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Lisa Gonzalez Leaves Us With a Sense of Hope - Community Broadband Bits Episode 401
The Community Broadband Networks team had to say a difficult goodbye recently to longtime Senior Researcher Lisa Gonzalez, who accepted a new position with the State of Minnesota. Before she left, Lisa sat down with Christopher to reflect on the end of an era. Despite some bittersweet feelings, she expresses confidence that she's leaving the program in good hands.
In the eight years since Lisa joined the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, there have been a lot of changes in the world of municipal broadband. Lisa discusses how her role at the Community Broadband Network Initiative evolved over time and how more interest in locally owned connectivity translated to an increase in her output. She recounts how she took the helm of MuniNetworks.org, and Christopher credits her for the website's success.
The pair also talk about Lisa's new role as a telecommunications analyst at the Minnesota Department of Commerce, where she will apply her experience to benefit the state's consumers. Before signing off, Christopher and Lisa reminisce over her early days at ILSR and discuss how it almost didn't come to be. For more of Lisa's reflections, read her farewell post.
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Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.
Lisa Gonzalez: I feel really good about everything that we've done and where we are now and I feel confident that the community broadband initiative is going to be great without me and I feel really good about the future.
Jess Del Fiacco: Welcome to episode 401 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self Reliance. This is Jess Del Fiacco, the communications manager. If you're a regular listener, you may already be missing a familiar voice in our podcast. Lisa Gonzalez recently left her position as senior researcher at the Institute for Local Self Reliance to become an analyst for the Minnesota Department of Commerce. We couldn't let her leave without one final conversation on the show. In this interview, you'll hear Lisa and Christopher talk about her role at ILSR, how her work changed over the last eight years and how more communities than ever are turning to us for resources and advice. They reminisce a little about her early days on the job and why she felt so at home at ILSR. Lisa also talks about what she'll be doing in her new position with the Department of Commerce. We'll certainly miss having her as part of our team, but we know she'll do great things there. Here's Christopher talking with Lisa Gonzalez.
Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Super sad edition. Lisa has been with us, introduced more than 400 podcasts and this will be her final episode that she's appearing on at least for a while. Maybe, who knows? Maybe we'll get you back in a different capacity. Lisa Gonzalez is a senior researcher who's been working on my team for eight years here at the Institute for Local Self Reliance. You've been just a big part of the success that we've had. You were responsible for that, not just here for it. So Lisa, it's wonderful to have you on the show and very sad that this is the last time.
Lisa Gonzalez: Well, thanks Chris. It is kind of sad to be here, but I feel confident that I'm passing the torch onto a really great group of people who are working for you. I feel really good about everything that we've done and where we are now. I feel confident that the community broadband initiative is going to be great without me. I feel really good about the future even though we are doing this remotely.
Christopher Mitchell: What a time to feel great about the future.
Lisa Gonzalez: In the grips of a horrible virus scare, but that too shall pass because we have really strong, capable people who know a lot about science and we've survived this long and I'm sure we'll survive longer. So I feel good about it.
Christopher Mitchell: I feel in anticipation of leaving my team, you're starting to take drugs.
Lisa Gonzalez: Maybe for all you know this is when I've stopped.
Christopher Mitchell: Well, Lisa, I feel we should review briefly what you've done, which is effectively everything on the team. But what has been the majority of your activity on a daily basis while you've been here in recent years? We can go back a little bit more and talk about the history of what you've seen and reflect on it, but what do you do around here?
Lisa Gonzalez: Well, of course, as you said, that's changed over the years. But recently I have been managing the muninetworks.org website. That involves learning about different communities and what they've done to improve connectivity and sharing those stories and also researching what's happening with different laws in different communities. Different methods that people are using to improve Internet access. We've been doing a little bit more with digital inclusion in the past few years with tribal networks, mostly just getting the word out. So that's been the bulk of what I've been doing lately. Helping a little bit with technical advice for people who contact us. Doing the podcasts, editing them. Just a big variety of different things as needed.
Christopher Mitchell: How many Google alerts would you say you average in a day?
Lisa Gonzalez: Well, I don't know because lately I've gotten a little bit behind on the Google alerts and that is because things have gotten so busy. That's another reason why I feel hopeful about this because what it means is more people are understanding the value of local networks. I have not too many Google alerts, only about, I don't know, 50 or 60 or so. But they have been pretty busy lately and that's one of the reasons why I've gotten a little bit behind. I would say each day I probably get, I don't know, somewhere between 40 and 50 so I do go through them. I have a different strategy, some are really broad, some are really narrow. But it's been really challenging the past couple of years because so many more people are realizing that if they want to stay competitive, their communities need to invest in this kind of infrastructure and take control of their local connectivity.
Christopher Mitchell: You joined us about eight years ago, not long after a muninetworks.Org was launched. Certainly, muninetworks.org was doing a much lower traffic at that time in terms of the amount of content we were putting up, maybe three stories a week or so I think. At that time, if anything happened, we were just thrilled because sometimes we were trying to figure out what to do.
Lisa Gonzalez: I remember sitting in my office and every time there'd be a story you'd come running in and you'd say, you have to write about this, you have to write about this. Oh I remember that.
Christopher Mitchell: Straight out the teletype.
Lisa Gonzalez: Exactly. Exactly. Now it's just difficult to keep up with. There's just so much and it's great. I feel like that's partly because of what we've been doing. I feel we've really expanded the word.
Christopher Mitchell: That was certainly our goal. It's been really rewarding to see that that's been something that's taken off and people have really appreciated that it's made a difference. At this point I think you have a Google doc of 100 stories or more that we'd like to do that we keep putting off. Because we add new higher priority stories on a regular basis. Whether that's me running in your office still, which happens less frequently or are you just seeing things?
Lisa Gonzalez: Yes that Google doc is I believe something like 36 pages long. One of the things that I always have a new intern do is go back through the old pages because all of the news stories are at the beginning. I have an intern go through and try to look at the older stories, potential stories and oftentimes there are stories that are about a community that has already done something. Sometimes those stories are about communities that have examined the possibility and dismissed it. Sometimes those stories about communities that have examined the possibility and put in conduit or created policies or sometimes they're about communities that have actually... That's why we started something like that to just kind of watch communities and it's just amazing how many places are actually doing things.
Christopher Mitchell: I feel there's a major transition four and a half years ago. I remember it well it was 2015 because my son was born. That's when I'm more or less realized I could not continue the level of micromanagement that I had been doing. I basically stopped being so... I would say micromanaging of your work and you took over muninetworks.org and since then it's been you who has been writing a lot of the stories, editing all of the stories, getting them up, managing the publication schedule and things like that. People still credit me for it, which I appreciate, but you've been the heart and the soul of the site for many years now.
Lisa Gonzalez: I remember that time and I remember how things were sort of starting to happen and your wife was expecting and you were like, I am getting kind of nervous. I don't really know what I'm going to do. I said, let me take care of muni networks. You were like, "I don't know."
Christopher Mitchell: It's my baby. I'm going to have another baby but I want to keep my first baby.
Lisa Gonzalez: Right. I said, "Well, you don't have much choice." And you did. I appreciate that. Because I really enjoy writing the shorter stories. I mean, I had done few reports and they were great. I like writing longer stuff but I prefer writing the up to date shorter things. It was a good way for me to feel productive because I'm the kind of person who likes to make things and produce things and get things out there. I like that quick turnaround and I really appreciated the fact that you allowed me to do that because I feel everyday I am productive and it's been a great experience.
Christopher Mitchell: Well, I think readers, listeners to the podcast have all appreciated that you've made it such a priority. I know that you've gone above and beyond many days to make sure that you are getting it done. That you are providing fresh content for people. I know in talking to people that they appreciate it. They don't think they have a sense of what it takes to have managed that level of output to be publishing. I believe on one year, 550 stories and in two years, 450 stories or so in two of the years. It's just a remarkable amount of output that has been wonderful.
Lisa Gonzalez: It really does sneak up on you. But also, I mean one of the reasons why is because we have contacts and people get in touch with us and they're willing to let us talk to them and they are willing to share what's going on in their communities and that really does make our stories better.
Christopher Mitchell: Yes. Now, let's talk about, I think what it's like to be here. In part this is an opportunity not to talk about how this is the most amazing place to work, which it is. I certainly love the people that are here, but more a sense of how we do things. Because I think a number of people who don't like our work would think that we are just looking for ways of promoting municipal networks. I have tried to keep my eye on the ball that what we're doing is trying to help local communities be strong. Sometimes that means building a network and sometimes it means investigating it, but deciding not to. I'm just curious if you've seen over the eight years, have you seen that change at all or what your thoughts are in terms of when you ask yourself, what am I actually doing here? What are you doing here?
Lisa Gonzalez: Good question, Chris.
Christopher Mitchell: You don't ask yourself what you're doing here.
Lisa Gonzalez: Obviously, I don't or else I'd be able to whip off an answer. Here's the thing. All my life I have felt people have tried to tell me what I should be doing and it's true. People have tried to tell me what they think I should be doing. People have tried to tell me that they know better what's for me than I know better what's for me. That's one of the things I appreciate about the Institute is, that's not what we're about. As a woman, especially being born when I was born, which was in the 60s, we don't need to get into any more detail.
Christopher Mitchell: Right. The 1860s it been wonderful.
Lisa Gonzalez: Yes. It's been a wonderful 154 years. But I appreciate the fact that people need to make their own decisions. That's one of the things about the Institute that I like is people have the capacity to examine their situation and they're the only ones who know what's best for them. That might be an individual, it might be a municipality or a county or state. They should be the ones to decide what to do moving forward.
Christopher Mitchell: Well, it seems you've been in the right place for a while.
Lisa Gonzalez: Yes, I would say so.
Christopher Mitchell: So if we talk about the podcast now, briefly, Lisa. We launched it eight years ago, approximately 50 episodes a year, more or less. Pretty accurately until this year moved a bunch of bonus episodes and things like that in the past few months. At the time I'd been listening to podcasts for three or four years and that time I felt like everyone had a podcast. But no, we were still pretty early and now everyone has a podcast and probably next year even more... Every once we'll have podcasts. I don't know. But I'm curious. I mean, when I first said, "Hey, I want you to edit this." What were your thoughts?
Lisa Gonzalez: I was not a podcast fan. I never have been, which seems strange because I have a theater degree. I'm kind of like, "You cannot see a podcast." But I was also excited about the fact that I could do something that involves a certain amount of artistic content. So I was glad to do it. It felt a little strange to me. I had never worked with Audacity before. Now, I know a lot about it, although I think there's probably a lot more that I could learn about it.
Lisa Gonzalez: I will say that there are a lot of podcasts out there that I've listened to that I find annoying. Because I don't want to hear what you had for lunch before we get into the content of why you're here. I appreciate that about what we do. I'm glad that we started doing it because there is no... Well there may be a few other podcasts that cover this kind of material, but I think that we still fill a gap that people need to hear. Even if we don't have a gigantic audience. There are people who don't have the time to read the reports and don't have the time to read articles all the time and listening to a podcast is what they need.
Christopher Mitchell: I feel before we talk about where you're going. One of the things I want to mentioned that's your... You mentioned you have the degree in theater, you have a JD in law, which has been very useful in the past here. You also have a deep, deep love of Renaissance Fair and geek culture type stuff.
Lisa Gonzalez: How's that?
Christopher Mitchell: For people who aren't familiar, Lisa has not even come close to expressing the interesting many eclectic tastes that she has. But let me ask you, as someone who's actually put on your own play recently, as we go back out in society again, do you want to make a pitch for people to do live theater or to do something they wouldn't ordinarily do, like go to the Renaissance Fair.
Lisa Gonzalez: Yes. Actually I want them to do it now while they're stuck at home. I want them to open up a play by Shakespeare, by Oscar Wilde's, by someone who they have never read before by Eugene O'Neill. I want them to read it and I want them to read it out loud and I want them to film themselves. And then I want them to post it on YouTube and I want them to share it with all of their friends. I love theater and there's many reasons for it, partly because it's a way for people to understand each other. Also, because it's a wonderful teaching tool. Those are the reasons why I love to do it and it brings people together. Now that we're all separated, this is a wonderful time to be doing it and to be using the Internet to do it. So, I hope that people take that to heart and actually go online and do that.
Christopher Mitchell: So let's talk about what you're going to be doing now. You're, moving to Broadway and you're putting on plays.
Lisa Gonzalez: I am. They're all going to be exclusively online.
Christopher Mitchell: You'll, probably do that from your home in Minneapolis. What's next for you, Lisa? What are you doing next week?
Lisa Gonzalez: Starting Monday I'm going-
Christopher Mitchell: As people who are listening to this. What did you start doing yesterday, Lisa?
Lisa Gonzalez: I'm going to be working at the Department of Commerce.
Christopher Mitchell: For the state of Minnesota.
Lisa Gonzalez: For the state of Minnesota in the telecom division. Doing some of what I do now at ILSR for constituents in the state of Minnesota
Christopher Mitchell: Just, I know that we're not going to get too deep into it, but what is the Department of Commerce do when it comes to telecom? Or is that what you're just finding out now?
Lisa Gonzalez: A little bit of both. I'm told that I'm needed there and that we're going to be doing what we can to help consumers, especially for those that have had some issues with telecommunications companies and some other things. Developing good policy, good state policy.
Christopher Mitchell: Good. Well, I certainly think that you will bring a fair eye to it. I don't want to... I guess I shouldn't make assumptions about others who are working in similar to us on issues that they call consumer issues. I certainly don't see it as consumer issues. I see it as subscriber when it comes to the Internet because we all produce. Nonetheless, the point I wanted to make is that one of the things in our office we've tried to do is not to pretend that if we could just get rid of Comcast, that it would be a good thing and that the world would be easier. But that the big companies play an important role and we may envision a different role for them in the future with different sets of regulations in a different marketplace structure. But that we're not angry at Comcast and we don't think that Comcast or a single company is the reason that there's some problems that we'd like to fix.
Lisa Gonzalez: Certainly, there are guidelines for them to follow and it's important that they do. Oftentimes, those guidelines need to be adjusted.
Christopher Mitchell: I think that you're going to be a wonderful employee of the state and that you're someone who can put aside personal feelings and we've worked with me all these years despite your inherent contempt for me which I appreciate.
Lisa Gonzalez: That's why it was eight years, Chris.
Christopher Mitchell: Right. But Lisa, it's been a wonderful time. This is a point at which I want to make sure people... Check out the post Lisa wrote. A post about her time here, but I don't know that I've... I don't think I've written anything really publicly about it. But Lisa, I definitely credit you with a lot of the success that we've had. You've seen me raw times when I was learning how to manage by making mistakes and you with your maturity, your intelligence, your kindness, you helped guide me through it. When I was choosing between two recent graduates, younger people, and you as at a position knowing you're a single mom with two children at the time. It was one of those things in which I was just sort of like, I don't know. I'm a person who's not managed a lot before.
Christopher Mitchell: I have a lot to learn and it was a little bit intimidating. I think that the single best decision that I made in the early years was hiring you. Because you brought a stability and just the strength of the office that I had no sense of when David talked me into hiring you.
Lisa Gonzalez: Well. Thank you David.
Christopher Mitchell: That's right. David definitely... I mean I had no idea how to look for talent. David Morris, co-founder, ILSR said that it would be idiotic not to hire you. I had some doubts here or there. In part because honestly when you did the interview, this is the part I'm just remembering now. You seemed partially interested in the job. The other people that interviewed are desperate for the job and you were kind of like... You just had this look as you're looking around our office, which had been 20 years of dust and stuff.
Lisa Gonzalez: It was disgusting.
Lisa Gonzalez: When we moved into the new office, you guys had three vacuums in the closet.
Christopher Mitchell: I think one of them worked partially. But at any rate, I mean the point I just wanted to make with that is that you're a very special person but also as other people are listening, there is I think a stigma against hiring a person who's a single mom. One of the things that I'll say that I think I learned is that not everyone is like you Lisa. But you brought a very no nonsense attitude. You knew how to get your work done. You focused on it and you got it done. I feel there's a tremendous power that comes from being responsible for two children solely that a lot of workplaces would benefit from.
Lisa Gonzalez: I tend to agree with you. To be Frank, I had already. If you go back... If you're listening and you read my posts, you'll see that I had already applied for a lot of jobs at that point. I had heard crickets from everybody. So when I came in and talk to you, I kind of expected to just hear crickets from you as well. So I think I was probably not disinterested as much as not expecting much. I have sort of learned that when you are looking for a position or looking for anything where you're collaborating with someone, it's a two way street. It's not good to end up with someone who you are not going to be happy with because in as much as you were interviewing me, I was interviewing you.
Lisa Gonzalez: Who wants a job that they're going to hate. Because both of you will be unhappy and it's not going to remain permanent anyway. So, that was sort of the attitude that I had at the time and I appreciate the opportunity because I really didn't know anything that I was talking about when we got started and I really did learn a lot. I know that the things that I learned from you and David and John were things that allowed me to take this job that I'm going to be having at the state. It's a great opportunity and I appreciate it. Thanks Chris.
Christopher Mitchell: Great. Well, Lisa, it's a great place to end our last interview, but thank you from the bottom of my heart for being such a wonderful person in our office for all these years.
Lisa Gonzalez: Thank you and you're welcome.
Jess Del Fiacco: That was Christopher talking with Lisa Gonzalez, former senior researcher at ILSR. We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at muninetworks.org/broadbandbits. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter, his handle is @communitynets. Follow muninetworks.org stories on Twitter, the handle is @muninetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and the other podcast from ILSR 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 initiative if you subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ilsr.org. While you're there, please take a minute 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 401 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Thanks for listening.