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Skyrunner helps rural neighborhoods get connected

fr skyrunnerIt’s hard to believe there are still developed neighborhoods in Haywood County that can’t get internet access or even landline telephone service, but it is a major problem in certain areas.

When Jake Robinson purchased his home a year and a half ago in Mystic Cove, a neighborhood off Newfound Road outside of Canton, he didn’t think he would have any problem getting a broadband connection — after all, he wasn’t on a mountaintop and he was located closer to Asheville than Waynesville. But he soon discovered his options were very limited. 

Charter Communication lines didn’t reach far enough to serve Mystic Cove, and AT&T’s ports were full with a long list of future customers waiting for service. AT&T couldn’t even provide his home with a landline telephone, which forced his family to rely on their smartphones to act as a Wi-Fi hotspot, which can be costly depending on your data plan. 

“We were not prepared for that — had we known our decision on buying that house may have been different,” Robinson said. “We were kind of held hostage for a while until Skyrunner came along.”

Robinson heard about Skyrunner from a co-worker and gave them a call. Unfortunately, his home didn’t have a direct line of sight to Chambers Mountain where Skyrunner’s tower is located, and Skyrunner couldn’t provide him with individual service. However, Skyrunner explained how service could be provided to the entire Mystic Cove community if they could find one house with a clear view of Chambers Mountain.  

“We worked through our homeowners’ association and came up with a solution to provide extremely high-speed broadband to the community,” Robinson said. 

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With an 18-member crew, Skyrunner prides itself on being an innovative, “scrappy” start-up company with the “if there’s a will, there’s a way” kind of attitude. 

“Because we’re a smaller organization, we have the ability to manage our network at a more granular level than big organizations can afford to do,” said Skyrunner Vice President Art Mandler.

Mystic Cove’s HOA was willing to organize a meeting with Skyrunner to see what their options, as many homes that did have AT&T DSL weren’t satisfied with the service. 

Skyrunner came out to Mystic Cove for an assessment and found one home up on a hill that had clear sight of Chambers Mountain. With a larger satellite positioned on the roof of that house, it now acts as the “hub” for the community and is able to relay wireless service through radio waves to the other homes that have a small satellite dish on their roofs. 

It may not be the most attractive décor, but homeowners say it’s a small price to pay for what they got in return. Mystic Cove residents are now getting download speeds of at least 40 megabytes. 

“Skyrunner had it installed around mid-April, and it’s been topnotch service to this point,” Robinson said. “We can stream movies and do the usual internet surfing with no disruptions. The customer service has been great, and I’m not an easy person to please.”

Jon Wood, Skyrunner’s marketing and outreach manager, said Mystic Cove would have had to pay upwards of $200,000 for a cable or fiber provider to come in and run the additional fiber lines needed to serve all the houses in the neighborhood. 

“Skyrunner has been able to organize with the HOA to offer faster speeds at a cost of $2,000 to $5,000,” he said. “That’s an easy decision for these HOAs to do it for pennies on the dollar.”

Mystic Cove HOA paid for the equipment, as it was an infrastructure improvement for the community, and each homeowner paid $99 for the installation of their individual satellite dishes plus the $50 monthly service fee. 

Not only has it provided residents with better internet service, but that service will help increase the property values for the entire neighborhood, making it easier for people to sell their homes in the future. It also means potential buyers won’t have the rude awakening Robinson had when he purchased his home.

“If someone has to move, the property immediately becomes more marketable because of the high-speed connectivity — it’s not a perk anymore, it’s a requirement,” he said. “That’s just the way we live in today’s world. In the long-term, everything will be streamed online.”

Smoky Mountain Retreat, a mountaintop subdivision overlooking Maggie Valley, has also benefited from Skyrunner services. About 75 homes in the development now get wireless internet from Skyrunner after experiencing limited service from other providers. The HOA is currently in the process of working with Skyrunner to see if community-wide service similar to Mystic Cove could be a possibility. Skyrunner is willing to cover the deployment costs and discount the standard installation fee from $199 to $115 if it can get buy-in from at least 20 customers within the community.

Cindy and Roger Dean of Smoky Mountain Retreat said they love their Skyrunner service, which enables them to have an unlimited data plan with laptops, smartphones, tablets and smart TVs all working at the same time.

“We love Skyrunner — definitely faster and more reliable than AT&T,” Cindy Dean said. “Also you can change your plan anytime with a phone call or even suspend service while you are away. You can also change from one plan to another. Also it is a much smaller company with very personable, pleasant service and willing to work with us and make recommendations when asked.”

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