Focus on building a fiber network earns PRTC a national award and an invitation to the White House
By Brian Lazenby
At its core, the most important value PRTC provides is community service. PRTC is comprised of a team of individuals who work each day to make the entire region a better place to live, work and raise a family.
The cooperative was recently honored at the national level for its work. PRTC was awarded the Smart Rural Community award by NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association. The Smart Rural Community program was created as a way to recognize cooperatives that are promoting and using broadband networks to foster innovative economic development, education, health care and government services.
“It’s quite an honor to be named a Smart Rural Community,” says Keith Gabbard, PRTC’s CEO. “This award not only acknowledges our work to build this modern infrastructure, but it also shines a spotlight on how leaders in this region are using that technology to foster economic growth, improve health care and advance opportunities in education.”
The communities served by PRTC are rich with hardworking residents and pristine natural beauty. However, the region is also plagued with poverty stemming from a lack of industry and jobs. That was a driving factor behind PRTC’s decision to build a state-of-the-art fiber to the home network.
As a result, all the homes and businesses in PRTC’s Jackson and Owsley service area will have access to fiber technology. This network allows PRTC to offer broadband Internet, television, phone service and more across a network that provides speeds rivaling (and even exceeding) what much larger telecommunications companies are able to provide in metro areas.
PRTC’s work to build its fiber network was only part of what earned the cooperative the Smart Rural Community designation. An important component to the award was PRTC’s efforts to foster partnerships throughout the communities it serves to help citizens benefit from the technology.
“Building the network is just half the battle,” says Gabbard. “Fiber technology only starts to change lives when people understand how to use it. Through our relationships with schools, health care providers, businesses and local governments, we are creating a powerful coalition of leaders who can help put the power of broadband to work here in Eastern Kentucky — and improve the quality of life for our citizens.”
Following the announcement that PRTC was one of only 13 companies nationwide to receive the Smart Rural Community designation, Gabbard and Operations Manager Michael Stidham were invited to Washington, D.C., to a meeting of the White House Rural Council.
“It was a great experience to visit the White House and talk about the impact this cooperative is having in Eastern Kentucky,” says Gabbard. “Several NTCA staff members were there, including CEO Shirley Bloomfield, along with the CEOs of other rural telecommunications companies like ours. Being able to visit the White House and tell our story was a great opportunity for PRTC and all our members.”
Being a Smart Rural Community is about more than simply building a fiber network. The following stories show how broadband technology is making a difference in this region; these examples were part of the reason NTCA selected PRTC for this honor.
“We have large amounts of data to transmit to vendors and customers,” says Tom Wilson, president of Phoenix. “Our broadband service has made a significant difference and has clearly given us an advantage over our competitors.”
“PRTC’s broadband allowed us to play with the big boys,” he adds.
Teleworks USA is a company that helps find jobs for its clients, most of which require the employee to work from home. The company located here because of PRTC’s high-capacity broadband.
“The backbone that this service provides allows Teleworks to serve up to 20 teleworkers simultaneously in both training and live call modes,” says Teleworks President Tom Higgins. “The speed at which our Annville hub operates is scary fast.”
White House Clinic, a private, not-for-profit health care corporation with a branch in McKee, credits PRTC’s high-speed network with making it possible to offer new services at branches throughout the region.
“During the past decade, our reliance on a reliable broadband network has increased exponentially as we continue to develop our Electronic Medical Records system,” says White House CEO Stephanie Courtright Moore.
White House has expanded to eight locations in five counties and uses broadband to keep the branches connected.
“Connectivity between these sites is essential for communication and day-to-day business processes,” Moore says.
Cumberland River Comprehensive Care, a local behavioral health care provider, has added telemedicine to the services it offers. Specifically, psychiatrists from Louisville and Mount Vernon are available via telemedicine to offer treatment.
PRTC provided a fiber broadband connection to the new Jackson County High School. The school has a computer lab in the library, and the entire campus is connected by a Wi-Fi network. Teachers are using interactive boards that provide instant feedback from students.
Jackson County High School Principal Keith Hays says the new technology means a better learning environment. “This is about 21st-century learning,” he says. “If you don’t have the Internet, you are going to get left behind.”
Schools in Owsley County are using broadband to allow students to learn from home, which helps them make up for missed days due to illness or inclement weather. The Snow Bound Program allows them to connect to their classroom from home, when they can’t get to the school due to icy roads. They are also benefiting from distance learning, which gives students access to courses and subjects not available at the school.
Booneville Water and Sewage System and Jackson County Water Association are using PRTC’s broadband to operate more efficiently and with fewer employees, which is vital for rural water companies trying to stretch their dollars and keep rates low. The presence of a reliable, affordable water source is not only a matter of public health, but it is also vital to attracting businesses to an area.
PRTC’s fiber network is already positively impacting the community, and cooperative leaders believe more companies like Phoenix Industries and Teleworks will locate here to take advantage of the Internet speed — and bring much-needed jobs with them.
“The Smart Rural Community designation will help our community continue to differentiate itself and attract new residents and businesses to strengthen our region,” Gabbard says.