VantagePoint: Doug Green, Broadband Services

October 29, 2019

by UNH IT Staff

Doug Green has worked at UNH for over twenty years and has seen his share of changes, navigating the often-vigorous seas of technology to help others in their pursuit of research and education. Recently, Doug took over as interim Director of Broadband Initiatives, taking his network technology skills to the state level, and in the process, helping nonprofits and underserved populations across the Granite State gain access to knowledge and information. Signals IT News recently sat down with Doug to discuss his tenure at UNH, his new role, and his love of all things music. 

Signals IT News:
Doug, how did you get into technology? What kind of sparked your initial interest?

Doug Green:
Well, I mean I've always been interested in machines and as a kid I built a little telegraph system between my bedroom and my brother's. I remember that, but I was always taking things apart. I collected speakers when I was in middle school and I had them all wired up in my bedroom and had little switches to turn them on and off and I don't know, I was just always into physical stuff. I had a go-cart with little three and a half horsepower Tecumseh engine on there and I'd rebuilt that thing every which way from Sunday. And that persisted. I collected little Corgi cars when I was a kid and then I went to the University of Miami to study architecture. I wasn't really emotionally prepared to apply myself at the time.

I ended up in film school actually, and when I was one credit away from my Bachelor of Fine Arts, I got a job at a place called Midwest Telecommunications down in Miami. We sold and installed broadcast television gear. So I built TV studios. I did some work on towers for what used to be the Private Channel Club, which became The Vector for HBO. We had large distribution antennas on the tops of buildings and then dishes around the city. I met a young woman, and she was living in New York City, and I went to be with her, and she found me a tech school up there called, it's the old RCA Institute. It's now called the Technical Engineering College.

Anyway, I went there, and I studied with, these were folks, they trained technical chief petty officers for the Navy, and it was kind of ironic. I had pretty low aspirations. I went there because I was thinking I would learn how to repair things. I had worked with a guy, Bill Bush, we called him the snake. He could fix anything, TV, cameras, et cetera, and I always thought that was kind of cool. So I went to school to study that. I was in the little registration line, and they had two lines. They had one called V7, and one called T3 and V7 was for the technicians, that I thought I wanted.

And this fellow named Terry who lived in New York City, he talked to me for a minute and he said, "You don't want to be in this line, you want to be in this other line, the T3 line." Which was the engineering line. So I said, "Okay if you say so. And I signed up, and it turned out to be an incredibly rigorous eight semesters of really hairy math and engineering. That gave me a two-degrees in electrical engineering, and then I finished my degree at the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut. I got an EE, and I got a job at General Datacom. I was designing, analog-digital filters and working on modems. But I worked as a design engineer for quite a long time. Worked for a startup in the Massachusetts, 128 Belt, came to UNH 20 years ago to change it up a bit.

Signals IT News:
So speaking of UNH, you've been here over 20 years, what would you say some of the major changes are that you've seen since you've been on here, in terms of technology that's available to the community?

Doug Green:
Well, I remember when I was interviewing for the job with Charlie Simpson, at the time, just towards the end of the interview, Charlie said, we had a T1, if you know what a T1 is, it's a 1.5 megabit connection for the entire university system that came into Durham and then we had 56 kilobit private lines to Plymouth and Keene and UNH Manchester. And it was early August, and he said, "We're thinking about getting another T1 line for the fall, and what do you think we should do that?" I said, "Yeah, you should get about 10 of them." And sure enough, I mean, it's been crazy growth since then.

We've gone from that to...we lease fiber into Boston where we can buy internet cheap, in bulk. We lease fiber to Albany, New York, that takes us actually to Montreal and Chicago. We're now, in aggregate, buying about 60 gigabits of internet for the university system. So I don't know what, that's many, many orders of magnitude. But we've seen tons of technology changes. I mean certainly, Wi-Fi is now ubiquitous. I think that the experience for the community here, students, faculty, staff, is that the network, they're way less aware of the network than they used to be because it now, it's almost seamless to them. It's everywhere they want to be. It's plenty fast, for the most part.

I mean the research community always can use seriously big bandwidth, and we're working with them on projects around that. But the other issues are around privacy and totally separate things, which really comes down to applications, right? What's available through your phone or your computer is pretty vast with social networking and all that kind of thing. It's totally changed the way we use this stuff. And so it brings up all kinds of questions about, I mean, you know it's affecting how we consume news. It's affecting how we interact with each other, how we communicate across long distances. The difference between 20 years ago today in terms of technology is vast.

Signals IT News:
Well, I think when we both, because I started right around the same time you did. I think they had just brought the faculty staff network online, in terms of having access to the internet that you didn't have to go to Kingsbury to access at the time. So it was pretty substantial.

Doug Green:
And it was being built out into the dorms too. They had serial connections. There was no Ethernet at the time, and it was mostly text-based. So with the expansion of the web and Ethernet technology, I think the LAN team here, which I was part of until we got our big grant to build the fiber network and I started running that. We must have done probably five complete forklift upgrades, meaning we ripped out all the equipment and often a lot of the cabling too.

The copper cabling that distributes it through the walls to your wall plate. That technology has improved and been refreshed several times and certainly Wi-Fi over the course of very few years, we completely refreshed all the Wi-Fi several times. And Dan and Dave LaBree and Mike and his team have done an amazing job over the last three or four years. It's just powerful. I think there's like 4,000 access points on campus now.

Signals IT News:
So it kind of feels like what you've done with your career is you've taken what you did here at UNH, and then you've scaled it to include the entire state of New Hampshire in terms of like working for broadband initiatives. Why is broadband access so important in New Hampshire?

Doug Green:
It affects everyone's lives. There are many very practical uses for it. The FCC and some others commissioned a thing called The Broadband Plan For America. I think that was in 2009. Oh, and that plan, what's interesting about that plan, is they figured it would cost somewhere around 300 billion to wire up the entire United States appropriately. That's every last home, business, et cetera. The Obama Stimulus Plan put, in very round numbers, $3 billion towards building out broadband for a so-called middle mile, long haul stuff. So, that's 1% of what we actually needed. So we still have a lot of work to do. But to answer your question, like electricity a century ago, broadband is a foundation for economic growth, job creation, global competitiveness, and a better way of life.

It's enabling entire new industries and unlocking vast new possibilities for existing ones. It's changing how we educate, deliver health care, manage energy, ensure public safety, engage government and access, organize, and disseminate knowledge. That was written 10 years ago. I think the other piece of it is, and this brings it to New Hampshire, there are parts of New Hampshire that have really been hit hard by various industries collapses. Most recently, the paper industry, but before that textiles and shoes and so on, particularly in the North country. There's a high correlation that can be demonstrated between the availability of broadband and economic development. So that's kind of a no brainer, right?

If you want to be in business, you really need to have a good internet connection. But also, if you want to be a citizen these days, forget about entertainment. I don't know how often I use my town's website to find out is the transfer station open? What do I have to do if I want to talk to the code enforcement officer? Whatever and there are a million resources for families who have a variety of challenges in their lives, whether it's disabled family members or they're poor. They need heat assistance or I mean there's this a million things that you can get access to or information about over the web. If you don't have a good connection, you're cut off from that, and that's only increasing. So it affects every corner of the population and for me personally, our thrust has been serving nonprofits, and we really want to continue to push for that.

A challenge and this is a worldwide challenge, carriers can't be expected to serve areas that are rural, that are widely geographically dispersed. If you've got somebody on a farm living three miles down a dirt road, it's expensive to stand up fiber to them. And so the return on investment is an infinite number of years. You'll never make your money back. So like with the rural electrification program, you've heard of RUS grants? The rural... I don't know what it stands for, R-U-S. It's a federal grant program that helps mostly I think agricultural concerns get access to a variety of funds for a variety of reasons. But they also, in part, they fund the broadband build-out and also recurring costs.

That's the other thing. I mean you can build this whole network and then you have to pay to operate it. So I guess the point of my story here is, as a society, we need the will to make it so that everybody can get connected. What I was trying to get at is, we can't ask the carriers to be responsible for that. They are running businesses, they can't lose money. So there are programs that we've had in the past that can encourage them to do that or at a state and federal level, we can contribute funding to help everybody get connected and stay connected. Somebody was asking me recently, "Well, what about the guy that lives down at the end of the road? Why should we fund his, if he doesn't want to live in town, why?"

And I said, and this thought occurred to me in the moment, and I said, "He might be the most interesting person in your whole town." You know our friend Scott Valcourt spoke last week at the All Hands thing about this whole telemedicine concept. For people who have mobility challenges, it's really a fabulous tool. So someone who is bound to their home, a doctor or another expert can work with that person. I mean, they do all kinds of things. There's high-res cameras you can get, they can diagnose skin issues, they can do psychological interviews. There's so much telemedicine capabilities. So that's one of the millions of applications that you can do. Yeah, the whole network world is enabling all kinds of interesting things.

Signals IT News:
So it seems like UNH is obviously, one of the biggest things I see is just access to information. Your right to access this information. It's the same as having a town library, right?

Doug Green:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Signals IT News:
So did UNH get into this, did they get into expanding broadband across New Hampshire because they were sourcing it from other parts of the region and they were like, "Geez, if we can take care of New Hampshire, UNH rather, than we can kind of pipe some of this technology to other parts of the state that aren't quite up to standards."?

Doug Green:
Well, so there's a few pieces to this. One, so there's the university system already, which includes the large campuses, Plymouth State University, Keene State College, Granite State College, which is a somewhat dispersed institution. So networking is really vital to them. The University of New Hampshire and there are many smaller satellite components to each of those institutions. Plymouth, well, they used to have a graduate center in Concord. UNH has the Jackson Labs down on Adams Point here, the Institute on Disability in Concord. They just came on our network on fiber, and they're very excited about that.

And then there's the Cooperative Extension System, which they're in every county. They are part of the UNH mission as a land grant university, and they're a vital community resource. Anyway, so we had built this thing around the state, and there have been two initiatives that were collaboratives of, the first one was called Neat Net, that consolidated today, I think at the time they were nine X. They ponied up some free circuits for two years. Cabletron at the time, who has now been dispersed into into Enterasys. Well, they're now Extreme Spectrum and some other companies. They put up some hardware, some networking hardware into place, and invited schools. It was K-12 to participate in this thing.

UNH, the LAN team, actually we stood up an email server and so we got them some internet and ran some services for them. That was called Neat Net, and that was an outreach mission that multiple parties got involved in. After the two years, the various high schools and elementary schools and middle schools were then on the hook to pay the monthly bill, and that atrophied fairly quickly. Then we created the Grant of State Distance Learning Network, which was about video conferencing, and again there were multiple parties contributing stuff. We got a lot of RUS grant funding. Folks at the Cooperative Extension Service participated in that in a big way, in terms of writing grants and so forth.

We placed video equipment, it enabled, a big participant was the Police Standards and Training Group. So public safety does a lot of, the laws are always changing. There's always new information. They do a lot of training, and if you want to go to the Fire Academy in Concord and you live in Littleton or wherever the source of the training is, then you've got to travel a lot. It's a lot of windshield time and a lot of expense to compensate people for that drive time and the mileage. So they began standing up what we would now call community anchor institutions. They created zones or spots around the state where people could go, and it cut their drive time way down and gave them better access. And they had higher participation as a result too, people could get to these things.

So that was a perfect application for video conferencing. That persists today, but it's in a different form. We had big hardware to do video conferencing, we had like a master interface unit that bridged all these things together. You can do all that over the internet today without much hassle. So that was Granite State Distance Learning Network, and then several of the folks who we partnered with when we did that, we gave them internet as well. This was a generation after Neat Net. So there was a lot more capacity we could provide for them. And then, in 2012, when we got our stimulus grant to build fiber, a lot of them were interested in getting connected to our fiber network.

So right, so now our customer base is a little bit bigger, but they're telling their friends. It has been all word of mouth. People have come to us and said, "Hey, we heard you had a great network, can we get on it?" We have not done a major thrust to try to reach a lot of institutions. So we might bump into somebody, I think we were at a conference in Concord with, it was a public safety thing that had to do with FirstNet and got chatting with a guy named Tom Andros, who is from Grafton County, and Doug Hackett, who is with the Hanover Police Department and they run dispatch consoles. And they have a microwave link between them. But they said, "Hey, could we connect these up over your network?"

Because it just so happened, we had stuff in Hanover, and we had gear at the county office in Grafton County up in North Haverhill. So we did, we stood up connection. They ran Ethernet cables into our gear and hooked them up, and it worked. We're working with sheriff departments, we're working with nursing homes, and it's all been by word of mouth. Bill Poirier and I have had some conversations. He's very interested in expanding this business, and there's lots of opportunity to do that, and there's funding opportunities, and there's interest. And so we're working on taking it up a notch.

Signals IT News:
Last question. So we did one of these interviews probably, I'm going to say 2002, 2003, way back in the first days of signals. And at the time, I believe you had just started playing bass. I remember you played harmonica, and you were kind of in your infancy as a bass player. How has that progressed, and kind of what does music, how does that fit into your life?

Doug Green:
If you spoke to my wife, Kimberly, she would tell you it fits a little too well into my life. I'm obsessed. I'm in a jazz trio called See Smoke. We rehearse twice a week, two nights a week. We play out fairly regularly, probably 20 times a year. We play in pubs or in the area, and we play art openings and private parties, and it's wonderful. It's kind of jazzy, it sets kind of a nice, happy mood. Our guitar player, David, is quite an amazing composer too. So we're playing some really interesting stuff. You know the thing about playing the bass for me, and anyone who plays an instrument knows this.

It's essentially a spiritual practice. It's a daily thing that I do that, since I've been doing for almost 18 years now, I've actually gotten to where I can I'm a serviceable bass player. I can learn new songs quickly. I've been invited, I've played with a bunch of different people now, who have heard me play and said, "Hey, we're getting together to do this thing, would you mind playing bass with us?" So I've had the opportunity to do a lot of that and it's super satisfying. And for me, it's an analogy to everything in my life, in terms of knowing that you can do something daily and it can add up to something really big. And I love music, and it brings people together, and it's a happy thing.

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