Filling the need for rural internet service

Published: Apr. 6, 2020 at 10:15 AM CDT
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A Panhandle-based company is making sure people in rural areas get the reliable internet service they need.

The company called Vistabeam covers a huge chunk of land in Nebraska, Wyoming and Colorado. It provides wireless internet to rural areas. "We really try to focus on places that are either under-served by their current provider, or completely un-served where they don't have any alternatives," Vistabeam CEO Matt Larsen said. "It turns out, most of the places we go to, we are going outside of city limits."

The CEO of Vistabeam says the goal is to provide fast connectivity. "We basically offer the same level of service that you are going to get from cable, and sometimes we can even match up with fiber, and it's because equipment has gotten so much better over the last 20 years since we started deploying it," Larsen said. Larsen says his company was among the first to provide wireless internet back in the year 2000. "We just continued to start building business out, and now I think we have 300 plus towers that we have equipment on," he said.

With the corona virus pandemic, connectivity for everyone is more important than ever. "We've got people working at home, we have kids doing their homework, we have people getting rid of their cable and satellite and they are watching their video over their internet connection using their phone doing teleconferencing," Larsen said. "We are enabling a lot of different things for people to use and live in rural areas." And, rural areas will continue to need service. "Smart agriculture is dependent on having good connectivity, producers being able to access markets is important, and I think over the next few years, we are going to see more of the internet of things. This may be where an internet-enabled connection will collect information about soil conditions and weather conditions," Larsen said.

Vistabeam has worked to provide wireless internet to dozens of towns across Nebraska, Wyoming, and Colorado. Some of the towns include places like Chappell, Nebraska and Lusk, Wyoming.

Vistabeam is a success story in the Panhandle. It's grown to about 30 employees, and that growth is bound to continue. "We were winners of part of the Connect America Fund phase two auction, so we are getting some money from the federal government to build out into some of these rural areas," Larsen said. "That money is going to areas that were going to be really hard to get to without some kind of subsidy. So, we are focused on getting as many people online as we can."

Many say broadband service is lacking in rural areas, but Vistabeam appears to be filling the void. "If you want to stay connected to the rest of the world, you really need to have a decent broadband connection," Larsen said.

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