Reprinted with permission from the Vincennes Sun-Commercial newspaper
October 18, 2023
Nextlink Internet has acquired local internet provider Echo Wireless, marking its first expansion into Indiana, economic development officials announced this week.
Claude Aiken, chief strategy officer at Texas-based Nextlink Internet, said in a press release, that they would soon look to begin expanding high-speed internet infrastructure to underserved portions of Knox County.
“We will immediately begin upgrades to the legacy Echo network infrastructure that we’re acquiring,” he said. “These upgrades will bring download speeds to at least 100 Mbps across Knox County, and in many areas, we will be offering up to 500 Mbps download speed plans.
“Over the coming years, many rural Knox County residents can expect to receive gigabit speed internet from Nextlink as we continue to build out and upgrade our infrastructure.”
Echo Wireless, owned by Tim Trotter and Clark Anderson, has been providing internet to rural communities in Knox, Daviess, and Lawrence counties since 2007.
The owners of Echo Wireless a year ago announced that they had secured just over $2.4 million as part of the $189 million doled out as part of the state’s Next Level Connections program, money meant specifically to extend broadband access to more than 900 Northern Knox County residents.
Nextlink, too, has been the recipient of hundreds of millions in federal funding for the extension of high-speed internet to rural communities across the Midwest.
A year ago, officials there announced that they had received nearly $430 million from the Federal Communications Commission through its Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.
“But we are the first county in Indiana this company is expanding into,” said Chris Pfaff, president of Knox County Indiana Economic Development. “They’ve done a lot of work in Illinois, built out a lot of infrastructure there, but because we proactively reached out to them, they took an interest in Knox County.
“They come with other federal monies, and with Echo’s assets already in place, it will be a lot easier for them to build out rather than starting from scratch.”
Pfaff said KCIED’s Broadband Task Force, upon hearing that NextLink had secured federal funds for rural broadband initiatives, reached out to the company long ago in an attempt to entice them to come to Knox County.
Eventually, they were put in touch with Echo Wireless, and “one thing led to another,” Pfaff said.
“I think the work we’ve done on the Broadband Task Force led to this opportunity,” he said. “We reached out to Nextlink when we saw they had those federal dollars for broadband and essentially said, ‘We know you’ve got funding and a lot of counties to consider, but we want you to know that we are organized and interested in you coming here before you go other places.’
“They could have skipped over us and gone somewhere else completely, but those early conversions ultimately led to this acquisition.”
Echo employees will continue their employment with Nextlink, the release states, and they now will help support other Nextlink customers across 12 other states.
Nextlink Internet CEO, Bill Baker, said, “We thank Tim Trotter and Clark Anderson for their fine work to serve rural communities with great broadband over the years. It takes a special kind of person to devote their life to starting and growing internet service in hard-to-serve areas.”
Trotter said he was “proud of what we have built,” but he looks forward to what this partnership can provide for residents here.
“We have made so many changes and improvements since we launched in 2007,” he said. “The landscape has changed so much and so quickly.
“Becoming part of Nextlink opens so many opportunities to expand and provide faster and more reliable internet for our customers, friends, and neighbors. In addition, the resources that Nextlink provides will allow us to exceed our grant obligations in northeast Knox County.”
KCIED’s Broadband Task Force, two years ago, in partnership with Purdue University’s Center for Regional Development, launched an online survey to gauge just how good — or bad — internet service is here.
They were able to collect just over 1,000 responses, and among the key findings were that of the 90% who said they did have internet service, nearly half weren’t satisfied with it.
Half of seniors and 44% of elementary-age children said they had either no home internet at all or unreliable service.
And about half of the speed tests conducted failed to meet the broadband threshold.
Nextlink’s announcement actually marks the second major piece of internet news this year.
In January, RTC Communications, based in Montgomery, announced during a ceremony held at the Bicknell fairgrounds that they would embark upon a $4 million privately-funded effort to build out fiber internet infrastructure within Bicknell city limits, eventually offering what they promised would be the fastest internet service available.
RTC Communications has primarily offered high-speed fiber to rural communities the counties of Martin, Daviess, and Lawrence. This marked their first project in Knox County.
RTC officials said service would eventually allow for up to one full gigabyte of internet service, with the potential later for up to 10 gigabytes.
Bicknell did already have two broadband providers, Frontier and Sparklight.
RTC’s investment, however, marked the first build out of any fiber infrastructure.