With a $12 million investment in the Fort Smith region nearing completion, Ritter Communications expects to provide high-speed Internet and phone service to businesses in Fort Smith, Van Buren, Alma and Ozark by the end of September.
Alan Morse, president and CEO of Jonesboro-based Ritter Communicationssaid Tuesday (Aug. 30) that the company has been working on a major expansion project in Arkansas for the past five years.
“We’ve spent about $250 million over five years to expand the fiber network around Arkansas, not including about $67 million in grants from the state to make fiber to the home in some underserved areas,” Morse said. “Overall, we have a pretty big expansion, and we’re proud that the river valley is a part of that.”
Ritter Communication has had teams looking at the Fort Smith area, looking at the possibility of expanding the fiber network in the Arkansas River Valley area of Fort Smith.
“We look for communities that have a significant business presence, many potential business customers, from small to medium-sized businesses to large anchor tenants that we feel are underserved by existing providers,” said Ritter. “Often our sales team goes out in advance to try to get a lay of the land, to see how people feel about the services currently and whether they would be open to the idea of an alternative.”
Before deciding to expand in an area, the company also looks at how the potential market “fits” in markets where Ritter already has a presence by market size, business community and other demographics, Morse said.
“Fort Smith and the River Valley just seemed like a good opportunity for us,” Morse said.
The service expansion in the area is one of several recently completed by Ritter Communications to bring 100% fiber internet to communities in metro Fort Smith and Northwest Arkansas, according to a news release.
“We understand how critically important high-quality, high-speed Internet service is to the success of business and education in today’s environment,” Morse. “It’s gone from being a nice thing to being something you can’t function effectively without. We are pleased to offer
this vital connection to local businesses and schools in the River Valley.”
The communications company’s initial $12 million investment in Fort Smith, Van Buren, Ozark and Alma is building business corridors, Morse said. He said the company would later take another phase and expand into residential services. At the moment, there are no plans to add housing in this part of the state, he said.
“Never say never. We do the same kind of competitive analysis to determine if we’re going to do that kind of expansion as we do for housing,” Morse said.
Although the company has business customer engagements, Morse said he was not allowed to release them yet.
“We have seen very strong reactions. Very positive feedback. We are encouraged by the interest at this point,” he said.
Morse said that depending on the strength of the competition and the makeup of the business community, they are looking to reach somewhere between 35%-50% of the market over the next five years in the Fort Smith area.
“The pace at which we can achieve that market share depends on many things including the strength of the competition. … That’s the rate of success we’re used to when we go into markets that have historically been underserved,” Morse said.
While there aren’t set-price service packages like residential service, Ritter has a menu of services that businesses can choose from, ranging from Internet service to voice services, Morse said. There are call center solutions and cloud services and data center services to meet the further needs of enterprise customers, he said.
“It’s not one size fits all. It is different from residential where we can say here is a list to choose your package. Each solution is custom built for the specific customer,” said Morse.
Ritter Communications is managing the Fort Smith region through its Northwest Arkansas office. There are about 50 employees for the Northwest Arkansas and Fort Smith regions combined, he said.
Construction in Alma, Ozark and Van Buren is complete and in Fort Smith is nearing completion, Morse said. To celebrate the completion of construction, Ritter Communications made a $5,000 donation to the Donald W. Reynolds Cancer Support House. The company previously made a $5,000 donation to the Morgan Nick Foundation.
Ritter Communications provides fiber broadband, telecom, video, cloud and data center services. The company operates in 112 communities and has more than 45,000 customers in Arkansas, Texas, Missouri and Tennessee.