Mainstream service process picks up speed
Customers continue to sign up for Harrison County’s high-speed fiber internet service provider, and the company and county officials are looking to increase the number of people signing on.
Mainstream Fiber Networks averaged 78 new customers a month in 2018 and hopes to see that number rise to 100 to 120 new customers monthly in the near future.
Those figures were part of the update provided by the Harrison County Community Foundation and Mainstream spokespeople at Monday morning’s Harrison County Board of Commissioners meeting, which focused on customer growth.
“We did an assessment from Oct. 1 through Nov. 15,” said HCCF president and CEO Julie Moorman.
The goal of that assessment was to find where Mainstream could make bigger strides in getting customers to sign up and speed up the process for customers to start receiving service.
“This collaborative effort was conducted through several different face-to-face meetings, emails and a lot of phone calls,” said George Ethridge, the project manager who oversaw Mainstream’s work to install fiber internet lines throughout Harrison County.
The county has a financial incentive to find ways to attract more customers sooner rather than later. Part of a customer’s bill, $5 each month, is used to repay the county’s $5 million contribution to the project that allowed Mainstream to install the redundant backbone of fiber through the county.
At a recent meeting, HCCF’s chief financial officer Derrick Grigsby told the Harrison County Council the goal is to have 4,000 customers. By the end of 2019, the total number of customers is expected to be approximately 2,000.
New customers are now able to sign up quicker, with contracts being finalized through email and electronically, where before all contracts were sent through the postal service, taking up time.
Staffing has also been addressed, following as many as 300 customers waiting for service to get installed.
“One of the things they had trouble with was finding qualified people to work on their crews locally,” Ethridge said. “One of the things that came out of this is recognizing a shortage in local technicians, and now there is a collaborative effort, not only from Mainstream, but also Harrison County Lifelong Learning folks are interested in providing some of this training.”
Marketing and advertising continues, as Mainstream is going back to neighborhoods where service is already being offered, but the old-fashioned way to get the word out, via word of mouth, is proving to be the most beneficial.
“Really, it’s people who tell their friends and neighbors and are basically satisfied customers,” said Mark Gabriel, Mainstream’s chief financial officer. “I can tell you every Monday, after people go to church or after they have a meal with their friends, we have a big backlog of phone calls from people.”
Mainstream also provides reduce pricing for families in poverty, but Ethridge said not many families have used the offer. Harrison County Community Services is now trying to help these families become aware of the offer and help them get certified for the reduced price.
To date, close to 500 miles of fiber cable is spread throughout the county.
Occasionally, property owners are not allowing Mainstream to lay cable on their land, preventing new customers on the other side of the property from potentially getting service. Commissioner Jim Heitkemper heard that a property owner in his district, the southern portion of Harrison County, wasn’t willing to allow Mainstream on the property. Heitkemper said he would see if he could help Mainstream get the property owner to change their mind.
“I would appeal to the people in the county that this service is necessary for some people, and, as a good neighbor, they should allow you to cross their property to be able to service those people,” Commissioner Charlie Crawford said.
Heitkemper said he’s heard from several people along S.R. 11 near the Floyd County line who are looking to get hooked up and asked Mainstream to go back to those homes soon.
Last month, Mainstream was awarded a state grant worth a little more than $2 million to connect 2,084 unserved households and 389 unserved businesses in Floyd County. Grant applications to further extend service in Crawford and Harrison counties were not selected.