Finally, a little good news for Charlottesville in the national media: The city made tech and financial headlines last week when mobile company Ting announced it was buying a controlling share in locally owned Blue Ridge InternetWorks as part of a plan to expand a lightning-fast fiber optic cable network here.
Ting entered the wireless mobile market in 2012, when Toronto-based parent company Tucows launched it as a customer service-centric, no-annual-contract-required alternative to big mobile providers.
Ting CEO Elliot Noss said last week that his company wanted to make a similarly disruptive entrée into the wired cable Internet market by building fiber optic networks able to provide gigabit-per-second speeds, just like Google is doing in Kansas City, Kansas and other urban areas out West, and Verizon has done in more densely populated parts of the East Coast. The difference is that Ting is aiming smaller than the telecom giants.
“We have the opportunity to earn great returns on fiber investment in markets that are too small for them and might otherwise be left behind,” Noss said in a conference call with investors and media on December 16.
They’re starting with Charlottesville.
The decision had a lot to do with the fact that BRI has already started building the necessary infrastructure here, Noss said in a follow-up interview, and with a certain philosophical chemistry that was evident as soon as a third-party consultant introduced the heads of the two companies over the summer.
“We think they’re good entrepreneurs, and we all sort of see the future the same way,” said Noss of BRI co-founders Baylor Fooks and Jeff Cornejo. In addition, “it’s the right business opportunity, in that there’s 35 miles of fiber already in the network.”
Fooks said the fiber network Ting will make possible here is best described as transformative: “You don’t realize what you’re going to be able to do with it until you get it,” he said.
When it comes to Internet speeds, “people are used to talking in terms of megabits per second,” Fooks said. Most cable customers in Charlottesville see slower-than-average speeds compared to the rest of the state, he said—between 20 and 30 megs, with upload speeds that are inevitably more sluggish than those for downloading. “Gigabit is 1,000 megs, downstream and upstream.”
Noss and Fooks did not reveal the financial details of the deal that landed Ting a 70 percent stake in BRI, and they’re not providing specific numbers for how quickly they plan to build. But Fooks said with Ting pumping capital into the fiber network, the company will be able to connect homes at 20 to 30 times its current rate—and it will be hiring.
“It’s great news for BRI and BRI’s staff,” said Fooks. “We’ve been competing in a capital-intensive market for a lot of years, and this is just a huge breakthrough for us.”