Building a connected, small-town life

Bob Martin considers innovations in communications technologies, such as broadband Internet, essential to his town’s economic future.

Bob Martin considers innovations in communications technologies, such as broadband Internet, essential to his town’s economic future.

Bob Martin returned to Eastern Kentucky in 1973 after a stint with the U.S. Marine Corps, including postings in Southeast Asia. “I was ready to move to a rural area, and I was ready to get my young self back down here,” he says.

He loved the community, but connecting with family in larger cities was not always easy. Rural communications in the ‘70s sometimes struggled to keep pace.

Now, however, he is wired with the latest technology. In December 2014, he embraced Mountain’s services: a 50 Mbps broadband connection, the complete television bundle and a landline phone.

Retired from a teaching career, he works as an accounts management officer for Commercial Bank in West Liberty.

Thanks to the fiber upgrade, he can now connect remotely to the bank’s system, allowing him to work from home when bad weather makes travel difficult.

Also, Martin says he prefers trading with local businesses, rather than big, national corporations. “When I spend my money and pay my bill, it stays here in Morgan County,” he says.

A rural, connected life
Martin, who lives about 17 miles outside West Liberty, says the service from Mountain compares favorably to the connections his relatives receive in larger cities. “We can converse and do things on the computer that we couldn’t have done a year and a half ago,” he says.

And, he believes the connectivity provides a necessary economic boost. “If you want businesses to come, and you want your community to grow, you’re going to have to have technology and data,” he says. “You have to be able to download information, upload information and do it quick.”

A career of learning, and helping

Martin was born in Paintsville, Kentucky, but his family moved to Michigan when he was 6 years old. Summers with his grandparents kept him tied to the Bluegrass State.

Once he returned to Kentucky, he tried farming. Then, he pursued vocational degrees in welding. He taught high school- and college-level welding for 22 years, and he was a vocational school principal for eight years.

Telling stories to the world from the heart of a national forest

By Noble Sprayberry

Laurel Heidtman lives on a plot of private land within the 
Daniel Boone National Forest.

Laurel Heidtman lives on a plot of private land within the 
Daniel Boone National Forest.

Most days, Laurel Heidtman has a goal: Write 1,000 words. “You don’t wait for inspiration,” she says. “You get out the first draft, and then you clean it up later.”

That work ethic helped the 68-year-old complete three self-published novels.

Heidtman lives with her husband, Earl, inside Daniel Boone National Forest on a 12-mile peninsula extending into Cave Run Lake. While the home has become her favorite place to write, it’s not the first spot where she’s practiced her craft.

Earlier in her life, she worked a range of jobs, including as a technical writer, police officer and a nurse.

Books_6518-The consecutive off days that followed 12-hour nursing shifts gave her downtime to dabble with writing fiction. She wrote three romance novels, submitted two of them to Harlequin and got two rejection letters. “I got nice rejections, if there is such a thing,” she remembers.

Even though the rejections included positive feedback, she put novels aside for years.

After retiring in 2008, Heidtman decided it was time to return to the books, and she spun one of her original romance novels into a mystery: “Catch a Falling Star.”

She self-published, offering the book online through services such as Amazon.

But, she wasn’t ready to give up romance novels. For “The Boy Next Door” and “The Wrong Kind of Man,” she took the pen name Lolli Powell. “It was a combination of my family nickname and my maiden name,” she says.

Living 10 miles from the nearest county road, broadband connects Heidtman to the world.

Living 10 miles from the nearest county road, broadband connects Heidtman to the world.

Romantic advice
Despite being isolated in one of the few houses inside the national forest, Heidtman connects to a community of writers over her broadband Internet connection, which also allows her to market her novels.

“That just blows me away,” she says. “I’m 10 miles from a county road, but we have fiber Internet.”

She found help from an online community that includes writers in Germany and Memphis, Tennessee.

Heidtman understands she needs to build an audience. “Right now, it trickles in,” she says. “I might go several days with no sales, and then I might get one or two. It’s a start.”

She has contacted libraries throughout Kentucky, resulting in at least two book signings. She also plans to attend book fairs.

And while Heidtman strives to expand her audience, she continues to work from a wired home in the heart of a scenic forest. “It’s the best of both worlds,” she says. “You’re able to sit here and make friends across the world.”

Fiber-powered phones keep a business connected

A new MRTC phone system connects clients to the Ison Insurance Agency’s (left to right) Lisa Collins, Amanda Frazier, “Flo”, Kate Kemplin and Ashley Roseberry.

A new MRTC phone system connects clients to the Ison Insurance Agency’s (left to right) Lisa Collins, Amanda Frazier, “Flo”, Kate Kemplin and Ashley Roseberry.

Faced with news this winter that a storm was headed for Eastern Kentucky, John Ison’s six-member staff set the office telephone system to transfer calls to their mobile phones.

As inches and inches of snow closed roads, the team of the Ison Insurance Agency in West Liberty kept working.

“When the blizzard did come, we were basically trapped at home for three days,” Ison says. “But, we didn’t miss a beat.”

The flexible, business-class phone system was relatively new to the company, which turned to MRTC to modernize an existing communications setup.

Running on MRTC’s fiber network, the new system offered a range of key features: call forwarding, automated greetings, direct-dial extensions and “awesome” headsets, Ison says.

Most importantly, the system’s reliability allowed the business to function when insurance customers needed it most.

“We didn’t lose productivity on those days,” Ison says. “And, we were able to help our people. That’s the most important thing. The system worked as well as it possibly could.”

Enjoy New Freedom and Savings

Build a Bundle Your Way

2015-04-27_1148Mountain Rural Telephone Cooperative customers can now have the control and discounts of creating a customized bundle of phone, long-distance, Internet and television services.

“We have heard so many positive comments from our customers about the savings they are now seeing and the control of exactly what’s in their bundle,” says Lisa Fannin, MRTC’s director of marketing and public relations.

The Build a Bundle Your Way plan was a response to customers who requested greater freedom of choice and product flexibility. Also, combining plans can lower monthly bills.

Choosing phone and two additional services will provide $10 in monthly discounts. Customers who choose phone and three additional services will save $15 monthly over signing up for the services separately.

Lisa Collins, an insurance agent in West Liberty, switched to MRTC’s bundle late last year from another television provider. Not only did the change provide benefits such as faster Internet, but it also brought about $30 in monthly savings.

“I love it,” she says. “It’s a good bundle to have, and a lot less money than I was paying before.”

The basic residential phone plan includes free local calling to Elliott, Menifee, Morgan, Wolfe and a portion of Bath counties. Including free caller ID, pricing begins at $24.

Then, the new Build a Bundle Your Way plan allows customers to tailor long distance, Internet and television packages to fit their interests and budget.
“If you are already an MTTV customer, call us today and one of our customer service reps will make sure you’re getting the most out of your MTTV experience,” Fannin says.

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.

Sarah’s Place

Meeting needs and empowering moms

Sister Sarah “Sally” Neale wasn’t satisfied as a nurse. She wanted to help the people of Elliott County, but her work in health care wasn’t enough.

“I realized pretty quickly that wasn’t the answer to many of the problems I was seeing,” says Sister Sally, a Catholic nun.

After talking to many women in the community, she learned that the biggest needs were job training and child care services. With this in mind, Sister Sally and Sister Maritia Smith opened Sarah’s Place in 1999 to begin filling those gaps.

“Our mission is to empower people with the tools they need to succeed,” Sister Sally says. “We focus on women and their children because it is really hard for moms to improve their situation.”

Two of the most popular services at Sarah’s Place are the nurse’s aide health care certification program and the child development program, which is the only state-approved child care facility in Elliott County.

Chief Executive Officer Ashley Traylor helps procure grant funds for the program.

Chief Executive Officer Ashley Traylor helps procure grant funds for the program.

The grant-funded, not-for-profit program expanded to include surrounding counties and has helped thousands of people improve their lives. Last year alone, Sarah’s Place provided more than 27,000 services to almost 5,000 families, triaged more than 3,400 phone calls for help, provided more than 16,500 hours of services to clients and taught nine classes.

“We really are a resource center,” Sister Sally says. “We get questions about everything. We may not be able to do anything about it, but we can refer them to someone who can.”

Aside from providing valuable job skills, one of the best things about the nurse’s aide program is the way it embraces technology to teach much of the coursework online. This is valuable for single moms who can participate in the class without worrying about what they will do with their children.

The program is primarily an online course, but students are required to come in to demonstrate their proficiency.

The program is primarily an online course, but students are required to come in to demonstrate their proficiency.

Nurse’s aide students will still have to come to the Sarah’s Place facility in Sandy Hook to demonstrate the skills they have learned, but the Child Development Center at Sarah’s Place allows them to drop off their children there during class and once they get jobs.

Ashley Traylor, chief executive officer at Sarah’s Place, says the facility also offers CPR and first-aid training, family caregiver classes to help families understand about caring for a sick or elderly family member and parenting classes. It also houses an income-based food pantry program that provides monthly groceries to those in need.

“We want to do the most good that we can,” Traylor says. “Sister Sally and Sister Maritia have a real love for this community, and they are willing to do anything they can to help people.”

Students in the nurse’s aide program at Sarah’s Place demonstrate the skills they have learned in the program.

Students in the nurse’s aide program at Sarah’s Place demonstrate the skills they have learned in the program.

In the future, the facility hopes to provide classes in Morgan and Carter counties for people with limited transportation as well as provide basic computer classes.

“Technology is the way of the future; there is no doubt about it,” Sister Sally says. “Many people have very basic computer skills, and we hope to provide computer training in the future.”

For more information about Sarah’s Place, visit www.sarahsplace.com or search for them on Facebook. You can also call them at 606-738-4270.

Preserving the past, embracing the future

Lynn Nickell always loved history. He always enjoyed talking to people and hearing their stories, and he especially loved old, black-and-white photographs.

Lynn Nickell sits at his desk, where he now uses Mountain’s high-speed Internet to research for his history pictorials.

Lynn Nickell sits at his desk, where he now uses Mountain’s high-speed Internet to research for his history pictorials.

Nickell put that passion to work and has written 22 books about Morgan County and its people. They are pictorials mostly, each with about 700 photos over 250 pages with captions identifying the people and describing the circumstances of the image.

“I’ve accumulated thousands of pictures over the years,” he says. “I just love those old photographs.”

Special delivery

Nickell grew up in a slower time, when people talked to one another and sent handwritten letters through the U.S. Postal Service. Both of those things served him well.

It was 1951 when Nickell became the first rural letter carrier in Morgan County. It was a job that allowed him to do what he truly enjoyed — talk with the people along his route, many of whom couldn’t read or write. He would often read their letters to them or write a reply. But mostly he loved hearing their stories.

But times have changed. The most common things delivered by mail today are bills and advertisements. And most people would rather send an electronic message than have a conversation.

Nickell’s process of researching the subjects of his photos and compiling the information for his books has changed, too. He used to spend countless hours researching and gathering information, poring through old books and records to identify people in photographs or looking up old pictures on microfiche. But the Internet and broadband technology from Mountain Telephone has made that task much easier.

“It used to take a lot of research for the caption for a single photograph,” Nickell says. “Now I am on the Internet five to six hours a day, and I love it.”

Researching the photos was always Nickell’s favorite part of putting his books together. Now that task is quick and easy — thanks to Mountain’s fiber optic technology.

Once the research is done, it’s easier to protect than paper documents and printed photos. Nickell learned the hard way in 2012 when he lost his office and many of his photographs during the March 2 tornado. He now has them all stored digitally. A high-speed connection allows photographers like Nickell to back up photos and other data off-site to ensure they don’t lose any files in the event of a disaster like the tornadoes.

“A computer is a wonderful thing — you’ve got the world at your fingertips,” he says. “And I never could spell, so Spell Check is a wonderful tool.”

Space: The next frontier for students at MSU

By Brian Lazenby

Will Barrette, a senior in MSU’s space program, displays a satellite he built and launched last year in the Black Rock Desert.

Will Barrette, a senior in MSU’s space program, displays a satellite he built and launched last year in the Black Rock Desert.

Will Barrette launched a satellite in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, last year that outperformed technology giants such as Google and Intel.

The launch of Barrette’s “CanSat,” a satellite roughly the size of a soft drink can, was part of an annual competition to successfully design and launch a satellite from a rocket at about 10,000 feet. Barrette’s plan was to launch his satellite and broadcast Wi-Fi from that altitude, which would then transmit a live video signal from a camera in the satellite to the ground.

He says it was about 95 percent successful.

“I didn’t have much faith in it,” says Barrette, 19, of the satellite he built for less than $200. “I was prepared for it to fail, but it exceeded expectations.”

The only fault in the test was that the satellite shook violently during the launch, which caused the camera to reboot. Barrette didn’t get all the camera footage he had hoped for, but the attempt to broadcast a Wi-Fi signal at 10,000 feet was a success.

Google and Intel also launched satellites attempting the same thing, but their tests were not as successful as Barrette’s. Both companies have since contacted the senior at Morehead State University, and now Intel wants him to use their Edison 3 processor in his next launch.

Barrette, who attended Menifee County High School and the elite Gatton Academy, declined to say whether he will take them up on their offer, but he is now working on a new “pocket cube” satellite project that he says he can’t talk about yet.

Bluegrass rocket science

When you think about NASA, outer space and satellites, you probably think of Houston, Texas, or Cape Canaveral, Florida. But the space science program at MSU is giving students like Barrette hands-on experience with meaningful astrophysics research.

The Space Science Center at MSU is a division of the Department of Earth and Space Science in the College of Science and Technology. It houses MSU’s space science program of distinction and has become an important center for research in micro- and nano-satellite technologies, which involves the study of small, inexpensive but highly capable satellites that are now being used by NASA, the U.S. Department of Defense, aerospace companies and universities around the globe.

Dr. Robert Kroll, a professor at MSU’s Space Science Center, operates the 21-meter satellite dish on campus.

Dr. Robert Kroll, a professor at MSU’s Space Science Center, operates the 21-meter satellite dish on campus.

Dr. Robert Kroll, a professor and researcher at MSU’s Space Center, says most people in Eastern Kentucky have no idea the facility is here.

“We are known internationally, but not locally,” he says. “It is the best-kept secret in Kentucky.”

The program was founded by Dr. Ben Malphrus in a small closet, but after moving into multiple locations — each a little bigger than the one before — a modern Space Science Center was built in 2009. NASA now contracts with the program to build and test satellites prior to launch.

The program is also home to one of the only 21-meter satellite dishes in the country. The large dish can be seen sitting on a hill overlooking the campus and is used to track satellites as they pass in orbit high overhead the Kentucky sky.

“We do a lot of different things with NASA,” Kroll says. “We can do everything here but launch the satellites.”

A space future

Professors at the Space and Science Center call Barrette one of the program’s “shining stars.”

Will Barrette talks about the satellite he built and successfully launched.

Will Barrette talks about the satellite he built and successfully launched.

But Barrette, who now has the attention of both Intel and Google, humbly shrugged at the notion that either company might want him on their staff. He has no immediate plans to join forces with a tech company, NASA or a space engineering firm. He is preparing to graduate soon with a Bachelor of Science in space systems engineering. He plans to spend the summer conducting research in Brazil before continuing his education at MSU in graduate school.

“I could have gone to UK or WKU, but this has everything that I want,” he says. “It is the community here that allowed me to go to the desert and do those things. That’s why I came to Morehead State. I knew I couldn’t get that anywhere else.”

In addition to being part of a program that is conducting meaningful space research, Barrette says he was attracted to the program because of the open access he has to the professors, equipment and some of the best minds in the field.

MSU has a 21-meter dish that tracks satellites across the sky.

MSU has a 21-meter dish that tracks satellites across the sky.

“We can do almost anything here,” he says.

Because most kids in rural Kentucky never consider a career in space engineering, Kroll says it is not enough to simply inspire the students within the program at MSU. It is vital to get the younger generation interested in science and space technology.

“We want to teach our kids not to be dependent on technology, but to master it,” he says.

For more information about the program, visit www.kentuckyspace.com or www.moreheadstate.edu/ssc

Calling all scholars!

Each year, an independent committee typically selects four students from Wolfe, Morgan, Menifee and Elliott counties and one student from Bath County to receive a $3,000 four-year scholarship to offset the cost of tuition and books. The scholarships are awarded based on grade point average and a written essay.

Mountain Telephone has awarded scholarships since 1988, when it first partnered with Morehead State University. Through the partnership, students receiving scholarships must attend MSU. Mountain will pay half of the scholarship funds, and MSU will cover the remainder. Over the past 25 years, Mountain has awarded scholarships to more than 400 students.

Application forms are mailed to every high school senior in all our served counties. If anyone has not received an application, they can print one at www.mrtc.com, or they can get one from their school guidance counselor. For more information call 606-743-3121.

Slow down in work zones

Linemen have dangerous jobs, and the dangers aren’t always from the heights or the equipment on which they work. These dangers involve motorists and are often fatal.

Crews at Mountain Telephone are committed to facing these dangers to ensure you have the best and most reliable service available. But they need your help to keep their crews safe.

When approaching a utility work zone, please slow down and move to a lane farther away from the crews if possible.

Utility workers are killed each year in the United States due to traffic accidents that occur in street and highway work zones. These accidents are sudden, violent and almost always preventable. Please help keep these hardworking crews safe.