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Local company providing internet access to isolated homes

VALLEY — A local company with 130 years experience in the telecommunications industry has started a new business to provide internet service to those who live in isolated areas that the big companies don’t reach.

Headquartered in West Point, Point Broadband began in 2017 and has seen some solid growth in its first year of service.

Mark Smith, who’s a chaplain for both Point University and Point Broadband, was the guest speaker at Wednesday’s noon hour meeting of the Kiwanis Club of Valley. He talked about the service the company is providing to people who are underserved by the big companies that reach customers with fiber optic cable.

Smith said that internet access is a necessity to function in the modern world. It’s the equivalent of both the telephone and electricity to those who were living in the 1930s.

“We use technology that delivers the internet from one source to another,” he said.

“An estimated 34 million Americans do not have access to broadband internet, and internet access is essential in today’s world. Those who don’t have it get left behind. The internet is an absolute necessity in education and in the business world.”

Of the 34 million people who don’t have broadband access, almost seven out of ten of them live in rural areas.

“There’s a lack of fiber optic infrastructure in those areas,” Smith said.

More than two decades ago Congress passed a Telecom Act declaring that those who lived in rural areas should have the same access to the internet that those who live in urban areas have. Obviously, much needs to be done to follow the letter of the law on that.

Most of the 34 million people who are not reached by the internet are in areas where it’s cost prohibitive to be reached by cable. This leaves the door open for companies who can reach them in other ways. Point Broadband does that.

Smith explained that it’s done by point-to-point, or line of sight, contact.

“It can be fed off of existing structures such as water towers, cell ph0ne towers and the like. It’s similar to your cell phone. An antenna on a tower can direct high-speed internet to an antenna at your home,” he said.

Anywhere Point Broadband passes homes with its signal, those residents can be served.

Largely because of Interstate Telephone Company’s legacy – Smith said that the Valley is one of the most connected places anywhere because of ITC – the immediate Valley area does not need the kind of service provided by Point Broadband. It’s a different story for outlying areas such as northwest Harris County, Lake Harding and Fredonia.

“When we started in June 2017, our goal was to be in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi,” Smith said. “We’ve done that. We have a couple of sites in Harris County. We’re in the Beauregard community in Lee County and on Lake Martin. Anywhere there’s elevation changes, our service is perfect for them.”

The biggest market right now for Point Broadband is a three-county area in southwest Georgia.

“We have 1,400 customers in the area,” Smith said. “We are growing there, and we have a store in Bainbridge.”

Point Broadband also has good markets in north-central Mississippi near the town of Pontotoc, in the east Tennessee-southwest Virginia area and in the Texas panhandle.

“We need to be smart about how we deploy our technology,” Smith said. “We love to compete against satellite technology. (Direct TV, etc.). It goes 20,000 miles one way and then back. It has to punch through the atmosphere both ways. We are never more than 300 feet off the ground on towers. Rain doesn’t faze us. Line of sight is a very good method. We are usually no more than two to four miles away from a tower.”

There’s a $99 installation fee and after that customers usually pay $59 a month, something that’s downright cheap compared to most services. The main package, Smith said, provides between 10 and 20 megabits of downloads a month. That’s pretty much unlimited capacity for most folks.

“We’re not in Chambers County right now, but there probably are pockets of need,” he said.

Point Broadband is a local company that is serving multiple states. A local building is currently being remodeled to serve as a call center. This will create some local jobs.

“We are super excited about that,” Smith said. “We want to see this community flourish.”