HANCOCK — A new Upper Peninsula Internet service provider called ShoreWaves says it has opened a new high-speed Internet service for customers in remote areas of northern Houghton County.
“Our goal is to reach as many unserved households as possible,” said Steven Fitzgerald, ShoreWaves partner. “We’re reaching out to residents who cannot get fast, reliable Internet by land line, or who have tried an alternative such as satellite, and found it didn’t meet their needs.”
Fitzgerald, who lives in the Liminga Road area off the Keweenaw Waterway west of Houghton, has been waiting for high-speed Internet service for 15 years. Like his business partners, he makes a trip to the Jutila Center business incubator in Hancock, where ShoreWaves is located, to use the Internet.
“All I can get at home is satellite Internet, and it is simply impossible to accomplish many important business tasks with satellite,” Fitzgerald said. “I cannot even get a clear phone line at my home! I have to drive in every day. It’s a waste of energy and time. And I have found that I am far from alone. Many Copper Country professionals and business people are in the same predicament. We have also found many Copper Country students, from elementary school through college and online universities, who are disadvantaged by the lack of full-service Internet where they live.”
The initial service area for ShoreWaves will be along the Keweenaw Waterway, also known as the Portage Waterway and Portage Lake, immediately east and west of Houghton.
Fitzgerald said the service will connect to several carriers, including commercial carriers and the REACH-3MC rural broadband project of Merit Network Inc.
“I think it’s safe to say that without the Merit project, we wouldn’t be seeing the availability and price points we’re seeing now,” Fitzgerald said. “They still need to come down some to the point where you can buy it in Grand Rapids or Detroit, but it’s come down tremendously.”
ShoreWaves, Fitzgerald said, will start lighting up customers Wednesday. “We’ll be turning up a whole lot of bandwidth really fast,” Fitzgerald said.
The service will be provided wirelessly, with several base stations built on towers and buildings around the region, Fitzgerald said. Three are completed and two more are in the works, he added.
As for future expansion, Fitzgerald said the company’s Web site, www.shorewaves.net, asks customers for input on where service is needed: “Tell us where you need us, that’s where we’ll build next.”
Fitzgerald and two partners, who for now wish to remain anonymous, are building the system with their own funds. And so far, he said, he’s not competing with the Keweenaw’s other Wireless ISP, Charlie Hopper’s Pasty.net. “I’m targeting areas that have no service at all,” Fitzgerald said. “There will be a little bit of overlap, I’m sure.”
And Fitzgerald said he doesn’t plan on providing service with multiple carriers already.
“I’m not interested in a price war with established carriers,” he said. “The goal is to get service out into the hinterlands.”
The company has hired its first employee and is about to hire its second, Fitzgerald added.
He said he thinks the service will find a ready audience in both vacationers and work-from-home types.
“The single strongest area of interest expressed so far is people who are able and would work at home if they had the service,” he said. “And we have lots of interest from vacationers who say they would spend more time in the UP if they could get decent Internet service. The other real significant thing that is happening up here is that people are actually making house buying decisions based on whether or not they can get service.”
Fitzgerald says they are also working with local cities and townships to coordinate potential areas of service.
Multiple plans are available — from unlimited data usage to specials for snowbirds — to fit customer needs.
“With our snowbird plan, people receive their Internet and phone services from us in the summer,” Fitzgerald said. “When they head south for the winter, we can turn off their Internet and forward their phone number to their new location or mobile phone. This is a great convenience for them, and their friends who stay year-round.”
National statistics show 30 percent of Internet traffic between 8 and 11 p.m. is Netflix users. Satellite and cellular Internet customers don’t have the luxury of using the video-on-demand media-streaming service because of monthly data usage limits, unless they’re prepared for costly overage fees. ShoreWaves offers special plans for video streaming, online gaming and other online activities that require a high-speed connection. And the best part about it — customers deal with a local contact.
“If you call for help or have a question about billing, you reach people right here in Hancock,” Fitzgerald said. “You won’t get someone from somewhere else and you won’t get a machine.”
A long-time resident and local entrepreneur, Fitzgerald has been in the business of data networking since he was a student at Michigan Technological University in the early 1970s. In addition to his partnership with ShoreWaves, he owns local business communications companies Consistacom and KPBizNet.
“Everything we have been doing up to now centered on business communication services,” Fitzgerald said. “While ShoreWaves is a residential service offer, we know that it will be used by many people who work from home. From an economic development perspective, this service is a real boost for the community.”
To sign up for service or get more information about ShoreWaves, call (906) 523-9370 or visit www.shorewaves.net.