Access to internet in rural areas is difficult – yet crucial for small businesses and communities to thrive and not get left behind. Large internet providers concentrate on areas of high population, which means our small towns and rural areas are often forgotten. According to the Eighth Broadband Progress Report by the Federal Communications Commission approximately 6% of the US population lack access to fixed broadband service at threshold speeds – this figure increases to almost 25% in rural areas, and almost 33% in tribal areas.
Clearnetworx and Deeply Digital are out to change that. Doug Seacat founded Deeply Digital 17 years ago after getting a degree in information systems. He wanted to return to his home town of Montrose, but couldn’t find a job that would use his passion for technology. As is the story with many entrepreneurs, when you can’t find what you need – you build it. Almost two decades later, Doug is the owner of two companies: Deeply Digital and Clearnetworx, and is transforming access to technology in rural Colorado. Deeply Digital provides technology solutions and support for phone systems, long distance, internet, computer networks and security systems, working together with Clearnetworx which provides fiber and wireless internet services. Doug employees 23+ employees in Montrose with two remote employees in other states. He’s focused on community first, and collaboration has been a huge part of his success.
As Doug describes: “The whole country has fiber-optics. We’re in the wild west, it is a completely different technology – you can do so much more when you have good internet, and if you don’t have it, you’ll be behind. The big companies aren’t focusing on getting fiber here, so we need local companies to do it. It takes someone who understands and cares about the community to come in and do a good job.”
Good internet is just one ingredient to start a business – especially in rural Colorado. Doug described some of the challenges he’s faced starting and scaling his two businesses; “It is a community effort; one person can’t make this all happen. We’ve had good partners and help. Let each person do what they’re good at – don’t try to build fiber if you don’t know how to do it, we can do that. If we all focus on what we’re good at, and what we can offer to each other that’s when we have great synergy and can get stuff done.”
However, Doug’s journey hasn’t been without its challenges. And the biggest one? Funding. Deeply Digital and Clearnetworx have had a string of successes – winning nearly 2M in grant funding to bring fiber to Norwood and providing Telluride with a back-up internet loop meaning if their current loop ever went down the town would not be cut off. Yet most of these grants are paid upon delivery, which means you need capital to make payroll and pay up-front costs. This is where First Southwest Community Fund (FSWCF) came in for Doug. FSWCF along with First Southwest Bank (FSWB) provided a loan to enable Doug to invest in his staff, materials and other costs needed to scale his business. “Local banks and community funds don’t want to loan on fiber-optics, as they don’t understand the value” described Doug “First Southwest was different. Being community minded, they trusted that we know what we’re doing and that we will do a good job with it.” Doug also received advice, mentorship and support from Telluride Foundation. He noted the importance of these local partners who understand the resources, and can help point you to the right place.
So what is next for Clearnetworx and Deeply Digital? “Building networks that aren’t there yet,” described Doug. “We want to expand fiber-optics on the western slope. And do it a little bit differently. We need to support small businesses. A lot of people want to live here, but can’t afford to work here so work remotely and need access to internet. We have a really neat place to live, but we don’t have the work.”
If you’re interested in learning more about Clearnetworx or Deeply Digitals' services check out their websites at clearnetworx.com and deeplydigital.com or follow them on Instagram @clearnetworx and @deeplydigitalllc or facebook.com/Clearnetworx and facebook.com/Deeplydigital.
If you’re a small business or start-up entrepreneur like Doug, looking for funding – get in touch with us at FSWCF to see how we might be able to help!
About First Southwest Community Fund
First Southwest Community Fund (FSWCF), a 501c3, supports the dedicated entrepreneurial spirit of rural Colorado, by investing in the people, culture, and ideas that fuel innovation and financial knowledge in our communities. FSWCF’s primary mission is to support tangible economic opportunities throughout rural Colorado, with an emphasis on areas of greatest need. FSWCF makes much needed non-traditional capital (loans) available to businesses that may not yet be bankable, which in turn creates, retains and grows jobs. FSWCF is supported by First Southwest Bank, a designated Community Development Financial Institution.
Please find more information about First Southwest Community Fund at fswcf.org.