FRS is educating tomorrow’s leaders

By Jeff Wilson
Chief Executive Officer

You often read in this magazine about the many ways West Carolina Tel works with other cooperatives to make your voice heard in D.C. In this issue I’d like to shine a spotlight on the work we do together through the Foundation for Rural Service, or FRS.

FRS was formed in 1994 by NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association as a nonprofit organization. The foundation’s core mission is two-fold: to educate the public about the benefits of a nationwide telecommunications network and to promote rural connectivity as an essential link in this network.

This is accomplished through a variety of programs. One of the most notable is the FRS College Scholarship Program. In the July/August issue of this magazine, we announced that Abbeville High School’s Alexandria Temple not only won the West Carolina Tel scholarship, but also the FRS scholarship. The FRS program awards several $2,000 scholarships to students who are sponsored by their local NTCA member provider, who adds $500 to the award. The program encourages students to return to their rural communities upon completing their education.

Also in the July/August issue you read about McCormick High School’s De’Marcus Moore, who WCTEL sponsored for the FRS Youth Tour. For more than 20 years, we have sponsored a high school senior as part of this program that offers rural students an inside look at the telecommunications industry, educates them about the legislative and governmental process and gives them the opportunity to experience Washington, D.C., in person.

Programs like these are helping us prepare tomorrow’s leaders, the people who will represent rural America in leadership roles. Whether they enter business, education, health care, public service or even the field of telecommunications, these students will have a greater understanding of the challenges and opportunities of our nation’s rural regions.

FRS also works to educate today’s leaders, especially elected officials and regulators. One way the organization does this is through its Rural Telecom Educational Series. Each title in this series of papers provides information on a topic that impacts rural America and access to services for those who live here.

While reading about these topics is important, it is even more powerful to see firsthand the work telecommunications providers are doing in America’s rural regions. FRS coordinates a tour each year that brings congressional staff members to visit communities served by NTCA members. Most of these staffers work for representatives and senators on key committees. It is good for them to hear rural business owners, health care providers, educators and local officials talk about the importance of a broadband connection and to see how important rural providers like WCTEL are to the success of the communities we serve.

FRS sponsors many other initiatives, such as its grant program that supports local efforts to build and sustain a high quality of life in rural America through business development, community development, education and telecommunications.
We are proud of the good work FRS does throughout the country. And we are especially proud to be part of the large family of telcos who support this good work. You can learn more about FRS by visiting

WCTEL is now Certified Gig-Capable

GIG Seal final WCTEL has been recognized by NTCA as a Certified Gig-Capable Provider for delivering gigabit broadband speeds and enabling technological innovation to the surrounding service area.

WCTEL is one of only two dozen cooperatives to be initially “Gig-Certified” by NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association. The organization represents nearly 900 independent, community-based telecommunications companies and their interests in national government affairs.

The distinction is part of a national program highlighting independent telecommunications providers delivering gigabit broadband speeds. A gigabit is 1,000 Mbps — more than 60 times faster than WCTEL’s basic Internet speed. A gigabit connection allows for fantastic download speeds, such as downloading a two-hour HD movie in less than 30 seconds.

The certification acknowledges the power of high-speed Internet and the potential it brings to the service area. “This is a great accomplishment,” says WCTEL CEO Jeff Wilson. “We strive to continually improve and add onto our services so that our members will benefit from the opportunity to invest in our state-of-the-art services. This certification proves that we are heading in the right direction.”

Seniors on Skype

By Andy Johns

A diagnosis of terminal cancer for a beloved niece is never easy, especially for Marie, an 88-year-old resident of Abbeville Nursing Home.

When her niece, Velma, in Staten Island, New York, received a grim diagnosis in September 2014, Marie and Velma worried they would never see each other again, since neither was fit to travel. That’s when broadband technology and the creative staff at Abbeville Nursing home stepped in.

Using Skype, the two were able to talk face-to-face over video chat from 700 miles apart several times before Velma passed away in January. Marie died two months later.

“Those months that she was able to talk to Velma meant so much,” said Vickie Wickware of Abbeville, who was Marie’s best friend for 37 years. “It made Marie feel like she was still a part of Velma’s life. When she was able to Skype Velma and talk to her and see her, it gave her some hope.”

Activity Director Renee Bledsoe and Social Services Director Bridget White developed the idea of using video chats to connect families, which earned the Abbeville Nursing Home staff the 2013 South Carolina Spirit of Caring Award.

“We wanted to allow family members to be able to communicate with their loved ones when they live far away,” Bledsoe says.

Marie isn’t the only resident to benefit from this new kind of connection. Over the last two years, about 10 percent of residents have used the service, but White and Bledsoe are working to include others.

“In the past you had the phone, but the face of the future is computers,” White says.

White remembers one resident who has only seen a young nephew through Skype calls, since the family lives out West. “She really hadn’t been able to see or talk with them,” White says.

Video chatting sometimes gets through to residents when the staff cannot. One resident, whom the staff did not name, had become solitary, never wishing to leave her room to socialize. White and Bledsoe set up a “Skype buddy,” who was a consultant for the nursing home, and every Friday the resident and her Skype buddy talked. “This was probably a highlight of her time here,” Bledsoe says.

When Bledsoe and White were honored with the Spirit of Caring Award at a statewide meeting, they were able to Skype with the once anti-social resident so she could “meet” the audience. Even over the connection, the resident’s funny personality shined.

“She brought it home for us,” Bledsoe says. “Everybody was either crying or laughing.”

Warming up to the Web

The first resident to try video chatting was a 100-year-old lady who was able to talk with her granddaughter face-to-face through the computer.

“She said she had been around a long time and seen a lot of things, but by far this was the most interesting,” Bledsoe says. “It was really just amazing.”

The newness of computers and technology like Skype, the Internet’s leading video chat service, intimidated some residents at first. Many residents, most of whom are between the age of 80 and 100, were hesitant at first to get online. “This is technology that a lot of them have never experienced,” White says.

But they pick it up quickly and are genuinely pleased to see loved ones.

“They get to see the little grandchildren that they wouldn’t get to see,” White says.

One advantage, White says, is for the family and caregivers to be able to have care plan meetings via Skype. At times, it’s difficult for family members to come to the nursing home for the regularly scheduled meetings, but video calls allow them to meet with White and other caregivers face-to-face during a lunch break or other times when it’s convenient.

“It’s beneficial with everyday business,” White says. “They still want to be a part of the care plan meeting and actually see what’s going on. We can use Skype to do that. All they have to do is call us and set up a date and time. We set up the computer for the resident.”

The video calls have also come in handy during cold and flu season, when visitation can be limited to slow or stop the spread of sickness.

Originally, Bledsoe and White used one of their laptops to allow residents to chat, but demand grew enough to where they purchased a tablet for Skype calls. White has even used other apps on the tablet to translate for a few residents or family members who don’t speak English.

That kind of technology use, especially video chatting, is expected to increase as more people aging into the nursing home have technology skills.

“I could see us use this a lot more because the younger clients that get in are computer-savvy,” White says.
White credits the reliable high-speed connection from West Carolina and support from administrator Alan Hughes with encouraging and allowing the staff to be creative and innovative in serving patients. “When Mr. Hughes thinks or hears of something and it’s good for the residents, you better believe we’re going to get it,” White says.
Since Abbeville Nursing Home received the state award, other nursing homes in bigger cities have noticed the program and reached out.

“We have had other facilities that have incorporated this into their program,” Bledsoe says.

Local author releases first book, others in the works

By Melissa Smith

Some readers who become absorbed with the characters in “Forgive Their Sins” fear for their favorite’s fate. “Well, good guys don’t always finish first,” author A’Sian Starr Dotson says. “You’ll get to connect with them in the next book.”
The novel is the first in a planned series, “A Journey to the Truth,” written by a woman you might see on a typical weekday down at Abbeville Community Federal Credit Union.

After work, though, she is a writer always trying to translate the stories in her head to paper. The novel is her first, and she self-published in paperback and digitally. Finishing the book, though, took a little extra inspiration.

Dotson went to to find the cover art for “Forgive Their Sins.” She decided to purchase a cover after finding the photo that reminded her of the main character Madasin. Then, she knew the book had to become a reality. “I thought, ‘I have a cover now, so I have to finish the story,’” Dotson says. “I’ll admit, I did drag my feet a little bit.” She spent $89 for the cover, and her 14-year-old son, Kalil Warren, helped out with a design for the back cover and the spine.

Going to print

Initially, doing a paperback book seemed too expensive, but Dotson discovered she could save a lot of money by doing the formatting herself. After more research, and formatting everything for the e-book, Dotson looked into CreateSpace, which is a division of Amazon. “They help people who want a physical copy of the book. I saw that with a little tweaking, I could put it on paper,” Dotson says.

She believes the Times New Roman typeface looks more professional and flows nicely. “I wanted to make it reader-friendly, especially for people with glasses. Not everyone likes e-books,” Dotson says. But people with e-readers can change the size of the font to accommodate individual tastes.

Finding an audience

In “Forgive Their Sins,” protagonist Madasin Lake has everything a typical teenage girl could want. She’s wealthy, popular and even has a secret lover. But, a paranormal turn of events throws Madasin’s life upside down.

Marketing can be a challenge for self-published authors. Dotson doesn’t have a personal assistant to help with the footwork involved in self-promotion. She has appeared on the “Southern Fried Morning Show with Benji Greeson,” and her e-book was listed as free for a week on Amazon. She also hosted a contest on her Facebook fan page to name a character in an upcoming book.

All the hard work and late nights are worth it when Dotson meets a fan or sees her book in print. “When I’m writing, if I feel it, I know my readers will feel it,” she says. “You don’t have anything to lose. If nobody but you and your friends read it, or even if it’s not published, go for it. You never know where your journey’s going to take you.”

Local radio provides community spirit and lots of laughs

The morning show’s studio near the square in Abbeville helps the hosts keep up with local happenings.

The morning show’s studio near the square in Abbeville helps the hosts keep up with local happenings.

By Mariann Martin

Take some local news, a downtown sidewalk, a few jokes and add in plenty of laughter. Drop it in hot grease and you have the “Southern Fried Morning Show.”

“We give people something to laugh at and help them through the day,” host Benji Greeson says. “And we have fun doing it.”

Abbeville’s local morning radio show, which celebrated its one-year anniversary in September, has become a beloved part of the surrounding community. People call, text, send emails and comment on the show’s Facebook page. In an era when many channels are switching to national shows, the mixture of music and talk brings in listeners from more than a dozen states.

In their studio in downtown Abbeville, co-hosts Greeson and Amy Botts discuss community events, bring in guests to promote fund raisers, announce local birthdays and anniversaries and challenge each other to crazy competitions, like saying their ABCs in reverse or balancing a spoon on their nose. “It helps me get my own day started,” Botts says. “My favorite part is the reaction we get out of our listeners. Who doesn’t want to make someone happy?”

The show started last year after WZLA switched the channel to a country music station. Greeson says the owners came to him, looking for something to add variety to the morning music.

Greeson had interned for a radio show in high school, and he also does an afternoon sports show one day a week. He loves radio and was immediately interested in giving a morning show a try. “This has snowballed way bigger than I ever thought it would be,” he says.

Botts, a longtime friend, was an almost accidental addition after she came in as a replacement guest. The two had a chemistry the audience loved. She now comes in for two hours every day. Being on a radio talk show was never something Botts thought she’d do, but she feels at home behind the microphone — as long as she doesn’t think about the hundreds of people listening.

“We stick out our necks sometimes, and it can get interesting,” she says. “But it has become second nature. I can’t imagine not doing this.”

These days, the two are often stopped in the grocery store or at their childrens’ sports games as people recognize them from the show. Kids want pictures with them, and their friends’ parents and grandparents stop to say hi. But they protest at the term “local celebrity.”

Realizing how important they are to the community and how many people listen to them every day keeps them accountable, Greeson says.

“We are that show that people in the community trust,” he says. “People here have embraced a local voice and a local outlook.”

Southern Fried Morning Show

Tune in from 6-10 a.m. Monday through Friday:
WZLA 92.9 FM
TuneIn Radio app
West Carolina TV channels 20 & 27


Hosts Benji Greeson and Amy Botts say they love hearing the reactions their antics get from their listeners.

Broadband may be the greatest health care innovation for rural America


By Shirley Bloomfield, CEO
NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association

When we talk about the impact of broadband Internet access, we often focus on its importance to economic development, business growth and such. While it is absolutely an economic driver, broadband may also be just what the doctor ordered for rural America.

You will sometimes hear it referred to as telemedicine; other times, telehealth. Whatever you call it, the use of broadband technology is changing the way health care is delivered. And I believe we are only seeing the beginning.

For example, electronic medical records are allowing doctors to streamline care, especially for patients in rural areas. A patient who normally visits a rural clinic can be confident that their health information is accurate and up-to-date when they visit a regional hospital.

I wrote in the previous issue of this magazine about aging in place, noting that technologies such as videoconferencing, remote health monitoring and X-ray transmission are helping rural seniors stay at home longer. But the aging population is just one segment that can benefit from broadband-enabled applications.

Recently, I attended a technology showcase that focused on the interconnection between technology providers, health care providers and innovation in telemedicine. It was a fascinating conference that left my mind spinning with the possibilities for rural health care delivery.

We heard from a rural telecommunications provider who said small telcos are often too small to get the main contracts from the base hospitals, but that they have an important role in providing the local infrastructure and having the construction team on the ground. This has helped build the case for having a role in the large clinic and university hospital contracts in the future.

Hugh Cathey of the innovative company HealthSpot provided a real glimpse into what broadband can mean to all segments of society. His company has kiosks in several Rite Aid drug stores in Ohio where patients can walk in and be face-to-face with a healthcare professional via a video screen. These stations come outfitted with everything you need to receive a wide variety of remote treatments. The HealthSpot network has seen thousands of patients since May, for ailments such as allergies, cold and flu, bronchitis, cough, rashes, sore throat and fever.

With applications such as these, it’s easy to get excited about what the future holds for telemedicine. And with the great work being done by your telco and others like it who are building world-class broadband networks, we can know that rural America will not be left behind in this evolution.

Easy steps to help stop telemarketing calls!

If you are like most consumers, you are tired of being disturbed by telemarketing calls. There is help.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) have established a National Do Not Call Registry. Joining this registry can drastically reduce the number of telemarketing calls you receive.

Here are some important facts about the list:

  • Once registered, telemarketers have 31 days to stop calling your number.
  • You can register up to three non-business telephone numbers. You can register cell phone numbers; there is not a separate registry for cell phones.
  • Your number will remain on the list permanently unless you disconnect the number or you choose to remove it.
  • Some businesses are exempt from the Do Not Call Registry and may still be able to call your number. These include political organizations, charities, telephone surveyors and businesses that you already have a relationship with.

Strict Federal Trade Commission rules for telemarketers make it illegal to do any of the following regardless of whether or not your number is listed on the National Do Not Call Registry:

  • Call before 8 a.m.
  • Call after 9 p.m.
  • Misrepresent what is being offered
  • Threaten, intimidate or harass you
  • Call again after you’ve asked them
    not to

Adding your number to the Do Not Call Registry is easy!
Register online at or call 888-382-1222
For TTY, call 866-290-4236
You must call from the telephone number you wish to register.

Attention local business owners: You can be penalized for not following these FCC rules

When people think of telemarketing phone calls, they usually imagine them coming from distant call centers. But local businesses that make phone calls to customers or potential customers should be aware that the same National Do Not Call Registry rules and regulations apply to them.
The Do Not Call initiative, regulated by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), requires telephone service providers to notify customers of the National Do Not Call rules and regulations.

If you are a company, individual or organization that places telemarketing calls, it is very important that you familiarize yourself with the operations of the National Do Not Call Registry. Unless you fall under one of the established exceptions, such as telemarketing by charitable organizations or for prior business relationships, you may not make telemarketing calls to numbers included in the National Do Not Call Registry.

For information regarding National Do Not Call regulations, visit the National Do Not Call registry at You can find the Federal Communications Commission and Federal Trade Commission rules governing telemarketing and telephone solicitation at 47 C.F.R. § 64.1200 and 16 C.F.R. Part 310, respectively.

Beware of sales calls disguised as surveys

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says they have received numerous complaints from individuals who report receiving deceptive sales calls. The callers identify themselves with Political Opinions of America and ask you to participate in a brief survey, usually consisting of about three questions. After answering the questions, the individual is transferred to someone offering them a bonus for participating in the survey — usually a sales pitch for a time-share disguised as a “free vacation.”

The FTC warns that if the purpose of the call is to try to sell something — even if it includes a survey — it is telemarketing and all Do Not Call Registry rules apply.

If you believe a call violates the FTC rules against telemarketing, you can file a complaint by calling 888-382-1222 or go to

Bowled Over

Liberty Bowl Stadium(Photo courtesy of AutoZone Liberty Bowl)

Liberty Bowl Stadium
(Photo courtesy of AutoZone Liberty Bowl)

There’s more to bowl-game trips than football

As football season fades into history, host cities gear up for events that really score. Get ready for kickoff with a tour of the 2015 bowl games in cities across the South — which are great places to visit anytime.

December 23

GoDaddy Bowl; Mobile, Alabama; Ladd-Peebles Stadium

Let’s start your tour with the week leading up to the bowl game in Mobile. The focus is on the bowl’s eve and its Mardi Gras-style parade. Marching bands and cheerleaders from each bowl team will help pump up team spirit. The parade culminates in a giant pep rally on the waterfront at Mobile Bay. So don’t sit on the sidelines. Get into the action.

Other sights to see:

USS Alabama in Mobile Bay

USS Alabama
(Photo courtesy of USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park)

The USS Alabama arrived in Mobile Bay in 1964 and opened for public tours a year later. Bill Tunnell, executive director of the USS Alabama Memorial Park, says bowl week is always a lot of fun for players and fans.

One of the best places to view Mobile’s historic past is at the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception. The cathedral’s stained-glass windows date to 1890, so bring your camera. And this would be a good place to say a prayer for a successful Hail Mary near game’s end. The church is at 2 S. Claiborne St.

Where to eat: Regina’s Kitchen, 2056 Government St., a mile from the stadium. Best bet: muffuletta with a side of potato salad.

December 26

Camping World Independence Bowl; Shreveport, Louisiana; Independence Stadium

On our next stop, the days leading up to the bowl game see a marked change in the city of Shreveport. Fans sporting team colors are out in full force enjoying the many cool, old places to eat, drink and socialize along the riverfront. There will be a pep rally, which consistently draws big crowds. And there’s always been a free event for families: Fan Fest — a fun time with face painting, jump houses and more.

If you feel the need to shop, there’s no better place to go than Louisiana Boardwalk Outlets, home to 60-plus stores. “It’s probably the most-popular destination for football fans,” says Chris Jay, with the Shreveport-Bossier Convention and Tourist Bureau.

Kids will enjoy spending time at Sci-Port: Louisiana’s Science Center. It’s always ranked in the top 10 of children’s science museums in the country.

Where to eat: Sam’s Southern Eatery, 3500 Jewella Ave., 0.7 miles from the stadium. One of the best spots in town for fried seafood. Favorite dish? It’s a coin toss between the 3N3 — three shrimp and three fish fillets — or the shrimp with red beans and rice.

December 30

Birmingham Bowl; Birmingham, Alabama; Legion Field

The journey continues as the year winds down. It’s one of the smaller bowl games, but don’t be blindsided by the fact that there will be as much play-by-play action off the field as on.
Bowl eve begins with the Monday Morning Quarterback Club Team Luncheon. The public is welcome, but tickets are required. Then, at 2 p.m., the Uptown Street Fest and Pep Rally kicks off a huge celebration with team bands, cheerleaders, players and live music.

And if you have time, make a drive to the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum with its collection of almost 750 vintage and modern motorcycles and race cars.

Where to eat: Niki’s West Steak and Seafood, 233 Finley Ave. W, 2.7 miles from the stadium. Some of the best soul food in Alabama. Fried green tomatoes, turnip greens, stewed okra and white beans are favorite sides to daily entree choices.

December 30

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl; Nashville, Tennessee; Nissan Stadium

Hot Chicken Eating World Championship (Photo courtesy of Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl)

Hot Chicken Eating World Championship
(Photo courtesy of Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl)

The home of country music earns a stop on the itinerary. Last year’s Music City Bowl was one of the highest-attended in its 17-year history, and organizers are hopeful to repeat that success this year. To kick things off, there’s a battle off the field on game eve: MusicFest and Battle of the Bands. It begins with the Hot Chicken Eating World Championships, followed by a free concert at Riverfront Park. The evening ends with the two team bands “duking it out” on the streets.

While in town, be sure to make time for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, where the history of country music comes alive.

Where to eat: Manny’s House of Pizza, 15 Arcade Alley, 0.8 miles from the stadium. Creative pies are the trademark of this pizzeria, as well as great spaghetti and calzones. A local favorite.

December 31

Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl; Atlanta, Georgia; Georgia Dome

Don’t forget to plan a New Year’s Eve stop. When traveling to a city the size of Atlanta, deciding what venues to visit is difficult. And during bowl week, they’re often crowded. The Peach Bowl draws one of the largest of all bowl crowds. Visitors enjoy the restaurants, sights and sounds of The Big Peach, including the Peach Bowl Parade. Dozens of bands and floats pass through the streets.

To narrow down the playing field of other sights to see, there are two places near the Georgia Dome. The College Football Hall of Fame is a touchdown for football fans with its interactive exhibits and helmet and jersey collections. And for fishy folks, there’s the Georgia Aquarium and the inhabitants of its 10 million gallons of fresh and salt water.

Where to eat: Jamal’s Buffalo Wings, 10 Northside Drive NW, 0.7 miles from the stadium. Scramble over to Jamal’s for a football tradition: wings. It’s a hole-in-the-wall, but don’t let that stop you.

January 2

AutoZone Liberty Bowl; Memphis, Tennessee; Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium

Bash on Beale Pep Rally (Photo courtesy of AutoZone Liberty Bowl)

Bash on Beale Pep Rally
(Photo courtesy of AutoZone Liberty Bowl)

There’s nothing sad about ending a bowl season journey at the home of the blues. As if Beale Street wasn’t busy on any given day or night, it scores big with an undercurrent of excitement that builds as the Liberty Bowl teams come to town, exploding at the Bash on Beale Pep Rally. The area comes alive beginning at 3 p.m. with a parade featuring local bands, team bands, cheerleaders and more. When the parade ends, the pep rally begins. And this year, it all happens on Jan. 1, the day before the game.
And if there’s time in your schedule, don’t forget a tour of Graceland, as well as Sun Studios where Elvis, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison and more sang the blues.

Where to eat: Soul Fish, 862 S. Cooper St., 1.4 miles from the stadium. The best catfish, Cuban sandwiches and fish tacos in Memphis, but the place scores an extra point for its oyster po’ boys.

Tech-Savvy Traveler:

As if the holidays didn’t provide enough excitement, it’s nearly time for an unending blitz of college bowl games. There are a few apps to help get us even further into the game. Team Stream is a popular sports news app by Bleacher Report. Want the latest scores and highlights? The ESPN app alerts you when your team scores. Searching for a social media society of sports fans? FanCred’s app could help visiting fans survive a trip into hostile territory.