Steve Cisler remembered

May 22, 2008 § Leave a comment

Steve wrote a report on an openspace I did with Telluride. Typical of his engaging generosity. He was a person full of heart and hard work.


Telluride, Colorado Ideas Festival: Tele-community.July 23-25, 1993

copyright Steve Cisler 1993. Non-profit BBSes, gophers, file servers,
and newsletters may reprint or re-distribute this.

As the summer wind currents buffeted the turboprop, our plane weaved
through the 13,000 foot peaks,  grabbed and held onto the highest
airport in North America long enough for several conference attendees to
exit. We had arrived at one of the handful of small towns in America
that is isolated but whose economy is booming and where urban and
suburban refugees are heading--if they can find a place to live and
something to do. Telluride has had several booms and busts in the period
since gold and silver was discovered and the Ute Indians were displaced
in the 19th century. Telluride's current boom is associated with leisure
activities including tourism, sports, festivals, culture, and continuing
education. Telluride is also a town of innovation.

In 1891, L.L. Nunn installed the first generator In Telluride to move AC
power to a mining operation. By 1894 he had extended the power to the
town of Telluride,making it "the best lighted town in the land." He
expanded his company from Colorado into several western states and then
founded the Telluride Association, an institute of higher learning.
There is a good deal of excitement among the citizens of this small town
to spread  new communications technologies, much as Nunn pioneered the
spread of AC current.

The Apple Library of Tomorrow program has been supporting a number of
community networking efforts in 1993. The Ideas Festival sponsored by
the Telluride Institute marks the birth of the Telluride Infozone (after
a long gestation period), a rural regional network serving a few
thousand people in the high country of the Colorado Rockies.  Besides
being a ski resort, the beautiful setting has attracted a number of
affluent folks who earned their money elsewhere and have built fine
homes in the area around the town of Telluride. The high price of
housing is not new; when Telluride  was a 19th century mining town,
prices were extremely high for everything.  There are numerous events
throughout the year for bike riders, wine drinkers, artists, Indian
writers, mushroom lovers, hikers, hang gliders, filmmakers and
musicians. Recently, there was a "Nothing Festival" where the town took
a week off and hosted no events at all. As you can imagine, there is a
spectrum of  strongly held views on growth and no growth. Some want no
limit on the number of million dollar estates ("trophy homes") on the
mesas and ridges around town; others would like to see more affordable
housing, and some would like to keep the area from adding any new

The main street is lined with T-shirt shops, art galleries, restaurants,
real estate offices, and other signs of growth. Many of the hotels,
guest houses, library, museum, radio station, and newspapers are located
off the main drag. After checking in, my first visit was to the library,
housed in a very attractive 7-year old building but already jammed with
materials including a great selection of periodicals, a large children's
area, a CD-ROM server, several terminals for a CARL library system, and
a public access Macintosh. Their movable shelving has given the
community a little breathing space, but they will need to expand soon.
On Friday afternoon the place was filled with people, a good indication
of the community's need for information and entertainment reading.
However, the Infozone computers had not been set up yet here, partly
because of space, but also because the software for the town BBS had
been lost in transit a couple of weeks before.

The Nerve Center

Most of the Infozone computers had been set up at the Telluride Opera
House, the nerve center for the festival. A large room housed
registration, the Electronic Cafe (more on this later), and a table full
of Macs and some DOS machines connected to phone lines. Unfortunately,
the 56 kb dedicated line to the Colorado SuperNet was installed but not
ready for connecting an Ethernet to the Internet. One of the issues we
will discuss during the festival is how you build and maintain a network
in a small town when much of the technical expertise lives far away. Do
you set up a technology that is liberating when it is working but
crippling when nobody knows how to keep it running, or do you set your
goals to match your expertise at the start of the project?

When we arrived it was evident that the agenda for the conference was
fuzzy and not well defined. This was solved in a radical and somewhat
theatrical (it _was_ in the Opera House) opening session Friday evening
when the Telluride Institute board welcomed the guests. John
("Megatrends") Naisbitt talked about  a book he is finishing(The Global
Paradox: "the more global we become, the more tribal we act"). Cary
Davis the Institute director talked about the other programs for
composers and Indian writers and turned it over to Richard Lowenberg,
whose energy and persistence had pushed Infozone from talk into action.
Richard introduced Doug Carmichael of Meta-systems Design Group. a
pioneering firm in the use of collaborative software (they sell Caucus
computer conferencing systems) located in Washington, D.C. Doug
explained that the hundred or so present were going to set the agenda
through a unique process that seemed to work so well, that I want to
describe it for other groups who are planning community networks. It
really has the spirit of an electronic barn raising because the
participants take control of the whole conference and get it rolling.

Doug asked that each person who cared passionately about some aspect of
Telluride or information issues, or telecommunications policy, or
community networks agree to lead a discussion group or make a
presentation. Each volunteer wrote the idea on paper, announced it to
the group, chose a time slot and pasted it on the wall. After about 30
proposed discussions were posted, some conveners agreed to merge
sessions (I offered to do an intro. on models of community networks and
merged with two people from Taos, NM, who wanted to know how to get
started in their town).  After this lively exercise, Carmichael then
asked people to sign up for the sessions they wanted to attend. Each
session would not only have a reporter, but the results of the session
would be posted immediately in a special electronic conference on The
WELL, so that others who did not attend could follow and comment on
those subjects. Within an hour the whole conference took shape!  The
WELL had been the focal point for the discussion for several weeks; it
allowed outsiders to follow what was happening, and many did so, in part
by the short article in Wired magazine publicizing the conference.

Electronic Cafe

After the planning session Kit Galloway and Sherrie Rabinowitz of Santa
Monica, CA, showed videos and discussed their very successful and very
engaging Electronic Cafe which they had brought to Telluride for the
Ideas Festival. Using regular phones lines and slow scan video devices
(and some higher bandwidth technology) they have staged global events
with artists, kids, communities using (and sometime running) the gear to
communicate with others in France, Nicaragua, Japan, various American
cities, and now Telluride. The Electronic Cafe continued throughout the
festival. At one point a participant was hauling  around the videophone
with a cellular modem,making scans of people on the main street when the
local deputy stopped the technaut for jaywalking, but actually to see
what he was doing with all the gear. The high altitude had tired me, so
I retired early before this session wound down.

This report should be supplemented by the proceedings which are posted
on the Well gopher. I could not cover all of the concurrent tracks
which included electronic publishing, international issues, access to
government information, developing a telecommunications resource center,
running a global business from a remote location, privacy-anonymity and
information rich - poor issues. These are continuing on the Telluride
conference on the WELL. July 24

Saturday morning sessions: Regional attendees accounted for half, while
the others came for other parts of Colorado and towns like Blacksburg,
Virginia (they are starting a city system), Taos, NM, Ketchum, Idaho,
Boston, Denton, Texas; Park City, Utah; Scottsdale, AZ; Rapid City, SD;
Truckee, CA; Santa Fe, NM, New York City, and several journalists from
Great Britain. About 30 participants debated the values of the current
Internet and what should be done to protect them. Who was going to do
it? How should that be done? For better or for worse the Internet is
making a transition from a small academic network to a different beast.
Ken Klingenstein of U. of Colorado said that  the Federal Networking
advisory Council did not know how to preserve the public  values, some
of which were mentioned by individuals:

-no barriers to the creation and dissemination of knowledge on the

-the selflessness of information sharing

-there is no way for things to stay secret internationally when people
use networks.

-User-driven networks are a value in themselves because they were not
created by business or government.

-lots of copyrighted information freely available (!!)

In telephony there is cheap access, but what about guaranteed access in
the digital world? Are there other ways of charging than by capacity or
by use? 70% of the files are not compressed. when moved across the
network, but there is no common compression scheme for text. The
Internet is growing because of the invisibility of the  cost. Long
discussion of pricing, and the need for change.

Internet users with invisible cost vs. phone companies with the
producer/consumer model is inept. of discussion.  It was mentioned how
costly billing is, but it does create a new market.

Some users thought we were concentrating too much on technology. "Don't
believe that the whole focus will be democracy by computer networks."
"If the values of the Internet are not the values of society, there is
no way to preserve them." --

Besides the breakout sessions, there were plenary panels; the first was
on Economic Policy

Bill Washburn, Commercial Internet Exchange Now with 18 commercial
providers including Hong Kong SuperNet.

Debbie Thomas US West public policy about issues management. How do you
provide rural service when you are competing in urban areas?  US West
says it will divest itself of the small rural services after doing
equipment upgrades. It was evident they consider the rural markets a
drag and would rather be putting their resources into more active and
lucrative markets such as entertainment, broadband services, and Eastern

Jeff Richardson, Colorado Advanced Technology  Institute We have spent
no time thinking about how technology could be used. Legislature wanted
the to think about what rural Colorado could do.  They are funding
telecomm experiments in several small towns including Telluride.

Lewis Branscomb, Kennedy School for Government,  Harvard University (and
summer resident in Telluride)Direct science/technology info. project.
and the recent Public Access to the Internet conference

Richard Civille, Center for Civic Networking, Washington, DC

Long discussion of how we provide  range of services to the under served
when the telephone company's main business is being skimmed off by other
companies that are grabbing niche markets.

Richardson said there should be a report pulled together to show all the
existing projects in the state. Many states have a statewide telecomm
strategy plan, but Colorado does not. The net output of a culture can be
no greater than the total of the individual input from average people.
That's why we need a statewide visioning thing. the discussion should go
beyond the public utilities commissions (PUCs), but not exclude them.

Will ISDN serve as a bridge to broadband services? A rural New Mexican
could not get much movement from US West on this. It sounded as though
many thought the time was past for ISDN. Very little interest in this.

Civille explained what he called "progressive federalism"--good policies
that emerge from the local level. Toxic wastes in Philadelphia
neighborhoods aroused curiosity.  Law was passed and copied in CA and
NY. After Bhopal explosion, the US legislators modeled their bills on
these statutes and made it a national law.

Communities developing initiatives for using telecomms can use this
method too.

Universal service fund for all providers and then give the money to
customers for other services like cellular or whatever they would want
to spend it on. The idea of telecomm/communications stamps was raised

John Lifton of the Telluride Institute: role of small communities may be
underplayed in this discussion. Home rule cities are very powerful (they
have franchised cable).

Breakout session: cultural preservation

After lunch Randy Ross (American Indian Telecommunications); Dave Hughes
(Old Colorado Communications), and I hosted a demo and discussion on
cultural preservation issues and networking. Hughes talked about how he
approaches a culture on its own terms and helps people use the
technology to communicate in a method that is most effective for that
group. He stresses the use of graphics and local languages using NAPLPS
protocol-based drawing and telecomms programs that run well over slow
modem connections. He demoed some art from his own commercial program,
Troika, and talked about projects with various Indian tribes and
Hispanic groups in S. Colorado. His DOS program will be introduced at
the ONEBBSCON in Colorado Springs in August, 1993.

Randy Ross discussed some of the issues for Indians: how to network them
together for intertribal cooperation and info-sharing, about the needs
of individual tribes such as the Sioux whose interests and cultural
values can be very different from other tribes, and finally about the
online relation between the dominant white culture and the Indians whose
historical and present political relations have been marked by long
periods of conflict without any resolution. Others in the audience were
interested in how you ensure that each group in a community is
represented online. Hughes said he had not seen much evidence of
different cultures carving out places in the network communities yet. I
said I hoped the tools would make it easier for people to participate
and begin to transfer their cultural heritage to digital formats.

I showed work Apple was doing with Russians (Navigable QuickTime movies
of the Pavlovsk Palace in St. Petersburg) with Mayan native healers and
herbal plant experts (Mayan Multimedia Memory of Medicine); and with
Hawaiian language immersion programs for school children (MauiLink, a
Bulletin Board System), where they can exchange information messages
using accurate fonts not only for transmission but also for printing.

Saturday Afternoon panel: social and cultural issues Richard Lowenberg
had an interesting technique. Minutes before the panel began, he would
tap you on the shoulder and ask you to participate. No time to prepare,
and no time to say no...

This was a wide-ranging open session where each speaker could talk
about important social issues. It was dominated by us on the stage, but
some in the audience got the mike and had good things to add to the
initial comments.

Dave Hughes recounted his long history of being online on The Source,
his own BBSes, and some of his present projects.

Howard Rheingold, author of various books on technology,the latest being
the forthcoming _Virtual Communities_

Writing is a life sentence to being alone in a room, according to
Rheingold. Although he has a family, his long days alone led him online.
(He came on The WELL a couple of months after I joined in 1985). He
described how much the virtual community the the San Francisco system
meant to him in terms of mind-to-mind and face to face contact.

I commented that my work environment afforded me more access to people,
to information and information technology than anyone outside of some
intelligence agencies, but after a trip to Costa Rica, where millions of
people leading rich, rewarding lives without electronic mail and had
lively public spaces where they could interact, I thought that the
systems we were building should be used to support the face to face
relationships and not to supplant them, even though that was happening
to some network addicts who do not know their own neighbors but do know
hundreds of online personalities everywhere in the wired world.

Anne Branscomb She has been online  longer than Dave Hughes. After
divestiture: ....information infrastructure.   Civilizations develop
social norms and then they become law. She could not find a publisher
for a book on telecommunities in 1983. Branscomb has been so far out in
front on some issues, that when the others arrived she had headed out
even further. I'll have to look for her works and begin to catch up!
<In 1975 she wrote: "The First Amendment as ashield or sword:
an integrated look at regulaton of multi-media ownership" Sounds
like it's appropriate to 1995! In 1986: "Toward a law of global
communications networks">

Randy Ross: He recommended the  OMNI Ancient cultures meet new
technologies. 8/93. He discuss  some barriers of trust between tribes
and the dominant cultures.

Gene Youngblood, Moving Image Arts College of Santa Fe, NM:  problems
can be radical in nature but others are not and don't need drastic
solutions.He is writing a book about the creators of the Electronic Cafe
whose goal is "We must create on the same scale that we destroy."  What
are the alternative models to broadcast.  Broadcast is the most
destructive force in the world today.  We have to re-socialize ourselves
to a new world. Utopian Television is his other book.

Power comes from people who control who can say or communicate what to
whom, for how long, and that's why you have different access rules on
online systems. Non-autonomous communities have no political power, but
our online conversations may bring forth a reality that conflicts with
the existing power.

Rheingold: unmediated conversations was tied to people's ability to
govern themselves (democracy). This technology is giving us back some of
the power from the mediators. The WELL and Old Colo Comms are examples
of how to set up your electronic community. He suggests discussing these
issues before making rules. You can't adopt someone else's charter, so
encourage people to participate in these discussions so that many can
shape the debate.

Randy Ross; there is a difference in languages and their thought
processes. He has been to meetings where some are so silent and others
are quite used to sounding off. Jim May says that tribes have to write
more about themselves.  He and George Baldwin are looking for Indian
lawyers who are interested in telecomms laws to help the tribes get a
better hold on their technological future.

Rheingold:Telluride should have an area for a place only for people who
have a stake in the community,but there should also be a door for you to
go into the 3500 news groups and the outside world of information.

Doug Carmichael  has set up family conferences  to keep up with
geographically separated family members. He is excited about this and
the use of chaos theory in dealing with hyperactive kids.

Kit Galloway: we are starting something over, and perhaps  we have a
chance to avoid mistakes. We should not be just people only as beautiful
as we can type. Let's push sound, music, images, and video and not be
just text based.

Sunday breakout: Intro. to community networks

I presented the live version of my paper "Community Networks: Building
Electronic Greenbelts" (on in the /ftp/alug/communet
directory) and several people from Taos, New Mexico, talked about the
need for an online service that would benefit the Indians,  the
Hispanics, and the others in the small town. The metaphor used in the
Chile national system, La Plaza, appealed to them.

Information Rich and Poor: I could not attend this session, but it is
worth following the discussion in the Proceedings. Some pushed for
Minitel-like devices (and a subsidy to permit people to purchase them)
and others wanted more public access systems similar to  Community
Memory in Berkeley. Telluride InfoZone will have public access machines
in the library and other places in town (and perhaps other towns nearby,
where some of the service workers can find less expensive housing).

Sunday: K12 Education. Ken Klingenstein plays a role in national, state,
and local networking circles. He described the work that the Boulder
Valley School District and working with Internet training for teachers
and kids. His group has worked on filters for Usenet for the students,
and Pacific Bell will also be developing a gopher with different views
for younger students, older ones,and the teacher. Others saw the BBS
interface as a way of screening the huge amount of information for K12

Sunday last session with people from the region (carried on public
access cable)

Pragmatic realities of the here and now: cost, what it means, how will
it benefit us? Richard Lowenberg: link Infozone with the existing
communications means in town: the newspapers, cable channel, phone
company, cellular service, and face-to-face meetings.

Dan Mangelsdorf  supt. of schools: plans to implement voice mail before
using extensive data communications

Finding time for delving into the Internet information is a big problem.
With new schools they want to distribute the info to the classroom, not
just the media center. Later, it will go to the homes.  But money comes
slowly, yet each school could do the red penciling. Less emphasis on
text books (high cost, out of date) and more on electronic media around
instructional curricula.

Donna Clark, city librarian

4 years ago they were filing catalog cards by hand, and in 1990 the vote
for new funds got the highest votes in the state.  They have Magazine
Index licensed. Uncover will fax you articles within a couple of
minutes, and her interlibrary loan stats have skyrocketed in the past
couple of years.

Madeline Gonzales-Telluride Infozone

On leave from Bell Labs: No funding to pay her to stay here. She is
disgruntled and sad that she will have to leave before seeing how it
would affect the community. The router to Colorado SuperNet is installed
at the  elementary school.

Peter Hale cablevision

cable to distribute broadband cable for a community ethernet system.
1980-81. He said the present owners realize they are too small to
compete with the megacompanies like TCI, so the cable system is up for
sale. Upgrading the system will be costly.

Bonnie Peterson US West?

The audience asked, "Why isn't it exciting that the growth is
happening?"  She replied that "Growth is happening in residential areas
and some are far from the main trunk,so US West would rather invest in
more crowded areas."  US West is looking at the new models of business.
They'd like a level playing field. Customers are paying averaged rates
across the state but others are skimming cream from high margin
customers. (what about ISDN, ADSL, ? She does not know)People have big
city needs for voice, data, and fax but many of these systems cannot
handle it.

Randy Balir:Liberty Cellular Phone (a self-styled cream skimmer) serves
Durango, Cortez, Telluride and neighboring counties. Growing pains and
uneven coverage, but they want to do this in an area with 14,000 foot
peaks. Re: Infozone--a very small but important player. Perhaps hook up
rural workshops so they can talk to colleagues via the Internet. Someone
complained that they could not use their number when traveling from
Telluride to Boston; this involves negotiating cross billing between
companies, one in an urban area with little interest in the small amount
of business that would come from western Colorado.Again, the problems of
rural markets and services was evident.

Q&A: What about local content? We have not heard from the local
information resources? Librarian: oral history is on a database (this
could be online too) However, this is just beginning and have only
scratched the surface.  Telluride is not going to be as intimate, but
Infozone is ideally going to underpin the existing face-to-face and
local communications.

Most of those present were from Telluride or the surrounding area.

 The cellular service might have to go to digital and that would mean
new equipment for the user and vendor.  This community is placing a big
demand on the comms infrastructure.

Lewis Branscomb (who helped arrange for the donation of an IBM
workstation to the InfoZone) to Richard: don't drop the ball; put this
in place and get feedback from the citizens about what they want. An
outside entrepreneur pressed Lowenberg for details on pricing and
services and goals.

John Lifton discussed the Skyfield project, a few miles from Telluride:
planned telecommunity. Lifton will have deed restricted affordable
housing and wide bandwidth for electronic businesses. There is a huge
around of work that needs to be done immediately, but can this be done
with an R&D test bed approach.  This is a gorgeous area, and several
visitors were dreaming about how they could establish their businesses
in Telluride or Skyfield (where no construction has taken place).

Personal observations:

It's time for the local residents to form an InfoZone advisory group
that includes people from government, library, education, arts, city
merchants, real estate interests, environmentalists, and citizens with
no  strong ties to these other groups.  The process that began last
weekend was unique. No other small town (and few large ones) would have
attracted such an eclectic bunch of experienced outsiders. Everyone's
expectations are raised after an electronic barnraising, but when
everyone leaves town or goes back to work, who is left to fulfill the

These discussions have primed the pump, but the Telluride region and the
Institute are faced with many grand challenges: how fund even the
research, not to mention the working day-to-day communications system.
Fees, subscriptions, advertisements and taxes  support the existing
media. What combination will be used to pay for and build InfoZone?

They will be starting off with an easy-to-use electronic bulletin board
with a simple graphic interface. This can be the focus of the online
discussion (rather than the WELL only), and the training sessions for
new users will be important for getting feedback as well as bringing
more townspeople online. Their local Macintosh group has  about 10% of
Telluride on their mailing list; these people can help train others.
Working with the cable channel and the newspaper sounds promising (there
was good coverage in both), but the long-range goals of US West may not
benefit the small town or the average user in Telluride. I consider this
significant and troubling. Perhaps bypass technology (a combination of
spread spectrum packet radio and satellite) may help Telluride  in the
next few years.

The InfoZone should be as open as possible to different users and
information providers. The roles of provider and user/consumer should
blend. Local content will be the key to local interest and local value.
The onramp to the Internet will attract a certain segment, but many
people will place a higher value on staying closer to home.

There are many lessons that other small towns will learn from the folks
in Telluride (and Blacksburg, VA and other similar projects), and
because they will be online soon, it will be much easier to drop in and
see how this innovative project is progressing.

Steve Cisler Apple Library of Tomorrow July 27, 1993

Telluride Insitute, 283 S. Fir Street, Telluride, CO 81435
Voice: 303 728 4402


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