Have you ever had a conversation with someone who actually likes their Internet provider? Even if the service itself is relatively fine—the speeds are okay, the outages are infrequent—it’s rare to find a person who doesn’t feel frustrated by the pressure to bundle services and the paucity of providers. And that’s to say nothing of horror stories like the 18-minute recording of a Comcast rep who refused to cancel a subscriber’s service that went viral earlier this year.
netBlazr wants to change that.
The fledgling Allston-based tech startup is putting down roots in Cambridge, hoping to bring the same small-biz quality and care to its Internet service that you’d get when shopping at your locally owned grocer or clothing store.
“We’re just little tiny fish kind of nibbling around the edges, but we have an oversized effect,” says netBlazr CEO Jim Hanley. “Whenever you have a monopoly structure, a small player can provide a lot of competition.”
The outsider ISP was founded in 2010, when Hanley and two friends with tons of tech experience between them first applied to the startup competition MassChallenge. Their company was literally only a week old at the time, but they were finalists in the Challenge that very first year. “Like most startups, things didn’t go exactly as we expected,” Hanley laughs, noting some of the tweaks they realized their product needed after that first competition. Still, the company applied to MassChallenge again the following year—and were again finalists.
Hanley says their focus was initially on the technology behind their service, but a few years in, they pivoted to become a client-facing service provider. And that’s not the only way the netBlazr team has had to adjust their offerings. For a time, they only offered Internet access to businesses. “All of our business customers were saying, ‘Hey, when can I get this at my house?'” Hanley reflects. His team initially wanted to avoided delving into home Internet, “But eventually, we started thinking, ‘Why not?'” he asks. “‘Why can’t we offer this to people in their homes?'” They started slowly rolling out the service for independent residences—a process that accelerated when they began putting antennas on the top of apartment buildings that allowed them to provide Internet access to an entire complex (at speeds that Hanley says are up to 10 times as fast as what Comcast offers).
In Cambridge, netBlazr’s service is now available in apartment complexes and office buildings from Cambridgeport to Central Square into Porter and almost into Alewife, and they’ve also expanded their reach into Downtown Boston, Roxbury, Charlestown, Dorchester and Brookline. The next frontier is Somerville—Hanley says they’ve had more than 500 Somerville residents fill out their online form to express interest in the service—but they haven’t yet been able to make the jump.
Still, he’s confident that netBlazr’s speeds (which reach 300 mbps), low prices (which don’t increase from year to year) and dedication to providing good customer service (when you call the company, you’ll most often get one of their engineers on the phone right away) will make them attractive to more and more people as they disrupt Internet service in the area.
“It’s a competitive world, and we get that,” Hanley says.
“We just need to be better than Comcast. And the reality is: It’s not that hard.”