Tri-Co Connections Connects First Customer

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tri-Co Connections connects first customer in Coudersport area

Tri-Co Connections connected its first customer to high-speed fiber internet service Tuesday, April 7, on Niles Hill Road near Coudersport.

The family of Dave and Katie Taylor began receiving 100-megabit broadband service at 2 p.m.  Tuesday as Tri-Co Connections, the internet subsidiary of Tri-County Rural Electric Cooperative, completed the first of hundreds of fiber-to-the-home installations planned in the Coudersport area of Potter County over the next six months.

“We are so excited,” said Katie Taylor. “Having reliable internet will be a huge plus. We look forward to having internet that works normally so the kids can watch TV without it going off every five minutes, my husband can play video games, and I can work on my computer at the same time.”

Taylor, who works as a drug and alcohol prevention specialist for Potter County, said she had been struggling to work from home during the corona virus pandemic because of poor internet service.

“We are at the end of the line and our service has not worked very well,” she said. “We have very slow speeds, and most of the time it doesn’t work at all.”

On the day before an installer with Tri-Co Connections connected the Taylor home to 100-megabit-per-second broadband service, Taylor noted she was supposed to have a virtual meeting over the internet using the Zoom application.
“I had a Zoom conference at 10, and at 9:55 our internet went out,” she said. “I had to wait 20 minutes for the internet to come back up before I could log on.”
Her husband, Dave, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, said he is looking forward to being able to utilize high-speed internet for things like telemedicine, downloading video games and looking up parts for projects he is working on at home.
“It’s going to be nice to actually have good internet,” he said. “My biggest thing is being able to look up parts for a truck that I’m rebuilding and guns that I’m working on — and keeping the kids occupied.
Tri-County President & CEO Craig Eccher and Tri-Co Connections’ senior vice president of business development, Bill Gerski, were on hand to congratulate the family — following proper COVID-19 social-distancing protocols — and to witness the historic launch of fiber-optic broadband in rural northcentral Pennsylvania.
With the Taylor family’s home installation complete, Tri-County becomes the first electric cooperative in Pennsylvania to deliver affordable fiber-optic internet service to its membership. Over the next five to six years Tri-County will make broadband internet service available to all of its members across the cooperative’s 5,000-square-mile service territory in northcentral Pennsylvania.
“I am excited for the Taylor family and all of our cooperative members who we will be connecting to high-speed internet service through Tri-Co Connections in the Coudersport area in the days and weeks ahead,” said Eccher. “During a time when the corona virus pandemic is forcing parents and children to work and learn from home, the need for access to high-speed internet is more apparent than ever. We are pleased to be able to provide a great broadband experience in our region and help bridge the digital divide in our rural communities.”
The Tri-Co Connections fiber build-out officially kicked off Nov. 18, 2019, when crews began work along Dingman Run Road outside of Coudersport. Since then, crews have completed about 60 miles of fiber-optic cable construction in Tri-County service territory north of Coudersport.
Phase one of the build-out entails construction of about 110 miles of fiber in western portions of Tri-County’s service area that will make broadband service available to approximately 1,135 Tri-County residential, seasonal and commercial members in Potter County.
After phase one construction concludes this spring, the project will shift to phase two: building a 464-mile fiber backbone that will connect Tri-County REC’s 22 substations. The fiber backbone will improve electric system communications and expand the cooperative’s smart grid capabilities.
With headquarters in Mansfield, Pa., Tri-County Rural Electric Cooperative has served the residents of north-central Pennsylvania since 1937. Today the cooperative provides electricity to over 16,600 members in Tioga, Potter, Bradford, Lycoming, Clinton, McKean and Cameron counties.
Trico Fiber
Dave and Katie Taylor of Coudersport and their children, Jude and Mary Kate, became the first official customers of Tri-Co Connections Tuesday, April 7, when their Niles Hill Road home was connected to 100 megabit-per-second fiber internet service. Tri-Co Connections, a subsidiary of Tri-County Rural Electric Cooperative, has entered the installation and service-connection phase of its multi-year project to bring broadband to rural northcentral Pennsylvania. Installers are actively connecting customers in the Dingman Run area outside of Coudersport. Fiber installation is consider an essential service by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Seniors 2 Seniors program bridges digital, generational divide

By Jeff Fetzer

As Tri-Co Connection’s marketing mastermind, Bill Gerski, drove toward Coudersport for a presentation to introduce the public to Tri-County’s historic broadband internet initiative last winter, he had the senior moment he had been hoping for.

Pondering ways to encourage older residents to embrace the benefits of high-speed internet as he rolled along Route 6, Gerski conceptualized a program in which tech-savvy high school seniors would teach senior citizens basic computer and internet skills. The idea for what would become known as the Seniors 2 Seniors program was born.

Tri-County had hired Gerski, a veteran of the telecommunications and broadband industry, as the senior vice president of business development for Tri-Co Connections in the fall of 2018, shortly after the co-op announced its ambitious plan to bring high-speed internet to every corner of its 5,000-square-mile service territory over a five- to six-year period.

Tasked with leading the marketing and sales development efforts for Tri-Co Connections, the co-op’s broadband subsidiary, Gerski traveled throughout Potter County last year making public presentations about the project and the many benefits it would bring to the region. It was while leading those town hall presentations that he developed a concern that some of the region’s older residents would be bypassed by the information superhighway if there were no additional outreach efforts directed toward them.

“Over 40% of the members at Tri-County Rural Electric are senior citizens,” Gerski said. “Many of them lack computer skills or are unaware of all of the ways the internet can enhance their lives. I wanted to help seniors gain knowledge of computers without intimidating them.”

To move his concept from idea stage to reality, Gerski reached out to Dr. Michele Moore, executive director of the Potter County Education Council for her input and implementation ideas. Moore had attended some of Gerski’s community presentations in Potter County, where broadband deployment began last month, and shared his concern that the area’s older population wouldn’t take full advantage of the myriad benefits high-speed internet offers.

“Many of the attendees at these community meetings were senior citizens,” Moore said. “When Bill would ask them who was using the internet and what were they using it for, a lot of them said they either didn’t have a computer, or, if they did, all they were using it for was to play solitaire.”

After brainstorming with Gerski and researching digital outreach efforts aimed at senior citizens, Moore developed a technology course designed to introduce seniors to the benefits of high-speed internet through teacher-led instruction, hands-on practice and one-on-one support in a classroom setting.

“It’s a hands-on program led by an instructor who has vast experience in the field of information technology,” Moore explained. “Additionally, the seniors are being supported in the classroom by senior high school students who have an interest in and experience with computers and technology.”

Moore enlisted the assistance of them Potter County Human Services Area Agency on Aging, the Seneca Highlands Career and Technical Center (CTC), and school districts within Potter County to help develop the program and support the computer and internet educational curriculum for senior citizens. Gerski and Moore dubbed the new program Seniors 2 Seniors.

“Our goal is to show seniors how to use computers so they can stay connected with family and friends, utilize telemedicine or health care from home, access government online tools, utilize online banking, and work and shop from home,” Gerski said.
The Seniors 2 Seniors technology courses are hosted by the four senior centers in Potter County on an eight-week rotating schedule.

CLASSWORK: Seneca Highlands CTC network systems technology instructor Brent Bryant, left, provides some one-on-one computer training to Tri-County member Donald “Buck” Jackson of Coudersport during a Seniors 2 Seniors class held at the Coudersport Senior Center in January.

Led by Brent Bryant, network systems technology instructor with the Seneca Highlands CTC, the hour-long class takes place once a week. Bryant typically brings two to three high school students from the CTC’s network systems technology program to assist each week, and the local school district also supplies as many as five high school students to work with the senior citizens as they learn computer and internet basics.

The senior citizens receive individualized, on-site support from the students, who walk about the instruction area offering assistance as needed. “I think it’s an amazing program,” said Bryant, a Tri-County member who resides in Genesee. “It gives our students an opportunity to get out and share their knowledge, and it gives the seniors some essential skills to deal with today’s technology.”

He noted teaching senior citizens who have limited or no experience with technology is much more challenging than teaching high school students who have grown up with computers. “For many of them, just getting used to the icons, getting used to pointing and clicking and manipulating the devices is probably the biggest hurdle,” Bryant said.

CLASS TIME: Tri-County member Ernaline Hall of Coudersport learns how to set up a gmail account with assistance from Coudersport High School junior Darci Meacham during a Seniors 2 Seniors technology class at the Coudersport Senior Center. Tri-Co Connections Senior Vice President of Business Development Bill Gerski, center, came up with the idea for the program as a means of encouraging senior citizens to utilize the many benefits of high-speed internet that will be available to Tri-County members through Tri-Co Connections’ broadband internet service.

Over the eight-week course, Bryant provides instruction on basic computing skills, conducting internet searches with Google, setting up an email account and sending email, saving and storing documents and files, using social networking such as Skype and Facetime, and handling and sharing photos. There are also components dealing with online banking and cybersecurity.

Some of the attendees bring their own devices to the class, but the Education Council also provides laptops for use during the class meetings. The laptops were purchased through donations from C&N Bank, First Citizens Community Bank, JVB Bank and Northwest Bank. The first Seniors 2 Seniors course took place at the Shinglehouse Senior Center in October, and subsequent courses have been held at the Coudersport and Ulysses senior centers. The course is currently being offered at the Galeton Senior Center through May 27. For information about the Seniors 2 Seniors program, contact the Potter County Education Council at 814-274-4877.

Moore said the courses have been well received by seniors and she has been “pleasantly surprised” by the number of seniors enrolling in the course and their enthusiasm about learning about the internet.

“A lot of times, our senior citizens hear all this negative stuff about the internet, but they don’t hear enough about the positive benefits,” she said. “Once we are able to lessen those fears, to see their eyes light up, their smiles when they learn something new — it’s so great to see that.”

A career educator and advocate of lifelong learning, Moore noted that the Shinglehouse course had an 86-year old in attendance, and in Coudersport, one of the attendees was a “wonderful 96-year-old lady who came in and said, ‘Hey, I don’t want to get left behind.’” Moore said the high school students who help with the program are also getting a valuable learning experience through the program.

“Sometimes the various generations have preconceived notions or assumptions that they make about the other generations,” she said. “These kinds of programs that bring those generations together is nothing but a benefit. It starts to break down those preconceived notions, and they get a better understanding of each other.” She said the Education Council will continue to offer the courses in Potter County as long as there is sufficient interest, and there may even be a Seniors 2 Seniors 2.0 in the offering in the future.

“Having never done something like this before, we are learning as we go,” she said. “We will keep refining it. We’re just really trying to listen to what the needs are and trying to address those needs.”
Gerski anticipates the program will expand to other counties where Tri-Co Connections will serve broadband customers, and noted discussions to that end are already underway with Tioga County officials.

“The feedback about Seniors 2 Seniors has been very positive,” Gerski said “It’s been very well received.” Tri-County member Donald “Buck” Jackson of Coudersport participated in the course offered at the Coudersport Senior Center and said the training he received helped make him more comfortable using a computer and navigating the internet.

“I’m pretty ignorant about the computer,” Jackson said. “I have gotten to the place where I could do emails and look things up occasionally and check the national news, but there is so much that I don’t know. Anything I get out of it is a plus. Even if it just makes me more comfortable with what I’m doing, it would be a plus.”

Jackson says he would highly recommend the Seniors 2 Seniors program to others, especially those who have very limited or no experience with computers. “If someone knows nothing about the computer, it’s almost scary because it’s so alien to what we’ve done before,” said Jackson.

Gerski, who is usually on hand to provide assistance to seniors participating in the training program, relates that at one of the sessions that focused on setting up an email account and sending email messages, he handed out his business card to the senior students and asked them to send him a message.

“The first one who sent me an email said, ‘Thank you very much for teaching us how to use a computer. We really appreciate your support,’” Gerski said. “I thought that was so cool. The fellow who sent it is 78 years old, and it was the first email he’d ever sent.” For Gerski, that’s a senior moment he won’t soon forget.

HANDS-ON LEARNING: Coudersport High School junior Reed Powers assists Seniors 2 Seniors participants during a class at the Coudersport Senior Center. Seniors 2 Seniors is an 8-week training program designed to teach basic computing and internet skills to senior citizens. The classes, held once a week at senior citizens centers in Potter County, is taught by technology instructor and Tri-County member Brent Bryant of the Seneca Highlands Career and Technical Center and utilizes senior high school students to assist class participants with hands-on learning activities.

 

Meeting with House Speaker and PA Representative

House Speaker Mike Turzai & Representative Clint Owlett meet w/ Tri-County REC & Tri-Co Connections

Tri-County Rural Electric Cooperative and Tri-Co Connections welcomed PA Representative Clint Owlett and Speaker of the House Mike Turzai to the Cooperative to discuss the fiber deployment project and how we are working together to bring fiber to our members in rural Pennsylvania. We are thankful for the partnerships built with Representative Owlett on this important project and for the Speaker’s interest in such an important initiative to bridge the digital divide!

Honoring Veteran’s Day

We at Tri-Co Connections view it as an honor to recognize the veterans that have and do serve our country with distinction, honor, and sacrifice. We often run across the work of amazing photographers in our local area and use their pictures in our marketing efforts. One such photographer is Bruce Dart. He shared a couple of photos that he took of the Mansfield Veterans Memorial Park. Both Bruce and his father co-chaired the development of this project. The Memorial is a 50′ diameter circle with a 5 pointed star of red brick surrounding the monument. Each point of the star has an 18″ black granite emblem of each branch of service. The back of the 8′ stone has his favorite quote that rings true…

“All gave some, some gave all”

Mansfield Veterans Memorial Park

 

Mansfield Veterans Memorial Park

 

 

Potter County Education Council and Tri-Co Connections Partner Up to Launch Seniors 2 Seniors Program

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One of the many challenges of getting high-speed fiber broadband to rural Pennsylvania has been finding the funding to bring this expensive network to an area that only serves 5.8 homes per mile. Recently, Tri-Co Connections, an LLC of Tri-County Rural Electric Cooperative, was awarded over $51 million in grants to do just that. Tri-County’s members will soon have access to up to one gigabit (1000 Mbps) of service in their own homes.

Providing this service to over 3000 miles of fiber network throughout seven counties in northern Pennsylvania is not only very expensive, but also very time-consuming. Bill Gerski, Senior Vice President of Business Development for Tri-Co, says the entire project may take upwards of six years to complete.

As this project unfolds, an additional exercise will be working with older customers so that they may benefit from the use of this available technology as much (or more) as younger ones. Gerski and Dr. Michele Moore, the Executive Director of the Potter County Education Council, have come up with a potential solution to this challenge.

The Potter County Education Council, Tri-Co Connections, the Potter County Human Services Area Agency on Aging, the Seneca Highlands CTC and our local school districts are teaming up to develop a program called Seniors 2 Seniors. This program will teach basic computer skills, digital literacy, and cybersecurity to senior citizens so that they have the knowledge to utilize the many benefits of high-speed Internet. 

As a part of this program, Tri-Co Connections, the Potter County Education Council and the Area Agency on Aging would like to have local high school students volunteer to provide on-site support to each of the adults who participate in the course. Area high school students are a logical resource to support senior citizens as they learn about the Internet since this generation of students has grown up with technology as a part of their daily lives. They are a true “tech-savvy” population and can provide valuable support to older adults who are learning to navigate and use new technological skills and information.

“The Potter County Education Council is excited to be partnering with Tri-Co Connections, the Area Agency on Aging, the Seneca Highlands CTC and our local school districts for this very important and timely project which will provide a valuable lifelong learning opportunity to many of our older county residents while also allowing area high school students an opportunity to give back to their local communities,” stated Dr. Moore. S

he went on to point out, “This course will provide our older county residents the opportunity to learn, and in some cases, further their technical skills while also providing our senior high school students the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others and connect with a more experienced generation of Potter County residents. It’s an opportunity for both age groups to learn about the other, to debunk generational stereotypes and connect on a personal level.” 

Potter County Commissioner Doug Morley expressed his support for this program. “The Senior 2 Senior Initiative is another example of how the Potter County Education Council leads the way in collaborating with private industries and other public agencies to assist area residents in their educational pursuits. It’s exciting to see the collaboration efforts made by Tri-Co Connections, Potter County Education Council, Potter County Human Services Agency on Aging, the Seneca Highlands CTC and our local school districts in support of the educational opportunities for our senior citizens.”

Research has shown there are some specific benefits of high-speed Internet to our older adults which include:
• Staying connected to family and friends. The ability to Skype with children and grandchildren is priceless. Senior citizens can view a graduation or birthday party that they would otherwise be unable to attend. For home-bound older adults, high-speed Internet can become a lifeline to the outside world.
• Health care from home is now possible. Home-based health monitoring over a broadband connection allows senior citizens to connect directly with their doctors and avoid costly trips to medical offices and hospitals. This valuable service allows many elderly people to live independently at home.
• Access to online banking. Banking from the comfort of home rather than having to travel to the bank for basic financial needs such as checking account balances, transferring money between accounts and even paying bills on-line has made banking easier and more convenient than ever before. 
• Numerous government online tools are currently available through high-speed connections. In some cases, mature adults can find answers about changes to Medicare or help with Social Security within minutes. Many older people who have never had access to these programs can now get up-to-date information from the comfort of their own homes.
• High-speed Internet access can open a whole new world of shopping convenience online. The advent of services from online stores such as Amazon, Walmart, and Target allows senior citizens in rural areas to buy online and have products, that are not available locally, delivered within days. 
• Many older adults are now working from home for companies like Amazon, Google, and American Express. These companies are looking for experienced workers, but also require employees to have access to a computer, high-speed Internet, and a skill set to navigate the company’s platform.
• Improving mental sharpness and hand-eye coordination. Research has shown that playing strategy-based video games can help to improve the cognitive functions of senior citizens (which normally decline as people age). 

With a wide variety of benefits for senior citizens to learn and use high-speed internet, it makes sense to provide older adults access to technology classes that will allow them to take advantage of this innovation. Isaac Musser, Director of the Potter County Area Agency on Aging echoes the importance of these benefits, “Social isolation is a serious health issue for senior citizens. Ensuring that seniors within Potter County stay connected to family and friends is critical to their overall health and well-being. 

It is the team’s hope that through the Seniors 2 Seniors Program we can encourage our senior citizens to utilize high-speed internet and technology to become and continue to stay engaged with their family, friends, fellow community members, and health care providers. Join us in protecting and serving one of Potter County’s most vulnerable, valued and treasured populations. We ask anyone who has a Senior (citizen) in their family to make them aware of this program and encourage them to attend.” 

The Senior 2 Senior technology course will be offered at each of the four senior centers in Potter County on an eight-week rotating schedule, meeting on Wednesdays from 1-2 PM (following the school districts’ calendars), throughout the 2019-2020 school year. 

The first Senior 2 Senior course will be at the Shinglehouse Senior Center beginning on Wednesday, October 2nd and will run through Wednesday, November 20th. The course will also run at the Coudersport Senior Center (December 4th – February 5th), the Ulysses Senior Center (February 12th – April 1st) and then at the Galeton Senior Center (April 8th – May 27th)

You can register yourself or a parent or grandparent by calling the Potter County Education Council at (814) 274-4877, registering on the Potter County Education Council’s website at www.pottercountyedcouncil.org or stop by the Potter County Education Council’s office at 5 Water Street in Coudersport to register in person. 

For more information about the Seniors 2 Seniors Program, contact Dr. Michele Moore at the Potter County Education Council (274-4877 or mmoore@pcedcouncil.org) or Bill Gerski at Tri-Co Connections (702-493-6142 or billg@ctenterprises.org

The Senior 2 Senior technology course and high-speed internet from Tri-Co Connections will allow our senior citizens to better connect to the world!

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