With the coronavirus pandemic creating a need for many to work and learn from home, many people realized just how important quality, reliable internet access is not only in metropolitan areas like Chicago but also in small communities. More rural communities are often underserved in this area, which has made the transition to working and learning from home a challenge. However, even before the pandemic, Surf Broadband Solutions has worked to increase and improve internet access in underserved areas.
“We believe that broadband is a great equalizer. When you have access to broadband, it levels the playing field,” said President Gene Crusie. “It’s really obvious in this world we find ourselves in with COVID-19. So many people are working from home, doing e-learning, and all that stuff. We found some of our school districts had up to 30 percent of their kids lacking access to adequate broadband for e-learning. What I am excited about is being part of bringing that broadband to rural communities and changing Northwest Indiana.”
As a prominent broadband provider in Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan and the fifth largest broadband provider to schools in Indiana, Surf Broadband Solutions is always on the lookout for new and improved solutions they can provide for their communities. Since 2018, Surf Broadband Solutions has invested in implementing fiber-optic broadband and averages 25 miles of fiber construction per month. So far, they have worked on building these fiber networks in cities such as La Porte, Valparaiso, Crown Point, Hobart, Highland, Hammond, Elkhart, and South Bend.
“Fiber-optic broadband technology has virtually unlimited capacity,” said Crusie. “We believe it’s the future, and we’re trying to bring it to as many of our customers as we can.”
This fiber-optic future could allow for upcoming technologies such as virtual reality, 8K streaming, and 16K immersive virtual reality.
“Basically, since it’s just glass, we can light it with whatever capacity people need. It’s future-proof in that way,” said Vice President of Commercial Sales Steve Carender. “Fiber is what allows people to do 4K streaming, video conferencing, distance learning, and everything like that, which is so important now. Broadband is considered a utility, but it’s even more so now. Traditional broadband services used to be fine, but a lot of families and a lot of businesses are finding that it is not suitable for them now.”
Carender explained that since the early 2000s, they have had to raise their standard when it came to schools’ internet capability because schools now require 1000 times what they required previously. He put it into perspective, saying that if four people in one household are streaming at the same time, that capacity amounts to 10 times the bandwidth that an entire school district would have used in the past.
Surf Broadband Solutions is working to improve internet access at schools as well as connectivity between schools to improve e-learning capabilities, and fiber is the key.
Implementing fiber-optic broadband is a huge amenity for any location and allows the community to grow. To ensure the company is serving those who need it most, Carender said it connects with the local schools, chamber of commerce, local economic development, county economic development, and regional economic development to identify the pressing needs of the community.
“With the whole ecosystem of broadband opportunities — the education, the municipal, the commercial, and the residential — everyone in the community benefits,” said Carender. “Fiber capabilities make homes and business parks more attractive, so from a community and economic development standpoint, having really good, latest-generation fiber infrastructure is the same as having good water and sewer service.”
“Getting fiber in a small community is like getting your first Starbucks,” Carender joked. “It makes it feel like you’ve made it as a community.”
Surf Broadband Solutions is far from running out of opportunities to bring its service into rural communities and is looking forward to increasing internet access in Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan. Crusie said they have a few big projects underway to build more fiber infrastructure within the Region.
“We’re building out a huge part of La Porte to Kingsbury, which is a really big project that’s got the governor’s attention,” he said. “We are pretty close to launching another fiber project near Valparaiso that will serve several thousand homes in the area. Internally, we just kicked off a project to build fiber for a few thousand homes around Crown Point. Those are people who are underserved and need better broadband.”
To strengthen its workforce and ensure the best tech minds work to meet its ambitious goals, Surf Broadband has combined its efforts with other companies in the field by merging into one entity. Through the years, Surf Broadband Solutions has merged with and acquired eight other companies to better serve people through its three service areas - wireless, fiber, and phone – with fiber now being their primary focus.
To ensure these transitions of funneling multiple companies into one went smoothly, each time a new company was taken on, a team got together to redefine values and develop a healthy corporate culture. The team last got together in 2016 to develop values that encompassed each facet of the company.
Today, Surf Broadband Solutions’ values are: Honesty & Integrity, Reliability & Responsibility, Others First, and Have Fun.
Crusie described the company’s staff as people of high integrity that customers can rely on. With staff members being part of the communities in which they work, they want each of their projects to succeed so that their communities can grow through improved and expanded internet connectivity solutions.
As putting others first is integral to Surf Broadband Solutions’ mission, they have partnered with groups such as Horizon Education Alliance, Crossing School of Business & Entrepreneurship, and Ribbon of Hope. The first two partnerships mentioned allow Surf Broadband Solutions to teach high school students about fiber-optic broadband and internet connectivity solutions through a hands-on approach to help them develop in these areas. The partnership with Ribbon of Hope allows Surf Broadband Solutions to support breast cancer patients. Beyond these partnerships, staff members are highly encouraged to participate in service activities and groups on a personal basis.
Surf Broadband Solutions also provides its employees with opportunities to bond and have fun together through activities such as mud runs, picnics, triathlons, and company-wide Christmas parties where staff members from all five offices get together with colleagues and their families.