After Poor Broadband Access, One Man Started His Own Fiber Internet Service Provider: NPR

A Michigan man wants to bring high-speed Internet to a rural community. It’s a place where broadband is a lifeline for many, but neighbors are often stuck with slow dial-up connections.


About 42 million Americans do not have reliable Internet service. A Michigan man is building his own high-speed service to help neighbors who still rely on dial-up access. NPR’s Emma Bowman reports.

EMMA BOWMAN, BYLINE: Before the pandemic forced many of us to work from home, Jared Mauch had been working there for almost 20 years. But his search for a good internet was endless. When he first moved to rural Michigan, to a town not far from Ann Arbor, his job gave him a great internet connection, when many of his neighbors were still stuck in the days remote access slow.

JARED MAUCH: My company provided a T1 line, which was really great. It’s 1.5 megabits top to bottom.

BOWMAN: But that was in 2002.

MAUCH: And eventually, over time, as the number of children we had increased and the business activities that I did for my employers, it really didn’t meet my needs anymore.

BOWMAN: But when he started shopping, he wasn’t happy with his options. AT&T internet speeds were extremely slow. Comcast wanted to charge him an upfront fee of $50,000. He opted for a third way. Rather than shell out the cash, only to have to depend on the whims of an internet service provider, he launched his own fiber ISP.

MAUCH: It ended up being a 10-year project. I ended up building the company in 2017, getting permits in 2019, sending letters to everyone, letting them know that, you know, construction was going to start.

BOWMAN: In August 2020, he was officially in business, just in time for his children to start virtual school during the pandemic.

MAUCH: And that was great. I have this fiber in my house that I controlled that could provide the kind of service that I really wanted to have.

BOWMAN: Along the way, he also hooked up neighbors to his fiber line, and those neighbors told their neighbors. Now he has 70 clients. The federal government, meanwhile, has invested billions in fiber infrastructure in recent years, especially in unserved rural areas, where experts say the world’s Comcasts and AT&T often don’t grow because they don’t see a return on investment. But Gary Bolton, CEO of the Fiber Broadband Association, says people like Mauch aren’t waiting for governments to get the money to get decent internet.

GARY BOLTON: You have these hardy individuals that we might call mavericks who have come out to see how they can solve a problem with their community and get a broadband connection to their home and then to their neighbors. You know, some of them were able to build it without government help.

BOWMAN: In all, Mauch says he spent about $300,000 out of his own pocket to build his service.

MAUCH: I managed to recruit enough customers along the way to break even. My goal wasn’t necessarily to make a lot of money doing this, but to be able to connect with people who really needed it.

BOWMAN: But now these federal funds are flowing. Mauch is receiving $2.6 million to continue his work, thanks to a COVID-19 relief program that allocated $15 million to Washtenaw County, where Mauch lives. With that money, Mauch plans to connect 600 more homes, about a quarter of the work that needs to be done to ensure his county has 100% reliable internet. It typically charges around $200 for setup, with monthly rates starting at $65. He tries to keep his prices fair.

MAUCH: Some people have the means to support the projects, some don’t. And I’ve tailored my approach for each person in how I market homes and when I interact with them.

BOWMAN: And at least for now, he seems to be keeping his neighbors happy.

MAUCH: So far, I haven’t lost any customers. Everyone who logged in stayed logged in.

BOWMAN: Emma Bowman, NPR News.

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