The La Cañada Wireless Association (LCWA) was founded in 2003 by seven Eldorado residents who wanted access to high-speed Internet. The founders are:
- Mike Engledinger
- Scott Gerber
- Bob Knight
- John McDermon
- Bob Slusher
- Matt Vandomselaar
- Glenn Wikle
While the founders were technically knowledgeable, they had to teach themselves how to create a network, learn what kind of equipment to use, how to program it, and who to contact for help. Costs were high in the beginning, but all of the founders donated cash and equipment to help get LCWA started. The founders were inspired by the book, Building Wireless Communities, by O’Reilly Media.
LCWA was founded as a 501(c)(12) non-profit under the IRS classification of ‘Benevolent Life Insurance Associations, Mutual Ditch or Irrigation Companies, Mutual or Cooperative Telephone Companies, etc.” Specifically we are considered a utility cooperative. Our non-profit status underscores the volunteer nature of LCWA as cooperatives are, by nature, volunteer organizations.
According to Wikipedia,
“Many such cooperatives exist in the rural United States, and were created by the New Deal to bring electric power and telephone service to rural areas, when the nearest investor-owned utility would not provide service, believing there would be insufficient revenue to justify the capital expenditures required.”
MEMBERS AS ACTIVE VOLUNTEERS
The founders had strong feelings that all members be active participants in the network and understand their computers, routers and radios. Summer lightning would reset the radios to the default setting, so members had to understand how to reprogram their radios and early board meetings were instructional sessions on how to do so. A five-page instruction manual on how to program your radio was available and before one could become a member, one had to go on installations.
Over time, the board realized that LCWA wanted to serve the underserved, and that they might not all be technically proficient, but members are still expected to volunteer for installations. While the special equipment of today necessitates some technical experience, there are many important tasks that can be done by volunteers who are not tech savvy. Currently, eastside volunteers meet every Saturday from 9:30 to 10:30 AM at Las Chivas Coffee Shop in Eldorado.
SOFTWARE AND NETWORK
In the beginning the software did not have the ability to provide uniform service, but this became a goal as the membership grew. The first radios were Senao cb3 radios and these were put outside in special plastic boxes with an added antenna. Next, Canadian radios, Tranzeos, were used and these were better and faster. Today, we use the current generation of Ubiquiti radios.
LCWA’s first connection to the internet was through a T-1 line at a member’s home in Eldorado. A second T-1 line was later installed at a member’s home in Cerrillos. The original T-1 feed points were eventually consolidated into a single DS3 line, and the network operations center was set up in a space adjacent to the Qwest Eldorado Exchange office near the corner of Avenida Vista Grande and Avenida De Comprades. This location was called Nexus and from here the entire network was fed on both the east and the west sides. As the network became more complicated, LCWA contracted for technical support. Today the LCWA network operations center is at the National Center for Genome Research (NCGR) in Santa Fe.
Originally, the LCWA membership fee was $60 a month, but over time the board was able to reduce the fee to $30. It was reduced to $55 in June 2003, to $40 in January 2005 and to $30 in August 2006. Slowly we increased the bandwidth from Qwest (now CenturyLink) as the radios improved, and membership grew beyond Eldorado, and added capacity from new providers like CyberMesa. Nearly 1,000 people have been members over the years. At the beginning of 2018, we had the highest number of active members ever at 538.
Over time, the Board of Directors has been able to increase the uniformity and consistency of the LCWA network as we have upgraded the Access Points and the infrastructure. As membership has increased, we have increased the bandwidth we buy from Century Link.