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Progress Report 14

August 21st, 1997


Of course public schools recessed for the summer of 1997, so our NSF project for schools had to be put on hold until the fall. However, many other things happened that affected our examination of wireless for local educational, and related community, uses over the summer months. And we began to examine, install, and test several other radios - such as Breezecom, and Wi-Lan products in various configurations.

Summertime is the season for national conferences. So as this web site became more well known, I was invited to make presentations to a number of them.

Gannett News Services 'Freedom Forum' - a non profit organization run by Adam Clayton Powell III out of Washington, DC, together with the Harvard Telecommunications Project headed by Brian Kahin from Cambridge, held an interesting forum on 'The First 100 Feet.' An examination of what would be necessary for the US to 'build up' from the end user and institutional bottom, the economic band-width necessary to support full national use of the Internet. The approach assumed that there was a point of diminishing returns if one expected Telephone Companies to build down from the top and yet profitiably deliver bandwidths above 28.8kbps modems for end users, and 56kbps links for institutions. Which speeds were rapidly becoming obsolete, given the graphical, sound, and animated bandwidth demands of the World Wide Web.

There were a number of short presentations of emerging satellite and hybrid telecommunications solutions to the problem of the 'first 100 feet' ('last mile' by another name) of local loop connectivity. As it happened, at the very time of the conference in Rosslyn, Virginia - just across the Potomac and in view of the Capitol from the high rise office building where the Freedom Forum has its headquarters and meeting rooms - Dewayne Hendricks, my colleage on this NSF project, and through his company Warpspeed Imagineering, a subcontractor for our NSF Mongolian Wireless Project, was in Mongolia. And via email from Mongolia, the evening before I was to make my own presentation, informed me that all the FreeWave radios were working to the 8 sites in Ulaan Bataar the way we had forecast they could.

So I made a rather dramatic presentation to the 50 especially invited participants, including the Chief of Policy of the FCC, Robert Pepper.

Essentially I told the audience that, with all the commercial wireless spread spectrum devices now coming into the market place, the 'First 100 Feet' problem was essentially solved, both in the bandwidth level and cost level for end users or instituions. So long as the 'solution' - no-licence wireless was understood by the people, the FCC gave it proper regulatory form, and manufacturers started mass producing the devices at consumer, not just corporate pricing.

I held up a Xircom PCMIA wireless LAN card, and explained its short range, high speed, in-building uses. Then I held up, and turned on, a Metricom Richochet Modem - whose green led light I knew would come on as soon as it 'accessed' the Washington DC area Metricom wireless network. I held the Ricochet with the lcd away from me knowing (from testing it in my nearby hotel room the night before) that it would turn on. And it did, as I said "If this green light comes on, any one of you can connect up, faster than 28.8, the 'first 100 feet'"

I then read from a palmtop computer screen the verbatim message from Mongolia where Dewayne announced that the FreeWave radios were installed and working, as I spoke. THEN I held up a FreeWave radio, pointed to the US Capitol building visible out the bay windows, and said "This radio can connect up the US Congress right now. But it isn't. So Mongolians who can ride their Manchurian Ponies up to their National Library, can surf the Internet right now. Ulaan Bataar is more connected the 'first 100 feet' than Washington DC is!"

It sort of brought down the House, as attendees realized that elements of the solution for better connectivity were here already, but few knew about it. Adam Powell was later to inform educators and government officials in Africa, that a solution existed to help them get connected locally, and pointed to our Mongolian solution. And invited me to present at yet another Freedom Forum gathering in San Francisco in May, involving journalism educators from around the world getting acquainted with the Internet.


In the fall of 1996, the Centennial School District of the Town of San Luis was awarded a $26,000 grant from the Colorado Advanced Technology Institute (CATI) for the purpose of 'extending' into 6 sites of the community at large, free, wireless connections to the Internet THROUGH the school's connection to the Internet in Alamosa.

This project involves creating a wireless Point (the School's Master Radio) to Multi-Point, the 5 Radio Slave sites network. In which one computer (usually a Windows 95 machine at each of the sites - County Government, Town Government, Cultural Center, Art Gallery, Parish House are linked wirelessly to the radio at the school - so that public at large as well as the staffs, could communicate to and from the Net at higher bandwidth than phone lines could handle (and not requiring phones to be used), and free, across the town.

As the principal pro-bono technical adviser to the project, I advised them, for cost and compatibility reasons to buy FreeWave 115Kbps radios, which could easily traverse the town and outlying sites from the vicinity of the 100 foot County radio tower on the ridge overlooking the town. This is the same tower to which the seperate NSF Project radio link would terminate from Alamosa, 30 miles away. They accepted that advice. So between the time the radios and all the associated cables, antennas, and equipment arrived, interrupted by the summer vacation of both teachers and students at the school, work has been going on to connect up the 'town' via the 'school' to the Internet 30 miles away, wirelessly.

During the summer, after, at last, 25 Pentium Gateway desktop computers were delivered, as was the long awaited NT server, and MCI through a community grant program LAN wired the school building, Noel Dunne's Christian Community Services (CCS) organization offered free public computer training classes for the people of San Luis.

The program was very successful, and over 75 residents showed up to learn how to use modern computers, going through 10 hours of training at night, using the school computers which the then Superintendent Robert Rael permitted to be used for community technological education. A parallel training program was given to the office staffs of the county, city, and cultural center, to prepare them for the coming connections to the Internet and email to other government offices.

Pam Hermann, who had been the Elementary School Principal at Centennial (and who won a $25,000 national award for her educational excellence) was made Superintendent after Bob Rael accepted a new superintendency of Sierra Grande School District in the Valley. She pledged to continue the community technological education program, and agitated to get connected to the Internet as soon as possible. Because the program funded by the $450,000 grant to the Trinidad Junior College at Alamosa to connect up three schools at least by T-1 speeds simply was still in limbo by the time Centennial was to open August 26th, we put our 56Kbps, 30 mile San Luis to Alamosa wireless link back on track, and anticipate it will be done by early September.

As school reconvenes in August, and the teachers and staff that were committed to helping set up the school end of the network - a web server for the town, designed by school art students, and the technical support students and staff - assemble again, the CATI project will be completed by sometime in September of 1997, which together with the NSF wireless link to Alamosa, should give the entire town Internet access - by wireless.


Another major change was made during the summer of 1997, in the town of Alamosa. The Rocky Mountain Internet franchise operated by Ken Sweinhart - through which our NSF Monte Vista and San Luis school wireless networks have run, and back up dial up accounts were used, was terminated by Ken, for the poor administrative support rendered by RMII. So Ken created an independent ISP operation, called Zero Error Networks, with the domain name amigo.net.

Since Ken, who had been a downstream customer of RMII, had all its IP numbers derived from RMII, this involved a complete change of T-1 carrier, and seperate Class C addresses for all the schools connected to amigo.net. That caused, in July and August, substantial switchover problems, and routing anomolies, all of which are not resolved yet.


As reported earlier, when Center School District, which had been one of the poorest districts, with no internal or external networks, jumped to spending $750,000 on an extensive internal network with two dedicated 56Kbps lines to Adams State College and Colorado Supernet in Alamosa, 22 miles away, the need for our 115Kbps wireless link was obviated. So we connected up one teacher, Lloyd Garcia, who lived in Center, to the school, via a FreeWave link first, to our NSF router, then into the internetwork at the school. Thus exercising and testing the last of the four types of typical school-networking needs which could be filled by wireless connectivity. From Teacher (or student) to School, locally, wirelessly. So that teachers, who do their class preparation at night and weekends, could be connected to both their school, and the Internet at large, via a multi-media speed connection, free for both the school and teacher, from the teacher (or student's) own home computer.

But one major unanticipated problem arose. Vaunted Windows 95 does not have a built-in function to permit the addressing of a serial port that is not connected to either a modem, or another Windows 95 machine! Almost all previous DOS, MAC, and Windows operating systems would permit that. Not Win95!

So when we attempted to connect the standard FreeWave 9 pin serial connector, at 115Kbps, to a Windows 95 school machine, over which would run SLIP protocol to the router at the school attached to the other FreeWave radio, we saw that no combination of settings would work to open up a plain serial connection.

I was forced to go out on the Internet, and download and register a 32bit version of shareware Trumpet Winsock from Germany, to install in Lloyd's computer at home, to make the connection. It worked of course, but I remain bemused by the fact that the more touted, modern, and powerful softwares cannot do the simplest things that earlier operating systems could!

By the time school was out for the summer, problems occured in the schools networks, which were only partially solved by the end of school, so Lloyd's ability to get to the outside net through the firewalls of the school was not restored from the way it operated when we first set up the arrangement.

But we proved our point, that school to home (teacher/student) wireless connectivity was practicable.

About this time, Gary Kidd, the Superintendent of Center resigned to take a position in Littleton, Colorado, so the future of the NSF test project at the school is uncertain. We have learned all we are going to learn from that two year experimentation.


The 17 mile Monte Vista Middle School to Alamosa RMII Internet wireless connection at 115Kbps ran continuoulsy and reliably through the end of the school year, when all school computer systems were shut down. The District, even though it now has a 56Kbps US West provided dedicated circuit to the District Headquarters and co-located High School, to Alamosa and RMII (now Amigo.net), it still wants to keep the wireless link up to the middle school, because it would require yet another recurring-cost 56kbps circuit to link the school to the District. The wireless link will stay in place and we will transfer ownership of the radios to Monte Vista Schools before the end of the project.


Of all the San Luis Valley 14 school districts, the largest one, Alamosa, with 7 schools, and the one closest to Internet POPs has remained the furthest behind in getting networked technology implemented. It did not even, until this fall, have a full time Technology Coordinator. This has been a sore sport with many teachers, as they saw smaller, and more distant schools all around them in the valley getting connected up, one way or another.

As reported in the Evans Elementary School Case Study, Roger Quintanilla, 5th Grade teacher, sucessfully made the 56Kbps wireless link our NSF program funded between his Classroom and the net connections at Adams State College, work for his school and students all spring, terminating into just one MacIntosh classroom computer. The 5th grade students used the link to excellent educational advantage under Roger's tutelege. Word of the 1st 'Internet' connection at Evans Elementary spread to the point the Superintendent arrived for a valley-wide newpaper photo op with Roger. The Valley Courior did not even mention that the link was provided courtesy of the National Science Foundation.

The success of this wireless project led to a router being purchased for Evans Elementary, and the wireless link, being fed into that, so it served several classrooms through ethernet links. So now the direct - from terminal server in the computer room of Adams State College, to router and server at Evans Elementary, is being used by the entire school.

Evans thus became the first school in Alamosa connected to the Internet.

As a consequence of this, and the growing reputation of Roger Quintanilla as a technological innovator as well as good teacher, he was offered, as of this writing, to be the first Technology Coordinator for the entire Alamosa School District starting in the fall of 1997. He is confident that he has trained others at Evans Elementary school to keep the net, and radios, up and operating.

It is not too much to claim that the installation of the wireless connections to one 5th Grade Classroom in Alamosa was the tail that wagged the District technology dog into getting connected in a general manner.

Dave Hughes