Recently the senior executives from Tri-Co Connections and TCREC gave powerful testimony to a telecommunications committee sponsored by Senator Gene Yaw. This news event was picked up nationally by USA Today. It’s becoming very clear that the message and leadership that is coming from Pennsylvania is helping pave the way for more companies to help bridge the digital divide that exists in rural America. More and more of our members are seeing a sign of the times.
Senator Gene Yaw discusses the importance of broadband in rural Pennsylvania with the Department of Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding at this year’s 2021 Virtual Farm Show. TCREC and Tri-Co Connections are mentioned as leaders in helping Bridge The Digital Divide.
We are so excited because we hit a major milestone this week. Karen and Andrew Felicetti became “Subscriber 500!” That’s right we’ve completed 500 high-speed fiber installations and we are pushing forward with our construction/build-out to make sure all of our members have the opportunity to enjoy the fastest and most reliable Internet available. The Felicetti’s are pictured here with Bill Gerski, Aaron Young, and TCREC board member Nick Reiter.
“We are thrilled to install our 500th customer, and we are excited to have the opportunity to continue to deliver high-speed, fiber-optic Internet service to the homes, farms, and businesses across our service region.”
-Craig Eccher, President & CEO of Tri-County Rural Electric Cooperative, Inc.
“Our goal is to end the educational, economic, and social inequalities that exist due to the digital divide between rural and urban areas. Installing our 500th customer means that we are on our way to making this a reality. We are truly dedicated to Delivering a Brighter Future to our members. Watch us grow!”
– Bill Gerski, Senior VP, Business Development, Tri-Co Connections
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Learn more about how bandwidth and your internet speed is measured. Compare upload and download speeds and understand what activities require more speed, and which ones take less to optimize your home experience!
Tri-County Rural Electric Delivering Connectivity, Expanding Partnerships, in Appalachians.
Tri-County Electric Cooperative in north central Pennsylvania has listened to its members’ wishes and is developing a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network for Internet access. While Christopher was at the October Broadband Communities Economic Development event in Alexandria, Virginia, he met up with Craig Eccher, President and CEO of the co-op, to learn more about the project and the cooperative.
Craig describes how the infrastructure was needed for basic electric operations – to improve communication between substations – and that members had also begun to request Internet access from their co-op. When they sought information through a survey, the results were supportive, but cooperative leadership needed to take a creative approach to get members to attend a meeting for discussion about project details. Craig describes how the demographic support surprised and encouraged them and how state and federal funding provided the boost they needed to confirm the project.
The cooperative is redefining partnerships both in the community and in ways that go beyond the co-op’s service area. Craig talks about business and member partnerships that will help expand the use of the infrastructure. He also describes how the project has breathed new life into the role of the cooperative within the Appalachian community it serves and how, while happy with the new excitement, it’s important to manage expectations.
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