Bruce, MS (Bruce Telephone Company) Receives National

Recognition as Smart Rural Community
 

Bruce Telephone Company (BTC) has been honored with the Smart Rural CommunitySM Showcase award by NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association, which cited BTC’s advanced communications services and collaboration with local leaders in agriculture, health care, public safety and education as keys to its success.

At a gathering of more than 2,400 leaders of rural telecommunications providers hosted by NTCA, BTC was honored with an award for deploying advanced technologies and leveraging those technologies to enable innovation in the areas of economic development and commerce, education, enhanced health care, government services, security and energy use.

“Bruce Telephone Company is prime example of the power of a broadband connection and a steadfast commitment to growth and prosperity,” said NTCA Chief Executive Officer Shirley Bloomfield. “Not only are the people of Bruce Telephone Company charting their own path to a more prosperous future, they are also creating a road map for many more communities across the country to follow suit. I commend the people of Bruce Telephone Company for these extraordinary efforts.”

The NTCA Smart Rural Community initiative recognizes and celebrates the efforts of rural telecommunications providers and their communities to deliver technologies that make rural communities vibrant places in which to live and do business. The goal of the initiative is to foster the development of Smart Rural Communities throughout rural America by recognizing trailblazers and providing resources to assist broadband providers and connected industries.

“We are pleased and excited to accept this award,” said Jay Vanlandingham, General Manager, who received the award on behalf of Bruce Telephone Company. “We have worked hard with our local leaders to ensure that our citizens have access to advanced communications and the many benefits those services enable. We look forward to building on our success for many years to come.”

BTC is the only entity in the state of Mississippi to be honored with this award. In 2016, BTC was “Gig certified” by NTCA, recognizing BTCs dedication to broadband innovation and insight in rural America.

 

About BTC

 

BTC has undergone a complete fiber network upgrade over the last decade, and now is able to provide gigabit internet services to more than 80% of their customer base in the Bruce and Calhoun County area. Local schools have dedicated internet connections and have been able to offer subjects through online courses that are not usually offered due to factors such as lack of funding or available qualified educators. As a result, Calhoun County has a thriving S.T.E.M (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Mathematics) team, and a future generation with a more well-rounded and broader education. State testing, online grade viewing, staff payroll, online lunch money manager, athletic compliance software, and more options are now available to the parents, students, and teachers to simplify many daily activities. 

 

Several local businesses have been able to take advantage of the availability of high speed internet. Bruce Sweet Potato utilizes automation technology to monitor climate and ventilation in warehouses from anywhere, and sells potatoes across the country through his website. A once small, local business has grown into a major company, providing many jobs to the citizens of Bruce, and giving back to the local Bruce economy. Bruce is home to, and heavily reliant on, two large manufacturing companies, who together employ more than half of the Bruce population. Weyerhaeuser and Haworth, based in Seattle, WA, and Holland, MI, respectively, could not continue to operate without a direct, high speed internet connection to their corporate offices and other operating branches.

 

Many small businesses, including boutiques, professionals, grocery stores, and banks now operate more efficiently and profitably. An online presence allows local retailers to sell products to a larger area, as well as reach groups of people that may not have the time to shop their brick-and-mortar locations during operating hours. Merchants can process more transactions than before, thereby increasing sales. Local lawyers, insurance agents, and other professionals have access to more information and research, the ability to reach their corporate databases, as well as an online platform for advertising their services. Mississippi’s WIN Job Center located in BTC’s service area can now serve job seekers and job trainees more quickly, with application assistance and online training.

 

With fiber offerings, businesses, residences, and schools can do more. Whether a business is connecting to its customers or home offices, a homeowner is viewing surveillance imagery remotely or enjoying high-quality online video, or students are preparing for future success, BTC’s customers are being offered top of the line connectivity. There is no limit to what can be done with high-speed internet from BTC, and residents of Bruce are taking full advantage of available technology. BTC’s fiber network, as well as its safe community and small-town conveniences, have positioned the Bruce and Calhoun County areas to be desirable for families, and small and large businesses alike. Sustaining a wide variety of businesses and community anchor institutions boosts the local economy, allows students to discover new ideas, and permits thousands of Mississippians to enjoy a relaxed pace and friendly community. Access to the internet is quickly proving to more than a luxury item – most businesses and individuals rely upon internet access for communication, as is seen daily for many located in Bruce. Because fiber optic cable has infinite bandwidth possibilities, and is limited only by the electronics involved, BTC is well positioned for the future as the world becomes more closely connected.

 

 

About NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association

 

NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association is the premier association representing nearly 850 independent, community-based telecommunications companies that are leading innovation in rural and small-town America. NTCA advocates on behalf of its members in the legislative and regulatory arenas, and it provides training and development; publications and industry events; and an array of employee benefit programs. In an era of transformative technological advancements, regulatory challenges and marketplace competition, NTCA members are leading the technological evolution for rural consumers, delivering robust and high-quality services over future-proof networks that make rural communities vibrant places in which to live and do business. Because of their efforts, rural America is fertile ground for innovation in economic development, e-commerce, health care, agriculture and education, and it contributes billions of dollars to the U.S. economy each year. Visit us at www.ntca.org.

Smart Rural Community Application

Describe the type and capacity of broadband service provided (if broadband is provided over multiple platforms, describe the capacity for each platform), including any specific residential or business offerings. Describe any special or unique challenges your company addressed in providing these services.


Broadband is provided primarily over fiber (80% of the population) and DSL (20% of the population). Customers with fiber have gigabit capability, and most DSL customers have access to up to 25 Mbps service offering. BTC faced many challenges in providing these services because the electronics and cable previously in use were both out of date. Installing the fiber was a unique and costly challenge due to both the size and rural characteristics of the service area.




Describe major industries or anchor institutions in your area; these may include public utility, commercial, government, education, health-care and not-for-profit organizations. Describe any special or unique challenges confronting these users and how broadband has enabled users to meet those challenges. These may include economic, demographic, regulatory or other.


The local water company and power company now have the ability to upgrade their meters to be read remotely via our broadband services, making their jobs more efficient. Additionally, the water company has deployed automation capabilities to its towers. When one tower is low or out of water, the pumps automatically toggle to another tower. This automation system was made possible by BTC’s newly-upgraded broadband network.
Additionally, as part of BTC’s network upgrades, every aspect of the trunks to the 911 PSAP were made redundant, including line cards, fiber, and termination equipment. As part of these upgrades, the PSAP has advanced capabilities on the path to next-generation 911 and thus a more reliable first-response system.

BTC has several major industries in its service area, including a large lumber mill, Weyerhaeuser, and a furniture manufacturer, Haworth. Additionally, there are several healthcare facilities inside its service area. A challenge faced by both the lumber mill and the furniture manufacturer was their need for a high-capacity service to connect to their headquarters and other locations out of state, both for voice and data services.
The Bruce and Calhoun County area is rich in timber, which makes this area attractive to lumber mills, and Mississippi is a favorable state for businesses and manufacturers because of its low taxes, low labor costs, and business friendly regulations. With the need to communicate with their other offices being critical, a fast, reliable network was absolutely necessary to keep these companies operating in Bruce.

Before BTC’s fiber project, the school district was connected with slow, antiquated T1s. After BTC’s fiber project was completed, the school district has been able to take advantage of gigabit speeds and broaden the horizons of the youth in the community. Each school now has a 1 Gbps connection, with a 10 Gbps connection to the school district’s central office. Students now have virtually unlimited access to distance learning classes and projects that are not routinely offered in the school district classrooms, as well as an improved state testing experience. The Calhoun County Science, Technology, Engineering, & Mathematics (STEM) program has been able to provide additional education and exposure to students interested in STEM fields – exposure that these students would otherwise not experience. Calhoun County’s STEM Robotics team advanced to the world championship in 2017.

Two entrepreneurs, one a sweet potato farmer, and another, a t-shirt designer, have been able to expand their businesses nationwide. Marshall Bailey, 3rd generation owner of Bruce Sweet Potato (www.brucesweetpotato.com), has been able to turn his small, family farm into a true competitor. On his farm, Marshall has capitalized on the convenience of automation devices. He utilizes BTC’s internet to monitor climate and ventilation controls in his 110,000 square foot sweet potato warehouse, 24/7/365, from his smartphone or computer. He has been able to provide for his family, while expanding to provide jobs for more citizens of Bruce and Calhoun County.

Deanna Ferguson, owner of Southern Chics T-Shirts, was able to expand her business with an online presence. Her t-shirts are sold in retail stores around the southeast, as well as online.




(a) Explain whether broadband played a role in the recruitment, retention, or expansion of commercial, government or not-for-profit industries to the area. (b) Describe other positive local or regional economic or social impact generated by your firm’s broadband offerings, and how your efforts contemplate and plan for future growth and sustainability. Include both quantitative and qualitative information. (c) Describe the impact of your efforts on the internal culture of your company.


(a) Bruce is home to two large companies, Weyerhaeuser, a large lumber mill, and Haworth, an office products manufacturer, which both depend heavily on the connectivity that BTC’s fiber network has provided to the area. High-speed broadband from BTC played a role in the retention of the large lumber mill; without the availability of broadband, the mill would not have been able to communicate with their home office, thus being unable to continue operations in Bruce. The livelihood of Bruce depends on these companies, as much of the population is employed at one of these two companies – there are nearly 500 people employed by both.

Upon completion of the fiber network, BTC was able to add the Calhoun County courthouse as a new customer. Previously, the courthouse had been a customer of a competitor, but with synchronous dedicated access and friendly, local customer service, the courthouse easily made the decision to switch to BTC.

A neighboring county bank, Bank of Okolona, opened a new branch, Calhoun County Banking Center (CCBC), in Bruce in mid-2015. CCBC is a small bank, predominately offering deposit accounts, loans, and mortgages to rural markets. CCBC has nearly doubled the number of accounts in the last year, and plans to continue growth in the Bruce area with their personalized approach to banking and friendly customer service. Without strict policies and procedures that can make banking more difficult for larger entities, CCBC has succeeded in making automobile, small business, farm equipment, and residential loans. Without their 100 Mbps high speed internet service and dedicated circuits connecting it back to Bank of Okolona, CCBC would not be able to research collateral values, bank online, or communicate with other branches. Randy Baker, President of CCBC, credits BTC with getting their new branch operating quickly; “We wouldn’t have gotten that kind of service from a larger internet company. That was invaluable.”

(b) With dedicated gigabit service to each school in the school district, students and teachers have programs available that have simplified testing (both state and classroom) and made it more efficient, as teachers are able to test many students at once. The

high-speed fiber network also allows for other additional programs such as accelerated math, an attendance tracker, digital library software, athletic compliance, keyboarding, staff payroll and leave, and an online lunch money account (MySchoolBucks). Morgan Turner, a busy working mother of two children, enjoys the flexibility, security, and convenience of the school district’s online presence. She is able to use MySchoolBucks and the school’s online grading program to monitor her children’s activity and educational success, at a time that best fits her schedule. The addition of Chromebooks to the school system has provided access to subjects that were previously unavailable due to the lack of funding or the absence of a qualified educator. Students are both able and encouraged to explore and research new concepts using 21st century technology in a creative, digital format.

Many small businesses, including boutiques, professionals, grocery stores, and banks now operate more efficiently and profitably. An online presence allows local retailers sell products to a larger area, as well as to groups of people that may not have the time to shop their brick-and-mortar locations during operating hours. Merchants are able to process more transactions than before, thereby increasing sales. Local lawyers, insurance agents, and other professionals have access to more information and research, the ability to reach their corporate databases, as well as an online platform for advertising their services. Mississippi’s WIN Job Center located in BTC’s service area can now serve job seekers and job trainees more quickly, with application assistance and online training.

With fiber offerings, businesses, residences, and schools can do more. Whether a business is connecting to its customers or home offices, a homeowner is viewing surveillance imagery remotely or enjoying high-quality online video, or students are preparing for future success, BTC’s customers are being offered top of the line connectivity. There is no limit to what can be done with high-speed internet from BTC, and residents of Bruce are taking full advantage of available technology. BTC’s fiber network, as well as its safe community and small-town conveniences, have positioned the Bruce and Calhoun County areas to be desirable for families, and small and large businesses alike. Sustaining a wide variety of businesses and community anchor institutions boosts the local economy, allows students to discover new ideas, and permits thousands of Mississippians to enjoy a relaxed pace and friendly community. Access to the internet is quickly proving to more than a luxury item – most businesses and individuals rely upon internet access for communication, as is seen daily for many located in Bruce. Because fiber optic cable has infinite bandwidth possibilities, and is limited only by the electronics involved, BTC is well positioned for the future as the world becomes more closely connected.

(c) BTC’s fiber project has greatly improved the internal culture of the company. Employees are excited to come to work and they are enthusiastic about the cutting-edge products we are able to offer to our customers. Many of our technicians and customer service representatives have taken on the role of “tech support” – supporting more than just internet service. By offering in-office demos of ancillary technology like Roku™ devices and home automation products, and troubleshooting small computer, smart TV, and tablet issues, BTC is helping customers take full advantage of their high-speed internet. Offering solutions to common technology problems has elevated BTC to be more than just “the telephone company.”




Describe joint or collaborative undertakings with other community stakeholders, and your community leaders’ collaborative efforts to promote and stand behind broadband technology. Include a description of these leaders’ roles in industry or government.


According to Bruce Elementary School’s librarian, Nancy Logan, collaboration is the most important 21st century skill that can be taught to students. With their collaboration skills and newly available educational opportunities, Bruce is able to offer a strong, local workforce that is well prepared for future employment. Bruce’s local economic development authority, Calhoun Economic Development Authority (CEDA), encourages community leaders to play an active role in improving the local economy. BTC employees that are active in CEDA are eager to promote our fiber network to both potential and current businesses; the combination of BTC’s fiber network and a well-rounded, homegrown workforce are just two of the many attractive qualities available to companies looking to call Bruce home. CEDAs support has been invaluable to BTCs growth and success.

The Mississippi Development Authority (MDA), is campaigning to “revitalize Mississippi.” The MDA offers incentives to both new and existing businesses to locate operations and to expand current operations in Mississippi. Companies considering the Bruce area are able to take advantage of many grants, loans, and tax credits. Tourism promotion and an emphasis on small and minority owned businesses are additional focuses of the MDA that benefit the Bruce area.

The Calhoun County Journal, the local newspaper, closely followed BTC’s five-year long construction project and was publicly supportive of BTC’s efforts in their journalism.

As a member of the Bruce Chamber of Commerce, BTC has made presentations about the new network to the Chamber’s members and guests. One guest, Commissioner Brandon Presley of the Mississippi Public Service Commission, highlighted the role of fast and reliable broadband – specifically BTC’s fiber network – in a modern competitive economy, and the significance of its effect on future generations.

BTC collaborated with the Calhoun County School District to offer 1 Gigabit connections to each school in its service area, and a 10 Gigabit connection to the school district office. BTC also collaborated with the neighboring telephone company to set up a 10 Gigabit connection to them, enabling them to offer 1 Gigabit connections to each school in their service area.




Provide additional information that would be useful in determining whether your community is a Smart Rural Community.


Bruce is a very small, rural town (population ~2,000), in the poorest state in the U.S.; nonetheless, Bruce has a strong, local economy, enabled largely by the connectivity that BTC can offer businesses, residences, and schools through its fiber network. BTC’s employees understand that putting customers first, helping neighbors in need, and supporting the local economy and schools will elevate Bruce and Calhoun County to new heights. BTC takes pride and invests in Bruce, helping the farmers, manufacturers, and small businesses – fundamentals of the United States’ economy – conduct business faster and more efficiently. The grass may be greener on the other side, but at BTC, we know it’s greenest where you water it. That’s why we’re a smart rural community.