Maryville’s growing downtown areas might need a few boosts to reach its various goals: better parking options, day care and upgrades to some building facades, for instance.
But one thing stands out above the others when it comes to business needs: internet. Fast internet.
And the solution to this problem might be here.
The Maryville Downtown Association met Thursday, and Stefan Wilson, owner of Allevia Technology, announced the company would begin offering a way to bring high-speed internet services to city-center businesses.
City Services Director Angie Luckie and MDA President Aaron Killian said efforts to bring better internet services to Maryville businesses has been a long time coming.
But over the past six months at least, plans have shifted into high gear after Allevia said it could be the missing link between the already existing fiber cable network in Maryville’s downtown and businesses that want faster speeds.
Killian confirmed that an extensive survey of downtown businesses in the spring was a big motivator.
“The No. 1 minor and major challenge cited by the majority of the businesses was affordable high-speed internet options,” he said.
Reviewing a wide array of entities in the downtown area, the survey also took 18 areas of concern into consideration: 18 businesses surveyed said access to affordable internet was a major or minor challenge.
It was the largest response on the survey.
Costs and benefits
Allevia already manages IT services for more than 300 networks, Wilson said. The company just cut the ribbon on its brick-and-mortar East Broadway location this spring. It’s been around since 2011, when Wilson was the only employee.
Now there are 16 employees and Wilson said in his roll-out speech to the MDA that the business cares about local interests.
“We spend a ton of time on the phone in working internet service providers,” he said. “Through that we’ve learned what a good ISP should look like. ... We want to model that, we want to emulate that here, downtown.”
Wilson said he wants Allevia to remove internet struggles as a barrier to economic growth downtown.
But just how does it plan to do that?
During his presentation, Wilson said he didn’t want to bog MDA members down with “how the sausage is made,” but he briefly outlined just how Allevia is proposing to switch businesses with standard internet connectivity — usually a copper-based DSL connection, a service that decays over distance — to the existing fiber network owned by the city.
That would include a physical connection from the cable to inside the building’s walls and a small, black-and-white device Wilson held up for the room to see.
“Everybody’s freaking out about ‘Oh, you’re going to drill holes in the side of my building!’ or “What are they going to do?’” Wilson said. “This is the unit that goes inside the building, that’s it.”
Using Allevia’s proposed system will cost businesses based on fiber network speeds. At 25 megabits per second, the charge would be $75 a month; 100 Mbps would cost $100 and 250 Mbps $250.
Standard DSL speeds are only 15 Mbps.
Luckie explained the city would be involved in the technical work of attaching the building to the network and that the city already has a contract with Allevia.
She, like Wilson, is on the MDA’s economic vitality committee, which spearheaded and brainstormed the cooperative effort to solve a problem that has frustrating business owners for years.
“I think everybody downtown just had been beating that drum for so long,” Killian said about choppy internet services. “We didn’t have anybody that could speak the language and put the puzzle together, and Stefan was that key.”
“It’s 2019. Internet should not be a problem,” Wilson said at the conclusion of his presentation. “We hope this will go a long way to alleviate — see what I did there? — ... that problem for downtown businesses.”
Allevia does not have its system up and running in any Maryville business yet. But it’s using the Capitol Theater as its guinea pig. Additionally, other businesses already have expressed interest in the opportunity, Wilson said.