In our first episode, Bryan, Karen, and Micah talk about…
- the 24/7 Network Support Center and how Donette Freeman’s team is ready to meet customers’s needs,
- the difference between fiber and copper internet service and why speed is important,
- Ben Lomand Connect’s fiber build plans for Quarters 1 and 2 of 2022,
- and much more!
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: Through blazing sun, heavy rain and inches of snow, all within the last 24 hours, we bring you the start of an era in Ben Lomand Connect history — the BLC Connection Podcast. Welcome in everybody. Gang, we’re finally here.
Karen Wilson: We are.
Micah Lawrence: Glad to be here.
Karen Wilson: Yeah, it took some planning. We’ve been working on this for quite some time now.
Bryan Kell: We really have, and we probably need to throw in too, besides the rain, besides the sun, besides the snow, that literally almost was within 24 hours. A pandemic on top of that, as things continue to still be kind of crazy. Supply chain issues that we’ll talk about a little bit later on Micah.
Micah Lawrence: Yep.
Bryan Kell: But we are here, and it has been quite some time, Karen as you’ve said, that we’ve been planning this.
Karen Wilson: It is. We started this at least last fall, and then we’ve kind of amped it up over the past six weeks or so. But so happy to be here and doing this. This is a dream of ours for quite some time now.
Bryan Kell: I’ll never forget the day that I came over to Channel 6, and you looked at me and you said, “I’m thinking about a podcast,” and I said, “That’s exactly what I was going to talk to you about today.” So that was, it’s wild how that happened. And I think both of us said, you know what, there’s no better person for us to be able to get in here to help us co-host this than Micah Lawrence. And so before we get to going, we need to, we’ve said our names, but maybe some folks don’t know a whole lot about us. Micah, I was already kind of talking about you. Tell us about Micah Lawrence.
Micah Lawrence: So I am the Managed IT Supervisor here at Ben Lomand. We take care of all of our customers that need all the different kinds of IT needs, anything from networking to servers to software. So I love to take care of them, and I’m enjoying what I’m doing.
Bryan Kell: Yeah, you guys have got to hopping a little department over there that we’ll be talking more about in this episode and many other episodes. She’s no stranger to TV but Karen Wilson, tell us about you.
Karen Wilson: Well, I am the Public Relations and Channel 6 Supervisor here at Ben Lomand Connect. If it has to do with the public or the community, I usually like to be a part of that. And I enjoy my job and love it and am just thrilled to be here.
Bryan Kell: Yeah, we’re going to be talking a whole lot about community and a whole lot about things that are going on in the communities we serve. So that is something that will be a big part of this podcast. I’m Brian Kell. What is my title? (laughs) No, Marketing and Public Relations Manager. And so I’ve been at Ben Lomand for seven years. I don’t know if we talked about how many years we’ve been here with. Seven (years for me). Micah?
Micah Lawrence: I’m going on my 17th (year).
Karen Wilson: It’ll be 25 in July. Yeah, and then some, because I actually telemarketed for a few years back in the day of calling cards for a couple of years before I actually was on the official payroll. So yeah, I’ve gotten a few wrinkles and a few gray hairs since starting, and three kids. I only had one child when I started, and now I have three. So life has changed.
Bryan Kell: You hide your — you talked about wrinkling — you hide it well. You hide it well.
Karen Wilson: Thank you.
Bryan Kell: Ok, so this podcast, which we’ve been having percolated for some time, and we got to thinking, well, if we have to summarize this very shortly into just maybe a couple of different words, I think we all decided that those couple of words were “technology” and “community.” Micah, “technology?” What can folks expect on the Ben Lomand Connection Podcast?
Micah Lawrence: Well, we want to make sure everybody’s up to date with the latest and greatest technology. And, you know, more than anything, the technology that can help them and improve their lives or their business. You know, we just want to make sure everybody knows what’s going on.
Bryan Kell: And there are so many different things to it from education standpoint to just, I mean, so much terminology that gets thrown around. And so sometimes people are afraid to say, “I don’t know exactly what that is.” So we’re going to try to help them with some of that.
Micah Lawrence: Absolutely. Yeah.
Bryan Kell: Karen, the other word that kind of we talked about is “community,” and it’s a word, you know well. But what can folks expect from a community standpoint here with the podcast?
Karen Wilson: Well, we’re going to try to touch base with small businesses in our area. Some things that they’re doing great and sharing those tips with other people. Just also about how Ben Lomand Connect contributes to the community. Sometimes we have food drives, toiletry drives, things like that that we ask our customers to help out with. Local events, sometimes we take our Wi-Fi van to things. Brian, you’re a big part of that. A lot of times we have to work on getting the Wi-Fi van at community events.
Bryan Kell: That is one thing, actually, that all of us have shared in as far as from the creation of the Wi-Fi van. Michael played a big part in that, and Karen and I find ourselves running around all over the place with it. So Wi-Fi van has been a pretty cool thing. We’ve got some new news coming out in 2022 about Wi-Fi vans that we’ll be talking about more in further podcasts. Yeah, and so lots to talk about that, and so much more, and we’re going to be asking for your alls feedback, too. As far as the many things that we can talk about and subject matter on this podcast. So you, all the listener, play a big part in where we go with this podcast, but we’ll have more information on that later on in this episode. Also, other things that will be popping up on this particular, the inaugural episode, of the BLC Connection Podcast, we’re going to talk about fiber impact. Its usage, builds that are going on, all the stuff that is fiber, that will be popping up later on in this episode, and also the latest in the Connection magazine and Channel 6. We’ll be talking about that. It’s chock full of a lot of stuff, both in print version and in the video versions of what Ben Lomand Connect is putting out there for folks to be able to help inform and maybe even educate in some ways. But up next, gang, we’re going to talk about network support, and we’re going to just spend a little time digging in on that department. One that we’ve all, some more than others, spent some time with and in. But all that and more coming up on the Connection Podcast here with the BLC. Network support is up next.
Bryan Kell: We are now Inside BLC on this very first podcast. And we’ve slid, right Micah, slid, not slidden — slid.
Micah Lawrence: Slid.
Bryan Kell: We have slid Karen Wilson out and have slid in at this time — and that is slid in at this time — the Network Support Center Supervisor, extraordinaire, the pride of Grundy County, Donette Freeman. Donette, welcome to the BLC Connection Podcast.
Donette Freeman: Thank you.
Bryan Kell: That’s all we get, right there on that one.
Donette Freeman: That’s all you get.
Bryan Kell: This is the very first podcast. You’re our very first guest.
Donette Freeman: Yeah, thank you. I’m very honored.
Bryan Kell: Ok, well, listen. Network Support Center has seen just in the past week or two, or definitely over the last month, a lot of stuff, a lot of focus on it with weather and all that good stuff. So tell us a little bit about, you know, kind of what you do and the Network Support Center in general, what do folks need to understand about the Network Support Center?
Donette Freeman: Everyone that we have is local. We are 24/7, 365 support center. The weather is a huge impact along with anything else that’s going on in the community, such as the pandemic that’s going on. We do have to work schedules around that and make sure that we keep everyone safe and taken care of. And, you know, just filling those spots so that the customers that call in, we have to take care of them because they are our main concern.
Bryan Kell: And you guys, you all are around the clock like you said. How many shifts that you guys end up running in a given day?
Donette Freeman: Three shifts.
Bryan Kell: Ok.
Micah Lawrence: So, and you guys haven’t always been known as the Network Support Center. You’ve had another name previously, right?
Donette Freeman: Yes.
Micah Lawrence: And what was that?
Bryan Kell: Being asked by somebody who came out of that department. I mean, come on.
Micah Lawrence: I’m just saying, you know, some people might know you from another name.
Donette Freeman: Customer Response Center.
Micah Lawrence: Yeah, the Customer Response Center. That’s right.
Bryan Kell: But since you’ve come on board, it’s only been Network Support, right?
Donette Freeman: Right.
Bryan Kell: Ok. Yeah. So I mean, but Micah, you came you came out of that.
Micah Lawrence: Yeah, I came out of the CRC. I helped start it in the very beginning. Of course, before..
Bryan Kell: Way back in the day.
Micah Lawrence: Yeah, but before then it was just really the internet department. That was about all what we had. So we just said we felt the need for a, you know, more tech support and things of that nature as our services grew. So it grew into the CRC and then now the Network Support Service.
Bryan Kell: I’ve got one quick question for you while we’ve got you here. Could you have ever seen a time where especially back then first getting started in the CRC to what it is today? And that’s a 24-hour round the clock kind of support that Ben Lomand offers?
Micah Lawrence: I would say it was definitely looking like it was going in that direction because when I first helped start it, I was doing the second shift where we kind of ended about 11:00 p.m., and then we rolled over to some after-hour support. And, you know, looking at it, you could tell it was eventually going that way because we were adding more services, new stuff. You could tell it was going that way, but it just wasn’t quite there yet. And definitely here recently, we can see the need for it, for sure.
Bryan Kell: Yes, very much so.
Micah Lawrence: So Donette, what kind of problems does people call in for in the Network Support Services? What kind of problems do you guys face a lot?
Donette Freeman: They call in with like voice problems, if they’re having any kind of issues with their telephones. Broadband, video, security, any of those calls, we will receive and take care of.
Bryan Kell: The top — I know that you kind of talked about different services there — but are there, I guess whether it’s video. Let’s take video because, you know, I know in talking with you guys over the years and stuff, quite a few come there. What’s the most common types of calls that come in on video, and I guess just anything else.
Donette Freeman: Probably be freeze-framing or a channel outage.
Bryan Kell: And I would dare say, and I think I’ve heard you all talk about this, too, as fiber has become more and more prevalent, maybe it’s safe to say a little less freeze framing issues coming from those copper customers. I used to experience that, I know back when I just had copper, so some of those may be getting taken care of as people advance more and more to fiber.
Donette Freeman: Definitely.
Micah Lawrence: Good deal. Ben Lomand is coming out with a lot of new products and things like that. One of the newest things that we’ve came out with, you know, past fiber here is this idea of Ben Lomand Home where, you know, we can put in this device that allows you to support these gig connections and do all kinds of, you know, neat things where you can kind of control the Wi-Fi yourself in your own home. When some people have issues with configuration and things like that, can people call in to the NSC and get help with this?
Donette Freeman: Yes, all the techs know how to walk the customers through setting up the Ben Lomand Home app and explain how to use it.
Bryan Kell: That has been a, I know me and you’ve talked a lot about this just because it’s been one of the services like Micah said within the past year or so, it definitely can cut down on calls coming into you all as well from that. If folks can learn how to manage things at Ben Lomand Home, that helps you guys take control from yourselves, I guess, and give it to the customer.
Donette Freeman: The most calls that we would receive, probably on the internet would be wanting their password changed. So if they can do that themselves and change it any time they want to, then that helps. It’s in their control.
Bryan Kell: And you guys also are able to, if somebody needing help with a device, like Micah said with a device, you guys can look deeper into their network than ever before through Ben Lomand Home, right?
Donette Freeman: Yes.
Bryan Kell: Yeah. So that’s really, really cool to be able to help somebody out, I guess, where they’re struggling with something, and you guys can dig on in on that. Tell me a little bit about some of the different ways that you and your techs round the clock, I guess can talk to customers and help them.
Donette Freeman: Of course, they can call in, and we can help them that way. And then we also have the feature to chat through our website.
Bryan Kell: That’s been. I know that. What was it? I think that you said close to maybe 10, and I’m going to get this wrong. Multiple chats a day, I guess go on average of like maybe 10 and growing something like that, right?
Donette Freeman: Yes.
Bryan Kell: A lot of folks might also not know that you all not only handle Ben Lomand Connect customers, but it doesn’t stop there at the Network Support Center. Tell us a little about some of these other companies you guys are helping out.
Donette Freeman: Right now we have one other electric company and then four other telecom companies that we provide support for after hours as well.
Bryan Kell: So all these calls, you’ve got to have a staff that can be kind of really flexible, I guess, and know what’s going on with each call that comes in, I guess, right?
Donette Freeman: Yeah, they’re very well-rounded, I guess you can say. They can jump from one call to the next.
Micah Lawrence: So what are some of the challenges that you see with with running a tech support center, you know, where you’re having to answer not only Ben Lomand calls, but you know, other telcos things like that? What’s some struggles you see, you know, on a day-to-day basis that you have to deal with when it comes to managing a department like this?
Donette Freeman: You just have to keep an eye on the weather. Staffing, of course, is one of the big things. And just keeping up to date with the changes, not only we make at Ben Lomand, but that the other companies make as well.
Micah Lawrence: Gotcha. So if somebody wanted to be a part of this, if they wanted to be a part of the NSC and, you know, try to go this route as a career, you know, what kind of education would they have to have? And you know, how would they apply for something like that?
Donette Freeman: High school diploma or an equivalent. They can have a certificate if they have that as well, like an A+, Network+, Security+. They’re beneficial, but not required. But the thing that stands out the most is customer service skills.
Bryan Kell: Donette, I know another thing that comes — it’s kind of a — it’s a pleasant problem. There’s probably nothing pleasant about it, but your department over the years has become almost like a breeding ground for new and talented folks. Kind of move into it, sometimes other departments. I know that’s a challenge sometimes to keep really good talent. And, you know, Micah, from way back, he started out at the CRC, and it’s kind of always in some cases, always been like that. But not that we make promises to folks, I guess, when they come in, but the stories of people starting at the Network Support Center and going on to other departments and finding great success is pretty prevalent around here.
Donette Freeman: Yeah, I give everybody a hard time about it, but it’s honestly, I guess, you know, some pride there to know that they start out there, but they can also end up, you know, growing and moving on to doing something that they really want to do. You know, inside a company and, you know, there’s endless possibilities for them. They can be wherever they want to go.
Micah Lawrence: Well, I want to know if someone brought you the biggest coffee from C & K Donuts, would they possibly get the job?
Donette Freeman: Absolutely.
Micah Lawrence: I mean, I’m just I’m pretty sure that might help a little bit.
Bryan Kell: You think, bribing in a lot of ways.
Micah Lawrence: Yeah, I’ll tell you what, she loves that coffee. You know, we’ve got offices next door. You can hear her bouncing off the walls over there. You know, see, you know, it’s either that, or she just enjoys the people she works with.
Bryan Kell: If they also brought her a new space heater, they would probably be right in on getting a job, too. Because, yeah.
Donette Freeman: Jif peanut butter.
Bryan Kell: That might work as well.
Micah Lawrence: All right. Peanut butter and coffee. You heard it here, folks. Don’t worry about the application.
Bryan Kell: And a nice space heater because Donette’s office. And I think Sherri McGinnis’s, offices are the hottest offices in these, and I’ve always said that they need to be rooming together in a lot of ways because they they keep it cranking and everything. Ms. Donette Freeman, thank you so much for being our first guest on the The BLC Connection Podcast. You can’t hear it because you’re not wearing headphones, but a round of applause is playing right now for Ms. Donette. So thanks so much, Donette.
Donette Freeman: Thank you.
Karen Wilson: Great segment there with Bryan Kell, Micah Lawrence and Ms. Donette Freeman from the Network Support Center. Very informative. Donette is always a wealth of information about the Network Support Center, and she does a great job with that. So now I’m going to go back to Bryan and Micah, and we’re going to talk about a segment that we call Connected Home. Today’s topic is going to begin at the beginning with how most all 21st century connections are made, and that’s with fiber. Micah, you are a fiber expert. Tell us, kick us off with how fiber works.
Micah Lawrence: Absolutely. So, you know, we do pass that term around quite a bit. Most people don’t really understand what that is and what it consists of. So when we talk about fiber, we’re actually talking about a replacement for copper that’s up on the poles and things of that nature. And what it’s made out of is instead of copper, it’s actually made of glass. And then we transmit a light down the glass at high speeds and, you know, not to get technical in it or anything. But you know, it allows us to get faster speeds, and the biggest thing about it is, you know, where used to, I remember the days of going out and helping people with dial-up. People’s electric fences would cause problems. It would be popping on the line and things of that nature. You know, it’s not susceptible to those type of things because it’s just light going down a piece of glass. So it does allow us to offer fast speeds, one of those speeds being gigabit. For those that don’t understand what gigabit is, you know, we used to measure our old copper speeds in megabits. So this gig is a thousand megabits where, you know, we used to sell 5, 10 and 15 megs. So you can tell that that’s a lot faster speeds. So you know, we can do that. We can get this into the homes. I will tell you, it’s an interesting fact of talking to some people outside of the company and some businesses in different cities. They are blown away that here in, you know, all the counties that Ben Lomand serves, that we actually have this fast internet, and they’re in some of these really big cities in which you would kind of expect them to have those speeds. They just don’t have it. It’s not available to them. So, you know, I think our serving territory and where we’re deploying fiber at, it’s, you know, it’s a great thing for them.
Bryan Kell: I was going to say, too, is that speaking of being blown away, I think that, and Micah can probably talk to this more than any of us here at this table, not only are they thrown back by the download speed of a gig — a thousand megabits — but when they hear that we’re offering synchronous speeds, and that they’ve got the capability of doing a thousand megabits upload. That’s just not being offered by anybody else.
Micah Lawrence: That’s right. And what a lot of people don’t understand is, you know, at one point in time, you know, download was what you wanted. You know, you wanted to download this information off the internet. But as time has gone along, technology has improved and different services have came out where, you know, upload is important. Especially for those people that are working at home with their needing to upload files back to the office, or even if it’s just someone recording a video and wanting to upload it to, let’s say, Facebook, YouTube, something of that nature. So, you know, being able to have these speeds in both directions, you know, it is unheard of. You know, this is something we’re doing to step into the future here, you know, to improve upon our services.
Karen Wilson: So I’ll throw this out there as kind of the customer who is sitting back and thinks, you know, I’ve had this computer on my desk for years now. What’s the big deal about speed? Why do I need speed?
Micah Lawrence: Absolutely. So a lot of people don’t understand they want all these services that they hear everybody else has. And the biggest one I always use for a lot of people is Netflix. You know, everybody’s heard of Netflix. Everybody’s using Netflix, you know, Disney+, Hulu. Any of these services that you hear people use. Well at one point in time, you know, to watch an HD stream of Netflix, it takes about five megs. Well, when we were providing DSL, you know, that was pretty decent. You know, that worked really well. But you know, now we’re in the 4K and beyond type era, and it takes a lot more data. One stream of 4K data is about 25 megs, so you can see where that can eat up your bandwidth really fast, especially if you got, you know, two people watching a movie in different rooms, you got your kid playing games, you know, things of that nature. You know, it can eat up the bandwidth really fast. So you know, the speed is important and the amount of speed that you can get is important because people don’t realize it’s — if you think of a big piece of pie being your internet connection, every time somebody gets on there, they’re taking out another slice of that pie. And so they don’t really realize how all that works, where you can eat it up really fast.
Bryan Kell: I was going to say too, and Micah brings up some great points on some of the large bandwidth hogs, maybe or the ones that can do that. But so many people, I think from hearing stories in network support and Ben Lomand Connect folks going into folk’s houses and assessing situations, I think people are blown away how many types of smaller devices eat up bandwidth. Whether it’s phones, whether it’s Alexa, you know, whether…
Karen Wilson: I even have a new oven and I can, you know, it’ll use the Wi-Fi, and I can turn it on and off, and I’m sure that’s taking some of my bandwidth.
Micah Lawrence: Yeah. And what a lot of people don’t realize is, you know, from my perspective, when we go out, and let’s say we go to a business, and they’re wanting us to provide them with a Wi-Fi solution, you know, the first question I asked them is, “How many devices do you have?” You know, and I also, you know, some of our businesses being churches and things of that nature. You know, I ask them, you know, how many members do you have on your biggest days? And, you know, are you seeing people with phones? You seeing people with tablets, things of that nature. Because, for example, it’s like when when I walk into church, I’ve got my Apple Watch, my iPhone, my iPad. That’s already three devices. Now, whether I touch any of those and get them out of my pocket, they’re still doing stuff in the background, ever so many minutes or seconds, and then if you multiply that by, you know, multiple members, you know, you’re eating up a lot of bandwidth. The other thing you’re also looking at is a lot of people like to go to Walmart or some of these other stores and buy some, let’s say, lower-end equipment that does not support that many devices. Which is, you know, one of the reasons why Ben Lomand came up with Ben Lomand Home is, you know, we wanted a device that sits in the home that can support multiple devices. It can support that, you know, fast internet that we can provide to it, and then you’ll be able to monitor it and take care of it.
Bryan Kell: One of the things real quick that Micah and I were both at this situation, speaking of hit “hidden devices,” and that is we were at a customer’s house. It was me and you and many others that were there. And the question was asked, “Do they have a gaming system here in this house?” And the person that answered said, “Yeah, there’s one up there, but it’s, you know, it’s just one,” and all that. I think me and you went upstairs at this particular home, three gaming systems. I think at least one or two were on. But Micah, even if folks have gaming systems that are turned off, they’re still updates. And there’s all kinds of stuff happening that folks would maybe not know that are going on there.
Micah Lawrence: That’s right. And what a lot of people don’t realize is most modern-day technology, you know, like gaming systems and things of that nature, they don’t actually truly shut down. And you know, that’s, you know, we’ve had in our mind that they shut down or because they used to. But now they stay online because if they don’t stay online, they can’t get the system updates that they need. Of course security is a big risk. We need these security updates to protect ourselves and things of that nature. So, you know, even though they’re, you know, closed, shut off or whatever you call it, they’re still on to a certain degree. So, you know, it still can be doing things in the background, and you not know it.
Karen Wilson: So you’ve sold me. I know I need fiber. Let’s talk about all the capabilities of fiber. Let’s just start with the home, and then we can go on over to the business.
Micah Lawrence: Sure. So, you know, with home, you know, we mentioned gaming. Gaming is a big thing. You know, if you’ve got any young kids, grandkids, whatever and they start talking about gaming, they want to talk about lag. You know, they’re like, “I’m lagging,” or something of that nature. What we call that is we call that “latency.” And if you can imagine taking a tennis ball and you’re throwing it up against the wall and then it bouncing back to you, we measure that time and obviously it’s measured in milliseconds. And the longer it takes for that tennis ball to come back to you, the slower it is for the servers or the game to pick up that you’ve done something. And some of these games that these kids play are very fast paced. They need to be as quick as possible. And so, you know, if they have high lag or high latency, that’s a bad thing. So they need the fastest speed possible when playing their games. You know, it’s also good for the fact of downloading files. We know a lot of people are in the medical field. Sometimes they’re working from home. They could be architects, you know, people downloading drawings, CAD drawings, things of that nature. They can be really, really large files. And so they need the speed and bandwidth to, you know, obviously increase efficiency. You know, time is money.
Bryan Kell: So I was talking to somebody last night, and I’ll tell you one industry, or type of job, that I’ve never thought of until just now when you were talking about working from home, the lady I talked to last night is handling a large HR position. And I’m thinking just when you’re talking about that, I thought, yeah, HR. Think of how much stuff are in people’s files or that need to be moved here and there. And so more and more people working from home, the pandemic has caused a lot of that to happen and some maybe aren’t going to be changing anytime soon. But the types of jobs that are increasing, we used to always throw out medical. We would kind of throw out all these, all these ones that were, like I said, from an engineering standpoint and everything. But those jobs are getting more and more prevalent at home, and more and more files need to be moved. And Ben Lomand can help with that.
Micah Lawrence: That’s right. And you got to also think that a lot of the social networking services that you know, adults and kids alike, use nowadays is, you know, just it’s inundated with video. You know, something that is of a large amount of, you know, data that needs to be downloaded. So, you know, when you’re scrolling through there, it’s downloading really fast. You know, obviously people used to get very familiar with the buffering or the little wheel that sits there and spins, and nobody likes that. So, you know, speed is very important there, and we think fiber definitely helps them out.
Karen Wilson: Yeah. I think, you know, with so many kids being at home, they’re watching videos. They may be taking a music class online through Motlow or an arts class. They’re watching plays and things like that. And it’s very frustrating when you’re trying to get your work done, and you can’t download or upload assignments and things like that. So the world has changed because of the pandemic, and it has truly become digital.
Bryan Kell: Yeah, I mean, I think me and you both have had kids that whether it’s high school or college, they have had to do some amount of work in a virtual environment. And you start combining that with somebody who also is working from home for a short period of time. You did a little bit of that, you know, for a period. So you got more, and not just one person at home that’s doing that at one time. You’ve got multiple people that are doing that and wanting to have and they’ve got to have a great experience: work, education and even during play as well. So to have that, to have that speed and to have that gig connection, Micah, I’m just assuming that that does wonders.
Micah Lawrence: Yes, absolutely. That’s, you know, like I said, when we were using the example of Netflix, that was the hardest part. When, you know, having people on copper is getting them to understand that your bandwidth is gone. You know, you are using it. You know, there’s not an actual problem there. So now it’s not an issue because there’s plenty of it to go around at that point.
Karen Wilson: Bryan, let’s jump into the businesses and what fiber can do just economically to a business, such a boost that they can get from fiber.
Bryan Kell: Yeah, I mean, we have been lucky enough to be able to be around enough businesses — small, medium and large — that have given us just some glowing words. You know that on the difference that that gig speed that Ben Lomand Connect fiber is making in their lives. And so I think that more and more people are trying to be able to have an experience for someone that technology has got to be incorporated into that. And whether it’s a coffee shop or a factory, we have seen people be able to be really excited about being able to start a business or move a business into our service territory area, learning that gig fiber is available. So and the thing I think that this podcast hopefully will help some people understand — and we’ll be talking more about some of the businesses and community leaders that will be coming on board with this podcast — is there’s so many stories out there on when it comes down to business development. We’ll brag on our boss. Greg has played a big part in being able to help out when it comes down to IDB boards and being able to get information back to these places for future growth potential. And we’ve been able to see some of those things happen. So yeah, whether it’s a small business, a medium business or large business, Ben Lomand has been able to play a part in helping retain and or attract businesses to our area.
Micah Lawrence: Yeah, and I would also say that one thing that we’re seeing as kind of a trend is some of these business customers, they’re moving their infrastructure to, you know, the buzzword cloud. You know, at that point in time, they don’t have servers living on site. They don’t have, you know, equipment there on site. It’s all living up in somebody’s data center, in the cloud. And when you do things like that, you know, you have to have good, reliable, fast internet to be able to access this stuff. You know, we also utilize this fast speed for backups for businesses. You know, when a business is large enough that, you know, their data that they have is very critical, they need to be able to back that up offsite. We call that disaster recovery. You know, they need to be able to back it up offsite. And you know, if we’re talking gigs and gigs and gigs of data, you know, slow internet, it’s just not going to cut it.
Bryan Kell: Karen, another thing too, real quick, is that more and more people, more and more businesses, are transitioning over to voice over IP phones. And so when you start combining just general use of businesses and start mixing in IP phones on top of that — especially if you’re looking at medium size and large businesses — you have got to be able to have. Micah has worked on so many different projects involving that. But you’ve got to be able to have that bandwidth to be able to handle both the calls coming in and the calls going out right, Micah?
Micah Lawrence: Yes, absolutely. It’s, you know, and it’s got to be pristine, too. It’s, you know, we want to make sure all those voice packets get out and come back in. You know, if it doesn’t, you’re going to have that jitter on the phone that nobody likes.
Karen Wilson: And you talked about, you know, the cloud and that crossed my mind many times as we look back in retrospect at the tornadoes that happened in Kentucky. And even these small mom and pop businesses would benefit from uploading their files and storing things offsite, where if you wake up the next morning and your business is no longer standing, you’re not out of business.
Micah Lawrence: Yeah, that’s right. We want to make sure we impress upon them that, you know, anything can happen. You know, we obviously don’t want it to, but we want to prepare ourselves. And, you know, some of this could be critical data. You know, everything from an inventory list to, you know, payroll to just about anything. And with cloud backup and things of that nature, we can, you know, recover you pretty fast and, you know, ensure that your stuff that you use to take care of your business is protected.
Karen Wilson: So we’ve talked about fiber for homes and businesses. Let’s talk about availability. Fiber isn’t something that just is magically connected on these existing phone lines. Where are we working right now?
Bryan Kell: All right. So I had a chance to get with our operations manager. I don’t think he’s even a manager. I think he’s like operations guru. We’ll call him that. Chad Dees and I got some information from him on kind of what 2022 is shaping up to be. So Tracy City, that exchange, we are finishing up fiber construction there. And he said first, second quarter. So it seemed to be leaning right now a little bit more towards first. But, you know, just in case Mother Nature rears its head for, you know, any number of different things that can pop up, should be finished up in Tracy City in the first or second quarter here of 2022. The two other items that are kind of sitting out there, or exchanges I should say, first up will be Centertown, and there’s been a lot of work already being done there, but even more work that will be taking place there this year, this new year. And then also after Centertown moving into Dibrell. And so those two areas, we’ll see a lot of activity in 2022. What seems amazing, though, is that we are right here on the cusp of wrapping up that massive five year fiber deployment that our board of directors and management team, really our board of directors, guided starting in 2017. It all kind of started way back with the Hillsboro build, which was the first one, and we actually did that in-house. And so from a combination of our folks and lots of contractors and different types of entities working on that, we have seen 2018, 19, 20, 21, and now 22 in this massive five year fiber build.
Micah Lawrence: So, Bryan, you know, lots of times I get asked about, you know, where we’re going next and things like that. And you know, we give them, you know, to our best ability, you know, Quarter One, Quarter Two. What are some things that you know could hold up a schedule? You know, what are some things that Ben Lomand is confronted with that might slow some of these projects down?
Bryan Kell: Well, and Karen and I see this a lot through the Facebook messaging that comes in because more and more people are reaching out to us in so many different ways, asking those questions — whether it’s by phone or whether it’s by message or calling in or website chat and all those kind of things. But that is one of our most frequent questions. Weather can play a big part in that. As far as us being able to get into areas to be able to work, we know that the more rain that falls on areas, the more that we don’t want to be taken big trucks and big machinery into to make a rough situation on being able to get some construction, underground especially, making that even a bigger mess for somebody on their property. Another thing that we’ll probably talk about next segment is supply chain issues. And that has played a part over the past few months and being able to get in some certain items that are needed, whether it’s fiber casings or whether it’s pedestals or any number of things that can really kind of put a crimp on being able to deploy our fiber as quickly as possible.
Bryan Kell: Yeah, so like I said, those things and yeah, just I mean, it takes a lot of manpower, you all have seen it. We’ve all seen it to be able to go into these areas. And so, you know, you start throwing grants on top of that too and going, OK, we’re going to get these areas and then, OK, here’s an area in Cumberland County. Here’s an area in Coffee County that we also have a timetable to get done too. Just talking about this, it’s really amazing to be able to be so close to being on schedule with this five year plan. And then all these grants, the state, federal, even some small areas that we have also expanded areas into, Suwannee. It’s pretty amazing the amount of fiber that has been laid over the last five years.
Karen Wilson: I have been amazed with the fiber process. It just learning and understanding how many departments and the timeframe it takes to get someone installed. You know, you see trucks out in your neighborhood and you think, “Woo-hoo, I’m getting fiber.” And even as someone that works here, sometimes I don’t understand the full process of every department that that has to go through. It’s not just a matter of just doing the construction because there are so many phases that go even after that.
Micah Lawrence: Well, and I’d like to give props to our fiber crew. You know, they do a fantastic job of, you know, installing. But what a lot of people don’t realize is, it’s also the trouble, you know, that comes in. You know, one of our biggest components of this that we have to deal with is Barney the Squirrel. You know, they tend to like to chew on things. We’ve also got, you know, people that drive big trucks that tear things down. And, you know, these guys are having to load up, you know, ship out there and fix it as fast as possible to get services back up. And then, you know, go off to the install job. So it’s, you know, they’re doing a great job. Doing it, you know, in a speedy amount of time. And it’s tough sometimes.
Bryan Kell: And you take those instances like that that pop up quite a bit, throw ice, snow, wind, rain, all that stuff on top of it that we have experienced here in just the past few weeks or at least over the last month or two. And it’s just, I mean, it can be a battle. I mean, just keeping up with things that are constantly thrown at our construction crews or trying to be able to get things fixed with fiber splicing teams and things like that.
Micah Lawrence: Absolutely. Yeah.
Karen Wilson: Well, thank you guys so much for stepping back in and talking to me and educating myself. Even though I’m a long time employee, there’s always something to be learned at Ben Lomand Connect. And I think we know just a little bit more now about the importance of fiber: why we need it and the capabilities of fiber. And so that’s your Connected Home segment of our podcast. We’re going to talk about Connected Home and Businesses in the future.
Micah Lawrence: All right, so we come to our next segment called Connect with BLC, and, you know, as we were talking earlier about how fiber works, there’s some more information about it in, you know, this month’s Connect magazine or Connection magazine. Bryan, can you tell us what else to expect in there?
Bryan Kell: Micah, I can. And so, yeah, in fact, some of the stuff that you talked about earlier in this podcast can be found on, I think, page two of the magazine. Just how fiber works and how intricate it can be. But then also its uses and can also be found on page nine. And so just some really, really cool stuff as far as how fiber can work and what’s the expectation level. Also two, how to be able to contact us the many different ways, even though Donette has told us about that on the network support side. So yeah, lots of cool stuff with fiber. Also, there’s some, if you grab the magazine, you’re going to see quail properties. That’s also going to end up being in there. A great story of how they’re utilizing property up in Monteagle. So there’s a cool little not only a human interest type story there, but also just how, again, how Ben Lomand Connect and fiber and you know what even Managed IT is helping make a difference with those folks. Micah, have you had a chance to work on that project a little bit from time to time?
Micah Lawrence: Absolutely. We help them with multiple properties that they might have. And, you know, if they need cameras or network support or whatever, that’s we help them out with that.
Bryan Kell: Yeah, they seem like good folks and everything. And that’s the Trahans. I think Katie and Tim that are doing that. Also, you can find in the Connection magazine supply chain issues story. A story that we spent a whole lot of time kind of just making sure that we had as much information in there to explain kind of what’s happening when some of our departments that that utilize product. And we’ve already talked a little bit about what that can mean when it’s coming down to fiber distribution and being able to get that out to folks. But Micah, your department, Managed IT, I ask usually every couple of weeks with either you or Chris as far as hey, supply chain, when it comes down to all the things that you all deal with, computers and and cameras and stuff. You all have felt the squeeze of supply chain as well.
Micah Lawrence: That’s right. It’s been quite rough. I would say anything with a computer chip, it’s probably back ordered right now. You can find it just about on any website, whether it’s an, you know, expensive carrier grade type piece of equipment, or it’s the low end consumer grade. It’s just really tough. And you know, I will tell you from talking to some, even our customers, you know, we have a couple of customers that are car dealerships, they’re feeling the strain too. You know, talking about telling us how there’s thousands of vehicles out in the field just sitting there waiting for computer chips. So supply chain, you know, getting that equipment in. And also we’re finding out that they said they’ve had a truck down in Texas for like three weeks. They just can’t find anybody to drive it up here. So, you know, it tends to be a big issue, not just for, you know, our industry, but just about everything.
Bryan Kell: Yeah, it’s definitely been something that I think in talking with someone like Greg, who’s been at Ben Lomand, he’s at 40 years, right at it, very close to 40 years. He said, “I’ve never seen anything like this,” and so that says a lot.
Karen Wilson: I’ll started with the great toilet paper shortage of 2020, didn’t it? And then who would have thought it would have come down to all the services and things even beyond that that we use?
Bryan Kell: It’s crazy. Also, Lifeline service information. You can find that on page five. That is something that Ben Lomand, at least since I’ve been here and I’m sure well before, has been able to offer folks some savings. Karen, I think you’ve even kind of worked on that a little bit, but some savings when it comes down to their phone bill and a chance to be able to help lighten the load a little bit, I guess.
Karen Wilson: Yeah, that’s a great program. It all is based upon income and help you receive already. There are some qualifications that you have to meet, but it’s been a great program. We’ve had it for years. And if you need some help with your phone bill, I urge you to, you know, call in and inquire about that.
Bryan Kell: Absolutely. Also, to something that Karen and I have both had a blast being a part of is more information on a trip to Washington, D.C. So FRS has opened back up their ability for folks to be able to take part in a trip to Washington, D.C. And Karen, you’re kind of the queen of that, but it’s exciting for us. We started that back up about five or six years ago.
Karen Wilson: Yes. Yes, we’ve participated in that for many years and then stepped away from it for a few years. I think about five years ago picked it up again. We send two students in our service territory on an all-expense paid trip to Washington, D.C. for five days. They get to see all the sights, learn about and visit the FCC, learn about legislation and meet hundreds of other teenagers from rural America just like they are. And talk about, you know, issues and figure out how much alike we all are.
Bryan Kell: Yeah. And when we’re talking about all over, we’re talking about from Maine to Alaska is the kids come in from all over the 50 states, just about every one of them. So it’s a great learning experience. We’ve seen kids from all over our service territory area be able to take part in that, but got to get in your information. You got to get in that…
Karen Wilson: Yeah, there’s an essay that is due. It’s due April 1, 2022. All of that information is on our website, benlomandconnect.com. I think it’s under the about us and then FRS Youth Tour Trip. If you’ll click on that, you’ll get all the information about the essay and the qualifications for attending.
Bryan Kell: Yes, and also FRS Scholarship. Some information in the magazine on that as well. Those can be found on page 5, so some very, very good opportunities for kids to enrich their, I guess, enrich their experience and then also enrich their ability for schooling and education too as well. So be sure and check that out. Also too, just some information on regional and statewide history science museums, which is pretty cool that you can find in the magazine. And everything from information on locator app streaming services, how to make something called roux, which I had never heard of before in my life.
Karen Wilson: Not from New Orleans, are you?
Bryan Kell: I’m not from New Orleans. But yeah, I learned that roux is a mixture of fat, especially butter, and flour used to make sauces, and so I learned a little something there from the magazine itself. It’s used as a basis for dishes. Also avoiding back and neck pain from working, and so much more that Micah is the Connection magazine for January and February.
Micah Lawrence: Awesome. Great. So I know I like to watch Channel 6, and I also know that a lot of our customers enjoy the content that we put on Channel 6. But what are some new things, Karen, that we can see coming out on Channel 6?
Karen Wilson: Well, I’m going to drop my terrible New Orleans accent for that and jump into [it]. It is basketball season at Channel 6. Our big thing, you know for January and February is always live ball games at White County and Van Buren County. We have a great set of students that assist us and really take on the production themselves. So if you attend one of those games and you see one of those students with a Warrior Media or Eagle Media shirt on, give them a pat on the back for all that they do. Those games mean a lot to people that can’t get out and attend, grandparents and people that live out of our service territory, so that’s a great service that they do. We’re also in the middle of filming “Soul of Warren County” with our host Mickey Guinn, a local boy who right now we’re working on a great documentary on William Houchin. I’ve learned a lot about Mr. Houchin, businessman from the early or late 1800s and just lots of history going to come out in that show.
Bryan Kell: I think he was involved in a theater here, right?
Karen Wilson: Yes. Yes, he had the first, I guess opera house is what it was, here in our service territory. And just an interesting story about his family moving here from other areas and how they were treated and dealt with that, but very reputable man in the history of Warren County. So we’re going to try to shed some light on him. Of course, we’re always filming Table Talks and Reels to Rental. And also we have a YouTube channel. We’ve had it for quite some time, but we’re loading more and more content on there. We know we have more people that live outside of our service territory. Or maybe you’re wanting to see a particular show or parade or a fair pageant or something that’s not airing right now on Channel 6 or 306. You can always look up Ben Lomand Connect on YouTube. Just put that in the search area, and it should come up, and you’ll get a playlist of all the content that we have.
Bryan Kell: And if you subscribe to it and also turn the alarms on for that, then every time Karen and Tammy Vinson and Kelvin Bond load new material, by golly, they’re on your smartphone, you can go, “Hey, I want to check out that new latest Soul of Warren County” or a Christmas parade, and you can be able to know that it’s there waiting for you.
Karen Wilson: Yes, and it stays there for perpetuity. We do not take those down. So it’s a great way to house some of our content that if you’ve been dying to see something or maybe you’re even a new subscriber to BL TV, and you want to catch some of our older content, that’s a great way to view it.
Micah Lawrence: Awesome. Great. Thanks, Karen. So Bryan.
Bryan Kell: Yes.
Micah Lawrence: I want you to participate in something with me.
Bryan Kell: Oh, no, this is off-script. Here we go.
Micah Lawrence: It is called the “Ye Olde Dictionary Game.”
Bryan Kell: “Ye Olde Dictionary.”
Bryan Kell: It is where…
Karen Wilson: I love trivia. Let’s see how he does.
Micah Lawrence: Where Bryan Kell gets to define, which by the way, Bryan Kell is an old fogy in case you guys were wondering.
Bryan Kell: Yes, very much so.
Micah Lawrence: I want him to define some modern day words that some young whippersnappers use.
Bryan Kell: Ok.
Micah Lawrence: So for our audience, I’d like for you to define the word “yeet.” Y-E-E-T.
Bryan Kell: Y-E-E-T. By the way, folks, this is totally off, you know, this is not planned, so I have no idea what he’s doing here.
Karen Wilson: Was not on our script.
Bryan Kell: Was not on the script at all. Ok, so yeet, I would say that, what does the word mean?
Micah Lawrence: Yes.
Bryan Kell: The word yeet means “you want to eat?”
Micah Lawrence: No.
Bryan Kell: Okay.
Micah Lawrence: To “yeet” something is to throw something with some awesome force.
Bryan Kell: And that’s a real word? No way.
Micah Lawrence: Yes, these modern day kids are raising yeet. They say, “well, why don’t you just yeet that thing over there?”
Bryan Kell: Really?
Micah Lawrence: Yes.
Karen Wilson: Wow, I thought it was like a thumbs up or a pump, you know, like, “yay, go, yeet.”
Bryan Kell: Yeah. Or are you getting that confused with “urt?” Maybe over in White county, because that’s kind of their little thing that they’ve got going on.
Karen Wilson: Oh, I bet that is.
Bryan Kell: OK, I’ve got one more for you, Bryan.
Bryan Kell: All right. Got you.
Micah Lawrence: If something is “OG,” what does that mean?
Karen Wilson: You know, I’ve seen this, and I don’t know what it is.
Micah Lawrence: Have you have you heard it Bryan?
Bryan Kell: Yes, and at times I’ve even looked it up, and it’s gone in one brain cell and out the other. The “OG,” this is awful. “OG” means that you are the old guy.
Micah Lawrence: No.
Micah Lawrence: Okay, what is it? I forgot.
Micah Lawrence: Stands for “original gangster.”
Bryan Kell: That’s it! Yes!
Micah Lawrence: So basically, if someone is, it’s nostalgic. If it’s, you know, the old school way of doing it, it’s “OG.”
Karen Wilson: So we might be OG, or you might be OG if…
Micah Lawrence: That’s right. That’s the end of “Ye Olde Dictionary.”
Karen Wilson: Well, Ye Olde is getting older and older.
Micah Lawrence: Yeah, very much so.
Karen Wilson: Oh me, these kids. I have said many times that they are recreating the English language on a daily basis. The terminology that we use for things. Take my name, for instance. “Karen,” you know, it’s got a whole other meaning out there now. And I’m like, “How, the heck, does this stuff get started?” But I don’t know if we can thank rap songs or what, but it’s hard to keep up with.
Bryan Kell: Yeah, it is. So okay, you got OG, yeet, we’ve learned something new today, or at least I have. So there’s your what Connect with BLC Moment there and Ye Olde Dictionary.
Bryan Kell: Ok, gang, we have reached the end of our first episode of the BLC Connection Podcast.
Karen Wilson: A lot of fun, and I hope everybody felt that it was worthwhile content. That’s our goal.
Bryan Kell: But, and you know what? Perfect segue, Karen. We want your feedback. We want to know what you want out of the BLC Connection Podcast because we’re only one episode in, and we’re still trying to find a rhythm and still trying to find what topics maybe people want more information on, less on, all those things. So Micah, how can folks reach us?
Micah Lawrence: Absolutely. The best way to reach us is you can go to Ben Lomond Connect’s Facebook page, Instagram, Twitter or our LinkedIn accounts. You can submit those questions there, or you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bryan Kell: Yeah, so feel free to message us with on any of those platforms. We do take a look at those, and we do respond. And so, but again, one of the easiest ways is just email us, and we’ll all three get that email and be able to take it, incorporate it into our thought patterns for future episodes. And also, again, we want your feedback: good, bad, indifferent. Just like Ben Lomand Connect, we get better as you all give us feedback, so we’re looking for more. But Karen, even though we’re doing these episodes, what I think and what we think will be once a month, there’s more.
Karen Wilson: There is. There’s always something else to talk about. And of course, right now with weather and things like that on our mind, so much with it being in the middle of the winter, I’m going to have a mini episode with Caney Fork’s General Manager Bill Rogers and the new manager coming up later on, which is going to be Ben Newman. They’re going to be my first guess on a BLC Connection mini-episode on businesses, and we’re going to be talking about just customer support during major outages.
Bryan Kell: Yeah, that has been, when you came in with that, I thought man that is just perfect. Because of what we’ve come through with some kind of some surprise winter storms, a little bit more snow than we’re normally used to getting and some ice mixed in. And who better to talk to about dealing with all that than Caney Fork? So fantastic. So we need to be on the lookout for that mini-episode that Karen will be bringing to us here in the weeks to come. Also, too, we’ll go ahead and tease our February 2022 episode number two on the BLC Connection Podcast. Our guest will be Mr. Greg Smart, GM/CEO of Ben Lomand Connect. He’ll be getting very close when we talk to him on wrapping up his first year as GM and CEO of Ben Lomand Connect. We’re going to talk — I was just able to give you a little bit about fiber builds. Greg’s got all kinds of information about, not only 2022, but about 2023 and maybe even a little bit beyond that. So we’ll be able to really get involved on, especially if you’re into wondering where we’re going and where we’re going to be bringing Ben Lomand fiber to, this next episode of the BLC Connection podcast is going to be one you’re not going to want to miss. Also, kind of a state of the company where he, you know, the accomplishments of the past year, kind of where we’re going because annual meeting time is right around the corner. Karen’s been through about 25 or 26 of those.
Karen Wilson: Yeah, they’ve changed a lot over the years. That’s true. But we always look forward to seeing our customers at that time. We used to shake hands and kiss babies. We kind of do that from afar these days, but we show the love of our customers. We always have some great prizes and giveaways and things like that and just enjoy touching base and giving a report. It’s our small State of the Union.
Bryan Kell: Yeah, and so Greg will give us all kinds of information on what’s all both happened and in store for Ben Lomand Connect in 2022 and like we said, kind of taking a look back at 2021. And again, if you guys will give us some feedback on different topics, then we can even work that in to different segments and stuff on what questions you may have, whether it’s technology or whatever. Get those over to us and that can help shape the next BLC Connection Podcast.
Bryan Kell: We’ve got some thanks that we want to say, not only for Donette Freeman, for joining us in the segment with Network Support, but also two folks that are not a part of the stuff that you see here, but they have been a very important part of bringing this to light and also helping us on the post-production side. And that’s the gang at WordSouth. And so Stephen V. Smith and also Sarah Wootten from WordSouth, their help and guidance have been tremendous in getting us to this point.
Karen Wilson: They have, and they’ve been a great resource for many years here at Ben Lomand, helping us with our magazine. They kind of helped us get started on that road, and now into the podcast.
Bryan Kell: Yeah, and I think somebody in Micah’s case who was maybe a little leery about the whole podcast thing, I think when we started breaking out these Shure mics and really having some stuff to play with here. Micah, you’re like, “Man, I think I’m a fan of this now.”
Micah Lawrence: Oh, yeah, I’m totally a fan. Absolutely
Bryan Kell: So we want to thank Stephen, and we want to thank Sarah for being able to help us get to this point. And gang, it’s been a fun first episode. For those that are listening, we hope, like Karen said, that you had some fun listening to it and maybe a little bit more information. We promise we’ll get better, and we’ll work at this. But for all of those that took the time out to be able to listen this, we thank you and tell you what. Until next time, stay well, stay safe and stay connected.