of Tucson. Welcome to the show, Collin.

Collin Boyce: Hi, how are you doing, Christopher? And small correction, my name is Collin Boyce but-

Christopher Mitchell: Boyce.

Collin Boyce: Yes.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, that's what I wrote down, Collin Boyce, but obviously my mouth misinterpreted that.

Collin Boyce: Oh, no, it's perfectly fine. I'm super excited to be here today, and my previous stint was up in Michigan, so it's always great to talk to folks in the Midwest and I'm hoping some of the stuff that we're doing here in sunny Tucson makes it over to the middle part of this country. I think it's cool to be able to provide some of the services and how this would ignite some of the smart city stuff that I know a lot of cities are struggling with.

Christopher Mitchell: Yes. I think it is. I mean, I think you have had remarkable coverage of what you're doing and well-deserved because of how aggressive and innovative you've been. I feel like we should note that you and I have a common bond. You being from Lansing previously means that you're also probably not a huge fan of Michigan, so, big 10 country up here. I was speaking yesterday with someone who, we're doing an interview, and he went off on how he does not like Ohio State's football team. And I'm like, "Man, you're making friends right now. I'll tell you that right now."


Collin Boyce: Yeah. You know, it's funny. I spent a lot of time right off of MSU campus, so I went to church out there and green and white it's kind of cool. So I do like green and white more than I like blue and yellow and red and white. But growing up in Brooklyn right, there's almost no college teams, right. And I always ask the question, "in the city, what college teams exist?" And no one can ever answer it. The answer to the question is St. John's University which is also red and white and it's just the basketball team, right. That's how we got folks like Chris Mullen. But at the end of the day, growing up in a city, you're more about pro sports, but living right off of the MSU's campus, the energy, and it was just a cool environment and it helped foster some of this creative thinking that I think that you're seeing exercised here in Tucson.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, let's talk about that. I mean, I definitely think it is very creative. What exactly is the plan for what you're doing in Tucson? And then, after we get a sense of what it's building toward, then you can tell us where you are right now.

Collin Boyce: I'm at first talk about why we did what we did. So for those that are not aware, we built probably the first LTE network that's owned by a municipal government of consequence in the country. So there may be one or two notes that are stood up in other places. I know Las Vegas has something, it's a little bit smaller in footprint than we're doing, and it's not as wide and has many people connected. But why we wanted to do it. Well, last year around March when the pandemic picked up I was hunkered down in Pennsylvania, East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, right outside of New York City, and-

Christopher Mitchell: I've actually spent a lot of time there. I have friends up there. I grew up in Allentown myself. So, I'm familiar with-

Collin Boyce: [inaudible 00:04:40].

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah.

Collin Boyce: Yeah. So we're there. My mother-in-law passed unfortunately, and my kids were teleschooling from the New York area back into Arizona. And it hit me. I'm like, "There's some people who don't have Internet connectivity." And we did some census, looked up some census information, and it's somewhere close to 30% around that time had no Internet connectivity. And we realized that we wanted to partner with the local telecommunications providers, but there's not everywhere that's going to have coverage. Trailer parks for example, are really hard to get coverage. And there's certain parts of town they're just not motivated to build because there's scarce resources. And so we wanted to build this network. And so the roadmap behind this network, when I sat down with council and approached them is that this network can be a win-win-win, right, and it's not often that you get projects that are three wins.


Collin Boyce: So we could address some of the digital divide problems we have. So today we have about close to a thousand people connected. A little bit short of a thousand people connected, and we can handle more and we're going to continue to add folks to it. But we can also feel some of the smart city stuff that we wanted to do, and I could give you a variety of stuff, anything from wireless in buses, we're experimenting with that right now. We have employees that have access at home. We're city employees, we're connecting traffic signals and IOT devices. We were able to do public WiFi in parks, piggyback into the same network. We're talking about connecting city vehicles, which we haven't done yet. Body cams for public safety so they can do real-time streaming so it's not cost prohibitive, we're talking about doing that. And probably one of the more exciting things, is our own cell phones services, not necessarily for citizens at the moment, but what we're looking at is, their city functions where people are only inside of city limits. And so we are seeing-

Christopher Mitchell: I was just going to say, for people who were just hearing the audio, we're seeing an unboxing as Collin's describing this.

Collin Boyce: Yeah. So you have a Galaxy S20 and we throw our SIM card in it and it will connect to the city's phone system. And you can place calls with the native app right on our phone system. And we can use it as kind of a regional play, right, so that will help us with cost avoidance. So here's the win, the first win is we get to help our citizens. Second, when we're addressing some of the smart city stuff that we need to do, and the third one is we could avoid costs where we are spending dollars right now that's leaving outside of the city.

Collin Boyce: You can take those dollars and funnel it back into the city and reinvest into our network, we continue to expand on it. And so this was pretty exciting. And to be blunt, I tripped on LTE, right, I initially started off, I wanted to do wifi, normal wifi that everyone uses. I was talking to a gentleman in Bruce Hart from the bit insight group, and he's like, "you should look at LTE." And he was talking about going into the Powell options and discovered CBRS. And it was like, this is the way to go. I stumbled across it. And, Alan Ewing, he was great with getting me started and giving me the primers and how to do it. And from there it's all history.


Christopher Mitchell: So for people who are not as familiar, Tucson, you've got a large city, you got half a million people, more than that. I always forget how big you are. And within that, a lot of times, people in bigger cities say that people don't have access. They mean people can't afford the access that's there, but you're saying there are significant gaps of even access where even if people have the money, they can't get service in the city.

Collin Boyce: Yeah, yeah. Part of it is we are fairly large, right, so the city is somewhere close to about 300 square miles, but 150 square miles, if it is populated. And the rest of it is predominantly what we would call, pack rats and rattlesnakes. And because of that, there's pockets where service providers don't want to build in, they just don't build in those areas. And this will allow us to provide some connectivity to those folks who don't have viable options that are doing stuff like, one made DSL or dial up still exists inside of Tucson. The other thing that we realized is just what you talked about, which is, there's some people who can't afford access. And what we found out was, cell phone service or Internet connectivity, when you live in a desert cell phones are more important than the Internet connectivity. If your car breaks down into the side of the road, it's more important that you can call someone to get you onto the hot sun then it's going to be, can little Billy, pull up something on the Internet for homework.

Christopher Mitchell: Now, this is all facilitated then by a widespread fiber optic network that the city already had to connect its own institutions and things like that.

Collin Boyce: Yeah. So we have somewhere close to about 500 to 700 miles of a fiber optic network, not counting [inaudible 00:09:40], but routes different routes that we have, and it connects buildings, it connects parts. It goes through some of the library systems. And so when we went into the project, what we wanted to go after was really easy wins. And this is a hard project with a tight timetable and we really went after easy wins. So we looked at what buildings were tall enough that we can throw stuff on the top and have connectivity.

Christopher Mitchell: One of those 40 to 70 feet.

Collin Boyce: Yeah, yeah. So we're right around 70 feet, in some cases even taller. So we have an apartment complex that has ACD housing and it's a rather total building. And we used this as a beginning point to provide connectivity to community, but we're also providing connectivity inside of that building. So it was a double win in that sense. We looked at areas that already had great communication, monopoles and communication type devices. And we utilize those for all of our connectivity. And so really it was mounting radios and pulling fiber in those structures, and it was, it was really simple for us to do what we did here.


Christopher Mitchell: You say that, in my experience, the office of the CIO often is more geared up toward dealing with software, and helping manage records and things like that. Did you hire contractors? Did you have staff that you could work with? How did you manage this just in terms of the kind of skills that people had to have?

Collin Boyce: So fortunately for the city, I guess, or for me, is that I have a strong networking background as well as an application background. So at one point in time, I was studying, for those that are familiar, the CCIE Britain was on my roadmap. I'm a Unix guy, you don't hear that very often. So I've compiled kernels, from Debian all the way into [inaudible 00:11:32] spark, I have that background. So I do have a background on the hardware side as well as in the software side. And so a lot of the architecting of the network was done by me, three o'clock in the morning, four o'clock in the morning studying up on CVRS. And I'm understanding how the SAS providers are reaching out to SAS providers. And I'm creating this booklet of information. And I know we're talking to somewhat of a technical group here. So even stuff on dense wave division multiplexing and how Roden works. I architected some of that into this network in order to make it run.

Christopher Mitchell: This is like a passion project for you. I mean, it's sort of like-

Collin Boyce: Oh yeah.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah.

Collin Boyce: I've been in the industry for, I started around 93, 94 when I dropped out of college, Fairleigh Dickinson University, and eventually went back and finished off. But for my career, there's a few projects that are a highlight. This is probably in my opinion, the most fun project I've ever had. It has the biggest impact for citizens, and it has the biggest impact to the future of the city. This is when you say passion project, I think it hits the nail right on the head.

Christopher Mitchell: You're kind of in the middle of it right now, is that accurate? Like you finished-

Collin Boyce: We're winding down.

Christopher Mitchell: Oh, you are, okay.


Collin Boyce: We finished phase one. We haven't started phase two yet we're in the planning phase two. So phase one where we ended up, was there's a lot of easy wins, and the easy wins, so 80% of the network, which built in somewhere close to 60 to 90 days, the last portion of it was, there is another 10 poles or so that we had to stand up. And the challenges came with, there were native American burial grounds that we have to navigate around and we didn't want to disturb the remains. We had to get incurrences from historical societies. Well, figure out where those were so that we can avoid them, but we did a raft. So we're close to 10, 15 monopoles. And so most of the network is built, and I'm going to point out, we did more than CDRS. And I know the CBRS network is what's getting a lot of light. We also did what's called LoRaWAN. Are you familiar with the term LoRaWAN, low-power wide-area networking?

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, we actually just did an interview a few weeks ago with someone from Nebraska that specialized in it, across the state.

Collin Boyce: I got to go check out that interview. We are doing LoRaWAN Semtech technology as well on top of it. So there's two networks that we're deploying in conjunction in order to fuel what we want to do.

Christopher Mitchell: Excellent. In the case of the LoRaWAN in Nebraska, it's about all of these sensors that can be difficult to communicate with. I mean, in it we talked about, I've had my personal experience with using wireless gear that's close to the ground, and the ground just sucks up all the signal and you just can't communicate with it. So what is the useful long range aspect of it for you?

Collin Boyce: So everything from pollution sensors to backup for some of the traffic signals to be able to connect. We have lots of pools here. So we want to start doing even little silly things, like if you want to see what the temperature is of the public pool, that's outside, you can pick it up on your phone and tell at a moment's notice. So everything from parking sensors to traffic and pollution to fun applications. So the citizens are all in the roadmap.

Collin Boyce: The traffic one, the parking one is one that's interesting. So the cool part about the LPWAN technology is the battery life is super long, and you probably are aware of that. You can get a battery that lasts 20 years. And I read somewhere that there's a study that we spend on average, I want to say 17 hours a year, looking for parking. And one of the things that we're looking at doing now is burying the sensors where we have parking spots. And so it can detect a car above it, and you can pull up an app that we're developing now, where you can see where the open parking spots are inside of the city. So no longer will you be looking for a parking spot, you know where they're at, and now it's just the foot race, can you get there?


Christopher Mitchell: Right. When that saves also, then there's a significant amount of pollution that comes from people driving around in circles, trying to find that spot.

Collin Boyce: Absolutely, right. And so we're looking at these two technologies, oh another used case that may not matter as much when you're in the Midwest, because there's plenty of water there. We're in a desert, we're trying to move to wireless meter readings for the water bill because we have our own water company. And so by enabling that feature, if someone has what we call a trickle system or a drip system, you're going to be a sprinkler system in your universe, that has a leak in their losing water. We can find out pretty quickly and cut off that water and send them alerts that they have a leak and saving water inside of it, that sort of super important. So this technology both from the LTE and the low-power wide-area network will fuel stuff that will be smart city initiatives, not for the city, but citizens centered, smart city infrastructure. And that is probably the most exciting part about this funding.

Christopher Mitchell: Okay. So let's go back though for a second. What kind of challenges have you faced? You seem like the kind of person who sees a challenge, figures out how to get around it, and then you forget that you had that challenge to begin with, but tell me, what are some of the challenges you had to overcome?

Collin Boyce: There's a few challenges. So I'm going to talk about the tech challenges because there's not very many of those. The technology challenge that we had to deal with is that you're aware CBRS is heavily regulated by the FCC. So you can't crank up the signal. And for those who are aware of the technology, if you think of a sine wave, as you go higher in frequency, the penetration through large objects, or big objects becomes harder, so you need more power to do it. So that's probably the largest technical challenge, we can't penetrate, so once a CBRS signal, hits a building, you're going to end up with shadows on the other side. So you have to stand up more towers to fight the shadowing. Technology, just put up more towers, hopefully not going to the FCC, adjusting what they're doing there. And we can crank up the signal a little bit.

Christopher Mitchell: Are you finding though that, just while we're on that for a second, are you finding that you can deliver good coverage within the building, or are you finding that some buildings are kind of shielding people inside the building from that signal too much?


Collin Boyce: We are finding that the buildings are shielding and that's part of what our phase two discussion is. So our phase two discussion is how do we get people who are applied, looking at the propagation and addressing the shielding problems that we have with different buildings. And then the last part of phase two is, we understood that we had to put signals up in parks and monopoles up in some parks inside of the city. And we're seeing for those parks, we want to start to provide free wifi, not LTE, but regular wifi service, as a service that for those parks, because we're adding additional infrastructure.

Christopher Mitchell: Okay. So you said you designed a lot of the network and things like that, but I'm still curious, who goes up on the pole and installs the equipment and who's like out there to roll a truck if something goes wrong?

Collin Boyce: Oh yes. So we partnered with Insight, and Insight subcontracted to a company called Tilson, and Tilson has this amazing track record of building carriers networks. So they work for Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile. Those are guys and they built it. And so they're doing all of the mounting and scaling of poles. And if something breaks, we're working with a local provider to then remove radios and re-install radios.

Christopher Mitchell: Okay so you didn't have to add that capacity to your team really?

Collin Boyce: No, no, no, matter of fact, I would say we added no capacity at all for anything on that network, because the core provider that we're partnering with is a company called Geoverse, and Geoverse they're well-known because Alltel was their network and they still live to Alltel, which eventually became Verizon. So they have all the carrier relationships, they manage all of the core stuff for us. And they're my second tier for tech support. And so it's taking my first wave and they handed off to Geoverse, and Geoverse handles the second wave. So, today this entire network of our ongoing costs for the city, for what we've built covering right around 30, 40 square miles is whopping $300,000 a year, $400,000 a year in maintenance, that's it.

Christopher Mitchell: And, and what I saw is estimates that it was on the order of like four or $5 million, mostly supplied by cares act funding. That was the capital cost to get.

Collin Boyce: Yeah, yeah. So I'm probably wanting to reverse the iOS and the country where I avoid subscription based type stuff in general, because what happens inside of the cities or in cities in general, we're funded by different sources. If your study is funded by property tax, that revenue is a little bit more stable, but the city of Tucson is funded by sales tax. And sales tax, if there's a bad year or there's a recession that takes place, you can have, pardon the analogy, right, you can have feast or famine drought or tons of rain. In our case, we didn't want that we had a drought or a dry spell, and we have to turn off services, that would be unfortunate. So we went with subscription so it brings our operational costs really low. So a $5 million investment, we're only spending $300,000 a year, $300,000 a year of something that we could absorb pretty easily.


Christopher Mitchell: If I remember correctly, you said there was on the order of like 30,000 people that were lacking service. You have a thousand people that are signed up, is that a win? What's kind of the goal and what's the capacity of what you're building?

Collin Boyce: So what we have right now can support more than 50,000 people. And the thousand people connected is a win. The question is, was it the win that we were looking for? So counsel today is no, it's not the wind that they were looking for. We were hoping to get 5,000 people, and my next challenge, right, is that if you're advertising something like this, having someone who knows how to get it to the root level inside of your organizations, or your cities, is important. And that's where I kind of missed the mark.

Collin Boyce: I went on TV shows, I did podcasts, I did a ton of work to get the word out. But what I discovered was I'm part of two households of faith here. So I'm a saxophonist and I'll go to two different Seventh-day Adventist churches. And I play my sax on Saturday mornings, right, I alternate. And I spoke to both pastors and said, "hey, did you know we're doing this program?" And both of them said no, and my heart dropped because I realized that if your churches don't know, a lot of the community doesn't know.

Collin Boyce: And so we're about to do another round of advertising, connecting strategically to the locations that we know we have coverage, but we're going to connect with the local households of faith. So the churches we want to connect with the boys and girls club partners. I always cringe when I see this in government, right, we're going to connect the big brothers, big sisters. I cringe because everyone thinks the government is big brother, big sister, but connect to those organizations to get the word out for us. But we really want to connect with the organizations that are closer to the people today. What we did was we connected with the school districts and that helped us get some of the students on board.

Collin Boyce: But, we really want to connect to all the social groups in the community. And so we're planning a wave of targeted advertising to get more people on board. I wouldn't say the win on our side is we have 3000 people who have applied, we know where the weak spots are in the city, where people need to get connectivity. We have it mapped out, we know how to address it. So as we start to do additional waves, we can start to figure it out. The wins are, we have traffic signals that are being connected and we're trying to do now our privatization and traffic signals, and this will allow us to do that. We're going to save money. So did we get what we wanted with the digital divide? I would say maybe one third to a quarter of the people we expected to get, so we're disappointed by that, yes, but it doesn't mean it was a bad investment.


Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, and I mean, your experience is not unique. In fact, National Digital Inclusion Alliance is having a webinar next week. I think, well, when this is airing probably this week, I think it's something May 12th about how free internet access is not enough because a lot of people, it's hard to make them aware of it, gain their trust, that it's not some kind of scam because many people that are living on the edge have been scammed before and they have warning defenses about it. So, I mean, I think what you're talking about in terms of going through the communities of faith, the service organizations, that's going to get your numbers up. I got to think.

Collin Boyce: Yeah.

Christopher Mitchell: But-

Collin Boyce: I would say even if I provide connectivity, and I'm sure you heard my story of when I came here, but connectivity's only one third of the puzzle. So I provide Internet connectivity, but you don't have a device to connect with. We haven't solved the problem yet. So we provide the device, but we have no training that is readily accessible to the public so they can connect. Well, we haven't solved the problem yet, right? So to really solve the problem, we have to push on all three fronts. And I think we can, right. I think COVID thinks in the sense that all of the stuff that is the negative stuff that we had happen in this country, or across the world, right. But the positives are, we understand now digital inclusion and why it's important, we understand now that it's important to get people, devices and get them connected.

Collin Boyce: And we understand now that there's a need for training in order for people to connect. And I think if we take those lessons learned, we can do a lot. And I would also make the argument that we here in Tucson. We were talking about this, the city of Tucson, we deployed over a thousand machines to get people working from home, when underneath people's desks, they were old form factors that they were using. What my appeal is, why even re push people back onto that old form factor. Why not rip out the hard drives, make them readily accessible and give back to the community. Now that you have a fairly recent device that you know doesn't meet your business needs, and now you can have the community used to have a connectivity. And it's more than just the city, right, it's everyone. If you look at all of the local businesses, there's a surplus in the hardware that we're going to see in the next six to eight months, as people start to return back to work, why not come up with a way to connect that to the community?


Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that I found really interesting is that I found in one of the places you mentioned that you were trying to develop a reference architecture. So other cities could do this without staying up until 3:00 in the morning to figure out a DWDM or something like that. So, where can people find that and how has that come along?

Collin Boyce: Well, I haven't finished that yet, so I'm trying to put together the documentation for that. And so we still haven't finished the lessons learned exercise, and I'm going to be working with the Insight team to do that. And candidly, there's a lot of great providers out there. So we're going to make it relatively readily accessible from a municipal perspective, how we do it. And matter of fact, I would say more than just municipal governments, because I'm talking to universities, I just got off the phone with Arizona State University. They're looking at doing a similar project and we're going to collaborate on it. I've offered this to a few other cities, while I can't spend all of my time helping other cities have something similar, I don't mind being part of a steering committee and helping people with which solving some of this stuff and hoping to answer the questions.

Collin Boyce: One of the questions you asked before was other roadblocks, the largest roadblock I think we dealt with is the incumbent service providers. It's not the old school telecom companies because they didn't care very much. It's the cable companies, the cable companies will attack you. And they will try to shut down a program like this in a heartbeat, because it's really about profiteering, it's not even partnership. It's about, we don't think the government should be in this space, even if there's some [inaudible 00:28:13].

Christopher Mitchell: Right, they want to charge you per traffic light, right, they want to charge you for everything and figure out how-

Collin Boyce: They want to charge you for everything.

Christopher Mitchell: I mean, I've seen them. And I was actually surprised that the vehemence that you've faced, because I do feel like where cities have offered just sort of free services, they've often not felt as threatened. And for whatever reason, man, they're really going after you, it seems like.

Collin Boyce: Yeah, yeah, yeah. There's an ax to grind with me specifically. And initially when I saw what was happening, I was really quiet about it, and it was funny because I sent an email to the city manager and I said, "all of the aggregate and facing, it means that I'm getting into, to quote, I'm getting into good trouble, necessary trouble." Right?

Christopher Mitchell: Right.


Collin Boyce: But yeah, that's going to be your largest thing, right, they don't want you to do that. I would encourage anyone if you are not familiar with this website it's called BroadbandNow the links

Christopher Mitchell: That's right.

Collin Boyce: You can see if your local state has any restrictions on if you can do these types of projects. And there's only like 22 locations that have some variance of restrictions-

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah they've updated it, 17 now, roughly.

Collin Boyce: 17, okay. And so that's important to check. It will guide you in the process of becoming an Internet service provider and then candidly, one of the articles said, "hey this is one of the advantages of having the local municipal government." What we saw was a [inaudible 00:29:49] communication, which is the difficult incumbent that we're dealing with. They were only offering 10 megs or 15 megs for the people who were in that situation. Once we offered 50 megs, they upped what they were doing to 50 megs.

Collin Boyce: When you start to do this, it helps with reducing the price and allowing citizens to get better service. So it is a worthwhile endeavor. And for the other people, cities that have done this before, that were pioneering. I spoke to a lot of the CIO's. In Tennessee I've spoken to CIO, him and I have talked Huntsville, Alabama. We have talked to their CIO and the people in their organization that's done that. And it's a worthy cause, it's something that we need to do. And I shared a story, I'm sure you've heard it, I'm from a small island in the Caribbean, Trinidad and Tobago.

Christopher Mitchell: I'm familiar. You denied us going to the world cup, I think the last time around. So, I don't have the warmest feelings toward you, but...

Collin Boyce: Well, the story I share is, my mom came here with four of us. It's me and my four brothers. I'm the youngest out of four. And she had $200 in our pocket, when we came up here, October 21st, 1979, was when we came here, we were poor. And what my mom did was she put us in summer programs where we did computer camps in the summer because they were free services that was offered by the school districts in the city. And I see providing Internet connectivity as that same story as what we can do in this generation or some of that we need to do in this generation.


Collin Boyce: And I will tell you what if it wasn't for that computer trading right now, my two brothers are in the computer industry and one was as a manager at Brookdale hospital in New York city. And the other worked for American express, he subsequently has to become a medical missionary. And there's me, who's the CIO of the city of Tucson, and the black sheep of the family, jokingly, is a neurosurgeon in Grand Rapids. And so providing services that helps people grow is how we get people to pick themselves up by their bootstraps, is how we feel the next generation of leaders in this country. And so I'm passionate about this because if someone didn't teach me about computers at a young age, I wouldn't be here right now. I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing with you today.

Christopher Mitchell: Yes. And it's all the more important that they get them while they're kids. When you're curious, you're excited, you got that time to dive into it. If you're not giving kids opportunities when they're young, then you miss them as adults, I think too often. So I fully agree with you.

Collin Boyce: Think about it, right, I grew up in the inner city. I share a story that when I went to PS 11 in Brooklyn, New York name drop for 30 seconds, I went to school with a guy named Christopher Wallace who eventually became the rapper Biggie Smalls, right. That's the environment I grew up with. Some of those folks didn't survive, right, they didn't make it to forty. I made it because the investment that PS 11 and that community in Fort Greene, Brooklyn made. And some of the kids, my brothers made it because of that. And so this is just another way of giving back and getting the next generation out there. Is it Brooklyn, New York? No, but it's Tucson Arizona.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, I really appreciate the work you've done, not just for Tucson, but trying to make it so that lots of other cities can follow along. Even if they don't have your technical background, that they can figure out how to make this work. They can form the right partnerships. They can do what has to be done, so thank you for that as well.

Collin Boyce: It's my pleasure, and I always say this. If there's anyone that wants my help, I can't guarantee you I can give you as much time as you need. But if you email my executive assistant, her name is Pamela Dot Lyons, She will try to figure out how to get you on the schedule, even if it's just for 30 minutes, just so I can provide some of the impact, the stuff that I've learned along the way I can show some of the slide decks that I use for the justification, anything that I can do to help. I really just want to be able to help more people.


Christopher Mitchell: Great. Thank you so much for your time today.

Collin Boyce: Oh man, Christopher, I really appreciate this.

Ry Marcattilio-McCracken: That was Christopher talking with Colin Boyce. We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at Email us at with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @communitynets, follow stories on Twitter, the handles @muninetworks. Subscribe to this and other podcasts from ILSR, including building local power, local energy rules, and the composting for community podcast. You can access them anywhere you get your podcasts. You can catch the latest important research from all of our initiatives. If you subscribe to our monthly newsletter at While you're there, please take a moment to donate, your support in any amount keeps us going. Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song, Warm Duck Shuffle licensed through Creative Commons. This was episode 459 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. Thanks for listening.