With a $12 million expansion investment in the Fort Smith region nearing completion, Ritter Communications expects to provide high speed internet and telephone services to businesses in Fort Smith, Van Buren, Alma and Ozark by the end of September.
Alan Morse, president and CEO of Jonesboro-based Ritter Communications, said Tuesday (Aug. 30) the company has been working on a major expansion project in Arkansas over the past five years.
“We’ve spent about $250 million over five years to expand the fiber network around Arkansas, not including about $67 million grants from the state to do fiber to the home in some underserved areas,” Morse said. “All in all, we’ve got quite an expansion going on, and we’re proud that the (Fort Smith metro) is a part of that.”
Ritter Communication has had teams looking at the Fort Smith area, looking at the possibility of expanding its fiber network to Fort Smith’s Arkansas River valley area.
“We look for communities that have a significant business presence, lots of potential business clients, anywhere from small to mid major enterprises businesses all the way up to large anchor tenants that we feel are underserved by existing providers,” Ritter said. “Oftentimes our sales team go out in advance to just try to get a lay of the land, see how people are feeling about services currently and whether or not they will be open to the idea of an alternative.”
Before deciding to expand into an area, the company also looks at how the potential market “stacks up” to markets where Ritter already has presence by market size, business community and other demographics, Morse said.
“Fort Smith and the River Valley just seemed like a good opportunity for us,” Morse said.
The expansion of services in the area is one of several recently completed by Ritter Communications, to bring 100% fiber internet to communities in the Fort Smith metro and Northwest Arkansas, a news release said.
“We understand how critically important high-quality, high-speed internet service is to business and education success in today’s environment,” Morse. “It’s gone from being a nice thing to have, to being something that you can’t effectively operate without. We are pleased to offer this vital connectivity to local businesses and schools in the River Valley.”
The communications company’s initial $12 million investment in Fort Smith, Van Buren, Ozark and Alma is to build out the business corridors, Morse said. He said the company will later do another phase and expand to residential services. There are no plans at the moment to add residential in this part of the state, he said.
“Never say never. We do the same sort of competitive analysis to determine whether to do that sort of expansion as we do residential,” Morse said.
Though the company does have business customer commitments, Morse said he was not allowed to release those yet.
“We’ve seen very strong reactions. Very positive reactions. We are encouraged by interest at this point,” he said.
Morse said depending on the strength of the competition and the makeup of the business community, they look to achieve somewhere between 35%-50% market share over the course of the next five years in the Fort Smith area.
“The pace at which we can achieve that market share depends on a lot of things including the strength of the competition. … That’s the success rate we have grown accustomed to when we go into the markets that have been historically underserved,” Morse said.
While there are no set service packages with set cost like in residential service, Ritter has a menu of services that business can choose, ranging from internet service to voice services, Morse said. There are solutions for call centers and cloud services and data center services to meet further needs of enterprise customers, he said.
“It is not one size fits all. It’s different from residential where we can say here’s a list to choose your package. Every solution is custom built for the particular customer,” Morse said.
Ritter Communications is managing the Fort Smith region through its Northwest Arkansas office. There are about 50 employees for the Northwest Arkansas and Fort Smith regions combined, he said.
Construction in Alma, Ozark and Van Buren has been completed and in Fort Smith is nearing completion, Morse said. To celebrate completion of construction, Ritter Communications made a $5,000 donation to the Donald W. Reynolds Cancer Support House. The company previously made a $5,000 donation to the Morgan Nick Foundation.
Ritter Communications provides broadband fiber, telecom, video, cloud and data center services. The company operates in 112 communities and has more than 45,000 customers in Arkansas, Texas, Missouri and Tennessee.