TechLink: WCTEL offers technology classes

AprilTechlink_0142In April, West Carolina held its first TechLink drop-in class on Facebook Basics. Due to the success of this class, WCTEL staff will continue holding monthly classes at the cooperative offices. In these classes, customers learn about various topics and are able to ask any questions they may have.

Upcoming Topics: July — Microsoft Word Basics • August — E-Books

AprTechlink_0139

Familiar faces changing places

Brittany, Amanda, and Alison

WCTel Employees Brittany Ramey, Amanda Blackwell and Alison Stone.

WCTEL is excited to announce new positions for some staff members.

Alison Stone, who previously served as the wireless services specialist, has made a move to bookkeeping.
Amanda Blackwell, who had served as a switchboard operator, will now work as a customer service representative.

Brittany Ramey, who had been the plant services specialist for the outside plant, will now serve as an account services representative.

These changes are designed to make the cooperative stronger. WCTEL’s greatest assets are its employees.

Making a ‘smart’ decision

Jeff Wilson

West Carolina CEO, Jeff Wilson

By Jeff Wilson
Chief Executive Officer

When it comes to technology, we want everything to be “smart” these days. We have smartphones and smart watches, smart appliances in our kitchen and laundry room, smart thermostats and smart home gadgets with smart apps to control them.

While all this smart technology is impressive and can make life more convenient while saving us money, the really smart part of it all is the broadband network that so many of these devices and apps rely on to bring us this functionality.

This trend toward devices that are only possible with broadband is not going away. And as broadband becomes the leading infrastructure driving innovation, it is impacting every facet of our lives.

That’s why we decided long ago that improving broadband service in our rural area was the smart thing to do. With access to an advanced broadband network, boundless opportunities open up for our region:

Smarter businesses: Technology allows businesses to reach new customers and better serve the customers they already have. Smart businesses are using data and their broadband connections to learn more about customer habits, streamline supply chains and optimize their operations. Studies have shown that broadband-connected businesses bring in $200,000 more in median annual revenues than non-connected businesses. Our network ensures that these tools are available to our local businesses so they can compete regionally, nationally or even globally.

Smarter education: Local teachers and school administrators are doing amazing things with tablets, online resources and other learning tools. These smart schools are opening up new avenues for students to learn. Experts say that nationally, students in schools with broadband connections reach higher levels of educational achievements and have higher-income careers.

Smarter health care: From bracelets that keep track of physical activity to telemedicine, smart technology and broadband are improving the way we monitor and care for our bodies. Physicians are able to confer with other medical experts, transmit X-Rays and lab results and communicate with patients over our network. Through smart electronic medical records, everyone from stroke patients to expectant mothers is receiving better care because hospitals and doctors are getting “smarter.”

Smarter homes: A host of new devices has allowed users to bring smart technology into their homes. Smart devices, some of which are available through WCTEL, allow you to monitor your home, change the thermostat, turn on lights and even lock or unlock doors remotely. While these smart devices offer plenty of convenience, they are also a smart safety decision to avoid coming home to a dark house or to receive an alert anytime someone pulls into your driveway.

We’ve made smart decisions that put our community in a position to take advantage of this smart revolution. As our devices, businesses, homes, schools and hospitals get smarter, rest assured that your cooperative is smart enough to have the infrastructure in place to handle these demands — plus whatever the future holds.

Here comes the Gig!

WCTEL ran 1,300 miles of fiber all across McCormick, Abbeville and Anderson counties in order to deliver the best Internet service available.

WCTEL ran 1,300 miles of fiber all across McCormick, Abbeville and Anderson counties in order to deliver the best Internet service available.

 

When the president of the United States spoke recently about the need for greater broadband speeds in our country, he showed a chart listing cities where gigabit Internet access is available: Hong Kong, Paris, Chattanooga and Kansas City were among them.

Now you can add the WCTEL service area to that list.

In fact, thanks to WCTEL’s upgrades to the fiber network in McCormick and Abbeville counties, most of the cities and towns in the area, including Starr and Iva, can list gigabit Internet access among the benefits they can offer prospective businesses and families looking to relocate.

With its launch of gigabit Internet service this month, WCTEL put the Freshwater Coast on the map as one of the areas with the most advanced broadband networks available. Those connected to WCTEL’s fiber system can enjoy speeds up to 100 times faster than the 10 megabits per second (Mbps) once considered typical, and 40 times faster than the new definition of broadband — 25 Mbps — adopted by the Federal Communications Commission in January.

January was also when Google announced it would be building a gigabit fiber network in parts of Atlanta and Charlotte. “It will be a big deal for Atlanta and Charlotte to get gigabit networks when the work is done in a couple of years,” CEO Jeff Wilson says. “We’re happy that through careful planning, we’ve got that quality of a network right now in rural upstate South Carolina.”

The gig: How?
In order to join the short list of U.S. providers offering gigabit speeds, WCTEL first had to build a 1,300-mile, world-class fiber network. “Our network was the first large-scale fiber network in South Carolina,” says Wilson. “The leadership here at the time could see that high-speed broadband over fiber was the infrastructure of the future. Now as we look ahead, gigabit service takes that next step in giving our members the absolute best service available anywhere.”

With the construction of the fiber network essentially complete, WCTEL decided last year to begin the work of making gigabit speeds available. Switches and other components along the system had to be upgraded. “It was a significant investment by the cooperative,” Wilson says. “But it’s an investment in the future of our community.”

The gig: why?
Only a small percentage of consumers today actually need the capacity of a gigabit connection. But as with any type of critical infrastructure, WCTEL’s network has been built with the future in mind.

Gigabit service means students will be able to access advanced learning tools, families will take advantage of new entertainment options and home automation technology, and businesses will use the ultra-high-speed connection to compete and grow.

“Today, camera cards or memory sticks hold the same amount of data as entire computers a few years ago,” says Shannon Sears, director of commercial operations for West Carolina. “With SmartTVs, tablets and other connected devices, the same thing is happening with the demand for broadband capacity. Thanks to gigabit service, WCTEL will be ready to support our members as their needs grow.”

The gig: when?
Before rolling out the full network, WCTEL needed a test area and selected part of Savannah Lakes to try out the service in April. As of May 1, gigabit Internet speeds are available immediately to the entire area served by the cooperative’s fiber network.

Upgrades continue in the cities of Abbeville, McCormick and Calhoun Falls in order to make the gigabit upgrade available there.

What is a gig?
The rate at which information (photos, movies, music) flows from its source to your device (computer, tablet, gaming console) is measured in bits per second.
One megabit, or Mb, is 1,000 bits.
One gigabit, or Gb, is 1,000 megabits.
Internet speeds of 10 megabits per second (or Mbps) are commonly available throughout the U.S.
1 Gbps is 100 times faster than 10 Mbps!

That’s fast!
Downloading a typical HD movie:
10 Mbps connection = 3 hours, 30 minutes
1 Gbps connection = less than 2 minutes

Economic Impact

A study released by the Fiber to the Home Council found that communities with widely available access to gigabit Internet service have a per capita GDP (gross domestic product) that is 1.1 percent higher than communities with little to no gigabit service. In the 14 gigabit communities studied, this meant a difference of approximately $1.4 billion in additional GDP!

Q&A with the Bassmaster

Casey Ashley of Donalds won the Bassmaster Classic in February on Lake Hartwell.

Casey Ashley of Donalds won the Bassmaster Classic in February on Lake Hartwell.

Local angler shares his story of winning the Bassmaster Classic

This past February, Donalds native Casey Ashley claimed his first-ever Bassmaster Classic on his home lake, fulfilling a lifelong dream in front of a horde of locals who flocked to Lake Hartwell in droves.

At 30 years old, Ashley reached the pinnacle of professional angling, earning $300,000 for his efforts by surging up the leaderboard from fifth to first on the final day, amassing 20 pounds, 3 ounces. That pushed his three-day total to 50 pounds to earn him the win.

Now, as his career takes a higher trajectory, he took the time to answer several questions.

Connected: Many top competitors in BASS have never won a Classic. How does winning the Classic so young change your professional career?
Casey Ashley: It opens a door; that’s for sure. It allows you to meet and build relationships with several people in the industry, sponsors etc., but it also gives you a platform to spread the love of fishing.

Casey Ashley of Donalds hoists his trophy from the Bassmaster Classic.

Casey Ashley of Donalds hoists his trophy from the Bassmaster Classic.

Connected: To do so on your home lake, talk about that. That has to be a dream come true for you.
CA: Winning the Classic is a dream come true, but winning it on my home lake, in front of all my family and friends, that was an even bigger gift. I wasn’t expecting to have as much support from people all over the area as I did.

Connected: Tell me about growing up in your small town and fishing there. How’d you get your start?
CA: I grew up fishing with my daddy at a very young age and then started tournaments at around 10 years old. I’ve been hooked ever since.

Connected: Being on your home lake, intimately knowing it, did you fear over-thinking your strategy during your tournament days?
CA: No, I try not to get stuck on local knowledge. I try to fish based off what’s going on at that moment and what I’ve figured out for myself.

Connected: What type of pressure did you experience being in the top six on the final day with former Classic winners like Randy Howell and Michael Laconelli?
CA: It was a little nerve-wracking, but being so far behind first place, I didn’t have the pressure of the lead. I could still relax and go out and just fish.

Connected: How did the winter storm affect your game plan leading up to your final practice days?
CA: I wanted the cold front. I wanted the fishing to be tough for everybody else, and I based my practice on the knowledge that it was coming.

Connected: I read a Zoom Super Fluke soft jerkbait on a spinhead lure made by your dad, Danny, was your primary weapon. Does it feel a little like he’s fishing there in the boat with you when you have success with something such as that?

Ashley was prepared for the cold weather.

Ashley was prepared for the cold weather.

CA: Yeah, we’ve actually caught them on that bait at Hartwell before. I started with pearl white and ended with pearl white. For me, pearl white is THE only color to throw with that bait. It’s my confidence color.

Connected: What are your goals now with this under your belt?
CA: An AOY Championship couldn’t hurt!

 

Curing childhood obesity, 100 miles at a time

By Melissa Smith

kids_running

Race Across USA runner Jessica Hardy says she’s heard a million Forrest Gump jokes from her friends.

The Race Across USA team will run 117 back-to-back marathons, while visiting schools along the way, only stopping to rest one day every week.
Hardy, along with a team of international athletes, began her journey on Jan. 16 in Huntington Beach, California. They are hoping to make it to Washington, D.C., by June 2, and are scheduled to run through Iva on May 7.

For the safety of the runners, organizers were looking for a southern route to avoid cold weather and less-traveled roads to avoid traffic.
“We wanted to stay on back roads,” says Race Across USA Director Sandy Van Soye. “It made sense to go through South Carolina to keep runners [as] safe as possible.”

Racing Awareness
The goal of the race is to educate people about childhood obesity, encourage healthy lifestyles and raise money for The 100 Mile Club, an organization encouraging children to participate in daily physical activity and walk or run 100 miles within the school year. The club sponsors children who cannot afford the cost of activity programs.

map“Along the way, we have been visiting schools,” Van Soye says.

Early on in the trek, she says they reached over 2,000 kids in New Mexico alone.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity has more than doubled over the last 30 years.

“Obesity just seems like the plague of the modern world,” says Darren Van Soye, a member of the 100 Mile Club Board of Directors. “Because of modern conveniences, television, Xbox and fast food, a monster was created, not just in the U.S., but all over the world.”

Running a marathon (26.2 miles) a day doesn’t make Hardy too tired to interact with children. That’s her favorite part.

It motivates her to keep going, even when running through a snowstorm.

“I think about those times when I’m standing in front of the kids and making an impact on them,” she says. “This is so much bigger than just me running.”

Darren Van Soye says a lot of participants are like Hardy and don’t have to be a world-class distance runner to participate.

“You don’t have to be superhuman t
o do this,” Darren Van Soye says. “We allow teams. You can walk or run.”

If you would like to participate in the Race Across South Carolina portion, or ask the team about visiting a local school, visit RaceAcrossUSA.org.

Race Across USA Facts:
The Race Across USA team will be in Iva on May 7.
Their route from California to Washington, D.C. will cover 3,080 miles.
Participating runners will run 26.2 miles every day, taking one day every week to rest.
For more information on the run and how you can participate, visit the website RaceAcrossUSA.org. For more information about the 100 Mile Club, visit 100MileClub.com.
Information from RaceAcrossUSA.org

Board Member Elections for 2015

At the Annual Meeting, scheduled for August 17, 2015, an election will be held to elect three members for the Board of Directors. The three seats up for election this year are due to normal rotations as per our Bylaws and are as follows:

Area 3 – Donalds
Area 5 – Antreville/Lowndesville
Area 8 – North McCormick

The three Directors who currently hold these positions all plan on seeking re-election.

A Nominating Committee will be appointed and shall select one or more members from each of these three areas to be nominated to the membership. If you wish to notify the Nominating Committee of your interest in serving on the Board, you may provide the company CEO a letter of intent which can be turned in to any of the Company offices during regular business hours. Materials on qualifications and how to file are also available upon request from any of our offices. Please remember you must be a member from the area where the vacancy is occurring and meet the other qualifications outlined in the Bylaws.

A person not nominated by the Nominating Committee may file as a petition candidate which is more specifically described in our Bylaws. Petition candidates will have a period of time following the announcement of the Nominating Committee’s report to file as a petition candidate and still be listed on the election ballot provided you have met the Bylaw qualifications to be a Board member.

In order to be considered by the Nominating Committee, you must have your letter of intent turned in to one of our offices on a timely basis. Contact the Administrative Office of the cooperative 864-446-2111 to inquire about the deadline. Petitions must be returned in accordance with the bylaw requirements.

If you have any questions, you are encouraged to contact the CEO, Jeff Wilson 864-446-2111.

This information is for notification of the process for Board election only and is NOT the notice of the Annual Meeting.

Empowering members to be advocates for rural telecommunications

By Jeff Wilson
Chief Executive Officer

The results are in. Almost 200 readers responded to the West Carolina Tel Connected readership survey in our January/February issue. Your responses gave us good insight into what we’re doing right and how we can serve you better.

I appreciate those who took the time to share this valuable feedback with us.

Not surprisingly, the stories about local people in our community and the articles about food are the most popular pages among respondents. But I was pleased to see readers also enjoy the articles with information about your cooperative.

Perhaps that readership is why 85 percent of respondents said this magazine gave them a better understanding of technology, and 90 percent said they have a better understanding of the role this cooperative plays in economic and community development because of West Carolina Tel Connected. It’s very gratifying to know our efforts are working.

I share this data not to boast about how proud we are of this magazine, but to explain the reason why I’m proud of it. I believe having informed and educated members is a key factor to the long-term health of this cooperative.

In fact, educating our members is one of the seven core principles that lay the foundation for a cooperative. The National Cooperative Business Association says members should be informed about company and industry news “so they can contribute effectively to the development of their cooperative.”

Informed and engaged members make our cooperative better.

Broadband has been in the news quite a bit lately, from net neutrality to the president discussing high-speed network expansion. It’s important for our members to know how federal regulations, state policies and shifts in the industry can affect their broadband and telephone services.

Educating you on issues that matter to rural telecommunications and your community empowers you to become advocates for rural America. Big corporations and urban residents certainly find ways to make their voices heard, and it’s up to cooperatives like us and members like you to let legislators and policymakers know that rural America matters and decisions that affect telecommunications cooperatives matter to rural America.

I hope you enjoy the stories and photos in this magazine. I always do. But I also hope you come away with a little better understanding of your cooperative, the role we play in this community and the role you can play in making rural America better.

WCTEL marks 20 years of Internet Service

In today’s world of streaming video, gigabit connection speeds and Wi-Fi, the days of humble dial-up connections and 56K modems seem a long way off.

Mainly because they are.

WCTEL was one of the first rural telephone companies to offer Internet service 20 years ago in 1995.

“The decision to jump on what was then a new form of communication was a bold move, and one that continues to shape our cooperative,” says CEO Jeff Wilson. “The Internet seems like such an ever-changing, new technology that it’s hard to believe it’s been around for 20 years.”

Technically, the Internet and its forerunners have been around for much longer.

In 1965, scientists in Massachusetts connected to a computer in California over telephone lines, making the first long-distance computer network. But for 30 years, the Internet remained an obscure, complicated network used only by researchers and governments.

In 1995, the Internet and World Wide Web went commercial, laying the groundwork for the Web we know today.

While some telcos hesitated to offer Internet service, WCTEL jumped on board early and continues that legacy of innovation today. In the telecommunications industry, West Carolina has the reputation as a forward-thinking cooperative on the cutting edge of technology.

“West Carolina was one of the first rural telcos in the country to offer Internet service,” Wilson says. “We’re also proud to have been one of the first telcos to offer television service through DE Plus, one of the first with a fiber network and now one of the first with a gigabit network.”

The Confederate Legacy: From Secession to Concession

By Andy Johns

When Jefferson Davis arrived in Abbeville, he planned to fight on.

From left: Susan Keaton, Katy Tilley and Wayne Sears swap Civil War stories in front of the Burt-Stark Mansion in Abbeville.

From left: Susan Keaton, Katy Tilley and Wayne Sears swap Civil War stories in front of the Burt-Stark Mansion in Abbeville.

Robert E. Lee’s army had surrendered in Virginia, and Richmond had fallen a few weeks earlier, but Davis believed his beloved Confederacy could survive at least a little longer if he and other officials could rally the remaining armies in Mississippi, Louisiana or Texas.

But in Abbeville, at the home of Major Armistead Burt, cabinet members and generals advised their president that the Confederacy was on the brink of collapse.

Accounts vary, but when Davis asked about the status of the troops, one advisor is said to have explained, “Mr. Davis, they think the war is over.”

Davis was taken aback by the assessment.

“All is indeed lost,” he said, reportedly collapsing into the arms of another advisor.

When Davis left Abbeville, the final “death knell” had rung for the Confederacy.

Stories of sacrifice

Over the past five years, sites across the country have commemorated their Civil War connection during the 150th anniversary of the War Between the States.

But while important speeches, bloody battles and other events occurred from New Mexico to New England, nowhere has a story quite like Abbeville, which truly saw the war’s opening and closing acts.

“There’s just a wonderful story to tell here in Abbeville,” says Katy Tilley, chairwoman of the Abbeville Historic Preservation Commission.

Katy Tilley says most locals know the story of the Burt-Stark Mansion, but tourists flock to the home to hear the story for the first time.

Katy Tilley says most locals know the story of the Burt-Stark Mansion, but tourists flock to the home to hear the story for the first time.

In addition to Davis’s realization in what is now the Burt-Stark Mansion, that his country was defeated at the end of the war, Abbeville was also home to one of the first meetings that led to the secession of the Southern states.

“The area is really known as the birthplace and deathbed of the confederacy,” says local historian Wayne Sears.

That the two historic meetings, which serve as bookends for the war, happened in the same place is an amazing coincidence that local historians are very proud of. “For those two events to have happened in the same little, out-of-the-way town — it sounds like a movie script, doesn’t it?” says Robert Hayes, a local historian and Jefferson Davis re-enactor.

Documents from the time report that a meeting was held in Abbeville on Nov. 22, 1860, in order to “consult as to the course to be pursued by our District in the crisis” — meaning Lincoln’s election and the potential of secession. The meeting was also set to determine which local men would be selected as delegates to the coming state convention to vote on seceding from the United States. Such meetings were happening all over the state, but Abbeville’s was either the first or second according to Hayes.

On Dec. 20, delegates voted in Charleston 169-0 to leave the Union.

War takes its toll

Once other Southern states followed South Carolina in secession and the first shots were fired at Fort Sumter, the war took a tremendous toll on the state and the region.

As with most Southern cities, the war hit Abbeville hard with practically all of the white men heading out to fight.

By one account, the households of Robert Wardlaw and Asa Botts in Abbeville sent a total of 18 sons and sons-in-law off to the war. In another account, a set of five neighbors in Abbeville went to war. All rose to the rank of colonel and all were killed in battle.

The McGowan-Barksdale-Bundy House in Abbeville contains a room honoring veterans from many wars, including the War Between the States.

The McGowan-Barksdale-Bundy House in Abbeville contains a room honoring veterans from many wars, including the War Between the States.

“The number of people that died in that war is astronomical,” Sears says. “We should commemorate all of the soldiers who fell from our area.”

Tilley and other members of the historic commission plan to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Davis meeting at the newly renovated mansion during the Spring Festival this May. She believes the heightened interest in the Civil War during the 150th anniversary period has brought extra visitors to Abbeville, and she expects the anniversary of the Davis meeting will draw additional tourists.

“Anybody that follows history knows this is coming up,” she says.

The war remains a hot-button issue today, but Sears, Tilley and Hayes all say that shouldn’t keep cities like Abbeville from commemorating their pasts.

“It’s such a place in history that we need to remember,” Tilley says. “Right or wrong, whether we believe in what they were fighting for or not, the war still left a huge impact on our town and our state.”

Ripple effects

The effects of that May 1865 meeting with Davis and his advisors were felt far and wide. After that session, Davis discharged thousands of troops in Abbeville, paying them from the government’s dwindling funds.

Robert Hayes discusses Abbeville’s role in the war on Secession Hill.

Robert Hayes discusses Abbeville’s role in the war on Secession Hill.

The meeting and Davis’ capture a week later helped ensure the war would come to an end, rather than drag on as a guerrilla conflict.

The encounter also spawned rumors that Confederate officials buried gold from the treasury somewhere around Abbeville. A reality show recently came to town looking for any signs of the treasure, Sears says. “They didn’t find much of anything,” he says. However, the commission continues to receive inquiries from treasure hunters about the property.

Tilley says the commission educates locals, especially youth, about the town’s role in the war. “Anytime you have something like that in your backyard, you tend to take it for granted,” she says. “It’s our obligation to preserve this beautiful, historic site for future generations.”

1865 Timeline

Closing acts of the War Between the States

  • Jan. 31 – Congress passes 13th amendment, abolishing slavery
  • Feb. 17 – Columbia S.C. burned
  • March 4 – Lincoln inaugurated for second term
  • April 3 – Richmond falls
  • April 4 – Lincoln tours Richmond
  • April 9 – Lee surrenders to Grant at Appomattox
  • April 14 – Lincoln shot
  • April 26 – Confederate Joseph E. Johnston surrenders to the Union’s William T. Sherman in North Carolina
  • May 2 – Jefferson Davis holds final cabinet meeting in Abbeville
  • May 10 – Jefferson Davis captured
  • May 26 – E. K. Smith, last major Confederate commander, surrenders in New Orleans