The search for better broadband should start with existing local providers

NEW NTCA logo 4CRural connections

By Shirley Bloomfield, CEO
NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association

There is no question that broadband Internet service is the key to economic and community development, especially in rural America. However, there are differing opinions in Washington about the best way to continue building our nation’s connected infrastructure.

While I applaud President Obama’s recent attention on increasing every American’s access to robust and affordable broadband, it’s not clear that his focus on creating more government-run networks in marketplaces where private operators already exist is the best path toward bringing more jobs and opportunity to rural America.

If our leaders are looking for an excellent model for what can be accomplished, we believe they should turn to the experts who have decades of experience deploying and maintaining modern telecommunications infrastructure: community-based, independent telcos like yours.

Rural telecommunications providers are delivering advanced technology to their customers.

Rural telecommunications providers are delivering advanced technology to their customers.

Nationwide, there are over 1,000 technology providers like yours that serve over 4 million households in the most sparsely populated pockets of our country, deploying high-speed, high-quality broadband services. For decades, these providers have gone above and beyond to build the infrastructure that allows our country’s most rural markets to access the same technologies found in our largest cities — and they’ve done it all under the extremely difficult financial and physical conditions that come with deploying technologies in rural and remote communities.

Thanks to the hard work and commitment of companies such as your local provider, rural America now has access to affordable broadband in some of the most remote locations. But the sustainability of those networks is at risk, and other areas need broadband as well. Policymakers in search of answers to these communications challenges in rural America should turn first to those who have shown they can get the job done time and again, rather than casting about for the next new thing, creating regulatory uncertainty and putting at risk significant investments already made in existing networks through the prospect of redundant or wasteful overbuilding.

There’s already a great broadband success story out there in rural America, and it is being written by community-based telecom providers like yours. As our national broadband story progresses, we should strive to build upon proven initiatives and leverage existing efforts that are working, rather than pursue new uncharted pathways. As this debate plays out, you can be assured that you have a voice in Washington, as your provider joins with hundreds of others through NTCA as the unified voice of America’s rural broadband companies.

From paddle boats manufacturer to a leading defense contractor

Fiber technology fuels Phoenix Products

How did a company that began making canoes and kayaks become a leading defense contractor and manufacturer of military airplane and helicopter parts?

Tom Wilson, president of Phoenix Products, says once you know the story, the transition makes more sense than it first appears.

Richard Ray, a machine operator at Phoenix Products, programs a computer that will make helicopter parts for the U.S. military.

Richard Ray, a machine operator at Phoenix Products, programs a computer that will make helicopter parts for the U.S. military.

The Annville-based company began making lightweight composite boats in 1973. They were known as “poke boats” because they are designed to “poke around” on slow-moving, flat water. The company’s experience working with light-weight, durable materials was an advantage when seeking out defense contracts. They applied their same theory of light-weight, durable construction to engineer and produce avionic parts.

“Most people in this county still think of us as a boat company,” Wilson says. “We still make boats, but now our boat business amounts to about half of one percent of everything we do.”

Phoenix Products now makes sub-sonic aircraft fairings as well as both fiberglass and metal aircraft components and was named Supplier of the Year in 2013 by Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation.

“We are a world-class aerospace supplier,” Wilson says.

Currently, the U.S. Air Force is the company’s largest customer, but Wilson says a new contract, which has yet to be announced, will spur growth at Phoenix. Within two years, the 25-man workforce is expected to expand to meet the new demand. “The opportunity for this county is very significant,” he says. “We could see our employees eventually going over 200 with this project.”

Wilson knows the company would not be where it is today without technology, and he praised the fiber optic network provided by PRTC.

“Almost all our data runs through that system, and we can really see a difference with the new fiber network,” he says, listing fiber’s speed and reliability as its primary advantages. “If it were not for the phone system, none of this would be possible.”

In addition to communicating through email, Phoenix is often required to transmit and receive complex schematics, drawings and photos of various parts and equipment to its customers and vendors.

In addition to sending and receiving data, Wilson says the company’s security system allows him to monitor facilities and operate the system from his smartphone or laptop at his home.

“Almost everything we do is computer operated, and the ability for us to send and receive this data on a timely basis is critical,” Wilson says. “The system is a shining light in Jackson County.”

Wilson credits the entire community with the company’s success. The company is locally owned, locally managed and almost all its employees come from the local workforce.

“We receive a lot of community support,” he says. “But we are known internationally. Our products go all over the world.”

For more information about Phoenix Products, visit www.acstuff.com. To learn more about the company’s boats, visit www.pokeboat.com.

PRTC nears completion of fiber project

Rex Tillery, an installer/repairman at PRTC, installs a fiber optic network at the Jackson County Bank in Sand Gap. PRTC is nearing the end of its fiber-to-the-home project that will give everyone in its service area access to the fastest, most state-of-the-art data network available.

Rex Tillery, an installer/repairman at PRTC, installs a fiber optic network at the Jackson County Bank in Sand Gap. PRTC is nearing the end of its fiber-to-the-home project that will give everyone in its service area access to the fastest, most state-of-the-art data network available.

Peoples Rural Telephone has completed its fiber optic buildout to more than 95 percent of the homes and businesses throughout its service area, with the bulk of its members already connected.

“More than 80 percent of our members are connected with fiber,” says PRTC Operations Manager Michael Stidham. “We encourage our members to contact us if they have not already begun to experience all the benefits fiber has to offer.”

PRTC has completed plans and specifications for construction of fiber facilities in all areas of Jackson and Owsley counties that do not already have fiber access. Construction to complete the fiber buildout to our entire service area will continue through the summer. By the end of 2014, all PRTC members should have access to fiber.

Competitors in bordering counties continue to claim they have a “fiber network,” but Stidham says PRTC offers the only network in the region that uses fiber exclusively, which provides broadband to every customer’s doorstep at the speed of light.

To date, PRTC has spent more than $50 million building out this fiber network. The funding has primarily been secured through a PRTC investment and loans from the USDA Rural Utilities Service. About $17.5 million came through a grant from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act.

“We are spreading the word outside our boundaries and throughout our region that Peoples Rural Telephone Cooperative has the most advanced technology available,” Stidham says. “We are asking for the community’s help in an effort to boost our economy at home.”

PRTC will soon offer fiber optic service to every home and business in our service area. This new network gives PRTC the capability of offering a wide array of services, including an exciting interactive TV offering known as IPTV that is coming soon.

To learn more about how fiber technology benefits you, visit us online at www.prtcnet.org or call 606-287-7101.

 

 

 

 

What kind of connection do I need?

Understanding Internet basics can help you select the right connection for your family

bigstock-Multiple-Cloud-Connection-42587485 [Converted]For a young couple without children, a two-door car usually meets their needs just fine.

But if they add three children, two dogs and a doting grandmother, they are going to need to upgrade to a bigger vehicle.

The same is true with your Internet connection from PRTC: a connection that worked fine for a single computer to check email and browse the Web needs an upgrade to handle two laptops, four smartphones, a tablet and a smart TV.

“With each additional device, we’re putting more and more demand on our Internet connection,” says Michael Stidham, operations manager at PRTC. “There comes a point where none of them are going to work as fast as we like without upgrading that connection.”

Understanding the Web

To understand how to meet your family’s Internet needs, it’s important to understand a little about how the Internet works. The Internet links millions of computers together through a large, expensive connection. PRTC provides members with a way to join that network. They pay for the lines, equipment and maintenance and charge members for a share of the connection.

The size of the share depends on which Internet package or bundle you select.

To use a different analogy, your connection is like a pipe carrying water. Let’s say you need to fill a large water barrel. The barrel will fill much more quickly if you use a garden hose than if you use a small sink sprayer, because the hose has a greater capacity to let the water through.

Your Internet connection works the same way, except it allows for the flow of information rather than water. A higher bandwidth connection — the hose — has a greater capacity to let data through to your computer and other devices so the files can “fill up” or download faster.

Splitting the signal

Just like the water line, multiple devices sharing a connection divide up that speed. In most houses, someone in the shower will notice less water pressure if someone else turns on a washer, sink or dishwasher.

Along the same lines, with a low-bandwidth connection, someone streaming a movie will probably notice jumpiness or a loss of picture quality if someone starts downloading music or playing an online game.

Luckily, PRTC’s new fiber network will give members the speed they need to handle all of their favorite gadgets today and in the future.

“Fiber connections give our members so much bandwidth that they are ready for whatever comes next,” Stidham says. “This will really be a game changer, especially for households with several connected devices.”

 

Wireless needs wires

Why your cell phone would not work without the wired landline network

When this company was formed decades ago, our mission was to provide reliable telephone service to our region. Telephone service was the single most important method of communicating quickly with family, businesses or emergency services — across town or across the country.

bigstock-Smartphone-application-concept-34815812Today there are more cell phones in America than there are people. Users talk trillions of minutes each year and send billions of text messages every month. With all this wireless connectivity, do we really need the wired network at all?

Absolutely. The copper and fiber lines that run overhead and underground through the networks of companies like ours play a critical role in moving signals between the more than 300,000 cell sites located across the country. When you use your cell phone to make a call or access the Internet, your connection spends part of its journey on the same network that makes landline calls and Internet connections possible.

“The wireline network is the backbone of our whole telecommunications system. We need wires.” Those were the words of U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., who chairs the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet, in an interview last fall on C-Span (www.c-spanvideo.org/program/Pryor). AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson expressed a similar sentiment last year in a Forbes magazine article when he said, “The more wireless we become, the more fixed-line dependent we become.”

According to a Foundation for Rural Service whitepaper*, the components of a wireless phone network are:

Cell phone: The device you use to make the call

Cell site: A radio transceiver that connects the caller to the network

Mobile switching center: The “brains” that control all elements of the wireless network

Interexchange switching and transport network: The equipment that connects the wireless network to other wireless or wireline networks

The transport network is where we come in. Without our network of wires, your wireless phone calls would never be connected. So the next time you reach for your cell phone to make a call or check your email, remember that it’s the wireline companies like ours that are helping make that connection possible.

 *The whitepaper “Wireless Needs Wires: The Vital Role of Rural Networks in Completing the Call” was produced by the Foundation for Rural Service and authored by GVNW. To order a complimentary copy of the full paper, visit www.frs.org.