Smart Networks plans regional growth

Though times have been tough for Smart Networks in recent months, with the company being evicted and facing complaints about service, the services provided by the company are soon expected to expand within Washington County and beyond.

Smart Networks has been working to provide high-speed Internet service to outlying areas of Washington County for the past two years.

CEO Eric Mostrom said installation on Multi-Agency Radio Communications System (MARCS) towers has been completed.

An estimated 6,000 households or businesses in Washington County were without high-speed Internet

access when the project began in 2012. The service works by providing a wireless signal that can be picked up by residents. The transmitters for the service are mounted on existing radio transmission towers (the MARCS towers) that are used to provide law enforcement and other public safety agencies with the ability to communicate anywhere in the county.

Over nearly a decade, county commissioners pushed to get high speed Internet in the area, finally reaching an agreement for Smart Networks to sub-lease towers throughout the county.

The first part of the service started in November 2012, and some of the project has gone a little more slowly than expected.

“We can service the vast majority of people in this area,” Mostrom said Friday. “One of our biggest challenges has been the terrain.”

Mostrom said some other difficulties in recent times has been a major backlog of calls and finding quality technicians.

“We have trouble finding technicians-our luck has been…last week (a great technician of ours) was in a horrific car accident and he’s out,” said Mostrom. “Just trying to find good technicians has been (another) one of our biggest challenges…If we could find them, we could keep them busy.”

According to the contract between the county and Smart Networks, which was signed in 2012, the company has met the parameters for getting the towers up and running.

Smart Networks began offering services in a new location in July, moving from Suite 728 in the Dime Bank Building to 221 Greene St. in Marietta. This came on the heels of eviction proceedings brought against the company by landlord Promanco, Inc.

Smart Networks owed a total of $29,666.27 in back rent. Mostrom said the company offered to pay $27,000 to settle the account and wire the building for better technology. A hearing on the rent owed to Promanco took place on Thursday.

“It went our way,” Mostrom said. “The judge lowered the amount (we owe Promanco) considerably…It proved we made every effort to make this right.”

Officials with Promanco were unavailable for comment.

Mostrom said the last few years have been a struggle for the company, but it’s heading into its third year, which could be a game changer.

“(Roughly) 90 percent of all small businesses usually fail in three years,” he said. “We’ve had obstacles and hurdles…When they say it takes blood, sweat and tears, it truly is blood, sweat, tears and your money.”

Mostrom said for a time the money going out exceeded the money coming in from customers, but that the company is doing well now.

“We’re looking at acquiring a Noble County company,” said Mostrom, adding it could be the boost the company needs to continue getting broadband service to outlying areas.

“The more cash we have, the more we can get into some (outlying) places. An acquisition in another county does help Washington County,” he said.

Commissioner David White said there have been a few complaints coming into the commissioners’ office.

“There have been periodic complaints in here,” he said. “A lot of the time people don’t know where to complain to.”

The nature of the complaints was primarily in regards to not being able to get in touch with the company and not receiving calls in return.

The Marietta Area Chamber of Commerce and other business customers declined to comment on services provided by Smart Networks.

White said a big misconception is that Smart Networks works for the county or is a county entity.

“That’s not the case,” he said. “All I can do is call Smart Networks (and tell them to) return a call.”

White said Smart Networks is up to date on its annual lease of the MARCS towers, which cost $9,600 in 2013.

Mostrom said some of the complaints could be for various reasons.

“Many that are unhappy think we don’t respond the way we should,” he said. “Often they have unplugged a piece of equipment that’s not ours or downloaded a virus. We’re a small company; there’s three of us. At $50 a customer (for service) we can’t go hire all these bodies (to remedy problems).”

Mostrom added that the company has put forth a massive effort to meet everyone’s needs.

“I think if people knew how much money, time and effort we put in, maybe they’d be a little less harsh on us,” he said. “It’s a difficult situation, but we do the best we can.”

Overall, he said the company is happy with work that’s been done.

“We take pride that we (have done) the best we could to get services to as many people as we could,” said Mostrom.