The following is a rough transcript which has not been revised by The Jim Rutt Show or by Clayton Banks. Please check with us before using any quotations from this transcript. Thank you.
Jim: Our guest today is Clayton Banks, CEO of Silicon Harlem. Prior to starting Silicon Harlem, Clayton had an extensive career in media and technology at companies like Sega Channel, an early online gaming service, and Comedy Central, where he was part of the launch team for South Park, and The Jon Stewart Show.
Jim: He’s the founder of Ember Media, a media production company which produced content for, among others, Discovery Network, HBO, Bloomberg TV and Showtime Networks. And he’s got a really interesting Twitter feed at @embertime. Today, as he says on his Twitter feed, he is focusing using technology for good. Welcome, Clayton.
Clayton: Well, thank you very much for having me on this unbelievable podcast, and particularly, an honor to have this conversation with you, Jim Rutt. A lot of us have learned a lot from what you’ve shared over the years, and I thank you for being so accessible. I appreciate it, looking forward to this conversation.
Jim: Well, thank you. Yeah, and I look forward to this conversation, too. Just to give a little background, I met Clayton, I don’t know, a couple, a few months ago on a multi-person Zoom call, where we were talking about this and that. And we discovered that we were both interested in the digital divide, and fixing it in underserved areas.
Jim: Most of my motivation’s about Appalachia, where I live. And Clayton brought another perspective, about the digital divide in urban areas. So let’s start with that. We’ll talk about other things too, but why is bridging the digital divide so important?
Clayton: Well, it’s interesting that you framed it that way. There’s so much more in common between what’s happening in the Appalachian community, as there is in inner cities and urban markets. What we have found, and I’ve been talking about this for probably a long time, I don’t even want to give up how long this has been, but being in the tech space and in telecommunications for my whole career, I recognize the vital nature of broadband since the ’90s.
Clayton: I’ve been preaching this for some time now, and people sort of nod their head, “Sounds interesting, okay, whatever,” but when the pandemic came along, people were calling me. “Clayton, what were you talking about again? Well, what do you mean, we need …” So it has definitely become quite well known that having access to the Internet.
Clayton: We now cannot hardly get into a hospital. Hospitals are not letting you in, unless it’s very, very grave in your own situation, so now you’re having to use your Internet to get in contact with a health professional, or your doctor.
Clayton: We have seen, all through the news, how many schools have had to close, and open, and close, and open. We’re also seeing the difference between essential workers, and people that are called nonessential, who can come to the office, who cannot. We all going through the transition that I call the next normal. Not a new normal, it’s the next normal.
Clayton: Human beings are basically having, across the world, change habits, change a lot of things, in order to accommodate and essentially adjust to the next normal. That’s why this is such a vital conversation. The Appalachians, the urban markets, and everywhere else, in Indigenous areas, tribal lands, all of these locations are falling behind, because the infrastructure for broadband is so critical.
Clayton: I’ve been writing quite a bit to broadband officials around the government, and saying, “We’ve got to really start prioritizing this as an essential part of infrastructure.” I don’t want to keep going on and on, because I can, but I will say that it’s clearly a big issue, for all families throughout this country, in order to move forward, given this pandemic, and given just the way the world is transforming into a digital world.
Jim: Yup, absolutely, and while the pandemic, COVID-19, highly accented, and made these trends much worse, particularly around work and school, truthfully, it was sort of a slow death, or, at least, degradation of areas that didn’t have broadband before that. Trying to get good quality businesses to come to an area that doesn’t have broadband’s almost impossible these days.
Jim: In an area where like ours, where we don’t have too many big businesses, except in the few little pockets, where we do have high speed Internet, it’s difficult to get remote workers to come move here. It’s a beautiful area, with a relatively low cost of living, clean air, lots of outdoor recreational opportunities, a great place for someone who could make a living online.
Jim: But if people don’t have the Internet, they’re not going to come, right? And I’m sure the same is absolutely true in underserved urban areas.
Clayton: Well, I couldn’t agree more with you. And this is what’s most interesting about what you’re saying. What I’ve tried to articulate is that, if you’re leaving certain people behind, whatever they are, where they are, we’re actually hurting the entire country. This is not a zero-sum game, when we do the right thing for all of us, and certainly, for the least of us.
Clayton: That’s one of the things that I think we have to really embrace, is that one more person that hasn’t been online, that gets online, helps all of us. That person may know how to solve cancer. The only reason why they’re not able to do it is they’re not giving them the tools that they need. When you start talking about work, and school, and you can add health, and everything like this, we need three certain things to accommodate.
Clayton: So we’re talking about the Internet. That’s one leg of the stool, of the three-legged stool. You want to have Internet, robust for everyone. That has to happen. The second is, you have to look at the devices that people are accessing. In other words, computers, generally good computers, that you might learn how to code on, are expensive. So there’s quite a gap there, a divide there. And then the third thing is, you have to be able to provide an infrastructure of digital literacy, from preschoolers to senior citizens.
Clayton: Everyone needs a little bit of digital literacy, and everyone ought, who may be listening to this podcast, I would challenge you with just one simple question, to test your digital literacy. Jim Rutt knows, but I wonder if everyone listening to this knows this information. What is your speed, up and down, when you subscribe to an Internet connection? I’d love to know if you know that information, because what I have found is, 70-80% of people don’t even know what their speed is, but yet, they’re paying for it.
Clayton: We’ve got to start bringing up our digital literacy, in general. You can’t just be happy about Facebook and Twitter and social media. You want to utilize these tools to get a certification, so you can have a job. You want to use these skills, so that you can create a business online. And to your point about that, Jim Rutt, is that what we’ve found during the pandemic, in New York, and particularly over Manhattan, and Harlem areas, 40% to 50% of our small businesses have gone away, and some of them, maybe forever.
Clayton: That means that we haven’t created an infrastructure, that these small businesses can’t survive. And any community, to your point about attracting folks into the Appalachians, any community that lacks business is basically going to fold. So we have to address this issue through, not only the lens of the Internet, but also, through digital literacy, making sure we have ways for people to get appropriate tools, and devices, and unleash the innovation and ideas and creativity that lies within the Appalachians, within Harlem, and within all of these areas, like tribal lands, that have been ignored.
Clayton: I’ll end with this piece, which is, again, not only is it not a zero-sum game, but actually, there’s an economic impact when we provide everybody the Internet, and everyone’s getting it, in a way that’s going to move their lives forward. So we actually start reducing crime, reducing these health disparities, reducing the wealth disparities, all these different things that have been plaguing our country, that creates more divides, will be addressed, by just simply doing these three things, and looking at a country that now comes together, and will forward, and continues to lead the world.
Jim: Very well said. I love that. You have a great way of framing that. What’s interesting, we look back in time, we used to be better, as a society, to make sure that everybody had an equal footing on the key technology of their time.
Jim: For instance, I’m currently reading, Abe: Abraham Lincoln and His Times, by David Reynolds, a very excellent book, which I’d recommend, by the way, and in those times, it was roads. I mean, Abe grew up in a isolated area in Kentucky, and then moved to Indiana, then Illinois. For much of his youth, there weren’t any roads that got to these communities, and it was basically horseback, or in his case, because he was from a very poor family, foot, to get around through trails in the woods.
Jim: But there was a commitment to build roads everywhere. There was a social commitment, that everybody would eventually have access to roads, and they did, during his lifetime. And then, the Post Office, and a lot of this was driven by Ben Franklin. From the very beginning, the Post Office subsidized newspapers and books.
Jim: If you read stories of the Old West, you’ll read stories of some cowpoke living in Abilene, Kansas, I think that is? Yeah, getting his newspaper from his hometown in Boston, because they had this special subsidized rate, because our society believed that it was important that the technology of those days, newspapers and books, to get to the whole country, on a subsidized basis. The Post Office certainly lost money on moving newspapers from Boston to Abilene for two cents, or whatever it was, but we decided it was part of, essentially, our social fabric.
Jim: We did the same in telephones. We got a big push, from 1930s to 1960s, with federal programs to push telephone out everywhere. In fact, the farm, where I live, didn’t get electricity or telephone until 1962. And it was part of a federal program for rural electrification and telephone. But I don’t see that social commitment today. It really bothers me that people aren’t bothered by the digital divide.
Clayton: Well, I think the pandemic will start to straighten some out of that. I totally agree with what you’re saying. Even within those wonderful years of being more, let’s say, paying attention to humanity. But what you’ve said is also quite clear, which is, we always progress. There’s always progress, going from walking, to riding a horse. Going from riding a horse, to driving a car. From driving a car, in the future, we’ll have autonomous vehicles. So there’s always this push for the next thing.
Clayton: The question that comes is, is it being developed for everyone? And is everyone helping to develop? I think we got to get to the root of some of that. Which is sort of the buzzword these days is, “inclusive,” and all that kind of stuff, and people can use words that they might be comfortable with. But for me, it’s all still about action. What are we doing to ensure … If you look at the Appalachian world, and the Harlems of the world, there is a tremendous opportunity here, to get back to that, “Let’s love our neighbor” type of thinking.
Clayton: The great opportunity we have is this next normal. And why I say that is, we have to think about how that impacts technology. So if you start thinking about the future, we can provide a whole new infrastructure that will help leapfrog these areas that have been mitigated in the past. Because the country has always had that one simple theme, from my estimation, from everything I read, and maybe that’s instilled in me, because my father was a military man, and all of that. But what we’ve always believed in, as Americans, is how do we increase our quality of life?
Clayton: That really is at the bottom line of why we left and started this country up the way we did, is to make a better life for our people, for our families, for our children, et cetera, et cetera. So when you think at it, from that perspective, this is the opportunity. Where the pandemic has unleashed a lot of innovation, we’re already seeing it now. But we’re also now ready to embrace the future, where it becomes much more what I call autonomous and virtual. So where you are will not be a deficit. It will not matter anymore where you are, even if you’re on the Moon.
Clayton: The point is, is that we now need to prepare for that future, and that might be later in this conversation, when we get there. But what you’re saying, in terms of the progress, what it used to be back in the day, and where we are now, and how we used to always go, from one step to the next, and get out of the situation you might be in, and everyone’s rooting for you to get to a better place.
Clayton: We don’t root for each other as much as we used to, because, now that everything’s exposed, everything … I used to be the smartest person in my household. Voracious reader of newspapers, everything else, and now I come home, and I’ll say, “Oh, So-and-so passed away.” “Oh, Dad, I knew that 10-20 minutes ago.”
Clayton: Everybody has access to everything now, which is a good thing, in a lot of ways, but how do we harness that into the vision that you and I share? Which is that you should not be defined by where you live. You should really be defined by what you’re able to contribute.
Clayton: When we do that, and give everyone that capability through the tools, the technology, the framing of that, it’s great. And 2021, let’s just look to 2021, Jim Rutt, and I’ll tell you what that means.
Clayton: 2021, I have a theme for 2021, a typical American theme, which is, I think it’s the year of empathy and capitalism. How about that juxtaposition? So, empathy and capitalism, and the reason why I put it that way, capitalism, on its own, is power over people. But when you add empathy, it’s power to help people.
Clayton: It’s going to be an interesting way for us to get to that point, that you articulated around, how we cared about stuff. And we will.
Jim: Yeah, though we probably disagree about this a little. I think capitalism needs some serious fixes. On its own, the interloop of money on money return, if unconstrained by our democratic framework, will crush an awful lot of people who are not the winners in the game of money on money. And I look forward, it won’t happen in 2021, but to a society in the future, where every person, irrespective of their social, economic or physical endowment, is able to live a life of dignity, and to contribute to the limits of their ability, irrespective of where they started.
Clayton: Well, capitalism is a tricky thing, and I don’t want to go too deep in it. But I will say this, that capitalism without empathy is just what you describe. But when you put empathy into it, I think there’s a way to move all communities forward, because it does take an economic engine to keep your community robust, and attractive, and all that kind of stuff, and that’s been driven somewhat by capitalism.
Clayton: But I don’t want to look at it from a, “Oh, I want everything, and nobody else gets anything.” I just read a really cool article today, that there was a competition, or some sort of tracking, of teachers around the world. And when they decide who’s the number one teacher of all the world, gets a million dollars.
Clayton: The guy who won the money said, “I’m going to give every single one of the people that applied, that came into the total,” which was, 10 people who were considered to be the top, he decided to share the entire million dollars with all the rest of the nine people. The point is, there’s ways to get at this, and we can have a debate on it at another time.
Clayton: But for those people, there’s been people in history that have done incredible things, that we don’t always know about, and didn’t always have the opportunity to create the wealth, that others were able to create. I’ll talk about that in a little while. But empathy being, I think, a theme for 2021 can impact not just capitalism, but also, when someone’s trying to invite something, or there’s innovation or a startup, if you add empathy to what you’re doing, you’ll be much more successful, moving forward.
Jim: Makes a lot of sense to me. We’ll get back to the digital divide, and in particular, I want to dig into something, to the three parts that you talked about, which were basically connectivity itself, devices, and digital literacy.
Jim: But before we do that, maybe you could tell us a little bit about your organization. Tell us a little bit about Silicon Harlem, and what you guys do there.
Clayton: Well, we are very much focused on, like you said, moving communities forward. And what we identified, about six, seven years ago, we were seeing a lot of development going on in New York City and other big urban markets. Obviously, all this is pre-pandemic, and there was, obviously, a big wave of technology happening, starting out at San Francisco, and moving across the country, where there are so many of these locations that were focused on building a tent hub in their cities. What we found, New York was jumping on that, too, but it was all happening downtown, and other areas that did not include Harlem.
Clayton: As a guy who’s been in technology for a long time, I used to have to always go downtown, whether it was a meetup, or some sort of conference or talk. I was just, “Wow, why can’t we do some of this uptown in Harlem?” I’m sure you think about that, too, “Why can’t we do that in the Appalachians?” I told a good friend of mine, and I had the same vision, so we came together and we said, “What if we do a meetup in upper Manhattan? Would it be like if we …”
Clayton: There was never a meetup in Harlem. So let’s do a tech meetup, and we were hoping, like a typical meetup, that maybe 25 people would come out, that would be a big success. When we did that meetup, Jim Rutt, 500 people came out.
Jim: Holy shit, that’s amazing.
Clayton: It was a breakthrough. It was, “Oh, my God, we got to do this. We really have to do this.” It was pent up, real energy around all this, and of course, when you galvanize a community like that, we weren’t even incorporated at that point. We were just, “Yeah, let’s just do a meetup.”
Clayton: We found all of these people that were just completely looking for something, where they could connect with other … That’s when I figured out I wasn’t the only geek uptown. It was, “Let’s find some other tech geeks,” and the next thing you know, we were doing these meetups every month, and it would grow every single time, and we were, “Whoa, we’d better make this into a real movement.”
Clayton: Of course, then, the electives come around. When they see you starting to galvanize people, the electives started coming around. We were very proud to have our Congressperson join us, the legendary Rangel, as well as the Mayor, and the city. Everybody was coming around, because they didn’t realize that there was an interest in technology in upper Manhattan.
Clayton: We certainly have been known for our entertainment and good, and great times in Harlem, music, et cetera, but now, we’ve been able to [inaudible 00:20:28] technology. Silicon Harlem got put together because we wanted to harness all of that, and look it as a whole, to say, “What if we were able to do a few things?” So Silicon Harlem became a company that focused on research. We wanted to look at advanced research.
Clayton: A lot of people don’t realize, there’s 14 colleges in Harlem, hello, and two of them, arguably Ivy League, is Columbia University, and BARDA. So you’re looking at incredible pipeline in upper Manhattan. That’s one.
Clayton: Two, our advanced research really focuses on what’s coming next, so we humped up, and we were talking about [inaudible 00:21:06] years ago. You hear it now commercialized. So we put up a test bed in Harlem in 2018, working on it since 2017, and it’s accessible to the community.
Clayton: The other thing we decided, of course, was to provide broadband. We saw the lack of broadband in Harlem, there’s 40% of the people that don’t have broadband in their household. 40% of people don’t have broadband in their household. It’s not because the infrastructure is not there. The point is that it’s too expensive.
Clayton: The average bill in Harlem and in New York City is $150 a month, because of course, they do that double up, and all this other stuff. So it’s very difficult to sustain that, even if you’ve got a middle-class salary. 40% of people uptown, which are essentially lower income, but yet, essential workers, can’t afford it.
Clayton: We wanted to have bridged that gap, and the third thing was, as I mentioned earlier, was we wanted to make sure that we had a comprehensive education approach to the community. We saw a lot of senior citizens falling behind. Some of them had never even been on the Internet, or sent an e-mail.
Clayton: We started to address that issue, young people not having the infrastructure in the home, having to go to libraries, and everything else, so we were able to open up our office and create curriculum, everything from augmented reality and virtual reality, to drone technology, et cetera. We are very comprehensive in approach in the community, and the last thing that I’ll say is, we worked very hard to help startups that are particularly tech-oriented.
Clayton: We also attract, to your point, we attract companies into Harlem, so in 2016, we were able to attract our very first billion dollar company into Harlem, which was WeWork. So WeWork had 30 or 40 locations in New York City, not a single one in Upper Manhattan. I got a chance to meet with the guys who founded WeWork, and we hit it off. Next thing I know, we were able to get them to open a space in Harlem. All of this has come together to create the tech hub, which we’re now accelerating on, looking at that future, looking at how we can provide, or at least leapfrog into the future, so that we no longer trail behind again.
Jim: I love it. That’s what we need in every place, a maniac, a catalyst, who makes it happen. So congratulations on jumping in there. Now, on your website, you talk about the fact that you’ve built partnerships with community organizations, corporations, academic institutions and governments, electoral folk, as you call them.
Jim: You strike me, based on your personality here, as a relentless networker, somebody who just gets out there and spreads the story. Maybe you could talk a little bit about how you develop these partnerships, because that’s something that a lot of people aren’t necessarily all that good at, and maybe they can learn from you.
Clayton: Well, that’s a great, great point you’re making, and it’s one that I love sharing with everyone. Because, at the end of the day, everyone ought to do this in their community, which is what I call our five spokes in the wheel. You are who listening, who wants to lead their community or their city, you ought to sit in the middle of these five spokes.
Clayton: To your point, we’ve set out to really create a great relationship with high schools, universities in our community. So we wanted the academics at the table with us. Because we knew that would lead to great ideas, great innovation, and a sustainable way to continue our legacy. So academics became very important.
Clayton: As I mentioned the electives, the reason why we wanted them at the table was because it’s really important to not only look at this, just from my perspective, but look at it from a policy perspective. How can we, let’s put together policies that are going to support what we’re all saying here, how it should be much more distributed, and much more fair, and much more affordable? All of the things of infrastructure are critical to all of this.
Clayton: The third thing is, believe or not, some people may not get this right away, but we wanted the private sector at the table. So you went from the academics, the electives, we wanted the private companies here, the Microsofts, the Googles, the Amazons, whoever, because they have a stake in all of this. They want people to connect with them online, so they have a stake in our broadband initiatives.
Clayton: They want to be able to serve everyone, so again, this is a great reason why, and they need a workforce. We got a pipeline that can, they can come to us and say, “We want Microsoft,” and come and say, “Hey, if you can get people certified here, we will open up jobs there.” So there’s a great way for that to happen.
Clayton: The other, the fourth one, so you went to the academics, you have the electives, you have the private sector … The other one is your stakeholders in your community. These are the YMCAs, the Boys & Girls Clubs, the churches, all these institutions that are touching the community every single day. They have the real pulse of the people. We thought they ought to be at the table, our stakeholders that make up our libraries, et cetera, that make up a community.
Clayton: Then the last one, if you will, is the people themselves. That’s a matter of galvanizing your community. There’s always large voices and small voices that need to be at the table, differently abled people, people from all different backgrounds. We think it’s important to represent, as much as possible, the people’s voice.
Clayton: So that makes up our ecosystem, and what Silicon Harlem does is, we sit in the middle of those five spokes, and we do all the interpretation. Electives don’t always know how to speak to the private sector, tech companies, particularly. Stakeholders don’t always speak with the academics, so we do all of that interpretation, so that we create this hub of communication, and it turns into real action.
Clayton: Like I mentioned, putting up a 5G test bed in our community allowed us to touch every single one of those components. We needed the academics, because we’ve been doing a lot of research. We had the electives, to give us the access to the city assets. Private sector is supporting it through resources. Stakeholders are helping to provide the information to the community, and galvanizing the people, particularly those with kids in the home, to say, “Hey, listen, you can participate on this project.”
Clayton: That’s just an example. But those are the five things that I recommend to everyone to listening to this podcast, so write it down. Academics, electives, private industry, stakeholders, and galvanizing your community. You do those things, and you have a sustainable model.
Jim: Oh, I like it. Seems like that would be a way to do it. How do you galvanize the people? That sometimes is the hardest thing to do. Everybody is so busy these days, and we’re all bombarded by the bazillion messages, most of them bullshit and spam. How do you get to the people?
Clayton: Today it’s, I think, easier than ever, to be honest with you, because now it’s virtual. If they have the infrastructure, and you can set up a Zoom call, I’ve found people are much more accessible than when I had to have them travel in, or drive somewhere, like you said. Some of these neighborhoods, people can live a mile away from you.
Clayton: We believed that the number one thing you have to do, as I started with Silicon Harlem, is a meetup. That’s the very first thing you do. What you’re going to do is find out if there’s other people like you, that are going, “Wow, I’ve been waiting to meet somebody else that thinks about technology,” or whatever. So you have to have a meetup. In today’s world, you’ll have to do that through Zoom, or some other platform, in order to get people to log in and participate.
Clayton: I recently did a conference, an all-virtual conference on October 16th. I put that together in exactly one month, because we do it every year. It takes us a year to plan for it, but we had canceled it, because of COVID-19. But when our sponsors started calling us, saying, “Well, are you guys going to do this this year? We really want to be behind it. We’ve set a budget aside for you.”
Clayton: That’s all you need to hear. “Yo, we got a budget for you,” that’s when we go, “Well, we’re back on.” But we didn’t hear about it until late August, early September. The conference was planned for October 16th, we took it all virtual. Not only was it the largest conference we ever had in six years, but more speakers than we ever had. We had 44 speakers, 22 women, 22 men.
Clayton: This is a tech conference, including the inventor of the Internet. Not Al Gore. I’m talking about Dr. Vint Cerf. Two things he said to me, Jim, that was really interesting, he said in our conversation in front of, we had over, almost a thousand people signed up for this thing, and he said, “Don’t let a crisis go to waste.” I thought that was profound, maybe it’s an old saying, I don’t know. But it was very new to me, and I loved it, and it was so apropos, given this year.
Clayton: The second thing he said, which is another topic, was, “We ought to be thinking about the Internet of medical things, because everyone’s remote.” So I think, in the Appalachians or in Harlem, or any other place, start with a meetup. Even if it’s five or six people that are interested, you’ll find there will be more logging on. Because it’s easier if they have the Internet, obviously, but if not, they’ll have to figure out how to connect with somebody else.
Clayton: There’s also the call-in portion for any call these days. You don’t always have to be on video, you can just call into it. So I would recommend, for everyone to start with, a meetup. And you come up with a simple topic. Our very first one was simply this: Envisioning the Technological Future of Harlem.
Clayton: That was what we did. I’m happy to partner, by the way, with anyone on this call who’s interested in learning more about the methodology, and if I can come and help, I will. I want this to be across the country.
Jim: Of course, as always, we’ll have a link to Silicon Harlem on the Episode page for the show. So go to jimruttshow.com, and get in touch with Clayton, if you have something to add to the mix.
Jim: Vint Cerf and I have interacted plenty in the past, when we were both working to develop the Internet, but I’d also add Bob Kahn. He was the other co-founder and inventor of the Internet, which was basically Vint and Bob working together, just so Bob gets his credit.
Clayton: Very good, I like that. Tim Berners-Lee had a lot to do with it, as well.
Jim: That was the web. That was later. But yeah, that was a different thing. But anyway, cool stuff.
Jim: Again, as a helpful hint, the idea of a meetup makes great sense to me. And it is interesting, that COVID is not all bad. It has shocked us into, I think, being more virtual. I’ve made the prediction, and people on the show have made the prediction, that on the other side of COVID, there’s going to be less business travel.
Jim: I think a lot of us were thinking, “Ah, it’s showing respect, to fly to California for a two-hour meeting, and fly back, spend $2,000 in two days, when in reality, having three two-hour meetings on Zoom, is a shitload more practical.” The forced new habits caused by COVID will be things that will actually stick and make us able to actually operate better than we could in the past. I think your example of your meeting being more successful than ever is an interesting example of that.
Clayton: Well, your friend, Dr. Cerf said, as we were talking, “Yeah, I was in Austria, and I was in London and Germany, didn’t miss a single one. I did it all in the same day.” And it’s because it was all virtual.
Jim: Exactly, exactly. Another hint for how you do things, because again, it helped people elsewhere, the idea of a Zoom meetup, et cetera, makes great sense. How do you get the word out in these days? Do you use Facebook? Do you use local organizations? How would you recommend people round up a starting crew for their meetup?
Clayton: All of the above you just mentioned are absolutely things that we’ve done. We’ve been utilizing social media, primarily, and anyone that wants to lead this effort should also be prepared to build out a database. That could be as simple as Mailchimp, for example. Mailchimp is a e-mail platform. So what we did is, we built our database based on people signing up for these meetups.
Clayton: A good example would be put something out on social media, have a link. In our case, we use what’s called Eventbrite, so we would set up an Eventbrite page promoting the meetup, and people would have to sign up. We always kept them free, we don’t charge anyone anything. So when they see that, it’s a free opportunity, they will then give you their e-mail.
Clayton: Once you have their e-mail, now you can create a newsletter, or some sort of repeatable conversation with people by having their e-mail, so that database becomes quite important. Ours is almost 20,000 now. And because it goes beyond your community, other people want to hear about the meetup you might be having, especially if you have someone on like a Jim Rutt or whatever, that people will want to go, “Oh, okay, I want to hear what he’s got to say.”
Clayton: I think it’s important to, one, utilize Mailchimp or some other platform as your database. Because the reason why Mailchimp is good is because you can send out a newsletter or an invitation, and it goes to every single e-mail that’s on your list. Eventbrite is good, because it’s another way to promote an event, and this is where they would register. They’d say, “Oh, yeah, I want to be a part of this,” and put their e-mail in.
Clayton: So there’s a couple ways that you want to build that out, and it’ll grow. Because once one signs in, they’re going to share it with somebody else, and then somebody else is going to share it with someone else, so it’s a multiplier over time. Don’t be frustrated if the first one only has five, six, 10 people. It will grow, and ours grew over time, as well. Those are the fundamentals, in detail, of what you could do.
Jim: Yeah, thank you, Clayton. That’s excellent, good advice, and very easy to do. I’ve used Eventbrite to help promote a music festival, for instance. It’s actually quite easy and quite good, and of course, Mailchimp is a very standard way to do electronic newsletters.
Jim: These are real simple, off the shelf, inexpensive tools, but weaving them together in the way Clayton talks about strikes me as a really easy and good way to get started. Anything else about Silicon Harlem, before we get back to talking about the digital divide more generally?
Clayton: The biggest thing we have going, and I really appreciate you giving me this opportunity. For all who are listening to this, and especially any investors, Silicon Harlem is setting out to connect every single home, whether it’s in the Appalachian community, whether it’s on tribal lands, whether it’s in inner city, across this nation. We want to be the new ISP.
Clayton: We’ve got several incumbents now, that have done the job that they’ve done, and I take my hat off to the important investment that many of these incumbent providers have done. But they’ve also been tied to video, which has very much kept their pricing high. I believe, and if anyone on this call wants to join me, I believe I can provide Internet for free everywhere, and I am very sincere about this.
Clayton: I have a model that I cannot give you right now, because it’s under a level of disclosure. But definitely have a methodology to be able to provide free, fast Internet everywhere. But you need to support me on this, and I will be happy to share my NDA with anyone who might be interested in what I’m talking about. So feel free to visit the website, feel free to e-mail me, and Jim Rutt will have that on his site.
Clayton: I have a way, Jim. That’s the number one thing Silicon Harlem is focused on. How can we ensure that every single household in America has Internet like they have water and electricity?
Jim: Ooh, and I’ll invite you to come back when you have gotten far enough along, that you can tell us about the details, all right?
Clayton: Probably February.
Jim: Well, have you talked to my assistant? We’ll get you on the calendar, because I think the world would love to hear about this. So let’s move back to talking about the stack that you laid out, Internet, devices, and literacy.
Jim: Listeners know I generally do a fair amount of research prior to each episode, and I did dig into the current state of data on the digital divide. And as you indicated, the issue in urban areas is not actually physical connectivity, but rather, cost. For instance, in the most recent FCC report, they indicated that people having 25 megabits or greater access, 98.3% in urban areas have had physical access, and rural areas, 73%. That means more than 25% of people do not have it.
Jim: You’ve mentioned several times, tribal lands, and I was not aware of this, but tribal lands are the least served of all, at about 67%. And this is, I was telling Clayton prior, even though I was one of the people who helped build the Internet, at my farm, I have 7.5 megabits on a good day, if it’s not raining, and one megabit or less up.
Jim: It’s misconfigured by the stupid morons that run our local phone company, I’ve told them that a dozen times, and so that when you try to upload something, it blocks everybody else from using the Internet in the house, “Ahh,” nuts. So in rural areas, and tribal lands, in particular, there’s still a real issue of just basic connectivity.
Jim: But in the urban areas, where you’re focusing, the biggest problem is cost. Maybe you could talk a little bit about that?
Clayton: Yeah, I mean, the infrastructure’s quite important. And the good news, moving forward, is that we’re moving away from only being provided by wired connectivity. We’re looking at a much more robust wireless topology as we move forward into the future. And there’s a lot of promise around that. We’re doing a lot of research on everything else around that as a country, and certainly, as Silicon Harlem.
Clayton: The one that can be dealt with right away is the price, though. Why is it so expensive? Part of the challenge, I think there, as I mentioned, is that a lot of our current providers also have quite a bit of contracts around content. They want to provide you with a “cable package,” and that package often includes broadband, as a way to get people to get video.
Clayton: I think that’s been a big issue, a big problem, a big challenge, as we transition into what I think is going to become much more of a broadband-only provider, like Silicon Harlem. We do not provide you with HBO or Showtime or ESPN or any of that stuff. What we do is, we give you the robust broadband, because if you look at any Millennial or younger, they’re not interested in a video package. They know how to get the video they want to see.
Clayton: All they want is a good, fast, cheap broadband connection. “Don’t tell me what I have to watch. Let me go get what I want.” So on our platform, we only are broadband, but if you want to have a content package, it’s going to be one of those streaming companies, that you go out and find. So I think the cost factor that is plaguing a lot of our communities has to be dealt with.
Clayton: That’s why I’m saying that I have a methodology that’s going to be, I mean, 10 times different than what’s happening now, because we don’t have that burden that has plagued our telecommunication companies. That being said, cities are going to have to start thinking about inviting much more competition into the space. The incumbents have done a good job of blanketing the country with either a monopoly or a duopoly when you go to find a provider. You usually only get one or two choices, so there.
Clayton: Then, when you look at both of them, they have the same pricing, and you’re, “Wait a minute, what’s going on here?” So you got to figure out how to get more competition into your geographic area. Because, I mean, and they’ll say, “Ah, well, there is competition.” Well, unfortunately, even those people who are trying to do it, they don’t have the resources to compete with a Comcast, or something like that. That’s a very difficult thing to do.
Clayton: I think some of the solution, Jim, is, again, cities have to start creating an environment where some of our broadband-only providers can get in, and compete with those who are already there, and serving. I think that will only benefit those who haven’t been able traditionally to afford it. And I think, my prism, of course, is New York City. So we’re seeing more and more of that.
Clayton: They had put out a RFEI, a Request For Expressed Interest, on how to serve more of New York City, and they were really encouraging people that were startups, or companies that can do it, that weren’t necessarily the top tier incumbents. So there’s a movement across the nation for that. I’ve seen it in Chicago, I’ve seen it in LA. A lot of places are starting to look at, “How do we create competition?”
Clayton: In some cases, where it’s legal, the government has sort of banned 20 to 22 states, but there’s states that are able to create what we call municipal broadband. They’re provided by the government in some ways, and therefore, at least you know you’re going to have it. So there’s some interesting ideas that are going on right now. I think our solution, that I’ll come back on February, to talk in deep detail, is absolutely a solution across the nation.
Jim: Yeah, very cool. Now you mentioned wireless and 5G. Are you guys plagued with nuts who complain about 5G? We hear about them sometimes. “Oh, 5G is some conspiracy by the CIA to rot our brains,” or what have you.
Clayton: Yeah, well, I mean, there’s always going to be that. It happened when we went from 1G to 2G, the same thing happened. “Oh, well, these microwave ovens are going to kill us, and …” We went to 2G to 3G, and everybody got freaked out that it had much better access to the Internet. When we went from 3G to 4G, not a lot said, but a lot of people were, “Well, wait a minute. What is this opening up for?” And then, the talk of 5G, which is not being incredibly mystified, it’s been sort of a mystery.
Clayton: The number one conspiracy is that it’s going to create cancer. I’m always interested in listening to that. You have to listen to people. I don’t shrug them off. I really listen carefully, but I’m also wondering what they think a cell phone stuck to their ear. What kind of issue is that happening here? The point, though, the demystification of it is, we’re simply just increasing the spectrum that the FCC has opened up for us.
Clayton: The reason why we go from 1G to 2G to 3G to 4G to 5G is because you need more spectrum to handle the more digital traffic that’s happening on these networks. So 5G opens up a new spectrum, but it requires new ways of deploying it. For example, for it to be most effective, you have to look at short distances. And a lot of the reason why we think that makes sense is because 5G’s a clean spectrum. Not a lot running on it.
Clayton: That is the spectrum where the unleash of Internet of things comes, where everything can be censored, everything can be much more remote, et cetera. It’s going to usher in edge Cloud computing, edge Cloud meaning, that instead of a Cloud that’s centralized, like we have right now, it becomes decentralized. And a lot of it, your e-mail, would have go to Finland before it gets to Kentucky. So I’m always fascinated by it.
Clayton: But we have to demystify this. 5G can unleash a whole brand new next normal, because of its power through the density of it, and the ability for it to have, like I said, not a lot on the spectrum yet. We’re going to have to go to 6G very soon, because 5G’s also accommodating a lot of data, a lot of data that’s coming from mobile. So all that to say is yes, there’s always going to be your distractors and people who are believing that this is some conspiracy to kill us, and all this other stuff.
Clayton: I listen very carefully to it, but when I do the moderation of, for example, the gain of an antenna, of a 5G antenna, it’s minimal. It’s really not even close to what 2G was. So there’s so much more to be learned about the engineering of 5G, but what I hope people will get much more inspired by is that 5G is part of a marathon that’s passed to the next, to allow for more, if you will, ways to make our lives better. So if mobility is a problem in your community, and now, you have this infrastructure that can address that, through 5G and beyond, it seems to me that’s a good thing for your community.
Clayton: There doesn’t traditionally need to be a tradeoff. It’s actually just the next level, and that’s what I hope people will listen to, on this call and what I’m saying, but also, do the research for themselves. 5G is not a killer, 5G is in the progression of many more. And there will be people who will listen to me, and be, “Ah, he’s wrong, he’s wrong, he’s wrong,” and that’s fine. But you’re not stopping it. It’s already happening, you know what I mean?
Clayton: 5G is out there, we have had no one die from it. And we’re going to see how it can, again, make our lives better.
Jim: Yup. As an old physics guy, I’m 100% with you. I mean, the frequency that these things operate do not resonate with human cells or water, unlike the G1.
Jim: The 1G stuff actually was like a microphone. I would not hold a cell phone up to my head back in the original analog days. Those things probably were dangerous. But this stuff, at way higher frequency, lower power, I’m not concerned in the slightest. But people should go do their own research. But make sure the research comes with data, not just shit people say. Talk is cheap. Empirical data is what you got to look at.
Jim: In fact, I’m trying to encourage people, everything they see on the Internet, if it doesn’t come attached with empirical data, downregulate it, in terms of your cognitive stack. Say, “Well, okay, that’s somebody’s opinion, but they don’t provide any data. I’m going to know about it, but I’m not going to take it seriously, till I see the data.” And the data strikes me as being convincing, that 5G is not a problem.
Jim: Now, let’s go on to the next part about 5G, which I don’t know anything about, and I wish I did, and you probably do. And you mention competition. Old farts like me, and almost old farts like Clayton, can remember the days when there was competition in Internet. Remember the dial-up days? I mean, there was hundreds, thousands of providers, some of them quite small.
Clayton: Yeah, and when you think of that, we had an acceleration in adoption, because of that sort of competition. The traditional modems that we had back in those days were just as important as it is today, in terms of being that resource that we needed to get connected. So the competition in that was in the start of the Internet, where you and Dr. Vint Cerf and others wanted it to be much more of a decentralized way of communication, versus what we had had prior to that, based on FCC rules in telecommunications.
Clayton: Being able to open that up, and keeping that platform as democratized as possible, not, no one person would own the backbone of the Internet, necessarily, was really the right way to start this whole thing out. When I go onto the Internet, it was just prior to AOL becoming the commercial engine of it.
Clayton: But it was through universities where we had a network going through colleges. And everything was shared. Everything was, like I said, democratized. It was a whole different way, and I think that’s so why many of us got into the space, and started become this provider for dial-up into the Internet. That became quite important, and there was certainly a divide. There were certain people who weren’t getting things, and stuff like that, I get that.
Clayton: But it started out with the right mindset. And I think the Internet still has a lot of that. But unfortunately, it’s become a little more, sort of a rich person’s thing to do. You can hardly manage one of those companies, like a Cox, or a Comcast, or Charter, or any of these people, unless you’re a billionaire. I mean, it’s a very big thing to do.
Clayton: But we’re finding that it’s about to flip, and we’re about to see much more competition come into the space, and better, in some ways, business models, that are not just simply trying to get as much money out of the household, as it is, as to get much more out of the aggregate network.
Jim: Cool. But now, I followed this quite closely back in the early, early ’90s, and then into the mid-’90s, and maybe the very end of the double oughts. But the regulatory environment was really important, crucial. As we said, there were hundreds, thousands of dial-up providers, people aggregated them. UUNET bought up a couple hundred, AOL became a big dial-up provider.
Jim: But even AOL got screwed by the regulatory game that the phone company played, because it used to be, the regulations required the phone companies to provide lines for dial-up Internet providers. But in the broadband era, even though the law sort of said they had to, I don’t know the, quite the details, but they did some regulatory mojo, so that really, only phone companies could offer DSL, for instance. And so, AOL really was never a player in DSL.
Jim: Once those new regulations came in place, even a multibillion dollar company was screwed, and the phone companies owned DSL, and the cable companies owned cable broadband. And for technical reasons, that eventually beat DSL. What does the regulatory environment look like around 5G? Can you really offer an independent Internet service provider over 5G?
Clayton: That’s an excellent question, and in some ways, Jim Rutt, it’s a “to be determined” type of question. You’re right. I’m old enough to remember the 1996 Telecommunications Act, and it was really framed from the perspective of Internet, because we hadn’t updated the Communications Act, I think it was 1934, or something like that. So we had been forced to figure out how to create policies and law around this new platform, and in some cases, how you start to regulate these mega-cable companies.
Clayton: It was just an incredible moment time in 1996. I’m not sure if we’ve done much since then. So, to your point, the regulatory environment is to be determined. If you look at our FCC right now, and I always say this, there’s five people on Earth that control our entire communication infrastructure. That’s the FCC. If you don’t have the right people on that commission, you’re just sort of, in the hands of mercy. I mean, it’s just, “What are we doing, from a regulatory perspective?” And 5G is now the most controversial topic within the FCC.
Clayton: I am hoping, that as the new FCC comes together, whatever that means, that they start to address these issues, and maybe take another shot with the President of the United States, at the federal communications regulatory infrastructure. Because you’re really hitting on something that’s really important.
Clayton: I mean, maybe not to the average person that’s just trying to get Internet, but to those who are trying to provide, those who are trying to create that competition, those who want to see a better infrastructure, yeah, it comes down to a lot of the FCC, I have to tell you. That’s why you get 25 and five, that’s what they decided was the definition of broadband. They define that.
Clayton: These are all the things, to your point, that I say, right now, “To be determined.” Because there’s so many loose pieces. There’s some that get in our way, with a lot, with not having to pay franchise fees for broadband in some cities. There’s a lot going on here.
Clayton: But we’re going to have rein it in, make it fair, bring to the people in a responsible way, and have regulatory updates, if not transformational updates, to ensure that a lot of our infrastructure is going to accommodate everyone, everywhere, all the time. So that’s still … It’s a great question, Jim Rutt. I wish I had a better answer.
Jim: Ah, yeah. But it is critical. It matters. For instance, there is lots of competition for the last mile of broadband in the UK, because they have a different regulatory environment. There are hundreds of independent Internet service providers still in the UK, who survived the transition from dial-up, and the new ones that started, because, again, very different regulatory environment. The phone companies there and the cable companies have to provide access to independent providers at reasonable wholesale prices.
Jim: I do see some hope in the election results, in that regard. Biden has put, as a relatively high priority, Internet everywhere, and a very important Congressman, James Clyburn, from South Carolina, who’s the number three Democrat in the House, has led a broadband task force, and he expects that issue to be one of the top priorities of the incoming administration. Frankly, James Clyburn is the guy that made Biden in the South Carolina primary that turned things around for him. Clyburn’s going to have a big influence, and that’s a good thing.
Clayton: You know it, and connect the dots. I know James Clyburn, but more importantly, I know his daughter. So if you didn’t know, Mignon Clyburn was an FCC commissioner.
Jim: I did not know that.
Clayton: Yes. She was an FCC commissioner, for years, and the only woman that held the chair, but was just an interim, when they lost their chair. So there’s never been a woman to run the FCC. Mignon basically resigned from the FCC when Trump came in.
Clayton: Now that Biden is back, and to your point, James Clyburn was right there, you wonder if she’s going to come back. Now she’s in the private sector, making real money. She’s doing pretty good, so I’m curious if she throws her hat in, or whatever. I think she has a good shot.
Clayton: I’m also very supportive of Jessica Rosenworcel, who’s an FCC commissioner, who’s been there twice, and very, very supportive of everything you just said, as well as the things that I’m saying, so she gets it. So we have a shot, but the problem is, is that your FCC commissioners are basically established through the Senate. That’s why Georgia is the most important thing going on in my life right now.
Jim: You’re goddamn right. I mean, this could make or break, right?
Clayton: We got to get the Senate. They get to appoint so many key positions, it’s crazy. [inaudible 00:58:58]. The guy who’s been the Commissioner of the FCC has said he’s resigning on the day that Biden gets sworn in, so he’s already said, “I’m leaving,” because he knew he wasn’t going to be the chair, anyway.
Clayton: The second is, Trump decided to rush in another FCC commissioner, so that if they don’t get this Georgia thing done in time, or whatever, the Senate could approve that, which would make it a 2-2, two Republicans and two Democrats. Traditionally, the FCC has been, whoever’s the President gets to establish three from their party, and two from the other party.
Clayton: That’s how the telecommunications has worked, and it’s worked pretty well. But he’s trying to stack it up right now, before he leaves, and so …
Jim: He’s a cheap motherfucker, I have to say. I will be so happy when we see the back of that guy. But anyway, I should calm down a little bit, and get back to business here.
Jim: But this is real important stuff, people. Those of you that have political connections, let’s make sure we get pro-competition people on the FCC. Anyone that’s got connections out there to the new administration, put your oar in the water, that the FCC’s got to enable real competition around 5G.
Jim: Help Clayton, and help a lot of people, and help America have reasonable price access to Internet only, and as you point out, not these corrupt deals where they, “Oh yeah, we’ll give you all the channels for 25 bucks. Oh, by the way, we need your credit card. And oh, by the way, you’ll probably forget, and you’ll be charged $250 a month after two months,” these bait and switch deals that they’re constantly trying to do.
Clayton: Well, how do you really feel, Jim Rutt? That’s what I think.
Jim: That’s one thing about me. I say what’s I think, right?
Clayton: I love it.
Jim: Now let’s go on to the next tier. We talked about connectivity, and I’m looking forward, and I’m going to hold you to it, get you back here on the Jim Rutt Show, and figure out how people can get 5G for free, which would be great. The next part of it is the access to the devices, particularly the larger devices that you need to do real work, and as we found out in COVID-19, to be able to do school work, in particular.
Jim: Because, like I said, I dug into some of the data, and one of the things I found was that, particularly black and Latino people, were a bit later to the technology game, on average. Of course, in any statement like that, there’s real early adopters and there’s laggards in every community. Many black and Latinos actually skipped the computer epoch, and went directly to smart phones.
Jim: I know this about blacks. I’m not so sure of, I don’t know the datas on Latinos, but blacks actually use cell phones at a higher rate than other groups do, and more intensely. The black community, in particular, is very high penetration in smart phones, and very high usage patterns, and have adapted them into their ways of life. But with respect to the larger devices, the kind of things you really need for work and school, surprisingly large numbers, I think, 40% of black families, and 48% of Latino families, don’t have access to those larger devices in their homes.
Clayton: Well, this is a crisis, and I identified it several years ago. It’s a crisis. In 1997, 45% of households in this country had a computer, 45%. That’s how long I’ve been tracking it. When we are now close to 90% in households, that’s not including the African-American or the Latinx population, where their number is half of that. You’re looking at a crisis, because here’s why.
Clayton: As much as we love using our mobile devices for just about everything, there’s some things that, to this day, are almost impossible. This past summer, given the pandemic, Silicon Harlem decided to try to … Every year, every summer, we bring in 20 high schoolers, and we teach them something. Usually 20 girls, 20 boys, and they get a intensive summer of digital literacy, but also, just a lot of life lessons, how to communicate, how to work on a team, how to all this other stuff.
Clayton: This year, we decided we’d take on more. Because of the pandemic, we didn’t know what was going on with schools, et cetera. So we took on 115 kids, and in a various number of cohorts. One of the cohorts, Jim, was a coding class, and we noticed that, during the class, there were about three or four people that were falling behind. There was about 15-20 kids in this particular cohort.
Clayton: When I asked my team to find out what was going on, in turned out the kids were trying to take this coding class using their mobile device, their cell phone, because they didn’t have a computer, they didn’t have access to the computer, where they would normally go to the library, and all those have been shut down. So when people tell me, “Well, hey, the kids have a phone, what’s the problem,” I say, “Well, let me take your computer out of your household, and see how that works for your kids?”
Clayton: The point is, there’s certain things you can’t do, and if there’s anything, I don’t know if anything’s more important educationally right now than STEM, science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The fact that those kids had to fall behind, that’s a very good case study of that happening in real time, that they fell behind, because all they could use was a cell phone, to save everything to all the rest of us, like that can’t happen. So I’m glad you brought that up, because devices are critical.
Clayton: As I said, we work with academics. We have a project going on right now, and anyone who wants to learn more about this, we’ll talk about it again in February, which is, we’re actually deploying an infrastructure as a pilot, in our community, utilizing edge Cloud computing. So in my office, we built a data center, and we have a, what we call a edge Cloud serving capacity.
Clayton: What we do with that edge Cloud computing capacity is, we put a lot of services on it. It could be everything from products from Microsoft, or anyone else, that you want to access Excel or Word or any of this other stuff. What that allows us to do is look at a computer, and you and I both know the title, “mainframe,” right?
Clayton: Edge Cloud computing is essentially another mainframe, and you give people what we did back in the day, a dumbed-up terminal. It’s basically what, in today’s world, we’ll call it a zero client. What that means is, we’re able to take the processing power out of the computer, which, as you know, is the most expensive part of a computer. When you can take the processing power out of the computer, but yet it can log in to our edge Cloud.
Clayton: They have access to all the resources they need, and able to go online. So now you’ve reduced the price of a computer to practically free. And that is a game changer around the world, once we get done with this research, and it proves out what we’re trying to prove. So I’ll keep you posted on that, but that’s the way we are approaching it.
Jim: Yup. And then also, just as an alert to parents, right? Just because you have mobile devices doesn’t mean you’ve done everything you need to do for your kids. Yeah, particularly during COVID, but as we said before, I expect we’re going to see more virtual education. Keep in mind that much of the world’s great teaching is available online, for free.
Jim: My old alma mater, MIT, for instance, makes most of its courses available for free. But they’re not practical to do online, and the Santa Fe Institute, where I’ve been long involved, also has a number of courses that are available. But again, they need computers. And there are inexpensive computers. Chromebooks aren’t bad, and I really love this idea of edge computing and thumb clients, zero clients, as a way to drive that cost down even cheaper, actually, almost to nothing.
Jim: If you bundle it with your free Internet, you can have people have state of the art infrastructure for very little money. Again, everybody in the country has a level playing field, to develop their skill set, in what you point out to be, Clayton, is the critical ramp of STEM education, for people who want to be able to make their mark in the world from wherever they start.
Clayton: Yeah, I mean, like I’ve been trying to express, these are just the right things to do. I mean, this is not controversial. This is not controversial, this is just what we have to do. If you think about it this way, I always try to say that it’s not a zero-sum game, and let me give you an example.
Clayton: Sidewalks in this country did not have those cutouts that you see in them today, where people would go up to a curb in a wheelchair, and not be able to get on the sidewalk, because someone had to come along and help them get up on the sidewalk, and lobbied for years to get these ramps, these mini-ramps in sidewalks. And it took 20 years before Congress finally passed a law that said every new sidewalk built in this country must have a mini-ramp.
Clayton: Now you can hardly go anywhere in the country where you don’t see those. And who did it help, Jim? It helped people in wheelchairs, but if you’re pushing your baby in a carriage, what’s the first thing you’re looking for when you’re crossing a street? It’s that little mini-ramp, the cutout. If you’re on a walker, as a senior citizen, you’re looking for that. And even guys like me, who don’t feel like stepping up a curb, I look for it as well.
Clayton: My point is, when we do the right thing, everyone’s going to benefit. I can guarantee you, if anyone here, like myself, who’s lost a family member to cancer, should be thinking, what if we gave everybody the infrastructure? And somehow or another, that person who didn’t have it, all of a sudden could create a solution for something as grave as cancer?
Clayton: I mean, it may sound bizarre, but I’m just saying, that’s … If you look at inventions over the years, let me ask you a question, Jim. Have you ever had a potato chip?
Jim: Oh, of course. Way too many.
Clayton: There you go, that’s what I’m talking … You were supposed to say exactly that. Well, the potato chip was invented by an African-American. A lot of people may know that when they eat those chips. George Crum was the guy that created the potato chip. I’m saying that, because he didn’t have all the resources that he might have needed to have to create it. But he had enough curiosity to make it happen.
Clayton: That’s what we have in the Appalachians. That’s what we have in Harlem, is curiosity. If you give people the tools, they can make potato chips. I mean, they can cure cancer. So I could go on and on with that. Light bulbs and all types of blood banks have been invented by people you wouldn’t think have … Even a gas mask, right? So there’s lots of things that we have to say, “Wait a minute, let’s just do the right thing.”
Clayton: Some people believe that when you help someone, it means that you got to lose something. Not at all.
Jim: Yeah, that’s just absolutely wrong thinking. The more brains that we can get to work on the world’s problems, the earlier we’ll solve them. Why is that not obvious?
Jim: It’s interesting that you mention this. Again, my wife and I chat about my upcoming podcast for the day in the morning. And we were chatting this morning about this podcast, and we both agreed that this digital divide is one of those relatively few things that ought not be partisan. Both parties have people in their constituencies that would tremendously benefit from both, connectivity, getting the price down.
Jim: I love your idea of ubiquitous, very inexpensive edge computing. This ought not be partisan. And maybe that means we can actually get it done.
Clayton: Well, it’s been this topic. Here’s the way we get at it, Jim, how we get at the digital divide to be nonpartisan. You’ve got to look at connectivity and broadband as infrastructure. It’s not simply streets, tunnels and bridges when we talk about infrastructure anymore. We have to now tie broadband into infrastructure, so here’s my point to your listeners, to you and your wife.
Clayton: When we started talking to the Infrastructure and Transportation Committee in Congress, we found that infrastructure was a nonpartisan issue. Every mayor, every governor, everyone needs infrastructure. They need their streets, bridges and tunnels all upgraded.
Clayton: There’s no controversy, and it’s one of the few committees in Congress, even under a Trump administration, that has no controversy. And the budget is damn near as high as Trump’s budget, meaning, it’s a trillion dollars. And a lot of people don’t even know, Jim, who the chairperson of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is. It’s a shame.
Clayton: I mean, this guy has a huge budget, because every state in this country wants infrastructure. And as we tie broadband to that, it becomes a nonpartisan issue. When you do that, you embed, to your point about Clyburn and others, you can embed the idea that, “Let’s make sure this infrastructure is for all,” meaning that there doesn’t have to be a divide. You don’t have to trickle down. All that kind of nonsense has not worked.
Clayton: The ability for all of us, and that’s why this podcast is critical, for you to continue to have these conversations. Look at broadband as infrastructure, like we do with water and electricity, and the other essential tools we need to live in this country. Broadband’s one of them, to live in the world, so we ought to make that very clear.
Clayton: I can tell you, and I’ll send you that, at some point, they read a little bit, or acknowledged Clayton Banks and Silicon Harlem, at one of those committees. And almost every representative said, “Yeah, I need that in my rural area. Yeah, I need that in my urban area.” I mean, all of them were, “We need broadband,” so this doesn’t have to be controversial at all.
Clayton: The FCC has a lot to say about it, so I’ll get back to that. Let’s make sure we get that FCC right.
Jim: All right, right. Got to love that passion, and [inaudible 01:14:00], I wish we had more time, but Clayton has to run. I’ve still got about half a page of questions and notes, but maybe we’ll get some of those that back in February, when you come back and tell us your method for providing Internet for free, or damn close to it. So thank you, Clayton. I’ve pulled up his website, sililconharlem.com.
Jim: Check it out. It’s really interesting, innovative stuff, and we’ve talked about some things that aren’t even on your website, like the edge computing. I’m just so excited to follow what you guys are doing, and look forward to having you back on the show, some time around February.
Clayton: It’s an honor, Jim Rutt. You know we don’t get to hear your voice as often as we need to, with your legacy, and your very keen way of looking at telecommunications, which is right now, in some ways, life and death.
Clayton: In Harlem, when the pandemic hit, we got hit the hardest, because people with poor buildings, and therefore, preconditions, were passing away due to COVID-19. And we need a voice like yours, all the time, that makes us a little bit more inspired, and certainly, challenging us to do the right thing. So I appreciate being on this podcast very much.
Jim: Well, thank you for that, but I’m going to tell you, these days, I’m mostly retired, and mostly just a talker. It’s people like you, people that are actually out there doing this stuff, Clayton Banks, who we really need right now.
Jim: I’m basically just an old fart talking about this shit. Guys like you are making it happen. So I appreciate you on this show, look forward to having you back.
Clayton: All right. Thank you, sir.
Production services and audio editing by Jared Janes Consulting, Music by Tom Muller at modernspacemusic.com.