An application that farmers can use to manage the hundreds of tasks they have to work through every day was the winner at the third Apps for Ag hackathon, held in Watsonville on Sunday. The two-person Central Coast Coordinate team took top honors with a web application that uses calendar and map technology to schedule individual jobs for specific locations in the fields.
A total of fifteen competitors representing five teams took part in the competition, hosted by Cabrillo College at the Solari Green Technology Center in downtown Watsonville. They had a day, a night and another day to come up with solutions to common challenges faced by growers in the central coast region.
Second place went to Turbo Compliance. It’s a website where growers can enter raw information over the course of the year about when and where they apply, say, fertiliser, and then quickly output the annual paperwork they need to file.
Agripedia came third, and was singled out by the judges as the most interesting technology. The team linked Wikipedia’s open source wiki software to Twilio’s SMS service and created a platform that allows developing world farmers to use text messaging – which is nearly ubiquitous – to look up and retrieve agricultural information. Their solution included a technique for squeezing useful crop advice – or any similar data – into a 160-character limit.
The two runners-up were Food Traceability, a functional way of tracking food products from the field to final consumers, and AgriGator, an ambitious but ultimately incomplete attempt to corral a wide range of farming data and both mine it and transform it into regulatory compliance paperwork.
This was the first Apps for Ag hackathon to be held in Watsonville. The two previous events were in Coalinga and Davis. The first place team took home $5,000, second and third got $3,000 and $1,000 respectively.
Like it or not, convincing an incumbent provider to invest in improving broadband infrastructure in your community means putting a better deal in front of them than they can get elsewhere. Both Google and AT&T have money to spend on fiber upgrades, but not very much, relatively speaking. So they’re issuing short lists of cities, and then sitting back and waiting to see what those candidates put on the table.
Examples include the broadband policy initiatives that are moving forward in Santa Cruz County, including “dig once” rules that encourage installation of conduit anytime road construction work is done and a simple, over the counter permit process. The man responsible for those changes, Aptos supervisor Zach Friend, also spoke at the meeting – more on that later – sharing lessons learned with a roomful of elected leaders and top administrators from several central Sierra cities and counties.
“We want to be able to service other business”, said Bob Berry, public works project manager for the City of Watsonville. “We think we want to turn this into an enterprise fund”.
The city is installing dark fiber between key public buildings and, incidentally, through core business areas of Watsonville. The project was launched after Charter Communications raised the price it was charging for similar connections from free to $150,000 a year, a move made possible by its shift from local to statewide cable franchising. Besides supporting the city’s internal network, plans are in the works to generate revenue – and stimulate local businesses – by leasing dark fiber and conduit space to interested service providers.
The first phase of the project involves stitching together existing city-owned conduit. Because Watsonville began specifically identifying and routinely mapping potential broadband assets, such as traffic signal conduit, several years ago, building a 4-mile fiber network only required installing about a mile of new underground duct work. The work will cost about $200,000, less than the $300,000 that the city originally estimated. It’ll begin in January.
Berry was speaking at a broadband deployment workshop organised by the Central Coast Broadband Consortium (CCBC) earlier this month. Public works professionals from other Monterey Bay area cities and executives from local Internet service providers quizzed him on construction details and operational plans. Particularly interesting to the ISPs was the decision to put fiber access points every three hundred feet, at least along the new sections of the route. The closer together those points are, the less it’ll cost, on average, to hook up businesses along the way.
Watsonville is a city of about 50,000 people in southern Santa Cruz County. Its neighbor to the north, the City of Santa Cruz, isn’t much bigger but there’s a whopping difference in median household income: $63,000 versus $46,000 in Watsonville. Improving broadband infrastructure – for business and government – is a high priority and seen as a critical resource for closing that gap. The City of Watsonville has been an entrepreneurial broadband champion, serving as the lead agency for the CCBC and developing a broadband mapping and analysis center that serves the region.
The first phase of the project, which is now out to bid, involves installing a total of about one mile of conduit that will link up to another three miles or so of existing conduit and fiber lines, creating a continuous path. Phase two, which is expected to start early next year, involves pulling fiber through the new and existing conduit, to link up city buildings.
The motivation for the project is the end of a deal next year with Charter Communications for free connectivity between those locations. With the move to statewide cable television franchises, local governments have lost the control that allowed them to leverage free institutional network facilities. Starting next July, Charter intends on charging the city as much as $150,000 per year for the system.
The city is estimating the total cost to be about $500,000, less than what it cost to pay Charter for four years of the current network, and about the same as eleven years of a scaled back alternative. Watsonville is also planning to offer service to local businesses and other government agencies, which could bring a faster payback and, eventually, some income to the city.