Casair broadband project moving forward

By Kelli Ameling • Last Updated 7:56 pm on Thursday, September 22, 2011

STANTON – Casair received its first round of nearly $26.5 million in funding last week for its aggressive broadband expansion project, giving the company 36 months to bring high-speed Internet service to five counties.

“Things will start moving quickly from here on out,” said Casair President Steve Meinhardt.

Stanton-based Casair, also known as Crystal Automation Systems, received the funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The business was one of five in the state to receive funding through a competitive process.

The local computer company will receive an $18.5 million grant and a $7.9 million low-interest loan to provide high-speed broadband Internet to rural households and businesses over fixed Wireless WiMax and fiber optic cable to health care facilities, libraries, schools and community organizations.

The project is anticipated to benefit 140,000 people, 5,000 businesses and more than 700 community institutions in Gratiot, Ionia, Mecosta, Montcalm and Oceana counties.

Casair has started to complete steps it needs to take to make this project happen.

“Casair has acquired licensed bandwidth, tested equipment and determined the optimum configurations to provide quality service to customers,” said Casair Director of Operations Todd Gardner.

The company also has designed a 400-mile fiber optic route and begun the pre-engineering process.

“We have also begun the process of submitting the necessary documents needed to begin the broadband project once the final approvals are issued from various federal and state regulatory agencies,” Gardner said.

Meinhardt said the company still is waiting on the state for the final environmental clearance.

Because of delays, Casair has been able to polish equipment selection, design and rollout, Meinhardt said.

Although the company has 36 months to complete the project once the money was first dispersed, Gardner said a majority of the project has to be completed within 24 months of the official start date.

“This project enables us to upgrade our existing infrastructure just in time to meet the growing demand for high speed Internet services,” Meinhardt said. ”It also allows us to expand Internet coverage to new areas that do not have high speed service available.”

Meinhardt said many communities consider high-speed Internet a benefit in keeping or attracting business to the area.

Casair is partnering with local businesses and institutions and adding more staff thanks to the expansion project.

“We will have several positions available and are working with the staff at Michigan Works,” Meinhardt said. “We will soon begin interviewing for tower maintenance, residential installers, network engineers and additional help desk support.”

He said the company soon will begin to upgrade customers and start adding more customers to the company’s system.

“We have over 4,000 households in our database waiting for us to deliver them service,” Meinhardt said. “As we light up towers we will be contacting people in the order they requested service according to that database.”

Meinhardt encourages people to call to be placed on the no-obligation list if they are interested in adding the service. Casair’s rates are not increasing with the project.

“Casair is deeply committed to controlling costs for the customers we serve,” Gardner said. “While we do provide more advanced services at higher costs, our basic residential package remains at the same price as it was eight years ago.”

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