Inland Cellular recently opened its 10th retail store, in Pomeroy, to help launch a high-speed internet service it is introducing in the rural town.
The company will begin connecting families and businesses that signed up in advance as soon as the Port of Garfield County completes an installation of broadband fiber this month, Inland Cellular Executive Vice President Chip Damato said.
Damato’s company is one of three internet providers with agreements to use the new network, which was constructed with $850,000 from government loans and grants, Port Manager Diana Ruchert said.
The others are First Step Internet in Moscow and PocketiNet Communications in Walla Walla, Ruchert said.
The businesses are expanding in a town where community members describe internet speeds as so slow that anything involving video often only works marginally well, if at all, Damato said.
That challenge has been particularly pronounced during the coronavirus pandemic when children are attending classes online and adults are working from home through services like Zoom or Skype, he said.
Also, Pomeroy residents have had limited access to streaming services for recreation during months when many in-person forms of entertainment have been unavailable.
“The feedback was they didn’t have adequate service to do those things and compete in today’s environment,” Damato said.
The brick-and-mortar store in Pomeroy, he said, is part of Inland Cellular’s effort to set itself apart from the competition as the broadband market expands there.
The store is in the Port of Garfield building at 141 High Drive and is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. The manager, Wyatt Keller, is a Pomeroy High School graduate and the son of a retired Garfield County Sheriff.
“They have someone local they can get customer service from,” Damato said, noting Inland Cellular executives expect Keller will be busy because customers will appreciate the quality of service and diversity of products offered there.
The company designed its network in Pomeroy to deliver the speeds customers are paying for regardless of how many individuals are using the system at once, Damato said.
It invested around $250,000 in servers and other equipment, in addition to what the port spent, and leased extra capacity on a fiber path that goes to Seattle.
With the internet upgrade, Inland Cellular will offer services it already has in other communities, including smart home technologies through which customers can link lights, locks, thermostats and security cameras to the internet, allowing them to monitor and control those things through apps on their cellphones.
“We’re ready to go as soon as (the port is) complete,” Damato said.