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Ask Me Anything! With Jeff Gavlinski

Ask Me Anything! With Jeff Gavlinski Banner Image

Apr 29, 2022

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About Our Distinguished Guest

Jeffrey Gavlinski is currently Global Vice President of Telecom & Wireless Associations at Plume Design.  He is responsible for the strategic alignment of Plume’s industry Association partnerships globally.  He is also the owner and CEO of Mountain Connect LLC, a company facilitating a broadband development conference that services the US and is hosted in Colorado since 2011.  He also serves as the Board of Directors Marketing Chair for the Fiber Internet Service Provider Association (FISPA), Marketing & Technology Board Committees for Fiber Broadband Association and Fiber-to-the-Room & 5G for Hospitality Board Committees for Hospitality Technology Next Generation (HTNG). Prior to Plume, Jeffrey served as the Director, Industry Organizations for Calix.

Jeff has served as a Business Advisor at the Fort Lewis College Small Business Development Center, Board of Directors for the Archuleta County/Pagosa Springs, CO Economic Development Corporation and founded Colorado’s first Local Technology Planning Team in southwest Colorado.   Jeffrey began his career in Software Development and is a business executive with multi sector experiences with Fortune 500 as well as startup, small, and medium sized companies.

We are honored to have Mountain Connect Founder Jeff Gavlinski as our latest guest in the Ask Me Anything! series. A celebrated broadband veteran, Jeff has helped advance the broadband industry, and in particular next-gen applications of broadband. He's been a cross-pollinator in the industry for the better part of two decades.

Twelve years ago, Jeff founded Mountain Connect, now the largest independently produced conference in U.S. broadband. Described by attendees as a "can't miss" event, Mountain Connect is celebrated for its independence, featuring meaningful cross-sector discussions and collaborations. 

Event Transcript

Jase Wilson: Hello, and we're a minute ahead of time, we'll wait just a minute or two. Anybody have any jokes that they know. We have you out there, any good jokes? 

Jeff Gavlinski: Oh, that leaves me out.

Jase: Just some bad jokes. Just bad jokes I've been working on. Cool. Awesome, Jeff, you ready? 

Jeff: Yes, sir.

Jase: Alright. Cool. Hey, everybody, welcome to this exciting edition of Ask Me Anything, we're very honored to have Mr. Jeff Gavlinski who's VP of Plume, and also the founder of Mountain Connect, and most folks in the broadband risk community know Jeff already because he's a prolific cross-pollinator. He's been doing some really great work over the years in the broadband industry, trying to establish cross-sector partnerships, doing all kinds of wonderful stuff, so it's a real honor, Jeff, to get some time with you, we know you're busy. We know Mountain Connect's coming up pretty fast, May 23rd-25th, and that's taking up a lot of your time, but it's awesome that you're hanging out with us. Thank you.

Jeff: Yeah, thank you, Jace. I really appreciate the opportunity, I literally just walked in the door from the airport, so.

Jase: So I was gonna ask you, that was one of my questions for you, Jeff, you seem to be every time that we touch base somewhere else. And not just in the United States, but globally, like you're going around, and I think most of what you're doing is broadband partnership conversations. Could you talk a bit about that? 

Jeff: Yeah, so my role at Plume is to build thought leadership, technical thought leadership and brand value for Plume with associations that we've deemed to be strategic around the globe, so hence the travel, and I think over time, especially when I get into Asia Pacific, we'll have probably a good 70 or so that that we'll manage across the globe and with partners, so.

Jase: Awesome. Okay. Yeah, so you just came off the plane minutes ago talking about a partnership. You're doing that day in and day out. I think the first question for you, Jeff, I would like to ask you, 'cause you've been at this for so long and from so many different angles in the industry and broadband. If you have any advice for states, especially policymakers that are looking to make the most of the historic public investment coming up with the tens of billions of dollars in broadband grants about partnerships. What does it mean to be cross-sector or do you see that the features is like a bunch of state-owned and operated public things that don't actually involve other sectors? 

Jeff: Well, I suppose my first piece of advice, which is a softball answer, but do the right thing, put the money to use where it's needed. We have a bit of a history of that not actually transpiring in the manner in which it was intended, and so I think partnerships are gonna be key going forward if we believe that the majority of this money is gonna go to the municipalities who actually need it, I think forming partners... Again, depending on their own strategy, but I think what we're gonna see a lot of is... We're gonna see a lot of local communities partnering with local providers, and so forming... If that relationship doesn't exist today, it's important to start forming a really good relationship because the value of what's being built will be reliant on that partnership.

Jase: Spot on, dude, so it's not just the communities, it's also just local providers. If you're listening in the local provider community, Jeff has been at this for a long while, has meditated on it for many moons and... Don't wait. Don't wait on fabric or whatever they're calling it. Don't wait. Get to know your community that you serve. Get those partnerships lined up, am I hearing you right, Jeff? 

Jeff: Yeah, absolutely. And I think for the industry, this is a really interesting first, historically, funds from the federal government have been administered by the federal government, and this is the first time that we'll have a layered approach to how this money gets dispersed, so from federal government to state government to local communities, and so for the industry, this is really about a multi-pronged strategy for especially the states that have existing broadband offices or some similar infrastructure supporting broadband efforts within their state, it's key to know those folks, it's key to understand their strategy, how are they going to grant all this money? And then of course it's also key to know where the funds are likely to go so that you can start forming these partnerships.

Jase: I bet the funds are likely to go.

Jeff: Yeah.

Jase: That's key, Jeff, so that's like the diametric opposite of advice that you hear in some groups that say like, "We're waiting on the FCC and some fabric softener." You are saying actually, "Do your homework now. Do your own research, get to understand the problem, be prepared for next steps because NTIA's leadership in this thing is... The largest single-day history event in the history of broadband is about to happen, like the May 16th NOFO, a week ahead of your conference in the Rocky Mountains, and the NTIA has worked very hard on a model that, like you said, is layered. So your advice is clear and appreciated from our point of view of Broadband Money, that's what we try to do is help folks understand and get the tools and data they need to start forming their plans, so that's awesome.

Jase: I mentioned Mountain Connect briefly, but you founded Mountain Connect many, many years ago, like 11, 12 years ago, why? What is it? And can you share a bit more about it with the community? And we've posted a few things about it, but it would be really wonderful to hear it straight from the Jeff's mouth.

Jeff: Yeah, well, because I've been running it for so long, I think people assume that I founded it, I actually did not found the event, it was founded by a gentleman who now works for Region 10 in Colorado, his name is Cory Brandel, so Cory formed it around our BTOP grant that we got back in 2009, but the conference was really... If you compare it to what we have today, it was really a day, day-and-a-half seminar based on BTOP grant's impact to the Western Slope of Colorado only, so most of the folks that were there outside of the state government were folks from communities on the Western Slope, so it had a narrow focus. And jokingly, one year I went to him, I think the third year, and I said, "There's more we could do with this, and we could broaden horizons," And he said, "Well, if you wanna broaden... Basically if you wanna broaden the horizons, you take it over."

Jase: What if you wanna broaden the end of the horizons, Jeff? Sorry.

Jeff: Yeah, so I think the last year before I took it over, low 90 in terms of people who were there, and of course this year we're expecting 700, so it's had quite a bit of growth. We've got folks coming in from all over the country, so a lot of times, because of the name of the event, people think it's either a Colorado-focused event or it's only to serve the Rocky Mountains. Now, because we have it here in Colorado, we're always gonna have... The core of our audience is gonna come from Colorado but certainly we've got people from all over the country, so.

Jase: Well, I've spent a good amount of time talking to folks that have been there, and coming throughout, I think of feedback about the event from folks, I've heard it described as the most honest conversation in broadband just because... And then we think of it as... We look at the way you've structured it, and the interesting part is it's very independent, it's not like Monopoly A and Monopoly B dueling for the title of sponsor, it's actually super grassroots and cross-sector, so that in the sense what you're creating there, Jeff, is like what we've heard described as like I can't miss or almost a 10 kind of event, and this is from folks all up and down the Eastern Seaboard, California folks, South folks, and it's not even exclusionary to people that live in the mountains, so it's super inclusive of... Come from valleys, glades, lakes, terraces, plateaus, whatever. Don't worry about your geo-situation, you're welcome at Mountain Connect. And it's really interesting to hear you say, Jeff, that it got its birth... It was born out of an NTIA program, that's really fascinating.

Jeff: Yeah, absolutely.

Jase: And 12 something years in and there's some amazing folks from DC, some leaders coming from DC, more are gonna be announced next week to connect with the cross-pollinator audience in Keystone the week after NTIA makes history with the largest NOFO in the history of the industry, and so that's really cool, it's almost poetic. If I was more creative, I would think of some poem on the spot about the fact that it was born out of that and now it's gonna... I assume you have a leg up at school. You got a BEAD track too, I saw.

Jeff: Yeah, we do. Look, the other thing I would say about the conference is that if we're not helping the folks that actually need the help, then why are we doing this? And so my focus has always been on tier three and below communities, counties, telcos list, utilities, economic development, education, telehealth, and by the way, if we're still talking about why broadband's important, I think we got bigger problems. And so content is so key, and I've done a couple of small things like... For the most part, you'll find that through my agenda, I don't have a lot of single-person presentations. I started encouraging people, and really industry folks quite frankly, that if you wanna come talk at Mountain Connect, you should bring a customer. And when I first started suggesting that, I used to get a lot of long stares at that, and so I would explain that if you think about who's in the audience, it's one thing for you to stand up there and say, "Well, we're the industry experts, if you do A, B and C, you'll be successful." It's quite another if you say, "We're the industry experts, you do A, B and C." And now here's a customer who's gonna stand up and say, "Hey, we did A, B and C, here is the lessons we learned, here's perhaps what we would have done differently." It's gonna resonate more with the folks in the audience because it's one of their peers up there telling that story.

Jase: Awesome Jeff. Yeah, thank you, so that sounds like a really important time and place coming up May 23rd-25th, Keystone, Colorado, mountainconnect.org, you heard it straight from Jeff. You go there to not just listen, but speak and connect and make partnerships and learn from other models and... It's all walks, if you look at the roster, it's already a stacked roster, there are some more awesome people that will be announced, next week there's also already some of broadband's best and brightest. If you go there and look at the speakers and... There's not a specific industry, there's not a specific sector or segment, there are folks from the fiber industry, the wireless industry, there are practitioners, builders, operators, techies, investors, just a cool line-up, so really appreciate that.

Jase: Drew Clarke from Broadband Breakfast actually asked the question related to this. Can you talk a bit more about your professional interests, Jeff, and what's been the driving force in your career? And why all those years ago did you say, "Hey, I'm gonna take over Mountain Connect and scale it by an order of magnitude and keep doing it?" 'Cause you've told me before how much work goes into it, and it's framed as a labor of love, as what you described to me is, a way of giving back to the industry that has given so much to you. And that really stuck with me, so can we answer Drew's question on this? Why the hell are you doing this? 

Jeff: Well, some people would say I'm an idiot. It's a difficult balance, I would say, for five months, especially five months, it's difficult to try to balance doing conferences, as well as working full-time. It's hard on my family, as you might guess, sacrifice over the years that has been broadly made across the board, but I have always felt like I needed to give something back to an industry that has given a lot to me, and I don't just say those, I don't say that either way, it is a lot of work but it's worth it.

Jeff: Especially as everyone's leaving and I have some time to reflect on the previous two or three days, where we had the event, and then start getting feedback from folks. One of the other things that I would say is that I've always tried to create a different kind of vibe in the conference. In other words, I don't have a big-trade show floor like a lot of other conferences do. As you know, I put all my exhibitors in the high-foot traffic areas and I try to keep the... I try to create an intimate environment, because the other really strong measure of success is someone's ability, who actually wants to learn something, to come and learn something, to take away back to the community, but to also have time to network with people. And I think because we have enough, we have a lot of break time, networking time woven into our agenda, there's a lot of time for that. There's just a lot of collaboration that goes on there. So I think that's something that's missing. And the bigger an event gets, the harder it is to keep that intimate environment, so I'm hoping that I'll never forget where this whole thing started, and that we keep that intimate environment going forward.

Jase: Spot on, dude. So let's transition for a few moments. Jeff, you mentioned leadership earlier in the discussion, and we have several questions from folks in the community around your perspective on open access. And for folks that are listening in, check out Jeff's LinkedIn, let's make sure to post then on his page, his LinkedIn profile, so folks can see it. But you often create discussions that are meaningful across. They're digital reflections of your physical work, that you do with all the networking, and to bring together all these perspectives. And recently you had an awesome, super-fertile, rich discussion that you prompted on LinkedIn around the topic of open access, so there's a question from postgres in the broadband grants community. Do you think open access will become a standard model in the United States or will it remain a niche? And then, do you have any... Also is another question, is there a standard model? 'Cause it sounds like from your discussion on LinkedIn, there's a bunch of different models, so.

Jeff: Well, yeah, that's the thing, open access is a very broad subject. There is open access networks where municipalities will build a core network, and then lease back dark fiber on that network in the hopes that local providers will extend off of that network to their constituents and provide better services, and then there are models like Utopia, Amman Idaho, Huntsville, even, although Huntsville, it's hard for Huntsville to claim open access when really they have one provider on network, but nonetheless, they made it more cost-efficient for Google to come in and extend the fiber that they built. So what I would say in answer to that question, I've always been a big fan of open access, but I realized along the way that it's not... If we're talking about last-mile open access, it is not for everybody, nor should it be. I think there are some reasons, some compelling reasons, why a municipality should consider open access but I'm not gonna sit here and suggest that we're gonna see a plethora of open-access networks being built in this country. Why? I think because we've got entrenched, long-standing companies that have tried to build a business around... Whether they're a Telco or they're a large incumbent. They're gonna have some influence, and where they're providing services, it's an uphill battle to build over the top of that and then invite other providers to come in and compete against them.

Jase: In that scenario, Jeff, is it a battle worth fighting if that incumbent, if that monopoly hasn't historically delivered, is open-access potential model a way that communities and local providers can team up to fill the gaps where those incumbents have failed or are you saying, don't try to take on open access if there's a really strong local monopoly 'cause they're just gonna try to crush you? 

Jeff: Well, it's interesting. As you've talked about with the speed funding, here's a really good opportunity to build more open-access solutions because it'll be funded obviously through the money that's coming, so it significantly will reduce the cost of infrastructure, which as we all know, is the biggest hurdle in building networks, and so why would... I don't care if you're Comcast or you're AT&T, why would you not take advantage of that? And oftentimes the answer is that they wanna maintain control over the entire network from the edge, all the way into their core, so as much as I understand that, that's one of the other reasons why the larger incumbent monopoly companies won't do it, so.

Jase: Gotcha, so they probably won't take it on, but maybe the community teaming up with local providers could find a kind of strategy and some built flavor of open access. And I mentioned your LinkedIn discussion and you were careful when different groups were weighing in on their perspectives on like their model versus others, you made an important point, Jeff, which was basically, "Let's talk through the pros and cons of each approach, and each approach has its pros and cons, but let's respect the other models and try to be inclusionary." And so can you talk a bit more about that 'cause that seemed to be like a lesson that you're sharing with the folks in conversations.

Jeff: The bigger lesson in any social media platform, and LinkedIn's no different, is if you are going to put out commentary without context, then you have the ability to influence the uninformed 'cause there are a lot of people who actually read those comments without having any background context, so now you're helping to falsely shape a narrative. And as I said, at the very first part of this question, there's a lot of different models of open access, and what's good for one community may not be good for the next, and my point there is that we shouldn't... Listen, a community is getting served, whether it's one open-access model versus another open-access model, we don't need to bash either one, we should be grateful that their infrastructure has been built and people are actually benefiting from it.

Jase: Alright, I take a personal lesson from that. I tend to trash talk monopolies, I just think that they had their chance and everything, but I'll try to contextualize it a bit more at least with some research in the future, it's something that I can do better on social media. I've got a follower on Twitter and I'll try to entertain that one follower, but that's cool, that's good to hear, that's good advice.

Jeff: Yeah. I know you've asked me this before, but why don't I have incumbent participation at Mountain Connect? There are two reasons for that. One is, I don't want to sell content influence 'cause that's always a danger, and then the other reason is, five or so years ago, maybe four years ago... Maybe five years ago, we had a lot of contention, and especially here in Colorado, with municipalities versus the incumbents, and oftentimes when they did participate, they got asked a lot of hard questions and they didn't really take kindly to that, but my job is to bring everyone together. I can't control what happens once people get there. But I think in some ways, that argument or the contention has gone away, and it's not that I would never welcome back an incumbent, of course I would, I certainly would encourage them to come back. It's just I'm not interested in selling my content influence to anybody, which is why I have such a broadly-focused agenda.

Jase: Right. Okay, spot on, so I'm gonna roll over to some other topics from different questions in the community, Jeff, and I'm gonna try my best to broadly bucket them, but I also have massive ADHD, as you probably know, so you might have some bounce around, but we'll try our best. So Ben Cahn, who actually helped us connect this live stream, thanks Ben from Roman Breakfast, asked, "In what ways has conversations surrounding broadband changed over the past decade, and how do you think that this change has been reflected in Mountain Connect?"

Jeff: Well, that's a good question. If you go back five, six, seven, eight years ago, certainly the content was around, "why is broadband important? Why should we invest in infrastructure?" And then as you come forward a little bit, I think the conversations around public-private partnerships, which at the time I thought would have more merit to it than it seems to have today, that seems to... There are still public-private partnership projects going on today, but I thought they would be at a much larger scale.

Jeff: And I can only speak for my event, I would say that the one thing that I try to do with content is, I don't like to go backwards, and we shouldn't, in content, we should be... What's relevant today, but more importantly, what's relevant in the next three or five years. So I feel as if it's my duty to challenge people with some of the content, so a really good example of 2018, I was probably the first broadband conference to have a bit... Sorry, I was gonna say bitcoin, but the underlying technology of bitcoin.

Jase: Blockchain.

Jeff: Blockchain, sorry. Thank you. First one to have a meaningful discussion on what is blockchain, and why is it important, and how may it impact our industry going forward? Now that discussion may have been a little bit premature at the time but here we are today, I think you're gonna start seeing more of this woven into, at least it should be, into content, because it will have an impact, same thing with telehealth, probably had one of the... So probably had one of the first telehealth conversations with respect to where telehealth technology innovation was going.

Jase: Yeah. Where is it going? It's fascinating.

Jeff: Diagnostic telehealth is a very fascinating subject to go and explore, and well, just to give you some context there, I think one of the things we need to do as an industry is bridge gaps where we have gaps with other industries. So before I had this session at Mountain Connect, there is a facility north of Denver that was constructed for telehealth technology innovators. Now, there are some mature companies in there as well, but I was invited for a tour, and when I went for a tour, I got to interview, I don't know, five or six CEO's of these startups, and they all asked me the same question. Why are you here? Why are you interested? Why should I care? Why should I care about having a conversation with you? 

Jase: Broadband.

Jeff: Well, it's exactly what I told them. I said, "You're developing some amazing technology here but if it's not connected to a wired or wireless connection, it's not gonna work. So I think content... One of the other things I've been after for a long time are the folks from... I think I'll have them next year, the folks from Neom and Saudi Arabia, because what they're doing over there is gonna be...

Jeff: Neom? 

Jeff: Yeah. Neom, so Neom is a project funded by MBM over in Saudi Arabia, it'll be the world's first ground-up smart megacity.

Jase: Holy smokes.

Jeff: And so what they're doing over there, from water conservation, healthcare, education, transportation, the use of robotics, is absolutely fascinating, and at some point, those technologies will make their way here, and they will have a resounding impact on the way local governments are run, some of the services that we have today are gonna profoundly change, and I think what they're doing there is gonna be the blueprint for that.

Jase: Okay Jeff, well...

Jeff: Probably a turn you weren't expecting me to take there.

Jase: Not at all, I think that's really fascinating, I'm always hopeful to be a student of other models, and I feel like that's good that you mentioned that 'cause we're pretty... Right now, we're myopic on the US just because of the moment. In the land where the internet began, 2022, there's still tens of millions of people that have like either bad or no broadband. There's this historic moment where we actually... As a poet said, like, "Alright let's do this, let's fix it." And there's a bunch of whirlwind... Something happening in the next few years that hopefully can get to the bottom of the digital canyon in this country and we need to still look around and look ahead. That's your message, like, there's stuff going on over there that we're gonna see and be like, "Oh, well, now that we have broadband infrastructure in place here like, check that out." That's cool, so Neom... Maybe you got a Neom connect up your sleeve somewhere in the future, but for now...

Jeff: I'm thinking maybe next year, so.

Jase: Because of the moment in our nation's history, like inter-IA's and the ops that you do, something pretty huge with the NOFO's, and you're gonna be in the post-NOFO glow at Mountain Connect, and there are some really important folks coming to talk about the next steps, and so I'd like to tailor a couple minutes' conversations, Jeff, if you would, about the programs, one of them is from Ben. Last week, we sat down with Doug Dawson, on an Ask Me Anything, and Doug, he strikes me as like somebody that's mostly an optimist. On the call, he described himself as a pessimist though when it comes to ensuring universal coverage through BEAD, and that contrasts with Alan Davidson's vision in his commitment to what Congress set out, which is 100% access. So how effective do you think BEAD funding will be in bridging the divide, and what pitfalls, if any, do you foresee as funding begins to get rolled out in the States? 

Jeff: Well, okay, so you're gonna ask me a question where I'm probably gonna give you a pessimistic answer.

Jase: That's okay.

Jeff: My biggest concern is that we repeat our own bad history.

Jase: Okay, in a nutshell, what did we do wrong in prior programs? 

Jeff: So I would say the biggest challenge for NTIA or any federal program is the fact that they lack enough qualified people to provide oversight, and a lot of times in a lot of cases, cost... I can tell you, here in Colorado, part and parcel of the issue that we had with our BTOP grant was they underestimated the cost of building infrastructure. So there is a pass in Southwest Colorado that's being built, they're putting fiber over it now, this infrastructure costs $1 million a mile.

Jase: What? 

Jeff: Which is very expensive. But if you think about the Western Slope of Colorado or Eastern Utah or Montana or parts of Wyoming, you're talking about where you can't do things aerially, you're talking about boring through granite, and boring through granite is very costly, and so our BTOP grant actually ran out of money, and what was promised for fiber ended up being fixed wireless, and this is not a ding against fixed wireless, but as you might guess, when we got word that our BTOP grant had been approved, a lot of the rural communities on the Western Slope of Colorado... I lived in Durango at the time, our whole region started planning on ways that we could take advantage of that middle-mile infrastructure.

Jeff: That BTOP grant was to connect all of our school districts in the State of Colorado, but it was an opportunity, if it was constructed, for rural communities to extend off of it, extend that infrastructure closer to the edge or to the edge, but when it became fixed wireless, that changed the game completely, and a lot of money ended up going to places it wasn't needed, like up in the the greater Denver area. So what I don't wanna see happen... And I realize that this money is geared towards the unserved and underserved, so what I don't wanna see happen is it gets wasted because costs are being underestimated, and it's not going to the right people who can provide the right solutions.

Jase: Okay, this is great.

Jeff: Because at the end of the day, the folks who are gonna lose are the folks that live in those census blocks in those unserved and underserved areas of all states, not just Colorado.

Jase: I got you, Jeff, that's great advice, and I do wanna say really quickly that what we're working on at Ready and Robinhood Money, in particular, is the ability to help local Robian partnerships, local pros get their share in the funding so that they can go out and roll up their sleeves and do more with less and provide a great subscriber experience, and also that's a full lifecycle commitment, if you take on those types of grants, as you pointed out, Jeff, there's a compliance component. So the thought is though that software, and not automation in the fullest sense, but semi-automation and reducing to the fullest possible extent the human in the loop for repeatable tasks like reporting, but those things can be aided by software. So you're right, Jeff, to say to the NTIA, one challenge that you faced in the past was you didn't have enough people on hand to make sure that the money was...

Jase: First of all, as Alan framed it in a school, a talk in DC a few weeks ago, there's a phase of like, "Where is the money gonna go? And then, there's the phase of, "Where is the money going in the grants?" And then the post-grant period of, "Where did the money go?" And I think that in every step, you could see those groups benefiting from tools that help do more with less. You make an excellent point there. It's gonna take a ton of hard work and a bunch of really smart people working their tails off for a long time to make sure that the money, this historic public investment, not only does it go everywhere that it should, but it does the most good that it could, that it's the highest and best use.

Jeff: Yeah, the other thing I would say is that the federal government doesn't have enough staff to provide oversight, let's not kid ourselves, a lot of the state government offices don't have enough people either. So if I go all the way back to the very beginning of this discussion, this is why... The other thing I would say is that all states should take advantage of the planning funding as well, and hopefully they've identified key partners that can help them through that whole process, because it's gonna make it more effective and efficient going forward if they've been able to do that.

Jase: Yeah, and like you said, Jeff, it's crazy to think that some states are actually looking to ignore the money.

Jeff: Yeah, but we only have 30... What is it? 33 or 34 states that actually have an official broadband office or organization, and then you got 16 or 17 that don't. I'll be curious to see what happens in those states, where...

Jase: Yeah, I'm from them. I'm from Missouri.

Jeff: No. I'm sorry. It's the 16 or 17 states that prevent or have existing legislation that prevents municipal build-outs, sorry.

Jase: I'm from one of those states. I'm from Missouri. There's still talk going on right now. If you go to discuss broadband or money, there was a recent post about... There's still even new legislation being proposed to essentially preempt preemption in their mind. This is what they're trying to do, but it's incumbent protectionism, it's regulatory capture, it's worst, it's holding folks in Missouri back, and it's total BS. So that's an important message to FM. To your point about resources that applies to the state level. So alright. So we've got about 20 minutes left, Jeff, so I wanna continue to roll through some of these awesome questions that have come in from folks. Theodora asks... Oh, did I lose my... I think I lost my place. One second. I think I ran outta the question.

Jase: TJ asks, "How should states and policymakers team up with the private sector?" That's it. The other question, "Should they?"in your mind, you said partners. Do you mean specific sectors like only non-profits or for-profit part of the conversation? I would add a "should" to TJ's questions, so TJ asks, "How should states and policymakers team up with the private sector?" I love that question. Should they... In your mind, you said "partners," do you mean specific sectors like only nonprofits or for-profit partners, that conversation? I would add a "should" to TJ's question. So TJ asks, ""How should states and policymakers team up with the private sector?" And my question on top of that is, "Should they?"

Jeff: Yeah, absolutely they should. I don't see how they can be successful going at this alone. Now, if I'm proven wrong, then great, but I just don't see how that's plausible, given the enormity of the task in front of them.

Jase: Given the enormity of the task in front of you, find the partners, and it's okay to work with the private sector, and in fact, we research the crap out of providers in the landscape, and our view is clear, and we're releasing reports on this in the coming months, but there's a huge bifurcation between the monopolies that probably deserve to have the lowest net promoter score of any industry like the... Well, I'm not gonna give any names, but if you think of the word "ISP," you'll think of for some of those names, and you'll think of it like hatred probably in some people's cases, but there's a bifurcation in the team, that cohort, and then in the cohort they're just local, they're in the community, they'll roll up the sleeves, they've been at it, they're Wiz, they're fiber providers, they're telcos, they sponsor little league, their kids go to the same school as yours, they're actually in the same community with you, and that's an important point to add to that, so that's cool. Okay, Theo's question, "How do you think we can get more services in rural areas?"

Jeff: Well, we're about to find out, aren't we? 

Jeff: Listen, if all this money doesn't solve the lion's share of the issues we face in rural America, then we have really taken a couple of steps backwards. There's absolutely no reason...

Jase: I dig that.

Jeff: There's no reason why this money could not solve the... What she's implying in the... That was a lady. I'm sorry if I...

Jase: Yeah. Theodore, yeah.

Jeff: Yeah. So what she's implying in that by asking that question, that this money should solve a majority of our rural issues if it's used correctly.

Jase: I totally dig that. Okay, good. Next question is from Dave Tai. He says, "Years ago, Plume hired one of the core devs, Michael Kazio, of the FQ CoDel for Wi-Fi code, so far, they've not deployed that to their customers or smart key management. What's taking so long? The STD API's have been in the Linux kernel for five-plus years now, or generally, you all have great statistics about how bad Wi-Fi can get. What's Plume doing about it?" This is an interesting technical question from David.

Jeff: Well, I can't answer the first part of the question 'cause I don't know who this person is, and I know nothing of the FQ CoDel for a Wi-Fi code, I don't know what that is, so it'd be unfair for me to even try to attempt that question.

Jase: Understood.

Jeff: But if you look, we have the most adaptive managed Wi-Fi solution in the industry right now. We just surpassed 40 million premises this past week, and we have in the neighborhood of somewhere between 1 and 3 billion devices connected to Plume pods across the globe. So we obviously capture a lot of analytics, a lot of data, but I think... Our solution is adaptive, which means if you... Like here in my office where I'm at, I have a pod right over here. You can't see that, but if I should get signal interference for whatever reason or the quality of the service on that pod is not functioning properly, it will move me to another pod or another channel. I won't even know it's doing that until service quality has been restored on that particular pod. The other thing about Plume is that you are not... We do not have a necessarily proprietary solution, so we're using OpenSync, so we're a SaaS company.

Jase: OpenSync? 

Jeff: Yeah, and you're not locked in, you're not... By using Plume, you're not vendor-locked. So what that means is that you can buy... You can get OpenSync on ADTRAN, utilizing ADTRAN's products, DZS. There's a very large list, so that provides more options for our customers and prospective customers because they don't have to be locked into Plume, they've got a lot of different options to choose from, so there's a lot of flexibility in there. And was there a second part of that question? 

Jase: Yeah, it is about the...

Jeff: So how bad...

Jase: What are you gonna do? 

Jeff: Okay, so let's take a little time to talk about that. That's an interesting comment because there are two things... Or there are a handful of things we should think about. One is, the industry doesn't really talk about this enough, that there are two distinctly different networks serving a home, the one on the outside of the home and a completely different one on the inside of the home. Consumers unfortunately are not getting technically smarter, I would say that we're going in the opposite direction, so today, most consumers would not understand why they're having a poor Wi-Fi experience. Now, the technical savvy ones will figure it out, but most people don't understand it, and so here's the thing, there are many things that could... I'm sorry, I can't speak. Could create a bad Wi-Fi experience. One is, you could have outdated devices and not know it, you could have signal interference or degradation and not understand that either, you could have... Think about the way Adobe Homes are constructed, they might well be a Faraday cage.

Jase: Right, mesh.

Jeff: Involving all the wire mesh inside the wall, and the older ones being as thick as they are. So there are a lot of mitigating circumstances as to why Wi-Fi is poor, and so it's not... So hopefully that addresses that question." It's not as simple as saying, "No, I have really crappy service." The problem for consumers, because they don't understand, is that the perception of the quality of the network that's inside your home actually is the perception for the entire network serving that home, it's just poor.

Jase: Okay, I dig that, Jeff. That's a really good perspective, and I love how you framed it, there are two networks, there's the network that runs up to your place, and then there's the network within your place, and you're absolutely right, the quality of experience is going to be judged through the lens... From the consumer... Most consumers' perspective, not by what's showing up on the side of the place, it's what's being experienced on the specific device at the specific time, and that can be highly variable, and it is why the Talented Ready team, we built our own active measurement system to take into account the QoE of the end user device, you can go and test it out at wifi.wtf. It stands for...

Jeff: Yeah, I know what that stands for, thank you. You could go back three or four years, and if you would have called your provider and said, "I have to report my Wi-Fi is crap in my house."

Jase: Did you unplug your router? 

Jeff: They would say...

Jase: Did you unplug your router? 

Jeff: "Well, if you plug in your computer to your router and test it there, then you tell us what that is."

Jeff: If it's anywhere near what you're paying for, they're just gonna wave a flag at it, but today, you can't really do that, because as you just alluded to there, we have taught people to connect wirelessly and if any part of our industry is going to expect people to wire their homes they're crazy. I won't even wire my house, because it's gonna cost a lot of money and I just don't see the value in it. Now, the general consumer is simply not going to do that and they are going to continue to connect wirelessly because that's what they know. And so the experience then, the quality of the service inside the home has to go deeper than the router, it needs to go to the device level because that is truly what the consumer is experiencing.

Jase: Damn straight. Dave in the community that asked that question too, he's part of the Broadband Internet Technical Advisory Group: BITAG, he talks a lot about what he calls a buffer bloat, and it's the difference they built in-between a latency that's working versus not working, definitely goes over my head, a lot of it, but I do have to ask you, what do you know about that latency? And in all these states, all the national stuff that Congress is like, "Yeah, make sure that it's 100 over 20, up down, or 25 over 3, and that was in case in that definition, but then other people that are looking at it like, "Wait a minute, that's only a part, and a small part of that, throughput is a small part of the overall QoE and the application potential." So can you talk a bit about latency, and can you fix my Wi-Fi? 

Jeff: I could if you had better equipment in your house. Just kidding.

Jase: No, I got a trash provider, there's no strong local provider where I'm based, so we're definitely coming in.

Jeff: What I'd like to say about latency again is it's something that's really a factor on the outside of the home, so the problem again is wirelessly-connected devices and the network inside the home, so I think there's some hope on the horizon, so we still have Wi-Fi 5 devices out there, but we now have 6 and we have 6E and 7 is not far behind, and when we get to 7, Wi-Fi 7 is supposed to...

Jase: 7? 

Jeff: Wi-Fi 7 is supposed to help with the issue that we have with having equitable distribution of capacity inside a premise. So if I'm in my basement or I'm upstairs in my office or I'm downstairs, I should really have the same speed test experience. So if I'm getting, I'm just making this number up, 700 meg down in my basement and 700 meg in my family room, I should get 700 meg... And it's important. I say this because it's really important to think about this. If you look at where future technology applications are gonna take this discussion, having that ubiquitous distribution of capacity is gonna be so important because consumers use multiple applications at the same time, so it's the aggregate use of these applications that are coming. Where what I just described will be really important to enhance, excuse me, the consumer experience using those applications.

Jase: Awesome. I think to that point, Jeff, part of what Dave's group's working hard on is that it's a cumulative latency that does include latency that gets lumped in from the internal network, as you framed it, but we're almost out of time, and you've got your treasure trove of knowledge for the industry. Jeff, so let's shift gears into another question. Back to the funding. And I know you're a Michiganian by birth.

Jeff: Michigander.

Jase: Michigander, y'all's name is Michigander? 

Jeff: Yeah, Michigander.

Jase: I've always thought it was Michiganian.

Jeff: No.

Jase: I need to go back to school, I guess, but in this case... Nevermind that. You live in Colorado, and you think about Colorado a lot. Colorado is awesome. Colorado leads the pack in a lot of awesome things and broadband, and this is a question from Sarah Lycerlin, who asks, "Hi, Jeff, how do you think the Aisha will impact Colorado? In which areas do you think need the most help from the connectivity perspective?" And then she's got a follow up, but those are two important quick questions.

Jeff: So well, hopefully it has a measurable impact on Colorado, and a positive impact, and I think, well, it historically has been two areas, the Eastern Plains and certainly the Western Slope. The Western Slope is always going to be where help is needed, and then it's a multi-layered challenge out there because not only do we have communities that are still being served by copper, which is steadily improving, but building inside of those communities is again very expensive if you don't have access to poles, but the other challenge, of course, is getting access to redundant and abundant middle-mile infrastructure.

Jase: Redundant and abundant middle-mile.

Jeff: Right, because that last-mile investment you can argue is like putting the cart before the horse because if you can't get out or you can't get out reliably... I can't tell you how many stories that have been written over the last five to 10 years about a community being cut off because a backhoe cut fiber, so for a whole day, a community is locked out from credit card transactions, etcetera. So that's why. And even 911 services. These are all really important considerations, and why middle-mile? 

Jase: Yeah, they melt.

Jeff: What's that? 

Jase: They melt, right? Y'all had some fiber fires that have melted into the ground even, right? 

Jeff: Yeah.

Jase: Catch up with... You work with the talented Doug Adams to produce Mountain Connect, and we met Laurie Adams, I think she's probably my better half in a lot of respects, and she was telling me about the fires that y'all had recently, and that they actually melted some of the fiber underground or caused a situation where the fiber underground failed and it led to... Because there wasn't the redundant, abundant access that you described. It resulted in the failure of the emergency networks and responses, and that's terrifying, so Aisha includes not just BEAD's like... Of course the flagship but it's got a dedicated middle-mile program. Even aspects of BEAD seem like they're gonna be applicable to strengthening and fortifying middle. So that's a part of it, and so she asked the second question too, Jeff, "What do you see as the nature of the digital divide in Colorado?" You touched on this in the geographic context, but is there any more to that you can add? 

Jeff: On the digital divide? 

Jase: Yeah, the nature of the digital divide in Colorado. What is it? Is it haves, have-nots, wills, will-nots, can, cannots, is it...

Jeff: Well, I don't know. I think this has changed over the last year or two, but digital divide has always been thought of as a rural issue, but when in fact it's not. We have communities and in and around large metropolitan areas that are underserved because of demographics, and it has a huge impact. It has a huge impact on many different facets of the way people live their lives, especially today. So if you can't... What if you during the pandemic couldn't work from home or you couldn't school yourself from home or you couldn't... Your only access to rudimentary medical care was through telehealth, and you couldn't connect to that. Amongst all the other things that people use the internet for, I do happen to think that this is a much bigger problem. Then of course we have areas and large cities where people don't speak English, so that is yet another challenge, where you find that the fact that they don't natively speak English and perhaps they're demographically challenged or economically challenged, that brings them up a whole 'nother concern. Very similar to the first one I described, but nonetheless, a completely different challenge in some aspects of looking at it. How do you actually tackle that and solve that problem? 

Jase: Okay, awesome, so that also ties back full circle to your thought process on why you make Mountain Connect so inclusive, Jeff, 'cause I know that on Wednesday, there's a keynote panel on innovations and digital inclusion. You've got some amazing folks there. You got the talented Scott Woods from NTIA, Paulo from the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, and they're doing all kinds of important work on this space, and Josh from Detroit, and it's just...

Jeff: So If I could just stop you there for a second, I think For anyone interested in learning how to solve a digital equity issue, come listen to Josh's to see what it's gonna be doing.

Jase: Yeah. Please do. Yeah, and you just touched on something that was like, well, language is part of that. It's an assumption that English on interfaces, programs, applications... So we built Turnkey ACP, and I don't know if any of the Ready team, if you're listening or if you're building stuff in code right now, but if you're listening, think about what Jeff just said. Access starts with understanding, and it's hard to understand in a language that you don't speak or read natively. So that was awesome. We have one more minute, Jeff, I've got one last surprise question for you 'cause you've been thinking about this stuff for a long time. It's coming from a community member Jay, and he asks, "What the F is the internet? What is it? What is it to you."

Jeff: Well, why would you ask me this question? 

Jase: You know me, man.

Jeff: Man, that's a... I think it's a hard thing to answer because it's changing, it's changing again. I don't know if you follow what's going on with internet 3... Or is that what they're calling it? Internet 3? 

Jase: Web3? 

Jeff: Web3, Web3.

Jase: Yeah, but synonymous. Yeah.

Jeff: Yeah, so it's changing. It'll be interesting to see what... To answer that question, I'm gonna not answer it by saying that I'm interested to see how Web3.0 has influence in terms of how we use the internet today. People use the internet for everything. When I was in Spain a month ago, I was using Google Translate to translate menus.

Jase: In real time, right? 

Jeff: Yeah, in real time. People use it obviously for communication, for connecting with family, social media, for research, for all sorts of things, for shopping, reviews for products, I know I spend a lot of time... Before I buy or purchase a car for example, I'll spend a boatload of time on YouTube watching review videos from around the world...

Jase: Totally dig it.

Jeff: Just so I can get a full perspective before I go and make sure that I'm not missing anything.

Jase: You're a video head.

Jeff: 10 or 15 years ago, you couldn't do that, but it's very useful, so I'm hoping that what is promised in Web3.0 actually comes to fruition over time because I think it could drastically change the way that we use the internet.

Jase: Alright, Jeff, it was awesome to hang out with you, man. Community, if you have any follow-up questions for Jeff, he's plugged into the Ask Me Anything page, where we're hosting this event today. Two quick reminders too. If you haven't yet secured your spot at Mountain Connect, you probably need to do so pretty fast 'cause there are some important announcements coming even next week. It's probably not one that you wanna miss, and it's the week after the largest, like I said, single-day event in the history of broadband with NTIA dropping NOFO, and you heard from Jeff, it's gonna be an all-around awesome environment, so make sure you sign up at mountainconnect.org. And then two, this Ask Me Anything series, Jeff, thank you for making time today. I know you're busy.

Jeff: My pleasure, Jason.

Jase: It's an ongoing series with thought leaders and industry luminaries like Jeff. Next week we have Jim Baller. It's pretty much an OG of community networks, definitely don't wanna miss that. Chet Kenosha is coming up, he's the CEO of Starry, May 13th, and he has built one of the fastest growing providers of all time. We're gonna ask him, "How the hell did you do that?" So keep in tune and join us and we look forward to seeing you. And thank you again, Jeff, for all you do for broadband.

Jeff: Oh thank you very much. That was my pleasure to be here. I hope that was helpful.

Jase: Definitely was for me, I don't know about the rest of y'all.