Regional internet provider moving to Elkhart

Pictured are census blocks in Elkhart County categorized as unserved by broadband internet.

ELKHART — An internet provider that serves multiple states in the Midwest has announced plans to move its headquarters to Elkhart County.

Surf Air Wireless, currently based in LaPorte, cited the investment in fiber optic lines in Elkhart County as the catalyst for its decision to move its corporate headquarters to Elkhart. The company was founded as AIRbaud Inc. nine years ago.

Elkhart County Commissioner Mike Yoder said he learned about the move earlier this month. He believes the county’s fiber program has reached a critical mass since local government started having the lines installed 15 years ago.

Surf Air’s move includes partnerships with The Crossing School and Horizon Education Alliance as well as the expansion of fiber optic internet to over 5,500 homes in the next 12 months, according to information Yoder shared from the company.

Gene Crusie, company president, said in another statement Friday that much of their fiber and fixed wireless operations will move to Elkhart.

“Because of our excellent working relationships and partnerships within Elkhart County, Surf Air Wireless has chosen Elkhart as the home for our headquarters,” he said. “Our fiber to the home, residential and commercial fiber, and fixed wireless operations will be based in Elkhart as well as most company officers, executives and administrative support personnel.”

He said the company has added six new professional and technical positions in Elkhart and is hiring for additional field technicians as well as fiber optics splicing technicians. He said Surf Air and its subsidiaries will continue to maintain regional offices, which include two in Indiana, two in Michigan, two in Illinois and one in Ohio.

The company lists 41 counties in three states in its service area. An address for the new location was not immediately available. 

‘There is hope’

Yoder said the taxpayer investment in fiber lines has totaled $5 million to $6 million in the last 15 years. The county has adopted a policy of installing dark fiber during road improvement projects, which it leases to internet service providers to light up.

Current plans include extending fiber from Bristol to Middlebury along C.R. 8., at a cost of over $640,000, and tying into two data centers in South Bend, at a cost of more than $2.7 million. The cross-county move is expected to open the local fiber network to the wider world, while making it more robust by building in redundancies in the north and south.

On Monday, the Elkhart County Commissioners discussed a contractor agreement that includes verifying the integrity of the existing inventory of underground lines.

Yoder said he learned of Surf Air’s plans the same week he took several calls about the lack of quality internet service available in the county. But thanks to local efforts combined with a recent announcement from the state about its broadband expansion, he said that should change.

“If you are in need of better internet service in Elkhart County, there is hope,” Yoder said in the Aug. 9 Facebook post. “The next two years I expect to see a rapid expansion in services to occur.”

Gov. Eric Holcomb recently announced $22.1 million in funding for 11 broadband expansion infrastructure projects, many of them in southern Indiana. It’s expected to provide broadband infrastructure to more than 4,800 homes and commercial locations in 12 counties.

Elkhart is not included in the projects that were announced, though a map of census blocks shows a number of areas that would be eligible to receive funding as part of the $100 million Next Level Connections Broadband Grant Program. It shows large areas near New Paris and north and south of Millersburg among those in the county that are considered unserved, meaning they don’t have access to at least one broadband provider offering download speeds of at least 10 megabits per second. 

The Federal Communication Commission also announced nearly $13 million in funding over the next decade to expand broadband to 11,776 unserved rural Indiana homes and businesses. That does include Elkhart County, where $34,210 was provided to expand internet with download speeds of 25 mbps to 174 locations, many in the western and southern parts of the county.

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