On this episode of Connected Nation, we check back in with the “Let’s Get Digital: Oklahoma Broadband Tour” as makes it’s way through the largest metropolitan area of the state – Oklahoma City.
This time we talk with a provider about the role of small ISPs in connecting rural America; a member of the Connected Nation team who says this mission is “personal”; and the Executive Director of the Oklahoma Broadband Office who promises, “We will deliver!”
Oklahoma Broadband Office website - https://oklahoma.gov/broadband.html
“Let’s Get Digital: Oklahoma Broadband Tour” - https://oklahoma.gov/broadband/outreach.html
Jessica Denson, Host (00:03):
This is Connected Nation, an award-winning podcast focused on all things broadband from closing the digital divide to improving your internet speeds. We talk technology topics that impact all of us, our families, and our neighborhoods. On today's podcast, we check back in with the Let's Get digital Oklahoma Broadband tour as it makes its way through the largest metropolitan area of the state, Oklahoma City. This time we talk with a provider about the role of small ISPs in connecting rural America. A member of the Connected Nation team who says This mission is personal, and the executive director of the Oklahoma Broadband office who promises we will deliver. I'm Jessica Denson, and this is Connected Nation.
Mike Sanders, Executive Dir., OK Broadband Office (00:48):
Mike Sanders, m i k e s a n d e r s. And
Pam Waggoner, Resound Networks (00:54):
Mike Sanders, Executive Dir., OK Broadband Office (00:54):
Title? Executive Director of the Oklahoma Broadband Office.
Jessica Denson, Host (00:57):
So tell me what we're doing today and what this is a part of
Mike Sanders, Executive Dir., OK Broadband Office (01:00):
The thing. Well, great question. We, we are doing what we call our Let's Get Digital Tour. We, we are touring 18 cities across the state of Oklahoma. Today is our sixth stop. We hear Oklahoma City. Uh, we're listening to the community, we're listening to, uh, questions, issues that they may have with high speed internet. There's a bunch of them. Uh, so this is our six stop and we've got 12 more to go.
Jessica Denson, Host (01:24):
And what kind of people are coming to these? Is it just residents or is it a group? Uh,
Mike Sanders, Executive Dir., OK Broadband Office (01:28):
It's a combination. Uh, it's a great question because it's a combination of not only residents. We have, uh, the Urban League here, for example, here in Oklahoma City. Uh, we've got, uh, rural healthcare providers here. Uh, we do have some, uh, internet providers. Uh, we've got folks that are interested in telehealth, telemedicine, all of that here. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, uh, a lot of rural folks that are here. We have our tribal nations here, so it's a great cross reference.
Jessica Denson, Host (01:54):
And, uh, why do you think it's so important now? I think before the pandemic, there was kind of one idea of what high speeded narrative means, and now there's kind of an understanding that it's prevalent and needed,
Mike Sanders, Executive Dir., OK Broadband Office (02:06):
Right? Absolutely. That is probably over overarching, uh, issue that we've talked about. If Covid taught us one thing, it's, we all have to be connected. You know, if you wanna run a multi-billion dollar business from your couch, you gotta be connected. And there were holes there, there were holes on the education side of things. There were holes on our healthcare, uh, uh, side of things. So we, we know and have been talking about high-speed internet and broadband for 20 years plus, we now have the ability and the, the charge, if you will, and the mission to deliver high-speed internet to 800,000 plus Oklahomans, and we will deliver.
Jessica Denson, Host (02:49):
And I know you're new to it. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> is the role.
Mike Sanders, Executive Dir., OK Broadband Office (02:52):
Jessica Denson, Host (02:52):
One month, but yeah, one month. What drew you to this? Why did you feel that you wanted to be a part of this?
Mike Sanders, Executive Dir., OK Broadband Office (02:58):
I've always had Servant's Heart. I've always been one to serve others. Ever since I was a, a young kid, I've always wanted to be involved in public service. And I saw this as an opportunity to continue my, my love for public service and serving others. That's what we're all called to do. And this was just an opportunity being from a rural, uh, part of the state, still living there, raising our family there together, knowing the importance of that, it was really an easy decision. And, uh, we, we are hitting the ground running. I said a month, you know, we are still not quite with, you know, our sea legs, but we're getting there.
Jessica Denson, Host (03:38):
And, um, since you do live in rural town mm-hmm. <affirmative>, tell me a little bit about what it was like growing up and why does that matter so much for us to connect with America?
Mike Sanders, Executive Dir., OK Broadband Office (03:46):
Because we've got to do business globally. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, it just can't be from one town to the next or even inside your state. We've got to be able to compete globally. We have got to be able to send, uh, you know, uh, uh, medical meetings, you know, with our elderly who may not be able to get out of their home and drive an hour and a half to the nearest doctor. We've got to be able to connect there, you know, education wise, I mean, I can go on and on and on and on. All of those were were parts growing up in a rural area that the internet really wasn't around until I was even in college. And even then it was dial up. So it was, you know, we didn't know anything, so we thought that was great, but now we've got to be able to connect. We've got to be able to use that high speed internet. Time is money. And, and that's one of the things that we're focused on.
Jessica Denson, Host (04:34):
So if, if all is said and after all is said and done mm-hmm. <affirmative> and these 18 stops are over, what do you hope comes from all of this?
Mike Sanders, Executive Dir., OK Broadband Office (04:41):
We're hoping that the feedback that we get from all the citizens, whether it be ones that live in a town of, of, of 250 people, or a town or city, Oklahoma City that has, you know, 2 million people with all the surrounding areas around it, um, we want to hear what challenges they they've had, whether it be the affordability side of things, because we've talked about mm-hmm. <affirmative>, high speed internet used to be a luxury. It's no longer a luxury. It's a way of life. Um, so getting feedback from there, getting feedback from our tribal nations, getting feedback from our hospitals and our county commissioners and, and, and those who do business and throughout the state. Um, this is a listening to, I always tell our two boys, God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason. Okay. And that's what we're doing on this 18 city. Let's get digital tour.
Jessica Denson, Host (05:32):
Um, I am standing with Jordan Pruett and Pam Waggoner with Resound Networks, which is an I S P, correct?
Jordan Pruett, Resound Networks (05:39):
That's correct. Do I set of Pampa, Texas
Jessica Denson, Host (05:41):
BA based out of where? Texas,
Jordan Pruett, Resound Networks (05:42):
Jessica Denson, Host (05:43):
Where is that in relation to where we are?
Jordan Pruett, Resound Networks (05:45):
It's about an hour northeast of Amarillo, so about three hours west of where we're standing here today.
Jessica Denson, Host (05:50):
Okay. And, uh, if you would, uh, Jordan, tell me your title first and then Pam, I'd like you to tell me yours as well.
Jordan Pruett, Resound Networks (05:56):
Absolutely. So I'm the Senior Vice President of Strategy and Regulation here at Rebound Networks.
Jessica Denson, Host (06:01):
And what is, and, and a, as much as you can summarize <laugh>, what does that mean to the average person? Sure.
Jordan Pruett, Resound Networks (06:07):
It's a lot. Um, it really encompasses anything on the regulatory side, broadband, uh, that covers of course, grant opportunities, compliance, uh, monitoring of, you know, compliance of, of grants we perceive or, uh, uh, pursue achieve. So a lot
Jessica Denson, Host (06:23):
<laugh>. Yeah, that is a lot. And Pam, what is your title and, and what do you do with the company?
Pam Waggoner, Resound Networks (06:28):
Hi, Jessica. It's nice to see you. I am director of Community Outreach with Resound Networks, and my, uh, role is really about the connection between the deployment of the actual infrastructure from the is p to making sure we are sustainable in communities by making sure they understand what adoption means, what uh, use means, how to be safe on the internet, how to make sure that once Resound Networks moves out, that we still are giving resources and advice and just being a resource for that community to make sure the Internet's being used. Good.
Jessica Denson, Host (06:58):
And full disclosure, Pam and I used to work together at Connected Nation. Um, we miss you, but how's it going? We see you at a lot of these meetings.
Pam Waggoner, Resound Networks (07:06):
It is going wonderfully. It is, uh, I get to use all the skills that Connected Nation gave me, and I get to bring it over to the ISP side and about connecting the communities. And that's, you know, that's very important to me being service oriented to do that. But it's also fun because I'm on the other end of this. I get to actually give the results and the needs and kind of fulfill all the plans and, uh, thoughts that we had at the beginning from Connected Nation. So it's good I get to put the action plans into action.
Jessica Denson, Host (07:31):
That that's awesome. And, and Jordan, why was it important for Resound to be here today?
Jordan Pruett, Resound Networks (07:36):
Yeah, absolutely. So Resound was a significant winner in the art of phase one auction. Uh, we were the sixth largest winner in the nation, uh, wins in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Arkansas, New Mexico, Colorado, and Arizona. And so Oklahoma's an important state for us. We've got a lot of funding. We've got a, a, a, a good platform and a good obligation area already in the state. Um, but we feel with the future funding mechanisms coming out, that we can really double down on our network and grow it and reach additional areas that are still unserved or underserved beyond our Ardo footprint.
Jessica Denson, Host (08:10):
So most people, I think they, they understand that you hear about the big wireless companies or the big internet companies such as at and t or T-Mobile or you know, those types of lists. How critical, and I'd love to hear this from both of you. Is it for smaller, I know you, you're multiple, uh, six plus states, right? Um, so not too small, but smaller ISPs to play a role in what's going on right now to try to connect the last mile to try to connect the rural areas, the middle Mile, that type of thing?
Pam Waggoner, Resound Networks (08:41):
Well, I'll start, I'll be glad to answer that question. In my opinion, in my viewpoint, small ISPs are trusted in communities. So when you have large areas, swaths of areas that are already covered by the big players, and, and we need the big companies, don't get me wrong, it is great to have the smaller players come in and fill in those donut holes and be able to be trusted by the community. And I think those, uh, ISPs are the ones that can offer the digital training and the digital equity and, and really make people understand how quality of life can be, uh, improved with internet. Whereas a lot of people are scared of the big companies, they just feel like it's an interference in their life. So I believe small ISPs play a huge role.
Jessica Denson, Host (09:22):
That, that's an interesting point because for rural, you really are a community, and so you want somebody you can talk to, right?
Pam Waggoner, Resound Networks (09:30):
Yes, ma'am. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>
Jessica Denson, Host (09:31):
And Jordan, from your point of view, why is it important? What is the role for smaller, um, ISPs to play in this right now?
Jordan Pruett, Resound Networks (09:38):
Yeah, absolutely. And so as Pam mentioned, you know, there is a level of trust when an organization is based in a community and we've been servicing that community. Um, uh, as she mentioned, uh, the, these large providers, we do need them. There's a middle mile, uh, portion of that. They do a lot of the mobile stuff. Um, but Last Mile has typically been, uh, more of a regional based approach. And so, um, I think we have an understanding of what these communities need, um, how to do it in smaller communities, how to do it in areas where the ROI doesn't jump out on the page at you. And so, um, it's important to get buy-in from these ISPs and these, uh, smaller markets because we know how to serve that, how, how to make it cash positive, cash flowing, um, and, and get it done.
Jessica Denson, Host (10:21):
I had a, an odor of an is P in middle Texas. Tell me once that his, his grandma would call him if he didn't get, if she didn't get good internet <laugh>, which I thought that is really telling of how, how close you work with people. Absolutely. Um, so, uh, in a perfect world, what would happen next in your opinion with this plan and, and plans across the country with all of the bead money, the billions that are out there? Pam, you go first.
Pam Waggoner, Resound Networks (10:47):
Sure. In a perfect world, we would take all the advice we hear at all of these listening tour meetings, and not just the state broadband office, but also the ISPs and the mobile connectors, everybody involved in this and get together and make sure, I don't know if there's such thing as over-building, but not to overbuild particular areas. And we can all work together and partner together. The best, the best thing that can happen for all these communities is that the state partners with the ISPs and the ISPs partners with local governments and nonprofits, and really everybody kind of stay in their lane and do what they're the best at. And that way the money will be spent efficiently and effectively, and the most people will be connected.
Jessica Denson, Host (11:23):
And Jordan, I'll give you the final word on that one.
Jordan Pruett, Resound Networks (11:25):
That's, uh, that that's great. Yeah. I think Pam's right. I think it's, uh, you know, I think we need to look carefully at what's already been funded, understand to the best of our ability, uh, how the maps lay, try to get these as accurate as we can, and then kinda look and see what's left. And then, um, as I understand the bead program specifically, it prioritizes unserved and underserved areas first. And so, you know, I think that's a great way to look at it. Let's go after the places that have always been forgotten about in previous mechanisms that are going to be hard to serve with any kind of ROI type model. Let's force those to be served first and then kind of build from those most unserved areas into the underserved.
Jessica Denson, Host (12:05):
All right. Thank you. Jordan Pruett and Pam Wagner with Resound Networks. I appreciate you both.
Jordan Pruett, Resound Networks (12:10):
Thank you very much. Thank you,
Jessica Denson, Host (12:11):
Jessica. I am now standing with Taylor Shorb, who is with Connect Nation, one of my colleagues, and, um, or she is one of my colleagues, rather. Uh, tell our audience what your role is with Connected Nation.
Taylor Shorb, Connected Nation (12:25):
So my role at Connected Nation is that of Development Manager. I am on the development team where we acquire new business all around the United States. And I am the only Connected nation staff living in the state of Oklahoma. So when I joined Connected Nation last year, I started kind of keeping an eye on what was going on in the state. And it turns out the Oklahoma broadband office was just getting up and running and they needed some help, um, with their mapping, with their bead plan, with their digital equity program.
And I stepped in and helped us acquire that, um, contract. And so, um, one of those things that we're helping the state broadband office with is our listening tours. So we are currently on a tour around the state of Oklahoma. Uh, today we're in Oklahoma City on our sixth stop of 18, where we will go around the state, um, just hearing from citizens, internet service providers, businesses, nonprofits about their challenges, uh, with broadband, whether it be affordability, infrastructure access, digital skills, whatever that may be. We want to hear that. And then we will help the state broadband office put that into their five year action plan.
Jessica Denson, Host (13:37):
And the five year action plan is important Correct. Because of federal funding that's out there right now.
Taylor Shorb, Connected Nation (13:42):
Exactly. So the more feedback we receive on these listening tours, the better we can put that information into the five-year action plan, and thus we'll get, hopefully more money for the state of Oklahoma to build out and enhance the broadband infrastructure.
Jessica Denson, Host (13:57):
And, uh, what are some of the things that you're hearing from people? I know we're just on stop six, but, uh, what are some of the things you heard today and, and previous stops?
Taylor Shorb, Connected Nation (14:06):
So this is the third stop that I have personally attended. And one thing that I'm seeing across all of those stops so far is that affordability is an issue, especially in the rural communities. Um, also in rural communities, we're hearing that service is not consistent. So, you know, the closer you get to the, the county seat or the heart of downtown, you're seeing better service. But you know, the farmers and the ranchers that live on the more rural sides of the county are, are not having reliable service.
Jessica Denson, Host (14:34):
And, um, just if it's all right, if I shared, you're a mother. Correct. And how important is it for, um, families to have access for their children, for themselves, for work, you work from home as part of Connected Nation? Just explain personally why even matters to you.
Taylor Shorb, Connected Nation (14:52):
Um, it's extremely important to me. I shared on a listening tour stop last week that broadband has changed my life because when I became a mother seven years ago, I worked in a traditional office setting from nine to five. I had to leave my daughter in daycare all, you know, all day long. And now I have a job with Connected Nation that allows me to take my daughter to school every day, pick her up in the afternoon.
You know, I can take my, my work cell phone with me, my laptop with me, I can get work done while my daughter's doing her extracurriculars. And I don't have to miss any of that, and my daughter doesn't have to miss out on doing those things either because of my change in my career. Um, another important thing is all of my family still lives in Texas, and I have my parents only grandchild in Oklahoma. And so the ability of having broadband means we can FaceTime, we can send pictures back and forth, um, everything. And that's, that's extremely important.
Jessica Denson, Host (15:43):
Yeah, it's, it's personal for a lot of us. I, I work from home as well, and I travel and have to file stories from other different places. Um, so
Taylor Shorb, Connected Nation (15:52):
Jessica Denson, Host (15:52):
Do you hope comes from this 18 stop tour in, uh, the grand scheme of things? You're not only, um, part of this project, but you are in Oklahoma and you deal with in Oklahoma rather. And so what do you hope comes from all of it?
Taylor Shorb, Connected Nation (16:06):
Um, I really hope that the rural Oklahomans, um, get what they need. I, I hope their challenges get resolved. I am from Texas born and raised, and my family lives in a rural area of Texas. My dad's a farmer and a rancher. And so I really relate to the rural citizens who are coming to us and telling us that they can't get telehealth, that they can't get, you know, the software that they need to run their small businesses and their farming and ranching operations. Um, I really hope that those issues get resolved through all of this
Jessica Denson, Host (16:36):
Oklahoma City will stop number six on a listening tour that will make stops in 18 communities over the next two months. The Oklahoma Broadband office will use input gathered during the listening tour, as well as several consultations with tribal governments to develop a five year plan for expanding and improving internet access for the entire state.
To learn more about the Oklahoma Broadband Office and the Let's Get Digital Tour head to the description of this podcast where I've included links to the broadband offices website. I'm Jessica Enson. Thanks for listening to Connected Nation.
If you like our show and wanna know more about us, head to connected nation.org or look for the latest episodes on iTunes, iHeartRadio, Google Podcast, Pandora, or Spotify.