From industry insiders to government officials, many leaders in the broadband space believe we now have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to close the Digital Divide in America. That’s because there is finally a perfect storm – of sorts – with funding and understanding of why access and affordability to high-speed internet are critical.
On this episode of Connected Nation, we take you inside the Inaugural U.S. Broadband Summit where internet service providers, nonprofits, customers, legislative leaders, and many others have come together to discuss how to finally make closing digital inequities across the US a reality.
U.S. Broadband Summit website - https://www.usbroadbandsummit.com/
Jessica Denson, Host (00:07):
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.
From industry insiders to government officials. Many leaders in the broadband space say now is a once in a lifetime opportunity to close the digital divide in America. That's because there is finally a perfect storm of sorts with funding and understanding of why access and affordability to high-speed internet are critical.
On today's podcast, we take you inside the inaugural US Broadband Summit where internet service providers, nonprofits, customers, legislative leaders, and many others have come together to discuss how to make closing digital inequities in the US a reality.
I'm Jessica Denson and this is Connected Nation.
I am standing at the US Broadband Summit. It's the first one ever, the inaugural with Heather Gate, who is the vice President of Digital Inclusion for Connected Nation. Welcome Heather.
Heather Gate, VP of Digital Inclusion, CN (01:12):
Thank you Jessica. Nice to see you.
Jessica Denson, Host (01:14):
Nice to see you. We don't ever get to see each other in person. We do love. So I love seeing you. That's awesome. So tell me a little bit about what the Broadband Summit is about. What do you know about it so far?
Heather Gate, VP of Digital Inclusion, CN (01:24):
Thank you. The Broadband Summit is a very timely gathering of broadband providers and other subject matter experts to have a really good conversation about the state of broadband. Especially right now, it's a pivotal time in our history where there's billions of dollars that are going towards deployment. And so we want to make sure that we're having conversations not only with providers but with broadband offices to make sure that there's meeting of minds. Because at the end of the day, what really matters is making sure that everybody's connected and have the opportunity to participate in this big, beautiful global world of the internet.
Jessica Denson, Host (02:01):
I was a little surprised actually to find out this was the inaugural. It seems like something that's been so important for so many years, but finally we're having, is there more organization that you're seeing? Is there more awareness that we're seeing that you think that we're now having this summit?
Heather Gate, VP of Digital Inclusion, CN (02:17):
I think so. I think there's a recognition that there's a lot of work to be done and we can't do this work without communicating with each other so that we can identify what the challenges are and come up with some solutions before we get deep into deployment of broadband through bead funding and the other funding pools that are coming down
Jessica Denson, Host (02:40):
And we're talking billions. It's not millions, billions. There is billions of dollars on the line. And if we do things right, you feel like there's some good that can come out of it.
Heather Gate, VP of Digital Inclusion, CN (02:48):
Yes. If we do it right, we won't be back here having the same conversation. Hopefully we'll be talking about the next generation of networks and needs because with technology, things are always evolving. We don't want to have this conversation about unserved and underserved communities. We want to be having conversations about continuing to catapult the United States into the next age, whatever that looks like.
Jessica Denson, Host (03:14):
So you are actually speaking during this summit. In fact, you're closing it, am I right? So talk a little bit about what you are going to be speaking about. You don't have to give away all your little surprises, but maybe give our audience an idea of what you'll be talking about.
Heather Gate, VP of Digital Inclusion, CN (03:28):
Well, I'm kind of a little bit of the observer. I decided not to prepare my speech because my role is to really listen to what's going to be going on over the next three days and then I will summarize it and help to interpret what we've been hearing throughout this event. Yes, my speech will be written at the very last minute.
Jessica Denson, Host (03:53):
I look forward to hearing what that is and I will share with our audience that after the podcast comes out or after the conference is over, the summit's over. So in the long run, what would you like to see as the vice President of Digital Inclusion? That's a very specific role and working with a lot of communities that are often overlooked. In your perfect world, what would you like to see come from this?
Heather Gate, VP of Digital Inclusion, CN (04:19):
Well, in my perfect world, I think we all win if the least amongst us win. And what that means is for the providers that are participating in this event, it's not only a corporate responsibility issue, it is creating new customers. When you give them access and you help them understand what they can do, then you get more customers from the perspective of people in their households. The opportunity to have access to internet means the opportunity to engage in this new world that's taking over. And at this point in time, we can't afford to leave anybody behind. And right now we define digital equity as empowering people to have access to participate in our democracy. It's not just a luxury. It is the ability for somebody to participate in civil engagements and learn what's going on in their community, find jobs, access, telehealth, even communicate with family. And so that's what I'm interested in. I'm interested in making sure that the least amongst us are heard, and at the end of the day, they have the same opportunities that you and I have to participate in this global economy. Well,
Jessica Denson, Host (05:38):
I could tell you folks, I know Heather, and if it's going to happen, Heather's going to help make it happen. So thank you so much for joining us. I look forward to hearing your closing comments.
Heather Gate, VP of Digital Inclusion, CN (05:47):
Thank you. Thank you so much. And it's good to have you here. It's always nice to have your voice here helping to elevate and make sure people know what's going on. It's an informed world is a world that we need to live in. So thanks for everything you do. You're very awesome.
Jessica Denson, Host (06:02):
Oh, thank you Heather. We love each other. Can you tell, thank you so much, Heather. Thank you. Have a good time. I am standing with three representatives with CCI systems. If you would, I don't want to butcher your names. Please introduce yourselves and what your role is with the company.
Nick Hurzeler, CCI Systems (06:16):
Nick Hurler, director of business Development for our engineering services department.
Sonja Matzke, CCI Systems (06:21):
Hi, I am Sonja Matzke. I'm a vice president of operations.
Rebecca Denman, CCI Systems (06:25):
Hi, I am Rebecca Denman. I'm the business development manager for technical engineering services.
Jessica Denson, Host (06:30):
All three of them are very friendly, which is why I invited them over to the podcast. Tell me, Nick, let's start with you. Why was it important for CCI to come to this event?
Nick Hurzeler, CCI Systems (06:40):
It's a great question. So there's a lot going on in the industry right now. You can almost call it the golden era of the telecommunications industry. And this event has, it's providing a lot of knowledge of what's coming up with all of the different grant programs and what different states have planned. And we really just came here to learn and meet with future and existing customers.
Jessica Denson, Host (07:00):
And Sonja, for you, why was it important? You're the vice president of corporate operations, so a lot of big decisions have to be made and there's a lot of money out there right now, right? Is CCI gunning for some of that or hoping for some of that or need some of that to really expand.
Sonja Matzke, CCI Systems (07:15):
So we're lucky and well positioned to help a lot of people with that money and expanding. We do a lot of engineering design consulting. We'll help with grant writing all the way through cybersecurity. So we're here to really understand the timing and make sure that we're staffed up to help all of our partners out there.
Jessica Denson, Host (07:31):
And as Nick mentioned, it's a very critical time right now. And Rebecca, you're the business development manager. So talk a little bit about what CCI Systems does and who you work with.
Rebecca Denman, CCI Systems (07:44):
So we're really a nationwide company. Our focus is really across all markets and offering all services. We can really see our customers through with end-to-end solutions for their communication network. As both Sonya and Nick touched on, we do a lot of grant writing, consulting, engineering services, construction management and inspection. We do fiber splicing. We offer cybersecurity and no services.
Jessica Denson, Host (08:12):
Sonja, tell me, do you work directly with providers or are you actually a provider? Yes, so we work
Sonja Matzke, CCI Systems (08:21):
For providers predominantly. We do have our own small cable system in Northeast Wisconsin as well, but predominantly we work for the different communication networks.
Jessica Denson, Host (08:31):
And are there any challenges right now with infrastructure needs? Oh,
Sonja Matzke, CCI Systems (08:34):
Of course. Everybody, especially the rural areas that we're talking about, are looking for that high speed, low cost solution. And so we're really proud to be part of creating that infrastructure across the United States.
Jessica Denson, Host (08:47):
And Nick, again, just reminding people your different roles, you're the director of business development, so the three of you do work hand in hand, but what are some challenges that you're seeing in this time? Because there's so much money out there, I imagine there's some new players that are kind of making a grab for that and some that have been around for a long time that really need it. In your point of view, what's CCI i's system's role in all of that?
Nick Hurzeler, CCI Systems (09:13):
Well, first and foremost, we want to make sure that we're staffing up and anticipating what our existing customers are going to do so we can make sure that we're taking care of the people that have taken care of us for such a long time. We also want to be able to go out and as a united front, be able to help new customers who are coming into the industry and really just trying to get a feel for timing on all of the different states. It seems like it's been a little bit of a moving target, so we're just trying to make sure that we're staying ahead of the game and staffing up and getting as much forecast as possible so we can help everybody.
Jessica Denson, Host (09:47):
That's an understatement. Moving target is very much what it's been. I think the laughter behind. Yeah, everybody knows exactly what you mean. So I just have one more question. I'd like each of you to answer it. What do you hope comes out of this summit this weekend, this week?
Nick Hurzeler, CCI Systems (10:01):
Visibility. That's probably the main thing for me is getting a better understanding of what the next steps look like and also networking.
Jessica Denson, Host (10:08):
And for you, Sonya?
Sonja Matzke, CCI Systems (10:10):
Yes, I think especially after the last number of years, it's just great to see people in person and of course the timing, but more than anything, shaking some hands and looking at people's eyes
Jessica Denson, Host (10:19):
And Rebecca, you get the final word.
Rebecca Denman, CCI Systems (10:22):
I'm looking forward to the content shared. I think we're going to take a lot away from all of this keynote speakers here. Really excited to hear each and every one of 'em. And like Nick said, our visibility here, we're very excited about that as well.
Jessica Denson, Host (10:35):
Well, I really appreciate you all again, Nick, Sonja, Rebecca, all from CCI Systems, Inc. Thank you so much. Yep, thank you. Thank you.
Alejandro Pinero, Fierce Tech (10:44):
We are at the US Broadband Summit. I'm with Alejandro. Alejandro,
Jessica Denson, Host (10:49):
You say your last name. I don't want to. Alejandro Pinero. Pinero, yes.
Alejandro Pinero, Fierce Tech (10:52):
You're the head of content for Fierce Tech. You guys are leading this conference, right?
Jessica Denson, Host (10:59):
Yeah, that's right. So we're the conference organizers. So within Fierce Tech we have several different verticals. We look at telecom, wireless, as well as other things like streaming and electronics. Within this event we're focusing on fierce telecom. So we've put this together to bring together all the different folks that are working on bringing connectivity across the United States.
Alejandro Pinero, Fierce Tech (11:24):
Why is now the time for this? I know this is the inaugural US Broadband
Jessica Denson, Host (11:27):
Summit, which kind of surprised
Jessica Denson, Host (11:29):
Me. I thought there's
Alejandro Pinero, Fierce Tech (11:30):
Probably been some before, but why is now the time?
Jessica Denson, Host (11:34):
Yeah, so I mean it is inaugural in terms of being here in person. We've been running events virtually as many colleagues have, right? In terms of getting folks together online, talking about the digital divide, fiber wireless solutions, and how to get folks connected both in terms of reach but also affordability. But this is really a unique time for the broadband industry. There's a tremendous amount of funding being made available at a federal level and also into the States right? Bead program right now is in full swing. The states are submitting all of their plans for public consultation and they'll be submitting those to NTIA and then comes really the thick of it, which is actually deploying all this fiber and wireless solutions to connect folks. So we thought that this was the right time to bring not only those organizations that are in charge of the funding, but also the states, the state broadband officers that are receiving those funds as well as the industry, the wider industry. And we have over 20 states here represented this week and we're looking forward to very productive conversations, which we hope lead towards bridging that digital divide.
Alejandro Pinero, Fierce Tech (12:49):
I noticed that you have some big heavy hitters. Comcast is one of your sponsors at t Fiber, but there's also a lot of smaller providers here. In your point of view, after having these conversations over the last couple of years and what's ahead, how do you see the role of the larger providers and the smaller providers should they work together in partnership? What do you see with that?
Jessica Denson, Host (13:14):
Yeah, I think there's a role to play for everyone. When we talk about bridging the digital divide, we can't think about it as a competitive exercise. If we're going to get everyone connected, we need to work together as an industry and there will be a role to play for those big national carriers that you mentioned there, right? But also ISPs, cable providers, rural or the electric co-ops as well, as well as those rural and regional carriers and fiber and internet providers. So it needs to be a joint effort. There needs to be partnerships built so that we continue to build those footprints and reach communities that are currently either in the dark or don't have reliable or fast services. So sometimes those regional players will have more reach into their communities, they will better understand where the requirements are and how to get to folks that need that connectivity. And then of course you've got the power of those national players who have the muscle and the ability to invest. So we are firm believers here at FIERCE that there's a role for everyone to play and we hope that looking at this event that comes to light in terms of the different companies and different scale of companies that are present,
Alejandro Pinero, Fierce Tech (14:31):
This is the inaugural one, as I said earlier. So what do you hope happens when we're in the 10th one, the fifth one, do you think the conversations in your perfect world, will they shift from affordability and accessibility to new ideas and things like that?
Jessica Denson, Host (14:47):
Yeah, the beautiful thing about working in tech is that it's always evolving. I think we have something really important as an industry right now, which is a mission to connect everyone, and that's nothing new. We've been working on that for years and years, but there's certainly a big push now and the technology is there to really make an impact. I think going forward, we'll hopefully stop talking about the unconnected, but on how to evolve those services, how to get more people involved with the digital economy and the services that they're receiving, but really looking at connectivity as a given, as a right or a utility for folks. So we hope that in five, 10 years time we're talking about what to do with that connectivity, what services we can provide as an industry of value to those communities and less about we need to put the fiber down or we need to put the antenna up or whatever it might be. We need to get everyone connected and then see what we can do for them with that.
Alejandro Pinero, Fierce Tech (15:47):
Alright, well thank you so much. Alejandro Panera,
Jessica Denson, Host (15:50):
Right? That's right.
Alejandro Pinero, Fierce Tech (15:52):
Head of content with Fierce Tech. Thank you
Jessica Denson, Host (15:55):
So much. Absolutely. Thank you, Jessica. Pleasure.
Jessica Denson, Host (15:57):
Okay, so I am at the US Broadband Summit and I'm talking with Moses Singh. Is that your name? Correct? Yes. And you are with Odine
Moses Singh, Anodyne Technologies Inc (16:04):
Odine Technologies Inc.
Jessica Denson, Host (16:06):
Sometimes I have a hard time pronouncing all these wild names. Tell me your role with the organization.
Moses Singh, Anodyne Technologies Inc (16:12):
I'm the founder and president of Anodyne Technologies. We design five G broadband, fiber optics, IOT networks. We design, implement, and work for public agencies, state, local, and pretty much the enterprise wide. We're a new startup, but I've been in this business for 41 years. One form or the other, I started my career in the Air Force on rf, radio systems, radar, things of that nature. Then I worked for Macaw, which became at T Wireless and went on, worked for T-Mobile. I did many roles as a consultant for Bell Labs and many public agencies including New York, MTA, and the city of New York, et cetera. I'm here because a lot of colleagues are here and this is my field. Broadband comes in two parts, if you will. There's a fiber base which everybody knows about, but there's also the wireless base that's also considered broadband.
Jessica Denson, Host (17:13):
And so you've been in it for so long. Why do you just love the industry?
Moses Singh, Anodyne Technologies Inc (17:17):
Well, I've started and it has changed in many ways. I joke that I started when everybody's talking about five G today I was negative 10 G when I started. It was very ancient and I grew along with all the new developments and the new products and services that came out.
Jessica Denson, Host (17:35):
And you came up to me and you were telling me that you do a lot in New York City. Some things you can't talk about, correct. But you do do some things with some first responders. How important is it to have first responders connected?
Moses Singh, Anodyne Technologies Inc (17:47):
That is critical. After nine 11, I was with a small company and we were deployed to see if we could help New York City with restoring their infrastructure for telecom. And pretty much everything in the World Street Center went down and basically created a hole in communication. And it was so important. Many of the fire department, EMS, even your ambulance corps, they rely on broadband wireless to get their work done. And so LMR is what the most of them use. And I was fortunate to deploy an LMR in the state of New Jersey for what was called Tetra. Tetra is amazing. And now New York City bus is using it and it's quite a very fascinating LMR model to work with.
Jessica Denson, Host (18:34):
What do you mean by LMR? Explain
Moses Singh, Anodyne Technologies Inc (18:36):
That a lot. Mobile radio. So that's like a walkie-talkie that people think of. You see the fire department or the police department and he or she has to connect back to base and know what the situation is, where to go, how to respond, et cetera. It's critical.
Jessica Denson, Host (18:49):
And a lot of that technology has now gone to wireless and internet, correct?
Moses Singh, Anodyne Technologies Inc (18:53):
It's always been wireless. People didn't realize it. And then they are towers that now we connect them to fiber and bring 'em back to maybe a central dispatch or command control. So that's essential to know where to go, how to react, how many firetruck should I deploy, how many ambulance need to come there, how many police we need for public safety. So all these things are very critical.
Jessica Denson, Host (19:20):
And why do you think this is the inaugural US Broadband Summit. Why do you think this is important to be a part of and to attend?
Moses Singh, Anodyne Technologies Inc (19:27):
Well, in many factors here we're talking about a digital divide. We have a very large percentage for a developed country to have so many of the population that don't have access to affordable broadband. Many people can't afford it. Many places you go, there's a hole, your phone cannot connect to anything, so that's critical. We should have connectivity basically a hundred percent. I don't see why we can't do it. So many of those issues are being dealt with here. The states have a bead program, they have money, now they have to decide how are we going to spend this money and it doesn't cover everything because a lot of the money has to come from the state and then there'll be the other private company has to come up with additional cash to deploy this network. It's not easy. It's perfect on paper of course, but in effect, it's difficult to Do
Jessica Denson, Host (20:15):
You work in a primarily urban area? Of course. Is that where your expertise is? Is it lie in urban
Moses Singh, Anodyne Technologies Inc (20:21):
Or is there some rural? I have done in my early days of Macau, we were building cell sites that were called boomers, so there was nothing there. It was open country or there was a hill that prevent a cell site from servicing a particular conduit for traffic, a highway or a secondary road. And it was difficult to do those implementation and still now there are many places where you have no cell coverage and it's critical an for you to make a 9 1 1 call, it wouldn't happen because you have no coverage.
Jessica Denson, Host (20:52):
What would you like to see come out of this summit and over the next few years is this money, this billions of dollars are spent?
Moses Singh, Anodyne Technologies Inc (21:00):
I feel with summits, events like these we're bringing the keenest minds, people who have been in the industry a long time and government and industries now coming together to figure how do we do this? How do we implement a program that basically serves everybody and to make it cost-effective as well.
Jessica Denson, Host (21:22):
What would you like the audience to take away about your organization and the role that it has? Well,
Moses Singh, Anodyne Technologies Inc (21:27):
I'm a veteran of the United States Air Force and I bring a perspective of how critical communication is, and now you deploy that same technology into the daily lives of every American citizen is critical of their connected. During the pandemic, we realized how many families had no internet access and children were being homeschooled, right? We couldn't go to school or home and many families had no way of actually accessing the web. I was lucky to work in a program in New York City that I can talk about when they were doing five pilot projects to serve the public housing so these residents can have connectivity and it was difficult to implement there as well.
Jessica Denson, Host (22:12):
Well, thank you Moses Singh. I appreciate your time.
Moses Singh, Anodyne Technologies Inc (22:14):
Thank you very much.
Jessica Denson, Host (22:16):
I am still at the US Broadband Summit today, and I'm talking with Al Jenkins who used to do some IT and telecom for the city of New York. But now as a consultant, tell our audience a little bit about what you do and your background.
Al Jenkins, Telecom Consultant (22:27):
Sure. My background really came from the city of New York in the Department of IT and telecommunications. As a former deputy Commissioner of telecommunications planning there, I actually served as the chief broadband architect in the city of New York to do and manage all of the franchisees in the city to include the mobile telecom operators as well as the fiber franchisees in the city of New York. Also manage the negotiation from all telecommunications providers providing telecom services to the city of New York's agencies across the city. Another function really was to do the broadband planning unit, and so that planning unit was responsible for managing all of the vertical and horizontal assets. The city of New York actually own and brokering the relationship between the city and those mobile providers that were providing services to the city. Since then, I've sort of moved on to Facebook connectivity, managing all of the urban wireless deployments for Facebook and urban marketplaces.
The idea was to seed technical services as well as capital to hyper-local ISPs to stand them up to provide services. Since the NTIA and the federal government sort of jumped into the game and started providing bead monies or upcoming bead monies to state broadband offices, I've sort of since graduated to provide services to state broadband planning offices, particularly around broadband mapping and data and business case analysis. So as to have the state broadband offices be able to have a tool and to have services that will be able to conduct how they would award potential grantees monies to provide broadband services in eligible areas across the state. Of course, the states have already given away a lot of broadband monies through capital projects and US treasury funding as well as to a funding. And so now they have to figure out where their eligible areas are in the state. A lot of states don't have the broadband mapping to do that, so I provide that services for them to determine where those eligible areas are in the state going forward. So that's one of the primary functions
Jessica Denson, Host (24:52):
That we do. There's quite a pedigree. I have so many questions squirreling in my head. First, let's talk about why it's important to get those broadband maps correct. Explain that.
Al Jenkins, Telecom Consultant (25:02):
Well, yeah, of course. I mean, initially there was some controversy, if you will, in reference to where the accuracy and the viable broadband service locations actually are. And so being able to scrub that, what a variety of different data sets to include Microsoft, to include Google, to include four or five other resources to include the FCC. Now that has gotten better in terms of its accuracy in terms of broadband services, all locations. But then with every single state having issued already prior broadband grants on the ground, many of these new applicants that are applying for new broadband grants may not know where those eligible areas are. And so to prevent overbuilding and overfunding a variety of different licensees or applicants, we have to kind of determine where that is first. And that is really important. So the states won't squander monies and issuing a lot of the monies to those grantees or those awardees in areas that are already having services either fiber or by the way, unlicensed or licensed wireless services that may be providing services already are greater than 100 by 20 speeds today. So that's really the biggest piece in why it's important
Jessica Denson, Host (26:24):
To have this. It's a huge piece, a huge piece, spending the money wisely and really making this time matter. So I do want to go back to that pedigree that you just shared with us, which is incredible. You really have some knowledge in this space. So talk about how it's changed over the years and what's different about this moment in time.
Al Jenkins, Telecom Consultant (26:45):
Well, I think at one time there was a reluctance for a lot of the carriers to kind of engage with municipal governments because of legacy bureaucracy issues and legacy issues with capital projects, particularly in broadband. But now that the federal administration now has invested in bringing the broadband to every single household in the nation, the dynamic has actually changed. And so state broadband offices like never before, now have to engage and bill resources inside to serve not only with infrastructure, but digital equity programs, digital adoption programs. And one of the biggest cases is affordability, understanding where there is an affordability gap in bringing the digital divide and then finding out really who the viable players are. As many in this conference has talked about bringing a private public partnership together in order to sort of bridge that gap. So it's going to take sort of a village to kind of solve this issue.
And that is really what has the dynamic that has changed before, is really putting the resources together, really bringing the partnerships together and having them sort of relate to the municipal government agencies like that has never been before. And so to me, the biggest dynamic that's changing right now, of course, there's a lot of federal funding that's on the ground too that's never been there before. And so it's sort of a once in a lifetime opportunity. And I think that is a compelling reason for everybody to sort of join the table together and figure out how and who and what and when they can put the pieces together. And so I think that's the biggest dynamic that has changed there.
Jessica Denson, Host (28:28):
So I understand it's a very complicated issue, the idea of broadband and how to bring the infrastructure to everyone, urban and rural. What one piece of advice would you give state broadband leaders right now?
Al Jenkins, Telecom Consultant (28:41):
Well, one piece of advice is really to sort of understand, well, the time to market and the shot clocks that have been imposed upon you to actually distribute this once in a lifetime program is really going to be the most difficult piece for them to manage. One piece of advice is really kind of bring in the type of resources to human capital, though actually understands broadband. There's been a lot of people in this space who've been maybe, and there's nothing wrong with certainly having a background in law or policy making or anything else, but when you're starting to build broadband networks, you actually have to have the capital resources that have had the experience and doing this before. If not, you're building a lot of other policy of which policy has been there in the ground before, but nothing's ever been built. And it's been because there hasn't been enough of those that have experienced that are in the state broadband offices because the state broadband offices didn't exist in many cases years ago.
But bringing in the human capital that understands how to build broadband networks, whether it's fiber and or last mile wireless, is going to be critical in terms of being successful in building this in the ground. I think also bringing in those social services of which state broadband offices have never had before, and understanding how to grow digital skill sets to grow digital equity, to grow digital adoption, to be able to actually close the affordability gap with ACP programs are going to be sort of the challenges of the state broadband office and being able to reach out to every single one of the communities that are disadvantaged first as a priority opposed to what has happened in the past with broadband networks is building it in the affluent zip codes first and then perhaps never worrying about those. So I think closing those digital equity gaps are going to be the challenges. And the way to do that is really bringing the human resources that you need and have experience in doing this opposed to those that may have simply written policy or written law about it. However, those have never materialized to closing the digital divide in the past.
Jessica Denson, Host (31:07):
So this is a once in a lifetime. I've heard that a lot with the amount of money that's out there, the understanding of how important this is. Just closing question, in your perfect world, what would you like to see happen next?
Al Jenkins, Telecom Consultant (31:19):
Well, I'd love to see the broadband offices be able to truly identify where the unserved areas are and to equitably distribute this a hundred million plus of funding that they'll get from the federal government to close a digital divide. And I'd love to see them make choices in their programs, their implementation programs that include a hybrid solution, not simply all fiber in many states, they're not going to be able to get to every single household, even with the bead money that they have today. And so coming up with a solution for each state, some of the states which are smaller, can actually deploy fiber to every single household, whereas those states out west perhaps may not be able to do, use all of their capital just simply in fiber. So what I love to see them do is to be able to be smart enough to understand that the capital that they have, even from the bead funding, will not be able to get them fiber to every single household. And they will honestly bring in a last mile wireless solution as being not a substitute, but an alternative to compliment a fiber network that's going around the states. I would love to see them hear.
Jessica Denson, Host (32:38):
Right. Well, it's been nice talking to you, Al. Jen,
Kerry Haughan, SVP of Commercial Strategy, Calix (32:42):
Thank you very much.
Jessica Denson, Host (32:44):
I'm standing with Carrie Hahn, who is with cx. He's the senior Vice President of Commercial Strategy. Welcome. Thank you. Thank you for talking with me. I know you just did a keynote, correct? On the Digital Divide. I
Kerry Haughan, SVP of Commercial Strategy, Calix (32:56):
Jessica Denson, Host (32:57):
Talk a little bit about what you said and what message you really wanted to share. Well,
Kerry Haughan, SVP of Commercial Strategy, Calix (33:02):
Yes, thank you, Jessica. Well, thank you for the time as well and the conversation. So yeah, the main message, so the talk was just 20 minutes on how do we bridge the rural digital divide? And in the simplest answer, it's through rural providers. So there's lots of conversations that folks are going to be having about the various tactics that you can take. But from our perspective, we have 1300 customers, a thousand plus of them are rural. The idea is that these are the ones that are in the communities that they know how to get it done. And that if you're thinking about for the state office people, let's say, it's great if they can figure out ways to partner well with these rural providers because they're the ones that are going to be there. They've been there for a hundred years. They're electric co-ops, telephone or telephone. They, they've been handed down from generation to generation. They're not going to go anywhere. So they're going to work hard to see it through to make sure it works, as opposed to going with, let's say, a larger provider that's just sort of hunting for the money, let's say.
Jessica Denson, Host (34:02):
And I had the pleasure about a month ago to go to Vegas for the Calex Connections conference. Great. And all I heard was people excited about calex and everything you do in the rural America. So does caly really approach service for rural America and not urban? Or do you do a combination really? What's kind of the business model for calex?
Kerry Haughan, SVP of Commercial Strategy, Calix (34:24):
Oh, sure. So it's almost entirely rural. So I think one of the internal comments is we don't sell in NFL cities. That may change as time goes on, but the primary base for our customers are in the more rural areas. And if you've heard, you've saw it a lot, I'm sure if you, our connections, our mission of simplify, excite, and grow. So it's simplify our service providers business, excite their subscribers and help them grow their impact, their community, their value. And the idea behind that is that all of our business models and our sales motions and how we work with customers, we have a large customer success team. It's all about them. Being successful is the only way we'll be successful. So their brand, it's all their brand. It's not the Calx brand. A lot of folks don't know who Calx is. They may be customers using our equipment, but they wouldn't know it because of the brand of Calx doesn't show. It's because our goal is to try to help these Locus providers be successful.
Jessica Denson, Host (35:23):
So it's really smaller ISPs, not necessarily the T-Mobile's of the world or the Verizons of the world, but those little local ones, I say little, some of 'em are several states, but the smaller versions of that, right?
Kerry Haughan, SVP of Commercial Strategy, Calix (35:35):
Yes, for sure. And some of there are folks who own multiple locations, so there'll still be small providers. There'll be a relatively large enterprise, and they'll have locations in five or six different places throughout multiple states. But yes, for the most part, it's all for rural regional areas.
Jessica Denson, Host (35:54):
There was a lot of really cool stuff that I saw at Connections, including the smart rural city. Yeah, smart town. That's what, sorry. Thank you for helping me with that. Smart town. Smart business, smart education. Yes. And how is that going? People seemed really excited about
Kerry Haughan, SVP of Commercial Strategy, Calix (36:11):
That. Yeah, so Smart Town's great. And Smart Biz was the other one that's, I'll mention Smart Biz first, just because it's the simpler one to tell the story around is that it's a business solution that it's more of the ground up than the top down. So for a lot of small business, it kind of fits a think of the less than 20 employees. So for many of our rural providers, the most of their businesses are like that. So it allows them to provide a service, not just dialed up residential. And it's not the behemoth of needing an IT shop, which your local pizza shop doesn't have an IT shop. So they need to have a solution that's simple. And this is something that our BSPs can sell and they can manage and install Smart town's great. And it's not meant to be a big financial impact as much as supposed to be a community impact.
So it's taking all of the town, putting wifi radios out, having it be simple for folks to connect in town, such that when you leave your house, when you're walking through your town, you'll still be connected to wifi and it should be part of the subscription service. So if you have the subscription at home, you should have access to that in your town when you go through. And it's just started rolling out this year. We've got, I think about 15 or so folks that have installed it up and running in our early adopter program, and we're really starting to roll with it.
Jessica Denson, Host (37:38):
And how critical is that in rural America right now? Do you think that connection?
Kerry Haughan, SVP of Commercial Strategy, Calix (37:42):
Well, and I think there's part of my view just editorializing that's okay, that there's been this movement out of a lot of these towns and now they're starting to be with the work from home or work from anywhere, the ability for folks to live more often where they want to. And the predicate of that is you need to have broadband to be able to make that viable. And then I think there's a survey that, it's a longitudinal survey that's been going on for 80 years, and they say, folks, happiness is directly proportional to their distance from the city that the folks in the city are a little bit less, are the least happy folks in the suburbs, a little less happy. Folks in the middle of nowhere are the happiest because it's a more comfortable and happy place to be. So I think that there will be a movement, again, editorializing a movement towards folks wanting to be in these communities and wanting to put down roots and have the ability to live the happy and functional life in these places that they don't feel the need
Jessica Denson, Host (38:40):
To be. Well, we're really seeing a lot of big tech companies hire people out in rural areas right now because of that, right? Because they're being connected. We've seen that stat is changing. So this is the inaugural US Broadband Summit. Why did you feel it was important to be here this week?
Kerry Haughan, SVP of Commercial Strategy, Calix (38:59):
Well, so as I was mentioning in the panel before my talk as well as when I was speaking, it's the ability for how to figure out how to make bead work. So there's lots of money. So that's bringing lots of eyeballs, lots of attention. But then there's the process for how do we help these providers get connected? And then how the folks that provide these solutions to these folks help them build out these networks as well. This function in DC I think is a great place. You have the folks from the state broadband offices, you have providers here, and you have some customers, not as many as there will be in future years, but some customers here as we're all trying to figure out how are we going to take advantage of this new program,
Jessica Denson, Host (39:42):
And how critical do you feel it is to partner? It's not just one provider is not going to fix it, it's going to take a bunch, right? A lot of work.
Kerry Haughan, SVP of Commercial Strategy, Calix (39:53):
So our view is to work through the service providers themselves. So we would want to go, the examples I'll use, I'll use Tom Big Beef, sorry.
Jessica Denson, Host (40:04):
It's a great one. I talked to the head of Tom Bigby.
Kerry Haughan, SVP of Commercial Strategy, Calix (40:08):
It's a wonderful story, and it's a electric co-op that went from not having fiber to having 21,000 subscribers over three years. And he's running a wildly profitable business. And that money that he makes goes back to the co-op members. So he's in the community and he's also the one that they put out the smart town into their football stadiums.
Jessica Denson, Host (40:32):
Oh, yes. And that was a
Kerry Haughan, SVP of Commercial Strategy, Calix (40:32):
Free service for all their subscribers and the townspeople to say, listen, we're Tom Bigby. We're here. When you talk to folks that have our service and they tell you how excited and how much they enjoy it, this is who
Jessica Denson, Host (40:44):
You, and if you, I've lived in a small town America, that's where I went to high schools cash in Oklahoma and football. That's the answer
Kerry Haughan, SVP of Commercial Strategy, Calix (40:51):
Exactly right. When you're northern Mississippi, you don't have cell towel coverage that they want. So not only there's not much coverage if no one is there. When you put a couple thousand people up in the stands, you can't really get anything done. And to have there be not just bad cell coverage, to have powerful broadband wifi, it was a great lots of local news talking about experience for everybody. It was great. And the great thing about it too is that this Tom Bigby is building their brand and building their community where folks are now. It's almost like a source of pride for folks from the area to say, yes, I'm a Tom Bigby custody. It's a part of the community.
Jessica Denson, Host (41:31):
So closing question. Sure. What do you hope comes from meetings like this, conferences, like connection conferences, like the Summit, all of this, these talk, what do you hope comes from it? Yeah,
Kerry Haughan, SVP of Commercial Strategy, Calix (41:43):
So I hope you've got the vibe at connections, especially if you meet a lot of the customers because they are the small rural providers that they're excited about the business and they're excited about what they do, and there's thousands more like them across the us. And so the hope is that as bead rolls out and as we start to cross this digital divide, that these small providers are going to be the ones that will do it, and that they're going to be running manageable, profitable business that provides stability and access for all those folks in those communities, that it isn't a sort of fly by night activity that sort of drops off broadband and then moves off for these folks because they're not going to be, once this goes through, those towns are still there, and they're going to be the same level of attribution that they have now from some of the bigger providers. We think the rural providers are going to be there for the long haul to provide a better service.
Jessica Denson, Host (42:40):
And as calx, it must be an exciting time to work with those small providers when there's this funding that can help them get to those last mile, that middle mile, that type of thing.
Kerry Haughan, SVP of Commercial Strategy, Calix (42:49):
It is as this rolls out. And that's a big, as I mentioned in the talk, one of the biggest concerns I have is so many of them sitting on the sideline that they don't maybe recognize this is a generational opportunity, and if they don't do something about it, somebody else will. So there was one provider, if you have, I can bore you with one anecdote. No,
Jessica Denson, Host (43:10):
I love anecdotes.
Kerry Haughan, SVP of Commercial Strategy, Calix (43:10):
Having breakfast at connections with a gentleman who ran a co-op, broadband electric co-op, did broadband in Indiana. I went to college and he was saying, I asked him, are you going to do bead? He goes, I don't know. Because he could build out in all the areas surrounding where he has fiber. He goes, I don't know if I'm going to or not. It's a lot of hassle, a lot of work. And I had said, this is a generational opportunity. Who better than you to build into that town next to you? And he says, yeah. He goes, I don't know. I said, if you don't, big scary tier one provider that you don't want to compete, with's going to come in and it's just going to be erased to the bottom on price, and you're going to be inviting them into your neighborhood. He goes, yeah.
He goes, believe it or not, they put a challenge in for his town. So he's built out fiber and they're just throwing it at the wall because they're like, Hey, there's all this money out there. Can I come get this? And I think from my perspective, it was my fear would be that he doesn't take advantage of this opportunity to double, triple, quadruple the size of his network in the areas nearby. It would be easy for him, relatively easy for him to do. He's got the connections, he's got the brand, he's got all of the people in the community and his service. Why not extend that out to the towns nearby?
Jessica Denson, Host (44:27):
And speaking, frankly, when you have billions of dollars on the table million, you may have some players that don't really understand the business model even,
Kerry Haughan, SVP of Commercial Strategy, Calix (44:36):
Right? Yes. And they're like Tom Big B. The example I use, which there's many of these, they have an NPS score in 91, which is ridiculous. It's out of zero to a hundred. The average for internet is 13, so that means the average 13. That means there's a lot of them that are below 13, and there's nameable ones that say they're below 13, and that's the type of service that they're going to be bringing out to these markets, not the 91 NPS, not the 80 NPS scores that these local rural providers are providing. It's a very different experience for folks.
Jessica Denson, Host (45:13):
Well, thank you, Carrie Hanh with cex. I appreciate your
Kerry Haughan, SVP of Commercial Strategy, Calix (45:16):
Time. Yeah, I appreciate it. Thanks for the time. Bye-Bye.
Jessica Denson, Host (45:20):
I'll be at the US Broadband Summit for the next few days, and we'll continue to bring you stories from the field.
Until next time, I'm Jessica Denson. Thanks for listening to Connect Nation. If you like our show and want to know more about us, head to connected nation.org or look for the latest episodes on iTunes, iHeartRadio, Google Podcast, Pandora, or Spotify.