Connected Nation

Small, smart towns: The company bringing smart technologies to rural America's schools, businesses, and towns

October 18, 2023 Season 4 Episode 29
Small, smart towns: The company bringing smart technologies to rural America's schools, businesses, and towns
Connected Nation
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Connected Nation
Small, smart towns: The company bringing smart technologies to rural America's schools, businesses, and towns
Oct 18, 2023 Season 4 Episode 29

You’ve heard of smart tvs, smart phones, and smart homes – and even smart cities in urban areas.  On this episode of Connected Nation, we explore similar ideas for rural America and it includes Smart Towns, Smart Education, and Smart Business.

We talked with those leading these programs during the ConneXions 2023 Conference hosted by Calix and found out what exactly those offerings can do.

Related Links:
Calix website -
SmartBiz -

Show Notes Transcript

You’ve heard of smart tvs, smart phones, and smart homes – and even smart cities in urban areas.  On this episode of Connected Nation, we explore similar ideas for rural America and it includes Smart Towns, Smart Education, and Smart Business.

We talked with those leading these programs during the ConneXions 2023 Conference hosted by Calix and found out what exactly those offerings can do.

Related Links:
Calix website -
SmartBiz -

Jessica Denson, Host (00:06):

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. You've heard of


Smart TVs, smartphone and smart homes, and even smart cities in urban areas. But on today's podcast, we explore similar ideas for rural America and it includes smart towns, smart education, and smart biz. I talked with those leading these programs during the Connections 2023 conference hosted by Calex and found out exactly what those offerings can do. I'm Jessica Sen, and this is Connected Nation.

Marybeth Picciurro, Calix (00:52):

Mary Beth and I are standing here in the middle of the expo area for the Connections 20 20, 23 conference in Las Vegas. It's a little faux town. There's grass down, there's night or streetlights up and a little faux street, and it's really nice. It's kind of welcoming like a small town.


So tell our audience a little bit about what Smart Town, smart Business, and why you're here today. I'd be happy to. Jessica. So Smart Town is community-wide wifi that is fiber fed. This is very high quality, high speed wifi. It's very different than the general open wifi that you might experience at a coffee shopper. McDonald's, which is not safe, secure, or private smart town is safe, secure and private. And the beauty of Smart Town is that it already leverages the equipment and the cloud solutions that our BSPs already have with Cly. So BSPs can decide where they want to deploy Smart Town.


They may look to implement Smart Town by deploying systems in public spaces. We've seen downtowns, ball fields, parks where music festivals and food truck events are held. We've also seen some broadband service providers choose to activate their subscriber gig aspires to provide more of a community-wide wifi network. This is particularly impactful in areas that have poor or no cell coverage.


So this is literally connecting community, changing lives, providing a safe, secure experience for people of all ages. So Smart Town is really something that's remarkable that we're very happy to deploy with our BSPs and in our customer success role, we work with the BSPs after they decide to purchase Smart Town and move forward. We work with them on their go-to-market planning, their employee enablement, their readiness. We set them up for success. When they initially launched Smart Town, we talked to them about how they're going to communicate to their subscribers and how they're really going to get their subscribers really excited about Smart Town wifi, and then we help them grow after they launch and expand. So that's a little bit about Smart Town. So

Jessica Denson, Host (03:14):

One thing before I ask you a few more questions about it is I've noticed that everybody at calex calls ISPs, BSPs. Is that really a conscious thing that the whole company is doing?

Marybeth Picciurro, Calix (03:26):

Yeah, so B S P broadband service provider, well, I've been with Calex almost a year, and I had the same question when I first came to Calex. I was like, what is A B S P? Of course, I had to research it before I did my interview. So I think it's intentional because it's broadband, right? This is fiber. So think about the communities that we work with, the BSPs that we work with, and the communities that they're in.


The way I'd like to describe this to my friends and family who wonder, what do you do? Who is Calex? I say think about areas that didn't have electricity 75 years ago. These are the rural communities that the big providers just don't care about, but R BSPs are deeply rooted in their communities and they are delivering high quality world-class broadband services. And then we're enabling them with managed services on top of that network. So just like you heard Scott Hendricks talk on main stage earlier, the view out your window should not dictate what type of service you can get for broadband or really anything else. So they're bringing world-class services to their rural communities to provide better education, better healthcare, working from home, economic development, you name it.

Jessica Denson, Host (04:42):

Yeah, I talked to Scott Hendricks


Tombigbee earlier today or yesterday on the podcast and Matt Collins who's with your group. And there was a real friendship between both of them, and I've noticed that with everybody I've talked to

Marybeth Picciurro, Calix (04:57):


Jessica Denson, Host (04:57):

Calix and their partners and the BSPs as you call them.

Marybeth Picciurro, Calix (05:02):


Jessica Denson, Host (05:02):

Is that? Is that a cultural thing

Marybeth Picciurro, Calix (05:05):

For the company? I believe it is, and I think we are very, all very focused at Calex on the purpose of what we do, and we are really working with these providers that deeply care about their communities. That was the theme that you heard on main stage, serving their communities, serving their members. In the case of co-ops and coming from tier one background, I find this incredibly refreshing that I think the Calex employees really feel that they are doing something that matters in areas that larger companies just don't really care about

Jessica Denson, Host (05:45):

In the small towns,

Marybeth Picciurro, Calix (05:47):

The rural areas.

Jessica Denson, Host (05:48):

And so Smart Town

Marybeth Picciurro, Calix (05:50):


Jessica Denson, Host (05:50):


Marybeth Picciurro, Calix (05:51):


Jessica Denson, Host (05:52):

On the idea of the

Marybeth Picciurro, Calix (05:53):

Smaller places because

Jessica Denson, Host (05:55):

Playing off of that smart city

Marybeth Picciurro, Calix (05:58):

Terminology generally, so we had a gentleman that just came up here a little while ago, and he is saying, we have really great cell coverage, don't really see a need for the wifi. And then as we dug deeper a little bit into it, he says, well, we don't really have cell coverage everywhere and we do think there are some opportunities to work with our municipalities. And as we dug into it a little bit more, it's like, yeah, there are opportunities there.


And the great thing about Smart Town is it's not one size fits all. Every B S P can take a step back and figure out what's their strategy, where do they want to deploy Smart Town? Do they really want to do a community-wide network like some of our providers have done? Or are they really focused on gathering spots? Do they want visitors and non-subscribers to be able to enjoy Smart Town wifi as well so they can make that individual decision and deploy Smart Town in any fashion that they like? We've also seen some providers start a little bit smaller and then grow, learn through the process, refine. And we're still in our early adopter program for Smart Town, so we are learning quite a bit every day. So in

Jessica Denson, Host (07:05):

The long term, what do you hope comes from this program?

Marybeth Picciurro, Calix (07:09):

So I have a vision, much like Scott Hendricks


Smart Town communities that can also be connected to one another. So one of the things that I believe it was Michael or Matt spoke about earlier was roaming. So while we're talking about individual communities here, the future will be for those communities to also be able to connect. So between BSPs, they can form alliances. That's very powerful,

Jessica Denson, Host (07:39):

Very powerful. Well, I'll leave it there. Thank you so much Mary Beth for joining me today. Thanks,

Marybeth Picciurro, Calix (07:43):

Jessica. Have a great day. You too.

Jessica Denson, Host (07:45):

I'm now standing with Joshua Palmer, who's a customer success specialist. If I could say that with Calx and a lot about the new thing, I was told a lot about the smart town for education. Can you share some of what that is and what it's supposed to do?

Joshua Palmer, Calix (08:02):

Sure. So Smart Town for Education leverages similar use cases such as the organizational use case where we would onboard a large group of students to have access to the network no matter where they're at. Now, we know there's a lot of issues today with students not having access to internet, and I don't like to think of kids sitting in a Panera or a McDonald's having to do their internet. I'd rather them be in a safe location.


So what Smart Town for Education does is it allows the students to have access to the network no matter where you want them to have access to the network, whether it be at a school, whether it be at a park, whether it be in a community. So similar to the organizations, you could fully unroll all your students by yourself onto an organization, and at that point, they would have access to the network no matter where they're at on their devices.

Jessica Denson, Host (08:51):

Before the pandemic, there was something called the Homework Gap where a lot of kids were not able to bring stuff home and they didn't have internet access. And I think the pandemic really revealed that that gap is bigger than we ever expected. Absolutely. So what is the challenge in rural areas in some of the places that you guys are working that you see with this?

Joshua Palmer, Calix (09:09):

Sure. So I see again, a lot of students that don't have access to the internet, so they're not able to do their homework. So if they are able to access the internet in these safe locations, think of an apartment complex with a common ground where they're able to leave where they're at to sit in an area where they're safe to do their homework in a quiet and manageable place. So I see the solution being very beneficial to the students, very beneficial to the teachers as well. But outside of students that are having trouble, think of student athletes.


A lot of student athletes will travel from location to location and they have homework. My daughter comes home with tons of homework, but she's in multiple different sports. If she arrives two hours early to a basketball game at a different school today, if they don't have smart down for education, she can't have access to the internet at the school with Smart Down for education, as long as that partnership's there, she can have access. No matter if she's at her gym, she's at a competitive gym, if she's at the park, if she's at the gym, no matter where she's at, she has access to the internet. And it's not just Access, it's Safe Access brought to you by PassPoint.

Jessica Denson, Host (10:15):

So is there a different approach that's taken with the educational component? Do you work with schools or superintendents or anything like that? Or is it still an overall for the whole area?

Joshua Palmer, Calix (10:25):

Sure. From a Calic standpoint, it's done the same way that we would onboard the organizations. But from a B S P standpoint, there are the additional relationships that you have to have with the schools. We've seen a lot of BSPs have relationships already today with the schools, so it's very easy for them to move out from that point, stand up smart town for education for in a football stadium, so to say, similar as Tombgbee did. So yes, there is a few extra steps that's added, but we've done this enough times now where we've documented the success. So my role as a success specialist, we document and template out all the things the necessary steps to do. So there's no surprises along the way and you know what to do through each step of your deployment.

Jessica Denson, Host (11:06):

And what about the safety component? I know a lot of school networks have a portion of it that's about security. Are these networks, is that done with that in mind?

Joshua Palmer, Calix (11:18):

Sure. So outside of PassPoint, which is the security protocol that authenticates and encrypts users experience, IQ U as well as Protect IQ is a part of Smart Town. So those same filtering contents where you can set up teen settings to not have violence, not have gambling, not have really anything that you don't want them to have, can still be set up and customized specifically for that school on what their standards are.

Jessica Denson, Host (11:42):

That's awesome. So how does A B S P as you call it, I was talking to her that most people say I S P. I love that you're saying broadband service provider instead because it is high-speed internet. But what would an organization that wanted to be involved in the smart town or the smart town for education.

Joshua Palmer, Calix (12:01):

So you would first reach out to your sales representative from Calx. From that point, they would introduce you to Jeremy Crosby, which is over the smart town. He would qualify the customer, make sure that their use case is in alignment with what they wanted to do. From there, they would introduce them to myself, Joshua Palmer. So as a success specialist, again, I help with the enablement side of it and I help you a step-by-step basis from learning about the product all the way up to the actual deployment. So all you really need to do is just ask, but definitely the best place to go initially is with your sales rep.

Jessica Denson, Host (12:33):

Yeah, I've really noticed there's a close personal touch with everybody with some of the attendees have told me we love working with calex. I would take them to dinner, their staff. Is that just an approach that you all have chosen or that you yourself enjoy? What is that? Is that culture?

Joshua Palmer, Calix (12:51):

Sure, it's very much culture. I think Calex hires the right people. The hiring process for here was very, very extreme, but they want specific people working for the product. I've been focused mainly on education because I have three young kids. So I can put a visual in my head of what this is going to impact the students will be like, and if I could help one student, to me it's a win. But we're seeing broadband providers help thousands of students across the community.

Jessica Denson, Host (13:18):

And in the long-term, what would you like to see happen with the smart town for education

Joshua Palmer, Calix (13:22):

For long-term with smart talent, with education? I would like to see it on a national level. I know that roaming alliances is going to be very important here coming soon, where BSPs are able to have a relationship from a smart town standpoint where they could all share a similar community. I would absolutely love to see a student community that would reach from California to New York that no matter where these students are at, they have access to a secure safe network no matter who their provider is.

Jessica Denson, Host (13:48):

Alright, well thank you Joshua for taking time to talk to me with me today. Sure, no

Jacob Ferguson, Calix (13:51):

Problem. Thank

Joshua Palmer, Calix (13:52):


Jessica Denson, Host (13:53):

I'm with Jacob Ferguson with Calix. He's the R V P of Smart Life Managed Services. Thank you for joining me, Jacob.

Jacob Ferguson, Calix (13:59):

Yeah, nice to have you. Thank you.

Jessica Denson, Host (14:01):

We talked about Smart Town and Smart Town for education, but I noticed the booth that says Smart Biz was Slammed. There were people all over it. I couldn't get in there for a little bit. It's like a little mock cafe. It's very cute. So why are so many people so excited about Smart Biz?

Jacob Ferguson, Calix (14:19):

Yeah, so this is kind of a long time coming for us. We've had this kind of in the market for about two years, teasing with BSPs that Smart Biz was coming. So we are officially launched about halfway through the year officially. This is our fastest growing managed service to date, which is great, but it serves a market that we haven't really served before and a lot of BSPs haven't either. So it's fitting a niche that's right in between enterprise business and residential services. So we think it's going to do really, really well. Make a big splash with BSPs.

Jessica Denson, Host (14:53):

Describe for our audience what exactly it is.

Jacob Ferguson, Calix (14:56):

Yeah, so right now, typical services on a small business is just beefed up residential, right? They pay a little bit more. Now we're trying to add a little bit more value so that an internet service provider can go back and ask for a little bit more money for the value. So a big part of it is wireless backup. So fiber is super dependable, but things happen. Squirrels exist, constructions exist. So if something were to happen, it fails over and keeps the business up and running and they can take transactions and keep everything up and running. That's a big part of it.


Another big part is being able to segment the network and create a unique SS S I D for customers as they come in, the employees as they work around, and then have an owner network as well as I'm sitting in the back doing the accounting or doing the bookkeeping, I know that I'll have access on a regular basis. Another big piece. And then finally just another highlight, although not limited to analytics. So something that a small business has never had before, who's coming into my business and using my internet and how do I use that data to my advantage to either market or change my product set to be a better patron or a better provider within that area. So yeah, again, small business, just adding tools that they haven't had access to before.

Jessica Denson, Host (16:14):

It's interesting that you say analytics because Google just went to G four, which is a little more complicated than their last analytics that a typical business may even look at. So is it simplified for any business owner because not just because a business owner, you may make blankets or you may have dogs or whatever it may be, you might not know anything about analytics. Is it simplified for them?

Jacob Ferguson, Calix (16:37):

Super simple. So yeah, if you're a baker, you want to bake.


You're an auto mechanic, you want to be an auto mechanic. Everything is right within the app. So we call it command Works and it's fully customizable or customizable so each internet service provider can make it their own. But all the analytics, all the changes that you can make control over the network, it's all within one app. And I think it's 2023, everybody knows how to use apps these days. So super simple to use.

Jessica Denson, Host (17:04):

And what about security? Security is a huge thing. Obviously you hear about 'em, you hear about the breaks, and you immediately go like, oh gosh, they have my credit card information.

Jacob Ferguson, Calix (17:13):

Exactly. Yeah, so a big part of it. So we have S M B level protection, right? Within SmartBiz, it's baked right in. So it keeps malware, cyber attacks to a certain minimum. And then they're also able to control the network and say, Hey, you're not allowed to have access between the hours of 8:00 PM and three in the morning or something like that. So you, you're covered both from a cyber attack perspective as well as outside maybe somebody wanting to access your network off hours.

Jessica Denson, Host (17:43):

So like I said, when we first started talking, I noticed the booth was surrounded by people. Are you finding that BSPs are really hungry for this

Jacob Ferguson, Calix (17:52):

In a big way? So just like us, we knew that it was a gap that we didn't have. ISPs and BSPs are no different. They see it currently. They have small business customers and that's usually who they're going to go after right away is just give them that value right off the bat. But they're also using it as means to expand their subscriber count. Who are we going after off net? Are they actually in our footprint? Can we support them if they're in a competitor's footprint and they can with SmartBiz, which is

Jessica Denson, Host (18:20):

Great. So are you seeing that Calyx is doing some of these things outside the box that you're not really seeing from others? Or is this something that's going to be a trend?

Jacob Ferguson, Calix (18:31):

I think this is going to be a trend. We already have competitors in the market today, albeit they're not doing exactly what we're doing. Maybe bits and components of it. I don't think this is going to be the end spot, right? We're going to definitely evolve. We've already announced Managed Biz, which is going to be kind of pushing up market past S M B into mid and enterprise level, and then we'll run into new competition in that space too. So no, I don't think this is going to be the end.

Jessica Denson, Host (18:59):

And what ultimately for you, I've asked this of the education rep and the smart town rep, what would you like to see this grow into?

Jacob Ferguson, Calix (19:08):

The vision here is that it's going to be a marketplace for Smart biz or for small businesses. So having access to a giga center, or sorry, a giga aspire, and then be able to just turn on features when I want them. So V P N access or endpoint security, we'll able to just say, Hey, you've got a marketplace available now as a Smart Biz customer. What else can we do for you? How else can we support you?

Jessica Denson, Host (19:35):

Alright, well thank you so much, Jacob. I really appreciate it.

Jacob Ferguson, Calix (19:37):

Thank you so much for the time. Appreciate it.

Jessica Denson, Host (19:39):

I talked with Marybeth, Joshua, and Jacob during the Connections 2023 conference, which is hosted by Calex and held in Las Vegas every October. I'll be taking the podcast on the road again in mid-November for the US Broadband Summit.


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