Empowerment Through Connection: Patriot Broadband
Anyone living in a metropolitan area can easily be forgiven for not realizing that there are enormous swaths of the U.S. that are a desert when it comes to broadband access. And those who have it at their fingertips may take it for granted. Rodney Ballance did when he moved from Manteo, North Carolina to Kissee Mills, Missouri, outside of Branson, in 2011. He taught college courses and ported his classroom online, and he also needed Internet access to ensure everyday connection and for a weekly radio show that he did for a living.
To be safe, though, he called the local Internet provider in Kissee Mills before he moved to make sure he could get the services he needed. “I asked very specific questions,” he recalls. “Can I teach my classes online instead of in the classroom? Can I upload and send large videos? Can I do a live streaming broadcast from a radio show?’”
He was assured there would be no problem. Yet, when he arrived, “I couldn’t even check my email,” he remembers. In hopes of preserving his livelihood, he purchased a building in a nearby town that was wired for the Internet. He soon learned that the building’s old cables were unreliable. “The Internet was going off and on while I’d be teaching a class,” he says.
While satellite Internet was available, other options, such as DSL, fiber, or wireless usually provide faster upload and download speeds and minimize delays while a user is online. The lack of reliable, speedy Internet connections jeopardized his livelihood. The dilemma gave him an “aha moment” that ultimately became Patriot Broadband. Fed up with the lack of service at home and the spotty service at his back-up location, Ballance decided to figure out how to get better Internet service to his part of the country.
Ballance learned that part of the issue regarding bringing broadband to remote places is the cost: roughly $40,000 per mile to enable a fiber-optic cable system. Those living more than 40 miles from the nearest town are not a priority for the big providers, according to Ballance. “The return on investment is just not there,” he says. “So, they [big providers] stick to where their profit base is, even with government grants.” Indeed, efforts by the federal government to bring high-speed broadband (classified as Internet that provides speeds of 25mbps/3mpbs) to all communities has helped some, but as of year-end 2016, 24 million Americans still lacked access to Internet service at those speeds, according to the FCC.
After extensive research and failed attempts to have better Internet brought to him, he decided to bring the Internet to the community himself, so in 2016 he founded Patriot Broadband. “We don’t need government backing and we don’t need big corporations,” says Ballance, who saw this as a chance to “stand up and take care of our community.”
A desire to help has always underscored Ballance’s life and work. As a young man, he entered the Air Force but his military career was cut short when he was disabled during an exercise. After being discharged, Ballance worked in law enforcement and financial services; each career gave him the opportunity to fulfill his goal of helping others. And although his newest venture started out as an attempt to solve his own dilemma, it has allowed him to once again be of service.
Patriot Broadband is bringing broadband to Ballance’s underserved community by setting up a system of fiber optic and radio waves. Customers can opt for tiered packages that start at $59.95 per month. In October 2016, Ballance made his first presentation at a local community center. Within 30 days, he had more than 100 paid customer applications.
After signing up some 300 customers as of February 2019, Ballance realized that his idea could have significant impact if it were scaled. He also realized that to harness the company’s real potential, he would have to look to entrepreneurs in other areas. In July of 2018, Patriot Wireless began offering franchising opportunities. Initial start-up costs are approximately $48,000, which includes a $29,000 franchise fee; the services started rolling out in February of 2019.
For entrepreneurs in Ballance’s region of the country, the Patriot Broadband franchise model is not only connecting consumers, it’s allowing franchisees to choose their pace and workday. “The great thing about the franchise is that it can be as big as they want it or as small as they desire,” says Balance. “It’s completely up to the franchisee: how many people they want to bring onboard and how fast they want to go.”
According to Ballance, speed and access to broadband have improved the communities Patriot has already brought online. Customers say their newly wireless existences mean more autonomy and flexibility with work and school, and overall better quality of life. One customer cited the advantage of no longer having to drive 30 minutes to get to the closest hot spot for its free Wi-Fi.
Beyond connecting his community and offering franchises, Ballance has also made it a priority to honor his military roots. In addition to offering a discount to franchisees who have served in the Armed Forces, Patriot Broadband contributes to the Wounded Warrior Project, a cause Ballance says is near and dear to his heart. “They weren’t around when I was wounded,” he says. “But I think they do great work and if there’s anything I can do [for my fellow wounded veterans], I want to help.”
His strong passion for opportunity also fuels his passion for connecting and empowering communities: one cable at a time. “I’m thankful for the people that have been around me [as part of] the opportunity to do what we do,” he says. “And I’m thankful to capitalism in the United States because in a lot of countries, you’d be told that you can’t have Internet or you can’t build that business.”