WIRING THE WIRED
by Matt Welch
The Zone News
"Here's the challenge," says Rob Patton, "people are going to say 'the 2000 Democratic Convention was so far ahead' because of what?"
That Patton can think big-picture at all is something of a miracle. As Information Services director of the L.A. Host Committee, all Patton has to do is work the next five months with his counterpart at the separate Democratic National Convention Committee to procure, network and provide every last telephone line, broadband pipe, walkie-talkie and television cable hook-up for a ravenous crowd of 20,000 high-power delegates, fixers and journalists who demand perfect high-speed performance 24 hours a day. All this, basically, from scratch.
"The sheer size of this is what makes it a challenge, because you've got so many different people working on different projects to make this even possible," Patton said. "Having to do it in a pretty short time span...it's kind of like Marines setting up base camp on the beach....You're talking in a six or seven month period building from scratch really a whole organization that's not only networked, but using and implementing the latest and most modern tools available."
This process is complicated by the bifurcated nature of convention fundraising and organizing. The DNCC, headquartered at the Arco Tower downtown, is an arm of the Democratic Party, serves the Party's national interests and is limited to spending federal matching funds of $13.2 million. The Host Committee works at downtown's Library Tower under the auspices of Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan (a Republican), has lead responsibility for setting up things like local transportation and lodging, and has no legal fundraising limitations. The two committees must balance their desire to please Democratic constituencies and donors with their need to provide and pay for complicated services, and any bottleneck in organizing affects the whole project. Potential sponsors and tech suppliers are generally approached by the finance departments of each committee, with the IT implementers left to cobble together a coherent strategy after the selections are made.
Which is why Riordan stepped more forcefully into the process in January. With fundraising $9 million short and no hotels chosen (creating a planning logjam for basic security, telecom and transportation), the mayor reshuffled his organizers and announced his office would take over 50 percent of the workload from here on out. In February, organizers selected the Wilshire Grand Hotel and the Hyatt Regency Hotel as headquarters for the DNCC, the Downtown Marriott Hotel for the media, LAX as transportation center, and more than 80 Southland hotels for 56 state delegations and 18,000 guests.
The first order of business is to wire up the two planning committees. SBC Communications, through Pacific Bell, became a "primary sponsor" of the convention in January, and was awarded contracts to provide wireless and basic telecommunications services. So PacBell is busy creating local area networks (LANs) and a wide-area network (WAN) at the Arco Tower and the Library Tower, ready to accommodate a combined staff that will grow from around 120 today to 350 by the time of the convention.
"We are finalizing arrangements for LAN/WAN that will Net the offices and tie them together," said SBC's Rich Motta, vice president for DNC operations.
The network will likely be expanded to include the press credentials area at the L.A. Convention Center and "some of the more critical hotels," Motta said. "We feel really confident that we have the infrastructure to support it.... SBC already has very extensive fiber optic pathways running through the heart of downtown."
The total Pacific Bell package will come to around 4,000-5,000 Centrex phone lines, 800-1,000 data service ports, 200 broadcast circuits, plus DSI, ISDN and DSL services, Motta said. "We hope to showcase our DSL product, because we believe that DSL will be heavily utilized by the media."
At press time, planners had yet to name a long distance carrier (though AT&T, a major sponsor, has the inside track), nor a data service provider, Internet service provider, Web server, or e-mail provider. And telecommunications is just one branch of the tech tree, Patton said.
"It's an ongoing challenge to accumulate all the hardware we need," he said. "It becomes pretty crazy."
Patton's requirements still include: More than 475 computers, 100 laser printers, different computer-aided design (CAD) systems, 400-500 pagers, fax machines, copiers, televisions.... "Think of all the televisions we're going to need!" he said.
The task becomes all the more urgent considering that the likely candidate, Al Gore, prides himself on his technical savvy.
"There's a lot of gidgets and gadgets out there," Patton said. "The technological piece of this convention is so crucial, and it is so very, very important to the whole message to make sure everything works." z