Local middle school students learn about technology at Ben Lomand

Getting students excited about jobs in math and science early can have a lifelong impact on students’ careers, and Ben Lomand is helping pave the way for local children from White County Middle School. About 300 eighth-graders recently attended a “Technology Day” hosted at the cooperative’s Sparta office. Students saw demonstrations that included GIS mapping, fiber splicing and lashing, home security and the functions of the central office.
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Making a ‘smart’ decision

Ray Cantrell General Manager/CEO

Ray Cantrell, General Manager/CEO

By Ray Cantrell
General Manager/CEO

When it comes to technology, we want everything to be “smart” these days. We have smartphones and smart watches, smart appliances in our kitchen and laundry room, smart thermostats and smart home devices with smart apps to control them.

While all this smart technology is impressive and can make life more convenient while saving us money, the really smart part of it all is the broadband network that so many of these devices and apps rely on to bring us this functionality.
This trend toward devices that are only possible with broadband is not going away. And as broadband becomes the leading infrastructure driving innovation, it is impacting every facet of our lives.

That’s why we decided long ago that providing high-speed broadband service in our rural area was the smart thing to do. With access to an advanced broadband network, boundless opportunities open up for our region:

Smarter businesses: Technology allows businesses to reach new customers and better serve the customers they already have. Smart businesses are using data and their broadband connections to learn more about customer habits, streamline supply chains and optimize their operations. Studies have shown that broadband-connected businesses bring in $200,000 more in median annual revenues than non-connected businesses. Our network ensures that these tools are available to our local businesses so they can compete regionally, nationally or even globally.

Smarter education: Local teachers and school administrators are doing amazing things with tablets, online resources and other learning tools. These smart schools are opening up new avenues for students to learn. Experts say that nationally, students in schools with broadband connections reach higher levels of educational achievements and have higher-income careers.

Smarter health care: From bracelets that keep track of physical activity to telemedicine, smart technology and broadband are improving the way we monitor and care for our bodies. Physicians are able to confer with other medical experts, transmit X-Rays and lab results and communicate with patients over our network. Through smart electronic medical records, everyone from stroke patients to expectant mothers are receiving better care because hospitals and doctors are getting “smarter.”

Smarter homes: A host of new devices has allowed users to bring smart technology into their homes. Smart devices allow you to monitor your home, change the thermostat, turn on lights and even lock or unlock doors remotely. While these smart devices offer plenty of convenience, they are also a smart safety decision to avoid coming home to a dark house or to receive an alert anytime someone pulls into your driveway.

Ben Lomand has put our communities in a position to take advantage of this smart revolution. As our devices, businesses, homes, schools and hospitals get smarter, rest assured that your cooperative is smart enough to have the infrastructure in place to handle these demands — plus whatever the future holds.

Ben Lomand is bringing fiber to the Westwood area

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Ben Lomand is extending the footprint of its fiber project by offering 1 Gbps service to the Westwood area of McMinnville. Ben Lomand’s fiber service will soon provide blazing-fast Internet, crystal-clear television and phone service to Westwood area homes and businesses. The 1 Gbps service is among the fastest Internet speeds available anywhere in the country. The new area serviced will cover about 9 miles and about 550 homes. Nearly 65 percent of the aerial fiber work is currently complete, and technicians will soon begin splicing fiber to make drop lines to individual homes. The project should be completed by this fall.

Empowering members to be advocates for rural telecommunications

By Ray Cantrell
General Manager/CEO

The results are in. Almost 200 readers responded to The Ben Lomand Connection readership survey in our January/February issue. Your responses gave us good insight into what we’re doing right and how we can serve you better.

I appreciate those who took the time to share this valuable feedback with us.

Not surprisingly, the stories about local people in our community and the articles about food are the most popular pages among respondents. But I was pleased to see readers also enjoy the articles with information about your cooperative.

Perhaps that readership is why 85 percent of respondents said this magazine gave them a better understanding of technology, and 90 percent said they have a better understanding of the role this cooperative plays in economic and community development because of The Ben Lomand Connection. It’s very gratifying to know our efforts are working.

I shared this data not to boast about how proud we are of this magazine, but to explain the reason why I’m proud of it. I believe having informed and educated members is a key factor to the long-term health of this cooperative.

In fact, educating our members is one of the seven core principles that lay the foundation for a cooperative. The National Cooperative Business Association says members should be informed about company and industry news “so they can contribute effectively to the development of their cooperative.”

Informed and engaged members make our cooperative better.

Broadband has been in the news quite a bit lately, from net neutrality to the president discussing high-speed network expansion. It’s important for our members to know how federal regulations, state policies and shifts in the industry can affect their broadband and telephone services.

Educating you on issues that matter to rural telecommunications and your community empowers you to become advocates for rural America. Big corporations and urban residents certainly find ways to make their voices heard, and it’s up to cooperatives like us and members like you to let legislators and policymakers know that rural America matters and decisions that affect telecommunications cooperatives matter to rural America.

I hope you enjoy the stories and photos in this magazine. I always do. But I also hope you come away with a little better understanding of your cooperative, the role we play in this community and the role you can play in making rural America better.

My BLTV provides unique television content at an inexpensive rate

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Ben Lomand is proud to introduce My BLTV!

Roku 3 Announced Last Night

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This new video service, which uses a Roku entertainment console, provides members with a low-cost option for HD television service.

For as little as $14.95 per month, Ben Lomand Internet customers with at least a 5 Mbps connection, can watch programming from major networks — such as ABC, FOX, NBC, CBS, CW and PBS — in HD. Plus, My BLTV will deliver the quality content members can’t find with any other provider — members will have access to local channels like Local Weather Channel 1; BLTV Channel 6; and WCS-TV, the Warren County School System Channel.

The Roku console, provided by Ben Lomand, also gives users access to additional apps, including Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Instant Video and thousands more.

“My BLTV is a great way for Ben Lomand to meet the needs of people concerned with the rising cost of their entertainment budget, as well as the younger Ben Lomand members who are looking for non-traditional ways to receive their entertainment and information,” says CEO Ray Cantrell. “We’re incredibly excited to offer this new service. We believe that finding creative solutions with products like My BLTV on Roku will position the cooperative for continued success in the future.”

Ben Lomand campaigns for the concerns of rural consumers with fellow telcos at Tennessee state Capitol

As new legislation presses forward in the Capitol, Ben Lomand leaders, joined by fellow telcos, recently met with Tennessee government leaders to discuss legislation impacting rural consumers.

The Tennessee Telecommunications Association (TTA) held its annual “TTA Day on the Hill,” with executives from cooperatives and independent broadband and phone providers gathering at the state Capitol to express their concerns about bills that would threaten their ability to deliver affordable broadband service to the state’s rural regions.

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Several TTA members participated in the event, including Ben Lomand CEO Ray Cantrell. Participants met with Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and Speaker of the House Beth Harwell. Other sessions included meetings with Kelly Keisling, chairman of the House Insurance and Banking Subcommittee; Ryan Williams, chair of the House Health Subcommittee; Jason Powell, democratic floor leader of the State House of Representatives; and State Sens. Joey Hensley, Janice Bowling and Becky Massey.

 

Taking education outdoors

Students ‘experience education firsthand’ during the Young Scholars Institute

By Elizabeth Wootten

Students participated in the YSI program

Students participated in the YSI program recently by building a “survivor hut.” (Photo courtesy of Margaret Hobbs/Southern Standard Newspaper)

Jimmy Haley knows education can happen anywhere.

“Learning can be more than just a classroom,” says Haley, co-director of Young Scholars Institute (YSI), a summer enrichment program designed to help meet the needs of students through hands-on learning experiences.

For example, the theme for this summer’s YSI program is transportation. So instead of just reading about it, students will visit a railroad station, automotive museum, kayaking company and tour the Bridgestone tire plant in Morrison.

“We like to get out and experience education firsthand,” says Haley. “We like it one-on-one. They get to see it, touch it, feel it. They have experiences that they can take with them.”

This hands-on approach is part of what has made YSI successful over the past 31 years.

Hands-on approach

YSI is usually held the first two weeks after the beginning of summer break, and about 300 students participate per week, with 60 students per grade level. The students are divided into five groups based on the grade they will be entering the next school year.

In 1984, Donna Trevathan organized the first YSI program. Today, Jimmy Haley, mayor of McMinnville and a high school economics teacher, and Carol Neal, also a teacher, co-direct the program.

The program is self-funded, and the $100-per-week tuition covers the cost of breakfast, lunch, site visits and all other expenses. A discount is available for students who attend both weeks, and each week covers different material, all associated with the state’s Common Core curriculum.

Scholarship opportunities are available as well. “We oftentimes do scholarships for kids who can’t afford the tuition,” says Haley. “We always have several local citizens who help sponsor children for YSI.”

Teachers recommend students from their classes for the program, and those students are sent invitations with the year’s theme and a program of events, as well as registration information.

During the program, students and staff assemble at Bobby Ray Memorial Elementary School each day for breakfast, birthday announcements and a guest speaker who talks about the theme. From there, each group will dismiss and learn more about the theme with a hands-on approach.

Teams include qualified teachers and assistants, as well as high school student volunteers, many of whom are former YSI students themselves. The groups rotate each day so that each child can experience each new and exciting location. “Through YSI, they get to enjoy adventures they never would have experienced without the program,” says Haley.

Teachers, assistants, high school students and children all enjoy the learning experience and are eager to volunteer each year, says Haley.

He adds that some high school volunteers have decided to pursue a teaching career because of the program. “A lot of them become teachers because they say, ‘If teaching can be this much fun — if teaching can engage students this much — then that’s what I want to do,’” says Haley.

Best in the Field

Ben Lomand’s IT manager scores the goal as a certified soccer coach

By Jeremy Wood

 Ben Lomand’s IT manager, Chris Centracchio

Outside of his work as Ben Lomand’s IT manager, Chris Centracchio is a certified soccer coach through the U.S. Soccer Federation.

Chris Centracchio never expected to enjoy soccer, much less coach the game.

“I was a baseball, basketball, football kind of guy,” he says with a laugh. “I never played soccer; it wasn’t even on my radar.”

The Ben Lomand IT manager and father of three only got interested once his oldest daughter started playing soccer. After several years of volunteer coaching, he recently opted to obtain a U.S. Soccer Federation Class E coaching license to further his understanding of the game.

“I coached for two years without a license, and then I realized that there was so much more that I could learn,” he says. “The more I know, the better coach I can be for my kids.”

U.S. soccer’s governing body offers several levels of certification for coaches, with the ultimate goal of developing and growing the game in America. The lowest level is an F license, which is designed for volunteer coaches and consists of a two-hour online presentation. Centracchio wanted to learn more, so he completed a class E license, which required homework, three days of classroom training and on-field tests. The highest level of coaching license offered by the federation is an A license, which qualifies a holder to coach high-level travel teams.

“I plan on taking it all the way up,” says Centracchio, who adds that he hopes to go for the D license this summer. “I’d love to coach a select team, but it’s just a matter of finding the time.”

He was galvanized to improve his coaching skills when his younger daughter had a bad experience with a soccer coach and wanted to quit playing. Centracchio says he wanted to improve his coaching skills so that other children and parents wouldn’t have similar issues.

“At that age, you really have to have a certain mentality to teach them about the game and keep them engaged,” he says.

Now, he’s becoming a rabid fan as well as a dedicated teacher. He says he and his older daughter, Journey, watched the World Cup “religiously” last year, and she even asked to go to Brazil to see a game live.

He’s also a member of the board of directors for the Warren County Youth Soccer League, where he’s encouraging other volunteer coaches to improve their soccer educations.

“We’ve got a good team of directors here, and we really want to encourage our volunteer coaches to push themselves and not just go through the motions,” he says.

Centracchio started at Ben Lomand in 2000 as an LAN technician and rose through the ranks to the IT director role. He says one of the things he likes about the cooperative is its support of volunteer ventures like his soccer coaching.

“The employees are great, the management’s great and Ben Lomand really goes out of their way to give back to the community and work with volunteers,” he says.

‘Better than finding gold’

Web-based genealogy increases local enthusiasm for family history

By Patrick Smith

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Members of the Warren County Genealogical Association research old family photos during a recent meeting.

Anyone familiar with middle Tennessee’s past knows there’s no shortage of history tied to the region.

From the thousands of people who went deep into the coal mines each day, to those who swung the hammers to build the railroad lines crisscrossing the South, to those who fought and died during the Civil War — the area’s identity has been shaped by these events and more.

Now local historical organizations, with the help of broadband, are working to preserve this history for future generations.

Organizations like the Warren County Genealogical Association, Bon Air Mountain Historical Society and Grundy County Historical Society are patching together days gone by and volunteering their time and resources to find the missing pieces of local history and the genealogy of local families. Fueled by tools like Facebook, Ancestry.com and an ample amount of books at libraries, researchers are finding the missing links in family trees and learning about the building blocks of the community.

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The Grundy County Historical Society has more than 1,600 books in its research library.

“People will post a picture on Facebook, asking for help identifying the people in the photo, and it just seems like it goes wild,” says Linda Mackie, president of the Bon Air Mountain Historical Society. “We’re constantly finding someone’s relative or new information about the community. It’s amazing what you can find with the help of technology.”

Changing genealogy

Cheryl Watson Mingle credits her seventh-grade teacher and a family ancestry homework assignment with sparking her interest in genealogy. She got hooked at an early age and can now trace her lineage, with documentation, back to the Mayflower. She’s spent hours poring over books, traveling the country visiting her ancestors’ gravesites and, with the help of the Internet, she’s traveling the world with a few clicks of her mouse. Mingle, the president of the Warren County Genealogical Association, has developed a deep appreciation for understanding her roots. “You get hooked,” says Mingle. “So much history and genealogy has been destroyed, and we’re doing our best to keep it alive.”

With the help of broadband, the trips that may have previously been required are wiped away. Broadband alleviates the expense, the time and the uncertainty — Mingle explains that many of the next questions one might have after doing some research have already been answered by someone looking up similar information. “Without the Internet, you’d have to go to England, or wherever is necessary, to find the facts,” says Mingle. “The genealogy and history sites have helped greatly.”

For the times when everything falls into place and she finds a long-lost relative, it’s like solving a puzzle. “It’s so awesome when you’ve done years of research and, finally, you find a picture of your great-great-grandfather on the Internet,” says Marion Rhea Speaks, vice president of the WCGA. “It’s almost overwhelming.”

With everything that’s changed because of the Internet, local organizations are still periodically publishing bulletins to catalog the new information they discover.

At the Grundy County Historical Society, they’ve gathered a vast database of records, both paper and digital, with more than 1,600 books in its research library. Each of the local organizations also sees visitors from across the country that have stumbled upon middle Tennessee in hopes of finding their missing relatives.

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The Bon Air Mountain Historical Society is housed in an old railroad house.

Sharing history with the community

Much like the historical events that shaped the community, there’s also no shortage of famous people and places from the middle Tennessee area. Locals like Confederate Gen. George Dibrell, bluegrass musician Lester Flatt, baseball hall of fame outfielder Earl Webb and country music star Dottie West all called the South Cumberland area home.

If famous names don’t get you excited, some of the buildings peppered throughout the region just might. Many structures throughout the area can be found on the National Register of Historic Places, including the Sparta Rock House, Falcon Rest Mansion and even the railroad house that today harbors the Bon Air Mountain Historical Society. “The building was donated to the county with the instructions that it be used for a local history museum,” says Mackie. “It’s wonderful to keep its legacy alive for the community.”

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WCGA members, from left, Marion Rhea Speaks, Cheryl Watson Mingle, Doyle Speaks and Scarlett Duggin Griffith look over family photos.

There are also a handful of local celebrations to bring the history alive. Two of the most prominent events are the Swiss Festival, hosted by the Grundy County Swiss Historical Society and the Bon Air Mountain History Fair, held at BonDeCroft Elementary School. The history fair also features tours to different points of interest throughout the community. “The coal mining companies operated self-sufficient towns up here,” says Mackie. “It’s important to share this history with the community. The fair has become a very popular event.”

No matter what piques your interest for history — famous people, famous places or just learning a little more about your ancestors — the fun of it all is connecting the dots and piecing the past together. “When I find something new, to me, that’s better than finding gold. I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” says Mingle.

 

Local points of interest

♥ Warren County Genealogical Association
Online: www.tngenweb.org/wcgatn

♥ Bon Air Mountain Historical Society
Online: www.bonairmountainhistoricalsociety.org

♥ Grundy County Historical Society
Online: www.grundycountyhistory.org

♥ Sparta Rock House
Online: www.spartatn.com/historic

♥ The Swiss Festival will be held on July 25 at the Stocker-Stampfli Farm Museum in Gruetli-Laager.
Online: www.swisshistoricalsociety.org

♥ Bon Air History Fair will be held May 3 at the BonDeCroft Elementary School in Sparta.
Online: www.bonairmountainhistoricalsociety.org

How do you broadband?

Fiber connection is helping area resident “live the dream”

By Patrick Smith

Margaret Petre regularly makes presentations in Nashville boardrooms without being there.

Broadband_6084Most of the time she’s not physically in the office — she’s controlling the boardroom computer while sitting at her dining room table in Walling, Tennessee.

Petre is among a growing number of people who are able to work from home. High-speed Internet service, provided by companies like Ben Lomand, are allowing more and more people to put in a full day of work without ever leaving the comforts of their homes.

“I love it,” says Petre. “It provides a lot of flexibility because my husband and I also manage our farm, so being able to work from home and not having to go anywhere is great. That’s the beauty of it all.”

Petre spent decades working in the entertainment industry, often working at offices in Nashville and New York City. She cashed paychecks from some of entertainment’s biggest organizations — TNN, CBS, MTV and Gaylord Entertainment — but after being laid off in 2013, she decided to return to Walling, a town that’s close to her family’s deep roots in rural Tennessee.

“There was no plan to work from home when I moved here,” says Petre. “Fortunately, this just all landed in my lap. I knew something would come up, but I was very surprised that Ben Lomand offered fiber here. I didn’t even have access to fiber in my suburb in Nashville.”

Today, Petre’s days are filled by managing projects as a contractor for two Nashville entertainment companies. She’ll regularly participate in conference calls, presentations and software implementations from her home. She’s using Skype, WebEx, Microsoft Office 365 and other programs daily to participate in online training and project implementations.

For Ben Lomand members like Petre, the cooperative is making a difference that’s directly impacting the quality of their lives. Ben Lomand’s commitment to deliver fiber to each and every member means they brought fiber lines miles and miles down the road to Petre.

“Its a lot easier to deal with someone like Ben Lomand — they’re my neighbors,” says Petre. “They live just around the corner, and they really care.”

With her fiber connection from Ben Lomand, Petre can work with anyone, located anywhere in world — all from her kitchen table. While working on projects, she often communicates with people in California, Chicago and Denver and other programmers based abroad in India and the Philippines.

“I can live anywhere and work,” says Petre. “But if it wasn’t for my connection out here, I wouldn’t be able to do any of this. Being able to work like this is kind of like living the dream. I’ve always wanted to do this type of work and live in the country. Now here I am. I couldn’t ask for anything better.”