Government Technology

MuniWireless Minneapolis Take-Aways: Digital Inclusion, Rakish Genius, and a Dash of Debauchery




November 3, 2006 By

Last week's Municipal Wireless Conference in Minneapolis, MN brought together an incredible number of visionaries and wireless networking experts. At the same time, half-a-world away, community wireless gurus were gathering at the WSFII Air Jaldi Summit in Dharamsala, India.

Digital Inclusion Day
Back in Minneapolis, events were off to a roaring start with the additional of a Sunday symposium on Digital Inclusion. The day-long event tackled issues including how to define digital inclusion, community benefits agreements, partnering and collaboration models, creating a nationally peered network, and an "Open Tech" workshop. The conversations were illuminating, and the knowledge gained and connection made, quite rewarding. Esme Vos, of MuniWireless.com, got things started with her keynote.

had been doing in Minneapolis, MN; the Highlights included hearing about the work that Becca Vargo Daggett and Catherine Settaniopen source and open hardware technologies that Ash Dyer (from MIT) was using in his work. Following the day's events, there was a tremendous amount of excitement in building a coalition of folks to work on Digital Inclusion (and, in particular, community benefits agreements) in other places around the country. I had a great discussion with Charles Benton, Chairman of the Benton Foundation and other community organizers from the Chicago area to discuss bringing the successes of Minneapolis to Illinois. On Sunday evening, conversations continued over an intimate dinner at a local community organizer's house -- where strategies for interconnecting municipal networks, information on next-generation wireless technologies, and tactics for organizing around digital inclusion efforts were swapped by a dozen suit-wearing, smores-cooking, bonfire-jumping wireless leaders.

Pre-Conference Workshop & Opening Events
The 6-hour pre-conference workshop day was divided into three tracks ("Applications & Strategies," "Safety," and "Service Organizations") each of which had three sessions. I found the sessions to be a remarkable departure from the more participatory Digital Inclusion Day festivities -- while there's a time and place for the more traditional "panel" format, I found myself spending most of my attention in back-channel discussions (IRC, gAIM, Jabber, Gizmo) with other conference participants. It was widely held among the folks I spoke with that the best parts of the conference were in the breaks in-between the panels -- not that the information wasn't useful, but rather that far too often the presentations were either very service glossings of far more complex projects, technologies, and deployments, or felt like vendor sales pitches.

During the afternoon, I had the pleasure of interviewing a truly legendary telecommunications lawyer, Jim Baller, and Civitium founder, Greg Richardson about their views on working at the cutting edge of the municipal broadband field and how they see things developing over then next decade. These interviews (along with interviews from Becca Vargo Daggett and Catherine Settanni) will be part of a general survey of municipal wireless "influencers" that will be coming out in the next issue of MuniWireless magazine.

By the evening, a group of us decided to go out for Indian food (in solidarity with our fellows who were meeting half-way around the world in India) and discuss the COMMONS Project and how one might go about interlinking municipal and community networks around the country. It was a wonderful discussion with insights from KC Claffy (of CAIDA), Amy Blanchard (from Cisco), David Keyes (from the City of Seattle), and Andrew Odlyzko (from the Digital Technology Center).

The Main Conference
For me, the main highlights from the main conference were the conversations with folks, the "white hat hacking," and the post-conference beergarten and chocolate-fest. The presentations and


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