The Federal Communications Commission says about 20 million Americans lack high-speed internet access. However, a more recent study by a data aggregation company called Broadband Now states this number is twice what was previously estimated by the FCC. A Colorado-based startup company hopes to bring these numbers down by giving customers in underserved areas that include low-income and rural communities access to affordable satellite internet options. Underline is the enterprising new company with this ambitious goal. Here’s what you need to know about this startup and the company’s plans to shake up the internet service industry.
Underline’s Open Access Plan
The company is placing an emphasis on community infrastructure with its approach to providing internet service. Underline is in the process of creating and expanding open-access fiber networks. The focus of such efforts is on an estimated 2,500 underserved communities.
What ‘Open Access’ Is
An open-access internet model is a way of delivering internet in which a city or, in this case, a private company, creates and maintains the necessary foundation to provide online access. Once everything is set up, the original builder then allows other independent providers to offer services through its network.
Reducing Market Entry Cost
One of the perks of an open-source approach to providing internet service is that it reduces market entry costs. Smaller and newer companies can enter the market much faster as well since there’s no need for a massive investment in the essentials required to offer internet service. Instead, competitors using Underline’s internet infrastructure can focus more on innovation, technology, faster speeds, reliable connections, and affording pricing options. What this ultimately does is give consumers in rural and lower-income areas access to service options not available from most of the major internet service providers.
Underline is beginning its efforts locally. The company’s first full-scale deployment in Colorado is taking place in Colorado Springs. Located near the eastern foot of the Rocky Mountains, the picturesque city has a population of nearly 470,000. It’s estimated that about 10 percent of households here lack internet access.
Customer Service and Provider Options
Underline’s customers in Colorado Springs will have a choice of obtaining service from any of the four partner providers currently working with the startup. Internet speeds offered range from 500 Mbps to 10 Gbps. Stratus IQ, of the partner providers, already serves customers in the Colorado Springs area. The other three are based in other locations.
Pricing and Low-Income Discounts
Residents of Colorado Springs will have service options that start at $49 per month. Pricing then ranges upwards to $250 per month, depending on the level of service provided. Qualifying low-income families will have access to service at discounted rates through Underline’s Opportunity program. The rates are also based on factors such as preferred speed. For instance, the 500 Mbps plan is being offered based on a sliding scale rate that falls between $15 and $30 per month.
Building on Success from a Prior Pilot Program
Prior to the Colorado Springs launch, Underline already had some paying customers. These customers came onboard during a prior pilot program the startup also ran in the same location. However, it will take another 2-3 months before the company’s internet service options become available on a larger scale throughout Colorado Springs.
Preparing to Expand
The startup still needs to build the underground essentials required for the network to accommodate more customers. The company plans to gradually and steadily expand to other neighborhoods in the city, including areas with businesses and schools. The initial goal is to offer top-quality internet service options to around 4,000 businesses and more than 20,000 residential customers.
The concept of open access internet service isn’t new. It traces its roots to Sweden, which began offering service this way in Stockholm in the ’90s. A similar service modal also exists in France and Japan. What Underlines hopes to do is reduce what’s been termed the “digital divide” in the United States by giving competitors a way to serve underserved areas without massive initial investment costs. This is savings that can then be passed along to customers in those areas.