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High school student Kennedy Campbell just happened to be at his home in Blanchester a year and a half ago when Little Miami Gig started installing fiber optic cable to rural homes in need of an internet connection to the larger outside world.
The company, one of the locally owned and operated fiber broadband businesses of Ohio Gig, was in its infancy then, and its business model was still taking shape.
Campbell, then a junior at Blanchester High School, was talking with his late father, Corey, and CEO Tim Berelsman during the installation when Berelsman offered him a job.
“It has worked out very well,” Campbell said. “They have been really flexible with my (school) schedule and have really been there for me. I plan to stay with them for quite a while.”
Campbell, now a senior attending Great Oaks vocational school studying Heavy Equipment Operations and Engineering, started out as a home installer. He moved to the drop team, which runs lines from the road to homes. Now, he is on the drill team, which runs fiber cable to the drop team that eventually will reach customers’ houses.
“I also learned some of the business side of things when I first started,” he said. “I was trained very well.”
Hiring local talent, often high school students who may start as interns then get a job with Ohio Gig, is just one of the many ways the fiber broadband company gives back to rural communities. Recently, they donated more than $35,000 to the Backpack Program in Belmont County, while working to establish locally owned and operated Belmont Gig in eastern Ohio.
One would never know it now, but the ambitious goal of linking all rural counties in the east-southeast-southern portion of the state through an affordable fiber optic network was not what Nick Hunter and his extended family’s manufacturing business intended to do. All they wanted to do was to provide local employment opportunities for families in and around their southwest Warren County family farm.
Creating their own solution
“We started looking (at opportunities) about three years ago and realized there was wholly inadequate broadband service,” he said, noting that companies wanted “an arm and a leg to run internet out there.”
Soon the Hunter family, which still owns farmland and the revolutionary-era farm their ancestors claimed in southwest Ohio in 1792, decided to solve their own connectivity issues. They started from scratch, building a modern day broadband version of the local telephone company quite literally from the ground up.
Then they decided to share their solution with their rural Ohio neighbors through Ohio Gig. Nick Hunter serves as CEO of Fiber Capital Partners, the funding arm of the Ohio Gig business group. His job is to bring outside investors on board to assist with the fiber network builds while unearthing opportunities through a community development process in each new area.
The first company created through Ohio Gig was Little Miami Gig in Warren County. It took a lot of work on the ground and a lot of connections with the community and investors, but it started installations in 2020.
Hunter said it takes time to both build community support and then to build out the fiber network itself, but Ohio Gig doesn’t go into a community looking for a monetary investment, but a credibility one.
“We work with key community stakeholders and ask them to help us build relationships,” Hunter said. “Township trustees, county commissioners, port authorities, we want them to know we’re here to stay.”
Part of that promise is to seek out and find community members and businesses who can do the physical work of putting in the fiber. Ohio Gig is also building its data center in Belmont County, which is where they broke ground on Belmont Gig this fall.
“Rural America has been overpromised and underdelivered a ton,” Hunter said. “(My family) is from rural Ohio, too, and we have a reputation to maintain.”
Promise and deliver
Little Miami Gig customer Tony Gossard recently retired as an information technology professional working with the U.S. Air Force. He lives on a small 10 acre farm on hilly property in a valley halfway between Morrow and Blanchester.
“On a sunny day, it was not uncommon for us to have to walk to the top of the hill to get Verizon reception,” he said.
For years he and his neighbors lobbied for a cable or wireless company to bring the internet connection they needed to their little three-house neighborhood to no avail.
Then the pandemic hit and Gossard was suddenly in need of a reliable internet connection at his home. His company did provide him with a Verizon hotspot, but it was “hit or miss” he said.
“Waiting on a transfer as a chief engineer for Air Force financial management was not efficient,” Gossard said. “I would download data, hit ‘return’ and go make some coffee or breakfast.”
He started hearing about Little Miami Gig, and once he looked into the fledgling operation he was “pleasantly surprised with the people, process and the technology.
“It took a little time because they were installing fiber down the road at the same time they were building their business base,” Gossard said. After his installation was complete in July 2020, he said he’s never looked back.
“Over the last year and a half we’ve maybe had two outages, and I didn’t even know there was an outage until I read an email the company sent,” he said. “They are clearly focused on customer satisfaction.”
Customer satisfaction is one of the reasons Chase Struna, service area manager for Little Miami Gig, enjoys his job so much.
“Residents bring out water and Gatorade to the guys in the field who are working,” he said. “The atmosphere has just been phenomenal. Some folks have been waiting years and years for this and are kind of starstruck that it’s actually happening.”
This fall, Hunter was running all over Ohio Appalachia working with more rural communities to develop more connections, both fiber and otherwise.
And according to Belmont County Farm Bureau member Devin Cain, who worked with Hunter on the backpack program, what Belmont Gig and Fiber Capital Partners have promised has come to fruition.
“They made the donation to the backpack program and a donation to Give Belmont for new Chromebooks in our schools,” Cain said. “Those two donations made a statement that they are here for the county and not for themselves. I’ve been impressed with every person I’ve met on Nick’s team.
I can’t believe they picked little Belmont County to do all of this.”
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