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November 5th Existing Network Meeting (COB’s Mansplaining)

By On
• In Bellingham,

Above is a map from an article showing how much money politicians get from big telecoms in general. Why it is a map made at the state level, I think it helps outline why we’re having a such a hard time modernizing our city and with our politicians and governments in general.

Before I go on I want to stop and thank the many hardworking people that work for the City of Bellingham who do at least try and make our city work everyday. I know that the higher-ups in the IT and Public Works departments, and the way they have handled this situation, often paint a picture that the government is too broken to work or fix. However, it should be noted that there are many hardworking employees of the COB below their level. For example, thanks to the very professional public records department I would have all of the records I needed to correct all of the, let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and say inaccuracies, that I heard out of both the Public Works and IT departments at this meeting.

I will break this article into sections. The overall strategy of the City of Bellingham’s (COB’s) side of the meeting on November 5th was definitely based on mansplaining, although, since I was not threatened on behalf of PSE or any other large corporation, I guess it was a bit better than when I met with Ted Carlson and Marty Mullholland about two years ago. Still, they would use the same excuses 2 days ago that they did 2 years ago. They would say they couldn’t give us information on the network, and claim it wasn’t robust enough for public use, even though they claim to be constantly expanding and improving it. Well, which one is it? Since they won’t let us confirm either way, I guess we’re just supposed to take their word for it, because they’ve proven themselves to be so trustworthy. I don’t know about you, but after all that has happened I’d like to make sure the network can at least support our emergency services for myself. In the end, I would find myself asking how these people make so much more money than so many other of their neighbors who were more talented and community minded.

So, on November 5th I had a meeting with the COB about getting some very generalized information about the existing public network from them. The information I asked for was pretty much the equivalent of looking up the specs on a router you might get at the store. Granted, the network is distributed over a much larger area.

As I’ve written about in the past, while the citizens who have paid for the network are being told that it is not useful, it is being leased (or potentially leased in the future) to AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and possibly other private entities. These are long standing relationships and the government looks forward to these leases. They even gave $1 million in fiber and other resources to AT&T in 2016.

To further prove its usefulness I made a request for some generalized specifics about the network including the number of wavelengths currently in use per strand, the common speeds being delivered, and how many times the wavelengths are divided up (aka the optical split). I did also request some information on some of the network gear. I expected that they would compromise on giving me either all or some of the information — you know, like reasonable people would. In the end they refused to provide any of the information, even the parts that were NOT a security risk in any way, shape or form, and even though they couldn’t back up their own security arguments even when directly asked to. That’s right, I literally asked them point blank to provide a specific reason why every part of my request was a security risk and they were unable to. They even dug deep and brought in a retired network tech from Seattle to make the 30-year-old, ineffective, security-through-obscurity argument in a closed-door meeting I wasn’t invited to a few months ago. An argument that has been blown out of the water by any IT pro worth their salt for the last 20 years.

The only point that could be made, and I’ll make it for them even though it’s a bad argument on their part if they’re doing their jobs, was about one small part of the original request. The model numbers of some of the equipment. In theory, if they’re not properly maintaining the network, and don’t have a proper layered security approach, a poorly maintained piece of equipment could have an un-patched vulnerability that could be exploited. Of course, they’re supposed to be watching the network and maintaining the equipment, even if it’s working correctly. So does this mean that they’re not? Anyway, I was willing to let the model numbers go, and it is no excuse for the COB not coming to a reasonable compromise, and at least trying to fulfill the rest of the request which had no security issues.

Section 1: The meeting.

In attendance: myself, another expert I brought with me we’ll call Bob, City Attorney James Erb, Assistant Public Works Director Eric Johnston, COB Network Technician Patrick Lord

I met for about an hour with the aforementioned people to try and get details about the public network. In the meeting we outlined where the city was at with the Dig Once Policy and $300K feasibility study. Turns out not very far, still. Dig Once remains the most important part of this puzzle since it would reserve public use conduit and fiber and prepare us for the future. It also reduces the cost of installing conduit and fiber by 90% and is the most ecologically sound way to build infrastructure since you have to dig up the roads less often and do as much work as possible at once. Fiber also lasts 3 times as long as copper and requires 6 times less maintenance, so is therefore more reliable. Still, there is a very usable existing network already in place. In the end, it would be best to have access to both, but Dig Once remains the most important issue for public broadband infrastructure.

The city is installing 2x2 inch conduit for itself, and even with future expansion, these resources can be used today to help promote real competition. Since the city had some concerns about giving out the details of some of their network gear, I tried to compromise with them on just getting the number of wavelengths and the number of times it was divided up (aka the optical split). I did NOT ask for the exact wavelengths being used and was willing to let network gear model numbers go. This makes me assume they don’t have a proper layered security approach, but that was beyond the scope of our meeting.

Keep in mind that fiber-optic cabling is used to carry waves of light (aka wavelengths). I kept making this point, but Patrick Lord and Erick Johnston kept confusing the wavelengths themselves with the physical cabling and saying, “We don’t give out information on the network for security reasons,” and “We’re addressing the dark fiber with the inventory due in Q1 of 2019.” Patrick even claimed that I hadn’t asked for anything specific, even after the 3rd time I explained what I was looking for to him. He seemed unaware of the basics of how a fiber-optic network operates in general.

When I asked them to define the security reasons, they were both unable to. That’s because giving out generalized information like the number of wavelengths per strand of fiber and the optical split is not a security issue. The potential wavelengths cover the entire infrared spectrum which would be like trying to guess hundreds of millions of wavelengths. It’s like saying that three cars were on the road, one was yellow, one was red, and one was blue. You expect there to be cars on the road, and you know about how many cars the road can support before there’s a traffic jam. That is the equivalent of information we asked for. We did not ask for the locations of the cars when they are parked, the keys to them, who their owners were.. Well, you get the picture.

Sure, if I asked them for all of the specific wavelength frequencies were then they might have a point, but I did NOT. I only asked them for the model numbers of the wavelength generators because they were giving me such a hard time about getting the more generalized information. Even then I would just have known the potential of the system, not the specifics. I wasn’t after the specifics anyway. I just wanted to show that the existing network can be used for much more than it is.

Of course the city council and mayor could solve this issue immediately by setting up a public-use policy of the existing network, and backing up a real Dig Once policy. Hell, they allow AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon to lease (or potentially lease) public resources. Why not us? Sounds to me like a legal precedent has been set up already for leasing. I did, of course, bring up this point. I asked, if we setup a non-profit, can we get the same access to and deals that AT&T, Verizon and others get. I was told that this was determined on a case by case basis at a level above Eric’s pay-grade. (AKA you only get to use public resources if you’re a big telecom like AT&T because Ted Carlson and Kelli Linville have to sign off on it. Like they have in the past for the big telecoms.You guys though, the guys from the public that want to help, well you can try but .…)

Again, the council can solve this issue with a simple vote to allow all licensed entities to have access to the network.This can be done without the need of a feasibility study.

Section 2: Dig Once.

Eric tried to say that this was NOT related to our discussion and, in general, tried not to answer questions as to the progress of this policy or the $300K feasibility study. He did confirm that they are working on them, and hopes that they will be ready in Q1 of 2019 but is unsure. He also would not confirm if the information from that study, of public resources, would be made public. We left the door open for a future meeting on this topic. I’ll let you know if/when that happens. Of course a Dig Once Policy is related to the existing network. If we had robust, dedicated, public use conduit to use and lease we would be ready for the future and the existing network wouldn’t have to share its resources with anyone else. Although, there is enough room it large portions of it to do so.

Section 3: Messages Sent Through the Grapevine.

This was the only part when I felt bad for Eric, but then only a bit. A messenger who carries a corrupt message on behalf of a corrupt leader is still somewhat responsible for NOT refusing to do so. It was made clear to me that: “The council/mayor do NOT consider it their job to learn about most issues, especially technology, nor should they have to. They rely on staff for that information and should NOT be expected to learn about it even if the staff provides them with inaccurate information and expertise.” In short, the staff wants to control how the council and mayor get their information, even if they’re completely wrong and I needed to understand that that’s the way they like it. The royalty has spoken to me, an underling, and I have to accept their ruling. Ok, I’ll start writing again after I stop laughing….. I mean… My God, I don’t even work for the guy, and he’s telling me what to do…. and how I can talk to my elected officials…. Oh, and to stop point out their incompetence, even though it harms the city…. Ok, I’m good now, let’s get back to the point. We live in one of the most advanced civilizations in human history and they’re saying that we can’t expect our mayor, council or staff to learn about the issues they face and make decision on?!

Here’s the bottom line on that. These strong words probably came from Mayor Linville or Ted Carlson through Eric. Still, we can’t be 100 percent sure because they didn’t have the spine to show up and convey the message themselves. Perhaps the words came from some members of the council, again hard to confirm. Here’s what I know for sure. In the 2.5 years this has been going on, Mayor Linville has always been an ass about technology; Ted makes threats and treats volunteers trying to help our community like dirt. The upper level IT guys can easily be replaced with community-minded pros with up-to-date skills who won’t confuse fiber cabling with the wavelengths they carry. Council members unwilling to learn about the issues they face need not be council members in the future. To date, only Hannah Stone, Michael Lilliquist, and Pinky Vargas have taken this issue seriously.

Also, I am technically a millennial. Yes, I am on the dividing line of Generation X vs. Millennial but in the end the math makes me one. I have seen the cost of everything, including every necessity go up. I have seen the environment ruined with little effort to fix it and with the responsibility to do so put squarely on the shoulders of my generation and younger generations. I have seen the top 5 percent get richer on the backs of everyone below them.I have seen the biggest corporations receive tax rebates while our homeless populations grows and our schools are failing.Yet, I could tell when I met with most of our government officials, that even though they can do something to help they will fight tooth and nail not to.

We literally have no reason to take this kind of crap from our government. Why? Not because we’re rebels, but because we get very little in return and because it’s a sure path to ruin. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. That’s what we’d be doing if we keep supporting corporate-controlled governments like our own. My God, even after CenturyLink and Verizon showed up to public council meetings, and even after I was told I’d be getting 1,600 e-mails on the new Sehome Tower (obviously constituting a meeting), even after Arpil Barker publicly congratulated Marty Mulholland (the city’s IT director) for her many meetings with and work on the CenturyLink franchise, Eric Johnston tried to tell me today that the COB does NOT meet with big telecoms. To paraphrase he said, they just fill out contracts, get the money, and do things. So even after we’ve seen them meet with the big telecoms, even watched the videos in some cases, they expect us to believe that they don’t.

Even Michael Lilliquist was on here just last article trying to profess his innocence when it comes to the big telecoms and meetings, but since the council still has yet to have a proper formal meeting with public fiber pros in the community, then they are all getting their information from the big telecoms at least vicariously. Also, they renew their franchise contracts with Comcast and CenturyLink every 5 years. Are we supposed to believe that happens magically? In the end, there is no way to tell exactly what is going on behind closed doors between our government and the telecoms. The paperwork shows that they do talk and do each other favors quite a bit. Why even lie about this? It’s not illegal for them to communicate with the big telecoms after all.

This is but one of many inaccuracies that Eric brought forth in the meeting. He would claim they had no ties to FirstNet after Governor Inslee and the Federal government mandated the adoption of FirstNet in WA State in 2017. Or maybe he just meant that his department wasn’t on FirstNet. Ok, well it’s a First Responder system, so we never said you were. We expect you’re on Verizon.

Eric would claim that he met with Mount Vernon. Yeah, he called their public works director, who does NOT manage the public fiber network in Mount Vernon. He called the wrong guy. I tried to put him in touch with the IS department here, you know the people that designed and manage the network, and to date he still has not done so. In short, he just wanted to be able to claim that he talked to “Mount Vernon” to try and confuse our council. Sadly, so far it has worked.

Eric would also claim that the existing network had nothing to do with serving the schools. Even though, thanks to our hardworking public records department, we have copies of the leases the city has with the schools. Sure, the schools may light up the fiber themselves, but the city does, and should, supply them with resources. I could go on with even more inaccuracies from the meeting, but the point is clear. You have professionals willing to volunteer their time to make our city great at the lowest cost possible on one side, and a government trying to strong arm them into not doing so on the other. Our public works department refuses to compromise with us on even the smallest issue. Instead of hearing, “hey here are some public resources you can use, they’re not much but we thank you for your help. Also, thanks for being a tax payer and paying for them in the first place.” We instead are treated like children and ignored.

Perhaps, if they want us to participate in a manner they approve of, they can stop trying to force us to comply for a while, and give us something we can really use instead. This is called a symbiotic relationship. You give smart millennials cheap broadband; they give you good jobs, with good pay and a brighter future. You keep kicking them in the teeth and threatening them, on behalf of a mayor and council that on the whole show that they don’t care about millennials, the homeless, the bottom 90% (the list goes on) and you get something else.

Anyone who will send volunteers in your community, who are trying to improve it, a message in this way, instead of talking to you face-to-face, does NOT deserve your vote and does not deserve to be in power.

I would love to hear from the council members on this one. I wonder how they feel about being represented by Public Works behind closed doors in this manner. Some of them, meaning the ones you shouldn’t vote for, are probably fine with it. Others will probably be disgusted. I’d give you my predictions, but why ruin the surprise.

One last thing, we went in to talk about the existing network. So why did Public Works and IT feel it was necessary to hit so many other topics and mansplain so many things to us? Do they think the citizens work for them and they can tell us what to do? I guess they’re just used to telling people what to do, strong-arming them if “necessary” and having them comply. Well guess what, it’s 2018. Voter turn out was over 65%. We’re waking up and times are changing.Oh, and we don’t work for the government, the government is supposed to work for us.

About Jon Humphrey

Columnist • Bellingham • Member since May 23, 2017

Jon Humphrey is currently a music educator in Bellingham and very active in the community. He also has decades of professional IT experience including everything from support to development. He [...]

Comments by Readers

David Camp

Nov 09, 2018

You’d think a good starting point for COB staff and electeds would be to visit with Mt. Vernon and see how they managed to install a local fiber network several years (at least 7) ago that provides their businesses and citizens with the best service at a lower cost than what we have in Bellingham.  And instead of obfuscating, ignoring, refusing to provide information, and insulting the intelligence of citizens who are educated and well-informed, shouldn’t a competent city staff rather try to involve citizens who are willing to work for free? 

Thanks, John, for keeping on struggling through the layers of bumph and deliberate chaff and flack staff is throwing in your way. Tho I think this is less about corruption than about inertia and habit and laziness by very well-paid person(s?) who are way too comfortable in their sinecures. Combined with a certain ideological preference for “private-public partnerships” among our neo-liberal electeds. Socialism is bad, didn’t you get the effing memo? 

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Jon Humphrey

Nov 09, 2018

Thanks David, I do agree with you that a lot has to do with laziness. After all, I’ve seen many more “do-nothings” at the top than the bottom in just about every area. Still, it is a serious issue. I got the sense that unless the network was compromised in a way that was so obvious it couldn’t be ignored, like someone finally dies because of communications problem, that this staff would have no idea, and wouldn’t care anyway. That means that as long as hackers are smart about it, they can chew up quite a bit of bandwidth on the network without a staff like this noticing or taking action. They say, they secure the network, but then they can’t tell you how. Or maybe they just won’t, because they don’t understand it. They belive in the old proprietary computing model, where they buy overpriced stuff, and wash their hands of paying attention after that. Security through obscurity is NOT security. Anyone who doesn’t get that shouldn’t be managing our network. Yes, the neo-liberals believe in pure capitalism just as much as the neo-conservatives. I wish our officials would lean from the world around us that no pure system works, and that adaptation, compromise, and education are the rules in life.

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David Camp

Nov 09, 2018

Yup - the happiest  and best functioning (for their citizens) advanced countries are those that have a mixed economy. Business is capitalist; Social functions like education, healthcare , police, fire, and so on are run by the government on a not-for-profit basis. Norway, Sweden, UK, France, Germany, and so on all have mixed economies. We do have a mixed economy in the USA - because who can imagine a for-profit police force, fire department, or public school? Well there is a strong movement to privatize education for the benefit of shareholders, much as healthcare is now. Which is rightly being resisted - and so should we institute single payer medicare for all and take the greed out of delivering healthcare. It’s just not healthy - but also - why should we continue to pay 18% of gdp to deliver healthcare, and not even to everybody, when our neighbor to the north covers everybody for less than 10% of GDP. 

Is greed consistent with the Hippocratic oath? 

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Jon Humphrey

Nov 09, 2018

Well, I finally heard back from April Barker today after months on silence. Only to tell me to refrain from calling the city’s response “bullshit artistry.” She calls our expertise and research, “points of view” and is more concerned about a word like bullshit than the fact that our multi-million dollar network, that serves our emergency services, provides the backbone for our libraries and schools, and can provide the backbone for a modern city, is in the hands of incompetent people that don’t care about our community and display no expertise. This is probably because she is also incapable of understanding the basics of the issue. Still, after all that has happened, she is concerned that I said “bullshit artistry” above all other considerations on this issue. Well it is my personal, and professional opinion, that the city is full of shit in this matter and that their response is bullshit, of such a high level, that no other term can adequately define it. In fact, perhaps they should parter with Western and setup a program in “Bullshit Artistry.” They are the local experts after all, and their contributions to that program would be better than their lack of contributions to our network. My God, worried about mild cursing when the stakes are as high as they are. The council really does live on another planet than the rest of us, don’t they. Dan Hammill has also blocked incoming information on the topic, with a blank automatic reply. Because, they’re children.

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Larry Horowitz

Nov 10, 2018

Jon, I cannot tell you how much I appreciate your dogged tenacity.  I only have two words for April: What Bull$#!+!

More than a decade ago, I experienced the same mind-numbing responses, ivory-tower-effect, and aloof lack of concern from city staff and council members.   Perhaps a former councilmember or two might chime in here and confirm what one CM told me then:  “CMs fear retribution from staff if they step out of line knowing full well that their own pet projects would fail without staff support.”  Whatever!

Another common response when our electeds refuse to do the right thing: “It’s political.”  WTF?

Based on my experience, it doesn’t matter how many times you literally prove that staff is wrong or has erred.  Elected officials will never take your side over staff’s.

In the future, we need to elect people with real backbones who are willing to champion the causes, concerns, and problems that Bellingham citizens really care about.  To me, only Terry Bornemann has shown his willingness to do so on a regular basis, although Gene Knutson is generally supportive behind the scenes.

If only people with strong spines would choose to run.  Perhaps you will.  I wish you would.  If you do, please promise you won’t succumb to the political pressures of the job.

Best,
Larry

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Jon Humphrey

Nov 10, 2018

Thanks Larry, I have been approached by many people about running for office, but I am not interested at this time. I am a very hands-on worker and like to tackle physical tasks, like installing cabling, etc. I am told that this is why ,“I’m a perfect candidate because I don’t even want the power. and have actually worked for a living.” I think this pretty much sums it up. I am not corruptible, and actually want what’s best for our citizens.  This means that big money interests will try to keep me from gaining a seat in any position. I actually want what’s best for our community and have even volunteered my skills to get us up to speed. Whatever, my attackers are few so far, and all investors that have breakfast, etc. with the council, like Colson Financial who especially gets testy when Council Member Barker is held accountable. Protectors of the council that attack me say that that just means I’m self-righetous and am after some fame or fortune. Which is funny because I haven’t made a dime on the public fiber issue and wanted to work in the background as a volunteer not drawing attention to myself at all. I neither seek fame or glory. I’m just a working class guy who sees some inexpensive work that needs to get done and cares a lot about free speech and my community. Still, with such awful candidates filling these positions, I will discuss the idea of running with my family again. We can’t have a mayor Barker, for example, that just means more handouts to landlords, more fake help for the homeless, more support of anti-net neutral, anti-first amendment telecoms, more censorship… sadly the list goes on. It will be, in essence, a continuation of the disasterous Linville administration. However, who are we really looking at right now for mayoral candidates? Probably Michael Lilliquist, Gene Knutson and April Barker. As much as I identify with and love my generation, most of them seem to have bought Council-member Barker’s lies hook line and sinker. After all, she sounds like she cares and is ethical, so she must be. Too bad her voting record doesn’t support it, but in general people don’t look that deep into candidates. Both Gene and Michael support Dig Once and had the decency to do interviews with NWCitizen. April Barker said she might kind-of, sort-of, answer a few of my interview questions, and then never did. She is used to the Herald, and other bought news sources, handling her. Just like the current administration.  

 

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David McCluskey

Nov 13, 2018

I can totally understand the city not wanting to just hand out network information to anyone that came along.   I support that decision.    What did you hope to gain by getting that information?   Are you trying to put a network plan together for them?  This sounds like putting the cart before the horse.  When/if you get to that point you could always ask for a NDA and then maybe they would share some information.

I am an advocate  for dig zero.  Don’t dig at all. If a public access is going to be installed it should be wireless.

 Jon,

Since you mentioned it…  from what I see the millennials were born 1981-1996.  So at the high end that would make you 37.  Your bio says you have decades of professional IT experience.  I guess I pegged someone with decades of professional experience to be older than the millennial generation .

 

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Jon Humphrey

Nov 13, 2018

Thanks David, it should be noted, again, that it is not their network, it is ours. We paid for it. If it was their private network, it would be different. They could leave it locked up all of the time and do whatever they want to with it, but it’s not. It’s a public system that the public has a right to gain, at least some, access to beyond the basic services it now provides. Again, even their old conduit can support hundreds of more strands, and they’re installing 2x2” conduit for themselves now, that they’re refusing the public access to as well. This conduit can support 867 strands per conduit and thousands of connections. Well beyond the current needs of our city. (The rest of the numbers are in previous articles). 

So, what I hoped to gain was to move our city forward and show, what we know now, that our public network is mch more useful than they’ve been telling the public. We see this in the leasing to other entiies, etc. (Please see this and other articles). The city saying, it’s not robust enough, isn’t good enough. We have a right to confirm that it is being maintained, updated, and run correctly. We can’t do this by hearsay alone.

The information I requested was not specific enough to be a security risk and the citizens have a right to  indepedently confirm that the network they paid for can support their emergency services and prepare for the future. Many public networks already give out this level of information, mostly so people can see what servives are available in their neighborhoods. In Chatanooga that is up to 10GB in some areas, but 1 GB in others. The “security reasons” argumenht does not apply here since the information was not specific enough to cause a security risk. Anyway, we did offerthe hypothetical situation of forming a Non-Profit and signing an  NDA if we could get the same access to our network that Verizon, AT&T, etc. have. They refused that too. They did not dsplay the expertise to make a determination on security either way.It’s just the over-used argument that incompetant people use.

All of their arguments were old security through obscurity arguments. Please check out the links outlining why that doesn’t work. Our network is more useful than they’re telling us it is, and we have a right to know how much more useful, especially since they’re not being honest with us. The information would also help to confirm how much more useful. Basic speeds show they run up to 1 GB in some locations. Guess you just have to be a big telecom to get on the public network.

Note: I did take another expert with me. He backed me up on everthing but the grea models, which I am willing to let go at this point. I only asked for them because it was obvious that they didn’t understand how our public network works, and were refusing to provide information because they were covering that up.

Dig Once would provide an alternative to the existing network, and is therefore related. Eric tried to argue that it’s not related, even though it obviously is. Robust, dedicated,  public use, infrastructure is still needed either way.

Also David, everytime you’ve commented on the issue you’ve shown a strong preference for wireless. However, the wireless arguement has never been about telling people facts. It’s been about confusing them into believing they don’t need real infrastructure. The facts are that wireless networks are less reliable than wired fiber networks, they cost more in the long run than fiber, have to be replaced much more often, have to be backed up by fiber to work correctly anyway, and there are many emerging, but serious, health concerns starting to come out about the technology. The bottom line is that access to fiber gives you choice. If you want to hook up a wireless device to your own fiber, then you can, if you want not to then you can do that too. Without subjecting your neighbors to your beliefs. It’s 2018, we should have choice and fiber is NOT expensive. I’ve covered all of this previously.

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