This is the transcript for episode 376 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. In this episode, Christopher interviews Mark Buell and Katie Watson Jordan from the Internet Society about their work building trust on the Internet and increasing access in remote communities. Listen to the episode, or read the transcript below.
Mark Buell: You know, this is the way the Internet was built. This is what the Internet was meant to be: this group of people who can come together, work cooperatively to build something for the betterment of society.
Lisa Gonzalez: Welcome to episode 376 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. The Internet Society, also known as ISOC, is one of the best known organizations advancing a safe and secure Internet for everyone. This week we have Mark Buell and Katie Watson Jordan from ISOC to discuss the organization, its work, and ISOC's upcoming annual indigenous connectivity summit. Mark and Katie talk about their current project in the Arctic with a local indigenous community and the community network project they'll develop next in Hawaii during the summit. They tell us about the history of ISOC and the nature of their work involving access and trust. We learn about how policy experts and technologists are working together in ISOC and within their partners to support their mission and vision. Check out InternetSociety.org for more on ISOC and for details about the indigenous connectivity summit November 12th and 13th in Hilo, Hawaii. Now here's Christopher with Katie Watson Jordan and Mark Buell from the Internet Society.
Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in Minneapolis, Minnesota — usually one of the more Northern guests. I'm usually interviewing people that are to the south of me, and I've got a special guest today, Mark Buell, who is coming to me from Ottawa but oftentimes coming from a considerably farther north place. Mark Buell is the regional bureau director for North America in the Internet Society. Welcome to the show Mark.
Mark Buell: Thanks Chris.
Christopher Mitchell: And then we also have someone who's very special to me because I used to work with Katie. We have Katie Watson Jordan, the senior policy advisor at the North American regional bureau for Internet Society or ISOC. Welcome to the show.
K Watson Jordan: Very, very excited to be here. Thanks Chris.
Christopher Mitchell: Absolutely. So the first question I think is, since I prompted with it, Mark, what do you do up in the Arctic circle? I think that's a piece a lot of people will be most interested in out of this whole interview.
Mark Buell: So one of the main activities the Internet Society has taken on in North America in 2019 is working with indigenous communities across Canada and the U.S. To deploy community networks. And Katie and I have been working with a community in the northern part of the Northwest Territories called Ulukhaktok. It's a community about 160 miles North of the Arctic circle, population of about 400, perched on the edge of an island in the Arctic ocean. So, the two of us have been actually spending a bit of time in the Arctic working on connecting communities, not just Ulukhaktok, but other ones across the Canadian north.
Christopher Mitchell: It kind of reminds me of the saying that if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. If you can bring high quality broadband to Ulukhaktok, then you can do it anywhere.
Mark Buell: Yeah, I think that's exactly the case. In some respects, I often think the way we deployed the Internet originally was backwards. We connected as many people that we could as cheap as possible and as quickly as possible, when what we could have done was worked from the hardest communities to connect and worked our way back and use lessons that we learned from harder to connect communities and use that in cities.
Christopher Mitchell: Well, let's jump back for a second then, now that we've gotten past the exotic nature. You know, I had a friend who spent two years in Antarctica and that's the first thing I always encourage people to talk to him about because who cares about anything else? But what I'm — I guess a good place to start — let me poke you, Katie. Why did you leave us at Next Century Cities, and what have you been doing since?
K Watson Jordan: Oh my gosh. Well, it was very hard to leave Next Century Cities. The organization is really dear to my heart, and I think one of the things I like best about working at ISOC is that I have never stopped working with Next Century Cities. There is a lot of fantastic work going on between our two organizations now, which is fantastic. But the work that we're doing now is really special because I think it's the first time that I've worked with such remote communities, and getting to spend time in these areas and hear their stories and hear the ways that they are able to use very, very small bits of the Internet, either with really high data caps or with really low speed, and hear what they're able to do with that and what they could do is so much more, has been so inspiring.
Christopher Mitchell: It gives you a sense of what we take for granted?
K Watson Jordan: Exactly. So I mean, even we've been working really closely with a lot of elders in Ulukhaktak and the things that they want for their children and their grandchildren that they think the Internet will bring. It's the same things that we hear in every other city across the region. I mean, people want education and health care, and they want economic opportunity. But for communities where those things are already so much harder to get, the Internet is a completely new world, and they're really excited to do whatever they can to bring it to their communities. And so, we've been working really hard to partner with great organizations that can help them do that and to provide training and resources where we can.
Christopher Mitchell: So Mark, let me get a sense of the history of ISOC. Where did it start for someone who's not familiar with the idea of Internet Society?
Mark Buell: The history of ISOC is quite interesting. ISOC was founded in 1992 by a group of Internet pioneers for a few reasons. And you know, that's 27 years ago, and 27 years in the Internet world is basically an eternity. That's almost Internet prehistory.
Christopher Mitchell: Right, it's like the Jurassic.
Mark Buell: Exactly. Exactly. But we were founded by the likes of people like Vint Cerf, Bob Kahn, and others for a number of reasons. One — well primarily to ensure that everyone everywhere has access to a safe and secure Internet. We are also the organizational home of the Internet Engineering Task Force, which is the global group of volunteers who developed the standards for the global development of the Internet. We're a global not-for-profit. We have something like 60,000 members globally, about 140 chapters and have staff now in I think 27 different countries.
Christopher Mitchell: And how are they supported? What's the mechanism? I'm assuming you don't have printing presses for U.S. dollars.
Mark Buell: We receive an annual grant from an organization called the Public Interest Registry, which is the registry for the .org top level domain.
Christopher Mitchell: So we should continue to register our organizations using .org and not just make everything .com?
Mark Buell: That would be wonderful. It supports that wonderful work we do in the Arctic.
Christopher Mitchell: So let me jump back to you Katie and ask what are the sorts of things that ISOC has typically done? And we'll get more into what you're really focused on more recently after we talk about that.
K Watson Jordan: I like to think of our work as being — the work that I do for the Internet Society as being bucketed in two ways. Part of it is the trust element, and part of it is the access element. On the trust side, that's everything from privacy and security, security being, you know, encryption, IOT security, routing security, and then the access side being both the politics and the funding and the actual building of infrastructure to bring new communities online. And both of those things look really different depending on the day. So sometimes we're working really closely with government representatives to make sure that they are being inclusive in the bills that they pass or that they have the technical information that they need before they draft a bill even, and some days it means that we are working with communities to just let them know that these resources exist and that their government representatives are there to work for them and that they have a voice at that level. On the access side, one of the most interesting things that I think we've been doing recently is we've launched two trainings — one on policy and advocacy and one on community networks — in the ramp up to our annual indigenous connectivity summit. And the goal of those two trainings really is to help the participants of this summit and, you know, partners in our wider community to understand that first of all they have a voice and they should use voice as often as possible and change the bills that are bad and the laws that are bad, and then also that they have the power to actually build infrastructure and to connect their communities to the Internet in the way that they see fit and give them a little bit of training on what that actually looks like.
Christopher Mitchell: And Mark, is there anything that you'd like to add in terms of why you want to be involved with ISOC?
Mark Buell: I am of the mind, as are many people at the Internet Society, that when people get access to the Internet, amazing things can happen. And we've seen it globally over our more than two and a half decades, and we continue to see it in communities that are just coming online.
K Watson Jordan: One thing the Internet Society does really well is uphold the principles of the multi-stakeholder model. So everything that we do works the way the Internet does. Like, there's many people from as many places working together on something and coming up with solutions to problems or coming up with new ideas to make the Internet better. And so that's everything from the way that we do events — our indigenous connectivity summit is the product of working with dozens of individuals and organizations from all over the region to make sure that there are really good conversations and outcomes — to working with global representatives on IOT security from places as far as Senegal to Uruguay to the UK and Canada. And it's a really unique role to work for an organization that has both local chapters and a global presence because it makes it a lot easier to scale the workup that we're doing on the ground into kind of a global movement towards specific goals like access and secure and trustworthy Internet.
Christopher Mitchell: As we move forward, we're going to talk about the community networks angle, but I just wanted to reiterate that your work on trust is very important in making sure that the Internet continues in its goal of connecting everyone and not that it would become despoiled in the ways that I would describe cable television and radio technologies as kind of being ruined. You guys, I think of you as being as existing to make sure that the Internet works for everyone, right? That's more or less, I think in part, probably part of the reason that ISOC was created, I would think.
Mark Buell: Yeah, I absolutely think you're right, and the two aren't necessarily disparate topics. When we think about deploying access to communities like Uluhaktak or a community we're working with in Hawaii, when they come online, their voices will come online and make the Internet a better, more inclusive place. So in doing the access work, we're actually improving the global Internet by bringing these voices online who haven't been there. It makes the Internet a better place.
Christopher Mitchell: So I get the sense that, in part because of the multi-stakeholder model that you identified, Katie, the ISOC North American regional Bureau chapter has been focused on this community networks to a greater extent than had been in the past, and in part that's because of the values and the emphasis that that you're putting on that. Am I correct in that?
K Watson Jordan: So I think that the access piece has always been important, but we're approaching it in different ways now. So the indigenous connectivity summit is something that's been held — this is its third year, and we're really excited about that. And I think part of the reason that this has become a bigger project is because that has just taken on a life of its own in a lot of ways, and it's led to so much new and amazing work and amazing stories and relationships with both locals and with politicians because we've had government representatives at every summit, and that work has become very exciting. That being said, we do spend a ton of time on the trust side of things. Again, it depends on the day, but we easily spend 50 percent of our time on each of those different buckets. Our brains are very access focused with the summit coming up in about a month and a half.
Christopher Mitchell: Well Mark, I think you deliberately moved yourself part of the time up North to the place of the second regional tribal summit, right?
Mark Buell: Yeah, yeah. So about, geez, 20 years ago, time flies, my partner and I had moved to a community called Inuvik in the Northwest Territories.
Christopher Mitchell: Okay. Then I was wrong because I thought you just moved to an Inuvik recently. But sorry, please continue.
Mark Buell: No, if I had the opportunity, I'd go back Inuvik in a heartbeat. I can tell you that. Yeah, so I had actually lived and worked in Inuvik for a few years. We had moved back to Ottawa in about 2003, and my work continued to be focused on Arctic communities. So I was actually working in indigenous health policy at the time with a focus on Arctic peoples. In fact, that's how I got interested in Internet policy generally because I was working in health policy. It was at the time when telemedicine and electronic health records were really becoming a thing, and I saw potential in that to, you know, improve healthcare delivery in northern communities if they had Internet access. But they didn't. So they were missing out on this new great technology that could have really helped, but because of lack of access, it couldn't become a thing. So essentially I became an advocate for broadband because of healthcare delivery.
Christopher Mitchell: And so, when you're an advocate for broadband, what is ISOC bring to it? Aside from one obvious result of bringing a lot of people up to Inuvik was that they had a much greater appreciation for the challenges involved. But at the end of the day, um, how are we connecting those kinds of communities?
Mark Buell: So I think one of ISOC's greatest roles is as a convener. We have a great ability to convene diverse groups of people because we have a lot of contacts across both the community, through our chapters, through our members, but also with governments and the private sector. And we have a great ability to bring those people together to discuss issues like connectivity or other potentially contentious issues. I think we're unique in the ecosystem for the ability to bring, you know, diverse groups together and have those discussions in a safe environment. We don't have an agenda going in. We want to see the Internet successful, we want to see people connect to the Internet, but we don't have an agenda with regard to that. So I think we're seen as more of a trusted partner that can do that.
Christopher Mitchell: And Katie, let me ask you, can you give us a preview of what you're going to be doing in Hawaii, in terms of actually building the network? Like, for the people who are listening to this who are really engineering focused, I think they'd love to hear some of the technical challenges you'll be wrestling with.
K Watson Jordan: Yeah, the technical challenges have been interesting. We're really lucky and I'm going to sound like a broken record, but we've got amazing partners who are helping us work through all of those things. But as far as kind of what this is going to look like, the summit itself is going to bring together people from all across the region to talk about a huge range of topics, everything from culture and language to the politics to funding sources, et cetera, et cetera. Then we'll actually go to Waimanalo, Hawaii, where Mark actually spent some time a few weeks ago, or I guess now a couple months ago, working with the community doing site assessments and things like that. And we're going to bring in the participants of the virtual community network training and community members in that community to actually put up infrastructure so that they can run their own network after the summit is completed. As far as what that network actually looks like, I know we have fiber backhaul, which is really exciting. I assume that the best setup for this community is probably going to be sort of like a mesh network or almost like a giant Wi-Fi hotspot. One of the most important elements of this work is letting the community decide what they want, and so we've really emphasized that there's some pretty basic equipment we can get, antennas and routers and things like that, but as far as how they want to set it up, if they do want to have one local spot where it's just huge Wi-Fi hotspot, great. If they want to put routers throughout and have, you know, actually direct to the home service great. And we're really excited about it, whatever they choose, but I'm hesitant to say exactly what it will look like before they've had the chance to decide for themselves.
Christopher Mitchell: Mark, when you were there looking at the area to try and get a sense of whatever information you needed to collect, what were you looking for and was it in part trying to get a sense of all the different options that a community would choose from?
Mark Buell: We're talking about actually a very small community. The population is about 90. It's built up the side of a mountain coming off of the ocean. It's actually stunningly beautiful there.
Christopher Mitchell: Oh, that's the part of Hawaii that's stunningly beautiful on the big island.
Mark Buell: Yeah, it's absolutely incredible. But, you know, we were there looking at the size of the community, the topography, where we would place towers if necessary, where we could tap into a fiber line, those kinds of things. What I found fascinating about the community in Hawaii is the challenges that they faced in the past to get connected are no different than the challenges the communities that we're working with in the Arctic face. You know, it's access to backhaul, it's funding sources, it's being able to deploy network on their own terms that's affordable. There are some superficial differences, like, you know, Hawaii doesn't necessarily have to worry too much about extreme cold when it gets down to minus 40. That's a different challenge in the Arctic than it is in Hawaii, but I'm sure we'll face some of those unique challenges in Hawaii as well.
Christopher Mitchell: Yeah. More cyclones, fewer polar bears.
Mark Buell: Yes, exactly.
Christopher Mitchell: Where did you find a fiber line out there?
Mark Buell: [In] Hawaii, there is a private sector company called Hawaiian Telecom. They have fiber all over the island. This community is actually on [O'ahu], not too far from Honolulu. In fact, that's actually one of the striking things about working in Hawaii is that you can be in Honolulu with it's excessive wealth at, you know, high end hotels and you drive 40 minutes outside of the city and you have communities where it's a very, very different world.
Christopher Mitchell: And I made a comment earlier about the Big Island. I think is the indigenous summit on the Big Island and then you're building the network on [O'ahu]?
Mark Buell: Yeah, yes. So there are two parts to the summit. The first is the summit itself, which is in Hilo, Hawaii on November 12th and 13th, and on the 14th and 15th we'll be traveling to Wimanalo to work with the community to deploy the network and on the ground training program.
Christopher Mitchell: Wonderful. Just to come out of nowhere with a question, would you say that — what would you say are the top takeaways from New Mexico, which I think was the first indigenous summit, right?
Mark Buell: Yeah. The first one was in 2017 in Santa Fe. The big takeaway — well, there are actually a couple. The first was that we could actually pull off the summit. It wasn't like anything we had ever done before. It's working with a community that the Internet Society hasn't worked with in the past. But my biggest take away for real was that there was a community waiting for this to happen and a community ready to come together to support connectivity across the continent.
Christopher Mitchell: So let me — Katie, let me ask you, because I think I want to deal with an unfair but I think perhaps widely held stereotype, which is that you would often think that the sort of people involved with ISOC would be very technical and have poor communication skills. And so same sort of question for you in terms of what you've seen from mixing these communities in which people I think have much less technical training but a great enthusiasm.
K Watson Jordan: Yeah, absolutely. That's a hysterical and very valid point. I think more and more these kind of communities are mixing because I agree with you. Until very, very recently, the tech savvy people hung out among themselves and they had great ideas together and the policy wonk communication people hung out among themselves and had great ideas. But we're realizing pretty quickly that that's not possible anymore. If you're a politician who doesn't understand the technology or communications person who doesn't understand the technology or a technologist who doesn't understand how policies are going to impact your work, there's a missing link. There's a huge, huge gap in the way that you are approaching a problem. So the summit is a really cool space for that, and a lot of the events that we do are really cool space for that because I think there is a growing and strong community that is trying to do a little bit of both. And you know, the people we work with have been really eager to learn from each other, and that's what makes the summit and all of our events so interesting, is that there is a really good communication among participants and information sharing and new and unexpected partnerships from every one of these summits, which is fantastic. And that's also why I like the trainings. We have the policy and advocacy and the community networks trainings and they're separate, but there is a huge amount of crossover between the speakers on each of them and the participants on each of them and the kinds of conversations I expect to have when we get to the summit because of them. So they're siloed but interlinked in a lot of ways, as are many of the people that we continue to work with.
Christopher Mitchell: How do you respond to somewhat condescending attitude, that I'm entirely familiar with, which is a nice pat on the head. "Oh, that's nice. You're building a little community network. That's nice. I'm going to go on and do something big." You know, how do you respond to that, Katie?
K Watson Jordan: You know, I have always had the big Internet access and I gotta tell ya, I don't love my provider. I haven't ever loved my provider. They are very frustrating to work with, and I have a feeling that most others who live in a city would feel the same way. But you go into these communities where there's not a lot of resources and they're up front with that. The challenges are huge, the problems are huge, and yet they are so willing to do whatever it takes to make sure that their community continues to grow and thrive and learn and live a healthy lifestyle. And they're used to solving their own problems. You know, the more rural you get, the more independent you have to be, and they are no stranger to finding a new tool and you know, kind of making it fit their community and the Internet is just like that. And so, it's fantastic to work with communities that are one, excited to be a provider, but two, so excited to work with that provider. That's a pretty unique experience when your community members are rallying around you to to build something new. And the kinds of tools that they have created — these rural and remote communities have created using the Internet — are really amazing, especially when it comes to I think language and culture preservation. We just talked to a group a couple of weeks ago who worked with Duolingo to create a native Hawaiian language application on that app, and it had almost half a million people that had used that tool. That's significantly more than the number of total native Hawaiians in the United States, and that's amazing that something like that could come from a small community and grow in such a huge way. So I think we're just gonna hear more and more of those stories, and anybody who is feeling salty, just watch out. This stuff is happening.
Christopher Mitchell: Mark, let me ask you the same question. Although, you're not going to have nearly as good a response.
Mark Buell: You know, this DIY method of building the Internet that we've really become a big proponent of is in fact how the original — the Internet was built originally. It was groups of people in communities who came together, advocated for access, or built it themselves. Right? That's really the roots of the Internet Society right there. People formed ISOC chapters to come together to get access in their community. Their communities may not have been, you know, 90 people living in rural Hawaii or 400 perched on the edge of the Arctic ocean. But you know, this is the way the Internet was built. This is what the Internet was meant to be: this group of people who can come together, work cooperatively to build something for the betterment of society.
Christopher Mitchell: Well that was a pretty good answer.
Mark Buell: I try my best.
Christopher Mitchell: No, I think it's really inspiring. And you know, you mentioned that this is a 27 year old organization. Most of the people who are listening to this show right now have used the Internet for considerably less time. And I think most people, even those of us who try not to have this, we have this conception of the Internet that requires, you know, large organizations to keep it going and what would happen — in fact, there was recently this question of if Google and Facebook disappeared, what would happen? And well, I'd miss my email, I'll tell you that right now, but it would carry on. And that's one of the great things about the Internet. And I think I didn't have a sense of everything the Internet Society does, but I love that that's infused into how you do everything.
Mark Buell: You know, we are the Internet Society, so we are the Internet and we are society. We tend to forget that at the end of every tweet, at the end of every email is a person, right? And we really see ourselves as operating at the intersection between the Internet and society.
Christopher Mitchell: Most tweets. Some of them are from Russian tweet farms.
Mark Buell: Well, this is true, but that's a topic for another podcast.
Christopher Mitchell: Right? No, but you're right actually, and you know, I desperately hope that we're coming to a point in which we do connect words on our screen with other human beings. So today I was actually thinking — I was just thinking about some angry tweets, and I was thinking that the way that we get really angry at other people on the Internet, I think in some ways shows that we care. And in some ways we care more about greater numbers of people than we have before because we're exposed to greater numbers of people. And a lot of us have thought of this in negative ways — why are we so mean to each other? — but oftentimes I think we're mean and we react that way because we want other people to have the right opinions or to think well of us or things like that.
Mark Buell: Yeah. That's an excellent way of looking at it, that there's a degree of passion behind all of those angry tweets that if we could harvest that for the power of good, we could change the world.
Christopher Mitchell: I feel like I need to ask Katie for a character reference. I'm not high right now. Let me ask you, is there anything else that we should really hit on that you're working on for people who are not familiar with the Internet Society or any aspects of the work you're doing around community networks we haven't explained well enough?
K Watson Jordan: We do have a fantastic work going on though in Canada around IOT security. We wrapped up a year and a half long process back in May creating recommendations for IOT security that have now been carried forward by an implementation working group and it'll be carried out over we hope the next year or so.
Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, Internet of Things, IOT, security. It's a big deal because on multiple fronts. One is — and Katie, you're just assuming everyone knows this, so I don't mean to be mansplaining to you, but I feel like the audience needs a little bit. You know, these devices that we're buying are often insecure or they put us at risk, but they also put the entire Internet at risk because negative malware, bad people, often in Russia or China I might say, are infecting those devices and using them to attack other parts of the Internet. So it's a really big deal to solve this problem, and I'm glad that you're working on it, so . . .
K Watson Jordan: No, I mean, I agree. It's a huge deal, and it's a huge deal because it's not specific to one country. I mean, very little about the Internet is specific to one country beyond the access side of things. But on IOT security, if you have some sort of a botnet attack, some sort of a malicious attack, it's going to be pretty rare that those devices that we're attacking exist only in one specific place or impact only one specific part of the network. And as we saw with an incident with Dyn a few years ago, the botnet attacks can take down massive pieces of the Internet for, you know, anywhere from a few seconds to minutes to hours to days depending on the kind of attacks. So it's really important that all stakeholders work together on this, and it's really important that all countries work together on this because if one person fixes the problem, it's still a problem. So I'm really proud of the work we've done in Canada, and I'm really proud that now we have a group of global organizations and government representatives working together to figure out ways that they can collaborate moving forward on IOT security, which is — and we call that the IOT security policy platform. It's a great group of people that are really committed to making the Internet as a whole more secure.
Mark Buell: Great. And Mark, is there anything else you wanted to bring up? Well, I think Katie put all of that very well. I will do the obligatory plug that the Internet Society is a membership organization, and membership is free and open to anyone. And you just have to visit InternetSociety.org and sign up and be a part of this great work that we're doing.
Christopher Mitchell: And register domain names with a .org extension.
Mark Buell: Yes, please.
Christopher Mitchell: Great. Well thank you so much for both of your time and your work. I'm so excited that there are so many resources going to these tribal communities focused on indigenous connect connectivity. These are people that have been marginalized for so long, and the Internet can offer tremendous benefits that I hope will reverse those, in some cases, hundreds of years of negative attacks. Thank you both.
Mark Buell: And thank you Chris, for giving us an opportunity to talk about things we love to do and love to talk about.
Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher with Mark Buell and Katie Watson Jordan from the Internet Society. We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at muninetworks.org/broadbandbits. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @communitynets. Follow muninetworks.org stories on Twitter. The handle is @muninetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and the other podcast from ILSR, Building Local Power and the Local Energy Rules Podcast. You can access them anywhere you get your podcasts. You can catch the latest important research from all of our initiatives if you subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ilsr.org. While you're there, please take a moment to donate. Your support in any amount helps keep us going. Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through creative commons, and thank you for listening to episode 376 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.