Connected Nation

Behind the company that's taking on cyberbullies and creating "smart towns" in rural America

October 16, 2023 Jessica Denson Season 4 Episode 26
Behind the company that's taking on cyberbullies and creating "smart towns" in rural America
Connected Nation
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Connected Nation
Behind the company that's taking on cyberbullies and creating "smart towns" in rural America
Oct 16, 2023 Season 4 Episode 26
Jessica Denson

On this episode of Connected Nation, we discuss what resources families can access to combat the harmful effects of social media on the mental health of America’s youth. 

It’s a problem that’s grown so large and so serious that the US Surgeon General recently issued a call for urgent action to policymakers, technology companies, researchers, families, and others to protect teenagers and children online.

We’ll talk to two companies that are answering that call AND learn how they're working together to deliver access to critical technology in small towns.

Related links:
Surgeon General advisory on social media
About Calix -
About Tombigbee Fiber -

Press release -

Press release -


Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

On this episode of Connected Nation, we discuss what resources families can access to combat the harmful effects of social media on the mental health of America’s youth. 

It’s a problem that’s grown so large and so serious that the US Surgeon General recently issued a call for urgent action to policymakers, technology companies, researchers, families, and others to protect teenagers and children online.

We’ll talk to two companies that are answering that call AND learn how they're working together to deliver access to critical technology in small towns.

Related links:
Surgeon General advisory on social media
About Calix -
About Tombigbee Fiber -

Press release -

Press release -


Jessica Denson, Host (00:04):

This is Connected Nation, an award-winning podcast focused on all themes, 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 discuss what resources families can access to combat the harmful effects of social media on the mental health of America's youth. It's a problem that's grown so large and so serious that the US Surgeon General recently issued a call for urgent action to policymakers, technology companies, researchers, families, and others to protect teenagers and children online.


We'll talk to two companies that are answering that call and ask how they're working together to deliver access to critical technology in small towns while ensuring that regardless of where families live, they can take proactive steps to shield their children from bullying and other online predatory threats. I'm Jessica Denson, and this is Connected Nation.


I'm Jessica Denson, and today my guests are Matt Collins, chief Commercial Operations Officer of Cowlicks, and Scott Hendricks, c e O of Tom, big B, Fiverr, and Tom, big B, electric Power Association. They're speaking with me today from Cal's Annual Customer Success and Innovation Conference called Connections Here in Las Vegas. You probably hear some people milling about in the background. Welcome, Matt and Scott.

Matt Collins, Chief Commercials Ops Officer, Calix (01:30):

Thank you very much for having us. Thank you. Thank you.

Jessica Denson, Host (01:32):

Yeah. Before we get into it, we were just talking about it. We have to congratulate Scott. He just got engaged last night.

Scott Hendrix, CEO, Tombigbee Fiber (01:39):

Congratulations. Isn't that amazing? Thank you for the Congrats it.

Jessica Denson, Host (01:42):

Wonderful. She Yes,

Scott Hendrix, CEO, Tombigbee Fiber (01:43):

She said yes. Wonderful woman.

Jessica Denson, Host (01:45):

Yeah, it's a great place to ask here at The Wind Resort. Oh, absolute. What

Scott Hendrix, CEO, Tombigbee Fiber (01:48):

Better place, family, friends, beautiful place. It's a good thing.

Jessica Denson, Host (01:52):

Is she enjoying her time here?

Scott Hendrix, CEO, Tombigbee Fiber (01:54):

She's had a wonderful time.

Jessica Denson, Host (01:55):

Yeah. Is she part of the Tom Big B fiber company?

Scott Hendrix, CEO, Tombigbee Fiber (01:57):

She is not, except for she wants to be the CEO's wife for some reason. I don't know where that came from.

Jessica Denson, Host (02:05):

I don't blame her. You're charming more than you think you are.

Scott Hendrix, CEO, Tombigbee Fiber (02:07):

I wouldn't, perhaps I wouldn't go that far. Oh, he knows. He's charming.

Jessica Denson, Host (02:10):

He's charming. All right, so let's get into it before we dive deep into the subject of protecting children and teens online, which is kind of why I asked you both to talk with me today several months ago, and we ended up coming to this wonderful conference, which I have really enjoyed. Let's talk about what each of your companies do individually and together in the technology space. So I'm going to start with you, Matt, because you could really lay some foundation about what Calix does. Sure.

Matt Collins, Chief Commercials Ops Officer, Calix (02:35):

So we are a technology partner to rural broadband companies. Our focus is helping our customers close the digital divide and bring world-class service to communities who quite frankly are often forgotten. We have about 1800 customers globally, most of our businesses here in North America, and we really focus on helping small service providers run incredibly efficient businesses so they can afford to invest in innovation, bring new services on top of the broadband that they're delivering to make the lives of their subscribers better.

Jessica Denson, Host (03:12):

When you're talking about small providers, that might be several states that they cover, or it might be one or two communities

Matt Collins, Chief Commercials Ops Officer, Calix (03:18):

As it range. It really ranges from one community. We have customers who have just a few hundred subscribers in very rural areas, up to a regional service provider who might have a hundred thousand. And we even have a few customers who are much bigger. So the point is they're focused typically on a region, a community, a state, a few states. They're not one of the big, what we call legacy giants who serve the whole country and are primarily focused just on profit.

Jessica Denson, Host (03:47):

Yeah. When you talk about rural America, there's millions of people in rural America. It's easy to dismiss it even, but those small providers are so critical to that area, to really connecting that final mile, that last mile or that middle mile. Am I right?

Matt Collins, Chief Commercials Ops Officer, Calix (04:02):

Yeah, absolutely. In fact, nearly half of our customers we call are not primarily profit focused. I mean, every business needs to be profitable, but they're electric cooperatives, they're telephone cooperatives, their municipalities, and we're working with leaders who've just said, Hey, I may not live outside of New York City, but the people I serve deliver, they need to get world-class service. Why? Because broadband is becoming an essential utility. In fact, through the pandemic, it became essential. Think about it, working from home, learning from home telehealth, small businesses who are trying to operate, they can't do it without amazing broadband. And broadband is something that if your community doesn't have it, it can't thrive. And so we want to make sure that we're helping those providers, small family businesses, cooperatives, embrace the latest cutting edge technology and put it to work for their subscribers.

Jessica Denson, Host (04:57):

And before I get to Scott, I'd like to know Matt,

Matt Collins, Chief Commercials Ops Officer, Calix (05:01):


Jessica Denson, Host (05:01):

Us a little bit more about what a chief Commercial Operations officer does at Calix. I don't have the end inside.

Matt Collins, Chief Commercials Ops Officer, Calix (05:08):

My teams are responsible for the day-to-day commercial operations of the company, and that ranges from supply chain to commercial strategy and commercial operations, field operations, IT analytics, and then on the go to market side, all of our marketing, our field enablement, and all the work we do with our partners who work in the field with companies like Tom Bigby to help them adopt our technologies and build new businesses. So there's a go-to-market side and then the operations of the day-to-day business.

Jessica Denson, Host (05:37):

So have you been with Calix for your whole career or did you have

Matt Collins, Chief Commercials Ops Officer, Calix (05:39):

A background

Jessica Denson, Host (05:40):

That led you there?

Matt Collins, Chief Commercials Ops Officer, Calix (05:41):

Yeah, I've been with Calix for about seven years. Most recently I was at I B M for about 12 years. Great company, but I really was drawn to Calx because of its mission, is working with people like Scott and his team to actually build a, that makes a difference in people's lives. I was really drawn to it and all the great experience at companies like I B M I was able to bring it here to help build a team, to help customers like Scott and Tom Bigby thrive.

Jessica Denson, Host (06:12):

You could throw out I B m, like it's just alphabet soup, but that's quite a pedigree to have worked with them.

Matt Collins, Chief Commercials Ops Officer, Calix (06:17):

Oh, it's a great company. But again, it's a big company. It serves primarily Fortune 500 companies, and I wanted to be a part of an organization that could have a bigger, where I could have a bigger direct impact on the customer.

Jessica Denson, Host (06:31):

Well, let's talk about that. The two of you. When you sat down with me, you really took a moment to really welcome each other. You could tell there's some genuine connection here. Absolutely. Scott, tell us a little bit about Tom Bigby Fiber and what you do in the area you serve.

Scott Hendrix, CEO, Tombigbee Fiber (06:45):

So Tom Bigby Fiber is the subsidiary of Tom Bigby Electric Power Association, and Tom Bigby Power was formed as one of the early cooperatives that we actually predate the oldest cooperative in America, which is formed north of us. It was started in answering the needs of the community to bring electricity to rural America. Well, fast forward 90 years, that same need was there. You had the big boy investor owns providing service to big cities, but nobody looking to serve that last mile you talked about earlier. And so we as cooperatives went together and changed the hall in Mississippi in 2019 to have the ability to bring services to those areas. So what Tom Bigby fiber does is we serve parts of seven counties we've actually built into our neighboring. So we now pass 50,000 Mississippi homes, businesses and families, our customers, our members, and bring them world-class service for voice services and broadband services, stuff they wouldn't have otherwise.


But Matt said earlier, we can bring the service that people in Manhattan only want to rural Mississippi. So when you look out your window, you can see cows, you can see barns, you can see chickens, but you can still work anywhere in the world, including Manhattan, but live on our system. And so we have leveraged the beauty of rural America with a partner like Calix to bring world-class service. And I think that's a beautiful thing. I think that's the future. I think that lets us all work from home, have all those services, telemedicine, it's everything that Matt was talking about and take the future into our own hands. It's all about bringing those members that service they deserve. Service shouldn't be defined about location or geography. It should be defined about family and community and where you want to live. And we're helping do that. And Calx is helping us do that as well.

Matt Collins, Chief Commercials Ops Officer, Calix (08:37):

And I want to thank Scott for using the word partner because ultimately that's what we hope all of our customers feel that we're a partner in their success. We're not a vendor trying to sell them technology, but we're committed to their success and we want to see them succeed. That's the ultimate compliment when someone like Scott says that,

Jessica Denson, Host (08:56):

Well, I can tell you, you genuinely mean it when you talk because you definitely welcomed each other like friends. But says something.

Scott Hendrix, CEO, Tombigbee Fiber (09:03):

Absolutely. I probably shouldn't say this, but I've never met anybody at Calix that I wouldn't have dinner with,


That I wouldn't have over to be with my family, spend time with. They're all wonderful people, top to bottom. They care about their customers. In fact, one of their employees came and took wedding pictures or engagement pictures. For me, that's not just as a favor. I mean who does that? That's not a vendor. That is a relationship. And I'm amazed that Calx is a traded company that caress this much about the customers and they really care about my customers, not just us. And I've seen this to everybody at their conferences. They treat everybody the same. Wonderful to work with.

Jessica Denson, Host (09:42):


Scott Hendrix, CEO, Tombigbee Fiber (09:42):

Was off script. Sorry. Yeah, that

Jessica Denson, Host (09:44):


Scott Hendrix, CEO, Tombigbee Fiber (09:44):

Off script. I did want to say thank you for that.

Matt Collins, Chief Commercials Ops Officer, Calix (09:46):

I like the off

Jessica Denson, Host (09:47):

Script stuff. And

Matt Collins, Chief Commercials Ops Officer, Calix (09:47):

By the way, my favorite, you should ask about the wedding for photography. He'd probably do it.

Scott Hendrix, CEO, Tombigbee Fiber (09:54):

I'll work on that. I bet he would.

Matt Collins, Chief Commercials Ops Officer, Calix (09:56):


Jessica Denson, Host (09:56):

Just to your point about small towns and that you could work at Microsoft and stay in a small town for a while there, for decades, you were hearing the brain drain people leaving because they had no choice. So are you seeing as a result of some of this shift that people are staying, they still want to raise their families there, they don't have to leave?

Scott Hendrix, CEO, Tombigbee Fiber (10:16):

I think we're beginning to see the impacts of that. Yes. Now in Mississippi, this only started three years ago. In 2019 it was not legal. 2020 we started construction. So our first customer was November of 20. But yes, so you're seeing people move back. The pandemic brought people home to the south, to Mississippi, to other rural areas. But you are seeing some of the really bright teens stay post high school. You can even do college online. You can stay in your home community and do whatever. You can attend anywhere around the world. So I think it is going to change brain drain tremendously. But to say we've seen a lot of it, yet we're at the beginning of that. This is the cusp of that new generation. So it is going to change that markedly, but we haven't seen it completely.

Matt Collins, Chief Commercials Ops Officer, Calix (11:00):

And I'll just add, we are hearing that as a major reason why communities and organizations like Tom Bigby are getting into this business and providing the services because they've seen that historical problem and they want to reverse that trend. And they know that young mobile professionals want to be in a community where they can have a great connected life. And the great news is they can do that in Tupelo, Mississippi.

Jessica Denson, Host (11:27):

And the small town thing, just to

Matt Collins, Chief Commercials Ops Officer, Calix (11:30):


Jessica Denson, Host (11:30):

On that for just a little bit longer is the idea that I grew up in rural Texas and in rural Oklahoma. So just knowing your neighbors and knowing who you are, I take it that people at Tom Big B, the people you're serving, right? Am I right?

Scott Hendrix, CEO, Tombigbee Fiber (11:47):

Oh, absolutely. You're serving your friends. Your family is your neighbors. It's small town. It's small town America. It's what anybody out there that didn't grow up in the city experience. So you know them. They know you know who your children are. They'll look out for your children at the ball field. If you can't be there and your kid scraps their knee, they'll take care of 'em. These are the kind of people I'm talking about. It's the kind of people you want to live around. And so to have an opportunity to work for Fortune 500 but live in Tupelo, you can go out your back door and actually raise chickens, work on an old car. That's my hobby, Matt. Or you can do anything you want and be safe at night. You don't have to worry about crime, you don't have to worry about pollution. You can go fishing your backyard between meetings. You can't do that in most places. So yes, it's that rural America, it's the Mayberry of the past to some extent, but it's the Mayberry of the future. You get the relationships, but you get all the benefits of the high tech world. What's out the window shouldn't determine what your access to the world is.

Jessica Denson, Host (12:51):

Okay. I want to shift a little bit to the topic at hand about protecting your teens online. You mentioned Matt, some of the great things about the internet that telehealth, educational opportunities, but there is a dark side too, and I think it's telling that in a good way that Calyx is being responsive to this need. So talk a little bit about this program that is called Bark that you guys have launched recently, and Tom, Tom Bigby, if I could say it is taking part in. Great.

Matt Collins, Chief Commercials Ops Officer, Calix (13:21):

So just to step back for a sec, part of our value proposition to our customers is that we go find solutions and we integrate that into our platform. What does that mean? It makes it really easy for Scott and team to go deploy it because they don't have to go and do that integration. So instead of a thousand small service providers doing it, we do it once and then they take advantage of that integration. And we're always looking for things in the market that meet the value prop that our customers want to present. And Bark was a natural. So Bark is a social media monitoring tool that enables a parent to monitor activity that's happening on their child's social media accounts. What does that mean? They use machine learning to go look for key terms that indicate either signs of cyber bullying or suicidal thoughts or other harm that can happen online.


It could even be something that indicates like a first shooter incident. And what that does is it alerts the parent and lets them know that something happening online for their children inside or outside the home that could be impacting one of those types of behaviors. And we all know that things like bullying and depression and suicidal thoughts and suicide, it's growing and it's a problem in almost every community, if not every community in this country. 

And so we basically stepped back to said, Hey, this is something that we should enable our customers to offer. So aligned to their missions, right? Their mission isn't just to go make money, but to do great things for their communities. And we said, Hey, if we can enable our customers to go into their communities and sort of demystify the technology and say, Hey, look, we've got it figured out. We'll help you take advantage of the technology, we'll help you set it up, we'll help you use it. We'll coach you if you have questions you can ask us. That's a huge value because in every community, there's going to be a subset of the population who feels comfortable with the latest technology and they can leverage something like Bark. But for the rest of the community, having someone like Tom Bigby there to help guide them, advise them, enable them, really make something like this a possibility for anyone.

Jessica Denson, Host (15:37):

Before I get to use again Scott, about how it's used in the communities, I don't want to let this slide by. This is not just yes, and it's in every community, it's very important. But the Surgeon General actually issued an advisory saying, we are in the middle of a national youth mental health crisis. And I'm concerned that social media is an important driver of that crisis, one that we must urgently address. So this program is not only timely, but could affect kids for years and years and years to come. Just what happens now really matters. So share Scott, how your company uses this actually within their communities.

Matt Collins, Chief Commercials Ops Officer, Calix (16:19):


Scott Hendrix, CEO, Tombigbee Fiber (16:20):

To your point there, I think we have a duty and responsibility to those friends and neighbors and then people that we call customers, but they're the families that we know and love and want to protect. And this platform gives us one tool. Some people out there claim to be a service company. Calx is not about hardware, they're about service. Tom Biy wants to be about service. We want about serving our community, but Bark is about more than service. It's about protecting that one kid from being bullied, from being abused, from being induced into drugs or something that's bad. When we all grew up, if somebody wanted to threaten you, you could run away. You could get on the bus, you could go home, you could go tell a parent today, you cannot escape it. It's on your phone, it's on your Apple Watch, it's on your device, whatever that may be.


It's everywhere you go. And so this is one place that will help the parent start the conversation. And it's hard to do that if you don't know that child will internalize the struggle they're going through and may never say and their friends won't tell you and you won't know, and then you'll be in crisis mode. This gives the parent a chance to intervene with that crisis. And what better thing to do. This is more than service. This is protecting children. This is a duty, this is a responsibility. And the surgeon general is right that we all need to work toward it. But this is one great way that we can, this is a very affordable, very program that works. And to be a part of that is incredible. And to be a part of a company with Calix that supports this and it helps us to support this and roll it out. We rolled it out in less than two weeks from when they told us we could do it. We had it from the first meeting to the active customers in two weeks. And again, seven One Life is all that matters.

Jessica Denson, Host (18:09):

So the Surgeon General's Advisory came out just a few months ago. Were you already aware and working on this and

Matt Collins, Chief Commercials Ops Officer, Calix (18:17):

This was

Jessica Denson, Host (18:17):

Priority? Yeah,

Matt Collins, Chief Commercials Ops Officer, Calix (18:18):

We've been working on this for over a year and a half to do the research, to find the solution, to do the integration so we could make it easier for Scott and Tom Bigby and other customers. And again, when we really saw it, it comes down to this fundamentally we're helping customers bring the internet into the homes of their customers, and we have a duty to help them make it safe. That's the term that Scott used, and we absolutely believe it. And part of what's really pernicious about this epidemic is for the most part, the kids are suffering in silence. This isn't happening out in public, this isn't happening in front of the lockers. And this is really about just giving the parents tools to know what's going on in the lives of their child so they can intervene, they can ask a question, what's going on? They can ask for help. So this is really about the responsibility to find ways to help our customers take the service they're providing and make it safer. And again, it's all about taking things out of the shadows, kids suffering in silence, and trying to give the parents the ability to cope with it.

Jessica Denson, Host (19:26):

Yeah, I would applaud that my c e O and I, Tom for re, we talk about this issue a lot and have often are looking at what can we do to help as a nonprofit and so to learn about this program. I've been talking about this recently with him and how great it is, Scott, how difficult is it for a parent or a guardian to access this if they subscribe to your system? How does it work? And have you heard anything? I know it's early on, so it may be too early to know yet.

Scott Hendrix, CEO, Tombigbee Fiber (19:54):

So the only feedback we've had so far from the parents is thanking us for making it available to them. We haven't heard of any stories where we've actually saved or intervened at this point, and maybe we won't hear of those, but I hope it is successful to that end. But it's as easy as a phone call. You can go onto our websites, our social media and click through, get information, decide you want the program sign up, and it's a matter of getting it on your devices and you're good to go. It's extremely easy. All of our team is ready to do it in a heartbeat. Within 10 minutes, it can be on your devices and ready, and it will then warn you if anything goes through on your child or your teams devices. So if there's keywords or phrases or anything threatening, you'll know about it and it gives you the opportunity for that discussion. And that's so key because that child suffering in silence is not said, probably is not going to

Jessica Denson, Host (20:50):

Go to mom and dad, not say anything,

Scott Hendrix, CEO, Tombigbee Fiber (20:53):

But this gives that opportunity and that's so incredible. But the process is so incredibly easy from start to finish to getting involved in the program did the leg workforce is so good to do and all the programs they offer with us then to getting it actually implemented. It's just as easy for us to take it to the customer. This is the simplest program we offer and it's just the one that makes me feel the best in it.

Jessica Denson, Host (21:16):

I'm struck by the idea this is technology in general is something that kids younger generations have had their whole lives, and so they are light years really beyond many of us older generations. I'm quoting the ari, y'all. So that has to be challenged. So it does have to be very simple for the parents, right? Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. The kids can work around things and that sometimes, right?

Scott Hendrix, CEO, Tombigbee Fiber (21:42):

They do have that ability. And I want to emphasize this whole program, you asked when did Calix get into it? When did they start it? This is nothing new. So Calix brings us platforms where we were already doing parental controls on the home network. So we have the ability to both protect from outside things, viruses and intrusions and those things because of the CX platform. And then you have the ability to manage the home network. This takes it one step further. This manages the device outside of that network. And so if your duty is to protect your community, as we both feel that it is, those are natural progressions. And so I went backwards on that question there

Jessica Denson, Host (22:20):

For a minute, but I

Scott Hendrix, CEO, Tombigbee Fiber (22:21):

Wanted to make that point.

Matt Collins, Chief Commercials Ops Officer, Calix (22:22):

But it's a great point in terms of pointing to why we did it. So we came out with malware and virus protection, and it's the same value prop, which is most people don't know anything about that. And so, hey, if you can allow the service provider to just put it on the gateway in the home and everything's protected, it's awesome. Content control, same thing. Hey, I don't want my kids on the internet after 10:00 PM I want to set it up so it turns off great. I want to block websites. Then the question became, what about when they take their iPad or their phone and they leave home? What can I do? So it's that same sort of value proposition, and I always said, look, if you're bringing the internet into someone's life, you have an obligation to try to make it safe and give the parent the control inside the home, outside the home. Because at the end of the day, most parents don't know how to do that for themselves. And certainly most of us didn't grow up on Instagram and text messaging and all of that,

Jessica Denson, Host (23:25):

And who knows what the next social media is going to be.

Scott Hendrix, CEO, Tombigbee Fiber (23:27):



But it goes even further because there's a program I would love to talk to you about here in a minute. Smart, smart towns, the way we do community wifi and bring that to our customers out in the region so they can affordably tape card network with them when they go, and those are built into that network. So if we're around the school with Smart Town, we're filtering out pornography and weapons and alcohol and bad things with these content controls. So this is one piece of the puzzle to protect the child with Bark to protect the community on Smart town, to protect the family with the devices around the home because of these networks. And so that's what CALIX stands for and what they believe in. And I'm just happy to be a part of that

Jessica Denson, Host (24:12):

And I do want to explore that. I know you're making those announcements during this conference, so I'd like to explore that just a moment. But before we do, it's not just Tom that's leveraging Bark, right? This is in other areas. Can you expand or share any impact that you've seen so far?

Matt Collins, Chief Commercials Ops Officer, Calix (24:26):

Well, we have dozens and dozens of customers who are either rolling it out or have already rolled it out. And the stories that I hear are of parents coming up to other leaders like Scott for other service providers sharing their stories. And often I'm so happy you're doing this. Everyone knows somebody whose lives are impacted by teen suicide or cyber bullying and things like that. And so what I hear is our customers hearing from their subscribers and talking about, Hey, this is making a difference. I feel so much better because I can do this to help protect my kids. And we have another customer, Brian DeMarco, who's the GM of SAE Communications. They serve the Blackfeet Nation and they have a huge problem with this in their community. And he was remarkably, when he rolled it out, they made a plan to deploy a certain number and within a couple of weeks, they had already sold as many of these plans as they had planned for the year. Just really, really incredible response. So we're hearing that, right? And we have others who are going to PTAs or school boards and talking to them about how they do it community wide. And the response there is tremendous because as educators, they really want to be able to do something about this. So it's actually creating a whole new partnership opportunity for our customers with their communities, with organizations they may not have traditionally worked with like a P T A like school board. So it's really been quite exciting for us to hear the initial response.

Jessica Denson, Host (26:21):

We do some monitoring and tracking in the educational space. Do you work with any of, I know some schools, the state oversees the education, the IT of the schools, and in some places it's just the superintendents that handle the it. Are you working with them to e schools or is

Matt Collins, Chief Commercials Ops Officer, Calix (26:39):

That coming? We're really helping our customers do

Jessica Denson, Host (26:41):


Matt Collins, Chief Commercials Ops Officer, Calix (26:41):

Right? Because so much of it is local and it is state and every state's different. We are on smart town working with an organization that has an international standard for educational networks called Edu Rome, and they're just starting to get sort below the university level and we're trying to work with them, but for the most part it's really about enabling our customers to work with the local educational authorities.

Jessica Denson, Host (27:11):

So let's get to this other stuff. And I'm excited about Bark. Well, before I wrap that up, how would somebody, a different organization get involved with Calix? How would they bring Bark to their area? Is it just to contact you and say, Hey, we'd love to do this?

Matt Collins, Chief Commercials Ops Officer, Calix (27:25):

Absolutely. And it's really, it's through their local service provider. We have over 1500 customers, so think about that. 50 states, 1500 customers, they run businesses just like Tombigbee. They're located everywhere. And really they can contact their service provider or obviously they can reach out to Calx. And what we would do is find someone locally who could work with them to go forward with the program department.

Jessica Denson, Host (27:54):

You brought it up, Scott, so we can just talk about it now. I'm the smart home and smart town initiatives. Some things you're really excited about, cex excited about, and you're taking part in them, right?

Scott Hendrix, CEO, Tombigbee Fiber (28:06):

Yes. So CEX offers this opportunity and some of these programs, like we've been talking about, to be an early adopter. And Tombigbee has had the joy of being an early adopter on the Smart Town. I think I saw the number today. There are 12 smart town deployments at this point. And when I first learned of this at this Connections event last year, I believe it was, I went to Matt and others and said, I want to bring that to Manta, Mississippi. Where's Manta, Mississippi? It's nowhere. You're not going to find it. It's a tiny little place. It's a thousand people town, but if it exists, my members and my customers is deserve an opportunity to have that world-class service. And so we rolled it out back for July 4th for Manta as July 4th day. And so what that did, that took the network to the local community in the park around the school and around the town.


And that was so successful. We've come back, I serve 14 communities, so I've begun to build to my 14 communities. My board authorized me to build to them, but we couldn't quite get all them done really quickly. So two weeks before football season, and this is how quick Tombigbee can move and how quick Calix can help you. We sat around a room and we're brainstorming and there had been talk about this would be great on a big stadium, national level. I don't serve a big stadium. I don't serve the national level. I serve rural Mississippi, but I have nine high schools. So I went to the high schools and said, let me put Smart Town on your football stadium. We called it Friday Night Fiber. Somebody had Couch made that

Jessica Denson, Host (29:35):

Turn off. Oh, Friday night Fiber. I love it. It's great

Matt Collins, Chief Commercials Ops Officer, Calix (29:37):


Jessica Denson, Host (29:37):

I like Literations.

Scott Hendrix, CEO, Tombigbee Fiber (29:39):


Jessica Denson, Host (29:39):

Assistant as

Scott Hendrix, CEO, Tombigbee Fiber (29:40):

Always. So we went with Friday Night Fiber. And so it's an opportunity for you to have community wifi in the achi high school football stadium. Fulton is another community we serve. We had the best signup at that game ever because it has no cell service in the stadium, none. So everybody that came wanted to sign up. So they'd have connectivity while they're there. You can sit below the press box and get 300 reciprocal speeds, upload and download while you're watching your grandkids play football. Your children play football. And it's a good thing. It's a community service, an ability to let them have that access, that world-class service. And it's also a marketing aspect because the people on the visiting side that maybe don't have my service, they might want my service one day and they can see how good that is. But it's more about serving that member, giving that member the opportunity and giving them the same great service and protections outside of the home all across my footprint. And so we've built two of the towns. We're active in two of the towns. We've made it available to all of our 21,000 customers,


And we're going to get the other 12 towns open within the next two, three months. Everything's ordered, everything's coming. We know what we're doing. We've done all the design with call's help. So it's going to be a really fun time.

Matt Collins, Chief Commercials Ops Officer, Calix (31:00):

It's exciting. And the basic premise is that people want to live a smart life. They don't want to just have connection in the home. They want to be able to do the things they need to do out in the community. They want to be able to enable children to do their homework even if they're not in the school building or at home. And the key is you want it to be safe and secure and have policy control and have world-class reception, wifi capabilities. That's what it's really about. And our customers love it because many of them seem to be located in places that don't all have great cell service.


F fact, actually, I would argue that some of our big cities don't as well, but that's an aside. Absolutely. I would agree. But the whole value prop is that you can control it. You can set up a network across the town that's just for students, and that network has the content control that Scott talked about. And you can set the policy and authentication and have cybersecurity on it. You can set one up for first responders, right? Absolutely. And so it fundamentally transforms the relationship with connectivity in the community. Now bringing it out into the public spaces, a park, a ball field, a school, a downtown area.

Jessica Denson, Host (32:21):

So essentially, just to make sure I understand, you bring the programs you're doing, the infrastructure is

Matt Collins, Chief Commercials Ops Officer, Calix (32:26):

Right, right?

Scott Hendrix, CEO, Tombigbee Fiber (32:27):

That's right. So we've built the network to the homes, and this lets us bring the network to the communities as another piece of that puzzle. So frankly, anybody can provide internet. All that takes is dollars and cents. Okay? Not everybody can provide service. Not everybody caress about their customers. And so what I've seen is organizations like Tombigbee  and most of the customers at cex care about all those things. And so we are building those networks and bringing those services to differentiate us from everybody else, and they're allowing us to do that. That's one of the beauties.

Jessica Denson, Host (32:59):

So before I let you both go, your handler's back there looking at her

Matt Collins, Chief Commercials Ops Officer, Calix (33:02):

Watch. I

Jessica Denson, Host (33:03):

Can tell that you got to go soon. My

Scott Hendrix, CEO, Tombigbee Fiber (33:05):

Fiance's not back there, is she?

Jessica Denson, Host (33:07):

I have one there. Yeah, you do now. So I would love to hear

Matt Collins, Chief Commercials Ops Officer, Calix (33:10):

Congratulations on your handler. Thank

Scott Hendrix, CEO, Tombigbee Fiber (33:11):

You. Thank you.

Jessica Denson, Host (33:13):

Yeah, she's your new handler. Absolutely. I would love to hear from both of you what's next? What are some big things you have going on? Scott, why don't you start and then Matt, you could wrap it up with some of the big announcements you have this weekend. So go ahead.

Scott Hendrix, CEO, Tombigbee Fiber (33:27):

Well, if we're talking about Tombigbee  fiber, what's next is the next concept is SmartBiz, where we take some capabilities to small business that gives them some abilities. If they lose service, they can have direct connectivity without spending a lot of money for a network, we'll step in and provide them services that they can't really do without an IT office. So there's some great offerings with SmartBiz. We've not yet deployed that. I want to get smart town finish first, but we're next. And we'll be doing that very soon. And I think that's the next thing on our agenda, and just to continue to grow and provide service. I told you in November of 20, we had one customer. We've got 21,728 yesterday, Matt.

Matt Collins, Chief Commercials Ops Officer, Calix (34:08):


Scott Hendrix, CEO, Tombigbee Fiber (34:09):

Great. And we're not going to be finished until I serve a hundred percent of my people. Then who knows if we can expand somewhere. But that's next for us. Tell 'em what's next for you.

Matt Collins, Chief Commercials Ops Officer, Calix (34:16):

Sure. Well, you nailed the first one, which is business. Really our goal is to extend our solutions portfolio to make it easy to take the value proposition into other environments. Business is another one. Small business today. Beyond connectivity, there's not a lot out there. We want to enable our customers to come in with the security, the content control, the mobile backup, the things that a small business needs to thrive and offer it as a service just like they do in the home. Another complex environment that we want to simplify is multi-dwelling units. So that'll be a big announcement. So apartment buildings all over, they're difficult to serve, right? You've got 40, 50 hundreds of people in one building. How do you give 'em great wifi? How do you enable them when someone leaves? How do you help the building owner efficiently switch to a new person onto the network in the apartment? So MDUs is a really, really big area. And then we have additional innovations for the home. So Scott alluded to one, it's called Home Office iq. It enables automatic mobile backup in the home. What does that mean? There's a

Scott Hendrix, CEO, Tombigbee Fiber (35:25):


Matt Collins, Chief Commercials Ops Officer, Calix (35:26):

Things go out. Your gateway in the home. So

Scott Hendrix, CEO, Tombigbee Fiber (35:30):

You're saying the electric company loses power?

Matt Collins, Chief Commercials Ops Officer, Calix (35:32):

The doesn't happen, man. No, never. Never. No,

Scott Hendrix, CEO, Tombigbee Fiber (35:34):

It does, but just

Matt Collins, Chief Commercials Ops Officer, Calix (35:35):

In the very rare circumstance, by the way, there's other things that could be an interruption. Someone runs into a pole and the fiber connection goes out. This allows it to automatically fail over to a mobile network like your mobile phone. You can set it up and says, look, all I want in the home is my laptop to work cause I'm working from home and I don't want that to go down for a day or a half a day just because there was a storm or a fiber cut or something like that. So those kinds of innovations that bring more value to someone in the home, that's really what we're announcing.

Jessica Denson, Host (36:09):

Alright, well again, my guest today have been Matt Collins, chief Commercial Operations Officer for Calix, and Scott Hendrick, c e o of Tombigbee  Fiber. I appreciate you both taking time to talk with me. Thank you.

Scott Hendrix, CEO, Tombigbee Fiber (36:21):

Thank you very much. We've thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity.

Jessica Denson, Host (36:23):

Yeah, absolutely. I enjoyed it as well. Thank you so much, fellas. Thank

Matt Collins, Chief Commercials Ops Officer, Calix (36:27):

You. Thanks very much. Alright.

Jessica Denson, Host (36:29):

I sat down with Scott and Matt at Connections 2023 in Las Vegas, which is CA's customer success event. It's a pretty big event. I am here for several days and I'll be bringing you more stories from the field. I'm Jessica Sen. Thanks for listening to Connected Nation. If you like our show and want to know more about us, head to connected or look for the latest episodes on iTunes, iHeartRadio, Google Podcast, Pandora, or Spotify.


But firs, something to celebrate
About Calix
About Tombigbee Fiber
This is important for small towns
A new program to protect teens online
The Surgeon General's warning
Being solution oriented
From malware and virus protection to stopping cyberbullies
How well BARK is working
Friday Night Fiber
New innovations from Calix