GRANT Touch This!

October 6, 2022


In our eighth episode Bryan, Karen, and Micah find themselves talking about…

  • Huge grant news for residents of Cumberland and Coffee counties and why grants are important.
  • A behind-the-scenes look at what went on during the August partial outage.
  • The latest at Channel 6 and the Mobile Wi-Fi Van.
  • Micah’s Trivia and more!

Show Notes

Transcripts have been lightly edited for clarity and readability.


Bryan Kell: Welcome to The BLC Connection Podcast. I’m Bryan Kell.

Karen Wilson: I’m Karen Wilson.

Micah Lawrence: And I’m Micah Lawrence.

All Hosts: Let’s get connected!

Bryan Kell: It is the great eight episode of The BLC Connection Podcast. Bryan Kell, here with you, and we’ve got a lot of stuff going on, right Micah Lawrence?

Micah Lawrence: We do. We’re going to talk about Channel Six. We’re going to talk about where the Wi-Fi van is, and I’ve got some interesting trivia for you this time.

Bryan Kell: Okay. Karen Wilson, what else can we expect?

Karen Wilson: We’re going to go behind the scenes at Ben Lomand Connect and talk about the partial outage. Our special guest will be Customer Support Center supervisor Donnette Freeman.

Bryan Kell: Okay, so we’ve got that to look forward to. But up next, we are taking you inside the grant process with Jared Sain, Jennifer Gilliam, all that and more here on The BLC Connection Podcast. Welcome back to The BLC Connection Podcast. Bryan Kell, Micah Lawrence and along with us are two staples of Ben Lomand Connect. It is the Chief Financial officer, Jared Sain, and also Jennifer Gilliam, government and regulatory affairs manager. You all welcome into The Connection Podcast.

Jennifer Gilliam: Thank you.

Bryan Kell: First time for both of you all. I know that you all have been chomping at the bit to get on here. In fact, Micah, we’ve turned them away how many times, I think, to get them on this?

Micah Lawrence: Jennifer keeps bugging me. I just don’t know what’s up.

Bryan Kell: Yeah. So we finally said, “Okay, come on.” We’ve got some big information that we’re going to be talking about. Any time you start talking about grants, that word is a small word as far as letters, but it’s a big word around Ben Lomand. It’s a big word in Tennessee. It’s a big word all across the nation. And we’ve been very fortunate here at Ben Lomand to be very successful with that. And two of the folks that helped spearhead some of that stuff over the years are the two we’ve got with us right now in Jared and Jennifer. Quick tease on the fact that nearly $24 million in grants were recently given to Ben Lomand Connect for the Cumberland County and Coffee County areas. We’ll talk more specifically about that in a minute. But that’s why we kind of got them in here. First up, gang, somebody out there who’s maybe a long time Ben Lomand Connect customer member, you know, that may say, “Listen, you guys talk an awful lot about grants, and we hear a whole lot about it from you all. But why is it so important to Ben Lomand Connect, and especially how does that benefit me as a customer or a member at Ben Lomand?” Jennifer, you want to kind of tackle that question first?

Jennifer Gilliam: Sure. Well, fiber infrastructure is extremely expensive to deploy. Because rural areas are sparsely populated, it’s not economically feasible to expand our network without some type of outside support. Grant funding has provided a path for growth outside of the cooperative’s footprint to underserved areas in Cumberland and Coffee counties. Now, while it’s true that the most obvious benefit will go to the residents inside the grant areas, fiber optic infrastructure benefits all of the residents of the counties where grants are awarded. Fiber optic availability helps increase property values and makes the community more attractive to people looking to relocate, and also for industrial development. This can increase tax revenues for the county and promote new business ventures, bringing jobs to the region, which also benefits surrounding counties. And also expanding to additional areas and adding new subscribers benefits all of Ben Lomand’s members because it strengthens the cooperative which is member owned.

Bryan Kell: Yeah, and that I mean, that’s a lot of, Jared, that’s a ton of positives right there. Anything more to kind of tack on top of that really?

Jared Sain: Yeah. Like Jennifer was saying, financially you’re going for sort of an economy of scale. You know, it helps us control our costs. When we go into these new areas, we are able to sign up new subscribers. That’s new revenue coming in, and that helps us offset our costs and keep costs down for all of our members, not just the ones in the new area.

Micah Lawrence: So, Jared, I think some people may, you know, here are these grants that we’ve got over the last six years. And you think Ben Lomand’s getting all this this free money, and they  might miss out on what kind of skin does does Ben Lomand themselves what do they put into these federal and state grants? What all do we do for that?

Jared Sain: Sure. All the grants that Ben Lomand has been awarded have a matching component to them. So, you know, the government will put in a percentage of the funds, and then we have to then match that to finish the project. So we’ve gotten some that are a 50/50 match, some of them where we only have to put in 30%. And even some where we only have to put in 15%. But there’s always a matching component to ensure that, you know, the awardee, like you said, has some skin in the game. And then in addition to that, we typically, I know with the state grants, they encourage you to build even beyond the boundaries of your your grant award, you know, to hook up as many people as possible. So we’ll use our own money after the grant project is complete to go back and expand the network into other areas that we didn’t even get an award for. So we’re matching the grant project itself, and then we’re spending our own money to serve more people.

Micah Lawrence: And this helps a lot of, you know, underserved areas that, you know, without us coming in, they just can’t get anything good, right?

Jared Sain: True. I mean, when we go door knocking, and we read these letters, it’s pretty amazing. I think we take it for granted, having Ben Lomand and having good Internet service, but a lot of these people have nothing, you know?

Micah Lawrence: And when you say letters, are you saying people are writing in and asking for service in their area? Or how’s that work out there?

Jared Sain: Yeah, we request people send in letters. So community support is a big part of the application for most of these. Jennifer could probably elaborate more on that than I can.

Micah Lawrence: So, Jennifer, I’m assuming as part of some of these letters and things like that, not everybody knows how much goes into the submission of these grants. You know what all goes, what all is involved in getting these grants and trying to participate in this?

Jennifer Gilliam: Grant submissions require a lot of work in a relatively short window of time, typically the span of 2 to 3 months. Ben Lomand Connect often submits multiple applications per grant opportunity, which doubles or triples the amount of work that we have to complete in that same timeframe. Each grant has its own set of guidelines and requirements that have to be followed. Normally, our team has to start out by choosing an area that meets all of the grant criteria. We create maps and determine costs to help develop a project budget. Then we research the location and our team looks at things like demographics, statistics and census data. Then we usually try to get out and engage with the community, meet with the residents, and try to become familiar with the businesses, the schools and the community anchor institutions that are located inside the grant area. Many of the grant programs have a community support component, like Jared was talking about, which allows residents and businesses to be involved in the grant process. Ben Lomand’s been very fortunate over the years to have tremendous community support for all of our grant applications, and that’s really contributed to our success. Community support. People say, “What is community support?” Well, community support can include things like residents attending town hall meetings, submitting surveys and writing support letters. This gives people residing in the grant area a voice to express their daily struggles and challenges that they and their family face due to the lack of broadband at their home. Our team reaches out to elected officials and business leaders. We try to get their perspective on the need for broadband in that community. And then after gathering all this information together, it’s Ben Lomand’s job to convey the community’s story to the program administrators through a narrative and really try to make a case for why our proposed grant area needs funding more so than areas in other parts of the state or country.

Micah Lawrence: So I know I’ve worked with you a little bit, Jennifer, on we’ve got a web page where people can go and fill out a questionnaire, things like that. What kind of questions are they asked on something like that? What kind of information gathering are we getting on that?

Jennifer Gilliam: Well, we try to find out things like, do you have a reliable Internet connection? If you don’t, what are the things that, if you did have a reliable Internet connection and have high speed broadband, what would that allow you to do differently that you can’t do now?

Micah Lawrence: Right. And I believe we also integrated where you can run a speed check. So that way we can kind of see about what speed you’re really getting, maybe as opposed to what’s advertised.

Jennifer Gilliam: Well, everybody says, “I need a faster broadband connection,” but without a speed test, you can’t actually gauge what that speed they’re getting is.

Micah Lawrence: And we know as technology is growing and, of course, school is using, you know, online learning, you know, the demand for speed is going up. And so this is why one of the I guess the big reasons why it’s important for us to go and serve these areas.

Bryan Kell: Yeah. Jared, who happens to be, I think, the latest Ben Lomand employee that’s now got gig/gig at his home. Is that correct?

Jared Sain: I mean, I’ve had it for a while.

Bryan Kell: Yeah. I’m just saying it’s not been forever, though.

Jared Sain: No, no, no.

Bryan Kell: I mean, you were part of that, if I remember correctly, that center town build at one time, too. So things are hopping, and you’ve been able to get on that for quite a few months or something along those lines. So I noticed something that Jennifer said, and it’s very true. It’s having talked to some of these folks that have written letters, or in case we used to do some videos and things like that, to talk to these folks and to hear these stories, they are heartbreaking as far as what these families are faced to have to do with schoolwork, with business, with their work schedule. I just want to say that until you’ve heard these heartbreaking stories, I mean, there may be people out there right now that have close family members that live both in Tennessee and outside of Tennessee, it’s sad. Very, very, very sad. Jared, deadlines to complete a project can be pretty daunting at times, I think. And we’ve been fortunate to receive multiple grants, much like the ones that have been recently granted to us in Coffee and Cumberland County. Talk about the balancing act it takes to make sure that all these projects kick off and end and hit these deadlines.

Jared Sain: Yeah, so we’ve got multiple ones going on simultaneously, and they all have different requirements, different deadlines. So I think the main thing is just having communication between us, you know, like Jennifer and I and Greg and other people on this side of things that are looking at contracts and dealing with ECD, USDA or whoever. So those dates are familiar to us, but we’ve just got to make sure that our operations and our network people understand that as well. And just, you know, check in, get updates. Where are we at on this project, You know, the deadlines coming up. Do you think we’re going to be okay? And just not letting it get to the point where it’s like, okay, “We’ve got to be finished with this next month? Oh, well, there’s no way we’re going to be able to do that.”

Bryan Kell: So over the past, I don’t know, year at times there have been these spikes in supply chain issues. How has that affected, you know, these kind of situations when it comes down to grants? I mean, we talk about it, how it affects Ben Lomand, or how it affected Ben Lomand, and being able to do some of the things that we wanted to do. Man, you’re talking about grants with deadlines. I would assume that that that really can crimp things or cripple some situations.

Jared Sain: Well, we’ve been lucky enough that, you know, if we had some fiber that was, you know, we couldn’t get for a while, that we were able to work on something else or like pedestals. I know we’re an issue for a while. But they had other areas that could go to work, you know, where they didn’t need any pedestals. And we just kind of, when the pedestals come in, then we go back. Same thing with the electronics. I know there’s been other things to keep us occupied and keep where we didn’t have to just grind the projects to a halt. But yeah, it’s definitely a challenge. And, you know, USDA, ECD understand that, and I know they’ve granted extensions for that because it’s kind of extenuating circumstances out of our contrl.

Micah Lawrence: So, Jennifer, I know we’ve we’ve been awarded these grants for Cumberland and Coffey County. Let’s talk about the single – let’s talk about both of them – but let’s talk about this first single largest project we’ve been awarded to the state in Cumberland County.

Jennifer Gilliam: The Cumberland County Grant Award is over $22.4 million. And like you said, it’s the largest grant Ben Lomand has ever received. Cumberland County is the fourth largest county in Tennessee by landmass and contains 685 square miles.

Bryan Kell: Wow.

Jennifer Gilliam: Ben Lomand’s grant area covers 42% of the county at 291 square miles and touches the county’s eastern, western and northern borders. The project will have over 700 miles of fiber infrastructure and will serve approximately 7,000 locations.

Micah Lawrence: All right, that’s great. So what about Coffee County?

Jennifer Gilliam: The Coffee County Grant Award was over $1.4 million and will serve over 100 locations. The grand area is 29 square miles and will have over 40 miles of fiber infrastructure. And the Coffee County grand area expands off of the county’s ARP broadband project.

Micah Lawrence: Awesome. Awesome. So, Jared, you know, as Ben Lomand continues to grow, it falls on your department to kind of help make sure that from a fiscal standpoint, we can handle it. So, you know, take a moment. Let’s talk about the growth and the accounting department, how all of this kind of plays in together.

Jared Sain: Yeah, of course, as Jennifer said before, it’s very expensive to deploy this infrastructure. And these grants are reimbursement style grants. So you have to you know, you have to spend the money upfront, build the project and then ask for reimbursement back from the state or the federal government, whoever’s awarding the money. So you do have to have quite a bit of capital, working capital to complete these. And, you know, you add on top of that the work that we’re doing in our cooperative territory, and it can get pretty challenging. You know, we’ve got large payments to contractors going out frequently, large payments to vendors for materials, and then it’s going to be a while before you get that money back as part of the grant. You know, submitting the request. It takes a while to work up the request. It takes usually a couple of months for the state to turn that money around. And then on top of that, you know, cooperative area, we’re doing the same thing for the areas that don’t have fiber. So we’re funding that as well.

Micah Lawrence: So it’s encouraging for our members to know that even though we’re being awarded these grant areas and building out to expand, we’re also still continuing to invest within the existing territory and our existing customers. Is that right?

Jared Sain: Absolutely. Yeah, we’ve taken out quite a bit of loan money from RUS to finish up the cooperative territory. So there’s no grants involved there. But that’s just the board wanting to put in a priority in that and saying that we need to borrow the money to take care of our members.

Bryan Kell: We try to kill acronyms here. RUS explain to somebody what RUS is.

Jared Sain: Rural Utility Service. It’s part of the USDA, the United States Department of Agriculture.

Everyone: (all laughs)

Bryan Kell: Very good. Okay, guys, Jennifer, I guess to you as we kind of wrap things up here, you know, Ben Lomand Connect has been a been a true leader in grant writing from a state and national perspective probably for the past six or seven years. Talk about the pride you must feel in being a part of that charge that Ben Lomand has done over that time.

Jennifer Gilliam: Ben Lomand Connect and its subsidiaries have been awarded 18 broadband grants over the last six years, totaling almost $42 million in funding. The awards have included 6 Tennessee Broadband Accessibility grants, 4 USDA Community Connect grants, 2 USDA Reconnect grants, 4 Tennessee Emergency Broadband Fund grants, and the latest 2 Tennessee Emergency Broadband Fund American Rescue Plan grants. Personally, I’m just really proud of our team’s efforts and our community’s participation in all of Ben Lomand’s broadband grants. Like Bryan was saying earlier, it definitely tugs on your heartstrings when you hear about all the challenges that families face because of the lack of broadband service at their location, things that most of us probably take for granted. Broadband is vital in so many aspects these days, including students, educational pursuits, improved health care options and work from home opportunities. To me, and I think for our whole team, it’s very rewarding to know that through these grant awards, Ben Lomand Connect has played a small role in improving the quality of life of residents in the counties we serve.

Bryan Kell: Amen, grants hit so many different departments to be able to get everything together. I see all the stuff that goes into these that you’re both you guys find yourselves having to pull in and do that. But not only does it take Ben Lomand team members to do this, it takes communities being able to band together. You can you know, the solicitation that I know that we try to get for letters and stories from folks and you know, broadband speed test and all those kind of things. And then also two I mean, you’re a governmental affairs that’s a key part in this whole thing as well, too, right?

Jennifer Gilliam: Right. Our elected officials have been great. It’s just been awesome to see the amount of effort that they put out to try to help their counties win these grant awards by partnering with us.

Micah Lawrence: So that’s a question for either one of you. When we, say we complete these areas or maybe in the beginning of it, do you guys actually get to talk to some of these potential customers, or then after customers, and get to hear their response on us coming in there and providing this service?

Jared Sain: Well, I personally haven’t talked to them that I could think of off the top of my head, but I know our customer service people talk to them all the time, and they’re so grateful for what Ben Lomand has done for them and getting them service. That’s the rewarding part to me. Part of it too, is, you know, just having people that are appreciative of what we’re doing because, you know, they it really affected their quality of life.

Bryan Kell: Well, I will kick in just real quick here too. The Facebook messages that we end up receiving. Some of the post of folks that I can remember folks being able to send us speed test checks that they’re doing and just being amazed at being able to get, you know, those extremely high, high speeds. Those have been fun to see from folks that are just overjoyed and just they got to share it with somebody, so they’ll message us back through there to say, thank you so much.

Micah Lawrence: Jennifer, Do you get to see or talk to any of these?

Jennifer Gilliam: Just this week alone, I’ve received at least 10 or 15 emails from residents that live inside these grand areas that have read our press release, or the governor’s press release, and found out that their area was going to be awarded grant funding. And they are so excited. They’re already thinking of ways that this is going to impact their lives and how it’s going to make it better.

Micah Lawrence: And I bet the first question is “When?”

Jared Sain: It always is.

Bryan Kell: Yeah, and that’s something that that we try to give them as much updates as we can on all this. And I guess the first thing is, is that for somebody who in these areas that felt like in some ways they had no hope, now a little bit of hope. There’s been a lot out there that they can be able to say, “Hey, it’s coming.” And so that’s exciting for everybody. I think the biggest number I’m going to walk away with this segment is, is 42% of Cumberland County. And that, like you said, huge county. I had no idea covered 42%. That’s amazing to me. Jared Sain, Jennifer Gilliam, thank you so much for coming on The BLC Connection Podcast.

Jared Sain: Thank you.

Jennifer Gilliam: Thank you for having us.

Karen Wilson: This is The BLC Connection Podcast, and it’s our time for Connected Home. I’m Karen Wilson and joined again with Micah and Bryan, and also Donette Freeman from the Customer Support Center. We’re going to talk about the behind the scenes aspect of the August partial outage. Thank you all for coming back to the table and joining the podcast.

Bryan Kell: Yeah, we brought our first guest we ever had on the podcast back for our eighth episode.

Karen Wilson: And she came back. So that’s good. Not that you had a choice, Donette, you know, but. You know, when you work here, it’s part of the job so. Well, just as an introduction of what we kind of went through. Micah, what services did it affect, and were there any early indicators of the problem?

Micah Lawrence: So I guess let’s start about what actually happened. You know, all of our fiber customers, they have ONTs, which basically convert fiber back to over something usable for the customer, which would be copper. All of these boxes actually have some smarts to them. And so there is a server that configures these devices. So the server started having issues to the point where it was, in a nutshell resetting the ONTs back to factory, which means no services are on, nothing’s working. And then started kind of doing it in a domino effect. It didn’t happen all at once, but it did start gradually getting worse. We did start seeing a few customers call in, started trying to work on identify the issue. And of course, as time went along, we realized it was starting to be even a bigger issue. So that’s kind of what happened. That’s kind of the symptoms of what was going on.

Karen Wilson: So as something of this scale happens, kind of tell us what, Micah, you first and then maybe Donette, too, as far as the Customer Support Center, what’s happening behind the scenes?

Micah Lawrence: So I guess, Donette, would probably be best because it’s going to hit her first.

Donette Freeman: As soon as the calls start coming in, we will start obtaining all the information that comes in, and that way we can get it to the right department that we see that it needs to go to. Because the more information that we have and the specifics of it, the, the more beneficial it’s going to be for them. And then we monitor the stats that come in to kind of see the areas and everything that’s going to be affected from it. And then we just work closely with that department and trying to keep everybody up to date.

Micah Lawrence: And once it kind of, the information is gathered from her department, then it goes over to network operations, who we talked about last month with Bill and Albert. And, you know, at that point, we’re listening for information, but then we’re also trying to track down the issues. You know, what’s failing? Do we have any logs? Is there any anything similarity to a specific area, or is it Ben Lomand as a whole? And just start kind of evaluating what the problem can be. Once we identify the problem, obviously, then you can start working on the fix.

Karen Wilson: So I guess it’s different probably for every situation. Sometimes the customer probably drives the troubleshooting and other times maybe you’re seeing it on the end of the equipment first and the troubleshooting starts from the equipment maybe before the phone calls start. Is that correct?

Micah Lawrence: Yeah. I mean, you know, sometimes depending upon where the issue starts, we might be getting alarms, and we might not, depending on the issue. That’s just kind of the nature of the beast. But, you know, once we start getting alerted, or lots of times when there is an outage starting or something like that, we already know about it. We’re already working to try to resolve the issue.

Bryan Kell: Due to alarms kind of going off on certain pieces of equipment or certain platforms that they’re watching?

Micah Lawrence: Yeah, you know, we’ve got alarms set up on just about everything we have here. And, you know, we’ll get kind of snippets of what’s happening, and then that’s when we go deep dive into the problem to figure out what is really going on. So yeah.

Bryan Kell: I would say, Donette that you help them help Network Operations big time in that some situations could be very localized. Could be to a remote, could be to a blade on a remote. But if you’re telling them kind of in this case, “Hey, listen, this is not relegated to this portion of a county. I’m getting this kind of stuff from all…” That’s very key.

Donette Freeman: Yeah. As soon as I start coming in, you know, we get the blade that the customers calling in off of immediately. So we started keeping track of those. And then we’ve seen that it was just sporadic, so.

Karen Wilson: So when it comes to communicating with the customers, how early does that begin, Donette? You know, because you’re taking the phone call as the manager of, or the supervisor of the department. You’re having to kind of outline the message that the employee or that the customer support employee is telling the customer. How do you do that?

Donette Freeman: Yeah, as soon as the calls start coming in and we see what’s going on, then we send out a broadcast in our department there. And we let everybody know. And we try to coordinate with Bryan on exactly what he’s going to be posting on social media. And then that way, what he has to go on there matches the recording that we put on as well that he gets for us. But the information that we get, we try to get that, you know, as quickly as we can to keep our customers updated.

Bryan Kell: And the key point of that is, is that some people may be calling in, wondering, I wonder if Ben Lomand even knows about this. So if you can get that message out there at the very front saying, “Hey, we’re experiencing this or that,” the thought is I would say that that customer goes “Okay. They know,” and they’re hanging up, and they’re waiting. Right?

Donette Freeman: Yeah, because we had a lot of abandoned calls, but it was because they was hearing the message and just going ahead and hanging up. We had a lot of chats coming in off of the website too, so they was asking that way. And so we had a lot of communication going on.

Karen Wilson: So during this time, again, behind the scenes, you’re kind of staffing up, pulling in employees. What does that look like?

Donette Freeman: So we knew it wasn’t going to be a quick fix. So we went ahead and had everybody planning on just working over, and they kind of knew. You know, they was all working together themselves and a lot of them would stay over and then some of them would go ahead and leave. Others came in early, but the ones that did leave, they would go home and rest for a little bit. And then they was back on working from home. So they was able to log in and still work from home.

Karen Wilson: So Donette that was your team. Let’s go over to Micah, because there was a lot of, I’m sure, over 24 hours of work going on on that side as well.

Micah Lawrence: Yeah.

Bryan Kell: You got a lot of rest, though, didn’t you?

Everyone: (laughs)

Micah Lawrence: No, I really didn’t.

Micah Lawrence: So I stayed up. I went back and counted. I worked a 30 hour day.

Bryan Kell: And other folks did too.

Micah Lawrence: And others did as well. So yeah, and this is the great thing about Network Operations, and we kind of talked about this on the last podcast is – when it comes to Network Operations and outages, it could be anything from ice to equipment failure to you name it. It’s all hands on deck. All those guys were staying down there. Sometimes in some occasions where we know it’s going to drag on longer, we have to send a couple of people home, let them go get some rest so that they can exchange out those that have been staying there for a while. In this case, like I said, this department is great just to see all these guys stick with it, you know, doing whatever they can to get the issue resolved in a timely manner. You know, they stuck with it. So it’s kind of, this is just what happens. That’s a part of the job for Network Operations.

Karen Wilson: And I guess it’s such a great feeling when you’re starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel. Things are starting to especially one, getting it figured out, where the problems come in from and then working through that. And then, man, finally saying, “Okay, we’re like three quarters of the way done here.”

Micah Lawrence: Yes, it feels good.

Karen Wilson: That’s a nice reward. And I know our customers, I did see a lot of good feedback on social media where they understood. They know that you’re working as hard as you can to get it restored. Bryan, let’s talk about social media and communicating with the customers. Sometimes customers want more communication…

Bryan Kell: What?

Everyone: (laughs)

Karen Wilson: But, you know, and sometimes you know, what you’re providing is appropriate. But you have to make sure what you’re providing is correct.

Bryan Kell: So let’s take people a little bit behind the scenes as far as how we try to communicate  when there’s something like this that goes. CSC, they’re the most important because if we can let the customer know that’s calling in, just like what we talked about, that we are aware that the problem is going on, and we’ve got all hands on deck working on the problem. For some folks, they’re good with that. So that’s key to be able to get the calls to kind of die down and to let people know that we know. Second thing that happens is we try to get an email out to employees. Because what has happened, and I’m sure other organizations have had this happen to them before, is that you put so much information out there that the folks that work in your own company start going, “Well, I had to find out on Facebook. Or I had to hear from this and that.” So if we’re following what we need to be following, it’s CSC first. Employees’ email, “Hey, here’s what’s going on. And we’re getting the word out on this and letting them know.” Third thing, website. We’ve got a great, thanks to Karen and a lot of work that’s gone on with the website over the years, we’ve got a great way that we can be able to do an alert on the website home page that really stands out at the very top that can not only give a brief explanation as far as what’s going on, but then also two could either provide a link to information on how to get in touch with customer service, if there’s something else that’s going on there. Or a link to some other bit of information that we’re going into more detail on like a press release from Karen Wilson or something like that. The last thing or fourth thing, Ben Lomand Home. We have talked about it before in here as far as the importance of us being able to talk to our customers, having that push notification on Ben Lomand Home. First of all, having it, and then being able to receive that, we will get a piece of information out to our Ben Lomand Home customers through the app, letting them know what’s going on. And we can again tie that to the website which offers us more characters to be able to go into more depth than we can on a little small push notification that’s on that, but we can link that to our website. And last but not least, social media, the ones that we tend to use most when something like this happens, whether it’s Mother Nature or like you said, some type of equipment failure is Facebook, Twitter. Those are the two main ones that we’ll end up doing.

Bryan Kell: And feedback is there. But and to speak I guess too, this is a great topic as far as how frequently. I don’t know that anybody has the perfect answer to that. You’ve got some people that even said on Facebook, “We need an hourly update.” Micah can attest to this. If we’re given an hourly update based on 5:00 that afternoon, Donette, it knows this too, as well. That that update may not have changed if we gave it hourly update for about 5 hours. And, me personally, if I’m seeing the same update while people are trying to figure out issues and be able to go through that, to me, that’s more frustrating than actually just saying, “Hey, here’s our latest update,” and it might be 6 hours. I think we might have waited 6 hours to give the next one, which was right about 10:00. And then we came back back first thing that morning, 7 a.m. In other words, before the workday starts to try to say, “Hey, this is where we’re at again.”

Micah Lawrence: Yeah. And I would say from our perspective is once the issue is identified, there are occasions when, you know, the fix is going to take a while to be implemented in terms of it’s got to do a lot of processing depending upon what’s the issue. In this case, there was things we had to clean up within, you know, basically, it was going to take about 5 to 6 hours to complete. And so there’s really not much to update other than “We found it. We’re fixing it. Just got to take some time,” and that’s just part of it. So from Bryan’s perspective, being able to communicate, it would be the same message for the next 6 hours.

Karen Wilson: Right. And I mean, some people have this perception in their mind that it’s all about flipping a switch or resetting something, but it’s so much more complicated than that. I mean, even though we’re used to instantaneous things changing and stuff when it comes to like writing code and reconfiguring things like that, it’s not a simple process.

Micah Lawrence: Yeah, and, you know, I’ve saw some of the comments and things and, you know, people say, “Well, you know, why does Ben Lomand not have a backup for that? You know, why did they not have backups?” And I’ll assure you, there was backups.

Bryan Kell: Yeah.

Micah Lawrence: You know, sometimes when the primary doesn’t work, sometimes it also affects the backup. And if anybody’s in technology, they’ll realize that it doesn’t matter how ten feet tall and bulletproof you think you are, you know, something can still go wrong. And so we have made more steps to fix this in the future. But, you know, it can happen. And so we do everything we can until we see something that rises that we thought would never happen in a million years, but it does. That’s just what happens in technology.

Karen Wilson: Well, and I’ll kind of jump to that, the takeaway from the experience. You know, every time that any business goes through something of this nature, you walk away learning a lot from it. What are the takeaways? Donette, let’s start with you as far as, you know, dealing with customers and your team and things like. What did you learn from it?

Donette Freeman: I think each time we just learn a little bit more about what to look out for, always being attentive to it. And we just want to ensure the customers, you know, that as soon as they call in, you know, we’re getting it taken, you know, hopefully taken care of as quickly as we can. But teamwork and communication is the key to it all.

Karen Wilson: Now, sometimes when I call in to the Customer Support Center, I think “Why all the questions?” You know, they’re asking me these things because, you know, they don’t want to hang up from me and only have part of the story. You know, that’s part of the troubleshooting process is all the questions that they’re asking, I guess, to see the big picture, you know. Is this localized? Is it just me, or are there others out there?

Donette Freeman: I think it can go so many different ways that they just have to make sure that with all the questions that’s being asked, because we may call, you know, one department, and it’s just not enough. So we want to make sure that when we call, we have everything. So they’re not on a wild goose chase. We want everybody to have the information that they need to fix it as quickly as possible.

Karen Wilson: And for you Micah, your take away.

Micah Lawrence: So when it comes to takeaways for Network Operations and everybody involved there, it’s about prevention. It’s, what can we do to prevent this from happening in the future? So I know from our perspective, we’ve kind of moved things over to, kind of it’s a virtual environment. Where as opposed to having backups on a normal basis, we can also do what we call snapshots where it takes an exact match of that server, and we can restore it back even to the day or even to the hour. So where if we need to restore it back to the hour before this even happened, before it got really bad, we can do that. So we’ve got a lot of flexibility now where, again, we’re talking about that being ten feet tall and bulletproof is we have to take that next further step to prevent it from happening in the future. Or if something does have in the future, the time to recovery is a lot faster.

Karen Wilson: Well, in thinking about this, too, you know, we were talking about the teams. You all have a team, Micah, of, what, ten people or so. And then Donette your team, you know, during a crisis, what is it ramped up to?

Donette Freeman: We can usually have 15 or 16.

Karen Wilson: Yeah, so possibly up to 30 or 40 people. Not counting the CEO, the marketing manager, people like that, messaging all of these. You know, I want to emphasize to the audience just how many hands are on deck trying to to get this message out and to get it fixed.

Bryan Kell: And I’ll say this. And this really hits both of them. The number of businesses that the sales department was collecting and getting that to these groups so that Donette, could have somebody in her team be able to go and start reaching out to customers and making sure that individualized customers are taken care of. That’s huge. And that’s the part that you see all the inner workings of some of these departments coming together to try to take care of customers, which is just awesome to see that personal touch. And another thing, too, that you were talking about takeaways, that I think that all of us have seen over the last year and a half. And Greg has really made our CEO, Greg Smartt, has made this really a point, is that we’re going to be transparent. We’re going to be as transparent as we can. And if something is on us, we’re going to own it, and we’re going to try to explain that to the customer in a way that doesn’t talk down to them. That is very much us being able to say this is what happened. And I think that’s really refreshing. And I think that people, for the most part, really respect that. And that’s what we’ve attempted to do in our messaging. And I know in Greg’s final comments on the partial outage to really go into those those kind of details.

Karen Wilson: So I guess the biggest question probably from social media and maybe even internally of, was it a hack? Because that’s the first thing people think of. Hacked by Russia!

Everyone: (laughs)

Micah Lawrence: Yeah. You know, that seems to be the buzzword. Everybody thinks when something goes wrong, something was hacked. In this case, absolutely not. Where this piece of equipment lives, it does not have Internet exposure, so it really couldn’t have been. So, no, it was absolutely not, despite these people that seem to have inside knowledge to our network. It’s not what they think. No, it was absolutely not. It was basically a software malfunction. That’s what we’ll say.

Karen Wilson: So you heard it here. Putin was not there flipping the switch on Ben Lomand. And, you know, it wasn’t quite that simple, and it wasn’t anything of that nature. So thank you all so much. I feel like that this has, you know, we are all learning from each other how we handle things like this. We’re doing things like this to educate other businesses, you know, on how you might handle something, and then our residential customers on how hard we are working to get all of that restored. So Donette, Micah and Bryan, thank you so much for joining us for this portion of the Connected Home segment.

Bryan Kell: Thank you.

Donette Freeman: Thank you.

Micah Lawrence: Thank you. Welcome back to Connect with BLC. Karen, what can we expect from Channel Six?

Karen Wilson: Well, Channel Six had a busy, busy month in the end of August and all of September with all the fairs. So in October, you’re going to see a lot of these fair pageants. We recorded everything live, but people can’t get enough of seeing their kids and grandkids and all the pretty dresses and things like that. So that’ll be a lot of what you see going on in October at Channel Six.

Micah Lawrence: Awesome. Great. Bryan, where is the Wi-Fi van going?

Bryan Kell: I’ll tell you that the Wi-F- van on October 8th will be at Liberty Square for the big celebration going on in Sparta. That is an event that we have had the Wi-Fi van at, I think ever since the inception of the Wi-Fi van. So that is a big help to that huge throwdown that they do in Sparta as they celebrate their bluegrass history roots that run deep over in White County. That’s on October 8th. And then October 14th they kick off the Upper Cumberland Air Show. I have never been to that, but I have heard great things about it. We have provided the Wi-Fi van at that event also for a couple to a few years now, but that is a three day event that goes on all that entire weekend. And so it’s not only, it used to be the air show and they call it now, I think at the air fair and the fact that you’ve got a show there built into it. Lots of great flying contraptions that are going to be up there at the Upper Cumberland Air Show. And we’ve got free Wi-Fi to give them.

Micah Lawrence: Cool. Awesome. So one of the things that we do on the podcast is we try to bust up acronyms. Yes?

Bryan Kell: Yeah, that is true. Yeah, we did that today a little bit.

Micah Lawrence: Yeah, we did. And so I thought, how cool would it be is to ask you guys what the acronyms mean for certain things.

Bryan Kell: And watch it be stuff in our industry. We don’t even know.

Karen Wilson: I will say I keep saying to myself, my brain is fried because of telecom acronyms. So if I just go stupid on you, that’s probably why.

Bryan Kell: Don’t you have like 20 years of acronyms being thrown at you?

Karen Wilson: Yes, you know, as the technology changes, you feel like you’ve got a whole other set to learn.

Micah Lawrence: Well, they’re not from our industry.

Bryan Kell: Okay, well, here we go.

Karen Wilson: Wow.

Micah Lawrence: So this is going to be interesting because they are something you’ve heard of before. So the first one is, did you know “3M” you know, like tape? What does 3M stand for?

Karen Wilson: I guess I just always thought it was like three millimeters or something like that. I don’t know.

Bryan Kell: That’s a good, that’s a good guess. Uh, I thought Mike Nesmith’s mom was somehow involved with that. So is it the names of a family member, a family member’s names?

Micah Lawrence: Nope. Okay, It is Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company.

Bryan Kell: Oh my gosh.

Karen Wilson: Wow. So all of that that we get from 3M out there in the world, they originated as a mining company.

Micah Lawrence: It’s in their name.

Karen Wilson: Okay, We’re going to think that.

Bryan Kell: I’ll have to Wikipedia on that one.

Micah Lawrence: How about this one? How about BMW? See you’ve heard these all the time.

Bryan Kell: Yeah. You never…

Karen Wilson: British Motor… I don’t know. Bryan. Come on.

Bryan Kell: British Motor. Is she close, already?

Micah Lawrence: No. (laughs)

Karen Wilson: Oh, shoot. I thought I was having a stroke of brilliance, but no.

Micah Lawrence: It is Bavarian Motor Works.

Karen Wilson: Okay. Okay.

Micah Lawrence: All right. Now, here’s another one. If you go down to Florida, you’ll get to go to a certain place called EPCOT.

Bryan Kell: Oh, wait. I’ve seen documentaries on that.

Micah Lawrence: I did not know that Epcot was an acronym, but it is an acronym.

Bryan Kell: City of Tomorrow is the “COT” part.

Micah Lawrence: Nope.

Bryan Kell: Is it not?

Micah Lawrence: Nope. It’s close.

Karen Wilson: I’m like, all I remember is the mascot is Figment, and that’s as far as I can take you.

Micah Lawrence: So it stands for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow.

Karen Wilson: Okay. Yes, That’s going through my brain.

Micah Lawrence: All right, I’ve got two more.

Bryan Kell: Okay.

Micah Lawrence: Nerf as in Nerf guns. I didn’t know that was an acronym.

Karen Wilson: No, I’m totally lost on that one.

Bryan Kell: I don’t have a clue. That’s, I can’t believe that’s an acronym.

Micah Lawrence: I can’t either.

Karen Wilson: But. And it’s N-E-R-F?

Micah Lawrence: N-E-R-F, uh-huh.

Karen Wilson: I got nothing.

Micah Lawrence: I didn’t know it was an acronym.

Bryan Kell: Oh, what is it?

Micah Lawrence: It is a non-expandable recreational foam.

Karen Wilson: They totally went with the.

Micah Lawrence: That’s exactly what it is.

Bryan Kell: That’s exactly. Yeah.

Micah Lawrence: And the last one…

Bryan Kell: Okay. Got to get one of these right.

Micah Lawrence: is SPAM. And we’re talking about Spam. Not as in spam email but SPAM is in the…

Karen Wilson: The meat.

Micah Lawrence: food product.

Karen Wilson: Yes.

Bryan Kell: Does “m” stand for meat?

Micah Lawrence: No.

Karen Wilson: Because there’s none in it.

Bryan Kell: Right. Yeah. The “m” doesn’t even stand for meat.

Karen Wilson: Artificial comes to mind for the “a”?

Micah Lawrence: No.

Karen Wilson: That wouldn’t be very appetizing anyway. I’m coming up with artificial meat. And neither one.

Micah Lawrence: Because that’s everybody thinks when they eat them.

Karen Wilson: Space age?

Micah Lawrence: No, no, Definitely not space age.

Bryan Kell: Huh?

Micah Lawrence: Well, now they don’t use the first letter of the words on some of these.

Bryan Kell: Oh, no, come on. Then that’s not fair.

Micah Lawrence: So it stands for “shoulder of pork and ham.”

Karen Wilson: Oh, okay.

Bryan Kell: I can, this may freak some people out, I’ve never had SPAM.

Karen Wilson: You know, I really have only had it diced up, like in a salad, like a macaroni salad. But, I mean, I hear Hawaii loves it.

Bryan Kell: Yes, I’ve seen story on that. I think CBS Sunday Morning did something on the how big it is in Hawaii. You’ve had SPAM before?

Micah Lawrence: I have. Best thing to do is slice it and then throw it in a pan and fry it up. Fried SPAM.

Karen Wilson: Mm hmm.

Bryan Kell: I’ll take your word for it.

Karen Wilson: I think I have heard from some of the local barbecue places that smoked SPAM is really tasty. Kind of like smoked bologna.

Micah Lawrence: I was going to say, it’s kind of like the smoked baloney that like a sandwich. It’s similar to that.

Bryan Kell: Who would have thought that the one time that the topic of spam comes up on The BLC Connection Podcast, it would be about the meat?

Karen Wilson: The literal SPAM.

Bryan Kell: Yes.

Micah Lawrence: All right.

Karen Wilson: Well, I don’t know if I’m going to have any this weekend or not, but…

Bryan Kell: I will not.

Karen Wilson: maybe.

Micah Lawrence: All right. Thank you, guys. Until next month.

Bryan Kell: And we are here at the end of another BLC Connection Podcast episode. But before we put the final wraps on, we want to just get a few things out there, including a big salute to Jay Williams from Spencer, who actually reached out to us through a way that Micah is going to tell us about a little bit. He said he really enjoyed hearing the behind the scenes aspects of how we maintain and run our fiber and also keep everything up and running. It’s those unsung heroes which make all the difference. So it’s great to hear from them on the podcast. Jay, thanks so much. And Micah, tell folks how they can reach out to us.

Micah Lawrence: Sure, you can reach out to us or submit your questions. You message us on our BLC Facebook page, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn account, or you can just email us at You can also hear this podcast on Spotify, Apple, Google, Amazon, iHeartRadio, and practically everything.

Bryan Kell: All these other ones that you, that we don’t, we’ve never heard of before. It’s on all the major ones though. Karen Wilson, BLC Connection mini episode. Can you give us a tease as to what that could be?

Karen Wilson: Well, many of us may or may not know that cooperative month is in October, so I’ll be talking to the Tennessee Broadband Association director, Carrie Huckeby. And we’re going to talk about all things cooperative.

Bryan Kell: No stranger to the Ben Lomand family over the years as you’ll catch up with her. That’ll be a great one as she’s assuming some new duties that are major to broadband along the state of Tennessee. As far as the next episode of The BLC Connection podcast, we are heading to Sparta, in which we will be talking with Mr. Ben Clark and also even probably try to grab Tammy Odom as well and talk all things White county. A lot of big stuff happening over there. And so we will take it on the road to Sparta for our next episode. You guys up for that?

Karen Wilson: Absolutely. I can’t help but thinking of the movie 300 when you say that.

Bryan Kell: That’s where I was going. So good job on that. I think he was going that way too as well. Sparta.

Karen Wilson: Yeah.

Bryan Kell: All right. So gang, thanks so much. It’s been fun. We want to tell you for listening out there to us, thanks so much for listening. Stay safe and stay connected.


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