Connected Nation

Internet for All: How groups are working together in Oklahoma to accelerate broadband expansion

June 01, 2023 Season 4 Episode 17
Connected Nation
Internet for All: How groups are working together in Oklahoma to accelerate broadband expansion
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

On this episode of Connected Nation, we talk with two ISPs that provide broadband to a myriad of western states AND with a nonprofit looking for partners to help “accelerate” how quickly people without high-speed internet get it. 

Learn why these three organizations – two of them competitors – came together in Tulsa for an Internet for All event hosted by the Oklahoma Broadband Office. 

Related Links:
Oklahoma Broadband Office website -

 “Let’s Get Digital: Oklahoma Broadband Tour” -

Jessica Denson, Host (00:04):

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 talk with two ISPs that provide broadband to a myriad of western states, and with a nonprofit looking for partners to help accelerate how quickly people without high-speed internet get it learn. 

Learn why these three organizations, two of them competitors, came together in Tulsa for an internet for all event hosted by the Oklahoma Broadband office.

 I'm Jessica Densob, and this is Connected Nation. 

nat sound 
I am in Tulsa, Oklahoma at the VFW Post 5 77 for the internet for all, uh, portion of the Oklahoma Broadband offices, um, listening tour. It's going all across the state. This is really a sister event. Um, I am sitting with, uh, a couple of representatives from ISPs as well as someone with a nonprofit. Um, Johnny Johnson, who is with KO Knock. Hi, Johnny.

Johnie Johnson, Co-founder & CEO, coreNOC (01:13):

Good morning.

Jessica Denson, Host (01:14):

And also Sabrina Walden. And you are with

Sabrina Walden, MBO/Cross Family of Companies (01:17):

I am with MBO and Cross Family of Companies. We're a family of various ISPs affiliates,

Jessica Denson, Host (01:23):

And I'm also with Jenin son who is with Heartland Forward.

Jin Sohn, Heartland Forward (01:27):

Yes. Um, good morning. Um, so Heartland Forward is a nonprofit. We're a Think and Do Tank. We're focused on trying to expand high speed internet access to areas of America that are considered the heartland.

Jessica Denson, Host (01:40):

Uh, I can get behind that. Everybody at Connected Nation, our team, we also believe in that, that everybody should have access. So Johnny, I'm gonna begin with you. Tell us a little bit about your I S P I. I know you're Native American, so it's Native American owned, right?

Johnie Johnson, Co-founder & CEO, coreNOC (01:52):

Yes, ma'am. We're, uh, a solution provider. We provide the connectivity for, uh, all Indian country, uh, throughout the United States. We are blessed with many opportunities with, uh, tribal communities, uh, from Alaska all the way down to Florida, uh, that we're currently working with. And, uh, just providing them the solutions and knowledge to deploy broadband networks. We're more of a last mile solution provider to where, uh, it doesn't make sense for all areas to deploy fiber. But, uh, with our technology, we can get near fiber type speeds, uh, to the communities and Indian country throughout the US

Jessica Denson, Host (02:28):

And explain to our audience what last mile really means in this context.

Johnie Johnson, Co-founder & CEO, coreNOC (02:33):

So last mile would be, uh, certain areas such as the mountains or areas that does that, uh, doesn't necessarily have a lot of population where it doesn't make a lot of sense to deploy fiber. So last mile solution would use a tower or tall structure to deploy the, the fiber type speeds wirelessly. And there would be an apparatus that would attach to the business or the residential, uh, property that would pick up the signal from a wireless tower or tall structure and then replicate that inside the building or inside the enterprise.

Jessica Denson, Host (03:06):

And it's really those people, whether it it, is it all only in rural areas that you really see that, or is it there are a combination?

Johnie Johnson, Co-founder & CEO, coreNOC (03:14):

It's a combo. Uh, there's a lot of urban areas that we deploy our technology in, but primarily it's rural, but, uh, it's, it's not, uh, black and white where we strictly deploy in rural or strictly deploy in urban, it's a mix.

Jessica Denson, Host (03:27):

And if you're doing that everywhere from Alaska down through Oklahoma, that's quite a range of geography <laugh> there. Right. Is that challenging?

Johnie Johnson, Co-founder & CEO, coreNOC (03:37):

Uh, not necessarily with the last mile solution, it's, it's wireless. Uh, most of the time it's line of sight. So as, as long as you can get your, uh, receiving antenna up high enough to see the tower, uh, it's not a difficult solution to, to solve.

Jessica Denson, Host (03:52):

All right. I would like to come to you now, Sabrina, and talk about what your I S p, what maybe the area it covers, what its focus is. Is it similar to what, uh, Johnny's company does?

Sabrina Walden, MBO/Cross Family of Companies (04:02):

Um, so we have multiple solutions. Um, our, I, I wouldn't say our primary focus, but one of our big focuses is getting fiber to the home, um, in the area as possible. We also have, um, fixed wireless and, um, mobile, uh, provider carriers as well. Um, so our territories are rural in nature. Um, we have, um, various affiliates that are, um, one of 'em is right outside of Tulsa. One is in the more southeastern part of the state. And then, um, another is closer to Oklahoma City, but we do focus on the rural areas, trying to get fiber at the home. Um, and then we have, you know, like I said, the wireless spectrum that mostly covers the southeastern part of the state, um, south of, you know, Tulsa, Muskogee area. Um, but then we provide those fixed wireless and mobile, um, technologies as well.

Jessica Denson, Host (04:51):

There's, there's so much emphasis placed on the big carriers many times, but really for the millions of people that are in rural America, small, smaller ISPs. Not to say that you're small because you cover a huge areas, but smaller ISPs really play an important role, don't you think?

Sabrina Walden, MBO/Cross Family of Companies (05:08):

Yes. Um, and not to, you know, obviously not knocking any of the bigger carriers, but like for us personally, we take a lot of pride in being a family owned and operated company. Um, and so we can really get like in these rural communities, like we, most people know us personally, um, and we can really focus on providing that customer service and like instant, like, you know, if somebody's fiber goes down or they have, you know, their neighbor cuts their line or whatever, a lot of times we can get out there same day and try to really make sure that their service is up and running. Um, obviously we all know the pandemic played a big part in making sure that people had access to their homes, so we know the importance of getting that done and getting out there and getting it fixed. So we provide that good customer service almost immediately.

Jessica Denson, Host (05:51):

And that is, I would say, I'm, I don't think I'm making a big leap here to say that that's one of the reasons people live in rural America in small towns is cuz they want that community one-on-one touch, wouldn't you say?

Johnie Johnson, Co-founder & CEO, coreNOC (06:02):

I definitely would agree. Uh, you know, as a, as a business owner, as you're looking at, uh, relocating your business to either an urban area or rural area, if, um, you're looking at a Tulsa or Oklahoma City area that has fiber and high speed connectivity, and then you have a rural area such as Muskogee or a Manford area that may not have high speeded connectivity, you know, I would probably look at an urban area, but because of companies like MB and o and Cross telephone, they, they've bridged that digital divide and brought high speed connectivity for economic viability to those small and rural communities so people can have that better quality of life, uh, in the rural areas as opposed to living in the bigger cities like a Tulsa or, or Oklahoma City.

Jessica Denson, Host (06:44):

And let's get to the other side of it. So we've got the side of, you know, ISPs bringing that to the, to people, uh, with Heartland Ford. Tell us a little bit about what your mission is and what you do.

Jin Sohn, Heartland Forward (06:56):

Yeah, so Heartland Forward is the nonprofit arm, but specifically what, um, we're here for today is actually connecting to Heartland. So that's the element that's connected to, uh, digital equity to broadband, as well as bringing high speed internet across America. Um, one of the programs that we're actually hoping to work here in Oklahoma and to launch is a program called Accelerate. It's a program we've done in a couple of other states in Arkansas, Illinois, Ohio, and Tennessee. And it's a 14 week intensive program where we bring together different community leaders, um, to help develop a, a skillset and a toolkit in terms of training materials and really get the community ready from the planning stage over to the Implementa implementation stage when it comes to, um, the grants and such that are coming in. So that's a program that we're hoping to start launching here in Oklahoma, and we're looking for different community members to get involved. Um, part of the reason why I'm here today is to start building those relationships and really just here to absorb and soak in and learn as much as possible as to what's going on in the landscape here.

Jessica Denson, Host (07:56):

So a a couple of buzz terms that, you know, those of us who've been in the broadband space for a long time know, or digital equity, digital inclusion, those types of things. Explain to our audience what you mean when you say digital equity.

Jin Sohn, Heartland Forward (08:08):

Yeah, so that's really about, um, a a apart from the infrastructure, it's really the training and the accessibility of how to use the internet, um, as well as the different toolkits. And for example, we're trying to partner with, um, the Oklahoma Broadband office as well as the, okay. Uh, state libraries. Make sure that those toolkits and those skills are accessible to a larger audience and to, uh, more communities as well.

Jessica Denson, Host (08:31):

And libraries played a big hu a huge role in the pandemic until they were shut down, right? And then we really began to learn that people really need to have access. So I would love to hear from each of you what you, why you think it's important for people, your neighbors, your friends, people down the street, people you don't know in the next, in the next state should have access. And I'll start with you Johnny, and then move through and we will let you have the final words, Jen.

Johnie Johnson, Co-founder & CEO, coreNOC (08:59):

Well, certainly people contact is so important as we found out during the pandemic, when we're forced to learn from home, work from home and stay at home, uh, just having that people interaction is so, so important. So broadband plays such an important role in that, that interface and, and keeping contact with your loved ones, with, uh, colleagues, uh, business associates. Uh, so we're, we're excited about the funding that's coming down the, the, the highway here so we can, uh, you know, bridge that digital divide.

Jessica Denson, Host (09:27):

And Sabrina ha what would you say to that

Jin Sohn, Heartland Forward (09:29):


Sabrina Walden, MBO/Cross Family of Companies (09:30):

Um, you know, for me personally, and this is not representative of my company or anything, but um, you know, like, like he said, just the human interaction. So, um, one of my kids, my stepson is actually autistic and he went to a different school district than my kids did during the pandemic, and he actually started struggling with like depression and things like that. So even for something as personal as mental health, um, having that one, you know, telemedicine capability, um, a lot of people that are like home bound, everybody was home bound during the pandemic, but you know, you weren't getting to see your doctors, you weren't getting to have that face face interaction. You weren't getting to see your classmates. So even just having the broadband capability and you know, that's strong enough to handle like Zoom meetings so you can even see somebody on the screen or, you know, if you don't have the wireless connection, um, I think it's really important from a personal standpoint, even from, you know, a business standpoint. So

Jessica Denson, Host (10:22):

Yeah, it surprises me as I talk with people in different states in Oklahoma all over the country, that it really is a human connection that this is really about. And um, Jen, before I ask you that question too, and uh, I didn't give you a chance to tell us how, how would somebody find out about Accelerate or get involved with that?

Jin Sohn, Heartland Forward (10:40):

Yeah, thanks so much for asking that. Um, so they can log on to connecting the or they can, um, email info at connecting to Heartland, um, and for in terms of, oh, sorry. Yeah,

Jessica Denson, Host (10:51):

And so the final question was, you know, why does this matter? Why, why is it important?

Jin Sohn, Heartland Forward (10:57):

Yeah, so I think both, um, Johnny and and Sabrina have mentioned that, um, it really is such a crucial part of life and, um, having access to broadband capabilities limits people or it, it helps, it helps people cross that barrier in terms of having more access to things such as telehealth education. Um, but I think the really crucial component is making sure that it's affordable and it's accessible to everyone. So I think that's the two really crucial components to um, why it's so important.

Jessica Denson, Host (11:33):

Alright. Yes. Yeah, let's, we could keep talking. I'm for it. <laugh>.

Sabrina Walden, MBO/Cross Family of Companies (11:37):

Well, what I was gonna say, and we don't focus as much on the digital equity side as just getting the broadband to people, but you know, what's important with what she's doing is if you have the internet but don't know how to use your devices or don't know how to access it, then I mean, those two pieces have to go together and you have to make sure that, you know, the technology and stuff is there, but if you don't know how to use it, then it's kind of irrelevant. And so I think, you know, partnering with people like that is really important to make sure that you know, your elderly people who grew up without this technology to your kids that are trying to learn how to use it, like they're just starting school, but they have no idea, like all this stuff. So I think it's really important to work together on those things.

Jessica Denson, Host (12:14):

Well, I love that you all are sitting together. Yeah. So I hope you're exchanging, uh, cards. Absolutely. And I really appreciate you each talking with me today.

Speaker 5 (12:22):

Thank you so much. Thanks. Thank you.

Jessica Denson, Host (12:25):

The Oklahoma Broadband office took a break from, its let's get digital Oklahoma Broadband tour to host the internet for all event on May 24th.


The Let's Get Digital Tour is an 18 stop listening tour that is focused on getting input from tribal governments, residents, internet service providers, business owners, farmers and ranchers, and others regarding their internet needs. That input will be used to help create a five year plan for expanding and improving broadband access across Oklahoma.


I'm Jessica Denson. Thanks for listening to Connect to Nation. If you like our show and wanna know more about us, head to connect to or look for the latest episodes on iTunes, iHeartRadio, Google Podcast, Pandora, or Spotify.


CEO of coreNOC
Importance of small ISPs
Handling coverage from Alaska to Oklahoma
MBO/Cross Family of Companies
Pride in being family owned
The importance of internet to business
What Heartland Forward does
About Digital Equity
Having no internet makes things tougher
Connecting with Heartland Forward