Tyler Campbell, executive director of the Kentucky Telecom Association, joined Carrie Huckeby to discuss the upcoming 2022 KTA/TNBA Fall Conference and Supplier Showcase. Why is the meeting important? How has the conference changed over the years? What can attendees look forward to this year?
Register at for the conference at https://www.tennesseebroadband.com/events/kta-tnba-fall-conference-supplier-showcase/.
Transcripts have been lightly edited for clarity and readability.
Intro: The following program is brought to you by the Tennessee Broadband Association. Lead Tennessee Radio, conversations with the leaders moving our state forward. We look at the issues shaping Tennessee’s future: rural development, public policy, broadband, health care, and other topics impacting our communities.
Carrie Huckeby: Hello. I’m Carrie Huckeby, executive director of the Tennessee Broadband Association. I have as our guest today Tyler Campbell, who is the executive director of the Kentucky Telecom Association. Tyler, thanks for joining me.
Tyler Campbell: Thank you, Carrie, for having me. I really appreciate your time today.
Carrie Huckeby: By the way, how long have you been the executive director of Kentucky Telecom?
Tyler Campbell: And this is my seventh year. So I started right before our annual meeting actually in 2015. I was hired right in 2015, and then so my first event or my first big meeting, was actually what we’re going to talk about today was the KTA/TNBA Fall Conference. That was the first one I was in charge of actually back in 2015.
Carrie Huckeby: Wow. Well, this is our 28th annual KTA/TNBA Fall Conference and Showcase. It’s on October the 11th through the 13th. It’s happening in Bowling Green, Kentucky. It’s hard to believe that October is right around the corner.
Tyler Campbell: Yeah, I was going to say this year has absolutely flown by.
Carrie Huckeby: It has. It has. So I mentioned that this is our 28th Annual Fall Conference, and our associations have obviously been coming together for a long time. And although neither of us were in these jobs then, do you think the importance of the conference is any different today than it was all 28 years ago when it started? I mean, have the reasons changed to come together?
Tyler Campbell: I think the reasons are probably similar, but I think they’re more important now than maybe they even were 28 years ago. And I think, you know, in our industry right now in terms of broadband, innovation and collaboration are two buzzwords, but they’re very important. And obviously, we have members that serve both on our boards that are in both Kentucky and Tennessee that serve both states and serve them very well. So I think coming together with people across a broad spectrum of the industry, whether it be our vendors and being able to compare notes, what’s happening in certain areas of Tennessee, what’s happening in certain areas of Kentucky. Obviously the we serve our consumers, our rural, rural customers. And, you know, being able to collaborate and compare notes between what may be impacting one area of Tennessee, where the topography may be very similar to what the topography is in Kentucky or the demographics are very similar in those areas. I don’t think you can overstate the importance of innovation and collaboration among our members. So I feel that those reasons were probably there 28 years ago. But I still feel that they’re there today and probably now more than ever. It’s important today to come together, even though I feel like we technology makes it easier in so many ways to get together. Obviously, the speed in which our folks do business constantly evolves and increases, and everybody’s calendars get really bogged down a lot of times between Zoom meetings and legislative meetings and association meetings. And so I feel like carving out this time each year for us to get together, and that’s why I’m so happy we’re back to these in-person meetings again, post-pandemic. I can’t overstate the importance of collaboration amongst our members.
Carrie Huckeby: Yeah, there’s nothing like those face-to-face conversations standing in the hallway or at a conference lunch. I mean, Zoom cannot replace that.
Tyler Campbell: You know, it can’t. It can’t replace – Zoom doesn’t replace those face-to-face interactions and just basically the level of anecdotal, you know, for lack of a better term, storytelling. You know, the impact of what somebody may be dealing with in their business day-to-day. You know, those conversations continually evolve, and they can begin at a meeting like this and continue once these meetings end. And so the storytelling aspect and the anecdotal stories are just as important as sitting in a conference room listening to a speaker talk about industry specific technology. Like I said, I feel like the peer-to-peer networking that happens at these meetings. Again, it’s so valuable just because of what you can take away, because somebody there is going to be dealing with a similar situation that you’re dealing with in your telco.
Carrie Huckeby: Well, the reasons to come together haven’t changed for sure. But how has the meeting changed over the years? Have you seen just in your time span of seven years, have you seen changes with content, and you mentioned storytelling. You know, what kind of changes can we see?
Tyler Campbell: I think each of our meetings, you know, I think a lot of times our annual meetings can be geared toward different priorities. You’ll have folks from marketing, finance sectors. This meeting has in the past tended to be very technical in nature. However, I will say I feel like because of what is happening in Washington, D.C. and in the state houses, you’re seeing the continue evolution of a legislative and regulatory component that we have at this meeting that in the past, I think this meeting was much more technical in nature. So I do feel like it has evolved because we’re continually having regulators from Washington, D.C., the FCC, our national association partners with NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association, providing us federal updates, inviting federal agencies down. I know we’ll probably talk a little bit about the agenda later, but we’re in the process of hopefully getting NTIA to attend, and they said they will attend. We’re just waiting for verification from the speaker, who the speaker will be. But you know, the BEAD implementation for the federal broadband dollars, the BEAD implementation is going to be very important to all our members. You know, Tennessee and Kentucky are slated to get hundreds of millions of dollars for broadband expansion. And so what does the BEAD implementation look like from the federal infrastructure package? So we’ll have those conversations. So I think that those reasons, but I mean, the content has somewhat changed from just a technical meeting to have focus on legislative and regulatory content as well.
Carrie Huckeby: For someone that may be new to our industry and just started a job at one of our member companies or associate member companies, what purpose do these conventions play in the industry and their career?
Tyler Campbell: I think it’s like a lot of these meetings. The purpose is in many aspects of relationship building. People want to do business with people that they know, and they trust. So for a vendor that may be wondering about exhibiting for the first time in our supplier showcase, I would encourage them to investigate, become members of both associations if their territory allows it, but become a member of the association. Dip your toe in the water. Go to the meetings. Test them out. That’s how you get to know the individuals at these telcos that you’ll be interacting with. But I think for a person that may be coming for the first time, you know, immersing yourself in the meeting, actually attending not just a supplier showcase, but come listen to the speakers, have an opportunity, attend the luncheons, attend the breakout sessions, and actually listen to the questions that may be asked in some of these sessions. You’ll get a really good picture of what is happening, I think, both in Tennessee and Kentucky for among all of our rural broadband providers. And that may form how you build a relationship with these individuals going forward. Because at the end of the day, I think people want to do business with those individuals that they know and trust. And becoming a member of our association and displaying at these events and interacting with them on a consistent basis is a great way to do that.
Carrie Huckeby: We don’t have our keynote speakers confirmed, as you mentioned earlier. I know we’ve extended some invitations to NTIA, but what do you hope to include in the general session as far as information and and content?
Tyler Campbell: Yeah. I think we’re going to, you’re going to see a definite focus on what’s happening at the federal level in terms of the future of the infrastructure package and how that’s going to filter down to the states. I’m hopeful that we’ll have a conversation about how both of our states are dealing with our state broadband offices and our broadband grant programs. You know, Tennessee has done an excellent job, and it was a little bit ahead of the curve. I would say more than a little bit ahead of the curve of Kentucky. We’re just now in the process of really establishing that office. And so Tennessee has done a great job. So I’m hoping to have some conversations about best practices in terms of what’s been in Tennessee, what Kentucky’s hoping to do. The legislation that was passed in our state, what Tennessee has already looked to do. So you’ll have a federal component. You’ll have a state component talking about the broadband offices. I think you’ll see content dealing with things obviously like cybersecurity and just those technical issues that we had talked about earlier.
Tyler Campbell: But I do think you’ll talk about what’s happening at the FCC, so you’ll have a regulatory component. And then the future of USF. You know, we talk about expanding broadband and the importance of having these federal appropriations filter down to the states. Well, that’s great for capital projects and construction of networks, but at the end of the day, it’s going to be equally as important and even more important, that we be able to maintain these networks into the future. So we advocate as a rural broadband provider to build future proof networks. Fiber is where the demand is going to be met for our consumers in the future. So we know 20 years from now that fiber can meet the demands and the increased demands for video and which is what’s driving the need for additional bandwidth right now. And so the importance of the Universal Service Fund and contribution reform, the future of that fund is going to be a hot topic in the near future. And so I think we’ll have some conversations that will focus on what the future of USF looks like.
Carrie Huckeby: We received several speaker proposals this year and remind me, is there six breakout sessions, and you’ll be choosing from those? And give us a look at what we can expect there.
Tyler Campbell: Yeah. We’ll announce that within the next day or so, actually. I have got a list to actually send back to you that we had initially met and agreed on some topics. And but yeah, we typically have three or four breakout sessions – or I’m sorry – three or four general sessions and then we’ll have six breakout sessions. That’s been the typical format of our meeting. And so, we’ll have three breakout sessions going on concurrently at two different times. So it again, we look to have a diversified meeting content. So we try to get something for everybody that wants to attend this meeting. And so I think you’ll see that again this year, as in years past with those breakout sessions, typically those general sessions tend to be those what I will say more general meatier topics in terms of federal legislative and regulatory issues. Maybe like something like you said, the future of the USF. And then those breakout sessions are very much focused on maybe innovative technology that could be beneficial to our telcos and our broadband providers in both Kentucky and Tennessee. So those more technology specific issues that may come up, you’ll see those in those breakout sessions.
Carrie Huckeby: Yeah. Those breakout sessions are always very popular because not only [does] it give our associate members an opportunity to be in front of the audience, but to also have those discussions one-on-one and, and, you know, those specific topics. So those breakout sessions are very popular. And as you said, we’ll be announcing those very soon to get the agenda ready. The last day, half day, is the showcase, and that’s always a good showing. I think you said other day that 50% of the booth space is sold. So that is a good sign that it’s going to be very active again this year. But tell us about the showcase and what the attendees will see and why that’s so popular.
Tyler Campbell: Yeah. I think it’s really popular just because, like you said, it is the one time of year where we get together and have a traditional trade show, so to speak. You know, we’ll have some smaller meetings where the vendors will be there, but they really can showcase the latest and greatest with their company and what they have to offer. And, you know, it gives them an opportunity in a setting that’s I think, it’s a casual setting, but they’re interacting with their customers and future customers. And we have a ton of foot traffic that comes through. We have members from all over Kentucky and Tennessee that attend this meeting, and they bring their employees. So that’s one thing that’s really nice. It’s that they bring the technicians and the outside the plant employees that will actually be installing this equipment or using this equipment and interacting with customers. And so I think it’s a great opportunity if you’re a vendor out there and wondering if you should exhibit at our showcase. You know, it is a compact time. You know, it’s a three and a half to four hour showcase, but we’ll have over 400 people that’ll come through that room at one point. You know, our showcase has gotten so popular, you know, I don’t know about Tennessee, but Kentucky, we don’t have any municipal members. But there are so many people that have heard so many great things about our showcase that I have other associations contacting me to see if their members could come to our showcase.
Tyler Campbell: It is that popular in that area. We have vendors that have great reputations throughout the United States that attend this meeting. And so I feel like the popularity of our showcase continues to grow each year. And I fully expect that we will have a at capacity, you know, typically that showcase, we will have anywhere between 80 to 85 vendors. We’ve had as many as 90. I definitely think we will be in that 85 to 90 range of vendors that will be present in the room. And so it’s a great opportunity for those associate members of both Kentucky and Tennessee to get in there and to interact with people that they may not, they call on every once in a while, but this is their opportunity to showcase the latest and greatest technology that they think will make a real difference for the consumers that our telcos serve each and every day. And so the popularity continues to grow. I would highly encourage anybody that listens to this. If you’re a vendor that may be on the fence about coming down to Bowling Green, I would highly encourage you to be there because the foot traffic is there. We have the right people in the room that make those decisions, and I really think that you will get a lot out of this meeting.
Carrie Huckeby: I totally agree with that. Come to the showcase. As you said, these conventions is where you sometimes can get that face time and that discussion with the member companies where you can’t always fit in your travel schedule or make that appointment. So it’s really the right time to see those folks. And also, you know, with the pandemic, as you mentioned earlier, the travel stopped, those one-on-one conversations or face-to-face meetings stopped. So I think everybody’s really anxious to get back into these type of showcases and be able to have those meetings and visits with one another. If nothing else does, to keep, you know, catch up with family. How is your family doing? Because our industry is like that.
Tyler Campbell: Yeah. I really think that’s one thing I love about our industry. You know, they really do look at each other like family, you know? I always said that rarely did I have a job before this where somebody asked me how my kids were, and all 16 of my board members know my kids names and ages. And, you know, they always ask how they’re doing. My kids are getting ready to start school here in Kentucky. We start next week. And it really is a family. You know, it’s a family environment. And that’s why I said I really do feel that the greatest benefit for people to get involved with these meetings is that you build those relationships. They want to do business with people that they know and they trust. And the foundation for the future business and the future of both of our associations can be found in attending meetings like this.
Carrie Huckeby: All right. So what else can we look forward to during the convention? I know there’s a golf day, right? And that’s on Tuesday.
Tyler Campbell: Yeah, the first day is what I always really refer to as a peer-to-peer kind of networking day. We’ll have our KTA/TNBA Fall Conference golf scramble, which is always popular there at Crosswinds. And so typically we’ll have close to 100 golfers that will participate in that. We’ll have the registration and welcome reception. The welcome reception is that night. Then the next day is when we will have our general session and our breakout sessions. We have the ever popular vendor dessert reception. We always get rave reviews over the desserts there that evening. And so if once our folks can go out to dinner and interact, they come back and have that wonderful dessert reception. They’ll be able to set up for their vendor booths the next day. And then on Thursday, we will have the supplier showcase that morning. So it’s a jam packed three days. There’s a lot going on, but there’s a lot of opportunity for casual interaction. And like I said, it’s a casual environment in many ways. It’s low key, that first day especially. And like I said, I highly encourage anybody that may be on the fence about participating. It’s a wonderful opportunity to get to interact with a number of telcos from both Kentucky and Tennessee. We’ll have, I know from Kentucky, we’ll have every telco in Kentucky that’s a member of our association. We’ll have somebody there.
Carrie Huckeby: Great. So registration is open. Hotel blocks are available. Remind us what the hotel cutoff is and the registration cutoff is, dates.
Tyler Campbell: The hotel cutoff will be Saturday, September the 10th. And we are already having to add, we have added to the room block. So if you have not reserved your room online on the KTA, it’s KTAoffice.org website on the event registration page, there is a link there to reserve your room there in Bowling Green at the Holiday Inn at the Sun Convention Center. So I would highly suggest that you go ahead and reserve your room as soon as possible, because we are already having to add rooms to the block and at some point they probably will not allow us to add anymore. So I would highly encourage you to do that. And then the registration cut off will be October the third, the close of business on October the third. So if you have not reserved a vendor booth, if you don’t want to reserve a vendor booth as an associate member, but just want to attend the conference, there are conference-only options there to just attend the conference. We also have a showcase-only option for individuals that may want to just come and check out and just talk to the vendors on the day of the showcase. That’s an option as well on our website. And if you have any issues, please feel free to contact me at any time. Happy to help anybody through the registration process.
Carrie Huckeby: Fantastic. As we wrap up, is there anything else you’d like to add regarding the conference?
Tyler Campbell: No, I really just want to like I said, I think I’ve done the plug a couple of times, but I really just I think a lot of this meeting, again, it was the the first meeting that I was in charge of as the executive director for the KTA back in 2015. I’m very fond of this meeting. I think it’s a great opportunity to collaborate. I always enjoy working with my counterparts in Tennessee in the volunteer state, and so it’s a great opportunity for our telcos in Kentucky and Tennessee to get together, compare notes. And like I said, I really feel that it’s a high quality meeting. The meeting content is always stellar, and I don’t think that this year will be any different. I’m very confident we will have a very informative and well-attended meeting.
Carrie Huckeby: I agree. I look forward to seeing everyone in October, which is right around the corner, as we said. And I always look forward to the content and the showcase. So again, I’ll add to what Tyler said. If you haven’t registered, do that as soon as possible and grab your room. And if you’re interested in a booth at the showcase, you better grab that up too, because that’s going fast as well. So thank you, Tyler.
Tyler Campbell: Thank you again. Look forward to seeing everybody in Bowling Green, October 11th through the 13th.
Carrie Huckeby: Right. My guest has been Tyler Campbell, who is the executive director at Kentucky Telecom Association. And you’ve been listening to Lead Tennessee Radio, produced by the Tennessee Broadband Association, cooperative and independent companies connecting our state’s rural communities and beyond with world class broadband.