Our Nine Days In Wales
To read my tale of my daughter Rebecca's and my first visit to Wales looking up evidence of my Welsh ancestors who track back into the 1500's you can read that 'travelogue' as a Pdf text file here. There are no photos or graphics in that text. For it was just a running account of the trip I made on my small computer and my impressions of the characteristics of my ancestral nationality - and what attributes that I have still that I can trace to that Celtic line I am descended from. Just click here.
Below I will also touch on the highlights of the trip, but with selected photos and even some video clips that illustrate what we saw and experienced
But the important news is what happened after we got back to the US, I cleaned up the long text, and mentioned in the same soc.culture.welsh newsgroup online that I had written the document while there. And thanking all for their help.
The Genesis of My Second and Third Trip to Wales
Several people in Wales who had followed my comments in the newsgroup asked if I would send them that travelogue text so they could put it on their Web sites in Wales -as impressions about them by an American whose family roots were there.
Some things I mentioned in that long screed and amplified in my comments in the Newsgroup, was especially about what I realized on New Years Eve when I attended a party where at least 100 Welsh crowded into a tiny pub in a tiny town which only had 1 Chapel, 1 pub, and 1 Inn which we stayed in. My comments struck a nerve in unexpected places.
For what I said was that while we were trying to find the out of the way places our kin had lived - and preached - we had to stop at several small farmhouses asking for directions. In at least 2 stops I vividly remember that the man of the house mentioned he was an 'engineer' who had lived around London, working for larger firms, and made enough money to buy a small place in Wales and move there - bringing with him his computers and modems. That they really didn't know much about place names we asked for. But in both cases they complained about the lousy modem support that BT - British Telecom - gave to rural areas. As engineers they were frustrated they couldn't get any broadband, much less decent dial up Internet service, from their cozy little rural retreats.
I filed that away in my mind. For just as I had helped very rural Montana schools get connected to the nets I wondered what it would take to connect up rural Wales.
Then New Years eve happened in the tiny town of Cwmduaad. When I walked into the Pub - Rebecca being under the weather from a bad cold didn't come along - there were at least 100 people packed in there. Where did they come from I wondered - in this tiny tiny town. Then some Welshmen saw my Stetson Hat and asked "Are you an American?" Yes I said. "Do you have a ranch?" "Yes my family had a ranch as I grew up." "How big was the ranch?" I answered "About 2,000 acres". They seem to be astounded."You must be a very rich man" But I said. "No, you can't raise a cow on 40 acres in Colorado" And THEY said "We can raise 20 cows on ONE acre in Wales!"
Then it struck me.
All these people walked here to Cwmduadd from less than 1-3 or so miles. They lived that close, on their very small farms. It was clear that the kind of WIRELESS, I knew could bypass the hated monopolistic British Telecom and and and connect them up to the Internet Broadband! Wales was so small - only about 50 miles wide in places, and 150 miles long - I could, if I wanted to, connect up EVERY Welsh Farmhouse to the Internet by simply turning all its Pubs into Wireless ISP's!
It was just idle intellectual what-iffing - as I was convinced by now every person, farm, town in the world could be connected, with cheap, local, wireless broadband -at least 10megabits per second - or Ethernet speed - bypassing the frequently despised and often local government Telephone companies - PTTs.
I had no intention of doing that as part of my Old Colorado City Communications business, but it was just a passing 'what if musing on my part. I was, by then, confident that I knew technologically enough how to do it, Wales was very smaldl, wireless could reach, and my ancestral home could benefit, especially the struggling rural areas, by extremely local wireless broadband Internet connections.
The Surprise Contact
But the comments I made on the News Group and the travellogue that some people read on Welsh Web sites where it had been posted led to something unexpected, and pretty big - for Wales.
Unbeknownst to me Britain was waking up to the necessity - of getting seriously into the Internet. Prime Minister Tony Blair had promised that by 2000 the entire nation should be networked. But who was going to do it? Mighty British Telecom, the monopoly telephone company that was disliked across the land for lots of other things - plain old telephone service was not likely to implement this fancy Internet stuff at reasonable costs. Even where they did offer costly dial up wired Internet it was via poor-quality, low bandwidth, ADSL wireline protocols.
So BT had gone to the British Parliament and said that, unless the British Government subsidized them massively, they cannot connect up all England, including rural (which would include Wales) to the Internet, until 2022 by market forces alone. It was a shakedown threat by a monopoly which only recently had been privatized from being a government PTT - Postal, Telephone, Telegraph - entity. Which was not used to doing things without large government funding, even though they were now a private business which would have to hustle if they were to compete in the marketplace as well as move England into the next century.
The head of the Welsh National Assembly cried foul. He said their farmers had the dreaded mad cow disease, they needed to be connected to the Internet soon for many economic reasons, including better access to markets.
Then, somebody- I never knew who - asked "Where is that Crazy American who does things with Wireless? My story, including my work with Big Sky Telegraph in rural Montana had gotten around England via my Travelogue posted on a local web site.
That was triggered by a John Wilson of Cardiff who had been following the News Group discussions about my wireless opinions and accomplishments, since my first trip in 1998 and passed on advice that I might be a solution to Wales modern communications problems.
The next thing I knew - January 2002 - I was contacted. First by an email from Euryn Ogwen then by international telephone calls, and finally by a formal invitation by a woman in Cardiff named Elen Rhys who said "We want to work with you to help Wales get connected. Lets start now." From the beginning, Elen was a treasure - forthright, efficient, and effective. She ran an organization called ACEN - which worked to promote, Wales-wide, the learning of Welsh in a nation dominated by English speakers, though at least 20% of Welsh citizens spoke Welsh also. But it also had a Digital branch called the "Welsh Digital College" already experimenting with ways to expand the teaching by computer and telecommunications means.
So I was invited, first by this letter.
So it was a serious effort by the Welsh to try and learn from American wireless expertise, and pass on those lessons to very high Welsh government officials - which as I had learned during my 1998 trip had voted to 'devolve' from total government control by England, to have it own National Assembly with increased economic and educational powers.
Of course I answered yes, and I was off again for four days in Wales. And it definitely didn't hurt that I was a decendent of Welsh people dating back into the 16th century, that on my and Rebecca's earlier trip and my web-published - in Wales - Travelogue I really cared for that country.
Lecturing The Welsh Government How to Jump into the Digital Future
Thus on February 17th, 2002 I flew from Colorado Springs to Heathrow Airport, London, with some sample radios and a Power Point presentation, to demonstrate as needed, was picked up and driven to the Marriot hotel in Cardiff. After huddling with, not only Elen Rhys of ACEN, but also with Euryn Ogwen who had done much with Welsh language BBC, both radio and television - called SC4. He saw the possibility of spreading my message - and 'Vision' to a far wider audience than just government officials. My sponsors were getting the idea that I really had a broad vision for what wireless could do for the entire country - educationally, economically, socially, and, through the growth of the Welsh language, recover its historic identity.
To that end Elen planned a whole series of meetings with me holding forth.
My first meeting was with the Economic Development Minister, Andrew Davies who was also responsible for the 'e-development' in Wales. We met in his offices in Cardiff.
At first the meeting was planned for just 15 minutes out of the Minister's busy schedule. While I don't remember exactly what I said then, but halfway through my allotted time, Davies seemed to realize I had a major message for Wales and knew far more than just what technical wireless could do for his country. I already, from information Elen sent to me plus my own research into the regulatory differences between the US FCC rules for domestic unlicenced wireless and the UK's - which was reflected in the European Union's regulatory rules - knew enough to paint a picture of an entire nation being connected - broadband.
Davis picked up the phone, called his secretary and said "Cancel my meetings, I want to spend more time with Colonel Hughes.
By the time the meeting was over, we were joined by Nick Batey, Civil Service head of Wales On-Line Networks, Patrick Sullivan from the Wales Information Service, as well as others. The session went another hour and a half as I elaborated what I thought could be done reaching every community in Wales, all of its schools - for general education, and not just Welsh language teaching, for agricultural marketting, and even my favorite topic 'electronic democracy.'
Davies called in staffers from his Economic Development department to hear my pitch.
He was convinced I had a message many other important people needed to hear. And right then - since he realized that his agency would be the one to provide the seed money, not only through ACEN and the Welsh Digital College, but to actually develop a whole new communications infrastructure for Wales - in the primary interests for Economic Development.
Thus was born the idea that, besides my presenting the next three days to key people, since the idea of essentially 'free' broadband communications via license-free broadband wireless, I should be brought back to Wales and put on convincing real-world demonstrations for those who were essentially technologically illiterate, of the potential power of the wireless technologies I knew and had demonstrated in bridging rural Montana - a wild American West country of vast spaces.
The next three days were a bit of a whirlwind that I don't well remember, as I gave the same spiel, somtimes by projected computer images, sometimes just orally, to a number of small audiences - from government agencies, and technical departments. Some of them included the Welsh Language Board, a small group of Assembly elected members from the partys of Labor, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, Tory Conservaties, Cardiff Council of Employment Services, Dame June Clark Welsh Health, Peter Williams NTL Director of Public Services for the UK, a Somali Community leadership headed by a Sheik.
And then I was taken to speak at the Cardiff Council and Employment Service, and at Trinity College in Carmarthen where the Vice Chancellor of the prestigious University would host me.
And it was there that I gave the very well received Power Point Presentation for "Wireless Wales"
There were three different evening gatherings, without a presentation, but where I got acquainted with many power brokers, and learned the inside story of how and why British Telecom - BT- was so resistant to change.
A very comfortable group of us, including Elen, Euryn Ogwen got to know each other well, over meals and drinks as I got - for the first time - a real grip on what Welsh culture is really about and how its proud - and much seperated from English culture and history - drives it toward independence. Where its language is at the heart of its identity.
We then took a fast trip north to at least let me get a glance at 'Diffryn Ogwen' the Ogwen Valley where, east of Bangor all involved had decided it would be a good place to do the Demonstration Wireless project, get citizens of small Bethesda in the valley involved and trained to start a 'community' wireless network - "E-fro.'
Elen drove (like a bat out of hell over those tight Welsh roads), I was in the other front seat, her 8 year or so son Eban was in the back seat with a young woman who tended him, for he was so active he could be a bad distraction for her driving. It was then I learned that Eben, soon after birth - she said they thought it was from the chemicals in eggs fed to him - that he developed what I would consider autisim.
This remarkable woman, while being a very involved and active CEO of the Welsh Digital College, still handled her disadvantaged son just like a full-time mother who had no other 'job' would. This overnight trip was made as an opportunity for Eban to get out and away from a cloistered home for a while. She really cared for his development.
During the drive as I absorbed for the second time how Welshmen and women functioned, and after a remark she had made in one of her emails to me, I' made a bold comment. I said that it struck me that Welsh men whom I had encountered did not seem to be forthright, and act like they were 'taking charge' while the women I have met seem willing to make decisions, and promptly. Elen Rhys was just such a woman. What that emailed line said were words to effect that, after the 'men' had dealt with a problem or opportunity and talked over it at length, 'mam' the woman involved would take over and get the show on the road.
Elen agreed with me. I could tell she was even more 'executive' and decisive than most other Welsh women I met, but it seemed also a national trait. Which for me, a far more forceful and prompt deciding American male - with of course a lifetime as a military leader behind me - was a little off-putting.
To my surprise, the young woman in the back seat whom Elen pays to help tend Eban, spoke up in agreement. She even told an anecdote about young men she knew who couldn't make up their minds even what movie to go to.
We rapidly toured around the valley, while I looked for the terrain, hills and small mountains and valleys, to size up how a wireless network would have to be laid out given the 100mw limitation - effectively 5 miles or less of broadband power - on 80211b Wi-Fi radio
And I got my hands on several maps, one from a retired Geological Science professor whom Elen arranged to meet with me and point out the lay of the land around Bethesda.
Suprise Family History Presentation at Dinner
We stayed overnight at a fine hotel in Carnarfon, where the great 12th Century Carnarvon Castle dominated and was close to the Menai Bridge over the Menai Straits - the only way to get to and from the Anglesey land mass that is everything but a seperate 'island' away from Wales.
To my suprise a well attended dinner in a fine dining room had been arranged, just for me. I seemed to be known, in advance, as a very important person, especially because the Digitol College had made the Diffryn Ogwen area the place that the big Wireless Project would be placed. Added to that was the fact that I had been a Colonel in the American Army, was a West Point graduate, and my family has originally been from Wales - including my grandmother Ellen who was from Anglesy!
So I was toasted and honored. And to my astonishment, at the end of the dinner and brief remarks by local leaders, a man named Erl Wyn Rowlands stood up and in an academic authorative voice and manner spelled out my northern Wales Ancestral (grandmothers line) lineage! He spoke as if I was in the direct line that traced back to the Tudor Kings - who ruled Wales from Anglesy - the last place dominated by both the Romans and the English! ayy
Much later I learned that Erl Wyn, who had an academic reputation for his knowledge of Anglesy and its notable people (his papers are still circulated), had known Elen Rhys back when she was a post graduate student and had lived with her for some time. When Elen contacted me to see if I would come to Wales and I asked - pretty much as a condition for doing so - that I wanted her help finding any living relatives of mine in Wales, she wrote to the University in Bangor asking for geneological help once she knew that my grandmother had come, in the 1890s, from North Wales. Whomever got the letter plopped it down on Erl Wyn's desk and he, remembering Elen fondly dug out, not only a living relative - Ann Benwell - who lived in the closeby town of Menai Bridge, but also developed an eleaborate lineage that plausibly relates me to the most famous Welsh Kings, one of whose line became Henry VIII of England!
And Erl struck up a renewed relationship with Elen, and was helpful thruout my subsequent visits to Wales.
The Welsh LOVE their history, and family lineages. And display both as often as possible.
In several meetings with Elen, Euryn, and others during both trips I even picked up on Welsh terms and their broader meaning. Such as the term 'fro' - loosely translated as 'community.' And it was the strengthening of 'community' - people connected to other people - that I saw at the heart of the communications revolution.
So I coined, on the spot, before my third trip to Wales, the term 'e-fro' - Electronic Welsh Communities.
It stuck. And became THE name for the large and well funded project which I was expected to head up on my next trip.
It even became the Logo Head for a slick printed 10 panel Welsh and English brochure with the question "802.11b Wireless Broadband for your community?" to be distributed in towns all over Wales. It explained everything from 802.11 to how inexpensive such 'community networks' could be. Here is just the bilingual cover.
Feedback to Government
I was asked by Minister Davies to write him and tell me what was my impressions from my presentations in Wales about wireless and broadband. Here is my first letter
Dear Minister Davies
You asked me to send you some notes of my impressions after travelling across Wales discussing the potential of wireless broadband.
After making 12 presentations over several days and dining with invited guests every night, as well as making one field wireless site survey (the Ogwen Valley east of Bangor), I have had a chance to form some strong impressions. I suppose over 300 keenly interested Welsh heard variations of my presentation you saw. I got a chance over extended dinners to ask lots of questions and discuss issues in depth with over 50 invited guests - from the very technologically savy Arwin group which actually runs a non-profit wireless network in Cardiff, to an eclectic mix of officials, linguists, educators, small business persons, historians and local luminaries in Bangor
In essence I learned the following:
(1) everyone wants broadband
(2) all seemed eager to try the wireless solutions I offered, as they could see no good alternative and the economics seem more than reasonable. Some were worried that, because their town was down in a valley that it could not be reached. I constantly stressed that hills above a town can be an advantage. Few yet understand the function of small radio 'relay' points on ridge tops. This was validated when I made a three hour field site survey by car, with terrain maps and with a local geological expert Gwilym Trefor Jones, up the Ogwen Valley - in rain and wind. In spite of the high mountains surrounding Bethel down in the valley and with Tregarth off to the side, I came away convinced that a rather straightforward wireless network using a few peaks, such as Carnedd y Filiast (the Cairn of the Greyhound Bitch) linked to the net in Bangor, could reach 90% of all structures, and with a few extensions, reach all but a few out of the way-and-over-the-hill buildings. Even the 15 or so home/farms in the 'upper' valley, near the reservoir could be connected.
(3) genuine interest was expressed for the novel local organizational structure I proposed - 'e-fro Councils' in up to 600 communities which would organize locally and take the initiative to develop both the wireless network, the 'community-reflecting' servers, and the people infrastructure needed to build out and sustain the electronic counterpart to the physical community - or for the work of such organizations as the Welsh Language Board, electronic communities 'of interest.'
(4) there was uncertainty expressed as to how the local wireless networks could be connected consistently broadband 'upstream.' And even skepticism that British Telecom or NTL (cable) would 'permit' interconnection. I learned some new things of value about these issues.
I got - and according to Euryn, Elen Rhys, and John Wilson (Arwain) they got - nothing but positive feedback for the ideas presented. Oh sure many were a bit inspired by my enthusiastic (because I believe in it) delivery, but I don't confuse admiration for my delivery with acceptance of my ideas. The ideas seem widely, even enthusiastically, accepted.
Among the things I learned new were:
While BT has laid fiber to within 1 km of every person in the UK, they would have to make important administrative as well as network changes in order to carry the net traffic to/from the Internet.
Though there are advocates for wireless inside BT, senior management just doesn't 'get it.'
Welsh Electrical Utilities are carrying fiber on many of their transmission lines and *want* to get into broadband. While they are not a solution everywhere, in my opinion they ought to be encouraged to try. The competition will be healthy for others. And, while cell phone and other telephone companies will be reluctant to permit wireless devices to be attached to their towers (to aid in distribution of the signal) the power companies will not be so negative.
There are already wireless networks of the type I recommended springing up - but they are unheralded and unnoticed even in their own communities. One of the most impressive already connects 23 schools over 800 square miles in Northwest Wales, including Bangor.
Cardiff University has a core of highly qualified and experienced RF (radio frequency) engineers, who work with Welsh companies nearby to manufacture various devices. (they asked Elun to get me to meet with them - they already knew of my expertise) Their work is advanced enough I might - for one of my National Science Foundation Projects - try to contract with them for the production of prototype advanced radios I need.
In sum, Wales seems ready to take a big step into a wireless future. I neither saw, nor heard, anything which would be an obstacle to the widespread deployment of no-license wireless networks in every part of Wales, under current or pending UK regulatory spectrum and radio rules.
Old Colorado City Communications
6 N 24th Street
Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA
I flew back to Colorado awaiting another invitation.