"We commend them. We need more like them," said Sam Walls III of Connect Arkansas, when told of a Salem company which is building a high speed Internet service to serve all of Fulton County.
Connect Arkansas is a non-profit agency created in 2007 to work for the development of modern Internet service statewide.
"We have been working on this, putting towers up all over the county, for the last 80 days," said Billy Shaver.
Shaver, a Salem businessman with a growing number of businesses, believes his new company, Wavelinx High Speed Internet, is going to produce a lot of benefits.
"This will save people a lot of money. It is going to create jobs in the community," Shaver excitedly predicts.
Shaver is addressing a problem many rural Arkansas communities have.
Centurylink telephone currently offers high speed internet connections within the Salem city limits. But residents out in remote areas of the county struggle to find affordable, reliable internet service.
The man in charge of building WaveLinx says the system is a lot like Wi-Fi, which allows customers to pick up an Internet signal without phone lines or cable connections.
"But our system, MIMO, is Wi-Fi on steroids, since it can serve many homes at once," claimed Ray Lejeune. "What we are doing is the cheapest and fastest way to get high speed Internet to rural areas."
So far, Wavelinx has built six towers to send Internet signals to areas of the county. Lejeune says about six more will be needed to extend service countywide.
In areas which now have service, a technician goes to the homes of potential customers for a site survey. One of two types of small radio transmitters and receivers (3" by 5" or 6" by 6") are installed on the home, depending on the amount of trees that surround it. A cable is then run from the receiver to a router or computer.
"It's pretty simple," said LeJeune.
Since the signal comes from local towers, the company claims its Internet service is much faster, because it travels shorter distances than Internet provided by satellite companies. In addition, the local service should not experience the type of stormy weather interference that can occur with satellite systems.
"We aren't really advertising yet and we're already getting a good response," said Shaver. "We have customers in Salem, Glencoe and Oxford."
According to Shaver, it used to take a customer in Oxford, who is a Netflix fan, 10 minutes to download a movie with his satellite internet. With Wavelinx, it is taking less than 30 seconds.
At thousands of dollars a tower, Shaver has already made a big investment, but he is confident he will have plenty of customer support when people learn about the service.
Four speeds are available, ranging in price from $24.99 a month for 768K (kilobytes) to $69.99 for 3MB (megabytes).
Customers pay a one time $25 installation fee, do not have to sign a long term contract, pay no monthly taxes or special fees and do not have to have a phone line to receive the service.
"Many people keep a land line phone just for their Internet service," said Lejeune. "Since we send a wireless signal from local towers, people will be able to get rid of their land lines and use their cell phones for phone service."
Lejeune has been involved in two other wireless systems in the region. He says Hillbilly Wireless in the Cave City area, which was built four years ago, and Independence Cable's wireless system, which serves the Batesville area, both have several hundred customers.
Back in Little Rock, Connect Arkansas' Sam Walls says the availability of wireless Internet in rural areas, like Fulton County, may motivate people who have never had Internet service to try it.
"In Arkansas, 29 percent of our residents never use the Internet and about 51% do not subscribe to a service," said Walls. "With high speed service available in rural areas, we will, hopefully, see more users."
Walls says without more high speed computer access and more computer literate citizens, Arkansas will continue to lag behind other states in attracting high tech jobs and competing in "the new economy."
Technician Jeff Gaskins quickly signed up some customers when he launched the company's first marketing effort a week ago.
"We spent a couple of weeks testing our towers and working the kinks out," said Gaskins. "Then, one day, I began driving west from the Salem stoplight on Highway 62-412 and distributing fliers to businesses and homes. Since we're a local company, we can work with people one on one."
Gaskins expects small communities in rural areas of the county will be Wavelinx's main customer base, but he has already recruited customers who are dissatisfied with the price or speed of service from their current provider.
"I feel like we have a good potential," said Lejeune. "If we get our message out there and people support a local business which provides good service at good prices, we will have a successful company."
Information about Wavelinx Wireless Internet is available by calling 1-888-306-5988.