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Giants of Broadband: A Personal Remembrance of Scott DeGarmo

in Broadband's Impact by

Editor’s Note: The broadband world has lost three visionary giants over the past several months: Scott DeGarmo, Charles Benton and Don Samuelson. Each of these men had a significant impact on the world of advancing high-speed communications. Personally, each of them also had a significant impact on my professional career in broadband. I have had countless interactions with each of them over the course of many years.

This series in BroadbandBreakfast.com will provide a personal remembrances of each of them. Comments on the stories are welcome. Feel free to communicate with me via email at drew@broadbandcensus.com.

SALT LAKE CITY, August 31, 2015 – I learned of the passing of Broadband Communities CEO Scott DeGarmo from pancreatic cancer two weeks ago this morning. One of my colleagues on the board of the non-profit Rural Telecommunications Congress had shared the news. His death came just one month prior to his company’s next conference, “Fiber for the New Economy” in Lexington, Kentucky.

Scott DeGarmo

I immediately sent off my condolences — now joined with dozens of others on the Broadband Communities web site — to those in his company whom I have known and with whom I have interacted on many levels.

For example, many years ago I interviewed Broadband Communities Vice Chairman Hilda Legg when she was the head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service during the administration of George W. Bush. I was a reporter for the National Journal Group in Washington. We talked at that time more than a decade ago about the vital importance of getting broadband to rural communities.

Going back even further, Broadband Communities Corporate Editor Steven Ross was a professor of computer-assisted reporting at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. This was in 1995-1996, during the infant days of the internet, when I was his student. At the time, all of us were just beginning to sense the impending implications that high-bandwidth connectivity would have for our economy and for our culture.

More recently, as practicing attorney working Of Counsel at Kirton McConkie in Salt Lake City, I’ve taken a hands-on role in helping state, municipal and rural broadband leaders to invest in Gigabit Networks. In January, our firm invited Broadband Communities Editor Masha Zager to participate in our webinar series on “How to Build Your Gigabit Network.” She did a stellar job outlining the world of community broadband networks.

For all of my interactions with the staff and others associated with Broadband Communities, it was clear that Scott DeGarmo was the silent but powerful force behind an impressive organization.

Hilda G. Legg

Steven Ross

Masha Zager

Over the course of more than a decade, he followed and led his industry to a revived and amplified vision of its possibilities. From a small gathering of an obscure line of work dubbed the “private cable business” (think of TV and internet services to multiple-dwelling units), his broadband summits have instead become wonderfully expansive celebrations of the fiber communications marketplace. Whenever I attended Broadband Communities, I found Scott there, shepherding along the growth of this industry.

The Early ‘Broadband Moment’

I met Scott through my friend and mentor Graham Richard, who now runs the Advanced Energy Economy. Graham, the former mayor of Fort Wayne, Indiana, became an advocate for the possibilities that fiber-optic broadband brings to community economic development. After he concluded his term as mayor, he was an advisor and consultant to organizations with which I have worked, including BroadbandBreakfast.com and the Partnership for a Connected Illinois.

It was early 2008, and I had just launched BroadbandCensus.com, an early effort to collect and provide free information to the public about broadband speeds, prices, availability, reliability and competition. President Bush’s Federal Communications Commission had refused to release this data from broadband providers. Our efforts in that year preceded what would become a significant push to increase knowledge where broadband was available, and who was providing it.

Scott graciously invited me to present at what was then known as the Broadband Properties conference, at a hotel near the Dallas airport. At that event, we unveiled our ‘Take the Broadband Census” data-collection form. You could begin to sense that bigger things were in store.

Scott saw that, and always attempted to bring the necessary people and organizations together to build up the broadband world.

The next year, in 2009, excitement in the internet industry was more pronounced. The conference was thriving in spite of a deep recession. In part, this was because there so many questions about which answers were needed. The administration of President Barack Obama was still in its early months, yet it was designing an ambitious broadband stimulus program. Its watchword was “shovel-ready:” Proposed projects that could be turned into immediate jobs-generators.

As I wrote at the time on BroadbandBreakfast.com:

Every year, the annual Broadband Properties conference, produced by Broadband Properties magazine, assembles those who literally build the innards of the nation’s fiber-optic infrastructure, the most advanced broadband and internet networks anywhere.

They hearken from the private cable industry, where many provided television service to the owners of multidwelling units real properties. They also come from the rural companies and communities that took risks in pioneering fiber investments long before larger companies, like Verizon Communications, woke up to its benefits.

Either way, these are the people that are, in the words of Fiber to the Home Council President Joe Savage, “in the dirt-moving industry.”

They include glass-makers, wire-splitters, radio frequency engineers, manufacturers of reinforced boxes and racks for digital switches and routers, and consultants to the equipment providers, carriers and local governments. Some are well-known, and some are invisible. They include Calix, CSI Digital, Design Nine, FlexOptics Networks, Foxcom, Light Bridgade, Hitachi Telecom, Motorola, Walker and Associates, among many others.

And with $7.2 billion of federal funds about to spent on “middle-mile” fiber-optic infrastructure, conference attendees were eager to learn of others’, and to pitch their own, “shovel-ready” projects.

Networking Broadband Connectivity for Illinois

The next phase of my career in broadband took me from the day-to-day journalism and events businesses (over the years, our Broadband Breakfast Club hosted more than 60 different Washington-based discussions on broadband policy and internet technology) to being the technology leader responsible for the State Broadband Initiative entity in the Land of Lincoln — the Partnership for a Connected Illinois.

At the invitation of then-Gov. Pat Quinn, I moved from Washington to Springfield, the state’s capital city, in February 2010. The job to be done was in building a non-profit/quasi-government startup, responsible both for broadband mapping and for community economic development. We were building the organization from scratch, albeit with significant support from the federal and state governments.

“I’m glad that our team of broadband experts is moving forward to help achieve the ambitious vision for a public, transparent map of technology infrastructure that President Obama and I share,” Quinn said at the time of my appointment.

In part because of my new responsibilities, I missed Scott’s 2010 summit. When I returned to the conference in 2011, 2012 and 2013, it had been rechristened Broadband Communities, and had moved to a better hotel in the exclusive Dallas suburb of Addison. Scott was always conscious of ensuring that the experience of attending the summit was as beneficial for everyone who attended.

Drew Clark at Partnership for a Connected Illinois

As the Executive Director of Broadband Illinois, my focus at Scott’s events was less on reporting and persuading individuals to take the Broadband Census. I was instead working on behalf of Illinois projects, sharing best practices with those who were administering projects in other states, and understanding where fiber-optic technology was heading. With each successive year, Scott put together better and more impressive programs.

Personally, I was no longer all about broadband data. My efforts at building the Broadband Census in the early days of the “broadband moment” played some small role in stimulating a much more significant investment in broadband data: The $350 million through the State Broadband Initiatives, in 56 states and territories, under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

But at Broadband Illinois we were focused helping to build these networks. I began to see Scott’s Broadband Communities summit as a first-class opportunity for “networking” — of the human and not the fiber-optic variety.

Indeed, owing to Illinois’ success in obtaining funds for infrastructure investment (which was the lion’s share of the $7.2 billion in broadband stimulus funds), our organization oversaw about $350 million in fiber-optic and wireless projects in Illinois. We also helped bridge regional divisions within Illinois, enhanced the economic development efforts of the Governor’s Broadband Deployment Council and connected communications providers and users of internet services. Later, we administered two trial programs for enhancing broadband adoption.

It was at this time that Scott introduced another innovation at Broadband Communities: The launch of the Economic Development Conference Series in fall 2012.

His first event was in Danville, Virginia. When Scott was selecting the location for his second event, in November 2013, he picked a venue in Illinois in south-suburban Chicagoland. Broadband Illinois became significantly involved in the planning and publicity for this event.

Among the fiber projects that our organization helped to highlight were the iFiber project, established under the Recovery Act at Northern Illinois University, as well as a separately-financed middle-mile fiber project implemented with state government fund by the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association.

With this regional economic conference being located that year in Tinley Park, Illinois, this provided an opportunity to showcase the “Gigabit Communities Challenge” launched in February 2012 by Gov. Quinn.

In a piece about Onlight Aurora, published in advance of a panel discussion at the event, I wrote:

Just over a year ago, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn announced the first of four awards under the state’s “Gigabit Communities Challenge,” an effort to raise the bar on broadband speeds in the nation’s heartland.

Of the four awardees named thus far, the Gigabit Network created by Onlight Aurora here is perhaps the most advanced. This is owing to a unique public-private partnership in the state’s second-largest city….

But the example of Onlight Aurora provides an important window into the way Gigabit Networks can help a multiplicity of purposes. These include government cost-savings, traffic solutions, and economic development options for business retention and growth.

Scott continued to host these important regional events, holding the September 2014 event in Springfield, Massachusetts. As previously mentioned, the September 2015 event will be held in Lexington, Kentucky. You may register here for the event.

Partnering with the Rural Telecommunications Congress

I had an additional series of connections with Scott through my role as a board member of the Rural Telecommunications Congress, leading to my being asked to step up as president of that non-profit organization in April of this year.

The RTC is a non-profit organization that works with everyone to facilitate the development of a reliable and sustainable rural broadband ecosystem, and hence a strong future for rural America. Its roots date back more than 15 years, when a group of concerned citizens, local and state government officials, consultants, and others met under the aegis of the Aspen Institute in Colorado to discuss how the western states could benefit from the utilization of high speed broadband services.

Since 2002, the RTC has hosted events in locales including Des Moines, Iowa; Spokane, Washington; Lexington, Kentucky; Little Rock, Arkansas; Smugglers’ Notch, Vermont; Springfield, Illinois; and Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina.

These events have showcased the importance of a strong broadband infrastructure to eliminate the digital divide, enhance the quality of life in rural America and encourage broadband adoption and education in rural America.

But in 2010, our organization decided to team up with Scott’s Broadband Communities Summit and Broadband Communities Magazine, and we’ve enjoyed a remarkably productive partnership.

“Scott was an easy person to talk to and a good sounding board,” said Galen Updike, president of RTC from 2010-2013, the time that RTC began co-hosting events with Broadband Communities. “He adopted good ideas, such as the transition from the name ‘Broadband Properties’ to ‘Broadband Communities.’”

“Scott tried to bring the people to join with the vendors,” said Jane Smith Patterson, president of the RTC from 2013-2015. “It made what the vendors were doing more real, and it got the people in rural broadband more in touch with the vendors.”

In a press release from the RTC, I said that “The world of broadband has lost a giant with the passing of Scott DeGarmo. Broadband Communities has been instrumental in the current high profile of rural broadband issues.”

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As an example of the high-quality programming that Scott was instrumental in helping to facilitate, I’d point to the April 2015 program, “Connecting Communities Across America: Moving Rural America to Prosper through Broadband.” Each of the panel sessions from the event is online at the Rural Telecommunications Congress web site at http://www.ruraltelecon.org/2015-rtc-bbc-summit.html

That event in April was the first – and only – time that I’ve been to a Broadband Communities event without Scott being there, too. His illness was announced to the public there. Those of us who had worked with Hilda, Scott, Masha, plus Nancy McCain and others on the Broadband Communities team, knew that Scott remained deeply engaged in making that event the success that it was.

He is gone now, and those of us who remain working in broadband will miss his vision and his sense of where the industry was heading next.

Drew Clark is the Chairman of the Broadband Breakfast Club. He tracks the development of Gigabit Networks, broadband usage, the universal service fund and wireless policy @BroadbandCensus. He is also Of Counsel with the firm of Best Best & Krieger LLP, with offices in California and Washington, DC. He works with cities, special districts and private companies on planning, financing and coordinating efforts of the many partners necessary to construct broadband infrastructure and deploy “Smart City” applications. You can find him on LinkedIN and Twitter. The articles and posts on BroadbandBreakfast.com and affiliated social media are not legal advice or legal services, do not constitute the creation of an attorney-client privilege, and represent the views of their respective authors.

Onlight Aurora, Most Advanced Illinois Gigabit Communities Awardee, Shows How to Leverage Its Fiber Network

in Fiber/Gigabit Networks/Public Safety by

AURORA, ILLINOIS, November 5, 2013 – Just over a year ago, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn announced the first of four awards under the state’s “Gigabit Communities Challenge,” an effort to raise the bar on broadband speeds in the nation’s heartland.

Of the four awardees named thus far, the Gigabit Network created by Onlight Aurora here is perhaps the most advanced. This is owing to a unique public-private partnership in the state’s second-largest city.

Other awardees in Illinois are Gigabit Squared and the University of Chicago; the City of Evanston and Northwest University; and Frontier Communications, Connect Southern Illinois and Southern Illinois University.

But the example of Onlight Aurora provides an important window into the way Gigabit Networks can help a multiplicity of purposes. These include government cost-savings, traffic solutions, and economic development options for business retention and growth.

On Wednesday, November 6, 2013, Aurora Mayor Tom Weisner will address the state of Onlight Aurora during a panel discussion at the Broadband Communities Conference on “Making Broadband Projects Sustainable: Fostering Economic Growth is Key to Building Robust Revenue Streams.”

Originally a Cost-Saving Measure

“In 2005-2006, we came to the conclusion that we were paying $500,000 a year [to telecommunications providers] for leased line expenses,” said Peter Lynch, Director and President of Onlight Aurora.

The city proposed to build a city-owned fiber-optic network, at a cost of $7.5 million, he said. At the time, the city was forecasting a minimum of 10 years payback period.

Instead, the city has leveraged:

  • A $13 million grant under the Federal Highway Administration’s Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program
  • An additional $1 million in funding under Gov. Quinn’s Gigabit Communities Challenge
  • Increasing opportunities for business revenue through add-on services available to business users.

“I can joyfully say, that we are now paying that off for its third or fourth time,” said Lynch.

Alleviating Traffic Congestion

The traffic congestion grant, which was administered through the Chicago Metropolitan Area for Planning, is a great example of leveraging a network originally designed for city communications for another purpose entirely.

The traffic grant occurred because the city had the foresight to install large number of fiber strands into conduits that it laid to build out the city network, said Lynch.

That in turn opened an opportunity when the FHA was seeking pilot cities to design programs that would alleviate auto emissions. The means for reduced emissions was to be an enhanced traffic flow because of better traffic light synchronization.

By granting the city’s traffic engineers with “access to several strands of fiber, they were able to prove out their concept on a much bigger scale,” said Ted Beck, the city’s Chief Technology Officer. “That helps the quality of our community.”

“We have been able to see better movement of traffic, which alleviates congestion and air quality,” said Eric Gallt, the city’s Traffic Engineer. The fiber loop enables city traffic officials “to see what is going on remotely, and it decreased the cost of the project by 50 percent or more.”

Planning for Broadband Success

Later, when Gov. Quinn announced the Illinois Gigabit Communities Challenge in the February 2012 State of the State address, the city of Aurora was ready to take the challenge to the next step.

Quinn’s challenge grant offered private providers and communities the opportunity to obtain between $1 million and $4 million in funding by working together to promote the highest-speed connectivity available. The goal was to “unleash the savvy of our entrepreneurs, the brainpower of our academics, and the creativity of our innovators,” Governor Quinn said in the speech.

In Aurora, Lynch and Beck recounted, Mayor Weisner empaneled a broadband roundtable, from business and the government, to brainstorm how the city’s fiber-optic network could benefit community broadband centers like schools, hospitals, and libraries. The plan enables these institutions to link up to the fiber network as they contribute to its financial strength.

“Technology plays a huge part in retaining the businesses that you want to keep and targeting the companies that you want to recruit,” said Beck. “Our core vision was community-based. Our schools are in critical need of technology, but you have to have a model that is sustainable.”

Onlight Aurora’s next step is to move beyond education, health care and social services to significant commercial resale of ultra-high-speed broadband services.

 

To hear more about Onlight Aurora, visit the session at Broadband Communities Conference at 3:50 p.m. on Wednesday, November 6:

Making Broadband Projects Sustainable – Fostering Economic Growth is Key to Building Robust Revenue Streams 

The fiber will last 30 years, but will the network? In this session, our panel of experts will examine key economic-development-driven steps that communities can take to enhance revenues, control costs, and make their networks sustainable.

Leader: Drew Clark - Chairman and Publisher,Broadband Breakfast

Speakers: 

Eric Frederick - Executive Director, Connect Michigan

John Honker - President, Magellan Advisors

Bernadine Joselyn - Director, Public Policy & Engagement, Blandin Foundation

Tom Weisner - Mayor, Aurora, Illinois

 

 

The Year in Broadband, 2012: BroadbandBreakfast’s Guide to the Top 10 Events

in Broadband Data/Broadband Stimulus/Broadband's Impact/FCC/National Broadband Plan/NTIA/Rural Utilities Service/Wireless by

December 18, 2012 – The year 2012 has provided significant progress in broadband within the United States. Whether through policy developments, or through technologies advancing the rate of internet speeds, the business case for making use of those higher speeds is also progressing in a meaningful way.

It’s almost as if the presidential and other federal elections – dominated as they were by issues other than broadband and technology – allowed the breathing room for practitioners, in Washington and outside of Washington, to make progress on bringing the nation better broadband.

Here’s the list of the 10 most significant events for broadband. We’ll soon follow up with 10 broadband developments to watch for in 2013.

1. Revisions to the Universal Service Fund.
At the end of 2011, the Federal Communications Commission began a major overhaul of the decades-old Universal Service Fund. Through an order of more than 700 pages, the agency created three major new funds: the Connect America Fund, the Mobility Fund, and a much smaller Remote Areas Fund, for extremely rural areas, particularly in Alaska. Throughout 2012, the FCC undertook Phase I of both the Connect America Fund and the Mobility Fund. The Mobility Fund has been particularly successful. In September, the FCC held its first “reverse auction” for $300 million in subsidies for mobile broadband: awards went to the mobile providers willing to serve the most unserved census blocks at the lowest prices. By contrast, the Connect America Fund, for wireline providers, was undersubscribed; over the summer the FCC awarded $115 million to large so-called “price cap” carriers, including CenturyLink and Frontier. The agency had been looking to spend $300 million; it will soon begin the process for $185 million of awards in Phase 2.

2. LTE Reaches the Mass Market.
Even though major wireless carriers such as Verizon Communications began promoting its fourth-generation wireless standard dubbed LTE (for long-term evolution) for more than two years, in 2012 LTE became a reality for middle America. Verizon has been quicker than AT&T, but AT&T has expanded more rapidly over the past year. From November 2011, when Verizon Wireless boasted coverage in 190 markets to AT&T’s 15 markets, one year later Verizon Wireless offers service in 441 markets, serving 250 million people. AT&T now offers 190 markets, and is available to 150 million people. Plus, with the launch of the Apple iPad 3 in March of 2012, the first Apple device with LTE technology, consumers could now obtain real-world download and upload speed in excess of 10 megabits per second. For the first time it begins to be possible to envision wireless as a substitute for DSL or cable connectivity, provided that consumers adapt to metered charges for mobile data consumption.

3. Gigabit Fiber Initiatives at the Local Level.
In Illinois, Gov. Patrick Quinn (D) announced the Illinois Gigabit Communities Challenge in the State of the State address on February 1, 2012. The challenge offered $6 million in funding to broadband companies and public-private partnerships proposing gigabit-level connectivity to at least 1,000 residents within their community. Illinois joined a number of other locations, including Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Lafayette, Louisiana, with “big broadband” projects designed to bring economic enhancement through super-fast connectivity. Following a competition which that spurred 40 applicants in Illinois, the first two Gigabit awards – to Gigabit Squared, the University of Chicago and several neighborhoods on the South Side of Chicago; and to Aurora, Illinois – were announced on October 16.

4. DOCSIS 3.0 Rolls Out Nationwide.
Early in the year, cable giant Comcast announced that it had completed its DOCSIS 3.0 expansion for its entire footprint in the United States.  DOCSIS 3.0 is the name for the next version of cable modem technology. The move brings the possibility of promised speeds of 100 megabits per second to all of Comcast’s 52 million household subscribers, although consumers need to subscribe to them. Additionally, consumers need DOCSIS 3.0 hardware in order to take the service, and somewhere between 43 percent and 77 percent of the nation’s cable subscribers had that upgrade. The cable industry’s push for DOCSIS 3.0 stands in contrast with Verizon’s decision to stop the expansion of its Fiber Optic Service and AT&T’s November 7, 2012, announcement that it will begin to favor investments in wireless technology over uVerse investments. Traditional telephone giants may be leaving the wireline field to their former cable competitors.

5. Gig.U. and Gigabit Squared Strike Deals.
One of the most creative of broadband initiatives over the past several years is Gig.U, or the University Community Next Generation Innovation Project. The goal is to leverage the bandwidth needs of the communities around world-class universities. Think of it as an ultra-high-speed form of “aggregating demand.” Spearheaded by Blair Levin, chief architect of the FCC’s National Broadband Plan of March 2010, Gig.U. has assembled 37 world-class universities seeking to entice investment by major and new telecom entrants. In May, the consortium announced a $200 million commitment from Ohio-based Gigabit Squared, promising to build infrastructure in six of the 37 communities. The first to be announced was on the south Side of Chicago, in partnership with Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn’s Gigabit Challenge, and the second was announced last week, with the University of Washington and the city of Seattle, Washington.

6. Google Fiber Goes Live.
The original big new entrant to the fiber community was none other than search engine giant Google. Way back in February 2010, in the midst of the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Google announced a competition to build gigabit connectivity. The competition, dubbed by some a “third round” of the federal stimulus, following the two-stage process followed by the U.S. Departments of Commerce and Agriculture, generated 1,100 applications. Ultimately, selected cities were Kansas City, Kansas, and Kansas City, Missouri. The first fibers there went live July 2012. For $70/month, consumers are eager, and companies are chomping to envision the attention and innovation associated with mass-market gigabit connectivity.

7. U.S. IGNITE Catches Fire.
Fiber developments like FiOS, GigabitSquared and Google sometimes prompt the following question: if consumers aren’t making use of 25 megabits per second now, why would anyone need 40 times that speed? The national non-profit U.S. IGNITE aims to provide an answer to that question. Seeded by the National Science Foundation, U.S. IGNITE seeks to build the business case for these highest-bandwidth applications. In an Executive Order issued in June, the White House put its stamp of approval on the program, and said that it would help “create a national network of communities and campuses with ultra-fast, programmable broadband services, operating at speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second. This network will become a test-bed for designing and deploying next-generation applications to support national priorities.”

8. Connect2Compete Gets Real.
While U.S. IGNITE works on promoting broadband on the ultra-high-speed scale, another national non-profit, Connect2Compete, is beginning to hit its stride in promoting what broadband can do for all Americans, including low-income individuals who lack money, computer equipment, and digital skills necessary to tap into what the internet can offer. The basic concept is for foundations like the Instituto Carlos Slim, the Knight Foundation and the Wasserman Foundation to partner with computer and software companies like GoodPC and Microsoft, and with training entities, to connect consumers with broadband providers. Predominantly cable-industry led, the initiative also provides a model for revamping the FCC’s Lifeline/Linkup program of the Universal Service Fund.

9. Exede Excedes Expectations.
To some fanfare at the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2012, ViaSat, which bought satellite broadband provider WildBlue in 2009, unveiled its new service, Exede. With $400 million in a new satellite, plus ground stations and terrestrial fiber networks, the company wants to change the image, and the expectations associated with, satellite broadband. Not to be outdone, HughesNet Gen4 has also upped its increased speeds to 15 Mbps. While it remains to be seen whether rural America will adopt, the new satellite services provide new options for areas without access to fiber, cable or wireless broadband services.

10. The Chicago Broadband Challenge.
On September 24, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel – the first Chief of Staff to President Barack Obama – melded the importance of broadband with his top priority investments. Elected as mayor in February 2011, his broadband challenge invited the public and providers to participate with ideas and insight as to how Chicago can tap into existing broadband infrastructure and potential uses for future expansion of broadband access. In an interview on the program, Chicago Chief Technology Officer John Tolva highlighted the need to drive business broadband with lower prices.

Drew Clark is the Chairman of the Broadband Breakfast Club, the premier Washington forum advancing the conversation around broadband technology and internet policy. You can find him on  and Twitter. He founded BroadbandCensus.com, and he brings experts and practitioners together to advance Better Broadband, Better Lives. He’s doing that now as Executive Director for Broadband Illinois, based in Abraham Lincoln’s Springfield.

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