Bringing Congress to Rural America

By Ray Cantrell
General Manager/CEO

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 East Kentucky and Middle Tennessee, we at Ben Lomand Connect 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 on the trip they observed a crew plowing fiber in Middle Tennessee, toured the facilities of a number of small rural communication companies like ours and talked with local officials.

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

Company News

Pole-climbing School

PoleClimb1601Ben Lomand purchased new safety equipment for each crew member earlier this year. The new OSHA-mandated system has two safeties and gives a point of contact with the pole at all times through a four-ring belt system. Previously pole climbers either “free climbed” or “hitchhiked” with one safety. Employees also completed the “Super Squeeze” training session on proper techniques with the new equipment.

Congratulations, winners!


Three members won a 24” television from Ben Lomand. William Dillard (left) won during the Warren County Fair, Claudene Mills won at the Van Buren County Fair and Jane Griffin won at the White County Fair.

Creating an Evergreen Wonderland

Tim and Trina Farris of McMinnville started the Reindeer Plains tree farm in 2010.

Tim and Trina Farris of McMinnville started the Reindeer Plains tree farm in 2010.

By Matt Ledger

It started with a fever.

“I was too sick to go on a Halloween hayride at church,” Tim Farris says. “So I was at home flipping through the channels and found a great PBS show on growing Christmas trees.”

The fever went away, but the idea began to grow.

“The kids won’t let him stay home alone anymore,” Trina Farris says with a laugh. “But if they do, the TV is unplugged.”

Tim teaches fourth grade at Dibrell Elementary, and Trina is a library assistant at Warren County High School.

“We visited several Christmas tree farms in the area and talked to several owners to get some ideas before we started,” Trina says. The family began their new adventure in March 2010, naming it Reindeer Plains and choosing to organically grow Virginia pine seedlings.

Growing Plains

The family quickly learned that it can be as challenging to grow trees as it is to select one for the holidays. More than 300 of their trees died in 2012, including some new Norway spruce, during a summer with excessive heat and sparse amounts of rain.

Other hurdles have been unpredictable and, at times, comical. “We’ve had one year where we sold out and another that we didn’t do well,” Tim says. “We thought ‘Do we ever want to do this again?’, but we ultimately decided the worst thing that could happen is we’d have a pine forest for a backyard.”

Reindeer Plains also offers pre-cut Fraser Fir trees — which will not grow in the Southern climates — while their five-acre tree farm continues to grow.
Their ultimate goal is to create a family experience and a classic Christmas ambiance. Five acres of Christmas trees certainly helps that, but the Farrises seal the deal with hot chocolate and homemade cookies. “We encourage families to come out and make photos because they’re making memories,” Trina says. As a boy, Tim’s parents used an artificial tree, but he would always find a small cedar to decorate his bedroom. “My grandfather was a nurseryman and he would be very proud of us,” Trina says.

For the Farrises, Reindeer Plains is much more than a business. “We also started this because we thought it was something we could do as a family,” Tim says. “Our boys are a great help to us, and they’ve learned each of the chores in tending to our small forest.” The family plans to keep the operation small — adding 100 trees each planting — hoping to cover all five acres behind the family home.

Brock is a sophomore at Tennessee Tech and Braden is a senior at Warren County High School. “On the day after Thanksgiving, it’s a busy time and it takes all of us, each taking care of a customer,” Tim says. “It’s a lot of fun, and we enjoy it as a family.”

Reindeer Plains
283 Airport Lake Rd.
McMinnville, TN

​Opening Nov. 27 and each Saturday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday
from 1:30-5 p.m. until Christmas. Weekday appointments call 
931-668-4438 after 4 p.m.

Streaming service with local programming

By Matt Ledger

In the 20th century, many households relied on a set of rabbit ears and a bit of tin foil to get their fix of local news, weather reports and sporting events. The modern digital antennas aren’t much better, so Ben Lomand created similar offerings on a more dependable platform. “The antenna reception is horrible out here,” Sparta resident Johnnie Maynard says. “I actually got rid of Hulu once MyBLTV came out.”

This new plan offers a low-cost option for HD television service for Ben Lomand members. Officials at Ben Lomand chose the Roku platform of streaming devices for ‘MyBLTV’, giving members the ability to watch a handful of local channels with a more manageable subscription price.

Members will enjoy live and local programs that aren’t available from satellite providers. MyBLTV includes local programming on the Warren County School System Channel and local weather on Channel-1. They will also be able to watch the major network programming — such as the hit music drama “Nashville” on ABC affiliate WKRN from Nashville — along with FOX, CBS, NBC, CW and PBS … all in high definition. And, to top it off, Ben Lomand also added the local MyBLTV channel to their Roku lineup.

Device Advice

Members may purchase the equipment from Ben Lomand Connect or from other electronic retailers. The Roku streaming devices allow users to watch movies, TV shows and sports, as well as listen to music and play games. The Wi-Fi-enabled device uses the Internet to bring content to any HDTV. The Roku interface offers hundreds of apps including Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Instant Video.

The Roku 2 and Roku 3 boxes allow for the same commonly found connectivity of most newer televisions for easy setup. The Roku 3 has an audio jack for connecting the device to home theater systems. Both Rokus have a remote control device that conveniently has an audio jack for headphone usage or a remote speaker. The Roku Stick is even easier than that — just plug the stick into a USB port on your TV or laptop. No power cord needed.

Micah Lawrence of Ben Lomand’s network operations department suggests an Internet plan allowing downloads of at least 5 megabits per second to optimally stream these programs.

Keepin’ it local

“I was one of those that wanted to cut the cable cord and go fully online,” Maynard says. “But, I couldn’t watch the local channels, so when MyBLTV came available, I jumped on it.” He had been using three online video providers, yet was missing out on the local football games and seasonal events. Using a digital antenna wasn’t an option in the Old Zion community.

Juanita Holmes of Morrison was already familiar with the Roku device and opted to purchase a second one in July, after Ben Lomand started MyBLTV. “We are thoroughly enjoying it,” she says. “We have it on two TVs now, and the young man at the technical support center was awesome. We’ve had other Ben Lomand services for about four years now, and everything has been great.”

Holmes made the switch after dissatisfaction from several outages, eagerly dropping a satellite provider to enjoy the MyBLTV difference.


The Season of Sweetness

By Matt Ledger

Baking scrumptious desserts is an art form, requiring a delicate touch and enough patience to await that perfect moment when your work has risen to the occasion.

Originally from Tampa, Florida, Cindy Day learned the ropes of producing pastas and pastries in delis and bakeries of grocery stores. Upon moving to Tennessee in 1992, Cindy purchased a historic home belonging to the Baggenstoss family, Tracy City’s longtime bakers. While the Baggenstosses operated the Dutch Maid Bakery, Day was beginning her own business baking cakes from their former home.
Seeking a more dependable income, Day returned to the Sunshine State in 2001 to manage a Publix bakery. “I knew they’re really the best grocery store in the bakery business, and I wanted to improve my skills,” Day says. “I needed to learn some of their little secrets on making the wonderful things that they produce.”

Day kept the historical home, leaving everything behind with eventual plans to return. “We came back every few months to check on it, and on one trip we saw this huge ‘For Sale’ sign in the bakery window,” Cindy says. “I didn’t even know that the bakery had closed.”
She quickly called her husband: “Honey, the bakery has closed, and we need to move back to Tennessee to buy this old bakery. I want to save it, along with all the history inside.”

With her love of vintage items, she wanted to help continue the legacy of the location and preserve the history as much as she wanted her own bakery to run.
The Dutch Maid Bakery had actually been closed for 18 months before Day made the purchase in October 2005. Much of the furnishings had been sold off, but most of the vintage equipment remained. “It became a huge challenge to resurrect something that had been basically laid to rest,” Cindy says. She breathed new life into the 113-year-old structure and managed to open for the Christmas holiday season.
“I knew how important that bakery was to Tracy City,” Day says. “But I had no idea how important it was to Grundy County and even to the state of Tennessee.” State officials have helped the old-fashioned bakery — built in 1902 — with placement in modern tourism campaigns, and Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has even dropped by.

Origins of ownership

The business’s namesake has a funny irony, since the original owners weren’t from the Netherlands. Like many early residents of Grundy County, Albert Baggenstoss was actually Swiss, originally from the border region between Germany and Switzerland. He registered his new business as the Baggenstoss Bakery and Grocery. When they signed the land deed at the courthouse, the German-speaking store owner signed as “Deutsch,” but the officials wrote it as Dutch. The family cleverly adopted the redesignation and wisely used it when renaming the store during World War II.

The Baggenstoss family owned the bakery for ninety years; brothers Herman and Robert sold it to extended family member Lynn Craig in 1992. A decade later, Craig’s son sold the bakery to Day. The bakery continues to be a family operation; Day’s 82-year-old mother, Fran, helps her in the kitchen, while her children Jessica, Melissa and Joshua often tend to customers.

They’ve also kept some of the vintage feel. Old scales adorn the bakery walls and a Civil War-era bathtub sits inside the storefront. “It’s almost like a working museum when you come here,” Day says. “I like for people to be able to see and touch the antiques we have on display.”

New ingredients

Everything is made from scratch — even using some recipes as old as the business — instead of from the prepackaged ingredients that groceries often use. “The Dutch Maid Bakery was a different style than I was used to,” Day says. The Dutch Maid salt-rise bread took first place during a regional baking competition in 2013. The recipe dates back to when the Baggenstosses moved to the Smith colony settlement near Gruetli Laager, during the wagon train days in the 1880s.

Other recipes were added in the 1920s, when the Baggentoss boys went to milling and baking school. “I still use the same recipes, but I’ve tweaked them ever so slightly to please modern taste buds,” Day says. She believes that Lynn Craig added the Tennessee Whiskey cake recipe, which she expanded in her own saucy way, adding Kentucky bourbon, vodka and even moonshine to other variations.

Shortly after reopening, Day decided to add a few things to her signature breads by layering meats and cheeses to create a cafe lunch spot. She built a new addition to the building in 2008, which dramatically expanded seating for what has become a tourist destination. Day has developed a Sunday brunch and occasionally hosts special dinner events. She didn’t stop there, adding a second location in Jasper, also in 2008.

November and December are some of her busiest months. Her typical day starts as 6 a.m., rotating 100 items through the ovens and filling orders for the cafe. However, this time of year the operation shifts to gingerbread cookies and sweet stollen. Day will make nearly 1,000 of the Dutch Maid Fruitcakes before Christmas Eve, many of which are shipped nationwide to repeat customers who order annually. She even shares some of her techniques during gingerbread and cake decorating classes.

Dutch Maid Bakery
109 Main Street
Tracy City, TN 37387

Broadband may be the greatest health care innovation for rural America


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 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 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

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.