February 15th, 2019
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12/31/2003 - Decade of Development Powers Spokane Intelligence

Spokane's designation as one of the seven most intelligent communities in the world, and the only city so named in the United States, is an honor of which we can be justifiably proud. Becoming "Intelligent" certainly didn't happen over night but required more than ten years of development time. Many individuals took part, and many stories could be told about the development of the separate parts that make up an "Intelligent" community. According to the Intelligent Community Forum, to be intelligent a city must have "significant deployment of broadband communications infrastructure. The infrastructure must include businesses, government facilities and residences."

Several key concepts that led to the creation, development, and expansion of Spokane's broadband infrastructure began in the 1980s. The originators of what became the area's widespread dark fiber deployment were Jim Burke, an SCADA engineer, and Dan Stutzke, an electrician, who were then employed by Washington Water Power (WWP) -- later renamed Avista Utilities. The two brainstormed with Ben Dote, later of NOAnet, and Warren Miller, manager of WWP telecommunications. Burke and Stutzke were commissioned by Miller to design and install a simple computer network to provide connectivity for the customer service software that was to run the new computers that replaced the old WWP mainframe/monitor system. This tiny network became the springboard for something much bigger.

As advocates of leading-edge technologies and standards-based design, Burke and Stutzke built a system that provided services between twenty-two sites that encompassed 5 western states, 4 types of computing platforms, and voice/data integration --- seamlessly connecting all of the district offices for the WWP. WWP became the first company on the west coast to incorporate frame-relay as a transport mechanism; the first to incorporate standards-based infrastructure design for CAT-3/5 unshielded cable; and the first to incorporate fiber optics into the building to connect wire closets.

During late-night sessions in the management office of the network, Burke and Stutzke started putting the building blocks together to create the business plan that provided the mechanism to spin off a separate company known as WWP Fiber. As founders of this entity, both saw the simple analogy afforded them between building connectivity and outside plant connectivity. If wire closets could be connected so easily, why not buildings?

The key to the success of this outside distribution system would be to find an entity that owned a large quantity of buildings distributed evenly throughout a community. The obvious choice was the schools. From this idea came the initial meetings between WWP, EWU with Steve Simmons, SCC with Dick Hol, and District 81 with Dennis Schweikardt. A meeting was set up for all of the educational technology administrators of the Spokane/Coeur d'Alene area. Burke presented the concepts that he and Stutzke had put together ---using spreadsheets, GIS maps and economic forecasts. The concept clicked and the EMAN consortium began.

Initial financing came from WWP. One of the linchpins for success of the EMAN was the incorporation of "Gigabit Ethernet" big iron boxes, developed by Bernard Daines at Packet Engines, to provide high-speed data services for large data centers. Needing low-cost transport electronics to offset the high cost of fiber leasing, Burke convinced the design team at Packet Engines to produce a small, affordable gigabit Ethernet device with two "high-speed" ports for WAN connectivity coupled with "low-speed" copper ports for LAN connectivity. This joining of bleeding-edge technology with standards-based infrastructure installation became the key to deployment.

Locally, in addition to the EMAN, all of the hospitals soon joined the explosion of grass-roots broadband, high-speed telecommunications. Spokane Teachers Credit Union jumped on board, as did Dakotah Direct. Even Columbia Paints, a small two building entity in the Spokane Valley saw the value of a community-developed, low-cost system as a means of providing market edge. The system was eventually deployed into 12 northwest communities from Billings, Montana to Bellingham, Washington.

Currently, Burke and Stutzke have formed CSK Communications, Inc., and are currently providing the very same systems for other communities that missed out on the technology boom witnessed in the 1990's. To learn more about CSK Communications, go to: http://www.cskcommunications.com/. Or to: http://www.terabytetriangle.com/index.php/id=5&article_ID=122.

Billie Moreland
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