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North Carolina's Unique Broadband History and Lessons for Moving Forward - Community Broadband Bits Podcast, North Carolina Bonus Episode Four
We're starting off the new year with episode four of the new podcast project we're working on with nonprofit NC Broadband Matters. The organization focuses on finding ways to bringing ubiquitous broadband coverage to local communities to residents and businesses in North Carolina. The podcast series, titled "Why NC Broadband Matters," explores broadband and related issues in North Carolina.
As we look forward to a new year, we're also looking back with this week's guest, Jane Smith Patterson, a Partner with Broadband Catalysts. Jane has a deep love for North Carolina and a deep interest in science and technology. Throughout her life, she has put those two interests together to help North Carolinians advance human and civil rights, education and learning, and to advance the presence of high speed connectivity across the state.
Jane's decades of experience at the federal, state, and local levels make her the go-to person to provide content for this episode, "North Carolina's unique broadband history and lessons for moving forward." She and Christopher discuss how the state has become a leader in science and technology, including the state's restrictive law limiting local authority. Lastly, Jane makes recommendations for ways to bring high-quality Internet access to the rural areas where people are still struggling to connect. The conversation offers insight into North Carolina's triumphs and challenges in the effort to lift up its citizens.
We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.
This show is 63 minutes long and can be played on this page or via Apple Podcasts or the tool of your choice using this feed, at the Community Broadband Bits page, or at the NC Broadband Matters page. We encourage you to check out other "Why NC Broadband Matters" content at the podcast feed so you don't miss future bonus content that may not appear in the Community Broadband Bits Podcast feed.
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.
Image of Downtown Wilmington, North Carolina, as seen from across the Cape Fear River by Jason W. Smith [CC BY-SA 3.0]
Jane Smith Patterson: We just need everybody to pitch in and say, "Hey, we've got dirt roads out here. They really are what we call copper and we need you to pave those roads. Give us some fiber."
Lisa Gonzalez: Welcome to another special episode of the community broadband bits podcast and our new podcast series — Why NC broadband matters. I'm Lisa Gonzalez with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in Minneapolis, Minnesota. NC broadband matters is a North Carolina nonprofit. Their mission is to attract, support and champion the universal availability of affordable, reliable, high-capacity Internet access which is necessary for thriving local communities, including local businesses and a local workforce so each can compete in the global economy. The group has created the North Carolina chapter of CLIC, The Coalition for Local Internet Choice. We're collaborating with NC Broadband Matters to present this series that touches on issues that while certainly affect folks in North Carolina also impact people in other States. In this fourth episode, which is titled North Carolina's Unique Broadband History and Lessons for Moving Forward, Christopher talks with Jane Smith Patterson. Jane Smith Patterson is one of the state's broadband leaders. Her family has roots in North Carolina that go back centuries and she's dedicated her life to equal and civil rights and digital technology. She's worked for three presidents for North Carolina's governors and in the private sector. You'll hear her mention the first United States rural Internet access authority known for a time as the RIAA, which later became the ENC authority. She's led the charge to connect rural communities across the state. Jane's list of accomplishments is too long for me to mention here, but she's just the person we need to discuss North Carolina's unique broadband history and to offer wisdom looking forward. In addition to talking about some of the specifics that explain why North Carolina has such a strong standing in technology, Jane and Christopher talk about a few setbacks including the state's adoption of hb129 which preempts local broadband authority. Now let's hear Christopher speak with Jane Smith Patterson.
Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another episode of the community broadband bits podcast, another bonus episode in the Why North Carolina Broadband Matters series where we're exploring better broadband Internet access in North Carolina. And today we have the perfect guest to really get a sense of the past, present, and future of it. Welcome to the show, Jane Smith Patterson, a partner with Broadband Catalysts.
Jane Smith Patterson: Good afternoon! How are you?
Christopher Mitchell: I'm doing well. And, it's a very brief title for all of the things you've accomplished, all the things you're still working on. We'll talk about that as we enter into this interview but Jane, I'd like you to just briefly tell us what Broadband Catalyst is.
Jane Smith Patterson: Broadband Catalyst is a partnership of three of us who has been very much involved in developing access to science and technology in North Carolina and to broadband technology, not just in North Carolina, but, some of us, like myself, we've worked all over the world on broadband. And some of us have worked in government like I have, some of us have worked in private sector, some for nonprofits and I've worked on everything from a multi-national corporation to now down to three of us with Broadband Catalyst.
Christopher Mitchell: Why is the name catalyst appropriate here for what you do?
Jane Smith Patterson: Because that's what's necessary in order to get broadband through. And, you know, to me a catalyst is something that really gets it moving and at least comes up with the initial pizzazz to work with communities or with states or the world and are willing to take the slings and arrows. I guess I would consider a Cannonball catalytic during the Wars but, anyway, I think that's what we're like, we are really there to encourage people to get involved and bringing the Internet to their area and we work with them to do that. We can do everything from the working at the local level with creating community plans to, you know, using our mapping capabilities to map where they are and where the folks are. Also, to help them write grants to get funds and to be there for like today — I was on the phone this afternoon with, the folks in Tennessee, in Irwin, which now has a gigabit network and we've been involved with them and they have a huge, wonderful network there.
Christopher Mitchell: Oh yeah. Lee Brown, after I've talked with them and the work they've done is, the model of that incremental effort, it's brilliant.
Jane Smith Patterson: I know and he's going to come, I think too Deb and I, two of us in Broadband Catalysts are working on a conference on January the 8th where for the first time, you know, we've got the federal government saying they're going to support opportunities zones and within those zones not only can you have private sector investment or investors involved but the government could be there and the banks and the foundations with the federal instruments that are out there now and some of the tax advantages that are there. Maybe with these opportunities zones, which are the sort of, you know, poverty oriented zones that we can get broadband into those areas.
Christopher Mitchell: Right, well I'm looking forward to that. I'll actually be in the audience that day. I'll be a little bit late, but I'm going to happen to be in the Raleigh area and I'm looking forward to seeing that show. We're going to come back to broadband specifically but one of the things that I was really interested in as I was looking at your biography is that, you see the field like science is important. You've done a lot of work on it and I'm curious what that, where that comes from.
Jane Smith Patterson: It comes from my family. I grew up in Columbus County, which is a very small, well it's a big county, second largest land area in the state, but it's probably the smallest population. But has swamps and it's got the ocean on, you know, when you go across from Brunswick to there. My dad who was born in 1887 and was, I was born when he was almost in his sixties. He believed strongly that science and education and technology are important because his great grandfather was a French doctor who came here and served in that area of the state, which would have been the sticks back at that time in the 1800s. And so education was passed down and it was seen as the key to your future, key to your health, key to your economy and that science was very much a part of that. And he died when I was nine and he did see me actually do my first science experiment on my brother. My brother who became, when the Hermann Oberth award, the rocket scientist award, my brother wanted to as much older than I am and that's seven years, and he wanted to just see what would happen when you — he had heard, he was older remember this — he had heard that if you put a match inside a can and you put a top on it, that you didn't, you know, let oxygen get to it, it would not explode, okay? So we tried that out on the back porch and we kept it not quite long enough cause then we took the top off, you know, fire came out. So and later we blew a hole in the floor upstairs that the chemistry happened. We were encouraged to be experimental. And at that part, that time down there, you know, you could go 14 miles away from our home and people need to remember, this is in the late fifties and you could be where there were delights, okay? There was Waccamaw river, you would have the electric co-op had not yet been started there. And so, you know, and there wasn't a bridge across the Waccamaw river. I remember as a eight year old playing a clarinet in the band and being on that bridge when they opened the bridge across the Waccamaw river. So North Carolina was very different. And in the forties, I should tell you, in 1950, 1948, almost 50% of our people were in poverty in this state or in our County. In our County, not in the state. So, I think technology and science are the reason North Carolina is where it is today. It is the unbelievable interest in education, which was, you know, a critical thing for us in our state and pushed a great deal by in the 50s by governor Hodges and then Sanford and a lot us today. And we can talk about that later how we arrived today when I just looked at the poverty statistics in 2017 done by the federal government plus the only two States out of the south who were out of that poverty list are Virginia and North Carolina. And that's pretty amazing.
Christopher Mitchell: Yes. That brings me to one of the other through lines of your work and that's a very strong commitment to justice and equity. And I'm curious if you want to just tell us a little bit about that. I mean we've got a little bit of a sense, but it's clearly there.
Jane Smith Patterson: So I grew up in Columbus County, it's on the line with South Carolina and the two States are very different. It would take me a week to tell you how different we are. We are very different. And the edge of our town in the city limits about, it's South Carolina. And we had a newspaper in our town called the North Carolina and the Tabor City Tribune. It was Tabor City North Carolina, the town where the city future is probably still that today. But it made it was that then and the Klan would come across into our camp Ash state from South Carolina with their cars with these crosses made out of a wood cross and lights on it. They'd put a battery on and it flash on and off the plan. And, my dad, the summer, he died was standing with me. We lived on main street and on the porch and said to me, "Jane, we don't believe like these people." He said, you know, it's not the shape or the color of your skin that should determine who you are. He said, "what really determines who you are, Jane, is education and in your belief that everyone should be able to be what they want to be." So that was my dad believe it or not he was born here in 1887 and I think that passed down from his family. And so our town, this is the last time the Klan was, actually, put in jail, I think a hundred something people went to jail. So, as a result of our newspaper, continuously editorializing against the Klan. He won the, still the smallest newspaper to ever win a surprise, as a result of what, the editor Carter did. And so from that day on, you know, I was taught by my dad, who was also a Mason. He said to me, I think he knew he was older and he probably wouldn't survive seeing me grow up. And he said, "Jain, if you ever need anyone, I'm gonna leave you my 32nd degree Masonic ring and you go see the masons." Little did he know that by the time I was like 14 in high school, almost a senior when I graduate, almost, and our principal who was wonderful and the politicians who lived across the doctor and his brother who was a state Senator, decided they didn't like him. He was pushing them too hard about the schools and decided to get rid of him. And so I let a strike of a high school because I wouldn't talk to us. We went to see them and said, "Will you talk with us about this principal?" They said, no. And I went back home and said, "Mom, that's wrong. You know, here we studied all this time about the need to take responsibility for what you want to achieve and we need to keep this guy at least till I graduate." He was great. And I knew I had a good friend named Lara Moore and I knew he couldn't afford to go to college and he is smart and all of us with small high school, 54 people in my class. And so he would take them by the hand and go to the universities with them and say, let me help you get in school. You know, let me help this person get the scholarship. We had a strike. And I went to the masons and said, "Hey, how about this? I have my dad's ring." And I said, "my dad said y'all would help me if I needed something." And they said, "what do you need, Jane." And we said, "Well, we want to teach classes over here in the Masonic lodge, it's across from the school. It's huge and we're going to stay here. We need somewhere that it's going to be raining. It's supposed to be, we need a shelter." And he said, "We'll give you shelter and that's what you want to do, we'll feed you."
Christopher Mitchell: Nice.
Jane Smith Patterson: And it's the first time we had seen a television camera, they came down from Raleigh. They said who were in these kids that were doing this. So, and finally they agreed to meet with us and so we met with them and told them why we thought what they were doing was wrong. Oh, what's the issue? Well, cause he talked back to them. He spoke to them and used the power he had on behalf of us, the students. And so finally they, they backed down and they kept it until I graduated. And then later, years later when I was the chief administrative officer at the state, I went down to speak to the chamber, which was meeting there from the County. And my cousin who was in the legislature stood up and said, "Well, Jane's here tonight, perhaps I shouldn't tell her that y'all are trying to fire principal again." Anyway, so, but from then on when I got to college, I was in the first glass at Chapel Hill that had undergraduate students who were African American. There had been a couple of going to law school but not to undergraduate school and it was rough for them and, and we sort of got together some of us to try to support them and help them and would eat with them and talk to them and try to get them involved with us. So they're all smart and all great. The guy married, we were in student government and I went over to the Y and said, "Hey, I want to go after a foundation grant. I know there are foundations out there." And the Y director Ann Queen said, "Well, what do you want me to do?" And I said, "I want to get two students from every college we can get in the South to come to Chapel Hill and let's talk about building the new south so that we create a cadre of people across the south that we know can work together for the good of the south. And she said, "Well, that's a great idea." And so I also knew that there was the national students association and that there, Connie who was their person over the south had been talking to me and she thought there was, you know, foundation in Chicago that might be interested. And so she said, "Oh, there's this other guy." So I met him, his name was Hank and we signed an application and we put together a conference. we got $25,000 which was a lot of money back then. And we brought students together for a whole week in Chapel Hill and talk about building new South was in terms of voting and elections and education and religion and politics and business. And it really has set a cadre of people for us across the South that we've known and been able to work with. So from then on, it was Katy bar the door because I thought, "Ah, we can do this for people." You know, as my dad said, you have a different color, but I could do this for the shape of this kid. So we started working on equal rights and so that's how I got involved in that.
Christopher Mitchell: Well, so tell me how did that, what's the short version of between that and being a go-to person on broadband in the early nineties?
Jane Smith Patterson: Well, I had finished, I'd won the math medal in high school. My brother was getting his doctorate in aeronautical engineering at state and I was in college and you know, with physics and math and international studies, that was just my sort of broad interest. They did not have a computer science program in this, in the United States at that time and in 1961, there were two schools working on that one just on a program, which was Purdue and at Chapel Hill, they were working on an entire department, but I had graduated early and so it wasn't open when I went there. And so when we went to Philadelphia getting there quickly, was when Hank went to work with the national student association to oversee students from about 40 foreign countries because Bob Kennedy had passed, gotten a program through that one of those people to come and study in a university and see us as a bastion of freedom and how we operated. And we'd had some at Chapel Hill and Hank went to run that program nationally. And I went and with my interest and what over the university of Pennsylvania where the ENIAC had been founded. And the department working the most with computers at that time was, psychology department in what was called mathematical psychology. Dr. Robert Bush, who actually wrote that handbook and I went to work for him and I learned how to code in a LGP-30 computer with tape. I didn't have those cards Even the IBM machine had cards back at that time. And so until they converted it to 360 and so that's how I got involved. And I had been very close to lots of folks in the governor Sanford, Joel Flieshman who later started Institute of Politics and Duke Terry who became president Duke and and Tom Lambis who became head of the Reynolds foundation. There were like mentors on in Hanks and those are those younger people, they would student government folks. When we came back and he went to law school, I brought that back and we arrived back there in 63' and I went to work with Lao Jones who led that effort and mathematical psychology. And so from then on, it was a, what can I do to help North Carolina be. You know, they'd already started the research triangle park, which is the largest really research park in the world and most successful that they started back then. And, at that point, and this will sound interesting to a lot of women, Hank, finished law school and I was, while I was working there three years there and I worked nationally then with MIT, Stanford university, Chicago and those on, research and in what was going on in this whole new wonderful field of data and basically data science and then dropped out when Hank went to Clark for a United States court of appeals judge on the fourth circuit to have two kids. For about four or five years. I was out of that. But watching it and talking to folks about what was going on and what I might want to do ultimately, but knew if I wanted to have kids, I had to, at that time there was not a lot of daycare licensing around and that I needed to be able to be with the boys. So my love of music led me to end up into equality led me to get involved with politics and stuff at that time. And also civil liberties and they needed someone to run the civil liberties. Northland civil liberties union just started 65 people. Now there are 30,000 in North Carolina who members of that. And so I took that on without really any money to help get it started and grow and kept it for about three years. And then when he moved over to Greensboro to start practicing law. And ultimately I got involved in the campaigns for Jimmy Carter and for Jim hunt. And then chaired the democratic party there cause I saw that was an Avenue that would lead us to being able the national women's political caucus. I was involved in helping and I actually wrote a book called Run Maggie Run, which was getting women to run for office at that time.
Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, it seems like you could be describing the highlights from 10 different people's lives.
Jane Smith Patterson: No, but I mean it was a, you know, and the two boys, I instilled in them a love of music and when they were young and not just rock and roll. I mean, they loved that I was really into the symphony music stuff and we raised money to support the young people getting into symphonies. And that's still going today at Guilford college but you know, where their first chair has come down and work with him in the summer, sort of a pipeline for them into the major. In North Carolina had a symphony orchestra. The state's building has been incredible in that. It did a symphony orchestra of its own, it did an art museum of its own, you know, the state's always been interested in the arts and in education. And it's hard sometimes when people come to North Carolina who are from other states and God bless, we have a lot of them wanting to come here. We liked country music, but we love symphony music too. I mean, the state is always instilled, even in early years in school, you were always talked to about art and education and music and one final thing, and this week, sometimes it takes forever to get something done. When the first colony was established in the New World, Sir Walter Raleigh colony, they brought with them on the second boat, I guess, a man named Ganz, G, A, N, Z. He was from Czech Slovakia and Jew and he started the first research lab in the whole world here. Oh, you know, in North Carolina and only about two weeks ago was the first flight society and the research, I mean the Roanoke Island society able to get a sign up honoring this May, you know, it does take a long time.
Christopher Mitchell: Well, yeah, and I mean, I would say that the judging from a lot of the things you just rattled off, there's no shortage of things to be commemorating throughout North Carolina. Although I'll hasten to add that I think a lot of the people listening to this show will be in North Carolina and so you don't have to be convincing them of how wonderful it is.
Jane Smith Patterson: Well, but you know, there are other things that I think even we have, we used to be the most homogeneous state of any state in the country.
Christopher Mitchell: Really. I find that hard to believe.
Jane Smith Patterson: Yeah, yeah, no, no and I always said it was and I think because we have our oceans and there were not as easy to get to and we have our mountains and they were not as easy to traverse. And so this state has next to California and you can read some things that say we're first, but next to California we have the largest number of paved highways in the entire country. And so the roads, and so that's something to remember for anyone listening is that getting those roads paved really started at first exit to the outside world. And that is developing the trucking industry in North Carolina We had the largest trucking industry of any state initially and that was because we had the roads. And that meant you could build factories and stuff and get your products out. I mean, it's so, you know, the state's been always been, I think it had really good legislature that is, who kept back to the problems with it later on.
Christopher Mitchell: Right.
Jane Smith Patterson: We've always had, at that time, we had a good legislature, you know, pushing things to develop the state.
Christopher Mitchell: Well, let's talk about in the 90s when you created the rural Internet access authority, which later became known as E-NC and I'm curious in particular because it seems to me that at the time in which you were creating that it wasn't entirely obvious that this would be an issue that really needed to be expanded across the entire state because it wasn't clear what a role it would play. People were still debating if there was going to be a lot of commerce on it in the future.
Jane Smith Patterson: Well they just weren't thinking. That's all I could say, you know. No, but I mean, no, it was coming because we had done in the first digital connection of the state to the state getting completely digital when I was secretary of administration. And we were able, you know, we had to connect with people all across our state. When you're looking at a hundred counties and you're looking at oceans to the mountains and weather that can change tremendously between leaving in your ocean on this side and going into the mountains. We had to be able to be connected, to be able to really grow as a society and as, in our industries that would be out there so that you didn't leave parts of the state out. And so as a result, we actually allowed the municipalities become on our state telephone network when we went digital.
Jane Smith Patterson: And when we distributed the first distributed network of any state back I guess it was 78 to 83 in that timeframe, we also had the same issue with creating the North Carolina school of math and science. So we had people coming from across the state to students who could come free who could meet the standards of their last two years of high school. So cause we wanted to raise the education level, the science and math level of North Carolina so we could have the industries that would keep our state clean, the environment clean. Thank God we weren't West Virginia with coal, we sort of looked at it that way. But at that time we knew that was just the beginning because you need to realize I had been up there working with the computer in the ENIAC and it was coming. I mean, think about it from, you know, getting back in 64 from up there and it was only, think about until 70, it was only until basically, we did that first information highway in 92. That's a number of years, but that's the slowest, is there ever been converting from something that kind of technology to, you know, at that time. I mean, you know, now on it's Katy bar the door. It's so fast, you know, and trying to keep up with what's happening. And so we wanted North Carolina to, benefit from that, not just, I grown up in Columbus County and I wanted the people in Columbus County to benefit. So we really worked at that time with everyone, we brought in the electric co-ops, the telephone co-ops. We brought all of the big companies, all of them. I mean, you know, it was BellSouth then before it became At&t, GTE before it got to be Verizon, Carolyn telephone before it got to be four or five generations later, you know, in a matter of 10 years, CenturyLink. And, everybody working together and everybody worked really together to create that with about 10 or 11 committees working and all kinds of things that were, you know, we had just begun at that time at 91, 92, 93, I was chairing the Global Special Data initiative to normalize metadata across the world because that was coming and we knew that if we didn't get it normalized, we'd end up with how many countries trying to deal with the transferring data. Only North Carolina and the defense department in foreign service would join us and then we joined [inaudible] and the ordinance command in England and Canada and Australia and in Germany, you know, it was six continents and six years and normalize that metadata. So the metadata is what's creating all these apps and everything around to go across that network. And we knew that if we didn't be first, you know, who wants to be last and converting to the new technology and being able to get IBM to get GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). Our biotech center was set up at that time then Michael electronic center was set up. Our bio-tech center, everybody said, "Why the hell are y'all doing that?" You know, 700 companies have come out of that, think about that.
Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, not small ones either.
Jane Smith Patterson: No, I mean, and then in the Mac electronics area and MCNC and the Semiconductor Institute and the RTI, which is now one of the largest research institutes around in the whole world with research. But you had Erickson coming. I can remember the day that governor Hunt said, "You want to do what, Jain?" And I said, "I want to meet these people from the west coast and see, the name of their company is Cisco." He said, "what, well, you go ahead." He said, "You're not, you know, that's the one that really gets real-estate people to come in. But you talk to them." And I said, "Well, they might want some real estate here." Well now, you know, they are 12,000 here and it's a, and we have the same with SAS started and incubated at state with goodnight and with John Saul and they have over 13,000 that are there. I mean, so all of this were all kinds of folks thinking how do we take advantage working together of our universities. Think about this for research one universities in the state that's pretty unbelievable. And 13, you know, 13 universities that were public, I guess 16 if you started counting like the School of Science and Math gets counted in there, et cetera.
Christopher Mitchell: Yeah. I'm just trying to imagine where else we see. I mean, you know, you kind of think the Boston region out in California and maybe one or two other locations, but there's just not a lot where you have that level of sophistication for that sort of thing.
Jane Smith Patterson: We have 30, we have 36 public, I mean private schools and two universities that are private. I'm counting in as one of the four and that's Wake Forest and Duke. And then, and the research triangle has Duke, NC state and Wake Forest, I mean, and Carolina, that's incredible. And so the people of this state have been willing to support education at the higher level and at the time, also, our community college system, which really does fantastic work. You shouldn't be more than 45 minutes from any community college in North Carolina.
Christopher Mitchell: Let me poke you on the Internet access authority. One of the things I'm curious about is, was was North Carolina a leader in the 90s on trying to spread the benefits of the Internet across the entire state fairly evenly?
Jane Smith Patterson: Yeah, it was. I mean, because when we would, and only that we work as a missionary, so a lot of States trying to talk them into doing something because you know, in particularly those in the South, I was out with the governors Western university to help them figure out what to do to set that up. I was out with Mike Lovett and those there. I mean I was in Hawaii with them on helping them set up Hawaii one and the governor would let me go out as a missionary, practically, to work with folks. Listen, here's the issue and the main issue to get to in the rural Internet access authorities is this, it was established basically in 99 and we opened it up in 2000. It's state legislated and at the time it had all kinds of people the way North Carolina generally does to try to get all aspects of anyone that it's going to be involved even it's better to have them opposing you under the tent and outside the tent. And so everybody was on there. I mean, you know, different parts of the community of folks in information technology and networks, communication networks and although it was called the rural Internet access authority and it had been actually. And you find this interesting, the person who actually introduced the bill was a Senator named Eric Reese. His father was one of the three that founded EDS with Ross Perot. Okay, so a Duke graduate who stayed here, we were able to work together and to really come up with a lot of laws and changes that would help us move ahead. And even, you know, these companies were in favor of everything we were doing until we got to be too successful. Okay, cause they all supported it initially. They really came after me to want to try to get me fired inside RIA and we were able to win a number of the battles in the legislature. And basically when it flipped at one point with another party is when we really lost the first go around. And when they began to spend the amount of money that they spent and that they spent nationally today to prevent, and I hate to say it this way, but what it does, it may not have been there, their modus operanda, but it prevents rural areas from getting connected, okay?
Christopher Mitchell: Yeah.
Jane Smith Patterson: They're willing to connect the urban areas because they have the income coming in from the population, but not willing to do the rural areas. But we had defeated, I don't know how many times in law hb129 and when we had the change in parties at that time, we lost it.
Christopher Mitchell: Right? So starting in like two, five, maybe even, but I really noticed it from 2007 through 2010, every year Time Warner cable, At&t and some others were trying to limit local authority, particularly they were worried about Wilson and they wanted to make sure that Wilson was the last municipal network and the bill that you mentioned, Hb129 that finally passed in 2011 after the legislature flipped in 2010 because there was hearings every year and it seemed like every year we worried about it and we educated people about the dangers of limiting local investment for local Internet choice and the legislature in 2011 let Time Warner cable basically run the show is what it felt like.
Jane Smith Patterson: Well, and let's be upfront about it though. I'd say that that wasn't the case initially with RIA. They all supported that initially. And it wasn't just the big companies. I mean, we had companies like North state, which deserve, you know, they need the cross of gold because they were incredibly supportive and what I had in deployed fiber and high point and so forth. And you know, and provided it and the County a long time before the At&t started opposing it. And interesting enough, just to point this out for you to today, did you notice that North state just last week announced over selling to Segra and they've done so well and I'm glad to see them and they're a family owned company. They could have been killed if, you know, and they sat right there between Forsyth County, Guilford and High Point was part of Guilford in the southern part and Belle South had the Northern part which became At&t as well. So I really was surprised that they would come after me because when we did the first information highway, there was nothing going on in this country like that. And they were getting sweat equity along with the sweat equity of folks in municipalities and in and in state government etc who were working to put this new technology, you know, like the Wright brothers. We were trying to open up North Carolina to be able to really benefit. I don't mind saying this cause I think it worked out the right way, but I remember talking to the president of Belle South and saying to him, I said, what's happening to Belle South? And he's the lead engineer that they'd had with us and he'd been there person at the ITU in Geneva where they were doing the standards for all of the new technologies. He said, "Well, he's going to be going to Charlotte to head up ten thousand installers. I went, "What?" The person who knows more about this new technology is the next 50 years and you going to send to being an installer head of, that's crazy, he needs to be with you down there in Birmingham in your Belle South thing, working with the folks there to talk about how you have the interconnection of networks with digital technology and fiber and so at about three weeks later when I said to him, "And by the way this is coming from you who wrote your MIT thesis on how you could have two members of the family who could actually operate within a company at the same time. One man and one woman married to each other. I mean you were so thinking so far ahead, you're going to do something like this." Anyway, in about three weeks later, he called and said, well, we bring him down. And he later became the head of At&t network operations when they all merged over and you know, in Texas. So I mean a lot of the people who were involved in that went straight to the top and their companies and they'd never would have had the opportunity to put this country ahead.
Christopher Mitchell: What you're saying is that, is that there was a period in which private sector, public sector, everyone was working together to figure out how to expand this to everyone. And then all of a sudden, you know, there was this like a sense of like, you know, rather than growing the pie, there was a sense of how do I just capture a slice of it and I'm going to be happy with that is what it seems like.
Jane Smith Patterson: Well, it was really bad. I mean, it was, if you would walk in the legislature, you were a pariah to anybody who was with their particular company but if you are around rural people, you were like a savior. It was really sort of a strange time. And then literally they did try to get me fired. And it happened that the former chancellor of the university who was a head of the RIA who knew me well cause I had gone down to help him work with the university and we did the first integrated community network in the world down there to show it could operate and could happen. And he backed me up. He was really great. Uh, but I didn't know what I walked in the room that day and I found out about it because people who were down low in their companies began to tell me, "This is terrible. This is what they're trying to do to you." For someone who was coming from the information technology industry, really, which is where I was coming from the connective, from the bits and bytes of data you write to do applications and stuff. It was interesting that the folks from the telephone industries were really upset originally and worried about this and they had a separate group inside of the state, you know, that they just did telephones, you do this, you know, and so one division of the information technology group and then the other group were all the people writing data etc. And so I wanted to make sure that we did not put broadband under them, just like I made sure we did not put the GIS that we started in 78 as a basically 501(c)3 inside government that sold its services, we didn't put them under the folks who had the computers because they really did not want to admit that was going to happen. That all of this was going to migrate to them.
Christopher Mitchell: They were threatened.
Jane Smith Patterson: It was better than let them kill it. You know, we kept it separate until basically I came back in and you know, I left and worked in industry until I came in 92 to or 91 to UNCW to help them with that and we did that pilot and then when Hunt got in the second time, he wanted me to come back and I said, only if you'll let us do the highway across the state. He said, "You know, you can do that. Go ahead." So he's great. He was really great. So you can see that that's what you have to do sometimes in government is isolate those things from someone who owns this and doesn't want to make the pie bigger.
Christopher Mitchell: That's right. And we've definitely seen that elsewhere but I want to ask you the thing that really kills me about this, this turfism the way that we saw the, some of the ISPs and trying to figure out how to try to stop cities from doing it is that you might think, well, of course they're worried that maybe a hundred cities in North Carolina might build their own networks and really change the competitive landscape. But I don't see if I don't see a history in which a hundred cities build a network, right? I mean, this is, this is not something that is broadly appealing to cities. They generally don't want to do this. They want to find some way of getting it without them. And so, you know, how much energy do you think has just been wasted over the years on this fight to try and stop the few cities that are motivated and have the capacity to do it?
Jane Smith Patterson: Let's explain one reason why they're not a lot that are able to do it, okay? We have like 500 something municipalities in North Carolina, okay? Less than a hundred would be able to do this. The big issue is that it was the same issue as with the original BellSouth when we were doing the initial network under them to convert everything in North Carolina across the highway. And they had their portion and pokes, you know, other places had their portion. And the big issue was at the time was who had a billing system. Okay. Without a billing system, you can't do it. You know, if you've got water and you've got sore and you've, you know, like the folks in Wilson, then you can do it cause that billing system will kill you. I mean, BellSouth we had real problems with BellSouth working with them the first couple of years, even with state government as big as we were, because they had not affected how to charge for that across the network.
Christopher Mitchell: Right.
Jane Smith Patterson: So, and so that's the issue. I think they wouldn't have to worry about that. I mean, I don't know what other industry would be, you know, I dunno what I was just trying to think. Is there another idea that an industry that would have that problem? You know, I don't, I can't think of one. Can you?
Christopher Mitchell: No, I mean, I often think about if Starbucks rage ways to campaign to make coffee brewing machines illegal in government offices or something like that.
Jane Smith Patterson: Yeah. You know, or if you were in cars and, you know, the people were beginning to do trucks, you know, could you go out and say, well, you can't run a truck over this if it's over 2000 pounds. Okay. You can't do that cause that's what we do. I mean it just doesn't make sense and it hurts this country. It hurts the capability of the country to be in industry and to a mass industries of if every time you go from one area to the next, you've got to switch to another because that person can't work with you. And I mean, it's crazy.
Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that we saw and has been repeated is the claim, I mean, if you take the legislation at its word, it wasn't trying to stop cities from building networks. It was trying to basically give private companies the certainty that they would be able to invest without facing unfair competition. Now let's assume for a second that's a legitimate analysis. We both you and I disagree that that's what the legislation did but have you seen more investment in rural North Carolina because private companies then believe that they wouldn't face competition from the public sector?
Jane Smith Patterson: No, think about where we are 93, when we did the North Carolina information highway, think about where we are, and it's the same principle. If you were to look at the whole country as a whole, when we developed the Internet at DARPA, Defense Advanced Projects Agency, which don't, I don't want to confuse some people because sometimes it's ARPA and they go back to DARPA, but it's basically the same thing. And they created basically the Internet. That's what they really, really created it. This country is now 17th in the world in connectivity. What's it doing? It's not to these companies that are here in the United States. It's harming every citizen, every company in the United States, everyone who wants to do business around the world, depending on where they live, can they get involved in world economic enterprise or U.S economic enterprise? They can't get involved if there's somewhere where they can't get on the net, right. Would you agree with me?
Christopher Mitchell: Oh, absolutely.
Jane Smith Patterson: I mean, that's the fact. That's what it does in the long run. It harms the big companies as well. If you're so busy worrying about whether, you know, they're going to pass a law to make sure you have all the benefits, you're not working on innovation for what's coming next. I mean, you're just sort of sitting there trying to protect yourself like you're in a some kind of a fort.
Christopher Mitchell: Well, what should we be doing? What should we be thinking about now? I mean, we're in this position, I think the rural areas have lost a lot of potential investment over the years because of the way local governments have been handcuffed and I think you would agree with me, let's start right here with this as we dig into this slightly way to your topic. But you know, even though as you, and I said, there's less than a hundred cities in North Carolina that would want to build and operate their own network. There are a lot of counties and city governments that would like to invest in infrastructure that they could partner with someone with an existing ISP to make sure that Internet access is available and that's also been handicapped.
Jane Smith Patterson: Yeah, well that's true. The difference if we just put one before you get to that is that the telephone co-ops who have been very thoughtful, innovative, one that down where I grew up in [inaudible] Atlantic. They wanted to move ahead to every single home with the Internet and at the time they knew they couldn't do it, it was a 50 year payback. And when the Obama initiative came with the money for trying to help the United States rural America and the States and the 50 States to get them to move ahead and be innovative and get with it, they had a vote of their citizens and said, what happens if we had a 20 year payback? And they said, move ahead. And so they started to move ahead. And that's when the actual funds where capability came out and they applied for that. They just got another big grant and they're moving now into Columbus County, which is the County next door, very rural. You know, I said the walk them all, bank trust on a border county, almost in every state, unless it's a big city and you're on the border of a state, you are disadvantaged, I mean, and we can prove that to you and looking at the country. And so Columbus County sits, you know, 20 miles away from the ocean so it doesn't get all the tourism stuff. And so in some cases they're in one town, they didn't have enough of bandwidth coming into the town for people to use an ATM. And so now this co-op is gonna move straight into that County and had just gotten a grant to do that from the great grant. I guess it's in North Carolina now, the one that we have here from the state. I don't want to sound partisan at all because you know, the first money we got for the information highway, the first $4 million was the Republicans were actually had control of the house at the time, I think. And it was a Republican Charlie Preston from up in Union County who worked with me to get the first $4 million for the state to begin to invest in doing that. So, you know, it doesn't matter whether they're Democrats or Republicans it's whether they are looking forward, how they can advance their state or their County. So, unfortunately, a lot of the money goes in, but the millions that go in, not just to our state, but to the federal to write legislation that would prevent you from going into certain areas. If some of the phone companies are in there, you know, if one home, a census tracking, one home has that they can assert that they are actually providing service to that one home. Somebody else can't come in as another company says, I want to serve that area. I'll connect everybody. They can't.
Christopher Mitchell: Right. They can't get a grant to do that.
Jane Smith Patterson: No, they can't get a grant. They can't get money to do it.
Christopher Mitchell: I just want to clarify for people who, there's nothing to stop them from putting their own money in there, which as you and I know is not a profitable return but I just wanna cause sometimes people get confused about this and the way that government in the United States maintains monopoly is usually sneaky and tricky as opposed to being outright, I mean the, the lobbyist who write that are, are quite good at it. But let me just go back. I mean you mentioned the telephone co-op there that's expanding in Eastern North Carolina.
Jane Smith Patterson: All of the telephones co-op should be now almost every one of their homes. That's the telephone co-op but the electric co-ops are just beginning to get into that.
Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that we've seen is that Wilkes, which is, very expanding rapidly in both North Carolina and Virginia under the river street name, which is a subsidiary. They would very much like to expand more rapidly in partnership with local governments, but they are stopped from doing so. And we don't have to talk too much about that because they're actually going to be the next series, the next episode in this series but I just wanted to to note that that North Carolina law is slowing down investments still in rural areas today.
Jane Smith Patterson: Well, there's no doubt about that. It's, you have to have a good balance sheet, which I think every street does with, you know, was their full company, which is a lot of different companies. But river street has that capability. You have to have someone who has the skill and the knowledge to actually run a net. I mean a series of companies and network in a subsidiary like that. And then you also have to have someone who's strong enough that they're willing to stand up to some of the issues they have to deal with in the legislature. And they're big, they've grown big and so they can handle it better. But if you're a small electric co-op, you're a small telephone co-op. You know, it's hard for you to have the time to play the political game that you have to play. You know, both with your municipality and with the state legislature to be able to take your eyes off what you're doing already and running a company, a small, small co-op like their nine co-ops and then you've got many more electric co-ops. I mean, the state is so rural and the other issue is 5G is so hyped and everyone who is hearing the sound of my voice to hear this — unless you have fiber driving this, you are all going to have a company that won't make it if it's 5G without having fiber driving, it's okay. Fiber is critical.
Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that I've really enjoyed is T-Mobile now that they're rolling out of 5G service in more rural areas, they have been forced because of much confusion in the market to clarify that if you live in a more rural area and frankly this, even if you're in a more urban area today, that the "5G" is going to be 20% faster than a 4G LTE because they're using the low band spectrum and for people who are interested, there's a number of places you can go. We always recommend Doug Dawson's pots and pans for explanations of this sort of stuff. But yes, I mean in a lot of places the 5G is going to be barely faster than the 4G and to the extent it will be faster. It's going to be, you know, in the Durham baseball stadium and things like that. It's not necessarily even going to be in the suburbs for awhile so, yeah, 5G is such a red herring. But let me ask you, just as we're wrapping this up, what is your hope that like in 2020, what are we hoping to see that will really bring North Carolina, you know, give rural communities a real shock at all of the benefits of modern technology and quality of life?
Jane Smith Patterson: Well, I mean, it can't be done within a year, you know.
Christopher Mitchell: Sure. Well, what do we need to do to set us on the right path?
Jane Smith Patterson: I think what has to be done is that, you know, we need a lot of people who are focused on the counties that don't yet have that connectivity. And a lot more focused at helping build it within the communities themselves a push for getting that, you know, community like when we did the initial highway, we had eight communities in all 100 counties. We actually funded, I mean this sounds like it's not a lot of money, but we had a hundred counties and we took $10,000 a County and gave it to the County manager and we worked with all of them to develop a plan for them to be able to get connectivity. I mean to get also a site in their town that I think the second thing is to get a site in their town that is as free as possible to the citizens to use and learn to use the networks. A lot of people think it's just great to have a Facebook page and to, you know, send stuff around to everybody in their, you know, their relatives and stuff and that's great. But what they need to start learning is how to use the different apps that are available out there and to be able to have it in their homes. And many times they don't have enough bandwidth coming into their homes when they don't have access to the appropriate networks to be able to use those to start their own business and to run it out of their home. Or if they have availability relatives with them to go on a telehealth network and be able to get to a doctor as often as you can over the telehealth network or for that matter, if they want to be able to, you know, go online and see their grandchildren rather than in an actual snapshot that comes through the mail or something and talk with them to have the capability, the bandwidth to do really a good video calls etc. And healthcare is the most critical, I think, thing facing North Carolina in our rural communities. If you look at our mountains, at the percentage of people who are over 65, it's high. It's high compared to the rest of our state. And we're losing rural hospitals where, you know, and that's going to be a problem for the issue of maternity and the maternity timeframe for women who are pregnant and who need to able to see doctors on a regular basis. And they could do that with telehealth and the other issue is they have to drive to have their baby for almost some and now we're getting weird hospitals, not just in North Carolina, but in lots of places in this country. They'll have to drive two hours to get to the hospital to give birth or, you know, think about it. If they have a small hospital and you have them, they still have a problem with if the child is born with significant disease and it doesn't have the capability to have someone in and do service was over like they have at East Carolina to come in and do service, I mean, operation directly over the highway there all kinds of things are gonna happen and they won't have that access. And it means in the long run that we don't have the economic mobility that we want to have in the state between areas as well. People say, "Well, why do you need these eight communities?" Or even councils, they still need them there because people if they come together there, that's more willing to advocate for what they need as a community or a County than just by themselves. And I think that's important. Secondly, there should be something at the federal level two things that they should change, in my opinion, one of the most important things they should change is a more GIS focused requirements of companies to file their information on GIS so they can see exactly where the homes are and where they exist etc rather than just, you know, you have one house in the district that they're talking about doing, okay. And so that, that is there. And so I think that's important. The other issue for me is net neutrality. When we first started with the digital highway and getting people online, teachers who were in remote North Carolina wanted to actually be able to, you know, take courses at night when they got home rather than come to the school science and math for their updated classes. Okay. One of them called me one day and said, I got a bill and it cost me $300. Then it was all access across the Internet back to the main office. Net neutrality will do that to them or can, they can, if they have the right to manipulate the data that's coming down in favor big business, it's few a 50 miles away from you and then you're wanting something at your house to be able to take the class. That net neutrality, if it's not, you know, holding you harmless, can cost you money.
Christopher Mitchell: Oh, yes. And I think one of the main weeds that we're seeing that right now is with these data caps which is to say that I think, it wasn't clear when we were having the last go round in 2015 about net neutrality at that point. We were definitely more concerned about the Internet service providers blocking sites or slowing them down. Now it seems more like a company like At&t says, "Okay, you can transfer this much data on our wired service per month, but if you are, you know, getting your Internet service from us, we won't count HBO against you and we won't count these other properties that we own against you." Yeah, which means that they're basically using their market power in one area. The fact that they only be able to get broadband from them to then try to get you to use more of their other products in ways that would disadvantage other companies. I mean, in this case, the example is often Netflix, but really we're more worried about the vulnerable smaller companies that are the ones that'll be the next Netflix. So yeah, I think this is a significant concern.
Jane Smith Patterson: I think the most important thing is eternal vigilance by those people who know enough to be able to try to make sure that the system is honest and that it's open. You don't have to constantly be looking at every FCC order that comes out to see if it's being ethical and honest about what they're trying to do. Is it affecting everybody in a similar way or is it really an issue that, you know, affects this company versus this technology versus another technology. And who are the people who are making those decisions, do they really understand that?
Christopher Mitchell: Right? We want structures in which we can, it should be as easy as electricity. You shouldn't have to be some kind of of expert to be able to be able to make decisions about your home, Internet access and things like that. It should just work and we can make it work. We just have to get it done.
Jane Smith Patterson: Well, and I think if people were to look at the amount of money that's spent in lobbying legislators at the state level, and it may very well get down to the medicinal level like we have or at the federal level, it's an enormous amount of money that's really going into the system. They could spend some other way on innovation. You know, so. North Carolina has benefited from science and technology. We started looking at the trucks as I pointed to you and the highways and paving the highway so people would get out of the ruts and we went from the work we'd done on science and technology and moving ahead from basically in the 1940s when you had 46% of our people who were in poverty to where you don't even show up of the top ten, you know, States who are at the bottom right now in poverty and won't show up there anymore. We were way ahead of that now. And when you look at the South, there only is, I pointed out to you only two States, Virginia, North Carolina, they're out of that category where none of us want to be in and I'm sure the rest of the South don't want to be in in that situation. And so with North Carolina it's been done with education, science and technology and with the willingness of the people to support that to support as high school science and math, you know, to support all these universities, what's when you're really are about the ninth largest state in population. And the other thing that I think is really important about North Carolina, it's always been the natural environment that's been important to us. The mountains and the oceans and technology plays a major role there. I'll just say one other thing about that. When we were having so much problem with the hurricanes and with not being able to tell what was going on was the amount of water that would get driven up the estuaries into our rivers and flooding everything. And so did you had no sense of the timing of when that might happen or how high it might be? We had a professor at state and myself who got together and said what would happen if we created something? And he said, well I've got graduate students but I don't have the money for the sensors. So Z Smith Reynolds foundation paid $75,000 for the sensors and he paid the graduate students and they figured out the algorithms and a new program that would tell you how much water, how high and how fast it was going to be driven into the rivers of our state. It turned out to be a huge do grant area for none to help other parts of our country that have rivers and estuaries coming in. And it was like $75,000 from a foundation and the other from the state. So foundations need to get into this and that's why the opportunity zones I mentioned to you, foundations will be able to get in. They all have an issue with program related investments. This is not as much a program related investment. This as an investment, okay? Because they can do TRIs. This is a whole new way of investments. So but I think that um, you know, science and technology has really built North Carolina and um, you know, it has built us in our agricultural area as well. Our agricultural, you know, and that's the next big open area I think for us and that's in the rural areas in changing how things are operated and that's why it's so important to get a high speed broadband into those areas
Christopher Mitchell: With your leadership I hope that we're able to get there and I really want to thank you for all the work you've done in your love of North Carolina. I love when people take pride of where they're from.
Jane Smith Patterson: You know, it goes back to the 1600s with my family and the youngest person on my Scottish side who came was 12 years old when he got on his ship and sailed to this country. We are older and we can do far better than he could do. We just need everybody to pitch in and say, "Hey, we've got dirt roads out here. They really are what we call copper and we need you to pave those roads. Give us some fiber." That's what the difference is. Thanks a lot, Chris.
Christopher Mitchell: Absolutely. Thank you.
Lisa Gonzalez: Thanks for tuning into the special Why NC Broadband Matters podcast series and for listening to the community broadband bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Remember, you can follow Christopher on Twitter. His handle is @communitynets and you can also follow @NC heartsGB on Twitter. You'll tap into all the NC Broadband Matters material. We want to thank Shane Ivers of silvermansound.com for the series music, What's the angle, licensed through creative commons and we also want to thank you for listening. Until next time!