Ashland Home Net – The Little Engine that Could
September 24, 2019 E2E Meeting
By Cynthia Scherr
You can’t escape kindergarten without hearing the story of The Little Engine that Could. It’s the right encouragement for small children and certainly anyone who starts a business. Business is an uphill battle, especially when you have something vitally important to deliver, you depend on tracks someone else laid, and you have giant competitors around every corner. Sometimes the little guy is the only one up for the job.
Jim Teece and Dena Matthews, owners of Ashland Home Net, hosted E2E (Entrepreneur to Entrepreneur – SOE2E.com) in September to share the story of how their internet/cable/phone service company grew from a Business only ISP with 100 customers to a multi-service provider covering Ashland to Roseburg. Their passion from the beginning has been to make mom and pop businesses successful.
Today, no one would consider running a business without access to high speed internet. In 1995, the idea was radical. Jim, a group of other tech-savvy entrepreneurs, and the City of Ashland worked together to start the Ashland Fiber Network when they realized that businesses would need access to a high speed fiber network to stay competitive. As a result, the Ashland Starbucks was the first in the country to offer free wireless internet. Cue the novel idea that you can work from inside a coffee shop!
To be clear, the Ashland Fiber Network (AFN) is owned by the City of Ashland and the debt for that infrastructure is due to be retired in 2024. The City is responsible for maintaining and upgrading the hybrid fiber/coax network. Ashland Home Net provides installation orders, set up, billing and tech support for internet, cable and phone service.
Ashland Home Net started as one of many small ISPs in the region. Gradually, Jim and Dena acquired other ISPs and customers including the Open Door Network, InfoStructure and Jeffnet. They created Rogue and Umpqua Broadband in order to provide high speed wireless for rural customers in Jackson and Douglas Counties. Internet service remains the majority of their business now that connectivity of mobile devices is critical to running all parts of our lives.
Jim and Dena support Ashland Schools, Asante, SOU, the Chamber of Commerce, Hope Equestrian Center, the Jackson County Fairgrounds and the Ashland Independent Film Festival, among many other organizations. As devoted community members, they feel strongly that AFN—our own local fiber network—needs to stay alive. Charter, a $43 billion company with a huge marketing budget, competes head to head with them. Some people have posted on social that they are being told that Ashland Home Net isn’t locally owned. Part of Ashland Home Net’s competitive advantage is saying YES when asked for help. Jim even has a “superman” cape in his office from an appreciative fan.
Ashland Home Net has been an innovation machine. When they see a need, they develop a solution. Jim pioneered Channel 20 to cover local events like the Fourth of July Parade and City Events. Today in Ashland aggregates community events each day on an online calendar. A system for communicating throughout the County during disasters was developed from eOneOne, a concept Jim developed. Streaming Sign Up elevates all small cable companies to be able to do streaming. UpDown alerts customers and Ashland Home Net when channels are up or down. And finally, out of concern for customer safety, Coming on Site, alerts customers when technicians are arriving.
Because connectivity is essential to our everyday lives, customers insistently and persistently demand faster internet speed. As Jim says, “fast isn’t fast enough.” Ashland Home Net continues to work on improving speeds, being the best ISP in the market and, once again, “future proofing” Southern Oregon. If I think I can, I think I can, I think I can, isn’t their refrain, I don’t know what is.
Cynthia Scherr has over 20 years of experience working with businesses, nonprofits, and government organizations. She also co-founded the Southern Oregon E2E network.