Rural internet provider Althea seeks to expand services to Rochester, Tribes After Growth to Centralia and Winlock

By Daniel Warn / [email protected]

With services currently in places like Centralia and Winlock, internet service provider Althea is looking to expand its footprint in Rochester by the end of the summer.

Althea has developed an open market revenue sharing system aimed at providing people in rural areas with affordable internet access that they otherwise would not be able to access.

The idea originated in 2017 when Althea founder and CEO Deborah Simpier ran an IT company in Clatskanie, Oregon.

Simpier said she was frustrated with the lack of reliable and affordable internet in her tiny hamlet, so she decided to do something about it.

Along with co-founders Justin Kilpatrick and Stephen Shumaker, Simpier analyzed how major internet service providers are working together to use internet infrastructure to serve their customers.

Internet traffic in cities is routed through what are called Internet exchanges, and there is a room in these exchanges where all the service providers come together.

During Internet exchange points, operators open up the full capacity of fiber to be shared between companies. Each major carrier pays to use the other’s infrastructure to provide as many services as possible to the areas it serves while maximizing its profits by charging itself less for infrastructure than it does for customers.

“They don’t charge themselves a monthly subscription fee,” Simpier said. “They don’t charge a monthly fee where if you go over it’s more, or there’s a flat fee – no. When they charge themselves, they charge for it as just infrastructure, and they charge for bandwidth as a commodity. »

Basically, carriers charge themselves for open usage of their infrastructure’s available bandwidth used per gigabyte, with no other subscription fees to maximize carrier profits.

What Althea does is charge a fee to maintain local service, but other than that, it charges a flat fee per gigabyte to its customers, the same way carriers charge each other. Instead of carriers maximizing profits by charging each other the lowest non-subscription rates, Althea customers maximize savings by simply paying per gigabyte instead of traditional subscriptions, Simpier said.

To be able to offer this, Althea integrates into the community it serves by acquiring existing infrastructure or building new infrastructure.

In rural areas, Althea connects to local businesses and homeowners to install equipment on their rooftops or use their existing fiber to create a network for use by all customers. These infrastructure network hosts receive an automatic revenue share for being part of the network.

“If you have a piece of fiber in the network, or if you host an antenna, you’re going to get a piece of it, a share of the revenue – kind of like energy panels that you put up and put energy back into the grid and then you get some credit back,” Simpier said.

At Centralia, Althea launched the service in September 2021 by purchasing the legacy Internet Breeze infrastructure, attaching Althea firmware to it, and then networking with the community to leverage other network add-ons hosted by individuals such as those which join the network with an antenna.

The firmware protocol that Althea adds to the infrastructure determines how well a given infrastructure, such as antenna or fiber, is used by its customers, and the network hosts of the given antenna or fiber get revenue sharing for the use of their part of the infrastructure.

As Althea hopes to expand into Rochester, it hopes to add infrastructure hosts to its infrastructure network to provide the service there and also give those hosts revenue sharing.

Althea will also speak with local tribes to see if they want to expand services with the carrier, Simpier said.

“Another thing that’s cool about what we do is we have an ‘always free’ tier,” Simpier said. “So if you’re an Althea customer, or have Althea (infrastructure) on your home, you’ll still have a basic level of service even if you can’t pay.”

Most families pay about $40 a month after the $20 fee to keep customer service for local internet, Simpier said.

And companies also pay the fixed fee per gigabyte.

“Companies … can benefit from much lower costs,” Simpier said. “We’ve found that, like with Comcast and some of the larger telecommunications companies, they charge a premium for the same service, just because you’re a business. Post-COVID, businesses in our small towns need all the support. possible help.”

The service is prepaid and prepaid, so a customer loads money into their account and then the money is used when the customer uses the internet.

The service also offers a “price-aware routing protocol,” which moves internet traffic a customer uses across the network based on whether they want cheaper or better-quality internet. Customers can turn the service on or off, so if they need higher quality internet for a while, they can get it, or they can choose to have lower quality for a lower price.

Althea also plans to expand its services.

“Right now we’re building a lot of fixed infrastructure with wireless or fiber, like broadband to the home. But the next phase is to look at the existing infrastructure that can be used for mobile networks. So we’re really trying to grow the stack to be your internet for your phone as well,” Simpier said.

Residents of Centralia can visit https://www.althea-centralia.net/ for more information, and everyone else can go to https://althea.net.

“I run a multinational company, an international company, from a Clatskanie, all on the Internet Althea,” Simpier said. “I think it speaks to what Althea is capable of.”

Richard F. Gandhi