A Highland Internet network for today, and the future

By Noble Sprayberry

Highland contractors such as Eric Tucker complete cutting over members to the new network.

Highland contractors such as Eric Tucker complete cutting over members to the new network.

 

Broadband speeds lag in much of the nation, particularly in rural areas. Highland members, however, now enjoy fast fiber connections right to their homes or businesses.
And speed makes a difference. The Federal Communications Commission says that many broadband plans around the nation fail to keep pace with online services rich in data, graphics and video.

Meanwhile, Highland just upgraded all Internet packages — at no additional charge. Plans now have download speeds of 12.5 Mbps, 25 Mbps and 50 Mbps.
The speed bumps come at a time when half of all rural Americans lack access to at least a 25 Mbps service.

Highland’s conversion to fiber was a milestone not only for the cooperative, but also for the region. And the move to fiber will allow creation of faster plans if future Internet-based services demand greater performance.

A commitment to tomorrow
Five years ago, Highland started the $66 million project, using the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to secure about 75 percent of the money through a grant and the remaining 25 percent as a loan.

The project offered unique challenges for a cooperative committed to providing the same level of service to every member, which totals about 16,000 homes and 1,800 businesses.

Highland employed about 275 contractors, and also relied on its own staff, to build the network.
Crews laid more than 2,000 miles of new fiber optic cable. And they installed 15,000 boxes required to connect a home or business to the network.

The rural equation
Few telecommunications companies make the decision to build modern fiber networks in sparsely populated areas like Scott, Morgan and McCreary counties.
For every new mile of fiber, Highland spent an average of $20,000, says Jared Carson, Highland’s chief operations officer. “Our geography makes construction hard and expensive, because we’re going through some rugged terrain,” he says.

Also, the distance between houses and businesses creates a challenge. The 2010 U.S. Census identified the number of housing units — everything from a standalone house to an apartment — in each county. Morgan County, Tennessee, and McCreary County, Kentucky, have about 17 homes per square mile. In Tennessee, Scott County’s housing is slightly denser at just more than 18 homes per square mile.

Comparatively, Cumberland County, Tennessee, which includes the small city of Crossville, has about 41 homes per square mile. And Knox County, home to the University of Tennessee, has about 371 homes per square mile.

Each of those homes represents a potential customer on the network. This is why profit-driven corporate telecommunications providers are eager to serve cities like Knoxville, but not rural areas. “If you’re only covering 17 customers, as opposed to 370, per mile, it’s difficult to get a return on your investment,” Carson says.
However, the grant and loan program funding Highland’s rollout made extending the rural fiber network possible, he says.

“Our customers and their families enjoy a rural lifestyle,” Carson says. “We’re proud to finish this fiber project so they don’t have to give up high-quality Internet service because of where they live.”

 

Maximize your Internet speeds

bigstock-Speedometer-69126529Dodge the digital potholes
Highland’s fiber broadband network provides the final link between the millions of computers forming the Internet and members’ homes or businesses.
Performance, though, can depend on what happens “upstream” with computers far outside the region, or “downstream,” such as where a wireless router allows multiple devices to connect.
First, consider how the Internet operates. Imagine a pipe carrying water. A larger pipe can move more water faster than a smaller one. It’s the difference between a garden hose and a fire hose.
The choice of a Highland broadband package determines how big a digital pipe goes to each member, with the top tier providing download speeds of as much as 50 megabits per second. The faster the connection, the better the performance of services such as Netflix, Pandora, online gaming and video chat.
Understanding possible slow-downs can help you take advantage of Highland’s fiber optic services.

Are online speed tests accurate?
Many people want to test their connection to gauge speed, but several factors can impact the accuracy of online speed tests. Keep two facts in mind:
1) The setup within your home or business, as well as the devices you use, can affect online speed. A wireless router can allow connections from smartphones, gaming systems, smart televisions and more, which all share in the home’s available bandwidth.
2) Access to various online services depends on more than your connection.
what can impact my broadband speeds?
Overall Internet Activity
Trouble anywhere along the Internet can reduce the speed you receive.
For example, what happens if an unusually large number of people try to stream the newest Netflix movie at the same time? That digital clog on Netflix’s servers will hinder performance even with Highland’s blazing-fast speed.

Router Placement
Many people add a wireless router to their broadband connection.
The router extends the power of broadband throughout the home by turning the Internet signal into radio waves picked up by devices that might include desktop and laptop computers, tablets and smartphones.
Where you place the router is key. Signal interference can come from metal objects positioned close by, as well as common devices such as wireless phones, microwave ovens and baby monitors.
Often, trouble appears in unexpected places. For example, the metal mesh supporting plaster walls in some older homes can limit the signal.
υTIP: Keep your router in the center of the space where access is most needed.

Device Overload
An increasing number of devices available today are designed to take advantage of broadband via your wireless connection, including smart TVs, gaming systems, home monitors, thermostats and even appliances. A wireless router can connect each device — but remember that all of them share the available bandwidth.
Consider a common scenario: Mom is uploading photos to Facebook from a desktop computer in one room. The kids are playing a game on an Internet-connected gaming console in the den. Dad is streaming a movie, watching it on the deck.
When multiple family members are using multiple devices online at once, connections will be slower for everyone — and this will also affect the results of any online speed test.

True broadband performance

3d rendering of an optic fiber cable on a white background

Federal regulators have recently redefined “broadband” as Internet packages with download speeds of at least 25 Mbps. Highland exceeds that mark, and this summer all Internet members received a speed increase.

The HTC Basic Pak provides download speeds up to 12.5 Mbps. The HTC Expanded Pak provides download speeds of as much as 25 Mbps. And for heavy Internet users who stream video or play online games, the HTC Preferred Pak offers download speeds up to 50 Mbps.*

*Speeds are approximate and not guaranteed.

Congratulations to our Survey Winner!

Survey Winner Julie Cromwell

Julie Cromwell, a Highland customer from Oakdale, won a $25 Amazon gift card after responding to The HTC Highlander readership participation survey. Her name was selected at random from a pool of participating customers.

The survey provided valuable feedback about The HTC Highlander. We learned that the most popular pages are those with stories about local people in our community, as well as the articles about food.

Also, about 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 of the cooperative. Highland thanks all of those who participated.

Making a ‘smart’ decision

By Mark Patterson
General Manager

Mark Patterson

Mark Patterson

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 gadgets 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 improving 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 is 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.

We’ve made smart decisions that put our community 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.

Highland Wi-Fi Connection: Is your home connected?

How to set up a Wi-Fi network to share your broadband Internet connection between your computers, gaming systems, smartphones and other new devices

bigstock-Mobile-devices-icon-49882307Santa may have delivered those long-awaited tech gifts, like a tablet, game system or new computer. Maybe you were really good and will soon be streaming Netflix on a 4K flat screen TV. But perhaps Mr. Claus was too busy to set up your wireless network and connect the growing number of devices. By following a few simple tips, you can set up your own Wi-Fi network and get the most out of your new gadgets and your Highland Telephone Internet connection.

Why Wi-fi?

Wireless networks have always been convenient for laptop users, but now more and more products are designed to access the Internet through Wi-Fi. These include televisions and printers, of course, but also less obvious devices such as bathroom scales and toy helicopters. Once you set up your home network, you can enjoy the full functionality of all your Wi-Fi enabled devices — along with whatever new gadgets are coming next.

Imagine doing Internet research and printing documents using your laptop — all from the comfort of your couch. What about playing video games online with friends across the state or around the world? A wireless network, coupled with the power of a Highland broadband connection, will even allow you to stream music, movies and television programming on your tablets, televisions or iPods.

Build your network

Wi-Fi networks essentially have two pieces: the modem and the router. The modem is the gateway to the Internet and the router is where your devices connect to access that gateway.

Most of the newer modems from Highland have Wi-Fi routers built in. But even if your router and modem are separate devices, the installation is fairly easy. Routers usually come with an installation CD that you will need to open on your main computer. Follow the prompts in the software to get the network up and running.

Connect your devices

Once the network is up and secure, try connecting your devices. You will need to enter your security password on each device you want to connect. Most computers and smartphones have an easily accessed network settings menu where the password can be entered.

Televisions, Blu-ray players and game systems have similar menus, but you will also need to open programs like Pandora or Netflix and follow a few more steps to link the apps with your account. Wireless-enabled printers can be a little tricky, so follow your printer’s instructions carefully to properly configure the settings.

Lock it up

The next step is setting up security to prevent unwanted users from logging onto your network. These freeloaders can slow down your connection speed by using up bandwidth or, worse, use your network for illegal purposes.

Follow the instructions with your router’s software to enable security features like password protection and encryption. Store your password in a safe place, because you will need it to connect your devices to the wireless network.

As an extra precaution, be sure the firewalls are activated on any computer you plan to connect to your Wi-Fi network.

Need more range?

Companies like Cisco and Netgear offer Wi-Fi extenders that can expand your wireless network. The units, which sell for between $60 and $100, are easily installed within your existing wireless area. They push signals to sections of your home or yard that the original router cannot reach, and are useful to extend Wi-Fi service to outbuildings or cover distant rooms in large homes.

A wireless network can greatly enhance the benefit you receive from your Highland broadband Internet connection.

For more information about setting up a wireless network for Highland’s Internet service, call 423-628-2121.

Erwin reacts to fiery crash

Tim Erwin, a cable splicer at HTC, was the first to discover a fiery crash. He reacted and extinguished the blaze.

Tim Erwin, a cable splicer at HTC, was the first to discover a fiery crash. He reacted and extinguished the blaze.

Tim Erwin drove along U.S. 27 last September on his way from the HTC office to a job. The day had begun like any other, but shortly before noon he would ultimately encounter something that he will never forget.

As he drove along U.S. 27 near Helenwood, he rounded a curve and saw two cars that had collided in the middle of the roadway. The accident had just occurred. Emergency personnel had not arrived yet, and one of the vehicles was on fire.

Erwin, 45, a cable splicer for Highland Telephone, reacted quickly. He grabbed a fire extinguisher from his work truck and doused the flames.

“Anybody else that had been there would have done the same thing,” he says. “I just happened to be the one with the fire extinguisher.”

Erwin says one of the victims was trapped in the car, and two others were obviously in shock. He stayed with them until an ambulance arrived.

“Once the ambulance and emergency workers got there, I went on down the road to work,” he says. “I got out of the way.”

A 71-year-old woman from Burnside, Kentucky, ultimately died from injuries sustained in the accident. She was one of three people airlifted from the scene. It could have been worse if Erwin hadn’t stopped the fire.

Erwin says he is not a hero. He simply reacted to the situation and helped any way he could.

Mark Patterson, general manager at Highland Telephone, says Erwin’s actions exemplify the HTC culture of community service and helping their neighbors.

“We are really proud of Tim and are thankful he was there to respond and put the fire out,” Patterson says. “Helping others is what we strive to do here at Highland every day. I would expect any of our employees would have reacted the same way.”

Erwin was born and raised in Oneida. He worked as a contractor doing cable splicing work for several years before he was hired by HTC in 1998.

When he is not splicing cable and providing HTC’s customers with telecommunications service, Erwin can often be found playing golf or working around his home.

“I didn’t do anything special,” he says. “I just happened to be there.”

Treasure all around

Geocaching: a game of hide and seek

By Brian Lazenby

Gary Fogleman opens a geocache box while looking for hidden “caches” in Eastern Tennessee. He has played this digitized version of  hide and seek for about 3 years.

Gary Fogleman opens a geocache box while looking for hidden “caches” in Eastern Tennessee. He has played this digitized version of hide and seek for about 3 years.

The water came up over Dana Fox’s boots as she sloshed through the muck and mud, making her way through the tunnel. It was pitch black, but her flashlight was not aimed to light her path. It was pointed at the wall to her right as she looked for a block of stone that didn’t look just right.

The GPS coordinates had led her to the mouth of the tunnel where a gravel road bent beneath a Morgan County hillside. Inside the tunnel, the handheld device was useless. The instructions from the website directed her to go approximately .15 miles, but judging distance in the pitch dark was not an easy task.

Periodically, Fox would feel along the wall for a block that didn’t seem to sit flush. Eventually, after trying several stones, a block moved slightly as she touched it. She knelt and began working at the stone, sliding it out like a drawer.

Inside the drawer was a log with signatures of people who had found the cache before her. There were also some plastic coins, some Mardi Gras beads and other knickknacks that serve as the geocacher’s currency — traded out and re-hidden in other locations. But for most serious geocachers, the real treasure lies in simply finding the cache.

EXPLORATION

Geocaching is a real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices. Participants navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and attempt to find a container that someone has hidden at that location.

Dana Fox uses a smartphone app to find a geocache box hidden  near an abandoned bridge in Morgan County.

Dana Fox uses a smartphone app to find a geocache box hidden near an abandoned bridge in Morgan County.

You probably walk past many of these hidden containers every day and have no idea they are even there. According to geocaching.com, there are more than 2 million geocaches hidden worldwide, and tens of thousands of geocachers searching for them.

Fox has been geocaching since 2004. She now works for her family business, Fox Machinery, but got into the hobby when she was a wildlife firefighter with the Tennessee Division of Forestry and frequently used GPS devices to locate firebreaks and specific locations in the woods. Someone told her about other uses for the global positioning satellite devices.

“It’s like a grassroots movement,” she says. “Someone told me about it and took me with them.”

Fox immediately became hooked on the treasure hunting game and says it is a great way to entertain out-of-town guests or to learn about many of the sights that don’t appear on most tourist itineraries.

“If you go to a town you have never been to before, you usually see what the tourists see, but with geocaching, you get to see things most people don’t,” she says. “Since I have been geocaching, I have learned things about my own town I never knew before.”

Moments before trekking through the tunnel, Fox stood beneath the old abandoned bridge at Nemo, where the Emory River glistened in the sun as it tumbled over the stones beneath the bridge. Fox stood on the bank below scanning the steel beams of the bridge above her for a cache that she ultimately found magnetized and attached to one of its beams.

“It’s just a fun activity,” she says. “It is a good excuse to get out on a beautiful day like this.”

CACHING IN ON THE FUN

Gary Fogleman opens a tiny cache known as a micro. Hidden caches come in all shapes and sizes.

Gary Fogleman opens a tiny cache known as a micro. Hidden caches come in all shapes and sizes.

Inside Gary Fogleman’s car are empty pill bottles, Tupperware containers, duct tape, rope and a neon yellow flagger’s vest.

“If I get stopped by the police, I have some serious explaining to do,” he says jokingly.

The items are what he uses to hide and maintain a number of caches he has placed for others to find. The vest he will occasionally put on to look “official” as he searches for a cache when he doesn’t want to attract the attention of muggles — a name taken from the “Harry Potter” books that refers to someone who does not geocache.

“If you put this vest on and carry a clipboard, you become invisible,” he says. “Nobody pays you any attention.”

Fogleman, a web designer from Knoxville, has been geocaching for about three years. He searches all over Eastern Tennessee. “I am a self-professed computer geek, so this gets me out of the house,” he says.

His wife had heard about the game and suggested they give it a try. But it was his granddaughter that really took to it. It’s an activity they share together.

“I love it,” Fogleman says. “I just dove right into it, but my granddaughter is the real geocacher. She quit being a princess, and now we are explorers together.”

Geocaching uses handheld GPS devices or a smartphone to find hidden objects.

Geocaching uses handheld GPS devices or a smartphone to find hidden objects.

To begin, geocachers must learn the location of nearby caches, usually by visiting www.geocaching.com to get geographical coordinates that can be plugged into a GPS device or a GPS-enabled smartphone. There will even be a little information about the cache and an occasional riddle or clue.

The GPS coordinates will only get a geocacher to the general location of the cache. Then the hunt is on to find something that can be as small as a 35 mm film canister, or as large as a metal ammo box. The caches themselves are usually simple to find, but finding some requires a bit more brainpower. Sometimes the quest is a little more challenging, and might even require a cacher to figure out a puzzle to find the location of the cache.

Fogleman has hidden a number of these more challenging caches. “I just like to have fun with it,” he says. “There are really no rules. Just guidelines.”

Cachers say geocaching is an inexpensive way for a family to have fun together. They can search for hidden caches, swap out “treasure” from one cache to another and explore an area together.

Some geocachers use expensive handheld GPS devices, but more and more geocachers are using GPS-enabled smartphones, Fogleman says. There are free apps that pinpoint the location of nearby caches.

“There is really no cost but gas,” he says.

For more information, visit www.geocaching.com.

Fiber crews pass 2,000 mile mark

Tim Beach, a splicer with Star Construction, splices fiber cable near Petros as part of HTC’s fiber network.

Tim Beach, a splicer with Star Construction, splices fiber cable near Petros as part of HTC’s fiber network.

Highland fiber crews and contractors have now hung more than 2,000 miles of fiber optic cable across the service area from the northernmost parts of McCreary County near Burnside, Kentucky, all the way to the most southern areas of Oakdale near Harriman, Tennessee.

Crews have completed the construction portion of the fiber to the home project in all 10 of Highland Telephone’s exchanges.

“Our crews continue working tirelessly to complete this historic building project,” says Mark Patterson, Highland’s general manager. “This technology is not available in many larger metropolitan areas, but once all our customers have been cut over to fiber, our network will be the most technologically advanced available.”

Almost all of the final fiber testing is now complete and nearing the point for cutover.

Chief Operating Officer Jared Carson says the cutover process will slow down somewhat during the winter months because the fiber cable becomes more difficult to work with in the cold, but Highland is ramping up activity in hopes of completing the cutover process later this year.

Crews are currently conducting cutover in Oneida, Huntsville, Winfield, Wartburg and Sunbright. Cutover will begin soon in Oakdale, Deer Lodge and Petros.

During the cutover process, a Highland Telephone employee will call each and every customer in the area to verify what services that customer wants and to schedule a time to be cut over to fiber. Highland Telephone is making every effort to contact customers in the areas currently being cutover, but a small percentage is proving difficult to contact.

Highland Telephone would like to remind customers that it is necessary for workers to schedule an appointment with them in order to install the fiber services at their home. Some customers may see doorknob hangers left at their residence that include the Highland cutover group’s phone number, or they may receive a call from one of Highland’s customer service representatives or find a letter in their mailbox. Please make every effort to contact a customer service representative to schedule your cutover appointment as soon as possible so you can begin enjoying all the benefits of a fully fiber optic voice, data and video network.

Highland would also like to thank all of its customers for their patience and cooperation throughout all aspects of this project.

“We feel confident that once the cutover is complete, our customers will immediately recognize the difference and will appreciate the faster speeds and the added capabilities of fiber optic technology,” Patterson says. Fiber_5591

Did you know?

Highland crews have now hung more than 2,000 miles of fiber. That amount of cable would be enough to stretch from Chicago to Los Angeles if it were pulled into a straight line.

Helping you build the life you want

By Mark Patterson
General Manager
 
Mark Patterson

Mark Patterson

Why do you live in rural America? Maybe it’s family connections. Maybe it’s the close sense of community and the importance of tradition. Maybe it’s because you enjoy a quality of life in this area that would be difficult to find in a metro region.

Whatever your reasons, the people who work at Highland Telephone Cooperative understand that we play an important role in helping you build the life you want here. As your local telecommunications provider, we know you depend on us to supply the technology you need to stay connected. And that is becoming more important as our world grows increasingly dependent on broadband connections and Internet-based solutions.

Some might think that living in a rural area means sacrificing access to technology. We are proud that, as a member of  HTC, you do not have to sacrifice at all. In fact, because of our focus on building a state-of-the-art network, you have access to Internet speeds higher than those available to some people living in larger cities.

Of course, we still have many challenges. While just over 19 percent of the U.S. population lives in a rural region, almost half of Americans who are not connected to the Internet are rural. That means there are still millions of rural Americans who are missing opportunities made possible by a broadband connection. From education and jobs to health care and family connections, they have yet to discover what so many of their neighbors have already learned — that a broadband connection can help them build a better life.

That is one of our biggest challenges as your technology leader. Building a broadband network is only the first step; we must also help you understand how to use it. The magazine you are reading now plays an important role in those efforts. We choose the stories for this magazine very carefully. We include subjects that appeal to a broad range of readers with a variety of interests. We can almost guarantee that during the course of a year you will be drawn to something in these pages, no matter what your interests may be. And whether it’s a profile on a local person with a unique hobby or business, a story on how someone is using technology, or a feature on a road trip, these have the mission of helping you learn to put our services to practical use in your life.

Speaking of the magazine, please look again at the top of Page 3 and spend just a few minutes taking our reader survey. Your answers will help us understand what you love best and find most helpful about your magazine.

I also want to call your attention to the Rural Connections article on Page 2. Shirley Bloomfield leads our national trade group, NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association, and does an incredible job keeping us connected on issues in Washington, D.C., that impact us right here in Tennessee and Kentucky. It is more important than ever that independent telecommunications companies work together on matters that impact us all; we are proud to welcome Shirley as a contributor to our magazine as she shares with you some of the work we are all doing together.

When you think about family and community, living in rural America really is all about being connected. At HTC we are proud to provide the technology that makes many of those connections possible.