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Ashland accelerates on the information highway

Ashland Home Net, Ashland’s largest Internet service provider, has recently jumped to a super-fast top speed of 90 megabits per second (mbps), tripling its previous offerings — and also expanding, as Rogue Broadband, to reasonably fast broadband for rural users all over the valley.

The move, says AHN President and Chief Executive Officer Jim Teece, is in recognition that “more and more, we live online. Netflix is using 50 percent of global net traffic now. We are on iPhones, iPads, linking from Facebook, playing YouTubes. Kids are on iPads and stream significantly more. TV is on its way out. If we watch TV shows, it’s on computers. Even couples sitting on the same couch are watching different shows on different screens and texting during commercials.”

In this digital tsunami, AHN paddles its canoe against its titanic, multi-billion dollar competitor Charter, a provider of Internet, cable and landline phone service, which Teece admits is able to out-market him but, he says, can’t touch him for local service — technicians who answer the phone when you call, who teach classes in new technology and who come out to your house when you need them to fix, install or instruct on new stuff.

AHN formerly offered speeds of five to 30 mbps, but now has set up tiers of 30, 60 and 90 mbps. Thirty is plenty for a single person not into gaming and big files. Ninety is good for a family with byte-hungry, gaming, film-gobbling kids and at-home businesses that need major bandwidth.

Working together, Teece and his wife, Dana Matthews, AHN’s chief financial officer, have “over 30 percent” of the local Internet market. AHN offers 30-60-90 mb (megabits per second) at $50-$60-$90 a month, according to ashlandhome.net/default.asp?pg=306090. Existing customers may remain at their present speed.

Renting on four cell towers, AHN’s Rogue Broadband now offers rural folks tiers of 5-10-25 mb at $50-$70-$120 a month, with free site survey and installation, fast enough for Netflix, Hulu, music services and games.

“Country living has always had trade-offs,” says Teece, “but now we all live in the Internet. It’s a necessity of rural living now. Bandwidth is a necessary tool. You need two things: high-speed Internet and electricity.”

AHN is a partner to the city-owned Ashland Fiber Network, which last year did a $300,000 upgrade to “leading edge” technology and equipment to allow all Internet Service Providers better performance and reliability up to 120 mb, where needed, says AFN Executive Director Mark Holden.

AFN provides the wires for the Internet in Ashland and is itself an ISP. It also handles Jeffnet, Computer Country, Infostruture and AHN.

What’s exasperating to Teece and Holden is that Charter has up to 55 percent of the Ashland market and conducts frequent and changing marketing campaigns to lure Ashland residents away from local ISPs with fees that are only a few bucks cheaper, even though, they say, the local ISPs keep the money circulating here, while that’s not a priority to Charter.

“Our competition is Charter. They’re a multi-billion dollar service and, just like us, offer ISP, phone and cable. But we’re locally owned and operated,” says Teece. “We’re faster than Charter now. They’re 60 mbps. We do computer repair. We install TV, cable, computers. Yes, it bothers me when people connect to Charter. They offer these price promotions. We don’t compete on pricing, but we do compete on support and speed.”

Teece says his goal is to help AFN pay off its considerable, multi-million dollar debt they started with and pay it down to zero, so it’s not passed to Ashland residents.

“I wake up every day with a smile because I get to compete against this multi-billion-dollar corporation — and I love doing it,” says Teece.

Not surprisingly, Holden echoes such thoughts, noting, “Charter is THE incumbent in Ashland. But at this time, we believe AFN and our ISPs have better service and support with a complete menu of offerings, plus, any money people spend here stays in the city, unlike Charter.”

Before recent upgrades, AFN was “lagging” in Charter’s capability, says Holden, but now it’s “as good or better in performance. If you’re downloading a movie, you don’t get buffering with us. It’s always a personal choice, and some people shop just for price, which is generally no more than $5 less. But we believe it’s more important to get service and reliability — how well it works, how much it’s down.

“Charter is very competitive,” says Holden. “They’re the largest player, with the means and deep pockets. They can be very aggressive in their marketing. But we maintain a very respectable market share and believe we can grow it.”

The future is undeniably here, with multiple devices and accessing services which together are called “the Internet of things,” says Holden. “The focus is on video. Classical old cable is declining. We have Netflix, Hulu and many streaming services. That’s where the growth is, in streaming service — a lot of business transactions, interbranch information exchange, teen gaming and music.”

Charter does frequent direct mail and other campaigns in Ashland, and with its thoroughly modern equipment now online, Holden says, AFN and the local ISPs will be working “in concert” to launch their own marketing in about three months.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Jim Teece of Project A says Ashland Home Net's Internet speeds now surpass its biggest rival, Charter. Mail Tribune / Denise Baratta
Chris Knox is among workers at Project A that helps bring some of the fastest Internet speeds to Ashland through Ashland Home Net. Mail Tribune / Denise Baratta