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.

Empowering members to be advocates for rural telecommunications

By Mark Patterson
General Manager

The results are in. Almost 200 readers responded to the The HTC Highlander 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 HTC Highlander. 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.

Construction phase complete on fiber rollout

Highland technicians are cutting members over to the new fiber network. The process requires placement of remaining equipment in and around the home.

Highland technicians are cutting members over to the new fiber network. The process requires placement of remaining equipment in and around the home.

Highland Telephone Cooperative reached a milestone: construction and testing of the new fiber optic infrastructure is complete.

Building the new network, which will change the entire region along with the cooperative, has not been an easy task. Construction required more than three-and-a-half years, including placement of more than 2,000 miles of new fiber optic cable. Thousands of tests verified proper installation of each fiber. Cables needed to connect a typical home or business often contain 288 fibers.

With mainline construction complete, the final portion of the project is to have customers cut over to the fiber optic system with individual drops to the house.

The cutover process is labor intensive, requiring the scheduling of a specific time when a member can be available to allow installers to place remaining equipment in and around the home. Members who have not been cut over to fiber already should expect a call from a Highland scheduler in the coming weeks.

Faster service
The shift to fiber also allows customers to consider adding new services, such as higher speed broadband and new TV packages. The cutover allows a significant upgrade for each customer.

For example, some members with existing DSL service will experience Internet speeds that are 20 times faster. The new system will provide digital voice service and new video options.

Most McCreary County members have already been cut over to fiber, and HTC technicians are aggressively working on the remainder. Members in Kentucky who have not been cut over to fiber should call the local Highland office.

In Scott County, the Robbins area is completely cut over, with a few customers awaiting the transition in Huntsville, Oneida and Winfield. Any members in that area who have not heard from a scheduler should call the local Highland office.

Morgan County is the focus of most current cut over activity. Sunbright is at least 75 percent complete. Wartburg continues to progress, and cutover work has begun in Deer Lodge, Oakdale and Petros.

Morgan County customers can expect to be contacted by a Highland employee to schedule the cutover.
Winter weather did hamper progress, but the goal is to complete the majority of remaining cutovers by the end of June.


Overcoming damaging weather

A heartfelt “thank you” to our crews

When weather turns really bad — bringing down communications lines, blocking roads and interrupting service — Highland repair crews are at their best.
This past winter provided a challenge. As one round of frigid storms dumped several inches of snow, Tennessee declared a state of emergency for much of the region. Frigid temperatures also caused some surprises, such as a key satellite dish becoming encased in ice and interrupting service. Repairs meant not only clearing the dish, but also removing heavy ice.

The HTC and HMC crews throughout the area worked hard to restore service, including working Saturdays and Sundays. They also braved the elements and the icy roads, leaving their families to work long hours.

“We really appreciate all they did,” says Diann Stephens, HTC’s human resources manager. “They came in when the weather was bad and did all they could to restore service. We just wanted to say, ‘Thank you very much!’”

From hand-cranked telephone to broadband Internet

Meeting member needs for 60 years

By Noble Sprayberry

From humble beginnings in an office above a hardware store, to a modern fiber network, Highland celebrates 60 years of service.

From humble beginnings in an office above a hardware store, to a modern fiber network, Highland celebrates 60 years of service.

It all started out as a system, in the 1950s, with party lines — eight people sharing one line. Now, you have fiber optic into the home, and you have broadband capability that rivals any suburban area. We have fiber into every premise we serve. As there’s more demand for faster broadband speeds, we’ll be able to provide them anywhere in our service area. The future is limitless.
–Mark Patterson,
HTC General Manager

In an office above the hardware store in Sunbright, Highland Telephone opened 60 years ago.

The beginnings for the cooperative and its 1,000 members were modest — billing clerk Edna Sanderson had to use an empty nail keg as a chair. No one had remembered to buy her a seat.

But, the cooperative had ambitions — connect the rest of the world to a community ignored by other telephone companies. The effort paid off, and HTC grew into a provider of not only telephone, but also television and Internet service.

In the beginning, though, overcoming the challenges of a rural telephone company required years of hard work.
One key person was a young lawyer, just a few years out of the University of Tennessee Law College. The man went door-to-door through Scott and Morgan counties, asking people to invest $5 in the new venture.

Highland crews have worked to maintain service through floods, snows and tornadoes.

Highland crews have worked to maintain service through floods, snows and tornadoes.

In today’s money, that’s about $42. The man was future U.S. Senator Howard Baker. And the steps he and others like him walked were among the first needed to form HTC.

In the early 1950s, telephones were nearly non-existent in the area, with the exception of a few lines in Wartburg, Oneida and Sunbright. While telephones were common in much of the country, private companies balked at adding lines in rural Tennessee due to the cost of running lines into remote areas. The homes and businesses were too far apart to make the venture profitable.

As a result, a group of community leaders came together to build the cooperative. W.H. Swain bought the first membership in 1952. After the first 1,000 members joined and a government loan was approved, HTC opened in August of 1955.

Building a system
Bringing industry-leading communications technology to Scott, Morgan, McCreary, Anderson and Campbell counties has taken sweat, determination and a willingness to overcome obstacles.

Early Highland crews raised poles by hand and strung miles of cable throughout the community.

Early Highland crews raised poles by hand and strung miles of cable throughout the community.

And sometimes the obstacles had fangs.

Roger Galloway once counted more than 70 copperhead snakes when he was on a crew cutting brush from a line between Whitley City and Cumberland Falls.

HTC crews were also willing to work just about anywhere — even places most folks hoped to leave. At the direction of the warden, crews jackhammered through the walls of Brushy Mountain State Prison to run phone lines.

While always moving forward, the company did face challenges, often with Mother Nature to blame.

A tornado, for example, whipped through Joyner in 2002, damaging telephone lines and cellular towers. General Manager Mark Patterson provided a cell phone that could still connect to a distant, undamaged tower so neighbors could keep in touch with family until service was restored.

The latest evolution: a fiber network
Telephones remain critical to communications, but new technologies have taken root in the past 20 years. In 1996, HTC started Highland Communications, a subsidiary that began as a way to provide long-distance phone service.

Internet also expanded quickly, originally arriving with installation of a router capable of handling as many as 50 lines. Demand exploded. So, the service expanded to meet member needs.

The job of Highland line crews demands precision and devotion.

The job of Highland line crews demands precision and devotion.

The cooperative continues to develop to meet modern demands, providing members access to new technologies and services. The latest initiative is a fiber optic network, a $66 million effort to extend fiber to every customer.

The fiber-to-the-home initiative, which required hundreds of man-hours worth of engineering design, deployment and management, remains on track for completion this year.

Fiber provides enhanced Internet, television and calling services. But the system does more, creating a foundation for the future. As new applications and technologies develop, HTC’s fiber will provide the access members need.

The cooperative that started out in an office above a hardware store continues the mission of connecting its members to the world.

HTC Timeline

W.H. Swain becomes the first member
HTC opens in 1955

Highland staff expands to more than 30
The Stony Fork flood washes away phone lines

Membership tops 10,000
The system expands to more than 1,500 miles of line
The last party line changes to private service

Highland receives a Rural Service Area cell phone license

Whitley City office opens
Helenwood branch opens
The Highland Communications subsidiary opens to provide Internet and long-distance telephone service

An auger truck meant Highland crews no longer faced digging or blasting through hard soil.

An auger truck meant Highland crews no longer faced digging or blasting through hard soil.

Highland introduces Highland Speed DSL Internet service

Highland completes a five-year, $66 million fiber rollout

Playing to learn

The Boys & Girls Clubs change with the times

By Noble Sprayberry

A range of programs engage young minds.

A range of programs engage young minds.

Today’s youth face different challenges and choices than the generation before them. And the national organization built on the “gym and swim” idea of providing after-school physical activity is changing with them.

“As the Boys & Girls Clubs evolved, it’s moved into homework help and academic enrichment,” says Justin Sharpe, the director of resource development for the Cumberland Plateau clubs. “So, we’ve spun off the fun and activity to make it more educational. It’s fun with a purpose.”

The national organization’s roots date to 1860 in Hartford, Connecticut. Now, there are 4,100 club locations nationally. The clubs help members focus on three goals: academic success, a healthy lifestyle and development of good character and citizenship.

A range of programs engage young minds.

At the Boys & Girls Clubs, personal growth mixes with fun.

Boys and girls between the ages of 5 and 18 can join, and an average of 150 members participate daily at the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Cumberland Plateau.

The mission is important for communities throughout the region, says Hank Hill, the Cumberland Plateau clubs’ chief professional officer.

“I think it’s vital for our kids in the 21st century to be able to compete,” he says. “This is a very rural region of Appalachia. At one time, there were industries that might have been booming, but they are no longer here. For our kids to be able to sustain the community and to thrive, they need certain skills.”

Early literacy programs support Oneida schools.

Early literacy programs support Oneida schools.

The result is a series of programs designed to touch the lives of children and teenagers, shaping their day-to-day choices and instilling goals for their future.
“We’re not in the babysitting service,” Hill says. “We’re in youth development. What we want is for kids to graduate from high school with a plan for the future. We want them to be able to demonstrate they have good character and citizenship.”

And, there are essential decisions many children may face. “We want them to make good choices when it comes to alcohol, tobacco and early-teen and early-adult pregnancies,” Hill says. “When kids have pregnancies, they’re way more likely to live in poverty most of their lives.”

Facing hard realities with hope
Many Scott County children can benefit from the supportive and nurturing environment created by the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Cumberland Plateau.
The clubs track key statistics used to define the importance of its mission:

  • One of every three Scott County children lives in poverty.
  • More than 90 percent of club members receive free or reduced-cost school lunches.
  • One of every 20 girls in the community between ages of 15 and 19 was pregnant when surveyed.
  • Just more than 45 percent of Scott County children are defined as either overweight or obese.
  • The high school dropout rate is 12.8 percent in Scott County.

Overcoming challenges

A range of programs, including outdoor activities, guides boys and girls to better lifestyles.

A range of programs, including outdoor activities, guides boys and girls to better lifestyles.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of the Cumberland Plateau was formed in 2002, operating in two Scott County public schools. In 2005, the organization moved to a 40,000-square-foot center in Oneida.

Also, in 2013, the clubs opened an extension at Fairview Elementary School to serve about 30 youth.

Last year, the clubs served 1,081 children through 15 youth development programs, community outreach efforts and the Junior Pro Basketball League.

 Club members and non-members compete in youth basketball.

Club members and non-members compete in youth basketball.

While the clubs interact with children and the community in many ways, the focus remains on the three core ideas guiding its mission of academics, health and citizenship.

The programs provided by the clubs can equip children and youth with the tools they need to cope with real-world problems, Hill says. “You can teach the rules, but eventually kids have to decide for themselves if they’re going to follow the rules.”

A formula for success: mix fun with education

Fun with a purpose is the mission of the Boys & Girls Club of the Cumberland Plateau.

Fun with a purpose is the mission of the Boys & Girls Club of the Cumberland Plateau.

Children and teenagers play each day at the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Cumberland Plateau. But it’s play with a purpose.
Three goals make up the foundation for the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Cumberland Plateau’s efforts: academic success, a healthy lifestyle and development of good character and citizenship.
The clubs use a variety of programs to help members develop, including:

Project Learn: Studies show that students learn better when they spend non-school hours engaged in fun, but academically beneficial, activities. This program also emphasizes parent involvement.
“We try to engage the kids in games and fun activities where they’re actually learning,” says Justin Sharpe, the Cumberland Plateau clubs’ director of resource development. “It’s kind of like sneaking in vegetables when they’re eating.”
Robo Tech: Club members between the ages of 7 and 18 use Lego Mindstorms to explore science, technology and engineering.
“They go through some basic programming when building the robots,” Sharpe says. “They call the lessons missions. And for each of those, you have to build the robot to a certain spec and then program it to complete a certain task.”

Good Character
Readers to Leaders: The program begins with kindergarten-age students and continues for those up to third grade. The focus is early literacy, and it is done in conjunction with the Oneida school system.
Million Members, Million Hours of Service: Local club members participate in the national push to increase hours of community service. For example, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day this year, club members worked at Scott Appalachian Industries, which has a mission that includes serving the mentally challenged.

Healthy Lifestyle
SMART Moves: The program uses a range of techniques to help young people develop the strength and understanding needed to promote abstinence and to avoid drug use. Club staff, peer leaders, parents and community representatives all help.
Triple Play: This represents the clubs’ first comprehensive health and wellness program. The goal is increased daily physical activity, better nutrition and healthy relationships. And parents are encouraged to participate, continuing the lessons and goals at home.