Re: High-End Telecom
From: Raines Cohen (
Date: Sun, 19 Apr 1998 14:08:45 -0500
On Fri, 17 Apr 1998, Ben Levi wrote:

> I'm thinking about doing a
> high-end telecom solution (e.g. fiber optic, fractional T-1, server) 
>for the community, and possibly the surrounding area.

And on Sat, 18 Apr 1998, Matt Lawrence wrote:

>I'm looking at starting with a burstable T1
>and moving up from there. Also, one of my goals is
>to help provide an environment where various type of entreprenurial
>arrangement can happen easily.

I'm working on telecommunications/infrastructure/internet connectivity as 
a member of Swans Market Cohousing, in Oakland, CA, at which construction 
is just now getting underway, and occupancy is a year away.

When I joined the group last summer, I informally surveyed members and 
found that most had some interest in shared-cost high-speed connectivity. 
For many, the need is not for high-speed connectivity but for any 
connectivity at all, where sharing a feed can provide it for less cost 
than additional phone/fax lines, separate ISP accounts for all 20 member 
households, and the like.

So I made sure that the plans included one simple thing: run Category 5 
Ethernet cable everywhere that phone lines went, which is every 
significant room in each unit, plus the common house. The additional cost 
of materials/labor is pretty minimal - pulling 2 cables is essentially 
identical to pulling 1. And the costs of adding it after the walls are 
built is much higher. The electrical part of the design for our project 
is "Design/Build", which I learned means that the architect basically 
says to a subcontractor, "give us something that meets these 
specifications" and the subcontractor figures out the details - i.e. the 
master plans don't include wiring routing details and the like.

The only other critical piece in the advance planning was making sure 
there wiill be space in the central phone closet for a few pieces of 
equipment, and that that facility will be secure. The rest of the work 
will take place much closer to move-in.

My next step will be to do a formal survey of communications needs for 
the group. In fact, I was just getting ready to post to the list to ask 
about what to ask. Mostly I'll ask what sort of connectivity people use 
now, how many phone and fax lines they have and plan to have, how many 
members of the household work at home, how many kids/teenagers, when they 
typically log on, what sort of things they mostly do (email, web, 
whatever). Also, how much they spend for communications, whether what 
they have is fast enough, how much they want to spend, will they run home 

Based on that information, I hope to create a profile of our aggregate 
communications needs, typical and peak, and use that to request bids for 
connectivity to the building. I have a quote from a preferred local 
vendor (Zocalo networks, for Frame Relay connectivity 
(56K-T1 adjustable) via our local telco (Pacific Bell). I expect new 
technologies such as xDSL and cable modems to become more reliable, 
available and affordable by a year from now, so I'm avoiding any specific 
commitment on that end. We may go with relatively short-term contracts, 
switching connection technologies as new ones emerge.

We'll need some sort of router or ideally a switch to a> connect, b> 
meter/regulate, and c> isolate our connections so that one member (or 
another user) can't "see" anyone else's computer except intentionally. 
Members without computers might be able to get some sort of Network 
Computer that plugs into a TV to take advantage.

Based on projected and actual usage, we'll come up with some assessment 
formula that spreads out the cost but makes sure people who need and use 
the highest speeds and peak capacity pay proportionally.

We'll probably locate a server in house for a community intranet/web 
server, plus fax relay, mail server, and perhaps other services (video 
links? security? we'll see what works and what we need).

At move-in, we'll have to buy or lease or rent the equipment to connect 
the high-speed connection to the units. Some members will need hardware 
(typically $100 max cards) to add Ethernet to their computers. I'll 
provide some initial support and training, but I'll have to make it clear 
that people need to support one another or look outside -- my time will 
not be infinitely available to the group.

Of course we'll have a feed available in the common house, so anyone can 
plug in and work/play there. Perhaps (if people are comfortable with it) 
a webcam, so folks can see if the common house is hopping before choosing 
to wander over. And maybe some shared local wireless connectivity so 
net-dependent folk can connect out on the central patio, in neighboring 
shops, around their units without wires dragging, in neighbors' units, 
and even in the hot tub!

As our project is mixed-use, I'm hoping that some of the other tenants 
(commercial, a children's museum, restaurants, retail, live/work artist, 
and rental housing) will be interested in sharing our connectivity and 
helping drive down the price per unit. In fact, since some of those uses 
are subsidized/non-profit, I'll be looking around for any grants or 
equipment loans/donations to reduce connectivity costs. I'm not 
particularly interested in being in the ISP business myself, so it may be 
a matter of finding an ISP to work with us and pick up the support load.

Our developer had the attitude that restaurants/retail don't need 
connectivity, but I don't think that's so true anymore, especially in the 
tech-heavy Bay Area, where not only do many businesses have web sites, 
but some take orders online. I'm looking ahead to the point where our 
server can automatically generate an order for the organic grocery 
downstairs based on how many people sign up for a common meal, and can 
update the menu based on what's available/fresh/on sale!

In the meantime, at today's meeting we hope to select a domain name for 
the group ... that we can have up and running in a week or so on my 
existing Mac Web/mail server colocated at an ISP, providing a web 
presence and e-mail addresses for all members, plus a listserv for the 
group and committees.

I'm looking forward to this ... I've been helping create Intentional 
Communities in the computer world (User Groups) for the past 19 years, 
and working as a technology journalist for the past nine years, and a web 
publisher for the past four, so I see this as an opportunity to put it 
all together.

Raines Cohen <coho-L [at]>
Member, Swans Market Cohousing - Old Oakland neighborhood, CA
All units reserved; Groundbreaking ceremonies May 27; occupancy April '99

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