Bringing Congress to Rural America

By Keith Gabbard
Chief Executive Officer

It’s not often that rural telcos like ours get a chance to share our stories, struggles and successes with a busload of congressional staff members.

So when the Foundation for Rural Service recently brought a group of legislative advisors on a bus tour through Eastern Kentucky and Middle Tennessee, we at PRTC made the best of the opportunity.

These bright, young staffers — most of whom work for representatives and senators on key commerce, technology and communications committees — left Washington, D.C., to visit our part of the country and see what rural broadband looks like firsthand.

The staffers came from across the country, representing places such as Salt Lake City, the Dallas suburbs, Central Florida and the Research Triangle in North Carolina. Before moving to the nation’s capital, many of them lived in big cities, such as Chicago. For some, this bus trip may have been the first time they’d ever spent in an area that could be considered rural.

While in McKee, they heard about our fiber network, learned how we splice fiber and even took a side trip to Flat Lick Falls.

At one stop on the tour, I, along with other nearby rural broadband providers, made sure to catch the ear of a few of the staffers and explain how important our mission is to our local residents. It was important for them see how vibrant our communities are and to meet the great people in our region.

It was important for them to hear rural Kentucky business owners, hospital administrators and local officials talk about the importance of a broadband connection.

And it’s important for them to understand the challenges cooperatives like ours face in building a network that may cost tens of thousands of dollars each mile, with as few as five customers per mile.

Long term, Congress and Washington regulators play a significant role in the strength of our telco and our industry, through issues such as the Universal Service Fund. As you’ve read in this space before, the USF provides funding that allows rural, high-cost providers like us a way to recoup the investments we’ve made in our communities and still provide telephone and broadband service at a price local residents can afford.

It was a great chance to tell them our cooperative’s story: We are providing service in areas that for-profit companies will not serve, and local residents depend on our network to work, play, shop, learn and connect with friends and family.

I am proud PRTC could play a role in bringing the congressional delegation to rural Kentucky. And I’m proud every day that you’ve trusted PRTC to connect you to the world.

Celebrate our scholars

PRTC is proud to honor some of our best and brightest students, who will receive scholarships of $2,000 to help offset the cost of their college tuition. Congratulations and good luck!

Gig-Certified

GIG_Seal

PRTC reaches for the future, now

By Noble Sprayberry

Twenty-five seconds. With PRTC’s gigabit-speed Internet connection, that’s all it takes to download a two-hour, high-definition movie.

That task in most communities might require an hour — or hours. And that’s just one example of the possibilities gigabit broadband offers.

Simply put, gigabit Internet is a foundation for today, and for the future: Real-time video conferencing. Cloud-based backups. Workers miles — or continents — apart collaborating as if they’re steps away. And that’s the infrastructure PRTC members have right now.

NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association has named PRTC as one of the first Certified Gig-Capable Providers, out of the association’s nearly 900 member telecommunications companies.

The certification is an acknowledgement of the power of high-speed Internet. And the power of that network — more so than the designation — means good things for community growth, says Keith Gabbard, PRTC’s chief executive officer.

For example, Teleworks USA in Jackson County trains people for jobs that allow them to work for national companies outside the region without ever leaving home. Other employers have also shown interest in locating call centers in the area served by PRTC, Gabbard says.

“In discussions with these companies, one of the first things they ask is if we’re capable of high-speed broadband,” Gabbard says. “And we can say that we are, and prove it to them.”

Keith Gabbard, PRTC’s chief executive officer, discusses the importance of rural broadband.

Keith Gabbard, PRTC’s chief executive officer, discusses the importance of rural broadband.

Necessary for growth

Sooner than many people might expect, gigabit Internet access will become a necessity for communities. “The world is begging for gigabit fiber right now,” Gabbard says.

The NTCA distinction is part of a national program highlighting independent telecommunications providers delivering gigabit broadband speeds.

“I applaud each one of these companies for their commitment to delivering the Internet’s fastest speeds — an accomplishment worthy of much praise considering the unique and challenging circumstances small, community-based telecommunications providers operate under every day in serving some of our country’s most rural and remote communities,” says NTCA Chief Executive Officer Shirley Bloomfield.

Industry giant Google recently announced it might bring its gigabit fiber Internet service to Louisville. And it’s already brought the gig to select cities such as Kansas City, Missouri, and Austin, Texas. However, Google fiber — as well as offerings from other companies — does not cover every household in a city. The initial rollouts are limited. “But, PRTC committed to extending fiber optic broadband Internet to every home and business in Jackson and Owsley counties,” Gabbard says. “We have it right here.”

And employers are going to notice. “We’re proving to them what we can do here, and hopefully they will tell other people,” Gabbard says. “We’re happy to be gig-certified, and we’re even more proud to provide our community access to the future that broadband Internet provides.”

PRTC joins an elite group, including NineStar Connect, Greenfield, Indiana; Wilkes Communications, Wilkesboro, North Carolina; Polar Communications, Park River, North Dakota; SkyLine Membership Corporation, West Jefferson, North Carolina; Omnitel Communications, Nora Springs, Iowa; Premier Communications, Sioux Center, Iowa; West Wisconsin Telcom Cooperative, Downsville, Wisconsin; and Dickey Rural Networks, Ellendale, North Dakota.

PRTC welcomes Kentucky Sports Radio

ksrlogo

PRTC television viewers can now enjoy the (unofficial) voices and antics of University of Kentucky sports. Every day on channels 209 and 409, catch the show that defines Wildcats sports.

Kentucky Sports Radio’s Shannon “The Dude” Grigsby recently chatted with The PRTC Connection:

Q: For people who are unfamiliar with KSR, what can they expect?
A: Although the core focus of the show is University of Kentucky sports, we venture into topics ranging from pop culture, to the latest bizarre stories in the news, and to everything in between. If nothing else, KSR will entertain you.

Q: What’s the mission of Kentucky Sports Radio: booster, critic or journalist?
A: The mission of KSR is to bring fans the latest UK sports news in the most ridiculous manner possible. We don’t want to just tell you the news, we want to tell you the news while jumping out of airplanes, riding horses and plunging into lakes, which, by the way, have all happened at live, remote shows.

Q: What’s the best part of the job?
A: To me the best part of the job is when we hear about how our show has helped someone get through a tough time and helped change someone’s life. We had a guy who started walking every day to try to get back in shape, and he would listen to the KSR podcast. He said it took his mind off exercising, and it made it easier for him to get through his workout. He was able to drop a lot of weight and it transformed his life. He credited it to, in part, KSR. To me, there’s nothing better than those types of stories.

Q: To be clear, this is UK radio — not a statewide sports channel that might include that other school to the west, right?
A: Yes, but that doesn’t mean we won’t mention little brother and everyone else. We will talk about topics involving other schools, but the show’s focus is on what is happening in Lexington.
It’s a lot of fun to do the show in a state with big rivals. There is a select group of KSR listeners who hate UK, but they love the show. We like to have fun with it and mix it up with everyone.

Q: What’s the one thing about UK sports that deserves more attention?
A: What I think deserves more attention at UK is the baseball team. They’ve put together some very good teams recently, but Kentucky is a basketball state first and a football state second. Everything after that always seems to get lost in the shuffle.

Q: Finally, what is one thing viewers and listeners should pay attention to when it comes to the basketball team?
A: I think people should pay attention to how well, and how quickly, this team is able to gel. They once again have the talent to win another championship, but they’ll need to play completely selfless basketball to bring home No. 9.

(All photos courtesy of University of Kentucky Athletics.)

Inspired by home

Eastern Kentucky authors make a mark

By Noble Sprayberry

The hills of Eastern Kentucky are a place for storytellers. Some writers grew up in the small towns and hollows, learning to craft words that enlighten and entertain. Others find new homes and sink deep roots where they find creativity.
Book authors, playwrights and educators — they each carry a bond to the land and the community.

Anne Shelby grew up in Jackson County. Her father, Luther Gabbard, taught agriculture classes at McKee High School. Her mother, Jessie, was an English teacher.

And while there was a natural connection to language and literature, her big family provided another link to words. “They were people who sang, and who played guitar, and who enjoyed telling stories,” she says. “Even though reading might not have been all that big with everyone, the ability to tell funny stories and to tell histories was always valued.”

During the 1980s while attending graduate school at the University of Kentucky, Shelby learned of a growing interest in female writers and Appalachian writing. She embraced the idea and made a career as a writer.

“I do a lot of different kinds of writing,” she says. “Most of it does end up being about the part of the world that I lived in and my family lived in.”

She wrote “Homeplace,” tales inspired from the house and farm in Clay County that provided a home for generations of her family. Another, “We Keep a Store,” is a collection of poetry. While drawn from memories of her family’s store, the poems are not autobiographical. “They are the voices of people that I knew, or that were similar to those I heard while growing up,” she says.

Throughout her work, Shelby tries to tap the realities of the region, including the dialect, which is often a challenge. “One danger is that we’ve all heard that ‘fakey’ Appalachian speech, and we’ve all got that in our heads,” she says. “I often ask, ‘Did I hear that from my grandmother, or was it a bad Western?’”

So, she works to craft words that capture the reality of the place and the people. This year, she wrote the annual Owsley County “Home Song” play. “You want to give enough of the flavor of the language without drawing attention to it,” she says.

Finding a Kentucky home

While some locals find inspiration from childhoods spent in Eastern Kentucky, Kathy Rowe migrated to the community. Her books, including military thrillers, science fiction and romance, are available through services such as Amazon.
She chose life in Kentucky after a 20-year career in the U.S. Air Force. Her last stop, where she was a radiology technician, was McGuire Air Force base in New Jersey.

There, she met her husband, Scott Shore, who also served in the Air Force. “He was a combat version of an emergency medical technician,” she says.

While they retired in 2011, planning had begun six years earlier. “We wanted to find a place that was affordable and quiet, and where people were nice,” she says.

Now, they have 40 acres of organically grown hay, which they market. They also raise poultry, including chickens, ducks and turkey.

While managing the farm takes up much of her day, Rowe finds time for a passion she first developed as a sophomore at a San Diego high school. She loves to write. But a military career that included stops in Great Britain left little time for crafting books.

“In July of 2009, I had to have ankle surgery. I was going to be laid up for a long time, so I loaded the book that I’d been working on for 20 years onto my laptop,” she says.
The result was “Project: Dragon Slayers.” In 2010, The Military Writers Society of America named it a runner-up in the military thriller category.

She kept writing and self-publishing. Her titles include “Space Invaded,” “Cowboys and Olympians” and “Battle Rhythm.”
She also helps other authors publish on Amazon through her Sturgeon Creek Publishing, named after the stream on the couple’s property.

Lessons for the future

Keven McQueen also works to help writers. He earned an English degree from Berea College and a master’s degree from Eastern Kentucky University, where he now teaches English and composition.

He’s passing on lessons acquired growing up. “I was born in Richmond, but I spent my formative years in Jackson County near Annville,” he says. “I had a couple of really good teachers who really encouraged me. By the time I got to Berea, I had a good background thanks to teachers at Jackson County High School.”
In addition to teaching, McQueen writes books based on historical accounts from the region — but, don’t expect dry, dusty histories.

For example, “Offbeat Kentuckians” explores just what the title claims. The book includes tales of men such as William “King” Solomon. Considered Lexington’s town drunk, his life took a heroic turn when he put his health at risk to bury victims of the 1833 cholera epidemic.

And there was Simon Kracht. Not only was he custodian at the University of Louisville Medical School, but he also served as the official “body snatcher.”

A second volume followed, and other books maintained a similar bent: “Forgotten Tales Of Kentucky,” and “Cruelly Murdered: The Murder Of Mary Magdalene Pitts And Other Kentucky True Crime Stories.”

Research for McQueen means searching newspapers’ aging microfilm records. “It is history, but it’s hopefully amusing history about events that are not particularly well-known,” he says.

Engaging stories always have a place, but he says he has seen a shift in students’ habits. “A lot of them tell me they don’t enjoy writing and reading,” he says. “When I was a kid, TV had three channels. You’d go read or go out outside and do something. Now, there are 10,000 channels, and many people aren’t interested in reading anything.”

Technology, however, also provides benefits. Buying a digital book is fast, easy and often cheaper than purchasing a printed edition. “Who knows, maybe in the long run technology will increase sales,” he says.

One thing, though, will likely never change. “Whether they see it on a screen or in a book, people like a good story,” he says.”

Broadband may be the greatest health care innovation for rural America

NTCA Logo

By Shirley Bloomfield, CEO
NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association

When we talk about the impact of broadband Internet access, we often focus on its importance to economic development, business growth and such. While it is absolutely an economic driver, broadband may also be just what the doctor ordered for rural America.

You will sometimes hear it referred to as telemedicine; other times, telehealth. Whatever you call it, the use of broadband technology is changing the way health care is delivered. And I believe we are only seeing the beginning.

For example, electronic medical records are allowing doctors to streamline care, especially for patients in rural areas. A patient who normally visits a rural clinic can be confident that their health information is accurate and up-to-date when they visit a regional hospital.

I wrote in the previous issue of this magazine about aging in place, noting that technologies such as videoconferencing, remote health monitoring and X-ray transmission are helping rural seniors stay at home longer. But the aging population is just one segment that can benefit from broadband-enabled applications.

Recently, I attended a technology showcase that focused on the interconnection between technology providers, health care providers and innovation in telemedicine. It was a fascinating conference that left my mind spinning with the possibilities for rural health care delivery.

We heard from a rural telecommunications provider who said small telcos are often too small to get the main contracts from the base hospitals, but that they have an important role in providing the local infrastructure and having the construction team on the ground. This has helped build the case for having a role in the large clinic and university hospital contracts in the future.

Hugh Cathey of the innovative company HealthSpot provided a real glimpse into what broadband can mean to all segments of society. His company has kiosks in several Rite Aid drug stores in Ohio where patients can walk in and be face-to-face with a healthcare professional via a video screen. These stations come outfitted with everything you need to receive a wide variety of remote treatments. The HealthSpot network has seen thousands of patients since May, for ailments such as allergies, cold and flu, bronchitis, cough, rashes, sore throat and fever.

With applications such as these, it’s easy to get excited about what the future holds for telemedicine. And with the great work being done by your telco and others like it who are building world-class broadband networks, we can know that rural America will not be left behind in this evolution.

Easy steps to help stop telemarketing calls!

If you are like most consumers, you are tired of being disturbed by telemarketing calls. There is help.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) have established a National Do Not Call Registry. Joining this registry can drastically reduce the number of telemarketing calls you receive.

Here are some important facts about the list:

  • Once registered, telemarketers have 31 days to stop calling your number.
  • You can register up to three non-business telephone numbers. You can register cell phone numbers; there is not a separate registry for cell phones.
  • Your number will remain on the list permanently unless you disconnect the number or you choose to remove it.
  • Some businesses are exempt from the Do Not Call Registry and may still be able to call your number. These include political organizations, charities, telephone surveyors and businesses that you already have a relationship with.

Strict Federal Trade Commission rules for telemarketers make it illegal to do any of the following regardless of whether or not your number is listed on the National Do Not Call Registry:

  • Call before 8 a.m.
  • Call after 9 p.m.
  • Misrepresent what is being offered
  • Threaten, intimidate or harass you
  • Call again after you’ve asked them
    not to

Adding your number to the Do Not Call Registry is easy!
Register online at www.donotcall.gov or call 888-382-1222
For TTY, call 866-290-4236
You must call from the telephone number you wish to register.

Attention local business owners: You can be penalized for not following these FCC rules

When people think of telemarketing phone calls, they usually imagine them coming from distant call centers. But local businesses that make phone calls to customers or potential customers should be aware that the same National Do Not Call Registry rules and regulations apply to them.
The Do Not Call initiative, regulated by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), requires telephone service providers to notify customers of the National Do Not Call rules and regulations.

If you are a company, individual or organization that places telemarketing calls, it is very important that you familiarize yourself with the operations of the National Do Not Call Registry. Unless you fall under one of the established exceptions, such as telemarketing by charitable organizations or for prior business relationships, you may not make telemarketing calls to numbers included in the National Do Not Call Registry.

For information regarding National Do Not Call regulations, visit the National Do Not Call registry at www.telemarketing.donotcall.gov. You can find the Federal Communications Commission and Federal Trade Commission rules governing telemarketing and telephone solicitation at 47 C.F.R. § 64.1200 and 16 C.F.R. Part 310, respectively.

Beware of sales calls disguised as surveys

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says they have received numerous complaints from individuals who report receiving deceptive sales calls. The callers identify themselves with Political Opinions of America and ask you to participate in a brief survey, usually consisting of about three questions. After answering the questions, the individual is transferred to someone offering them a bonus for participating in the survey — usually a sales pitch for a time-share disguised as a “free vacation.”

The FTC warns that if the purpose of the call is to try to sell something — even if it includes a survey — it is telemarketing and all Do Not Call Registry rules apply.

If you believe a call violates the FTC rules against telemarketing, you can file a complaint by calling 888-382-1222 or go to donotcall.gov.

Bowled Over

Liberty Bowl Stadium(Photo courtesy of AutoZone Liberty Bowl)

Liberty Bowl Stadium
(Photo courtesy of AutoZone Liberty Bowl)

There’s more to bowl-game trips than football

As football season fades into history, host cities gear up for events that really score. Get ready for kickoff with a tour of the 2015 bowl games in cities across the South — which are great places to visit anytime.

December 23

GoDaddy Bowl; Mobile, Alabama; Ladd-Peebles Stadium

Let’s start your tour with the week leading up to the bowl game in Mobile. The focus is on the bowl’s eve and its Mardi Gras-style parade. Marching bands and cheerleaders from each bowl team will help pump up team spirit. The parade culminates in a giant pep rally on the waterfront at Mobile Bay. So don’t sit on the sidelines. Get into the action.

Other sights to see:

USS Alabama in Mobile Bay

USS Alabama
(Photo courtesy of USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park)

The USS Alabama arrived in Mobile Bay in 1964 and opened for public tours a year later. Bill Tunnell, executive director of the USS Alabama Memorial Park, says bowl week is always a lot of fun for players and fans.

One of the best places to view Mobile’s historic past is at the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception. The cathedral’s stained-glass windows date to 1890, so bring your camera. And this would be a good place to say a prayer for a successful Hail Mary near game’s end. The church is at 2 S. Claiborne St.

Where to eat: Regina’s Kitchen, 2056 Government St., a mile from the stadium. Best bet: muffuletta with a side of potato salad.

December 26

Camping World Independence Bowl; Shreveport, Louisiana; Independence Stadium

On our next stop, the days leading up to the bowl game see a marked change in the city of Shreveport. Fans sporting team colors are out in full force enjoying the many cool, old places to eat, drink and socialize along the riverfront. There will be a pep rally, which consistently draws big crowds. And there’s always been a free event for families: Fan Fest — a fun time with face painting, jump houses and more.

If you feel the need to shop, there’s no better place to go than Louisiana Boardwalk Outlets, home to 60-plus stores. “It’s probably the most-popular destination for football fans,” says Chris Jay, with the Shreveport-Bossier Convention and Tourist Bureau.

Kids will enjoy spending time at Sci-Port: Louisiana’s Science Center. It’s always ranked in the top 10 of children’s science museums in the country.

Where to eat: Sam’s Southern Eatery, 3500 Jewella Ave., 0.7 miles from the stadium. One of the best spots in town for fried seafood. Favorite dish? It’s a coin toss between the 3N3 — three shrimp and three fish fillets — or the shrimp with red beans and rice.

December 30

Birmingham Bowl; Birmingham, Alabama; Legion Field

The journey continues as the year winds down. It’s one of the smaller bowl games, but don’t be blindsided by the fact that there will be as much play-by-play action off the field as on.
Bowl eve begins with the Monday Morning Quarterback Club Team Luncheon. The public is welcome, but tickets are required. Then, at 2 p.m., the Uptown Street Fest and Pep Rally kicks off a huge celebration with team bands, cheerleaders, players and live music.

And if you have time, make a drive to the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum with its collection of almost 750 vintage and modern motorcycles and race cars.

Where to eat: Niki’s West Steak and Seafood, 233 Finley Ave. W, 2.7 miles from the stadium. Some of the best soul food in Alabama. Fried green tomatoes, turnip greens, stewed okra and white beans are favorite sides to daily entree choices.

December 30

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl; Nashville, Tennessee; Nissan Stadium

Hot Chicken Eating World Championship (Photo courtesy of Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl)

Hot Chicken Eating World Championship
(Photo courtesy of Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl)

The home of country music earns a stop on the itinerary. Last year’s Music City Bowl was one of the highest-attended in its 17-year history, and organizers are hopeful to repeat that success this year. To kick things off, there’s a battle off the field on game eve: MusicFest and Battle of the Bands. It begins with the Hot Chicken Eating World Championships, followed by a free concert at Riverfront Park. The evening ends with the two team bands “duking it out” on the streets.

While in town, be sure to make time for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, where the history of country music comes alive.

Where to eat: Manny’s House of Pizza, 15 Arcade Alley, 0.8 miles from the stadium. Creative pies are the trademark of this pizzeria, as well as great spaghetti and calzones. A local favorite.

December 31

Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl; Atlanta, Georgia; Georgia Dome

Don’t forget to plan a New Year’s Eve stop. When traveling to a city the size of Atlanta, deciding what venues to visit is difficult. And during bowl week, they’re often crowded. The Peach Bowl draws one of the largest of all bowl crowds. Visitors enjoy the restaurants, sights and sounds of The Big Peach, including the Peach Bowl Parade. Dozens of bands and floats pass through the streets.

To narrow down the playing field of other sights to see, there are two places near the Georgia Dome. The College Football Hall of Fame is a touchdown for football fans with its interactive exhibits and helmet and jersey collections. And for fishy folks, there’s the Georgia Aquarium and the inhabitants of its 10 million gallons of fresh and salt water.

Where to eat: Jamal’s Buffalo Wings, 10 Northside Drive NW, 0.7 miles from the stadium. Scramble over to Jamal’s for a football tradition: wings. It’s a hole-in-the-wall, but don’t let that stop you.

January 2

AutoZone Liberty Bowl; Memphis, Tennessee; Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium

Bash on Beale Pep Rally (Photo courtesy of AutoZone Liberty Bowl)

Bash on Beale Pep Rally
(Photo courtesy of AutoZone Liberty Bowl)

There’s nothing sad about ending a bowl season journey at the home of the blues. As if Beale Street wasn’t busy on any given day or night, it scores big with an undercurrent of excitement that builds as the Liberty Bowl teams come to town, exploding at the Bash on Beale Pep Rally. The area comes alive beginning at 3 p.m. with a parade featuring local bands, team bands, cheerleaders and more. When the parade ends, the pep rally begins. And this year, it all happens on Jan. 1, the day before the game.
And if there’s time in your schedule, don’t forget a tour of Graceland, as well as Sun Studios where Elvis, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison and more sang the blues.

Where to eat: Soul Fish, 862 S. Cooper St., 1.4 miles from the stadium. The best catfish, Cuban sandwiches and fish tacos in Memphis, but the place scores an extra point for its oyster po’ boys.

Tech-Savvy Traveler:

As if the holidays didn’t provide enough excitement, it’s nearly time for an unending blitz of college bowl games. There are a few apps to help get us even further into the game. Team Stream is a popular sports news app by Bleacher Report. Want the latest scores and highlights? The ESPN app alerts you when your team scores. Searching for a social media society of sports fans? FanCred’s app could help visiting fans survive a trip into hostile territory.