September 14, 2020

BBC Summit 2020 – Fiber: Building a Gigabit World

The following transcript has been edited for length and readability. Listen to the entire discussion here on The Broadband Bunch

Craig Corbin:

Hello everyone, and welcome to another edition of the Broadband Bunch. I’m Craig Corbin. The past six months have brought about phenomenal change and upheaval in virtually all aspects of our lives.  Global pandemics tend to do just that. One aspect of doing business which has been directly impacted is that of trade shows, conferences and conventions. Gone for the time being are traditional onsite in-person events and meetings. Many gatherings have been canceled altogether, while others have turned to technology for a way around the challenges of maintaining health and safety amid the ongoing COVID-19 battle.

Craig Corbin:

One such gathering has long been a must attend event in the world of fiber broadband services, the Broadband Communities Summit, this year to be held in a virtual format. Joining me today to talk about the BBC Summit 2020, the CEO of Broadband Communities, Barbara DeGarmo, along with Vice-President, Publisher and Conference Director for Broadband Communities, Nancy McCain. Prior to assuming the role of CEO, Barbara has had a lengthy career in journalism, including Family Circle, Star Magazine, The New York Post, and Daily News. In addition to serving as publisher of Broadband Communities Magazine, Nancy oversees both the operational and sales side of the BBC annual Summit along with economic development events and she has more than three decades of experience in publishing and producing national and international trade shows. Barbara, Nancy, welcome to the Broadband Bunch.

Broadband Communities Overview

Craig Corbin:

The BBC Summit has been the premier meeting place for high speed network builders, deployers, and system operators every year for a long time. It seems to be locked on everyone’s calendar in the broadband industry. This year things are very different but before we get into that, would give us a brief overview of your organization?

Barbara DeGarmo:

Broadband Communities has a magazine that comes out seven times a year and we have two trade shows. The big one is our Summit, and then we have a smaller one, usually in the fall, which this year we won’t be having that covers broadband and economic development. We’re all about building broadband in communities. Your community could be your own home, it can be your town, it can be your Multifamily Dwelling Unit (MDU). We try to cover all those. We’re about marketing, managing, building, planning, and monetizing high speed broadband networks in all those communities.

Craig Corbin:

The logistics for any trade show, any summit, any convention are substantial even in normal circumstances. Transitioning to a virtual format obviously was something that was a first-time consideration for Broadband Communities. Talk about the process of the decision making on not having it in person and going virtual.

BBC Summit 2020 – Going Virtual

Nancy McCain:

It was a big process. I think Barbara and myself probably sat in on maybe seven to 10 virtual platforms before making that final decision. We knew it was happening. We were planning for a hybrid, but of course, now it’s just a virtual. I felt like I was back in college, having to relearn everything and trying to transform that live event into a platform that would be easily accessible by our exhibitors, our sponsors, and our attendees.  We’re very happy with the one we picked. They’ve been working hand in hand with us, getting everything set up and we are working hand in hand with our sponsors, making sure they are well represented, as well as the other exhibitors.

Nancy McCain:

I think it’ll be an easy flow – once a person arrives at our event – to be able to find their way around. And to be able to enjoy the event as they would have the live event. We won’t have our parties that we usually host, which we are already known for, but we’ll have a very great event with high end content. The whole transition from live to virtual, it’s been a hard one, but we’re quick learners and it is just what everyone else in this trade show business is having to do. There’s no way to not go towards the light as far as this virtual event.

Craig Corbin:

While we’re on that particular topic, the platform that is being used is vFairs. Their website looked amazing with great virtual lobbies, interactive spaces, and enabling all attendees to navigate a very visually rich environment, that is mobile friendly, customizable, and interactive. Was that part of what you were looking for? To make it as easy to use as possible?

Nancy McCain:

That’s correct.  The different (event) platforms filled up pretty quickly with everyone being forced to go virtual. So we tried to stay as close as we could to our original dates (April) but that didn’t happen and then we had to move it to August, but we needed to be respectful for our partnering associations such as the Fiber Broadband Association and the National Multifamily Housing Council. They have events coming up soon. And so we made that decision to stick with our September date so that as soon as a lot of them could have even hosted us because they got booked pretty quickly, but we’re happy with it.

Nancy McCain:

The vFairs platform is very user friendly. We’re going to be there working in the information booth. We’re going to have a live video with simple instructions on how to maneuver around the platform. We’re just going to make it very easy for someone to be able to join us and not get lost and be able to find his way around.

Craig Corbin:

And of course, the dates for this year’s summit, the 22nd through the 24th of September. The theme, Fiber: Building a Gigabit World. Things will kick off on the morning of the 22nd, Barbara, with your official welcome.

BBC Summit 2020 Program Tracks

Barbara DeGarmo:

Right. A lot of the program will be familiar to the people who have attended in the past. We usually open up with an overall view of what’s been happening and that’s going to happen this year. It’s an interesting panel, which is being recorded right now or within the next hour as we’re speaking. And then we’ll have a great community session which highlights why we all want to live in a gigabit world, and that’s recorded already. Then we have an overview of our Multi-Dwelling Unit track. And this year we’re very excited to have partnered on that track with NMHC, the National Multi Housing Council.  They’re going to be putting on a very lively discussion that the first day is going to hit on the key points for MDUs and businesses. Then as the sessions go on, they’ll have longer ones.

Barbara DeGarmo:

It’s been an interesting experience because first of all, way last February, it was like, oh my God, in March, are we going to have to change from April in Houston? And it became obvious, of course we are. Then it looked like we could do it in Houston in August and that was the best date that our hotel could accommodate us. We had our fingers crossed for that, and then, nope, it’s not going to happen then either.

Barbara DeGarmo:

Even when it was August in Houston, we were trying to have a hybrid event – a live event and a virtual event for those people that didn’t want to travel. Well that didn’t happen. So now we’re all virtual. We’re trying to make lemonade as much as we can…

Craig Corbin:

I like that.

Barbara DeGarmo:

… and keep our spirits up. Yay! We were talking before that some of the things will actually be better, especially for our sponsors and exhibitors in their ability to really keep close track of exactly who was there, who was in each session, who visited their booths. Rather than just collecting business cards, they all have the digital information of everybody that came. We’re trying to make it as interactive as possible. It’s been an interesting experience. We’re looking forward to it.

Nancy McCain:

The week that we were going to have it in August in Houston, we had two hurricanes in the Gulf here. It was almost comical, like, God does have a sense of humor.

Craig Corbin:

He was sending a message.

Barbara DeGarmo:

Exactly. Stick to your virtual plan.

Craig Corbin:

Before we go on to some of the other tracks, I do want to go back the MDU track, something very familiar to me as I spent a lot of time in that sector of the industry. One of the panelists that is from my old stomping grounds, in Western North Carolina.  The Cullasaja Group in association with Balsam West has done a phenomenal job in that area. Those two organizations are panelists on Day one in the Great Communities session.

Barbara DeGarmo:

Right. They are speaking in our Great Communities session and they are a great community. It’s kind of like, everybody would love to retire and live there. For those of us especially who grew up in the South and always were sent as kids to summer camp in the mountains of North Carolina, this is like that. Complete with, I think it’s an Arnold Palmer designed golf course.

Barbara DeGarmo:

And all the stories you hear about how difficult it is to get any kind of broadband reception in the West, in the mountains, in the rural areas, well, they weren’t going to take no for an answer, the homeowners’ association there. When they first approached Balsam West, because they did have a fiber line running right outside the gates of the community, Balsam West only served business clients at that time. Then they went through a bunch of iterations with different ISPs that would service them as a residential group and couldn’t get anybody that they really liked. By that time, two or three years had gone by and Balsam West said, “Hey, we’ll do your residential. We’re expanding.

Barbara DeGarmo:

And so it was just like, where there’s a will… We always love that where there’s a will, there’s a way stories. And they are a great community that is definitely in that bailiwick.

Craig Corbin:

We’ve talked about the multifamily track and the Great Communities session. There’s also the Editor’s Choice track, the Economic Development track and one that I’m particularly interested in, the Rural Broadband track because bridging that digital divide is front and center with everybody today. If you could talk about that.

Barbara DeGarmo:

If there’s anything we’ve learned from the last six months, it’s that good high-speed broadband connection is not some kind of luxury. It is a necessity. More and more communities talk about it in terms of it’s like electricity or water, or even telephone service. You couldn’t conceive of living in a community or in a house that didn’t have electricity. And if you’re trying to work from home and your children are being homeschooled, (not homeschooled necessarily by your choice, but because that’s the only way they’re going to get any kind of schooling), it is a necessity.

Barbara DeGarmo:

So we no longer feel like we have to convince people that this is a good idea. They know it’s a good idea. And now we’re just trying to show them in our sessions, communities that have been able to do it, and how they’ve done it. There are a number of different financing sessions, there’s government financing and there’s also state and local financing. There are more and more incidences of people that are partnering up. So they’ve got public-private, they’ve got private-private groups, they’ve got electric co-ops that are wiring their communities because they already have electric wires into their houses. And there are electric and telco companies that are combining forces. And all of that along with the things like telehealth and distance learning, and working from home are all going to be covered in our different sessions.

BBC Summit 2020 Registration and Planning

Craig Corbin:

We talked earlier in the conversation about the decision-making process of going virtual and then the resulting fact that many of the presentations will have been prerecorded. That is a wonderful choice to have them in the can and ready to go so you don’t worry about technical issues in a live setting. Talk though about the logistics involved with getting every piece in the right part of the puzzle.

Nancy McCain:

Well, it’s just called organization and having great organizational skills. We are blessed to have great staff, Denise Argil and Karry Thomas have been taking this by the horn. We’ve been just turnkey setting up pre-conference calls with all the panelists and the moderators, getting everyone prepped to know exactly what’s going to happen. Get everyone on the same page as far as the perfect time to schedule these pre-recordings. And they’re getting done perfectly. Of course, we have run into some technical issues that thank God, we weren’t live because I just reviewed one and there was no sound. So we have to re-upload it and stuff. But we’ve got it.

Nancy McCain:

And so I just would be devastated should that happen in a live setting. So about 98% of these sessions are going to be recorded. Many will be recorded the week before the event just because the timeliness of certain topics.

Nancy McCain:

And we’re planning ahead for those. We know those are going to be our last minute ones, but they are going to come together, and we’ll get them together.  We have a couple that are going to be live. And so we were not too terrified. We wish they were prerecorded, but that’s okay. I’d rather have two that are live and not 50. And so it’s going well. The speakers and what I’ve seen so far, are fantastic, as well as fantastic sessions. I can’t wait for our attendees to be able to view these sessions. Everyone’s doing a fantastic job.

Craig Corbin:

Again, the BBC Summit 2020 is coming up September 22nd through the 24th. If there are any listeners that have not yet registered, what is the best way that they can make that happen?

Nancy McCain:

Visit our website, bbcmag.com.  Click on the Summit icon and you will see the full detailed agenda and instructions on how to get yourself registered. Right now it’s $450 for a full pass, $350 for public officials, and we’ve got other special offers as well. So if you want to see the special offers, subscribe to Broadband Communities Magazine here and you’ll automatically be privy to those special offers we give to our readership.

Craig Corbin:

I can vouch for the fact that this is one of the premier broadband industry events every year, and I’m looking forward to this year’s virtual event. Granted, it will be different, but this entire year has been different. That’s the way it’s going to work and we look forward to making the absolute best of it.

Craig Corbin:

So moving on, there are many important trends coming in the world of communications and broadband, and getting people connected.  Would you agree that this perhaps there might be a silver lining in dealing with a global pandemic?  That a white-hot spotlight has been put on the fact that, Barbara, to your point earlier in the conversation, long gone are the days when connectivity to the internet are considered a luxury. That it is essential that everyone be connected. And perhaps this pandemic is the impetus to get everyone moving in the same direction to make that connectivity a reality. Your thoughts on that, Barbara?

Barbara DeGarmo:

Definitely, I agree. I think you see that there’s money being provided for broadband connectivity. There had been already a considerable amount of money that was being provided by the Federal Communications Commission via auctions and the Agriculture Department giving grants for rural broadband as well. But there’s even more money now. There were issues that are now in the past, for example, like in telehealth with getting doctors reimbursed. And they are now being reimbursed under Medicare. They’re being reimbursed under Medicaid. They’re being reimbursed under insurance companies.

Barbara DeGarmo:

So this has become a normal thing. That’s going to make a huge transformation in the way we visit our doctors. And in education as well there’s been a huge transformation in the way we get our kids schooled. It is definitely a silver lining due to the pandemic.

Nancy McCain:

I would pretty much mimic what Barbara said. She summarized it perfectly in regards to how we see things.

Craig Corbin:

I can’t wait for the Broadband Community Summit 2020 coming next week, September 22nd through the 24th in a virtual format for the first time ever!  It should be fantastic. I think that you might find some of the attendees will wind up preferring the virtual format – with the ability to get to more things perhaps than have been previously.

Barbara DeGarmo:

I wanted to re-emphasize your point that sometimes there’s more than one track going on at the same time and it might be that you wanted to participate in both, something that was going on in the MDU track and something that was going on in the Rural Development track. This way, one of the huge benefits of the virtual Summit is that these are all available and you don’t have to be there at the exact time that the session is going on. Everything will be available for the two months after the Summit itself is over.  All you have to do is get yourself registered here and you have all of the Summit sessions available to you.

Craig Corbin:

That is a tremendous advantage to a virtual event – the ability to access all of the content according to your own schedule.  Barbara, Nancy, thank you so much for your time today.  Please visit Broadband Communities to learn more about the Summit and to register.

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