New internet company aims to transform access in Colorado Springs

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – A new internet company coming to Colorado Springs promises to shake up how the city accesses the world wide web by building the first open-access gigabit speed internet service in the city.

The CEO and Founder Bob Thompson of the company called Underline says his companies main goal is provide fast access to the internet in an equitable way.

“Our goal? We want to completely transform access to information in this city,” Thompson said.

The company intends to bring “reliable internet service that meets the speeds necessary for many people who telecommute to work can be hard to come by” says Altia CEO Mike Juran.

Altia is a company that programs software for devices like touch-screen navigation systems in cars. In the beginning of the pandemic, Juran says his staff was bogged down by dropped cars and insufficient internet bandwidth.

“If you can get one gig [in Colorado Springs], that’s like a miracle,” he said.

Thompson says his company chose Colorado Springs because of the demographic of the city’s workers, the potential for its growth, the large cybersecurity presence, and that he felt like they could make the biggest impact on bridging the digital divide for lower income families that don’t have reliable or any access to the internet.

Underline estimates that nearly one in ten homes do not have internet access, and 22% of homes earning less than $35,000 lack access as well.

“This is an empirical statement. We sit in the middle of the wealthiest society in the history of man but yet, we also sit in a society where our poorer kids sit in parking lots in McDonald’s to do their homework because they don’t have internet at home. [That’s] unfair and unacceptable for myself, for my colleagues and our investors,” Thompson said. “We believe in this country, we believe in opportunity, but if a young person can’t get an education, or they have cards stacked against them because they have no or poor access to the information economy, that’s not going to produce a flourishing economy for all.

Save the wealthier areas of the city, Thompson sees Colorado Springs as not profitable to have a massive expansion of gigabit-speed internet, powered by a fiber optic cable network as its backbone, for incumbent internet providers.

Most companies’ consumers get internet from did not start out in the internet business, rather something like cable or phone service.

Thompson says his business model is like “fresh, white snow”, because they started by deciding what price they want to offer the internet at and then figured out how to build out the infrastructure around that price. Because Underline began as an internet company, they start with new infrastructure, rather than aging cable or phone lines.

Common industry practice right now in the city is feeding a high-speed fiber line to a neighborhood, while feeding individual homes with older cable or phone lines. Thompson says Underline will feed fiber “right to the doorbell”.

“We find all across the country that when you have a community served by one or two incumbents, that monopoly power results in expensive service and often low customer satisfaction,” Thompson said.

Underline’s prices can be found on its website with speeds that start at 500 mbps up and download speed, a symmetrical speed offer that Thompson and Juran agree is crucial in the era of working from home and internet-based homework assignments.

The company also offers discounted prices for internet to families who either qualify for free and reduced lunch or SNAP benefits to give families a feasible way to get crucial, necessary connection to the internet.

For Juran, if a city is only as strong as its weakest link, he believes Underline’s presence in Colorado Springs will be transformational.

“This is really ahead of the curve,” Juran said. ‘We are going to be a unique city in the country and in the world when we get wired to this degree.”

Thompson expects the first customers, such as the National Cyber Security Center, to be hooked up in November and expects all 225 miles of fiber that will make up the first phase of the project, completed in 9-12 months.

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