Yet Another Amazing Esme Conference Comes To a Close

Sorry to go dark for so long. As future posts will explain, it’s been a busy time and likely to get busier.

One thing keeping me busy has been my presence here at Esme’s latest conference on muniwireless broadband. In addition to time with the fabulous Esme herself a number of very cool people are also here.

The conference has morphed quite a bit since I attended the first one below. My brief reflections (and what it means for the muniwireless industry generally) below.

For those just tuning in, Esme Vos started the website several years ago when no one thought this was anything other than a niche market. By the time Esme held the first conference in September 2005, there was interest. Now there is a full industry — including hype, hucksters, dancing bears, and get rich quick schemes.

Conference attendance has now stabilized into primarily vendors and people associaited with muni build outs (or thinking about them). Esme still invites a fair number of activists as speakers, but this isn’t a locus for them. Some digital divide folks concerned with extending connectivity, but not the media reform folks who should (IMO) be interested.

This isn’t surprising. Location and cost cut down on how many folks from the activist community can attend and make this an organizing vehicle. Also, bluntly, this stuff does have to pay for itself. OTOH, Esme takes great care to invite interesting people as speakers and participants (aided and abetted by folks like Sascha “Chief Evangalist of Community Mesh” Meinrath).

This refusal to bow to the usual trade show trend and make this a showcase for sponsors and vendors has the effect of keeping this fresh and useful. Heck, you can get informaercials anywhere.

So what trends? There is a consensus among attendees and vendors that muniwireless is moving from a niche market and speculative offering to a more real solution for broadband access. But there is still lots of opportunity to fail — chiefly because the cable and telco incumbents will cheerfully do all they can to screw things up. So munis need to have realistic expectations, manage hype, and remain on gaurd against either frauds marketing bogus “solutions” or new attacks from the incumbents.

Unfortunately, the interest in and understanding of DC-based policy remains fairly low. People here express concern about the net neutrality issue, but are mostly unwilling to take action (either because they can’t get over a cultural distrust of any regulation or because they assume Washington is a waste of time). There is little interest in learning how to work the FCC process to better rules on spectrum management, and a strong feeling that playing in Washington makes you part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

This is why the tech companies will continue to get spanked regularly by the incumbents. It’s also a big problem for munibroadband. I have had one or two muni people tell me privately that when they try to move these projects forward against hostile local bureaucrats, the tech guys are worse than no help. Their attitude that they should be able to just teleport in, explain the TRUTH to these benighted bureaucrats, and expect them to experience a total conversion, does not win them fans. As I like to say, “being right is not enough.”

A personal note. A well deserved award went to Jim Baller for his amazing work protecting the rights of municipalities to deploy wireless and wireline broadband services. Way to go Jim!

All in all, a very good conference, but I don’t look for Silicon Valley to start winning policy fights anywhere until they get over themselves. As the incumbents keep proving, DC will not go away if you ignore it. Even if you can innovate around the roadblocks, it’s such an enormous waste of time and resources to cede the policy ground to the incumbents. But I guess they need more painful spankings to get the point.

Stay tuned . . . .

One Comment

  1. We have been missing you and I’m glad for this update. As usual, this sounds like an intriguing conference. Maybe *next* year I’ll have my act sufficiently together to make an appearance myself.

    (I guess I’m due for a few updates myself. Stay tuned. . .)

    Looking forward to your next updates.

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