Previewing Mountain Connect 2022 – Episode 503 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast

This week on the podcast, Christopher is joined by Jeff Gavlinski, CEO of Mountain Connect to preview this year’s event. During the conversation, the two talk about what makes Mountain Connect different from other broadband conferences, what’s on deck for this year, and Jeff’s perspective on larger trends in the broadband industry. They also discuss some of the political realities of the current moment in broadband, and asses the state of various projects going on around the country. 

This show is 27 minutes long and can be played on this page or via Apple Podcasts or the tool of your choice using this feed

Transcript below. 

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

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

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


Jeff Gavlinski (00:07):

It's not overwhelming yet. It's it's comfortable and it's a great place for people to come and, and network.

Christopher Mitchell (00:14):

Welcome to another episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Christopher Mitchell at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in St. Paul, Minnesota. And I'm getting ready to put on my traveling shoes cuz there's a, there's some fun stuff coming up. But possibly the most fun event is at the end of the month where I'm gonna go to Keystone, Colorado for Mountain Connect, an event that we've talked about before on the show. And today I brought Jeff Gavlinski back, who is the CEO of Mountain Connect to preview it a little bit, talk about past fun events. Jeff, welcome back.

Jeff Gavlinski (00:51):

Thank you, Chris. I'm really great that you have me back on the show. Really appreciate it.

Christopher Mitchell (00:56):

Yes, I've, you know, I've long said, I feel like this is a special show. you know, it's one that is not afraid to ask people to go far from an airport and and gather and focus on you know, a really interestingly curated program. and so let me just, let me just start off by asking you, you know takes a lot of work to put these things together. Why, why is it worth doing Mountain Connect? What, what is different about it than other places?

Jeff Gavlinski (01:25):

Well, first way I'll answer the question is I've always wanted to sort of give back to the industry that's given me quite a bit. And in terms of giving back, I'm really passionate about trying to help the tier three and below communities, counties, telcos, wisps, utilities, schools as well as telehealth. We've, we've had a broad content focus, but we really should be trying to help the people who need the help. which is why I don't focus on, on large metropolitan areas or large cities. they're always gonna get what they need because of what they represent economically. And, and, and of course our event's a bit timely this year, given that the N T I A NOFO is coming out our notice of funding opportunity. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> is coming out the week prior. there's a lot of work that needs to be done over the next three to 10 years or so.

Christopher Mitchell (02:20):

So you're expecting that they'll hit that deadline? I hope you, you don't have like three sessions that are gonna fall apart when they delay it.

Jeff Gavlinski (02:26):

<laugh> No, I don't, I don't, but I,

Christopher Mitchell (02:28):

I, I have no sense if they're gonna delay it. I suspect they'll, they'll hit their timeline, but I'm just goofing with you.

Jeff Gavlinski (02:32):

I don't think we're gonna see much out of this until next year, quite frankly. Not, not the nofo, but I just mean in terms of it getting started. So.

Christopher Mitchell (02:39):

Right. But there's a lot of planning to do now. Let me, let me just poke you on something there, cuz I feel like you also this is, there is a place for people to come from the larger cities to talk about challenges they face. I think you're just saying that like, they get a lot of attention. you know, they don't always get what they want. Obviously there's a lot of folks in Denver that aren't well connected. People are, you know, working on stuff like that. but I think you're, you're building a conference for everyone, but we're going into the, the, the mountains in order to talk about these issues.

Jeff Gavlinski (03:07):

Thanks for bringing that up because I, I, I suppose I didn't mean to imply that, that I don't focus on big cities because quite frankly one of our sessions is actually gonna be focused on the city of Detroit and how they're gonna tackle their digital inequity issues by targeting the economically disadvantaged folks first when they build out their network. So there are some really good lessons learned there. There's also some good stories that come outta larger cities. But primarily, I should have said, primarily my biggest focus is gonna be on those tier three and below folks.

Christopher Mitchell (03:40):

Yeah, when I think of Mountain Connect, I think of Doug Seacat, you know, like <laugh>, someone who you introduced me to there. Yeah. Someone who building really interesting stuff has, I think really interesting stories about what it's like to be a small business, a private business trying to build in this area, you know, making interesting partnerships just trying to make it work. And and I think of folks like that. And I feel like that's sort of the soul of Mountain Connect, right?

Jeff Gavlinski (04:04):

Yeah, absolutely. I, you know, I had last year on the opening day I was, was sitting off to the side on the stage waiting to go up to welcome everybody to the conference. And I had someone come up to me and they, they said sorry to bother you, but I just wanted to tell you in case I don't, I don't see it that I really like the fact that you've created an intimate environment here. it, you know, it's not, it's not overwhelming yet. It's it's comfortable and it's a great place for people to come in and network.

Christopher Mitchell (04:36):

I can imagine that right now. Doug would be pulling out his hair if he had any to listen while he's listening. whoa, that's, I just gotta take a shot at Doug Doug who's doing really wonderful work to help you with this. but I I should note specifically it is May 23rd, 24th and 25th. and it is something you can learn more about Mountain and it is a just a great blend to be more specific about, I'm assuming, like you had mentioned, I mean, there's, there's stuff there for people who are interested in wireless, for people who are interested in fiber, people interested in co-ops, munies, private companies people interested in long haul, people who are interested in Last mile. People are interested in partnerships like <laugh>, right? There's just a you know, there's, I feel like you spend the entire year thinking about, you know, who to get together and try to, to do. And then I come along and beg to be on every panel and you tell me no <laugh>. and so <laugh>, but always <laugh>, right? Well, I'll be on at least one, maybe two this time. I think I might have stuck on a second one.

Jeff Gavlinski (05:42):

Yeah, I think it's important to, you know, to challenge the audience. There are obviously a lot of relevant topics that we could talk about that are, that are impacting the industry today. But I also think that we need to look forward. So I always try to have as much forward looking content as I can possibly squeeze in without confusing people.

Christopher Mitchell (05:59):

Even if, even if I'm gonna be a little bit annoying and, and critique your futurist, because I don't like his vision of drones. I don't think it's realistic

Jeff Gavlinski (06:06):

<laugh>. Yeah. Yes. Yeah, that's a good example, right? 2018, I think I was the first broadband conference to have a discussion around blockchain. So, and I had another one, I think the year after about telehealth innovation technology trying to, trying to really bridge a gap between the telecom industry and the, the healthcare industry. Cause I don't, I, I think there's a gap there mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And I do realize that there are networks being built to serve healthcare facilities. But I, I also think there's a lot of interesting stuff going on on the in technology innovation side, and they don't really realize that they need our industry just as much as we need to know what they're doing. Right. Because without a wire to wireless connection, they're the great technology they're developing just doesn't work.

Christopher Mitchell (06:55):

As we've worked in telehealth, one of the things that I've said is I feel like a lot of the people that know a lot about healthcare, don't know much about broadband economics. And the people that know about broadband don't really have a good sense of, frankly, how screwed up the healthcare system is <laugh>. Right. And who's dealt with it, has a sense. But it's really, it's, it is really even more so

Jeff Gavlinski (07:14):

Last year I outlined a number of, number of things that I would continue to weave into our agenda for the foreseeable future. And you'll notice like on Tuesday the 24th, our, our, our lunch keynote is an example of that where last year I had a discussion on network disaster recovery and why it's so important to consider that you need to have a redundant network in place. And of course, as you know, this past December, we had a really bad fire in Boulder County, which impacted not only the folks there who lost their homes and, and, and had to leave their homes, but certainly the first responder networks as well. So we're gonna have a dis a, a discussion on that, which I think is really important. And hopefully it encourages other municipalities to consider building a redundant network in case of a natural disaster or a fire or, you know, whatever, whatever natural disaster we, we have out here.

Christopher Mitchell (08:11):

Okay. So you've got that, that's an interesting thing coming up aside from my panel, which is your favorite. I'm curious you know, so you can't use that one as an example, but Right. What's, what's something that, I'm not gonna call it your favorite, but was there something that you're just sort of like really excited about that you've been trying to get together and, and that you're gonna have an interesting discussion about? I mean, it can't be like Phil Wiser, he's becoming a regular now you know, a fixture of, of telecom and, and, and now the AG of Colorado, he's still coming back to your show, so that's cool. But like, what's something you're looking forward to that might be surprising to folks?

Jeff Gavlinski (08:44):

I'm really interested in, in hearing what Joshua is gonna do in City of Detroit? Yeah. I think that strategy there is is not a strategy I've heard from any other, and I think when people hear it, I don't wanna give anything away, but I think when, when they hear what they're going to do, I think they're gonna be pleasant, hopefully pleasantly surprised and admire what, what they're doing there. Cuz they're, they're tackling a big issue there, but I think they're doing it in the right manner.

Christopher Mitchell (09:11):

Yeah. And that's Joshua Edmonds, who's really, I think an impressive person who's who's you know, he'd been at Cleveland before and came to Detroit to tackle that real hard problem and is really coming up with some interesting approaches for it. So yeah, I'm looking forward to to hearing that as well.

Jeff Gavlinski (09:29):

We have another session. so I mentioned, I mentioned the the Boulder County story. That one too, I think I, I'm really excited about. And then we have a surprise coming for the first on the opening keynote that hasn't been announced yet, but we have,

Christopher Mitchell (09:46):

If it falls through, I'll come up with something brilliant. Don't worry.

Jeff Gavlinski (09:48):

Okay. Excellent. I, I know I can count on you.

Christopher Mitchell (09:51):

If it's a surprise, we could, you could do anything now, <laugh>.

Jeff Gavlinski (09:53):

Well, it'll, it'll get announced next week, so. Oh, okay. the other thing I think we we're gonna have for the first time is we have both senators will be talking to us virtually from Washington dc they're in session, so they can't make it, but I do appreciate the fact that they're taking 30 minutes out of their day to address the audience and setting aside time for, for questions from the audience. So, really excited about having both Senator Bennett and Hickenlooper there. And then, of course, I don't know if you're aware of this or not, but we have a new executive director of our broadband office.

Christopher Mitchell (10:25):

I'm not aware. That's exciting.

Jeff Gavlinski (10:27):

Yeah. So she is when the senators are done, she is going to talk about the state of Colorado, and I'm sure she'll try to, she'll, she'll try to say as much as she can say and get away with. Right. But she's gonna give everyone an idea like, what, what is, what is Colorado thinking about in terms of how they're gonna spend this money? So I'm really, really, oh, we have some really amazing speakers. So I'm really excited for this year.

Christopher Mitchell (10:52):

I know that, that you went through some things we're not gonna talk about. there's no reason to to jump into that. But then like the pandemic hits and everyone goes through a bunch of stuff and people who are planning events just like, just so hard. Right? Yep. And I'm, I'm curious, like, there's gotta be things, I mean, you said you want to give back to this industry. I mean, I feel similarly I've learned so much and just loved being a part of it. but I, I think there's also some things that have happened at Mountain Connect that you look back on where you're just like, yeah, like, did we, this is worth continuing despite the fact that it's, you're, you're heading upstream. what are some of those like, key moments? and again, I've been to the past six ones, I think past seven months. So, you know, don't, don't focus on the things that, that I was there doing with you, but just I I'm very, keep laughing when I keep prompting you like this. But you know, what are the, what are the highlights from past years?

Jeff Gavlinski (11:43):

If you go back five or six years? I I think you've seen the dialogue change quite a bit. I know for those folks who don't know, Colorado does legislation in place that prevents municipalities from building broadband networks. however, there's an optout clause and that Optout clause allows you to conduct a vote. And if you get obviously the majority, then you can opt out. So it's our Senate bill 1 52, so I think we've had close to 200.

Christopher Mitchell (12:13):

Yeah, it's in that 150 to 200 range, I believe.

Jeff Gavlinski (12:16):

Yeah. Yeah. So communities, counties and school districts that have opted out, you know, but if you go back six years, I, there was a real tension between Muni the municipalities and the incumbents. And one of the things that, that I'm, I'm really excited about is that's kind of been pushed to the side. Even though we're not gonna have a discussion with any of the incumbents at Mount Connect this year, I'm hoping that next year that I'm gonna be able to get some of 'em to come back and talk about some of the good things that they're trying to do, because I think, I feel like it's my job to, to bring people together. Now, what happens when they get there is, is a totally different discussion and something I can't control. But I, I do think when there are challenges, I I'm starting to hear less about these things over the years it's kind of lessened. so I'm really encouraged by that. so that I, I would say that that's one of the bigger ones. And then, and then of course, I, I was a little skeptical about bringing in topics that would challenge people. Cause I think that's part of our job as well. And, and that's been embraced as well. So

Christopher Mitchell (13:22):

Elon Musk, greatest man ever, or just Greatest man of our time. <laugh>, you wanna challenge people?

Jeff Gavlinski (13:28):

<laugh>, how about neither?

Christopher Mitchell (13:30):

Well, yeah, that's my point kind of. But <laugh> Yeah,

Jeff Gavlinski (13:32):

You forgot that option.

Christopher Mitchell (13:33):

I'm just, I might get killed in in the, in the social medias on this one.

Jeff Gavlinski (13:37):

<laugh>. Yeah, you might and I might as well. and, and, and the other thing I think is interesting is the open access discussion, right? So that, that, as, you know, 4, 3, 4 years ago was front and center, it kind of went away and now it's back up again. And I think a lot of that

Christopher Mitchell (13:56):

Has to with knives out <laugh>, what's that? With knives Out?

Jeff Gavlinski (13:59):

Well, for some, yes, that's true <laugh>. if, if we could just stop, stop beating each other up over which, which which open Access construct is better, I think we'd be better off for, for the folks who don't really understand that there are different flavors, open access. But nonetheless we've, we've had some success stories and I'm encouraged that perhaps per we will see more open access networks being built. so, so that, that's another thing that I'm encouraged about and I try to embrace that over, over the last three to five years.

Christopher Mitchell (14:34):

I mean, for people who aren't familiar you know, there was Glenwood Springs was the first kind of community broadband network and used a variety of technologies and was aiming to be open access and I think had difficulties in that Rio Blanco as a county. the, the two the two towns that are part of that are the population centers there is very po very successful open access fiber network, it seems. And then what I was talking about was the the fight in Colorado Springs right now where you have two different models that both use the term open access in different ways and and kind of some conflict in the press between those two. you certainly have open access Middle Mile and a real strong history of that in several areas. Like with Project Thor you have a very interesting public-private partnerships with municipal fiber and private companies in Fort Morgan and Breckenridge you know, with, with the company Aloe Outta Nebraska. so yeah, there's a, and then, and then obviously, I mean, Colorado has so many municipal networks. You have Longmont, which is arguably one of the most successful municipal networks. I mean we talk about Chattanooga often as being so good, it's hard to aspire to, but Longmont is right there as well. And several other front range cities now building their own in fact finishing their own in in some cases this year, I believe.

Jeff Gavlinski (15:56):

Yeah, I, I live in one of those cities. I live in Fort Collins, so I have gigabit fiber coming to my house as well. There's one more thing I wanted to add to your question. I think it's been really interesting over the last seven or eight years to see the conversation around fixed wireless too. Cause if you go back in time, I, I think fixed wireless, it kind of went away for a little bit just in terms of being a priority on the agenda or on on agendas. and then it's come back again.

Christopher Mitchell (16:25):

Oh, I thought you were gonna say it's not as controversial and I was gonna be, you visited my LinkedIn page lately.

Jeff Gavlinski (16:29):

<laugh>. Yeah, no, no, no. I I would never say that. There's always gonna be controversy around it, unfortunately. But listen, at the end of the day, if we get the opportunity to use this funding to build fiber everywhere, then okay, but if we don't, which I, I fear will happen to suggest that fixed wireless is not a viable solution, even if it's in the short term whatever, whatever the short term definition is for you until such a time that you can build fiber, I, I think we're doing a disservice to people by not actually suggesting that as a viable solution in place of fiber.

Christopher Mitchell (17:06):

I think that that's a good discussion to have. And I feel like you're totally making a valid point. Let me, let me frame it like this, cuz I think a different way to think of it is this, we have a certain amount of money and we could build out, use that money to build out fiber to like 40% or 60% or some, some significant, but not, you know not like 80% of the, of a number of people. Whe that a solution that's gonna solve the problem for decades, possibly, you know, forever depending on how you wanna define forever. or we can spend that money on getting a higher number of people a solution that's gonna work for three to five years. and, and that's, for me, it comes outta that time element of, of, I, it just worries me.


and, and candidly as you know from me, like, you know, if we're talking about wireless from a cooperative that is going to use all of the revenues to plow them back in and to serve their customers and, and reinvest, that's great. But if we're talking about wireless to a private company that has really good intentions, but in two years it's gonna be purchased by a company that's gonna be purchased by another company another two years, and then it's gonna be owned by like some hedge fund or something like that, that I'm deeply skeptical of that. And so like, I just feel like it's much more complicated in this question of wireless versus fiber. And that's, that's why I sort of err on the edge of fiber.

Jeff Gavlinski (18:28):

I didn't expect you to get that dark here, but <laugh>, that was pretty dark. <laugh> I, listen, I couldn't agree with you. Listen, if we could build fiber where that would be the best solution, well

Christopher Mitchell (18:40):

We will, I mean we, we'll have fiber everywhere and I in real lifetime too, I believe it.

Jeff Gavlinski (18:44):

well I hope you're right because I, what I'm concerned about is if history serves as any barometer, perhaps beads not gonna go the way people think it's gonna go.

Christopher Mitchell (18:55):

Oh no, you're, you're calling me dark <laugh> <laugh>, you're, and for people who can't tell Jeff is literally wearing black. And then he just said that.

Jeff Gavlinski (19:03):

I did, I did. Well, listen, I I I, I lived down in the southwest Colorado and we were severely impacted by the, by our Btop grant and its inability to build what was promised, which is fiber to connect all our school districts. And, you know, you can imagine

Christopher Mitchell (19:21):

That was EagleNet and it was one of the worst correct projects of the btop program.

Jeff Gavlinski (19:25):

Yeah. You can imagine how many communities were let down because this was an opportunity to take the fiber that was being funded through the P TOP grant and perhaps extend off of it would've reduced, significantly reduced the cost of, of extending fiber off that network once it was built. And the, one of the reasons why that never happened is because we built in areas that did not need to be built and they underestimated the cost of, of building fiber. And of course, as you might guess, the underestimated cost comes from the fact that they had to bury some of it, right? And in the mountains it was very costly. And I had, we had a chance to, to meet with N T I A during this process and I, I had asked them, you know, what lessons will you take away from this experience? And they basically told me, and I know it was a different crop, people back, back then, I hope that they take lessons away from this and don't repeat 'em. And that is that you, they just don't have enough people to provide the kind of oversight that's necessary. So now I worry about that because now you have an understaffed federal government who's now given it to arguably understaffed state governments.

Christopher Mitchell (20:39):

I think you're right. and this is where I think we need, you know, people to be stepping up from communities. communities need to take a stronger role in this, in, in being watchdogs, but you're right. And frankly, that money wasn't gonna go, if the money was spent perfectly in the way that I would like it to. I think it could have solved most of the problem. that's not the way the world works. and maybe I'm wrong anyway. Some people listen, this I'm sure are convinced I'm wrong about a lot of what I say. but like on top of that, with inflation and supply chain it's gonna go even less far. So, right.

Jeff Gavlinski (21:15):

Yeah, absolutely. Yep. I, it's my hope that communities as well as state governments, well, state governments a take, take advantage of the planning funding and that they, they seek out and find really strong partnerships from the private sector and their constituent communities.

Christopher Mitchell (21:34):

Right. I feel like we've had a really good mix of talking about the conference, of talking about some, some good issues. We've both gone dark. I want to end, I wanna keep this shorter not just cuz I'm running off to dinner with my family, but also because the last thing I wanted to talk with you was just keystone man. Like, you wanna talk about like having an event in a picture as place like this is a great place where people can come like, you know, like, you know, come for the weekend beforehand, bring your family, like, you know, just a quick if you're close by if you're further away, it's really worth making the trek. it's just tell us why, you know, we're here in, we're there in May. we might get a little bit of snow if memory serves, depending yeah, maybe some beautiful days.

Jeff Gavlinski (22:16):

Ke you know, keystone's at 9,200 feet above sea level. So these surrounding views are not tough on the eyes. It should be beautiful weather. I mean, we will, we'll have chilly evenings obviously, but I I, I've always had Mountain Connect in a, in a resort location, you know, prior to Keystone was in Vale, but now I'm kind of s I'm, I'm kind of stuck there in, in a way because now Denver has gotten so darn expensive and I really do need to think about folks who are attending and I, because if I go to Denver, I could price 'em out effectively, right? And so I don't want to do that. And, and right now I, because I'm, because I have such a long-term partnership with Keystone, I do have a lot of flexibility in terms of growing the event. but as you say, it's a great place to go. It really is pretty there and people do come and either spend time prior to the conference or they spend time after the conference with family, families and loved ones.

Christopher Mitchell (23:12):

Yeah, my wife and I had some fun times hiking and I've I, I wanna do it every year, but I just there's always something going on, but I highly recommend for people that lead less hectic lives to to come to the event, enjoy the event, enjoy the areas around it. It's super fun. yeah,

Jeff Gavlinski (23:28):

And I, I would encourage, I know we didn't have a lot of time, but the, we have such an amazing agenda this year. Please go to mountain and, and check out the agenda. There's some really great sessions in there.

Christopher Mitchell (23:40):

Definitely circle the ones that have Chris Mitchell involved in them. <laugh>,

Jeff Gavlinski (23:46):

I, I, I, I even got roped into two and I, I, I, I try to not do any sessions at Mountain Connect, but,

Christopher Mitchell (23:52):

Well, I'm excited. In fact for people who are coming, I should say the, a bonus is my senior team is coming, so we're using it as a little bit of a of a retreat to talk strategy and for them to get more experience at events, meet more people. so Ryan Marko, McCracken Deanne Coyar, and Sean Gonsalves and myself will all be there. So keep an eye out for us. Say hi and and let us know what you're up to.

Jeff Gavlinski (24:18):

for the first time this year, we'll actually have an official media center onsite, so that media center will allow us to do things like Host, if you have a, if, if our participants, mainly our sponsors and exhibitors if they have some really cool and interesting news, we have the ability to, to run press conferences for press releases. we'll also have an area set up for podcasters like yourself, sir.

Christopher Mitchell (24:47):


Jeff Gavlinski (24:48):

Yeah, so I think we'll have maybe four or five at the conference. So I think it's gonna be really, really fun to, really fun to do that. and that's in partnership with Harrison Edwards.

Christopher Mitchell (25:00):

Yeah. And they, they do a really good job with this. I'll let people know. I have to run Tuesday night to catch a red eye to go to a board meeting in DC so if you wanna pitch me do it early <laugh> for podcasts and things like that, I'm gonna have my mic. I'm gonna have some stuff there. but I will not be there on Wednesday, unfortunately, which sucks cuz Wednesday's always got really great events. In fact, you've often had me on Wednesdays to try to get people to stick around and you know, I guess it wasn't as successful as I would hope sometimes. Yeah.

Jeff Gavlinski (25:32):

Well, well, I don't know what it is about conferences in the last day when people just pack up and go, but this year we're ending at lunchtime and they're after the lunch keynote and that last lunch. Keynote's a really good one. That's the one that contains Joshua.

Christopher Mitchell (25:49):


Jeff Gavlinski (25:49):

Yeah, you're gonna miss it.

Christopher Mitchell (25:50):

I'll get notes from my colleagues.

Jeff Gavlinski (25:52):

Yes. <laugh> Well, it, it'll be online. You can watch it anyways.

Christopher Mitchell (25:56):

Excellent. Thank you so much, Jeff.

Jeff Gavlinski (25:58):

Thank you, Chris.

Ry (25:59):

We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at muni Email with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter, his handles at Community Nets. Follow muni stories on Twitter, the handles muni networks. Subscribe to this and other podcasts from I L Sr, including Building Local Power Local Energy Rules, and the Composting for Community Podcast. You can access them anywhere you get your podcasts. You can catch the latest important research from all of our initiatives if you subscribe to our monthly While you're there, please take a moment to donate your support in any amount. Keeps us going. Thank you to Arne Hughes B for the song, warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through Creative Commons. This was the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Thanks for listening.