By Emily Fitzgerald / [email protected]
A new internet provider is coming to Winlock, bringing with it a revolutionary open-market, revenue-sharing system intended to connect rural residents to affordable high-speed internet.
Althea started in the rural Oregon town of Clatskanie, where Deborah Simpier, one of the startup’s three co-founders, worked at a small internet service provider.
“I felt really viscerally how the internet or lack thereof was affecting people. We’d have people come and sit in our parking lot to get access to Wi-Fi,” said Simpier.
And despite the area’s main corporate service provider receiving over $1 million in grant money to build out the area’s fiber network, internet service for rural residents didn’t improve.
Simpier got together with fellow co-founders Justin Kilpatrick and Stephen Shumaker to design a new way to provide internet.
“We took a lot of inspiration from how the internet is bought and sold between carriers, so if you’re AT&T and you’re buying something from a large company, like Verizon or CenturyLink, you buy it based on bandwidth as a commodity, per gigabyte,” Simpier said.
“That’s essentially what Althea does. We created an open access network … so that the traffic kind of flows freely and those who participate in the network get a revenue share, and it works.”
Instead of building expensive service towers that are easily impeded by the hills and trees common in rural areas, Althea connects with local businesses and homeowners to install equipment on their roofs, and those patrons get paid an automatic revenue share for being part of the network.
“Kind of like how people put solar on their roof and as they add capacity back into the grid, they get paid. That’s exactly how that works,” Simpier said.
Althea began as a startup internet provider in Clatskanie in 2018 and has since expanded to communities across the U.S.
“Winlock has always been a place that’s also been on our minds as a good location for this because it’s not a good place to locate one central tower, because you only see half the area, you’ve got hills and things like that, but it’s a good fit for our kind of network where we can hop around and work together with the community,” Simpier said.
Althea has an agreement to set up equipment on top of the Washington Egg & Poultry Association Co-Operative building in downtown Winlock and has been working with the Shakertown Corp. sawmill to establish a fiber network for the business and to set up broadband equipment on top of the sawmill’s silos.
Work to install the infrastructure has already begun and Althea expects to begin serving customers later this month.
Pre-registered customers will be contacted to begin their service as soon as the primary infrastructure is ready, said Simpier.
Anyone who has questions about the service or is interested in pre-registering can contact Althea by phone or text to 360-557-2024 or by email at [email protected] The network equipment is provided at no cost to the customer and the first month of service is free, with no long term commitment required.
“So you can try it out, make sure it’s a good fit for your family,” Simpier said.
For more information on Althea, visit althea.net.