How did a telecommunications company based in Imperial, population 2,100, beat CenturyLink at bringing 1-Gigabit per second internet service to Nebraska?
“So often, particularly in rural Nebraska, you're a follower when it comes to communications,” Allo Communications owner Brad Moline said.
But thanks to Allo, businesses and residents have access to ultra-fast fiber internet, along with another choice for television and phone service, in North Platte, Ogallala, Gering, Scottsbluff, Alliance and Bridgeport.
One-gig service has been marketed in those communities since March, two months ahead of CenturyLink launching a 1-gig pilot project in west Omaha. The service is expected to draw interest from high-tech start-ups.
The company was founded in 2003 by Moline and Russ Pankonin, publisher of the Imperial Republican newspaper, and later added partner Jeff Kuenne.
Moline, who graduated from high school in Imperial in 1985, had left for college in Lincoln and later moved to Kansas City, where he worked as an accountant for Ernst & Young. He was a founder of Birch Communications, which provides managed services and IT to small and medium-sized businesses.
Moline left the fast-growing company in 2002, saying he wanted to do his own thing.
Moving home, he didn't think he'd find the same level of opportunity in western Nebraska, but the business community told him, “We need help.”
Allo negotiated franchise agreements with local governments, allowing it to “overbuild” a fiber system in the same right of way where existing utilities had strung power, telephone and cable lines.
“When we started building these, we didn't realize the term 'gigabit community' would be of interest,” he said.
In 2012 Allo received a multi-million dollar investment from Hall Capital Partners and the Dobson Partnership, both of Oklahoma City, allowing it to complete projects more quickly.
It takes about 30 percent market penetration to break even on the fiber investment, Moline said. In the cities Allo has been in longest, he said they have captured more than 75 percent market share. He said the company's level of customer service and decision not to make customers sign a contract have helped it attract customers.
For the rest of 2013, Allo will be expanding its network in its existing cities, and in 2014, plans to enter additional Nebraska cities.
Customers say they are grateful for Allo's presence.
Rawnda Pierce, executive director of Twin Cities Development, said Scottsbluff was in danger of losing a large call center before Allo established service in the town, because the call center needed two providers for redundancy.
The center, today operated by Nationstar Mortgage, was going to move to Colorado Springs. With 500 employees, “If we were to lose that, that would have just a devastating effect on our community,” Pierce said.
Moline said fiber is a critical piece of infrastructure that will connect rural communities like electricity and the Interstate system did decades ago.
“By shrinking these distances, the quality of life in these rural areas will allow them to grow and proper in the future.”
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