Local Internet provider brings fast lane to Fountain

March 16, 2014
The final stages of a 330 foot tower near Ford Lake are nearing completion.

The final stages of a 330 foot tower near Ford Lake are nearing completion.

By Rob Alway. Editor-in-Chief. 

SHERMAN TWP. — Do you remember the ‘90s when you had to use a dial-up modem on your computer in order to access the Internet? Believe it or not, there is still a portion of this county’s population that has limited choices when it comes to accessing the web. SyncWave, a locally owned company based in Amber Township, is working to change that.

Up until this past week, Cathy and Andy Becker lived with slow dial-up Internet every day at their Larson Road home near Ford Lake. Life just got faster.

“We have been looking forward to joining the rest of the world,” Cathy says. Just a few hundred yards away from their house, on their property, a 330-foot tower is being constructed by SyncWave, a locally-owned computer technology service company. When it becomes functional sometime in the next few weeks, it will broadcast a signal into the homes in northeast Mason County giving residents a new perspective on life online.

“We are pretty excited about it,” Cathy says. “It’s been very frustrating, especially as technology has gotten faster. I know we could get a satellite service, but I haven’t heard too many good things about their service. It’s not very reliable. Having SyncWave is going to be amazing.”

Neighbor Bob Wilson agrees. He had been using a satellite service but he hasn’t been happy with the company trying to force him to constantly upgrade to a more expensive package.

“We have a small business and must fax or ‘snail’ mail work as it takes hours to send large files. Hughesnet has usage limits and slows our service even more than it is when we reach their limits. They do offer to bring the speed back up from slowest to slow if you pay $5 over the Internet to do so.”

Wilson says he believes the limitations of high speed Internet choices in northeastern Mason County have hindered growth.

“I have spoken with people who would move to our area but they work from home and must have high speed Internet service,” he says.

The limitations also impact people with children.

“School children will also benefit from the service as there is a trend to get some classes via the Internet,” Wilson says.

Becker serves on the West Shore Educational Service District Board of Education. She says lack of high speed Internet certainly hinders modern education.

“Students can’t do their homework because so much is done online,” she says.

Most of the time, the only choice for students, and adults who need higher speeds, is to travel into Scottville or Ludington where they can use service at the library or a restaurant that provides free WiFi. This costs money in fuel costs and costs time — travel into Scottville is typically a 15 to 20 minute trip while Ludington is 20 to 30 minutes.

Pat Sheeley also lives nearby. She says she hasn’t been happy with the service she currently uses and an upgrade means paying twice as much money.

SyncWave was started in 2009 by Russell Manning and Chris Varenhorst. The company began providing wireless Internet service to Mason County in 2011. Since that time, it has seen tremendous growth and has brought service to various areas around the county.

“Mason County is typical of most rural countries across the country,” Varenhorst says. “If you live in a rural area you often don’t access to the Internet. It’s not an overstatement to say that the Fountain and Free Soil areas are 14 years behind a good portion of the rest of the county in regards to having access to true broadband.

“I can’t tell you how many customers of ours had to go into McDonald’s or the library to do their homework. In the Ludington school district, all the students have iPads. There are students who are unable to do their homework at home because they don’t have broadband Internet.”

SyncWave resembles a spiderweb with connections between towers and distributions points. Communications follow routes between towers and back to the head-end and out to the Internet.

The biggest challenges for a wireless service such as SyncWave are topography and trees.

Varenhorst says they try to get creative by adding smaller relay towers into areas where those issues exist.

While SyncWave has become primarily known for its wireless Internet service, the company is actually a full service information technology (IT) service. Varenhorst says this — and the fact they are locally owned and operated — is what they believe gives their company the advantage over most other Internet providers.

“When we come out to install service, we don’t just show up, hook up and leave,” Varenhorst says. “We also check out the customer’s computer systems and make sure everything is up to date and compatible. We troubleshoot for our customers and take time to educate them on how to use the web and use our services.”

“This company was built from the ground up by IT professionals first and foremost and that allows us to directly leverage our previously built and explored base of knowledge and experience to a new venture,” Varenhorst says. “Russ and I had two decades of cumulative IT experience before starting the company and there is value in that”

Varenhorst says all of the company’s employees are professional computer experts and all are local. In fact, when there is an issue with service, the customer will typically speak directly with Manning or Varenhorst.

While much attention has been given to the company’s new service in the Fountain area, Manning and Varenhorst plan to continue to expand service throughout Mason County and into neighboring counties. At this time, SyncWave provides service to all of Scottville and surrounding areas, most of Riverton Township and most of the City of Ludington and Pere Marquette Township.

“This is going to be a real boom to the community,” Cathy Becker says. “That is one of the reasons why we agreed to having the tower built on our property. It’s not like the cell phone companies where we get a large amount of money for having an easement.”

“I’m told that with SyncWave we will be able to watch videos and possibly stream movies,” Pat Sheeley says. “It’s just very exciting,” she says. “We have been able to watch the construction of the tower. Those guys have worked on some pretty tough days. We are just really looking forward to this new adventure.”

For more information on SyncWave, visit their website: www.syncwave.net

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