Farner Finds Telecom Fun

June 5, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — Ever met a history-major-turned-assistant-prosecutor-turned-associate-professor-turned-telecom trainer and service provider who enjoys making energy efficient homes out of recycled tires in his spare time?

Well, meet Matt Farner, president of AnyWhereUR.net, a company that provides high speed, low cost Internet access connectivity using wireless technology.

Farner, who says he’s always had in interest in radio and audio, founded AnyWhereUR.net about a year ago. The company provides service through microwave radios from dedicated T-1 lines it installs to feed the service.

AnyWhereUR.net is affiliated with Dinan Inc., a company Farner and his wife, Beth, established in 1991. Dinan delivers telecom services to businesses as a distribution arm for long distance service, data lines and Internet access for other telecom companies. The company employs 40 sales people throughout the Midwest and serves as the distribution arm for AnyWhereUR.net. as well.

AnyWhereUR.net serves Grand Rapids, Kentwood, Ann Arbor, Plainwell, Kalamazoo, Otsego and Chelsea. By the end of the year, Farner expects to make service available in Grand Haven and Muskegon and to expand service further in Ann Arbor and Kalamazoo.

Things change quickly in the telecom business. That’s part of the fun of it, Farner said, because he enjoys the challenges that change presents.

“It may be that the market for what we’re doing will gravitate more and more to the small towns, or it may be, because of the difficulty and expense of burying new copper and fiber optic, we may gravitate to larger towns. We’re going to go where people want us to go.”

In smaller cities, which tend to be underserved by Ameritech and other phone companies, it’s companies like AnywhereUR.net that are stepping up to the plate to provide them with service.

“We have eight very happy customers in Chelsea right now who welcomed us because until we showed up, they could only buy the service at two to three times the cost,” Farner noted.

“I laugh when I hear legislators say they’re afraid small towns won’t be served. That’s a lot of hokum. There are plenty of people out there like me who would be tickled to death to serve these small towns and make a reasonable profit. We can and we will.”

Farner earned a BA in History from Kalamazoo College. While a student there, he helped rebuild the school’s outdated radio station and assisted in running it as well. He went on to study law at Duke University, Toledo Law School and Notre Dame Law School, from which he graduated in 1978.

He worked as an assistant county prosecutor and also as a part-time law enforcement trainer for St. Joseph County. After a stint as an associate professor at Detroit College of Law, he joined a private practice firm in Lansing.

“I reached a point where I wasn’t getting anything out of the practice of law, so I quit,” Farner recalled. “I kind of fell into marketing some telecommunications services, and I really liked it and did well at it. I became one of the largest agents for a long distance carrier now known as Qwest.”

AnyWhereUR.net has two transmission towers in Grand Rapids, one in Plainwell and one on the east side of the state in Chelsea. The company has the capacity to deliver speeds of 256k and above, with a transmission range from three to 30 miles.

AnyWhereUR.net uses different radios for different distances. For individual users, the company provides small radios that plug into computers for Internet connection. The technology can be delivered through microwave radio or through what he refers to as the private network model.

“Say you have a branch here and in Kalamazoo and want to connect the two offices. You call AT&T or Ameritech or MCI and you find it’s going to cost $1,000 a month. We can put in a 30-mile radio that’s just for your use that might cost a lot less.”

Internet connection, on the other hand, is more of a three-to-four mile proposition whereas the private network can be whatever a customer wants, he said, adding that it’s easy to install in a customer’s location without disruption.

For the past six years and running, Farner also has worked as a trainer for telecom companies, teaching the basics of telephony and data focused on public network operations and theory. He draws upon his legal experiences as well.

There’s a special legal world that revolves around telecommunications and it’s called the world of tariffs. Normally, when a business messes up a job, it can be sued quite successfully for a lot of money, Farner explained.

“But if you’re in the telecom business and you screw up a customer’s phone line, you cannot be sued. The tariff protects you. That’s one of the things people do not understand. They routinely talk about suing the phone company and that’s a joke. They will not win.”

That protection comes from the Telecommunications Act of 1932, which was amended in 1996. The 1932 act established tariffs nationally and, as a federal law, continues to take precedence over state regulations, he said.

Tariffs also protect the phone companies from competition, he pointed out.

“The actual cost to the phone company of delivering a T-1 line is somewhere under $50 a month and they’re routinely charging $500. The differences in price are obscene. They’ve charged it because they can get away with it.

“The result of any monopoly is to cause all kinds of artificial barriers of entry, cause all kinds of artificially high prices, and cause all kinds of lack of innovation — which is the most significant one to me.”

Today, wireless connections deployed for Internet or telephone service are virtually unregulated because the telecom regulations don’t apply. So he and others can provide connections in competition with Ameritech without anybody’s permission.

“There are those of us who don’t really care to mimic Ameritech and just give discounts off Ameritech. What we want to do is provide service at a reasonable price and still earn a profit. That’s our marketing plan,” Farner explained.

“The last mile” is the major hurdle in telecom today, he said, and it’s the biggest inhibitor of immediate adoption of broadband services by everybody.

“Let’s say you carried this T-1 line from Detroit to Chicago, but now you have to deliver it from your Chicago location out to where the customer is. That’s where the bottleneck exists now. That’s why we call it the last mile.”

When he’s not busy getting customers connected, Farner shares his passion for recycling with his wife. Together, they have built three “tire houses” and one house out of straw bale. Three of the structures are in Idaho and one in Michigan.

It’s simply an enjoyable hobby, he said, and he hopes it spreads the word about the usefulness of recycling. Their next project is another hybrid straw bale house.

“The problem is,” he said, “is that I’m running out of places to build them.”  

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