Empowering members to be advocates for rural telecommunications

By Shayne Ison
General Manager

The results are in. Almost 200 readers responded to The Mountain Connection readership survey in our January/February issue. Your responses gave us good insight into what we’re doing right and how we can serve you better.

I appreciate those who took the time to share this valuable feedback with us.

Not surprisingly, the stories about local people in our community and the articles about food are the most popular pages among respondents. But I was pleased to see readers also enjoy the articles with information about your cooperative.

Perhaps that readership is why 85 percent of respondents said this magazine gave them a better understanding of technology, and 90 percent said they have a better understanding of the role this cooperative plays in economic and community development because of The Mountain Connection. It’s very gratifying to know our efforts are working.

I shared this data not to boast about how proud we are of this magazine, but to explain the reason why I’m proud of it. I believe having informed and educated members is a key factor to the long-term health of this cooperative.

In fact, educating our members is one of the seven core principles that lay the foundation for a cooperative. The National Cooperative Business Association says members should be informed about company and industry news “so they can contribute effectively to the development of their cooperative.”

Informed and engaged members make our cooperative better.

Broadband has been in the news quite a bit lately, from net neutrality to the president discussing high-speed network expansion. It’s important for our members to know how federal regulations, state policies and shifts in the industry can affect their broadband and telephone services.

Educating you on issues that matter to rural telecommunications and your community empowers you to become advocates for rural America. Big corporations and urban residents certainly find ways to make their voices heard, and it’s up to cooperatives like us and members like you to let legislators and policymakers know that rural America matters and decisions that affect telecommunications cooperatives matter to rural America.

I hope you enjoy the stories and photos in this magazine. I always do. But I also hope you come away with a little better understanding of your cooperative, the role we play in this community and the role you can play in making rural America better.

Adding fiber to your community built a strong network

By Shayne Ison
General Manager

Shayne Ison

Shayne Ison

Our culture is fascinated with potential. We talk about athletes at the high school level having great potential, with hopeful futures at the college and pro levels. We talk about friends having the potential to be successful in business, education or the arts.

When we view something as having potential, we believe that within it lies the power for it to become greater than what it is now, to accomplish good things and impact lives in a positive way.

I can’t think of a better description for the broadband network we are building today.

This project was a historic undertaking to ensure residents of Eastern Kentucky have access to cutting-edge Internet speeds. Our crews and contractors have added more than 2,000 miles of fiber optic cable throughout Bath, Elliott, Menifee, Morgan and Wolfe counties. We’re proud to announce that we completed all mainline work in the fiber-to-the-home buildout in 2014 and are now working on connecting our members to that fiber backbone.

But that is just the beginning of the story. The most important feature of our broadband network is the potential it holds. Studies have shown that when people put broadband to work in their homes and communities, some exciting things happen:

  • Household incomes rise
  • Job opportunities increase
  • Poverty levels and unemployment drop

The potential is there — but the key to unlocking that potential is you. Some of our customers are doing an outstanding job in this area:

Brad Kidd, of Triple K Limousin Farms, uses our network to search for cattle in online auctions, bidding on the best heifer or calf he can find to produce top-notch stock.

The teachers at Elliott County Schools are delivering a world-class educational opportunity to students. Educators use a Microsoft program called Lync to record their lectures so students can review them anytime from home or with the school’s computers, via a high-speed fiber optic Internet connection.

The devoted ladies of the West Liberty String-a-Long Quilting Guild search through thousands of patterns online to find the latest inspiration for their quilts, many of which are donated to nursing home residents and people in need.

The network we are building today allows you to take advantage of today’s technology. But here’s the most exciting thing: Where the true power lies is in our network’s ability to adapt to new technologies as they become available, freeing you to explore new ways to put broadband to work. You have the tools to reinvent how you live, work and play.

So go innovate. Go learn. Go imagine new ways to use the technology we are blessed with in this region. Put it to work to change your community, your family, your business. Then be sure to share your story with us. Like those I mentioned above, your story may inspire someone else to unlock the potential of broadband, while discovering the potential inside themselves.

 

Helping you build the life you want

By Shayne Ison
General Manager
 
Shayne Ison

Shayne Ison

Why do you live in rural America? Maybe it’s family connections. Maybe it’s the close sense of community and the importance of tradition. Maybe it’s because you enjoy a quality of life in this area that would be difficult to find in a metro region.

Whatever your reasons, the people who work at Mountain Telephone understand that we play an important role in helping you build the life you want here. As your local telecommunications provider, we know you depend on us to supply the technology you need to stay connected. And that is becoming more important as our world grows increasingly dependent on broadband connections and Internet-based solutions.

Some might think that living in a rural area means sacrificing access to technology. We are proud that, as a member of  Mountain Telephone, you do not have to sacrifice at all. In fact, because of our focus on building a state-of-the-art network, you have access to Internet speeds higher than those available to some people living in larger cities.

Of course, we still have many challenges. While just over 19 percent of the U.S. population lives in a rural region, almost half of Americans who are not connected to the Internet are rural. That means there are still millions of rural Americans who are missing opportunities made possible by a broadband connection. From education and jobs to health care and family connections, they have yet to discover what so many of their neighbors have already learned — that a broadband connection can help them build a better life.

That is one of our biggest challenges as your technology leader. Building a broadband network is only the first step; we must also help you understand how to use it. The magazine you are reading now plays an important role in those efforts. We choose the stories for this magazine very carefully. We include subjects that appeal to a broad range of readers with a variety of interests. We can almost guarantee that during the course of a year you will be drawn to something in these pages, no matter what your interests may be. And whether it’s a profile on a local person with a unique hobby or business, a story on how someone is using technology, or a feature on a road trip, these have the mission of helping you learn to put our services to practical use in your life.

Speaking of the magazine, please look again at the top of Page 3 and spend just a few minutes taking our reader survey. Your answers will help us understand what you love best and find most helpful about your magazine.

I also want to call your attention to the Rural Connections article on Page 2. Shirley Bloomfield leads our national trade group, NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association, and does an incredible job keeping us connected on issues in Washington, D.C., that impact us right here in Kentucky. It is more important than ever that independent telecommunications companies work together on matters that impact us all; we are proud to welcome Shirley as a contributor to our magazine as she shares with you some of the work we are all doing together.

When you think about family and community, living in rural America really is all about being connected. At Mountain Telephone we are proud to provide the technology that makes many of those connections possible.

Focused on doing the right thing

By Shayne Ison
General Manager
 

Shayne IsonAs a community-based telecommunications provider, our focus is on meeting the needs of those we serve. To us, that means being ready to do the right thing every day for the communities we serve, no matter what challenges may come along.

As we prepare to celebrate Veterans Day, I am reminded of a story that serves as a powerful illustration of that ideal. It was Feb. 19, 1945, when American forces landed on Iwo Jima, a Pacific island some 750 miles south of the Japanese mainland. The island was a strategic stronghold for the Empire of Japan. If the U.S. could secure the island, it could stop the Japanese from interfering with bombing raids on Tokyo and ultimately use Iwo Jima’s airstrips to launch an invasion of the mainland.

After four days of intense battle, during which hundreds were wounded or killed, U.S. forces took control of Mount Suribachi, a 554-foot high mountain on the southwest tip of the island. Marines scaled to the top and planted an American flag. The Secretary of the Navy, James Forrestal, wanted that flag as a souvenir, so a second flag was brought up to erect.

What happened next changed history.

Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal was not present for the first flag raising, and almost missed the second one as he was piling up rocks to stand on for a better vantage point for a photo. When he saw the five Marines and one Navy corpsman beginning to raise the flag, he grabbed his camera from where he had set it on the ground and took the shot without even looking through the viewfinder.

It wasn’t until later that Rosenthal knew what he had captured. And neither he nor anyone in the photograph could have imagined the impact that single image would have on the overall war. The photo became an icon, a symbol of American victory. To a country growing weary of a world war, the sacrifices on the homefront and the loss of sons and husbands, the photo served as an inspiring confirmation that good would prevail.

It also became the central image of the Seventh War Bond campaign, which would raise billions of dollars to help fund the successful end of World War II. Rosenthal and the flag raisers were serving their country and doing what was right in the midst of incredible challenges. And the impact of their work will be felt for generations.

Though what we face today pales by comparison to the sacrifices of that generation, rural telecommunications providers like us have our own set of challenges. Industry changes, market forces and regulatory action are putting pressures on us unlike anything this industry has ever seen. But we are committed to doing the right thing, to serving you to the best of our ability. And we know that if we remain focused on the task at hand, good things will happen — for your telco, for your community, for all of us.

This holiday season, I encourage us all to take a few minutes to thank a veteran for his or her service, to count our blessings as Americans, to cherish the time we have with our families and to recommit ourselves to being ready to do what is right for our community and those around us. I wish you and your family many blessings this holiday season.

What our job is really all about

Shayne Ison
General Manager
 

You wouldn’t believe the amount of news articles, policy briefs, mail (paper and electronic) and other documents that come my way each week. These items remind me just how complicated the telecommunications business has become.

Shayne Ison

Shayne Ison

As the leader of your cooperative, it is an important part of my job to stay on top of technology and industry changes. As I do so, it’s easy to start thinking that my job is all about building a network, advocating for fair laws and policies, managing budgets and leading teams. But those are merely tasks. My real job — and, indeed, the real mission of this company — is all about growing communities and changing lives.

There have been a few times in the history of our country that we reached a turning point, a moment where we accomplished something so important as a society that life would never be the same after that. For example, when the rural electrification program lit up the countryside, it helped families automate labor-intensive chores in their homes and on their farms, enabled a healthier standard of living and empowered people to open small businesses that would provide goods and services to their growing communities.

With the interstate highway system, we opened up new parts of the country for development and created a means of moving products made by American workers to markets all over the continent.

And now, here we are in the early part of the 21st century, creating a new kind of system that will have the same level of impact on society as electricity and interstate highways have had for decades. I’m speaking, of course, about today’s broadband network.

In our service area, and in regions like ours across the country, providers just like us are building a network to provide homes and businesses with high-speed data connections — not in the “big city,” but in the small towns and rural communities we call home. And like power and highways, broadband is changing lives. Consider these stories, which are playing out all across rural America:

  • A fifth-grade boy sits at a home computer taking remedial classes over a broadband connection, helping him stay current with his class and improve his grades.
  • A single mother visits a local campus at night to take broadband-enabled distance learning classes, helping her improve her skills in hopes of landing a better job.
  • A clinic runs tests on an elderly woman, then sends the results over broadband to a radiologist at a regional healthcare center to determine if she has suffered a stroke.
  • A couple opens a business in their town, filling a need in the community while creating jobs — and they use broadband to connect with suppliers and other resources.
  • Emergency responders gather in their training room, using broadband to access new information without losing time and money traveling to numerous training events.

This is what my job is really all about. And I’m reminded every day that our mission here at Mountain Telephone is about more than providing today’s most important infrastructure. Our mission really is about changing lives.

Net neutrality is a complex issue

By Shayne Ison
General Manager

The term “net neutrality” has been in the news many times this year. It’s a simple term for a complex issue that concerns how the flow of Internet traffic may someday be regulated. Here are some of the main questions people have about the issue.

Shayne Ison

Shayne Ison

What Is Net Neutrality? Net neutrality is the idea that the Internet is an open environment where users have the ability to access whatever legal content they choose. Whether you want to watch an action movie on Netflix or a funny video on YouTube, net neutrality says this should be treated the same as checking your email or surfing websites about your favorite hobby — no content should be given preferential treatment across the network, either through more speed or easier access.

Should Net Neutrality Be Protected? Those who support net neutrality say it is a matter of personal freedom, and that neither the government nor big businesses should be allowed to limit what content is available to you on your Internet connection. They say a free and open Internet — where no type of service is given a “fast lane” over any other — encourages people to create new technology and business ideas. There is also concern that, without net neutrality, national Internet service providers who also own cable channels could unfairly provide easier access to their own content.

Should Net Neutrality Be Changed? Those who believe net neutrality policies should be changed say that the concept actually discourages innovation. They say Internet service providers should be able to charge a fee to high-bandwidth services that place more requirements on their networks, which in turn would allow them to provide consumers with faster access to these services. An example would be giving a fast lane to video services such as Netflix and YouTube (which account for 50 percent or more of Internet traffic), allowing them access into your home at a faster speed than basic Web browsing.

What Is The Status Of Net Neutrality? In January, a federal court struck down the net neutrality rules established by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 2010. These rules were intended to prevent Internet service providers from giving preferential treatment to different types of content. As a result of the court order, the FCC is now in the process of creating new rules, seeking public input to develop a framework that the agency says will ensure choices for consumers and opportunity for innovators, prevent practices that can threaten the open Internet and expand transparency.

Is There A Right Or Wrong Approach? As I said in the beginning, net neutrality is a complex issue, as is the case with many public policies. There are pros and cons to each approach. And the debate is sure to continue no matter what rules the FCC adopts.

The future of the Internet will certainly be written in part by these rules, and that is why rural providers like us remain involved in the process through our combined voice, NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association. There are no quick, easy answers to an issue as complicated as this one; therefore, we are dedicated to closely monitoring the FCC’s rulemaking process while providing information to help keep the needs of all rural consumers in front of the agency.

Ringside seats to TV’s future

By Shayne Ison
General Manager
 

Today’s television industry is very much like a wrestling match. In one corner stands the champion, the current structure where pricing and packaging are driven by the content providers. In the other corner is the fast-rising newcomer: OTT.

Shayne Ison

Shayne Ison

The term OTT means “over the top,” and is used to describe television programming that is available outside of a TV subscription. This includes services like Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon Instant Video.

These services charge a subscription fee for users to watch movies, TV shows and even original programming — and the approach is changing peoples’ viewing habits. For example, the Netflix political drama “House of Cards” released its second season in February, and almost 700,000 Netflix subscribers watched all 13 episodes in the first weekend. Viewers are becoming more interested in watching what they want, when they want to watch it (even if that means spending their weekend consuming 13 hours of a political drama).

Also in February, we saw the launch of a service that is different from anything we’ve seen so far. The WWE Network offers wrestling fans original programming, a back catalog of shows spanning decades and access to its pay-per-view events — all for $9.99 per month. And it’s only available over the top. Will this be a model that other niche providers pursue? Would consumers pay a separate fee for that kind of access to football or basketball? Home improvement or gardening shows? It remains to be seen.

We all use our TVs to connect with traditional programming, like the packages offered by Mountain Telephone. But how do people access the OTT programming? The list of devices is long, and continues to grow. There’s the popular Roku and Apple TV, devices that connect to your television and your home’s Internet connection. In April, Amazon introduced its own video streaming device. Some devices with different primary functions, like the PlayStation, Xbox and Blu-ray players, also provide access to OTT services. And many newer television sets have built-in OTT functionality.

Rick Schadelbauer is an economist with NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association. In a recent industry report, Rick shared with us that the number of households with connected TVs is on the rise. “According to a study recently released by The Diffusion Group (TDG), more than six in 10 U.S. households have at least one television connected to the Internet in order to access content from online services,” he wrote. And that number is up 19 percent from 2013.

These numbers, along with the OTT examples I mentioned above, paint a clear picture: television entertainment is rapidly evolving. Adding more pressure to change is the fact that content providers continue to demand more money from companies like ours, while telling us what channels we must carry and where we must place them in the lineup.

As we watch this match play out, there is good news for members of Mountain Telephone. We continue to invest in creating a robust broadband network, and we will be ready to provide you with a reliable connection to whatever services you decide to access — across whatever device you decide to connect to our network.

Connecting you to the future

Shayne Ison

General Manager

It has been almost 30 years since our imaginations were captured by the movie “Back to the Future.” One of the reasons it became the top-grossing film of 1985 is that we as humans are fascinated with the idea of seeing what the future holds.

Shayne Ison

Shayne Ison

Spend a few minutes online searching for news articles covering the recent Consumer Electronic Show (CES), and you will start to get a fairly clear picture of the future. The show is billed as “the world’s gathering place for all who thrive on the business of consumer technologies.”

Josh Seidemann is director of policy for our national trade group, NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association. He attended CES and kept rural telcos informed about what he saw. “You cannot leave CES without the growing sense that beginning now we are becoming increasingly connected to machines that measure, analyze and interpret our data,” wrote Seidemann at ntca.org/new-edge. “So, if I had to describe what impressed me the most, it would not be any particular product — rather, it is the proliferation of connected devices and how normal their use will become.”

Even if we’d had a time-traveling DeLorean, it would have been difficult to predict all this connectivity. In the early days of the Internet, even the tech leaders were short-sighted. Robert Metcalfe, founder of 3Com and inventor of Ethernet technology, wrote in a magazine column in 1995 that “I predict the Internet will soon go spectacularly supernova and in 1996 catastrophically collapse.”

I think it’s safe to say, 17 years later, that the Internet is here to stay.

When we first rolled out Internet service in this region, no one could have foreseen the level of connectedness we are seeing today. Already, many households have simple devices they can control with their smartphones or tablets, including security cameras and lighting controls. But change is coming fast. Think about some of these products displayed at CES, and how you might use them in your home:

  •  An infant sleep monitor that fits into a chest pocket of a baby’s clothing, tracking breathing, temperature and even how the baby is positioned, sending all this information to your mobile device
  • A simple heart monitor you can wear comfortably that will send your electrocardiogram to your smartphone and to a physician to monitor your heart remotely
  • A tiny device you can wear that will record information about your movement and activities, then display the information in an app

All this talk of the future emphasizes an important point. As your telecommunications company, we don’t know what’s coming — but through the network we are building, we are committed to equipping you to fully participate in all the future has to offer.

I think Seidemann said it best: “Sure, we could live without all the technology, but you could also hike down to the creek with a washboard to launder your old socks. Fact is, we expect electricity, we expect water, we expect broadband.” I couldn’t agree more.

Building our future’s foundation

By Shayne Ison
General Manager

Can you imagine life without electricity? Of course not. It helps you take care of your home and family, earn a living, get your news, enjoy entertainment and experience a better quality of life. Wait … can’t the same be said for broadband?

Shayne Ison

Shayne Ison

I draw that parallel to drive home an important point — the broadband network we are building today is as foundational to modern society as the electricity distribution system that began powering rural America in the 1930s and 1940s.

Do you remember the first time you logged on to the Internet? Maybe it was through a Mountain Telephone Internet account. Perhaps you dialed a toll-free number, or even paid long-distance charges, to connect to EarthLink or AOL (how many CDs did you receive in the mail over the years offering 10 free hours of service to try AOL?). As you listened to the whistles and pops of your modem making a dial-up connection, you could not have imagined a day when such a network connection would impact practically every part of your life.

But that day is here. As dial-up access gave way to broadband connections, technology drove innovations that go far beyond simply browsing the Internet. And just like in the early days of electrification, rural America is benefiting greatly.

Consider these examples of how people are using their broadband connections:

  • Students are staying current with their studies when they miss class, and turning in their homework online.
  • Teachers and professors are bringing advanced studies into their classrooms through distance learning.
  • Clinics and hospitals are managing records and expediting test results in ways that help them control costs while improving patient care and convenience.
  • Businesses are selling products and services, buying supplies and communicating in ways that help them compete with companies in larger markets.
  • Local governments, fire departments, police forces, water providers and other agencies are saving money on training while offering greater access and improved services to citizens.

Our network is making stories like these possible. And it’s not just Mountain Telephone. Providers like us across rural America are creating real solutions as we lead the way for a more advanced telecommunications network in our country.

If these stories are not enough to convince you that we truly are building the foundation for our future, look at the story “Wireless Needs Wires” on Page 6. With so many people connected by cell phone these days and the use of traditional landlines on the decline, you might be tempted to think of your local telecommunications company as a provider whose most relevant days are behind them. But as you see from this article, even the cell phone service people are so attached to depends heavily on the wired network that we continue to improve. It wouldn’t work without us.

Broadband is indeed the infrastructure of the future – one we are building for you today.