large group of people together

What You’ll Learn

In the third episode of this special four-part series sponsored by Corning, Laura Withers (VP of strategic communications at NTCA) and host Stephen V. Smith conclude their discussion of several informative sessions from the 2021 NTCA RTIME Online event.

Part 1 (0:42 – 4:25)
“Tips on Living in Isolation from the Man Who Spent a Year in Space” with Captain Scott Kelly

Part 2 (4:26 – 10:17)
“Impacts of a Cyber Breach” with Fayyaz Patwa, Kevin Beyer and Gary Owen

Part 3 (10:18 – 15:58)
“Rural Communities Redefined” with Matt Dunne

Guest Speaker

Laura Withers

Show Notes

Transcripts have been lightly edited for clarity and readability.

Stephen Smith: This special coverage of NTCA’s RTIME event is sponsored by Corning, the leading innovator with expertise in glass science, ceramic science and optical physics. Providing fiber optic cable and network equipment, Corning is helping connect rural America with reliable broadband. Learn more at

Stephen Smith: Welcome into part three of our special coverage of RTIME, the Annual Meeting and Expo of NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association. And once again, my guest today is Laura Withers. Laura is the VP of Strategic Communications for NTCA. Well, let’s pick up where we left off in the last episode. You know, Laura, we think that quarantining during the pandemic made us all feel isolated, and it did to a degree. But you had a keynote speaker who knows more about isolation than any of us. Captain Scott Kelly, former astronaut, spent a year on the International Space Station, and he shared with your attendees some inspiring, some funny and at times surprising moments. What stands out to you about his speech?

Laura Withers: Well, first of all, he was really funny, and I was not expecting that. But, you know, astronauts have a sense of humor. I guess you have to if you’re spending a year on the space center with nobody else. But as you know, Stephen, I’m a huge fan of anything that is about space and space travel. And you and I have been to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, together. And, you know, I follow the Perseverance Mars rover on Twitter and like to keep track of what it’s up to. So I loved hearing from Mark Kelly, and I know a lot of other people did, too. I’ve also felt there for the last year, like my house is the space shuttle. My house is feeling that way, but I don’t really leave as much as I used to. So it does feel a little bit like I’m in a cramped space that might resemble a space shuttle. But you know, what I love about what Scott Kelly had to say was he talked about how he learned to live with very little stuff. He joked that he had been wearing the same pair of pants for a month. And I won’t lie. There are days where I have worn the same pair of pants just because I didn’t feel like doing laundry. And when you’re on a Zoom call, nobody can see your bottom half. So I definitely enjoyed that. And then, you know, he also talked about knowing what you can control and ignoring everything else. And for goodness sakes, if there’s anything that we have all had to do over this last year, it was, you know, focusing on what we could control and not focusing on what we could not control. That was so hard when, you know, the news cycle was so focused on this pandemic and everything it was doing to our country and our economy and just how bad that was. But I really enjoyed his comments about, you know, focusing on those things that we can change and then letting go of everything else.

Stephen Smith: Yeah. That’s an important lesson for sure. Well, let’s listen in to a clip from Captain Scott Kelly.

Scott Kelly: And I think this trait of taking risks, being willing to fail, being willing to make mistakes is something that separates really, really successful people in all kinds of fields from, you know, just people that go along throughout their lives not really knowing what they are capable of doing. To help me, the Navy teamed up with a RIO like Goose in “Top Gun,” the guy that sat in the back that was good at helping people, and we practiced on land. And eventually he says to me, he goes, “you know what, Scott? You can fly this airplane okay. But what I notice about you is that you’re too comfortable when everything is just going along all right. You’re too comfortable with the status quo. You’re not making very, very small, positive corrections all the time. And because you’re not doing that, pretty soon, you know, you’re going to be off altitude, air speed, heading and crashing potentially into that ship.”

Stephen Smith: You know, because we are depending so much on the Internet, and we have a distributed workforce, you know, across the country now with so many companies having their employees working from home, cybersecurity has become an even greater concern. And you had one session entitled “Impacts of a Cyber Breach.” And Kevin Beyer, the GM of Federated Telephone and Farmers Telephone Cooperatives, had a story to share. He was on a panel with Gary Owen of Wells Fargo and Fayyaz Patwa of Nokia. It’s really a frightening topic. And, you know, it’s not just the huge corporations. I think the lesson from that session, it’s not just the huge corporations that the bad actors are after. They’re coming after the small businesses, too. What lessons do you think, Laura, that the attendees should take away from that session and the experience that Federated Tel. went through?

Laura Withers: Well, I want to give Kevin huge credit for sharing his story. It is not an easy thing to share because it was not a fun experience. And anybody who has gone through a cyber security breach knows that firsthand. And he was very honest with how difficult it was for them and their staff and how scared everybody was afterwards that they were going to somehow cause another cyber security incident. But what I took away from it and what I think NTCA members should take away from it is that this issue is not going anywhere. And if you are not taking action to get out ahead of possible cyber vulnerabilities, that you should start doing that now. And NTCA has made huge progress on helping our members do that through several programs that we’ve launched over the last several years. Chief among them is the cyber share information sharing platform that we have launched that allows our companies to share information with each other about vulnerabilities and threats they’re seeing on their networks and also get instant access to information from the government and other sources on what they should be looking out for. So it’s a topic that I think, unfortunately, has become even more important during the pandemic as we’ve seen these bad actors continue to to look for opportunities. And I encourage everybody to listen to Kevin’s story because it could be another small business or a small broadband provider that that’s happening to.

Stephen Smith: And this is definitely, I think, one of the sessions that if you missed it and even if you were able to attend, this is one worth going back and listening to to really take the lessons away from. But here’s a taste of that with a clip from the “Impacts of a Cyber Breach.”

Fayyaz Patwa: Gary, what keeps you up at night?

Gary Owen: Lately, solar winds, and I would say nation state attacks is what keeps me up at night the most. That’s a big problem. But I think for folks, I would worry the most about how you protect the systems that you have. So that would be your authentication systems, who has access to what? Do you know why and how? Are you comfortable that how they access is truly secure, because that’s how folks get in and bad things happen, and it manifests itself in ways that you probably wouldn’t imagine, but ends up being a really bad day. If the Russians or the Chinese or some other nations that were to attack small business, they’re going to get in. They’re going to get into companies like ours. They just proved it with the solar winds, Orion, in fact.

Gary Owen: But for smaller companies, it is thinking through what’s going to bring the most likelihood, what’s most likely to happen, and what’s the impact of that likely to be? One of the first things I did when I got to Wells Fargo was, I increased the length of the password. People kind of looked at me like I was crazy. But an eight character password can be broken in seconds. A 16-character password can be broken in tens of years, tens of thousands of years. So it’s a simple change, but it makes a big difference. Think about how people come to your system. Whether it’s your clients, your customers, or your admins or your third parties, are you comfortable that the security is high enough to prevent someone who isn’t intended to come to you or you haven’t given authorization to to get in?

Fayyaz Patwa: Gary, one question comes up around video offerings. Going back to your Time Warner days, I mean, many of our telco providers do offer video services. What’s your feedback there and advice on safeguarding video offerings?

Gary Owen: Sure. So, you know, if you’re giving a multichannel package into a home, if delivered through a device and that device is an IP address, it looks exactly like the extension of your network. So you may only have a few hundred people, but if you have tens of thousands of clients or customers who have these boxes, that’s a hacker’s delight. Make sure that those devices are as secure as you can possibly make them and understand how they’re going to be used and have some understanding or some ability to detect when they’re misused. Someone may try to inject code in it, may try to really get to your network or get to their neighbors through that same device.

Gary Owen: And I assume most of the security controls are built in, but it’s well worth putting a little effort to have a complete assurance and have the monitoring to be able to detect when bad things are happening out in the perimeter, now, in your customers homes.

Stephen Smith: Another of your sessions was entitled “Rural Communities Redefined.” And that was brought to us by Matt Dunne, who is the Executive Director of the Center for Rural Innovation. Dunne spoke of a continued rural revival and how communities with robust broadband networks can create stickiness, as he called it, for residents and consumers. Laura, how have you seen the pandemic create opportunities for rural communities with broadband?

Laura Withers: Well, first of all, I think everybody knows that when the pandemic hit, nobody really wanted to be in the city anymore. So a lot of people found a way to get out to a small town or a suburban area that they could spread out a little bit more. And that has led to a huge influx of new people to rural communities, which we think is a great thing, especially in communities supported by our members because they have great broadband. So, Matt talked about the opportunity that our member communities have in not only providing ways for people to work from home and own homes in these communities and work remotely, but also getting more businesses involved in supporting those communities and creating like tech incubators and business opportunities in those communities as well. So he works for an organization that has a mission very much focused on that. And I think it was fascinating for me hearing him talk now versus when I met him more than a year ago, actually, in Vermont, where he lived when they were really just in the very early stages of this. And I think they have made a lot more progress towards their goal of supporting economic development in these rural communities. Thanks to the pandemic and what Shirley Bloomfield calls this rural renaissance brought on by a lot of people moving out to these places from other parts of the country. So for me, it was fascinating to see how much progress has been made just over the last year.

Stephen Smith: Well, let’s listen to a clip from Matt’s presentation entitled “Rural Communities Redefined.”

Matt Dunne: There are people, particularly now in the hills who might be working independently or in companies where you don’t think of them as technology companies, but in fact, could come together as the start of a technology community, and then have that to build off of. And when we are exploring this, we are doing it in the context of this moment of what we think might be the great tech migration. We have been looking at data that showed that immediately after the pandemic set in, one of the highest occupations to move to rural places was independent technologists. It was also, you know, lawyers and architects and people who had more agency. But what struck us was that interesting mobility of people who are working in technology to be able to move. And we’re seeing a lot of examples of that being more of a permanent thing. The housing prices in rural places, particularly ones that have world class broadband, are going up at really, really fast rates. And there is a rethinking of where people can work and live, especially with companies like Zillow deciding to permanently allow people to work remotely. And the reason these jobs are so important is because they pay well. You have these kinds of positions that are in hot demand and are continuing to grow in demand as automation increases. And so this is what we focus on as an organization to both help understand where those jobs are now in rural places where folks could hire people and then how to build additional capacity in this area through remote tech training, as well as placement both remotely, but also for technology jobs that might be local.

Matt Dunne: We have had the experience, which is incredibly frustrating, that hospitals and even institutions of higher education are hiring from big cities because they don’t think there’s tech talent nearby. When in fact, if they were looking even to sometimes their own graduates at a university, they could find that right at home and be able to create a critical mass. So this is our bigger picture of how digital economy ecosystems can be created. And we look at this as a framework for a strategic approach. And we start with some of the foundational elements that you need to have a healthy economy in a rural place. And we have these over here because it’s just important to acknowledge that they’re critical. But we don’t get involved in those as an organization. We just say these are things that you really want to be continuing to work on with folks much more qualified to help with those kinds of activities. But then we also look at infrastructure. And as you can see, front and center to infrastructure is what NTCA works on every day, which is bringing world class connectivity directly to people’s homes and businesses. And we have been doing some work and helping with assessments and understanding how to get more resources to help those kinds of expansions.

Stephen Smith: This concludes part three in our 2021 RTIME series. The special RTIME coverage is sponsored by Corning, helping connect rural America with reliable broadband. Visit To hear more episodes in the series, visit This is a production of WordSouth — A Content Marketing Company.

Laura Withers: Access to the on-demand library for RTIME Online is now available at the NTCA website at Members can register for access to the on-demand content for $599 and nonmembers for $799. And with that you’ll receive access to the on-demand library, discussion boards in networking central, information from exhibers in the Solutions eXchange, and the attendee-to-attendee text and video chat through the end of May.