Rural Gig gaining steam

Members of South Haven Area Emergency Services mount Rural Gig’s internet equipment onto a pole at the station on 66th Street in Casco Township. The company offered free wifi to the station to serve the emergency responders and to more easily reach the Rural Gig customers in the surrounding area whose connection to the company’s main tower was blocked by trees.

SOUTH HAVEN — Like most residents who live in rural settings outside South Haven, Julie Cowie wasn’t very satisfied with her high-speed internet service.

“My family of 4 has four iPhones, two iPads, one Windows laptop and one Mac,” Cowie said. In an attempt to get faster service she, like a growing number of rural residents, used a computer tablet as a wifi hotspot in her home office.

But one month, it ended up being a very expensive decision.

“I received a huge bill – $454 – in Feb of 2018 and I was so fed up,” Cowie recalled. “It was data overage charges simply because both IOS and Windows had updates that month.”

So the Casco Township resident and her husband, Will Hart, decided to do something about it.

They, along with John Sokel, a software engineer residing in Casco, formed their own internet provider company.

The trio formed Rural Gig in the fall of 2018, and it has become a popular alternative for rural residents who often have to resort to wifi hotspots or satellite service for their internet needs.

Rural Gig in a wireless internet service provider that offers customers 10 Mpbs of unlimited data for $85 a month. The company transmits service from towers to receivers mounted on customers’ home roofs or to a nearby pole.

“Our unlimited data means people can stream and even game without worrying about data limits,” Cowie said. “10 Mbps is enough to stream without any buffering. We do not slow people down after they churn through a certain number of gigabytes. We handle customer service calls ourselves, and people know who they’re dealing with! This means people can work from home, participate in webinars, watch videos and use the internet without concern for data use.”

Some may consider $85 a month too expensive, but Cowie said rural residents often pay that or more for internet service that has data limits.

“Currently a few areas along the lakeshore (in Casco Township) are served by cable,” she said. “Some have DSL from Frontier. A few use i2k (Internet-2000), which is wireless, offering speeds of 1-3 Mbps. Many of us have options limited to either a wifi hotspot or satellite, both of which have data limits.”

At first, Rural Gig only served people and businesses in Casco Township. The company had been using a tower at 111th and 62nd Street to beam its line-of-sight internet signals to customers. But in July, the company worked out agreements with governmental units and businesses in South Haven and Ganges Township to use their towers.

“In the past two weeks we expanded to Scenic View Dairy on 62nd Street and are now able to serve customers in Ganges Township and western Clyde Township,” Cowie said. “The expansion onto the South Haven water tower near Walmart allows us to serve areas of southern Casco Township, South Haven Township and Geneva Township. We have many folks on our list who have been waiting for better options – namely, unlimited data.”

The South Haven Area Water Sewer Authority made it possible for Rural Gig to install internet transmitting equipment on its water tower near Walmart.

“We are happy to collaborate so local township residents can access better internet,” said Bill Hunter, South Haven’s Department of Public Works director.

“We really appreciate local governments who recognize we are seeking to solve rural broadband issues,” Cowie said. “Casco Township, Ganges Township, Clyde Township and the South Haven Water Sewer Authority have all understood what we are trying to do and have helped us secure permissions and permits needed to provide service to the area.”