Local. Organic. Wi-Fi.

On my way back from the Homer airport this morning (five minute drive from my house) after dropping off a pair of packages at Fedex (yes – Fedex is here – at the airport – but you’ve got to drop off by 10:30 for next day delivery) I saw a sign that caught my eye.

Local.  Organic.  Wi-Fi.

The sign was outside the Sourdough Express Bakery, one of Homer’s local restaurant institutions (it’s been around since 1982 and is on the “must eat there once every summer” list.)

I’ve noticed Wi-Fi signs on most of the Homer restaurants, coffee shops, and stores this summer. Almost all of it is free. There’s even Wi-Fi available on the Homer Spit that’s free for an hour at a time.  After being gone for two years, Wi-Fi appears to be almost ubiquitous up here.

Not surprisingly, there is no AT&T 3G here.  We’ve got excellent AT&T Edge service and the AT&T phone service is spectacular (thanks to ACS) but no 3G.  So my iPhone is extremely slow up here, except on Wi-Fi.  Which I can get almost everywhere.

I’m kind of intrigued by the marketing around Wi-Fi.  I get local, especially in a place like Homer (hippy town, lots of local farms, almost all local fish, cost of transportation for stuff to here – the end of the road – is high).  I also get organic (as organic is the super trendy extra hippy movement of the day). However, Wi-Fi surprised me a little, but when I think about it, it makes perfect sense as this is a heavy tourist town in the summer.  “Stop here, check your email on your laptop using free Wi-Fi, and eat some halibut while you are at it.”

When I’m in Homer, I pay a lot of attention to the local small town patterns that exist.  Most of the places outside Boulder that I spend time in are large cities (New York, San Francisco, Boston, Seattle, Los Angeles) so I feel like I’ve got the big city rhythm in the US figured out.  But I definitely struggle to understand “the small town” as I’m hesitant to use Boulder as a reference point.  While Homer is also a pretty unique place, it’s probably a good proxy for tourist spots in the US that are under 10,000 permanent residents that is no where near a big city (the largest – Anchorage – is 222 miles away.)  If nothing else, the tempo of the place is radically different than the other places I spend time in during the year.

I expect I’ll have plenty of other missives from (and about) Homer this month.  If you want pictures, Amy’s got plenty of them building up over on her site Thoughts in Random Patterns.

  • David L

    Mmmmmm… halibut.


  • While I enjoyed reading this post the impetus for my comment is your blog design. Most often, I catch up on your postings via Google Reader or Feedly so I don't visit your blog directly very much. Tonight I clicked the link in your tweet so here I am at your site. Man, what a great design. I really like everything about it.

    • Craig, as Brad would concur, I'm sure – fyi that is at least partially due to Kevin at SliceofLime in downtown Boulder – i interviewed him on video a few months ago and WOW, does he run a great web development firm! HIGHLY recommended.

  • Alaska is like paradise during the month of July. Somehow, the world seems much bigger when you're flying in a beaver plane. (Plus, they don't tax Amazon affiliate sales…yet.)

    I've had some recent conversations with Alaskans about social media. While Facebook appears to be popular with the travel industry, it seemed that something about Twitter runs counter to the local culture. As a visitor, I haven't a clue. As a longtime resident, I'd be interested in your perspective.

    • I've seen some Facebook page links / ads so far but nothing Twitter. I'll be on the lookout for both.

  • Joel S

    Your description of pace reminds me of Walla Walla, WA (despite the fact that its 3x larger), which, despite growing by leaps and bounds, retains a strong small-town identity.

    It has been interesting to look back to see how my patterns of thought, activity and momentum have shifted as I have split time between there and Seattle (the big city, I guess). As a child of the computer generation, WW was a great place for learning and lounging.

    Enjoy Homer, and if you're in need of some tech-fiction, check out Neal Stephenson.

  • My Silicon Valley Networking Lab certified the first 7,000 Wi-Fi products (roughly) for multi-vendor interoperability between 1998 and 2005, so i'm always gratified by stories like this. But most of all, it's great to see you get it right with the hyphen — it's Wi-Fi, not WiFi! Many hotels across the US advertise "free WiFi", which is all wrong:)

    The thing is, you have to realize that Wi-Fi is only a LAN technology – roughly a 100m radius Microwave link. The real broadband is whatever they are backhauling the Wi-Fi link with… DSL, Frame Relay, Cable Modem, etc. Wi-Fi is just a wireless Ethernet connection; nothing more. It's not the hard part, or the expensive part – the broadband WAN connection behind it, is. And it's the same network that gives you 3G/4G… the Telcos. So the real cost burden is in the backbone, either way.

    • Yeah, I know all that about the difference between Wi-Fi and the backhaul.

      That said, I'm fascinated by community Wi-Fi. A ton of money has been flushed over the years in various versions of it – none of which have ever worked. When I think about a place like Homer, which has outstanding wired Internet connectivity through ACS (an AT&T affiliate) and GCI, it's pretty amazing that we are still stuck with Edge for wireless. Community Wi-Fi (or whatever you want to call it) liberates the local access points when you are in a building – and a remarkable number of places have it for free here.

      • Hey Brad – i think you mean "Metro Wi-Fi", not Community Wi-Fi. That is a totally different situation. Metro Wi-Fi is all about the backhaul technology, too – in particular, the mesh routing architecture. But more, it is about the city-level politics which infringe upon the technology.

        WiMax has an edge, in that they only have to obtain (albeit, very expensive) Microwave spectrum licenses; then they can put WiMax towers all over a city, and blanket it; then do the "last mile" using Wi-Fi. Whereas, true Metro Wi-Fi systems, which operate entirely on unlicensed spectrum in the ("Instrumentation, Medical, and Scientific" or the so-called "ISM") bands, do not require spectrum licensing; but their range is much shorter.

        It really isn't true that a ton of money has been "flushed" on it; i know the CTOs off all the Metro Wi-Fi plays and the only problems have been political, with city councils and governmental contracts. Metro Wi-Fi works like crazy! Because of the political problems, though – it is better to backhaul Wi-Fi hotspots over a broadband connections, instead of trying to establish a backhaul, routed mesh.

        Google has figured out a smarter way – e.g. in Mountain View, CA they established a very successful, free, city-wide Wi-Fi network. But in reality, is is a WiMax network with Wi-Fi hotspots being backhauled to the Google campus in their Shoreline Corporate location, by WiMax beams which cover all of Mountain View, and serve as a broadband backhaul network – very expensive, and requires Federally licenses spectrum allocation – as WiMax does not run on the ISM bands.

  • Aenesidemus

    You have appropriate qualifiers in place, but be sure to realize that Homer, and other "tourist-driven" small towns, are not a proxy for "small-town America." You would have to make a special effort to visit the real deal, and you probably would struggle to find a decent coffee shop, let alone Wi-Fi. But the pace is probably similar.

    • Yup – totally agree. Homer is the \”small tourist town\” case. That's different than Hotchkiss, Colorado, which as you know I also know well (that would be small town America.)

  • Haha. I was born in Homer. My dad's family homesteaded there in '59. My grandfather, Elton Anderson, (who was a regular at The Salty Dog) was on the first crews that built the North Slope, before roads. Made Ice Road Truckers look like a bunch of weekend warriors.

    Yeah, Homer's an interesting place. You may recall the '80something Super Bowl where McDonald's whole campaign was that Homer got it's own McD's and Got the TV channel that carried the Super Bowl for the first time.

    Anyway, enjoy your stay.

    • I think that Super Bowl was the first time I ever heard of Homer! My wife Amy Batchelor lived up the road in Anchor Point until she was 8 years old (mid 1970's).

  • It is so obvious Homer has been good to you.

    • I'm not so sure, paramendra – it seems to me that Brad is "loosing his edge" in Homer…

  • nice info, thank you 🙂

  • I always wanted to visit Alaska. I have to admit I find your site very inspiring. Every article I have read so far has made me want to do something that I have long since forgot about.

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