Connected Nation

Inside the 2024 Broadband Communities Summit (Part Three)

May 08, 2024 Jessica Denson Season 5 Episode 16
Inside the 2024 Broadband Communities Summit (Part Three)
Connected Nation
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Connected Nation
Inside the 2024 Broadband Communities Summit (Part Three)
May 08, 2024 Season 5 Episode 16
Jessica Denson

Today, the Connected Nation podcast is back covering the 2024 Broadband Communities Summit in The Woodlands, Texas. The event serves as a hub of collaboration and innovation for some of the biggest names in broadband, all working towards a shared mission of closing the Digital Divide.

On today's second episode, you'll hear from one company that's helping to train skilled broadband workers. You'll hear from another that's helping ISPs improve and extend their networks, and you'll hear from a small provider that's been working on unserved areas since the beginning, thanks to a friendship between three men.

Recommended Links:
Martin Lee LinkedIn
Light Brigade

Ian McIntosh LinkedIn
TAK Communications Inc.

Pam Waggoner LinkedIn
Resound Networks

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Today, the Connected Nation podcast is back covering the 2024 Broadband Communities Summit in The Woodlands, Texas. The event serves as a hub of collaboration and innovation for some of the biggest names in broadband, all working towards a shared mission of closing the Digital Divide.

On today's second episode, you'll hear from one company that's helping to train skilled broadband workers. You'll hear from another that's helping ISPs improve and extend their networks, and you'll hear from a small provider that's been working on unserved areas since the beginning, thanks to a friendship between three men.

Recommended Links:
Martin Lee LinkedIn
Light Brigade

Ian McIntosh LinkedIn
TAK Communications Inc.

Pam Waggoner LinkedIn
Resound Networks

Jessica Denson (00:08):

This is Connected Nation, an award-winning podcast focused on all things broadband from closing the digital divide to improving your internet speeds with talk technology topics, and impact all of us, our families and our neighborhoods. In this special edition of the Connected Nation podcast, we continue our coverage from the Broadband Community Summit taking place just outside of Houston, Texas. On this episode, you'll hear from one company that's helping to train skilled broadband workers. You'll hear from another that's helping ISPs improve and extend their networks, and you'll hear from a small provider that's been working on unserved areas since the beginning. Thanks to a friendship between three men. I'm Jessica Desen and this is Connected Nation. I am in the exhibitors hall of the Broadband Community Summit taking place in the Woodlands just outside of Houston, Texas. And I have happened across a group called Light Brigade and I have talked Martin Lee, who is the president and CEO of the company into talking with me about what your company does and why you're here. Welcome Martin. Martin Lee (01:11):

Good morning, Jessica. Thank you for taking his time with us. Yeah. Jessica Denson (01:15):

Talk a little bit about what Light Brigade does. I know it says fiber optic skills training, but that could cover a lot of things. Correct. Okay. Martin Lee (01:21):

So we've been established for over 37 years doing fiber optic training long before it came fashionable with the current broadband and bead initiative. So we cover all markets, but it does exactly as we say. We deliver skills training. So we take people that have never touched fiber before and we teach 'em all about fiber optic theory, and then we take them through the various skills training that could be learning to splice, learning how to use an OTDR, learning how to connect to eyes, fiber, and so forth on that. As I say, we take everybody from note people that have never touched fiber before or maybe that people have been in fiber for a while, but need to improve their skills or learn a bit more about OTDR skills or fiber characterization and that type of thing. Jessica Denson (02:07):

What part of the country do you work in? Is it all over? Are Martin Lee (02:10):

You global? We actually work globally. We actually work globally, mostly in the us but we have a number of customers in Europe and we a couple in Asia. Most of the time it's in the us. We have scheduler classes throughout the year covering all the states. In fact, we had a team up in Arctic Circle a couple of weeks ago teaching a mining company there. This week we actually launch our broadband fiber optic technician class in Charlotte, North Carolina, and that class will be the first class nationally to be awarded the broadband fiber optic installer qualification from the ETA, the Electronic Technician Association, who we work very closely with there. So we're all over. We're all Jessica Denson (02:53):

Over. So the trainers that you used to train people, are these people who've been doing this for decades or? Yeah, that's Martin Lee (03:02):

Absolutely correct, Jessica. Yeah, we've got a wide range of instructions. I would say all different skill levels and skill sets, but yeah, they are mainly people that have come from the industry. A few that have been involved, I would say in fiber, but come to the training, I've kind of found that as their vocation early on. A few of our instructors have actually been with us over 25 years. Jessica Denson (03:23):

So one thing I hear a lot talking to providers is the need for skilled workers. So this is something that's not going to go away soon. This is going to be something that could be long-term is. What is your thought? What are your thoughts on the future of people who have these skills? Martin Lee (03:40):

Well, the first thing I'd say is I think we need to realize as a nation, which is quite funny, coming from a British guy, but I'm actually a US citizen now. I've been here over 12 years. But I think there needs to be a recognition that broadband or fiber broadband is really the fourth utility, and I think it needs that recognition and that support. And I think with the bead initiative that's happening, what I would say is I think it's not a sprint. I think broadband's here to stay. So I think when we look at bringing people into the industry, and there's obviously that need with the amount of investment that's happening, but what we try and communicate that it's a career. Yeah, it's not a job, it's a career. And that you might start off just doing fiber optic technician training, but that person in a number of years could be a supervisor, they could be a manager, they could be designing FTTH networks.
This is never going to stop. AI's coming, five G's coming, we're all going to be busy, we're all going to be employed for a long time. So when we talk to youngsters and we work with a number of community colleges across the country as well there we operate a train the trainer program. So we actually have secured a state, literally last month where we will now roll out our training program to all their community colleges. And we're in the process of training their trainers, their teachers, that some of them have never touched fiber optics before. So that's both exciting and daunting at the same time. Yeah, Jessica Denson (05:18):

I imagine our listeners are probably hearing some wildness happening behind us. We are in an exhibit hall and there are a lot of exhibitors, about a hundred here. What have you heard from people that are coming up to you and whether it's ISPs or other groups, state broadband officers, what are you hearing from them about the need? Martin Lee (05:37):

Well, just that there is the need, and I think most companies or most organizations, they think, how on earth are we going going to satisfy that demand? And that's why companies like us exist. We're doing well, we continue to roll out. As I say, we've just launched our broadband academy and that's a of classes, we're just trying to meet that demand specifically. Yeah, it's going to be interesting. I think the thing that's missing though is how do we get youngsters into the business? How do we persuade them from rather than taking a job, say at Starbucks or wherever, that look at fiber optics. And I think a lot of that, that could be said for many of the vocational trades, but I think what we try and do is demonstrate, again, as I said before, is look upon it as a career, not a job. Yeah, Jessica Denson (06:31):

Yeah. I noticed on your signage it says in person online at your site. So how do people get involved if they are interested in LightBridge? Martin Lee (06:39):

Light Brigade? Jessica Denson (06:40):

Oh, light Brigade. I was saying LightBridge. It is Light Brigade. I apologize. No worries, worries. Light brigade. No worries. Martin Lee (06:47):

So all our classes are advertised on our website, and so you can see where we're going to be across the country. As I say, we are working with a number of community colleges that are doing our programs, but also if you are a company out there and you've got a number of technicians, we'll actually come to your site, we'll actually bring instructors and all the equipment. We've got a very, very slick, I would say, logistics operation. And we will come to your premises or onsite and we'll actually give the training there. So that's probably about 50% of what we do is actually on customer premises. On customer sites. Jessica Denson (07:25):

Well, I'll include a link to your website in the description of this podcast, and it is light brigade. I can read, I think when I first stepped up, I read it in a different way in my brain. No Martin Lee (07:35):

Worries, Jessica Denson (07:36):

No worries. Before I let you go, Martin, one last question. What do you hope to see in the future five, 10 years down the road within this space? Martin Lee (07:46):

I think like all of us, we want to see the penetration in the market. We want to see the rural communities enjoy those benefits of broadband. And I think that it's going to happen. It's definitely going to happen, and I think that will bring communities connected together. I think some of the underserved areas are going to prosper improve, which is what it's all about. And I think you hear about that equity, broadband equity, and I think that's very true. Who knows where we'll be in five years, I'm sure there'll be a new technology broadband tool or something, but at the moment we're just focused on that challenge of bead and the current broadband requirements. Jessica Denson (08:30):

Alright, well thank you so much for joining me and talking about your company. Thank you, Martin Lee (08:33):

Jessica. Thank you. Jessica Denson (08:34):

Thanks. And that is Martin Lee, president and CEO of Light Brigade. I am in the exhibitor booth at the Broadband Community Summit in Woodlands of Texas, which is just outside of Houston. I've mentioned that a couple of times. I have stopped by a company called TAC Communications and I am standing with Ian McIntosh, who's the VP of Sales and new business. Did I say your last name correctly, sir? You did, Ian McIntosh (08:57):

Yes. It's Ian Macintosh. Thank you. Jessica Denson (08:59):

Right. You're, we've talked about you're a British person, but you are a British national, what do you call it? British. Ian McIntosh (09:07):

Yeah, British. So I am a bit of a mutt. I am half English, half Scottish, but have been in the United States for 17 years working in the telecommunication industry. Yeah, and Jessica Denson (09:15):

You're saying you married a woman from Louisiana, Ian McIntosh (09:17):

Right? I did. I've got a raging cage in her home. Should be feisty, but she's fattening me up with that good cooking from the sales. Jessica Denson (09:24):

I will tell our audience that the background, Ian's coworker is laughing at him about why think, joshing him a little bit. Really friendly bunch. So tell us a little bit about t say it right Communications? Ian McIntosh (09:36):

Absolutely, yes. Tech communications. So tech communications, we've been around for 20 plus years now. We're based out of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. We started out as a door-to-door sales team, just a group of guys getting out there, door to door sales for the local ISPs and then gradually progressed into installs and drops for those providers. And then throughout the years we've expanded our services into construction, some of the field engineering work, but continue to maintain our structure around our drops and installs being a huge proponent of our business. Jessica Denson (10:09):

So we do have a wide variety of listeners. We do have some high techies and some that are not so much like myself. So when you say a drop or an install, what do you mean by that? Ian McIntosh (10:18):

Absolutely, yes. So the drops are obviously the network architecture. So whether it's fiber or coax from the pole or pedestal within the right of way into the home to deliver service. And then from an in-store perspective is taking that drop and then turning that into service. So turning up the electronic equipment, the modems, wifi, cable boxes in the home and really getting that service turned up for providers. Jessica Denson (10:42):

So you support the providers, you're not an actual provider, but you support them with workforce and equipment? Ian McIntosh (10:49):

Absolutely, yeah. So our focus is really the skilled labor side of the equation. So most of the providers we work with bring the materials, bring obviously their architecture, and we are the ones that actually go out there, deploy it, whether it's in the ground, in the air, in the home. Jessica Denson (11:04):

Now, I dunno if I missed this, but are you just in one part of the country? Are you all over? Are you global? Ian McIntosh (11:10):

Oh, we're not global. I'd love to be global. There's a few countries that I would like our business to be in, but today we're pretty much national. We are physically in 41 states. We cover about 45 states. We are not in Hawaii or Alaska, which is where I would like to visit. So if anybody wants service there, let me know because I would like an office in one of those locations. But yes, we're national. In all of our services, we deliver nationally across the main footprint of the United States with very few exceptions. Jessica Denson (11:37):

So I imagine with your title, VP of sales and new business that you really have to know what's on the horizon. What's next? Is there anything you're excited about? Ian McIntosh (11:48):

Yeah, so my background, I'm an engineer by trade. I've been in the industry for a number of years in the United States. So I actually started out with Time Warner Cable. I went to Google Fiber and spent a little time on Google Cloud to find out what was actually on the network and then decided, hey, tech communication is a good place to land. This is an exciting business to be in today. A lot of government funding and a lot of opportunity for us to expand and work with more providers. From a technology perspective, it's moving very fast. I think a lot of people are really wondering where speeds are going today. I'm more excited around things like quantum computing and what is that going to do for network architecture and speeds in the future. I think everybody's a little hesitant to say that we need a gigabit of internet or 10 gigabit that we're seeing in some industries today, but I'm really excited by where the technology's going and what that means for the internet as a whole. Jessica Denson (12:44):

I know you said that your wife is from Louisiana and your neighboring state in Tennessee. They've got Chattanooga, which is doing some pretty cool things, including some quantum challenges. Are you seeing things like that other places? Ian McIntosh (12:56):

I have not seen that outside of Chattanooga. So a big fan of what they're doing in Chattanooga, Tennessee. They've obviously built, I think the world's first quantum network, so I'm really excited to see how they're going about that and what that means broadly for fiber deployment. Obviously they're much further ahead of the game. There's a lot of tech investment in that market, so they're obviously attracting a lot of new talent and industries. So it'll be interesting to see where that goes in the future and really what they're doing and how that could be applied across network deployment as a whole. I know they've had to develop some devices for that, and I listened to one of their leaders in the space a couple of months ago, and they're very excited about where that could go and what that actually means for the industry. I think we really need computing power to catch up with that network architecture, but today, quantum computers are big rooms, just like the servers of old, but the old IBM computers and they very quickly turn into laptops. So Jessica Denson (13:52):

Yeah, it's amazing how fast it moves, isn't it? Yes, absolutely. Yeah. Is there anything that you would like people to take away from this conversation about tech communications in its future and what's ahead? Ian McIntosh (14:01):

Yeah, absolutely. I think one of the things that we see today is the challenge around finding skilled labor, finding a skilled workforce, but at the same time finding quality people to work with. The focus of our business is ensuring that we bring not only the right technicians, the right quality of skilled labor, but also having someone that you can partner with in that we make mistakes, we all make mistakes, but what we do is we own our mistakes. We make sure that we rectify them and that we provide a value service to every provider that we work with. We look for innovative ways for us to build networks, obviously in collaboration with our providers, but we're excited by every opportunity. It doesn't matter how large, small, we just like to get out there and see network being built and seeing that we'll get connected. Jessica Denson (14:47):

Okay. Ian McIntosh with TAC Communications, thank you so much for me. Thank Ian McIntosh (14:51):

You so much. Appreciate you. Jessica Denson (14:55):

I am at the Broadband Community Summit as I have been for the last couple of days, and as always, whenever I go to a conference, I am lucky enough, it seems to run into Pam Waggoner who is the executive director of Resound Network. She used to work with us, and I always love seeing you, Pam. Welcome.
Thank you Jessica. And I always love seeing you and catching up with you too. We always have just so many stories to share.
I know. It's fun. So you've been making the rounds at these different conferences and stuff, so what are some themes that you're hearing that are really important right now?
Well, thanks for that question. If I had to think of a theme and something that kind of relates to my particular job, which is community outreach, it's really people are looking for new ways to connect with these communities, not just going in there and having a meeting and introduce yourself, but what's working, what's connecting? What is sticking with these communities that they're going to come back and support you Because what's different about BEAD that's coming up as opposed to past grant applications is just that you got to have the community support. So we're all looking to be part of the fabric of a community. So talk about what Resound Networks does specifically. Well, resound Networks is an ISP based in Pampa, Texas, and that's where they've been, and they were started by three lifelong friends, and those three lifelong friends are still very much involved in all the decisions that is made through Resound. Currently, we work in seven states where we are deploying our rural digital opportunity fund funds and really trying to make sure we hit all of our milestones and offer great service. I think that is the key to Resound Networks is they really want to be known as a great service network to our communities and to our constituents and to people that they're serving.
And so they're really working hard just to get their name out there and to be known and to be a trusted source for people who need internet and wildlife.
So three lifelong friends. That's interesting. Did they grow up in a rural area then?
They absolutely did. They all grew up in Pampa, Texas, and that's where the headquarters are, and that's where they're raising their families, and they all have children from teenagers to babies, and they know the opportunities that they had and did not have coming from a rural environment, and they wanted to make sure that all rural kids and families had the same opportunities as though that's growing up in downtown Dallas and Houston, Texas where we are as they should. Right. Yeah. One of the things that's interesting about that is that the bead money that's out there right now that everybody's talking about and how is it going to be done?
It's all going to the states and they're going to decide, but they're supposed to reach the most unserved, those that have little to no service and underserved those who maybe have basic and or bad service, it strikes me that most of that would be rural. So Resound probably has a unique set of experience or background that can really service rural, would you say? Yes, I would agree with that. I think because the owners of the company are from rural Texas that they certainly relate to everybody else, and we only service rural. We do not go after any cities or large areas that already has lots of competition. We go where nobody else serves because obviously if the big providers in this arena and this technology arena were able or wanted to provide in these rural communities, they would have already provided in these rural communities.
But it takes a little bit longer for smaller ISPs to get there because you've got to hire workers, you've got to make sure your staff is big enough, you've got to make sure you're sustainable and that you have all your pieces in place in order to offer good service once you're there. Because once you deploy, well, now you have to take care of your customers and you have to come up with maintenance. So this company is really, really involved in making sure we're sustainable and making the right decisions. So how has the summit been for you? Anything interesting that has come out of it today or yesterday? Well, this one has been interesting and just seeing the lifelong friends I have in this industry. I think I've seen more here than I have at other summits, and maybe it's just the location of Houston, and this is my home base, so I know quite a few people here, but that's been fun.
It was good to catch up with the Texas broadband office as it always is. I like seeing them here saying What's going on in Texas. Other than that, I really feel this has been just much more of a network and a social time than what's going on in the actual conference because let's face it, there's not a lot of new news out there. And so until the NTIA approves all these volume twos and people get into the challenge processes and then we really get to deploy bead, we're all just waiting to see how this is going to go. So you're going to have to get me those three lifelong friends and have them join me on the podcast sometimes. I bet they would love. I would love that. I would be happy to hand me your card before we leave and next time I'm up in Pampa I will see if what we can do for you. Awesome. Well, it's always great talking to you, Pam. Thank you. Yeah, anytime. Jessica, again, we'll continue our special coverage for the Broadband Community Summit tomorrow. Until then, I'm Jessica Denson and this is Connected Nation.

Martin Lee joins
Ian McIntosh joins
Pam Waggoner joins
Conclusion + Outro