Fast, affordable Internet access for all.
Frameworks for the Future in Newark - Episode 511 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast
This week on the podcast, Christopher is joined by Seth Wainer, the former CIO of the city of Newark, New Jersey. During the conversation, Seth shares his time with the city from 2013-2018. He talks about the progress the city made in improving local connectivity across different arenas, from cataloging existing assets, to pursuing both wired and wireless self-funded projects (to more than 100 buildings today), to putting in vendor-agnostic fiber in downtown development, to coordinating utility projects to lower costs.
Christopher and Seth end the conversation by talking about the importance and power of reframing the question of broadband access, including what happens when we think of telecommunications infrastructure as a sustainable public service rather than a luxury good.
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.
Seth Wainer (00:07):
I think one of the great things about these networks is like, you do everything you can do, and then the, if you do it well, the next person just has the ball a little further up the field and they can try to do that.
Christopher Mitchell (00:17):
Welcome to another episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Christopher Mitchell at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, and I am recording this fresh back from Fiber Connect in Nashville. We're gonna be holding onto it for just a little bit until it publishes, cause we got a couple of interviews set up. But I was excited to find a time to speak with Seth Weiner, the former CIO for the City of Newark, New Jersey. Welcome to the show, Seth.
Seth Wainer (00:42):
Thanks, Chris. I'm super happy to be here.
Christopher Mitchell (00:45):
I'm, I'm excited to speak with you. You've done some really interesting work and, and I would say that we were remiss in not publicizing it. We put a lot of effort into it and every now and then it comes up and we're like, oh man, we still never finished that thing off. We just gotta get it done. And you know, I wish that that was the only project that we had let sort of fizzle, but but I feel like a lot of people are not aware of the cool things that, that Newark was doing when you were there. And I think you get a lot of responsibility for that. But I'm always hesitant cuz I feel like people are always quick to say that they're part of a team and whatnot. But why don't we start with just telling us a little bit about the time that you were in Newark from 2013 to 2018. I feel like Newark was in a bit of a renaissance. And tell us a little bit about what Newark was like in that time and what you were dealing with.
Seth Wainer (01:31):
Newark has historically been the largest city in New Jersey for, you know, probably 200 years. It's been a very long history. and Newark has always been very well situated, meaning it is at a confluence of the major railroads, the highways, the airports, the seaports. and so for a lot of reasons historically over the last, you know, 200 years, Newark has been the first in a lot of things. As an example, the Mars Canal that used to come through the Delaware River kind of snakes, its way through New Jersey. It ends up in the Passaic in Newark. So there's old pictures of Prudential with these bridges going over canal, I guess tributaries, I don't know what to call them, but like really amazing stuff and really cutting edge, you know, 18 80 18 70 18, 18 50. and so when I was in Newark in 2013, it was the, towards the end of then Mayor Cory, administration, Cory
Christopher Mitchell (02:25):
Booker current senator but renowned mayor at the time of Newark.
Seth Wainer (02:32):
Yeah, I had actually been in DC and my wife and I are from New Jersey. We wanted to get back to New Jersey and I, I remember thinking or saying to her, gee, the only thing I'd want to do is go work for Cory Booker and do tech. That would be so cool. You know, so by sheer luck that that worked out and it was clear from talking to some folks in the business community, even before I started, I got a call from the deputy mayor Adam, zip gain, who now works for Senator Booker in, in Washington DC He says, what do you know about high speed Internet? You know, what do you know about fiber optics? And, you know, I said, you know, I've done a whole lot. lemme start learning. I think I bought IBEW's simple manual on like fiber splicing. Cause I was, I was big on the I B E W at the time from some earlier campaign work, obviously that was, that was not exactly the subject matter we're gonna talk about,
Christopher Mitchell (03:18):
But helpful to know <laugh>.
Seth Wainer (03:19):
Christopher Mitchell (03:20):
Gives you a little bit of confidence.
Seth Wainer (03:22):
Yeah. And, and I think also, like, you know, we're probably not gonna cover all this, but the, the labor aspect of building our own networks in America and doing things for ourselves and, and you've kind of big, been a really big advocate of this. I think that that's an important piece of the puzzle generally, that these aren't, the Internet isn't something magical that falls from heaven like manna, right? The Internet is just neighbors connecting to each other. And then those communities connecting to all the other communities and ultimately doing all the wonderful things we do right now. We're working, we're going to school, we're entertainment and all that. So it was an interesting transition moment in 2013. There was a clear interest in high speed Internet. There was not an understanding of what that would mean, but maybe to put some more context on it, I think it was 2009 that Chattanooga had got the award from the American Recovery Act in 2009, 2010 and started to build out fiber using their electric utility.
Christopher Mitchell (04:14):
Let me just have a little bit of context cause I, I think it's important. they started building in, I wanna say like 2008, 2009, and then they got the award like a year later and that significantly sped it up. it's just it's important for people to know that they had started building even before the economy cratered or they started planning and they had the contracts in place to build before the economy cratered. And so they were, you know, doing their own thing before the federal government stepped in to help 'em do it much more rapidly.
Seth Wainer (04:43):
Yeah. Talk about shovel ready, right? You're like really right there <laugh>. Yeah. And they did correct me if I'm wrong, but I think it was about a $300 million all in piece with a hundred from the feds and 200 locally bonding against the revenues from their electric utility. Yep. And so that was a really giant splash in the pool, I think, for anyone at a city at that point. And the challenge quickly became how do we replicate that with without 300 million?
Christopher Mitchell (05:10):
And you probably would've really noticed it cuz it was on the front page of New York Times and the Wall Street Journal at different points within like 18 months <laugh>
Seth Wainer (05:17):
It was, it was big enough that people who didn't know, people that weren't expert in high speed Internet was like, well, Chattanooga did it. You know, it was like a lot of, a lot of that. And I would, you know, Chris, you and I have talked about this stuff over many years, over nine years or so, but I always look at the historical examples of like, what played out. And so, you know, I'll, I would say to people, well, that Tennessee Valley Authority allowed for local control of their electric utility. And that's the legacy that we now see a hundred years or so later. So it's, it's not, these things don't happen by accident, I guess would be the other point. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. But Newark being where it was, was really lucky or fortunate or, you know, however you wanna frame it with the canals, with the railroads, with the highways.
A lot of the fiber backbone for the east coast was going through Newark and identifying that, understanding how telco hotels kind of fit and where they are and all that really helped, at least at the first stages, understand what the value of the city already, what the ci, what the value the city already had before I was even, you know, trying to apply any program or think about it. Just understanding the infrastructure. And I got great advice from a mentor, Dan Tini in dc. He was an administrator for the city of Washington DC He was later GSA and treasury. he said, find the guy who rips up the roads. That guy's gonna know everything, you know. And that's great advice I think for anybody working for a city. Find your traffic engineer, you know, you're head of traffic, you're gonna, you're gonna find these legacy systems and, and you should learn about them because you'll, you could have insight into what's going on.
And I think, Chris, it was you who turned me onto Santa Monica about what was going on on the west coast. I think we probably connected around 2014 if I had to guess. And Jory Wolf was then the CIO of Santa Monica and they were doing kind of a piecemeal build model, which is great if you don't have $300 million. And trying to understand that and trying to understand how it fits together brought us to a program in Newark called Newark Fiber that's still around today. And about to, if I, you know, could conjecture, probably gonna expand very rapidly. It's about a hundred buildings right now. And the goal was how to build things out in a way that would be generally self-funded. You know, there wasn't a lot of credit available at that moment to, to kind of do this stuff, unlike now. And I think the key for us in Newark was understanding existing assets and going into a hybrid model.
The wireless world was really moving fast and 30 gigahertz and 60 gigahertz and five gigahertz backup stuff. This was a really interesting moment when the wireless gear was going from $30,000 point to point to, you know, at the end when I left Ignite net was like $600 aside for 1.2 or, or one gig duplex, which was great. And so that really enabled us to think really creatively about how can we use the fiber we have in the ground? How can we run new fiber and how can we offer connectivity to buildings with the real goal of having the lowest possible price right. Driving the price low, especially in a city like Newark. You know, you're doing it for economic development purposes, you're doing it to bring in new tenants, you're doing it to bring in new businesses. And there are a few really shiny success stories of, of each of those things happening.
You know, there was one example of a downtown apartment building going up called the Hayes Building, which was in a very old elegant apartment store called Haynes that my, my wife's grandmother was from Newark. My bedroom furniture is from, from Hayes. And the Telco Hotel is actually in the old Bamburger Bamberg invented the Macy's Day parade and later sold to Macy's. So it's very funny to have, you know, modern Internet coming from one old department store to a new department store with close to 200 luxury units and a whole bunch of affordable, and we basically were able to offer gig Internet for a very cheap price in that building because the developers of the building were able to do this in a piecemeal way and say, okay, instead of signing a contract that locks us into one vendor, let's put in vendor agnostic fiber within the MD within the the multi-dwelling unit within the apartment.
And if Newark fiber is the best price and the best thing people want, that's great. But if, if another competitor wants to offer service in that building, that's fine too. There's no legal, you know, problems there. Of course, you know, we know the end of that story and generally that public interest networks are going to offer a lower price cuz that's their goal. And that building was really successful. There were a few other ones like that. And then from the business side, I used to joke, you know, we're gonna try to, this will attract new businesses, or I would say it, but I would, I don't know to what extent I believed it. And we really ended up attracting several really big new businesses. So Panasonic was moving in. I don't think that was really a big driver for them per se, but M & M Mars came in and they on, you know, their buildings on a 10 gig pipe and Broadridge is a financial services company and they came in and I heard that the Internet and being at, you know, a 10 gig pipe that was a reasonable price for them was a, was a big driver too.
and there have since been others. There's, you know, film studios moving to the area. And so the, the markets for high speed Internet in 2013, 2014 might have been, you know, people were more influenced maybe by high speed trading that was, you know, some of the stuff going on there. But nowadays, especially in the creative sector, you're talking about shared, you know, video and editing and architectural drawings and really a lot of different market segments benefit from very cheap, very high speed Internet mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And hopefully that'll continue to be a driver of Newark's growth and economic development going forward.
Christopher Mitchell (10:36):
Yeah. Cause I, I feel like there's a couple of things. One is I wanna make sure people are aware you know, Newark isn't just a large city in New Jersey. It also has a lot of buildings that are well above the trees. So that gives you assets that you don't always find in other cities that are more spread out. You know you know, your downtown is quite large. and another thing is you have that proximity to New York City and so you have, you know, benefits with that. And I feel like it's one of the lessons that I've seen is when you make that fiber available, you know, you might not have a company that says, whoa, we're just gonna move to Newark cuz of the fiber. But they're like thinking about Newark, it's made their final list and it's a sweetener that will help them get over and, and, and, and also help retain those who are maybe on the fence about whether they're gonna move somewhere else.
Seth Wainer (11:22):
Perhaps the greatest, you know, the, the greatest claim to fame of the network was that we were like number two or number three on that giant Amazon HQ two bid. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> that, you know, having the high speed Internet was a real outsize card on the table that applied well to this type of thing. And the idea of a tech company coming in, perhaps for better or for worse, I, I don't, I don't know the right answer to that one, but we're also newer to your point, one of the densest cities in America, right? It's only all of a sudden it's about 300,000 right now, according to the census, maybe 3 0 8, which is not, you know, super big. But it's, it's like 25 square miles. It's very small. And if you carve out the airport in seaport, which really isn't land that's usable, you're at like 20 square miles mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So it's, so it's very dense, you know, compared with Chattanooga. I think Chattanooga is like 300 square miles or something of that nature in
Christopher Mitchell (12:11):
Their electric territories, like 700.
Seth Wainer (12:13):
Yeah. Yeah. So, so there's differences and you know, there's obviously tremendous differences in cost per mile build, you know, in, in an area like the south, you know, you could be dealing in, even in rural parts of the Northeast, you could be dealing with $30,000 a mile or less. And in a city like Newark, you're, especially if you're cutting a sidewalk, you're talking like $120,000 and $150,000 mile. So one thing actually, I would also just say coordination of utilities is a real, is a real crazy one. And you know, it used to drive me nuts every time I saw a sidewalk being cut. And I didn't know if there was fiber going in for later or PVC pipe going in for the next guy. And I tried so hard to coordinate and I probably could have done better to be honest about getting that.
But that's a real challenge to public interest infrastructure is just the sheer difficulty in coordination of, you know, you have an electric utility, you have a water utility, you have private construction, you have private telco operators, and everyone just kind of goes into the road, does their thing, does their cuts and it's brutal. and the lack of coordination is really, really tough as is frankly the physicality of it all. The idea that once you do the paving and the milling, if you're gonna do a cut and I gotta go curb to curb, you know, I was, these are challenges I think that we as a society should, should worship, should work on mm-hmm. <affirmative>, because ultimately it'll pay dividends in the out years. But one example, you know, sidewalk labs thinking about how can we do modular pavement? How can we do these things in a, in a different way that allows for new utilities to go in?
These are all, I think, big picture challenges that, you know, if anyone's listening who's in the, in the public sector, these are things that I think that you, you should put your shoulder to the wheel and push as hard as you can. But I'm also open to smarter more long-term thinkers structurally solving some of these challenges of of cutting once, even if, you know, you're just trying experimentally with an ordinance, you know, cut once and try to have some sort of coordination office. You know, I'm seeing Jersey City, for example, established director for infrastructure. There's, there's ways of kind of centralizing or increasing the chances of, of productive overlap.
Christopher Mitchell (14:16):
Yeah. One of the, one of the things that's come up in, in my friendship with Travis Carter, and I know that you were talking before we started recording, you're familiar with the, the connect this series and, and some of the work we know we do talking with smaller ISPs and, and really innovative folks. And it was interesting to me cuz that was always under the impression that, you know, you'd rather save the expense to go in an open trench. And from his point of view and I, and I, and I think that it's common but perhaps not overwhelming point of view, cuz different operators have different priorities, but he hates that because then you're on someone else's timetable and he likes, you know, being able to be very efficient with his crew and not have them penciled in for a day and then finding out someone else screwed up and you can't get in that day and you're, you're scrambling. And so he always likes to go in right after everyone else is done and the sidewalk's done and, and then he does directional boring. So he doesn't do a lot of cuts, but I gotta imagine it's pretty aggravating for the street folks, <laugh> to have someone that prefers to go in right after the street is finished <laugh>.
Seth Wainer (15:18):
And I, like I said, I was analogized to his history and I used to say to people, this is the wild West. Like this is the complete wild West. Like there is no, there's no law saying that so-and-so has to do it in this sequence. And that person has to, even if there were a law, there's no enforcement mechanism and no one cares. You know, and I would find infrastructure all the time and say, what, what is this? What's the permit for this? What's the permit for this? You know, or I'd find, you know, companies would go bankrupt over time, which is totally fine. You know, you and I were talking about this.
Christopher Mitchell (15:44):
Yeah. Ahead. The attachments are still up there, right? Like this, when I started getting the pictures for the telecom peekaboo, you know, one of the first ones we had, I was like, what is this thing? And they're like, eh, it was probably retired. It probably hasn't been used in 10 years and no one's taking it down. <laugh>.
Seth Wainer (15:55):
One thing that I thought it was jewelry, but it might've been someone else. Let's give him credit for now. When you think about cutting, once they would have a fee that would go in on the developer's side and then the city would do the work on laying the pipe. So there wasn't as much scheduling, but I, your point is very valid, which is the friction of trying to coordinate simply prevents us from coordinating. And I totally get that. It's just a long term goofy problem that if we could solve, we could probably be in better shape.
Christopher Mitchell (16:27):
Yeah, I was thinking as you were talking about that I, I've been a big fan of what we have here in Dakota County, which is a solution that bubbled up from the folks actually doing the work, which is a permitting system in which you can get alerts and when someone else is working in the right of way. But I can imagine that there might be an elegant way of implementing that in a low touch way. But I would imagine that many places that might try that would find that they're just inundated and no one actually reads the alerts because they're getting a hundred of 'em a day.
Seth Wainer (16:54):
<laugh>. And you know, the one of the nice things about fiber, of course, is you could just run four inch PVC everywhere and leave it for 20 years. And that's a win in, in, in some context, right?
Christopher Mitchell (17:02):
Well, especially with like the, the, the micro ducts that are available now with the, with the you can have, you can put in these big pipes that have a lot of of ducts within them that then you can parcel out.
Seth Wainer (17:13):
Absolutely. And I just also, while we were chatting, I looked up quickly, Newark is as dense as like Philadelphia and Chicago at about 11,000 plus people per square mile. So not every city could follow precisely what we did with a wired wireless approach, but it is very attractive. And even at the time, you know, let's say 2015, I was hearing a lot of arguments that directional point to point in, in, in a busy city would be very noisy and it wouldn't work in a city like New York. But I'm seeing now in 2022, you know, the evolution of certain types of hybrid networks in New York City as well, which is great. And I think that this also underscores another like favorite soapbox of mine, which would be that the unlicensed spectrum is really, really, really important. And the idea of point to point wireless, I always say the evolution of of unlicensed spectrum tends, in my opinion, mirror the evolution of licensed spectrum.
So when you moved over to 4g, when 4G really proliferated and you were getting 50 megs, 80 meg speed tests on a phone, that was around the time that like 802.11 and an AC sort of evolved and as 802.11ac evolved and you're getting, you know, 200 megabit speed tests inside, that's really terrific. And as now as you're moving into 5g, I, you know, you're seeing advances on ac you're seeing advances in, you know, I'm not even as current as I'd like to be with all this, but like the idea of higher and higher MIMO combinations and, and ways of making the speed on the phone through unlicensed spectrum reach 400 megs, 500 megs, you know,
Christopher Mitchell (18:47):
Even with I feel like wifi six, we're looking at six e I think we're looking at like multiple gigabits potentially for a phone. Probably can't handle that, but some of our devices can.
Seth Wainer (18:56):
Right. We were doing this was just comedy, this is 2016 or so, we were trying to show off and do, if you go to newark fiber.org, you could see this. We were trying to do the fastest speed test on the Internet, and I couldn't find any speed tests above, you know, one or two gig mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And we were really, we were really getting in the weeds here. We're like, okay, well, you know, the firewall is fine, that's not the problem. The switch is a 10 gig switch, that's not the problem. And then we really, we realized that in order for the computer to do a speed test, it was downloading a file and we had a right to disc problem where computers simply couldn't write to disc at that kind of speed. So there was a new Mac that had just come out that could write to disk. It was a solid state drive and it could write to disk at like four gigs. So we did like a four gig per second speed test. And we, you know, at the time, that was the fastest speed test you could find available on, on YouTube. So it's the background right now of newark fiber.org.
Christopher Mitchell (19:45):
<laugh>. That's awesome. We have, I feel like we should be very clear about what you did in Newark. So you connected buildings and some of those are commercial buildings, some of those have residential tenants. yeah. But just the, the, the, you know, what's the 32nd version of what you actually did?
Seth Wainer (20:00):
30 seconds I would say I established a legal framework, which is really important, like governance. Second is I established our expectations around profit and loss. So I, I established a business case. And then third is I established what were gonna be our, our tech standards to meet the business case. And I think those three things, you can get different people to do it. You can get one person to do whatever it is, you know, you don't have to, doesn't have to be all in all in one. Those three buckets for us we're extremely critical to getting things off the ground. You need a firm legal footing, you need an understanding of of cash flow and what's really gonna happen. And with that goes also selecting an I S P and figuring that out.
Christopher Mitchell (20:37):
So you didn't act as an I S P at all as new as Newark?
Seth Wainer (20:40):
No, and I would frequently say the city itself would not act as the I S P and I would frequently say like, you know, because that would make the, the lawyers extremely nervous. And I would say, you know, we're not providing IP addresses to anybody. We are enabling a market exchange to happen that today can't happen. But we're not, you know, no city employee is provisioning IP addresses and creating subnets and all this other stuff. Like, we're just gonna get someone to do that. That's okay though. It's on them. And there's tremendous, you know, from the telco acts of 96 and 2006, there's tremendous flexibility, right. You know, we see this with, you can't hold Facebook accountable for problems. But on the other, on the flip side of that is an I S P providing Internet. There's not a whole lot, aside from the issues with copyright law, there's not, there's not like issues with what people are looking at on the Internet.
It's, it's, it's pretty wild, wild west to use that metaphor again. So that was kind of bucket two. And then bucket three was getting into the tech space, which we did together with, you know, a lot of people who are smarter than me. but, you know, I would experimentally get into these, you know, we were looked at micro trenching for a while, talk to Mark Hudson in, in Detroit, and I said, mark, what's your experience with micro-trenching? He said, if I could do it again, I wouldn't do it. You know, so instead of, instead of getting into that, we kind of tried to work around it. We did these point to point, we did view Bic was a good point to point solution for a while. Ignite Net didn't come around until about two, three years into the program. We experimented with a lot of other products.
There's a, there's a product called wifi. There was a hope of like omni-directional to point, point, to multi-point, which I still think would be a really powerful game changer for a lot of these things. So those are the three things I did that I think any, almost any city could, could think about, you know, governance, profited, loss, any actual tech you're gonna use. Chris, can I give one quick shout out? A friend of mine mm-hmm. <affirmative>, who helped build the network actually passed away a few years ago. Kris Pacunas, who was the CEO of Gig Zero, and they were an early kind of profit sharing partner with our, the city's nonprofit. And it's also just goes to show also like, you don't have forever to do these things.
Christopher Mitchell (22:41):
I think that's important. Yeah. I just learned you know, one of the people that taught me a lot and, and did a built a wonderful network in southwest Minnesota, Dan Olsen I just recently learned, he had passed not too long ago. And then at Fiber Connect, we were honoring gene Scott, who was just a, a terrific person and really did a lot. So yeah, there, there's people who, you know, you sort of, you, you recognize that they're getting older and then there's other people that just, you're just like, whoa, that person, you know? And yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. We gotta we gotta get good stuff done.
Seth Wainer (23:12):
I think also one of the things, you know, not that all your listeners are seeking glory and eternity, but I think one of the great things about these networks is like, you do everything you can do, and then the, if you do it well, the next person just has the ball a little further up the field and they can try to do that. You know, like our traffic engineer, Jack Nata, who headed up the traffic division in Newark, was very smart and put in a lot of fiber while he could. And there's a tremendous, you know, strong network with good splices and, you know, and all that. And Jack passed while I was there as well of of colon cancer, I think. And I just remember thinking like, wow, Jack, if you hadn't done this, I don't think I, you know, if he hadn't gotten me to second base, I don't think I could have scored by making the way home.
So it's really important just for everyone to understand like that's, you know, civic perspective, that's the relay race. It's a big, would you provide Chris, which I'm extremely thankful for, is this like, think tank element of helping connect the dots between folks like me and folks who are doing other work and kind of pulling those things together and without the, the the intellectual gravitas and, and kind of research layer that you provide to this story. Again, a lot of people would be starting from the very beginning, and I don't think that's a good, that's not easy. It's hard to do that in a lifetime to start from scratch and, and run forward.
Christopher Mitchell (24:33):
Well, I, I appreciate that we you know, our team does this best and it's an exciting place to work. but I do wanna, I wanna be clear. So you, you identified the three things that from a city perspective you had to do. I wanna know what that resulted in. And, and that resulted in basically getting connections to more than 100 buildings either by basically fiber in through the main level at the ground or fi or wireless at the top likely point to point that would then be distributed within the building. did the city own the distribution cables within the building then? Did you have like contractors that put those in? How did you handle that?
Seth Wainer (25:07):
The city didn't own stuff in the building. The city retains ownership to everything outside in the street. the city does not own the point to points, but the city owns any fiber that gets built as a result of extending the network. So that all retains ownership with the city. The city then leased from a legal framework. Everyone can do, you know, depends what your state laws are, depends what your city laws are. But I opted for going with leasing all the fiber under local land and building law. There's, you can go different directions, right? So under local land and building, you can lease a public asset like that to a nonprofit for a public purpose. And the city has a nonprofit that it utilizes for economic development as do many, right? To like, think of New York EDC or anyone else, you know, like that.
And then the nonprofit became the contracting vehicle to procure an appropriate partner, i s p, to procure, you know, own the contract that said a building wanted to be connected to own and, and develop elements of the terms of service that the vendor would ultimately then provide to the customer. So there's a lot of arms length work going on there, which I think is PR sometimes good. There's other ways of doing this. I think there are ways of centralizing it and doing it through a city. If I could do it all over again, I don't know that I would follow the exact same governance model, but this at the time made the most sense to me. it also is very logical now from a, there's a lot of financing out there from banks, from, from the feds, from everybody. And to have it owned and leased for x amount of time by the nonprofit allows the nonprofit to be the vehicle that would then take on debt.
Although an individual I S P probably could do that too, I think there's benefit to kind of centralizing those things. So, so that was the, the basics are, it's like a 26 plus mile network that the city owns. There's a lot of point to point and a lot of rooftop rights that are legally probably with the nonprofit that when a customer signs up, the nonprofit has paper. You know, and we developed all this stuff. We, we didn't do it from scratch, but we, we, what does a form contract look like and how did these things evolve? And, you know, we sought anchor tenants and we figured out, you know, who are gonna be the very earliest adopters who are such city boosters that they're willing to try this, you know, shout out to like Prudential, audible and Panasonic who I think were probably the first, the Prudential Center is a customer. They have a video game, they have a, they have a video game league, like
Christopher Mitchell (27:28):
Seth Wainer (27:29):
Yeah, yeah. They're on, they're on like a 10 gig pipe. So like, that's cool. You know,
Christopher Mitchell (27:33):
I think Chattanooga got some of that action too, for the similar reasons. so as we're running out of time, what are, what are some of the challenges that we haven't talked about that people should be aware of?
Seth Wainer (27:44):
I think the first biggest challenge is like an ideological challenge, right? And I think that it's important, you know, Tom Pickett's second book on Capital really gets into this, like, the ideology and the story we tell ourselves is really important. And it prevents, you know, as an example, the idea that the, that the city shouldn't be providing Internet prevents creativity. It prevents like people thinking about, do I deserve to pay less than 80 or $90 for an Internet connection? Can I pay $20 for an Internet connection? You know? And certainly next to me in the CIO's office, there was a water utility in the water utility for Newark ... Newark has historically the greatest water in the region. We had many beer manufacturers, Budweiser, ps a lot, even the Tiffany glass company was using the water for good, good usage. And that grosses a hundred million a year. But no one argues that, oh, we don't have the, I ideologically it's wrong to provide water. So ideological hangups are definitely the biggest thing. I think that just gets people going.
Christopher Mitchell (28:44):
Let me, let me just give you a plus one on that, because I think there's really important work broadening people's ideas about this. Done by an Italian woman Mariana Mazzucato. Yes. Yes. She, her books are wonderful. I, I haven't finished the Moonshot yet, but her first two are wonderful and I've been enjoying moonshot.
Seth Wainer (29:01):
Totally agree. I totally agree. moonshot is wonderful. I read the other one on Val, the value it's not like the value of everything,
Christopher Mitchell (29:10):
Something like that.
Seth Wainer (29:11):
Yeah. It's like a pun on that. It's very good. It gets into how we describe certain economic activity as value creating and non-value creating, and how that ideologically underpins our, our thinking. And I think that having those conversations robustly out loud with each other, with students with the youngest generation, I mean, I think also the disruptions that we've seen, right? So Internet was not a utility was not an accepted utility in 2013, but here comes the pandemic and all the kids are home from school, and guess what? Internet inter suddenly everyone's like, how do we get all these low-income people Internet? Well, if you had done this 50 years ago, you know, if you had taken this seriously, you wouldn't have this problem now. So it's important to beat the ideology and to do that. The second thing I would say is like the spirit of experimentation, which again, Mazzucato is like really, really good for this.
and Chris, you had a, you had a, I asked you one time in like 2015, I said, why do you think we're just so like, not into trying these things out? Like, why is this a problem socially? And you were like, oh, we're not farmers anymore. <laugh>, you said when everyone, when everyone, when everyone was an ind, I said, say this quote all the time. I said, when everyone was an in, you said, when everyone was an individual farmer and a piece of equipment broke on your, on your property, you just fixed it. You didn't like debate the issue. And like, you just got in, you got in the tractor and you fixed it. And he goes, and, and you said, and now that no one's farming anymore and everyone's got computers and whizbang crap, no one has the ethos that we're just gonna try to do it. And like, failure is a bummer, but failure is not, the failure's not the end. You just figure out how to do it in a different direction.
Christopher Mitchell (30:39):
That sounds wiser than anything. I would've said, <laugh>, you might be confusing me with someone else, but I, I'm sure I have the idea. And I and I would say that I feel like along with that, it's like not being afraid to break things, right? Like Yeah, yeah, yeah. Like, that's one of the things I'm so careful in raising my son. I just want to be like, all right, you know at least we're in a place of my wife and I have very modest habits, and so, you know, I'm sort of like, I'm gonna give him a shot and like, maybe he'll break this thing and then we'll have to deal with that. But like, it's important that he'd not be afraid of touching things.
Seth Wainer (31:07):
Yeah, I totally agree. If I could give a plug to my wonderful wife, Rachel, she focuses on program now for psychological safety and like what that means in the workplace. And she reflects on the stuff I did in Newark a lot. And she goes, you're doing what you're supposed to be doing, you know, and I said, where? And she said, well, I used to give out an, I broke it award because, you know, we had a, I'll give you one stupid example. We had a phone system in the city that was costing us like $180,000 a month. And I gave an award for the person who broke it one time. All the phones stop working for four hours, you know, and like, somebody freaked out, you know, oh my gosh, the phones aren't working. And I said, yeah, I, I, I, I know it's really a bummer.
We'll, we'll fix it. They'll be back up. I said, but the phone bill went from $180,000 a month to like 20 grand a month because we were experimenting and trying to make these changes. And I think that, you know, when your Internet, when your home Internet goes down, plenty mm-hmm. <affirmative>, there's plenty of scenarios where I'm like, ah, Internet's being a little glitchy, or what's going on? You know? And I think that for public sector people out there or, or, or anybody listening who's, who's curious about these types of things, that spirit of experimentation I've been reading a book on the Eerie Canal lately. Bernstein, I think is the author, I could be wrong. And it's like, they didn't know how to build a canal, a 300 mile canal. They didn't have a single person in America. They had the credential of an engineer.
They were digging with their hands, but guess what? They built a canal because, you know, and it was on budget, which is even crazier. So the, the idea that you can experiment to do things, I think you see in communities where they need to. And I think that one of the real challenges with the affluence in America is we just think everything is as good as it can be and be, and we're happy to keep pumping profit to people who have it. And that's ultimately not what society really needs. Society really needs like, ingenuity, creativity, because that'll create greater empowerment and greater ownership of, of, of the collective infrastructure, which will then create better rules for how we do all these things. So I think it's, it's a challenge because we're really in it, but I think that ultimately we can get our way out.
Christopher Mitchell (33:02):
I I feel like if I was reading a book on the Erie Canal, I would just not be able to get Bruce Springsteen's version. I can't remember the name of the song, but since you're from Jersey, I forget, I would bring it up. But it's like a, he covered a, I think it's a, like an Irish song and there's a, a chorus about working on the Erie Canal and all right, I'm gonna have to look that up now. Yeah,
<laugh>, it might be from his live in Dublin album. So it's, which is an amazing, amazing album. So that's probably a pretty good place to draw to a close. Seth thank you so much for, for taking the time. this has been a great con conversation. I think we left a lot on the table. I'm hoping that at some point we're at the same event and maybe we'll just talk about live on on a microphone as well. so thank you.
Seth Wainer (33:40):
I would like that so much, Chris, and thanks again for everything you guys are doing. I just, I rely on your thinking on this so much. I appreciate that you're, you're continuing to beat the drum and stay focused and continuing to research the questions of the times. you know, I sound a little dated, but I, I listen to your podcast to figure out what's going on now.
Christopher Mitchell (33:59):
Cool. Thank you.
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