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Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 466
This is the transcript for episode 466 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. On this episode, we'rejoined by Matthew Rantanen, Director of Technology for the Southern California Tribal Chairmen's Association along with Maren Machles, ILSR Senior Researcher and Multimedia Producer to talk about the first iteration of the Tribal Wireless Bootcamp, which took place from June 30 through July 4. Listen to the podcast here or read the transcript below.
Matthew Rantanen: Oh, my God, it was 130 degrees. And we were cooking. But we were in the zombie bunker in a desert. And we were setting up wireless. And it was apocalyptic. And it was cool. And they catered it. It was crazy.
Ry Marcattilio-McCracken: Welcome to Episode 466 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. This is Ry Marcattilio-McCracken here at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Today, Christopher is joined by two people to talk about a project ILSR is involved with called the Tribal Wireless Bootcamp, a three-day experience which aims to support skills training and the sharing of knowledge for tribes that are at differing stages of deploying networks from the recently dispersed 2.5 gigahertz spectrum license by the FCC, and who are also seeking funding to build sustainable, resilient networks back in their communities.
Ry Marcattilio-McCracken: This first iteration of the Tribal Wireless Bootcamp ran just a week ago. Matthew Rantanen, Director of Technology for Southern California Tribal Chairmen's Association, helped organize and guide the effort, also opening up his home in Southern California to make it work.
Ry Marcattilio-McCracken: Joining us also is Maren Machles, ILSR Senior Researcher and Multimedia Producer, who captured video of the effort and collected interviews from those who came together to participate.
Ry Marcattilio-McCracken: Chris, Matt, and Maren talk about the bootcamp's goal of filling in a missing link in community broadband by providing a hands-on experience, but equally importantly of bringing people together to talk and learn from one another and build new skills. To do so, the group built a fixed wireless network and then, using the tools they learned onsite, figured out how to get the gremlins out and get it working again. Matt and Maren share their experiences in seeing people exchange lessons learned and ideas for the future too, including everything from learning how to talk about the value of broadband to convince local leaders to embark on a wireless project, troubleshooting, and what digital sovereignty means for tribes now and in the future. Now, here's Christopher talking with Matt and Maren.
Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another episode of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. It's good to be back. This is Christopher Mitchell from the Institute for local Self-Reliance, slowly remembering how to do these sorts of things, but I'm back with a veteran crew. And I'm excited to talk today about something that I helped out with, the Tribal Wireless Bootcamp. We're going to be talking with Matt Rantanen, a former guest and Director of Technology for Southern California Tribal Chairmen's Association. Welcome back, Matt.
Matthew Rantanen: Thanks for having me, Chris.
Christopher Mitchell: I know you've got a bunch of other titles, but I also know that you did this basically in your spare time, in your own capacity as someone who just cares about this issue. So, we'll just leave it at that one title today.
Matthew Rantanen: Cool.
Christopher Mitchell: And we also have Maren Machles, who is on my team at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. She is Senior Editor and Multimedia Producer. Welcome to the show again, Maren.
Maren Machles: Hello. Thank you for having me.
Christopher Mitchell: So, you got to come along and basically have the Herculean task of trying to document a lot of things that were going on pretty haphazardly, without a very rigorous schedule, I would say, where things could just start happening at any minute. Glad that you've recovered.
Maren Machles: That's a very accurate description of how the weekend went, but it was fun. It was cool to just be able to be there and be a fly on the wall. So, thank you for letting me join.
Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, absolutely. And Matt, why don't we just jump right in and explain what did we did last week? What's the context, first of all? What's going on in Indian country that we thought getting people together to build wireless skills would be useful?
Matthew Rantanen: Well, there's a couple of major events that are happening right now, simultaneously. Just a little under 400 tribes have received their 2.5 gigahertz Tribal Priority spectrum license from the Federal Communications Commission. And they're about six to eight months into the process of deploying that to meet their first two-year requirement to keep the license and for that fulfillment. So, there's that dynamic of people trying to get their head around the 2.5 gigahertz space and the new equipment that they have to integrate into their existing systems or if they're starting from scratch, step into that realm with a new product.
Matthew Rantanen: And then there is, somebody described it as a tsunami of funding happening in Indian country, which means there's a whole bunch at the same time and good luck on capturing what you need and where you need it. So, it was an opportunity to get people around the technology and to get people in conversation about those funding opportunities in the general environment of what's happening for tribes right now.
Christopher Mitchell: Yeah. So, we invited some folks down to Rantanentown. Or Rantanen Ranch? It's Rantanentown, I guess, right?
Matthew Rantanen: Yeah. Rantanentown. I think the wife calls it Rancho Too Far to Drive.
Christopher Mitchell: And we made that drive multiple times because there's not a lot of lodging in the nearby area, but it's a wonderful place to do some work. So, just give us a short description of where we were.
Matthew Rantanen: So, we were in Southern California, just north of the San Diego County border, in Southern Riverside County. We're actually 12 miles due north of the Palomar Observatory. High desert. 2,300 feet in elevation. Only 45 minutes to the beach. An interesting climate. It was very toasty. We hit 103 a couple days in a row. So, we definitely tested people's ability to be outside when it was hot. They're predicting today and tomorrow potential 127 in the deserts near me, so I don't know...
Christopher Mitchell: I'm really glad we didn't change the weekend to not be on July 4th weekend.
Maren Machles: Oh my gosh. [crosstalk 00:06:15].
Matthew Rantanen: Yeah. They're calling for emergency preparedness at the moment. So, yeah. It's kind of nuts. But it's a beautiful landscape. But it's tough terrain for running fiber and such, but it works really well for wireless. So, it was a good testing ground for folks to be able to set things up and learn in that space.
Christopher Mitchell: So, I want to bring you into it, Maren. What kind of expectations did you have going into this event? I mean, I feel like, to some extent, I was sort of like, "Hey, we're going to do this thing that I'm not going to really explain that well to you because we're moving pretty fast here, but I'd really like you to come down and help us to record it and then to publicize it afterwards." So, what did you have in your mind that you were heading into?
Maren Machles: Oh man, that's a great question. Definitely, yeah, there was a bit of a black hole in my head about what the weekend would end up being like, but I think I was just really excited to kind of hear the stories of different tribes and kind of what their experience has been like trying to build their own networks, where they were in the process.
Maren Machles: And honestly, I had no expectations because I didn't really know what was going to happen. But yeah, I was just really excited to meet people and talk with folks and hopefully learn a little something about broadband. I just joined your team a couple of months ago. So, I'm trying to be as much of a sponge as possible and learn as much as I can, especially most of the coverage that we do is on fiber and this wasn't really focused necessarily on fiber because of the license. So, it was cool to just kind of learn more about how configuration works and, I don't know, I was excited to be there.
Christopher Mitchell: So, I want to go back in time now to, I feel like maybe two months ago. It was about that time. I mean, it's not that long ago that we'd been talking about what we can do. I've been inspired ever since I attended the Internet Society's Indigenous Connectivity Summit in Waimanalo, where I really was awakened to the fact that if you put crimpers in people's hands and teach them how to make ethernet cables, they actually just feel empowered and they feel like they can conquer the world maybe. And if we're able to get some technology in their hands, they can learn to build these networks, operate themselves, maintain them.
Christopher Mitchell: And in fact, I mean, if we actually just want to perhaps spend a second there, one of the people who attended this is John Garcia, who's been maintaining that network. And it's been working out pretty well in Waimanalo. And we talked about this actually in an episode while we were there with Brandon Maka'awa'awa. And so, Matt, just tell us a little bit about what we were intending to accomplish when we set out to bring folks together.
Matthew Rantanen: I think there's a missing link in the space around community broadband in Indian country, and that is gathering, that is getting people together to talk with each other about their successes and their failures and the general opportunities. And we've had that void for quite some time. We have pockets of places where some of us get together, like the National Congress of American Indians. A bunch of us are going to get together at the Reservation Economic Summit in Las Vegas in a couple of weeks. And there's not everybody in one place.
Matthew Rantanen: And it's not all about broadband and all this community connectivity stuff. It's always spread out around other items as well. So, we really need to focus where we can get these clusters of communities that can rely on each other and have conversations and just get exposure and work together. And I think it makes it feel like you're not operating in a vacuum. You actually have peers in this space that you can feel comfortable that other people are struggling through some of the same things you're struggling through. And I don't know, it's just a sense of community beyond your specific reservation.
Matthew Rantanen: I've been in this space for 20 years. And we created that with the International Community Wireless Summits with Sascha Meinrath and crew that had, I don't know, eight or nine different meetings globally. And so, there was sort of an international space around wireless, but it wasn't indigenous. So, then we have the Indigenous Connectivity Summits, which have really kind of brought that same kind of focus to the indigenous crew and-
Christopher Mitchell: Of North America, specifically. Canada and the United States.
Matthew Rantanen: Yeah, North America specifically, but through Internet Governance Forum and through some of the ICANN meetings that spreads out to the indigenous populations globally. And ISOC's been a very good aggregator of folks to get them in the same space.
Matthew Rantanen: And I think this is a natural progression of maybe what ISOC was thinking when they did Indigenous Connectivity Summit, that there would be pockets of us working together in Indian country to do some of the same types of things and get that same type of sense of community going so that you have somebody to fall back on, you have somebody to lean on. I always say, I could show you 50 ways how not to build a wireless network. So, don't waste your time. Learn my 50 ways so that you don't have to. It's really a sense of resources and just people network.
Christopher Mitchell: Yeah. I think that was one of the reasons that I was enthusiastic about this and having conversations with Spencer Sevilla, who along with Esther Jang were the instructors that we really relied upon to get people up to speed and help them answer their questions and go out and build a network, was this sense of, we don't need people to go off to a trade school for two years. We need people to spend a weekend to do some virtual trainings before then and then to just commit to doing their own research and learning how, one, whether you're in Linux, whether you're doing this community space, sort of your goal I think is to do enough research where you're able to find that community of experts, walk in, show some respect so that they will accept you and be willing to invest in you and help you. And that's how you solve most of these problems. It really is about asking people who know, and sort of cracking the code of how you go about asking them without being insulting or appearing to not have done your own research and things like that.
Christopher Mitchell: And I don't know, Maren, do you feel like that you sort of saw that kind of thing happening over the course of the weekend? Because I felt like I did.
Maren Machles: Yeah. I mean, I think the thing that really stuck with me or that resonated with me throughout the weekend was there were people that were coming in at different levels. So, some people had already started building and were connecting people and other people were just trying to figure stuff out. And I feel like Spencer and Esther and everyone kind of made an environment where if you wanted to learn, if you were enthusiastic, if you were listening, they wanted to give you answers, they wanted to help you kind of figure things out. And they were there. They're there, not just that weekend, but for a while, kind of like Matt was talking about, creating this infrastructure of support for people. And that was definitely something that I felt there strongly. It was like there were no dumb questions. As long as you're coming at it trying to learn genuinely, everyone was super excited to help.
Christopher Mitchell: Matt, I felt like the night before... I don't know if it was the night before. It was the week the last virtual training we did, which was the day before I flew out, I guess. [inaudible 00:14:11] and I went out a little early. Where I really felt like it was coming together the way that we hoped it would in that it wasn't like Spencer and Esther were coming in and they were like, "We know everything and we're going to teach you." When Jessica spoke up about challenges they were having with a vendor, and Spencer was immediately just like, "Oh man, I want to talk to you. I want to learn about what you're going through." And kind of the sense that everyone was bringing something to the table was what I was hoping for.
Matthew Rantanen: Yeah. No matter what your experience level in this space, there's always some new story and some new avenue that you haven't heard of yet because you may have had a really successful time with a product or with a frequency and geography makes a difference, climate makes a difference, all of these things. So, you might have been working in this space for quite some time and never had these same issues. And then somebody from a different region that has more moisture in the air or different type of foliage trees, pine needles, whatever, comes in and goes, "Oh, this is horrible, blah, blah, blah." And then you go, "Wow," you can expand your horizons and understand the scope of things.
Matthew Rantanen: And I just wanted to circle back a little bit on putting things together. I think we were very lucky in the fact that when we were planning things, we obviously [inaudible 00:15:27] Spencer as a trainer, but I think we got extra disco bonus points when Esther showed up and we supported Esther to come. And I don't know that we knew we were going to get as much support from Esther as we did, and really carried half the load. So, I just love that team of people that are just willing to dive in and take charge and lead. And John Garcia too lead a couple of sessions. And he's one ICS old in this space and a year of COVID. So, I think it's really great that we're seeing these people start to grow up in this space.
Matthew Rantanen: I guess the next thing. We need to look at the progression of okay, people have put together networks in an ad hoc fashion where it's just spreading things around, but what's the next level? What step can we take now to maybe convert our thought process around this training space and include things about managing an ISP and actually routing and managing traffic. Not just sharing a signal around, but actually creating a network that is a little bit more corporate or, lack of a better word, carrier-grade, if you will.
Christopher Mitchell: Yes. And I saw some enthusiasm for that along the way. I think it may be useful to talk a little bit about what we did. And part of this was sitting around a TV screen hooked up to a laptop and seeing how you configure different fields and understanding some of the reason why that works, which actually led into a short conversation about how the Internet actually works and how a network address translation, or NAT, works.
Christopher Mitchell: And it was interesting because we had a combination of people who came, who were the tower climbers and the workers who are out that are doing those configurations. We also had several people who are in more of an administrative role. And I had never really considered that this would be as useful for them, but they loved it because I felt like before, they were working in this area where they had fragments. And it's sort of like a room where they had flashlights and it was very dark. And I felt like the work that people did over the course of those three days really turned on the lights and they felt like they were more comfortable with how everything fit together.
Matthew Rantanen: Yeah. I think it's interesting if you have an administrative director of an effort like this, how much they get disconnected from the actual timeline of building and creating. And I make the joke that I've turned into a glorified check-writer over time and less and less in the space of actually building because of the needs of the operations of business. So, when they get tied up in the business side of things, they tend to not understand or not remember some of those components that it takes to put things together.
Matthew Rantanen: And I think what we heard a couple of times from multiple angles was, "Wow, I'm really not going to lean on my techs as hard about this not being done in a two-hour window because holy cow, that's a lot of work. And I realize now, half a day is probably more appropriate for that type of an engagement." Getting them hands-on and understanding just the process of aiming an antenna and setting up a link and how much communication from side to side needs to happen and how much coordination needs to happen and how many tools are involved and just what the effort is, I think really helps you, from a management perspective, understand what it takes to build a network.
Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that I really enjoyed was introducing gremlins into the network and giving them also a sense... watching as Spencer and Esther and sometimes Dustin or others would just explain common gotcha problems when they're out there because we did some of the configuration works in the shade of your workshop, but then we also spent a lot of time with umbrellas in direct sun that was quite toasty out, clamping devices to exterior buildings, to the exterior sides of buildings, and then pointing the radios, like you said. We did both point-to-point and multi-point work.
Christopher Mitchell: And, Maren, I'm curious, you were following folks around and throwing a camera in their face, but it seemed like there was a lot of valuable learning out in the field as they were chatting about what to do, what not to do in doing these installations.
Maren Machles: Yeah, definitely. I think it was interesting. I mean, even personally because like I said I'm not as familiar with a lot of this stuff. I'm still trying to learn it. And it was interesting to realize that there is so much troubleshooting that goes on when you're trying to configure a network. I think you made the joke and I think a few other people made the jokes that it's like, "Ma'am have you unplugged and replugged in your router?" That's what people think is the majority of how you can fix Internet issues. But hearing Esther and Spencer both kind of probing the group to come up with ways to solve some of the problems was really interesting and then listening to them bounce off of each other and eventually come to a solution and see it work and have them be excited about it, it was cool to watch for sure.
Matthew Rantanen: I think one of the things, dovetailing off of what Maren just said, is when we sabotaged the network, when you sabotage the network, Chris, and forced an outage, just how long it took people to realize that it wasn't there because we were engaged in another session where people were actually so focused on the session, they weren't checking the Internet. And that was impressive to me because, for me, I would have noticed immediately because I was streaming content on my phone. I might've been watching soccer games. So, I think it was interesting that the whole group was actually focused on the session and not looking at the Internet, and engaged.
Matthew Rantanen: And as soon as that pause happened, it was immediate that the Internet was out because they took a break. And then they looked and they saw that that Internet was out. And as everybody was theoretically going through their head about what could be fixed and such, one of the, I would say less-technical-at-the-moment-but-advancing-rapidly persons jumped out of the building and ran up and checked connections.
Christopher Mitchell: The physical connection because I had just-
Matthew Rantanen: Physical connection.
Christopher Mitchell: I pulled the backhaul, ethernet cord. So, all the equipment looked like it was performing right. It was performing right. It just didn't have an upstream connection anymore.
Matthew Rantanen: Right. And that was one of the first things that was checked by somebody that was, I would say on the lower end of the scale of technical knowledge or at least network configuration knowledge. Obviously, rapidly advancing and troubleshooting. And ran up the hill and checked the cable and caught it almost immediately.
Christopher Mitchell: Yeah. And I had to ask him to break it again because we wanted people to go through the exercise of the troubleshooting.
Matthew Rantanen: It was pretty impressive, I thought. I mean, I don't know that I would have done that immediately either. I think I would have theorized about like, "Hmm, what is going on?"
Christopher Mitchell: Yeah. So, people are aware. I mean, it's not just like, "Oh, I'll just wander over this way." It was, "It's 100 degrees outside. I'm going to walk up this big hill and then a set of stairs in order to check this thing." It was a bit of work, and when you would have no reason to think that anything had gone wrong because everyone was in the room together except for a gremlin that snuck out. So, yeah. I mean, that was good.
Christopher Mitchell: In the future, I think we'd like to have more of those kinds of scenarios, and breaking people into teams to do different kinds of troubleshooting. But it was a validation that we don't just want to have people learn how to build a network because in many cases you build a network and then you forget those skills. Like some of the configuration stuff, you get it right and then you leave it, although another interesting thing was people sharing different tools that they used in order to maintain their configurations. But we want to make sure people actually have the skills of when things go wrong, what do you do. And that was interesting to see that working out.
Matthew Rantanen: Absolutely. I was amazed at how many people had tools I'd never heard of. And I've been in this space for 20 years. And I would imagine, as I look at Tribal Digital Village Network and if I sat down with some of my techs, they would probably have a toolset that I don't even see anymore because of just where I'm at in the space.
Matthew Rantanen: And it's impressive how many workarounds and how much sharing happens. So, I can't tell you how many times I looked around the room and there was a one-on-one or a one-on-two conversation, where somebody was sharing a way that they had found success in dealing with a problem. And then it was received by the other side of the conversation. And then it was also a return of, "Well, this is what I've done. And this seems to work for this aspect, but no, that's a really good solution." And so, there was all this development of toolsets and just an exchange I think is what we're looking for as a result, is an actual exchange of information and resources with each other and a continued environment where that can happen.
Maren Machles: That even happened the first, I don't know, hour that people arrived. We all went to dinner when everyone kind of was filing in. And these two tribes that were basically neighbors found each other and started troubleshooting things over dinner immediately. They were like, "Should we go home now? We've solved such a major issue within the first hour." It just already was very apparent how positive the bootcamp was going to be just in allowing people to literally just be able to talk to each other.
Christopher Mitchell: And I enjoyed hearing more of the stories about why for them sovereignty over the network was important because I know in general different stories about different communities, some of them tribal, many of them otherwise, where they've been let down, ignored, poorly served by the bigger companies. But hearing these stories and what they have to go through was a reminder of just how serious this is and how they have learned through painful experiences that they cannot trust a big corporation like Frontier. And I might say that and a lot of people might be like, "Well, yeah," but it's also true of Charter, Spectrum. When they've relied on these companies, these companies are predators. And they look at them like they're raw meat.
Christopher Mitchell: And so, the tribes that we had attend, it wasn't like I had to be there indoctrinating them into the idea that they should be more self-reliant. They know that. They're excited to figure out how to do it. And they had all kinds of experiences that helped me better understand what's relevant in this space.
Matthew Rantanen: One of the things that happens in Indian country is we've been left without the services for so long, where those services are supposed to be provided. Those resources are supposed to be provided through mechanisms through the federal government. We've seen so many subsidies go to incumbent carriers that are supposed to serve our area and so many excuses why they couldn't complete that build or didn't want to complete that build. And so, we've been trapped on these islands within the US without access to this. So, once you step into the realm of "I am going to make a difference and build this ourselves. We're going to take on this project," it takes on a life of its own.
Matthew Rantanen: And then as it starts to develop and as people actually start to get connectivity, then people start relying on it. And it becomes bigger and bigger and bigger and more and more important. And more realization happens throughout the community of how important it is to make sure that this now doesn't shut off, that it is a service that is reliable, that it is a service that has a capacity for people to be able to use it at what it's supposed to be used as at the broadband level. And I think we realized that we can't drop the ball now. We own this. We can't drop the ball. We have to move forward with this. And we have to protect it. And so, the sovereignty steps in, in protecting that opportunity.
Matthew Rantanen: And it's interesting because in some situations where tribes have built out networks, it's gotten enough interest level peaked from surrounding incumbents to say, "Oh, well, we didn't realize that you needed this service or wanted this service. We could now step in and kind of help take over and do things." And it's, like you said, predatory. So, they're looking at a bottom line, an ROI, and didn't really realize that, "Oh, well, if I did X in this community, I could have tapped into these 1,000 homes and connected them to our system," when we've been asking them to do that for decades. And it took a tribe to maybe connect the middle mile piece onto the reservation, which takes a barrier to entry away for an incumbent to make money on a project, where they wouldn't do an investment to do that upfront.
Matthew Rantanen: So, we've done the investment. No, you're not taking that away from us. Now, we own this.
Christopher Mitchell: Or the federal government has finally appropriated money that we have access to. We are not just going to write a check to sign it over to you.
Matthew Rantanen: Yeah, that's right. And this is the first time I think we're seeing the money flow through the tribe. Rather than some intermediary that's managing the entities involved in a bill, this is actually the first time I think we're seeing it flow through the tribe in capacity to the point where we can actually build infrastructure and support our systems from it. So, it's a great foundational step in this timeline.
Christopher Mitchell: Something I took away is that this isn't going to be easy though. I mean, this isn't like, "All right, we've solved the problem. We've got money to the tribes." They have significant challenges in building up the skills that they'll need in order to build this and operate it over time. And that was something that I thought worked far better than I expected.
Christopher Mitchell: I wasn't really sure how we were going to integrate in Danny Peralta, who came to us from the Bronx, where he's worked on a digital steward project with Hunts Point. And he ended up stealing the show, I felt like. I mean, there was no point in this in which people were kind of wandering away, even though they were uncomfortably hot and constantly having to get up to drink more water, like to get it out of the coolers. People were interested. But they hung on Danny's every word. I know that because I was too. It was remarkable, as he talked about the strategies they've used. And people saw just the similarities between a community that has been left behind and disenfranchised in New York City and how that forced them to develop tools that are useful to folks that are in these tribal areas.
Matthew Rantanen: One of the dynamics that happens when you get focused on building a network, and this has happened at the Tribal Digital Village Network in Southern California, is that we're so focused on connectivity that we forget that the content that's local needs to be a part of that equation. So, we're like, "Get them the Internet. Get them the Internet. Get them the Internet. The killer app is the Internet. So, when they get access to the Internet, all will be good." Well, when you get everybody access to the Internet, the whole community gets connected to the Internet, they do all the things that any normal person would do on the Internet. But the whole point of the Tribal Digital Village and some of these tribal communities getting access is to enhance local features like language preservation, cultural interactions, and repositories of artifacts and different things that they can look up about their own tribes and learning opportunities that are culturally-based versus K-through-12 based.
Matthew Rantanen: And I think what all of us gained by listening to Danny talk about The Point is, "Oh yeah, we have to include community. We have to include our educators. We have to include our storytellers and the whole creation of our community and just our resources. The space around who we are has to be part of this digital equation." So, it helped us, I think like, "Oh yeah," not just network, but the things that happen around network came to mind.
Christopher Mitchell: As we wrap up, Maren, you did several interviews. Were there any poignant moments that you'd want to highlight? Anything that surprised you or you just pull out for people to be aware of?
Maren Machles: Yeah. Let me think about that a little bit.
Christopher Mitchell: I mean, I know you did at least one brilliant interview because I did a short one.
Maren Machles: Right. I got to interview you. There were so-
Christopher Mitchell: Lucky you.
Maren Machles: Honestly, there were a lot of really interesting stories. I think I was expecting people to come and be like, "All right, this is where we're starting. We're starting with this bootcamp." But there were so many people that had already been connecting people and had already been in the process of creating their staffs and trying to build things out. So, I was actually used to that being the situation after a couple of days there.
Maren Machles: And so, I got to sit down with someone from the Bear River band. Actually, two people who came to the bootcamp. And I think they actually were a little bit earlier on in the process. And so, it was cool to have them come to the bootcamp, hear from other tribes who were further along, soak up all this knowledge from the actual instructional parts of the bootcamp and just be so excited.
Maren Machles: One person in particular was a little bit nervous about coming to the bootcamp. They were like, "I don't... " they kind of had been thrown into this situation and seemed excited about connectivity, but hadn't been too familiar with the process of what that all entails and hadn't had a lot of IT experience in general. And so, coming into this space, they were very nervous, but being able to talk to them about how they opened up, how they learned so much more, it was really cool to hear that story, to hear that perspective, and to hear that they were excited by listening to other tribes who expressed, "We want to have our own network. It's important to us that we have our own network and that we're in charge of it." And that kind of kick-started inspiration within themselves to be really passionate about the process. And that was something that really stuck with me was just the excitement.
Matthew Rantanen: Yeah. I think one of the things that I heard, especially from that group, I heard that, "Hey, we just learned a language that now I can talk to my tribal council and explain this better because I had a tough time articulating what this network meant to the tribe and why it mattered and how we could potentially even sustain it, monetize it or something, to be able to create a sustainability model and move forward into the future." I heard from several folks that, "Oh, I now know how to go talk to that council member who was questioning what we're doing and why. I now have the resources, just the language resources, to be able to now talk about this in the right light so that they can understand the impact that it will make in our community." So, that I thought was a really valuable piece because that wasn't a technology piece; that was a okay, how do I wrap my head around explaining this properly.
Matthew Rantanen: And then for a group that was more advanced that had already deployed 2.5 gigahertz with a product that they were dissatisfied with, I think that what we were expecting from them, or at least I was expecting from them, was they were going to look at a different product and go, "Oh, cool. This one works. The one we were using doesn't work. We could shift gears and buy this product." But what they gathered from this was so much more.
Matthew Rantanen: They almost rewound their build process back to a previous time where they were now rethinking about how to deploy. They were repeatedly saying, "If I didn't own this eight months ago, if I didn't own this 10 months ago." They were rewinding their process now to a point where they could see a reset or a shift or a fork in the road where they took one direction, when now maybe they understand, "Okay, moving forward, from today on, we'll reevaluate situations more thoroughly. And then now reach out to this peer group, rather than making a decision in haste and getting stuck with a pathway that maybe is something you have to undo." So, I think that was huge because a lot of people...
Matthew Rantanen: And I feel like going through the trainings, coming up to the actual bootcamp itself, I feel like we had a little bit of disconnect with some of those folks because they were so busy in their day to day. And then when they showed up to the bootcamp, it was like, "I should have been on every single training that came up to this because now I realize what this was about. I kind of only thought it was going to be showing me how to hook up a 2.5 piece of equipment. Now, I realize this is a whole ecosystem of opportunity." And I think that was a cool evolution that happened, live in front of our faces.
Christopher Mitchell: Yeah. And I think a part of that is because, Matt, you and I are both very strong personalities. And I feel like unspoken is that we have a no-other-a-hole policy in that we'll be the ones that will make sure that people feel confident and able to ask any questions. I mean, I would come back to everyone that's in that room. Everyone felt like they had things to learn and they had things to share. And there was no one in that sort of comic-book-guy trope who is using his knowledge as a weapon. And it's almost always his knowledge, right?
Matthew Rantanen: Exactly. Another real gem that happened was we saw folks that are very technically-savvy, but somewhat socially introverted, uncomfortable speaking in front of groups, actually take charge and make pretty solid comments in a space where they now felt comfortable. And I think I heard that in multiple levels from administration directors to techs to different people involved, that this is a space that they felt they could actually talk in. They did not feel like somebody was going to run them over. They didn't feel like their questions were stupid. They didn't feel like they'd be judged when they came out and had conversation about a component that they didn't understand. They felt like this was a safe space. And I think that's really important, that you and I are just the jerks in the bunch and everybody else gets to feel comfortable with each other.
Christopher Mitchell: Yeah. Maybe we'll find out if we do this at a more comfortable temperature, that part of it was the heat and that people's guards were worn down.
Matthew Rantanen: This could be. And they were probably in defense mode, trying to keep enough water in their system, they forgot they could be comfortable in the space. So, yeah. It was fun. It was a great experience.
Matthew Rantanen: And I think it's a great story too because, I mean, how many people are now out there? There's 20 people out there, telling the story of this bootcamp and, "Oh my God, it was 103 degrees. And we were cooking. But we were in this zombie bunker in a desert. And we were setting up wireless. And it was apocalyptic. And it was cool. And they catered it. It was crazy."
Matthew Rantanen: So, I can't thank ISOC enough for being able to support things that are cool. And I think the words that were said, coming out of Mark Buell's mouth was "I like to support cool things. I like to support things that are making a difference." And that's right. I mean, that's what we want to do. We want to make a difference. And we want to make it fun.
Christopher Mitchell: Yeah. So, we're going to see if we can do this again. We'll be looking to improve upon it I think, to get a few more people there. And we have some ideas.
Christopher Mitchell: But one thing I'll say is that, much like you said at the beginning, Matt, no one's coming to just have a good time. Everyone's coming there to work. Everyone has a purpose. This is not a vacation. And we'll have a high bar based on the seriousness of which everyone took it in the first round.
Matthew Rantanen: Yeah. I think no-slackers rule. And it's impressive that I assumed there would be people that disappeared on us and people that kind of faded into the woodwork because they felt they weren't engaged because it was a tough environment. Weather alone was a tough environment.
Matthew Rantanen: Man, everybody was engaged a hundred percent, the whole time. And I think that really shows us that there is this real need for this space. There's a real desire to have access to this kind of training, this kind of hands-on, this kind of interaction with others. And who knows, maybe it was a better success since most of us hadn't seen people for a year and a half, but-
Christopher Mitchell: That was definitely brought up a few times.
Matthew Rantanen: But yeah. I know I was worn down day two even, realizing, "Oh yeah, it is a lot of work managing live conversations with multiple people." And I had forgotten how much engagement was involved with 20 people in a room. But I think it was a good jumpstart into coming out of this and building this community.
Christopher Mitchell: Excellent. Thank you, both: Matt for hosting us; Maren for taking part in it and then soldiering through when you realized just how hard it was going to be; and Internet Society for making this thing happen. I mean, Internet Society's been doing good work with Indigenous Connectivity for years, a space that has had very few organizations helping out with it. And it's just been amazing to have them as a partner. We could not have done it. It's not just a matter of writing checks; they're organizers. The people that were a part of it really made it happen. And they are the ones that introduced a lot of us to each other. So, just tremendous thanks to them.
Christopher Mitchell: With that, we'll leave you. We're going to be doing a video about this. Maren's working on that. We're going to be doing some instructional videos for other folks to learn from some of the material. And we'll be doing some posts. We have some photos. So, there's going to be other content exploring how we did this. And I would say that we're definitely open to sharing the recipe with other folks that want to figure out how to build on it.
Matthew Rantanen: Absolutely. Thanks for having me again. It's always a pleasure. And looking forward to the next round.
Maren Machles: Thanks, Chris.
Ry Marcattilio-McCracken: That was Christopher, talking with Matt Rantanen and Maren Machles. We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at muninetworks.org/broadbandbits. Email us at email@example.com with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @communitynets. Follow muninetworks.org stories on Twitter. The handle is @muninetworks.
Ry Marcattilio-McCracken: Subscribe to this and other podcasts from ILSR, including Building Local Power, Local Energy Rules, and the Composting for Community Podcast. You can access them anywhere you get your podcasts. You can catch the latest important research from all of our initiatives, if you subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ilsr.org. While you're there, please take a moment to donate. Your support in any amount keeps us going. Thank you to arnebhus for the song, Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through Creative Commons. This was Episode 466 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. Thanks for listening.
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