Ritter expanding into Northwest Arkansas

Cables connecting phone, cable and Internet service come out of a wall connector in the home office of Mike Loucks of Friday Harbor, Wash., in this March 2015 file photo.

Ritter Communications announced Wednesday that it will invest $28 million to provide broadband service to business customers in Northwest Arkansas' five largest communities: Bentonville, Fayetteville, Lowell, Rogers and Springdale.

The Jonesboro company dives into a full pool of competitors that provide broadband to residents and businesses in the region, including AT&T Inc., Cox Communications and a local electric cooperative.

For Ritter, the focus exclusively will be on raiding the territory for business customers.

"Ritter Communications knows that access to fast, reliable broadband Internet is a necessity for successful business operations, and we are ready to meet that demand in the Northwest Arkansas business community," Ritter Communications Chief Executive Officer Alan Morse said.

On Wednesday, in conjunction with the announcement, Morse was visiting Ritter's facilities in the region to oversee the expansion. Ritter, he said, is adding 300 miles of fiber to business corridors that need a boost in service.

"Although there are a number of competitors already established here, there are several business corridors that are not well-served," Morse said. "We saw an opportunity to address that part of the market that is a little bit underserved."

Expansion in Northwest Arkansas is fully funded through the company and is part of a strategic growth plan to invest $150 million in broadband projects through 2023 with help from its private equity partner, Grain Management of Washington, D.C.

In Northwest Arkansas, the first customer was connected Wednesday, and about 60 businesses have registered for service. "We'll have a gradual rollout to the major communities in the region," Morse said, adding that the last community should be hooked up by fall.

The company's fiber infrastructure will deliver speeds of up to 10 gigabits per second. Ritter started installing fiber last July and plans to begin service in Springdale this month, followed by Lowell and Fayetteville in June, Rogers in July and Bentonville later in the year.

Cox, which serves 59 communities from Fort Smith through Bentonville and over to Harrison, has been operating in the region for more than 20 years, and company spokeswoman Whitney Yoder said competition is good and healthy for business.

The Atlanta-based provider offers 1 gigabit service to residents and up to 100 gigabits for businesses. "Additionally, we are currently in the process of a five-year, $10 billion investment in our network that will prepare us for down the road as more and more devices come online," Yoder said Wednesday.

Ritter has leased office space and is building a staff of about 15 in Rogers, including customer service and account management teams, to support the region.

Ritter provides communications services to more than 100 communities and has 52,000 customers in Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee and Texas. The company has about 350 employees, roughly half of those at corporate headquarters in Jonesboro.