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Month: August 2011

Goodbye Jack Layton

We are less today than yesterday


Take politicians out of city hall, a provincial legislature, or the house of commons, throw them into unfamiliar jobs and push them in front of a camera crew to keep up with the people who do that job everyday, and you’re bound to see the real person come out – an almost about face from the individual we’re used to seeing in public hearings, press conferences, or the public spectacle of question period.  Watching Jack Layton work with the staff of a busy ER on an episode of CBC’s Make the Politician Work, was like watching Jack Layton anywhere.  The kind of consistency you’d expect to see from someone who exhibited a constant and genuine honesty and sincerity.

I’m not a member of the NDP, I never met Mr. Layton, never saw him speak in person, and yet I have no trouble believing that the Jack Layton we saw in the public spotlight, was the same Jack when the cameras were off.  This was one individual who entered politics, and fought the battles for the right reasons.

If you haven’t read Jack’s final letter to Canadians I’d strongly suggest doing so, a strong and elegant message of hope and optimism penned in his final days.  I may not have voted for his party in the last election but I consider us lesser today for not having his presence on the national stage and in the House of Commons.  His legacy, however, serving as an example for future leaders, I’m sure will make us stronger.

Tilting at Towers

Google vs. Aurora Borealis

The proposed tower is part of the federal government’s initiative to boost rural Canada by establishing access to high-speed Internet through its Broadband Canada program. But every site selected as a possible one for the 300-foot tower has elicited horrified cries from both full- and part-time landowners, concerned the tower will diminish their enjoyment of their property, detract from the pristine environment and, with the possibility of some lights being set atop the tower, brighten an otherwise dark night sky.

Via the National Post

While flipping through my Google Reader subscriptions a few days back, I couldn’t avoid clicking on the above headline promising some kind of throwdown between Google and a northern lights show (seems anything can happen these days). What I got was a story of residents (permanent and part-time) of a northern Ontario lake community opposing the construction of a 300′ tower which would bring wireless high-speed Internet access to their community, and serve as an access point to reach several others. The community opposition centred around an apparent fear that “the tower will diminish their enjoyment of their property, detract from the pristine environment and, with the possibility of some lights being set atop the tower, brighten an otherwise dark night sky.”

I’m highlighting the goings on at a northern Ontario lake as rural broadband access is still a significant issue across Canada, and because I can say that I carry the political battle scars and experience from a similar battle in rural Alberta. No I didn’t oppose a tower!…I actually had to find one, as well as a landowner willing to provide a suitable site (the surrounding municipalities were of no help at all), some local residents who were willing to sign up early to cover the setup costs, and a wireless ISP who could reach the site from an existing access point.

For better or worse, infrastructure costs have made wireless (wi-max) technology the almost de facto choice for providing high-speed internet service across rural Canada. Unfortunately, without much in way of shared infrastructure, towers which provide a clear or near line-of-sight across large distances to customers and backbone access points are treated as a competitive advantage. When an ISP moves into a rural community signing residents to multi-year contracts, potential competitors are left with little or no reason to make a similar investment in local infrastructure. The end result is a rural community almost completely dependant on the sustainability of a single provider and tower site for their continued service.

This story begins, coincidentally at a lake community, about 45 minutes northwest of Edmonton. Internet options at the time were limited to dial-up access which was prone to frequent disconnections, and one-way satellite service, which while pricey, still relied on a dial-up phone line connection for data uploads. Until the day a wireless ISP moved in with a welcomed tower site on the highest hill on the east side of the lake. A service that worked well until the ISP’s tower location fell into the hands of a new property owner – the pre-existing agreement between ISP and landowner ended abruptly one afternoon with the permanent disconnection of it’s power source.

So began a 14-month political roadshow to restore high-speed Internet service – involving a handful of angry, frustrated residents and two small municipalities, one county, an MLA, several Internet service providers, the Alberta SuperNet, sunburn, and many many hours on the phone. In the end it took help from a county councillor to locate a suitable tower (whom was refereed to us by the local MLA), repeated calls to every single wireless Internet provider serving rural Alberta west of Edmonton to locate one who was able to reach the community from an existing access point, endless frustration in dealing with two smaller municipalities that eventually caused us to seek out a private landowner to provide a suitable elevated location for a new tower, and several days out in everything from a freezing spring blizzard to a baking sun to ultimately erect the tower at it’s new site.

In the end we crawled, bit, and scratched our own way back to the 21st century. None of which would have been possible if a community to the south of us had opposed the construction of the tower that relayed a signal between us and an Alberta SuperNet hub in Spruce Grove. Thankfully for us, they weren’t allergic to aircraft warning lights.