Company brings wireless service to rural areas

ELK RAPIDS – Telecommunications pioneer Tim Maylone is taking his business where no high-speed Internet provider has gone before. He’s bringing wireless service to homes and businesses in some of the smallest communities in northern Michigan.

Elk Rapids-based Maylone Enterprises, Inc. specializes in developing networks in under-served or poorly-served communities. As a result, communities like Ellsworth, Glen Arbor, East Jordan, Bellaire, East Port, Alden, Torch Lake and others are able to support economic growth by offering advanced technologies.

“With good telecommunication options available to the average consumer, our youth, our professionals, our infrastructure of jobs that generate revenue blossoms,” said Maylone. “A lawyer, doctor, an accountant, or an office complex would set up in Traverse City where there are good telecommunications options. With wireless technology, they can now center themselves in Elk Rapids. Those types of businesses flourishing keep money local and generate other jobs.”

A 1975 Traverse City high school graduate, the software developer returned to the area to launch the business in 2000. The wireless broadband company provides telecommunication solutions using its own network. It offers cost-effective Internet access, private point-to-point networks, broadband-based local and long distance voice service and secure mail.

Service is established through community cooperation. Ellsworth Farmers Exchange, a farmer-owned one-stop shop for farm products and services in existence since 1928, has locations in Ellsworth, Mancelona, Atwood and Gaylord. Maylone Enterprises recently built the 200-member cooperative a broadband network connecting its offices. The Exchange could obtain high-speed service at three sites from other carriers, but at the Ellsworth site, its headquarters, only dial-up was previously available.

“We had no alternatives,” said Tim Underwood, general manager for the Exchange. “Maylone was the solution.”

Underwood said he spent months exploring possible solutions for connecting his organization. After he had talked to similar organizations across the country also using wireless, the Farmers Exchange board unanimously approved adopting wireless for its locations.

To secure Maylone’s broadband services, the Village of Ellsworth, population 500, and Banks Township contributed a three-year prepayment and the Exchange invested $8,000.

“We’ll recoup the investment over time,” Underwood said. “The labor savings will make it pay for itself.”

Service was brought to the community in just 60 days. “We are a young company,” Maylone said. “People have to leave their comfort zone in dealing with utilities and take a risk on a company who has a good track record, but it’s outside the norm. It takes the individual business with a real need to justify us coming in, like Ellsworth Farmers Exchange. When they make that commitment, everybody else benefits.”

There are now 15 wireless subscribers in the Ellsworth area. Other communities where Malone has a presence are Williamsburg, Rapid City, Suttons Bay, Keratin, Torch Lake, Central Lake and Old Mission.

“I just need a farmer’s silo or a home on a hill or an existing tower and I can bring in services,” he said.

According to Malone, alternative wireless solutions make it possible to develop northern Michigan cost-effectively. The entrepreneur said laying cable for cable service in a subdivision of 20 new homes could cost $35,000 to $50,000, while a wireless system can be established in that same subdivision for about $5,000.

In East Jordan, Maylone brought broadband to the community for an initial investment of $10,000. Sandi Whiteford, owner of the Computer Center in East Jordan serves as an agent for the fledgling telecommunications company which connected the town of 2,500 last January. Whiteford said East Jordan is already gaining economic benefits from the move.

“We were having difficulty getting businesses in because we didn’t have high-speed Internet access of any kind,” she said. “Now there is more interest in the industrial park. As an example, last fall we had a major business decide not to come to the industrial park because we didn’t have broadband. Now, once again the city is talking to businesses and it looks very positive that we’ll be able to bring in at least a couple of new businesses very soon.”

About 20 customers have signed on for the wireless services at a cost of $50 per month. Whiteford said if customers need to adapt computers for wireless, equipment is available for as little as $30, depending on the hardware. She said the wireless service has proved highly reliable.

In addition to cost savings and convenience, wireless speeds provide subscribers the foundation for emerging technology.

“What it does for the average consumer, it allows for them in the future to receive TV, video, voice, data, everything under one medium to that home,” Maylone said. That becomes what is really the most important.”

When bringing wireless and all its possibilities to a community, Maylone offers two hot spots where individuals can access wireless Internet connections for free. Hot spots encompass 300-foot public zones, often located within a library.

He said it gives those who have never experienced wireless an opportunity to try it out and promotes the idea that small towns can find some level playing ground in advanced technology with the state’s metropolitan areas.

According to Maylone, not all wireless broadband are created equal. It is a case of “buyer beware.”

“Some are just trying to make a quick buck,” he said.

Nevertheless, he claims it’s in the consumer’s interest to be open to communication alternatives.

“We are so well-trained by utility companies that many people don’t search out alternatives,” he said. “It’s those alternatives that help bring products and services to market.”

Maylone foresees the wireless environment continuously shrinking our geographical limitations and open up future frontiers we never dreamed of.

“It’s difficult for the average consumer, even as a developer, to think beyond what is possible today.” BN