Describe what your company does in 256 characters (a Tweet’s length) (244 characters)
Charles Florance: “NFINET deploys a private, state-of-the-art broadband network consisting of a dedicated, single strand of fiber that provides true high-speed internet, so the customer is in complete control of their bandwidth, not the pay-by-month conglomerates.”
How did you get involved in this industry?
Charles Florance: “Ben Miller, our chief technology officer, had been involved with fiber optic companies for the past decade. He’s worked with Choice Light in South Bend, and then he worked in Elkhart doing some consulting and fiber optic deployments for the county. He and I had a conversation about this technology about a year ago. He asked me: “Hey Charlie, do you have $50 million for us to totally change the face of network technology in north central Indiana?” And I said, “No, Ben, I don’t have $50 million, but I’ll tell you what. I think that if we can build networks cooperatively with customers, that we can bring that number way down. We can build it cooperatively. We can have customers pay for the network deployment upfront. And then offer deeply discounted long-term service.” And that’s how the idea of NFINET was born.”
What made you think of the idea/what inspired you to create your technology?
Charles Florance: “I think Ben was particularly inspired by the Ammon, Idaho model. Basically, the Ammon community paid for a broad-reaching, high-speed internet service for each of its residents—and the quid pro quo was, everybody paid another $20 or $25 a month in property tax. So, what they did was they created a very high-tech option, deployed it broadly to everyone and were able to reduce the cost pretty substantially, while also delivering the highest and most cutting-edge technology. So, I think that was the main inspiration. And knowing that in Indiana especially, there are some limitations on what communities can do in order to finance these kinds of projects, we decided to mimic that model by seeking out some kind of cooperative construction of the fiber-optic network infrastructure. And I think that seeing the press and awards that Ammon has received, we don’t need to be stuck using national providers when there’s something better just around the corner.
How is this going to benefit people/society?
Charles Florance: “Well, I noticed when my daughters went to e-learning last year [due to COVID lockdowns], it was a really big challenge getting participation in a lot of their web meets. And part of that was because the promises we were made about bandwidth just weren’t technically true. We weren’t getting the right download speed, so the video itself came in choppy. And what’s worse is that the speeds that were promised to us were all asymmetric. We’d get these “okay” download speeds, but then when we tried to upload information via these teleconferences or video conferences, it would just peter out. We wouldn’t get any connectivity. And so, we need to fix the difference between what people are promised and what people are receiving. I think that has to change. And I think the only way to do that is with meaningful infrastructure improvements. But speaking for the future, I think that we need an internet service that stays ahead of the appetite.”
“It has to stay ahead of the appetite because it needs to create new opportunities for connectivity. If you imagine trying to do a video teleconference or video streaming on an old 14.4k modem, it’s ludicrous. So, until you create the ecosystem where these new technologies can flourish, you’re not going to get them. One of the reasons why NFINET is going to be a benefit to society is we’re going to start seeing the opportunity for new technologies and new ways to connect come forward. Like better connectivity for working at home, or maybe making doctor or school appointments directly through a private network. Those kinds of things aren’t an option in the current schema with national providers. But with the NFINET structure, you could do a FERPA-compliant, educational meeting, or you can do a HIPAA-compliant medical meeting, all within a self-contained private network. So, on the bandwidth side and on the privacy side, there are some real benefits, societally, to the technology we’re offering.”
What’s innovative about your company and technology?
Charles Florance: “NFINET is one-half technological innovation and one-half financial innovation. The technology itself is cutting edge. We use actively managed systems that are direct lines from customer’s homes to the source of the internet. It’s not a shared bandwidth strategy, which is the common theme for pay-by-month utility providers. Our technology and network architecture mean you get absolute privacy, you get absolute bandwidth, you get great asymmetric data flow—and you’re only limited by your own equipment.”
“The financial innovation is taking the entirety of the commitment, whether it’s five years or 20 years, and operationalizing an investment fund. So, you think of the difference between the cost to deploy the network and the cost to actually deliver the internet protocol versus the total cost of the system to the customer. The difference between those two things is actually put into a fund that then pays for the operational, maintenance, and repair costs over the lifetime of the network. So that way, those kinds of costs disappear for the customer. They don’t have to pay additionally because those funds are already managed in the best possible way. We’re trying to change the way that people perceive internet, not just as a utility, but as an asset. And we think that this financial model is a way to help solidify that very ideology.”
How, in your opinion, has your industry changed in the past five years?
Charles Florance: “We are seeing more connectivity and a smaller and smaller digital divide, which is great. More rural homes and homes in poor communities are at least getting some access to high-speed internet. That’s a great start and I know we’re not there yet. But the technologies that are on the forefront of people’s consciousness—5G, Starlink, and some of the other satellite-based technologies or long wavelength technologies—are interesting and innovative. That being said, there are practical limits to what can be achieved right now. And while I know there are one or two patents out there for faster-than-light communication, outside of quantum entanglement, there aren’t very many viable ways of getting that information out in a very meaningful way, technologically. Maybe one day those barriers will fall, but right now offering true high-speed internet is a far cry from what was available just a short time ago.”
What has COVID done to your company/industry? Has it been affected? Does your solution assist with the pandemic?
Charles Florance: “Yeah, I think it’s just revealed how much we’ve believed in the promise of the bandwidth and how poorly the existing players in the market have delivered on those promises. So, I think that once you connect your television, your phone, or your computer to the internet and you realize that your bandwidth isn’t what you thought it was, you’re not able to be as productive as you wanted to be or communicate as well as you wanted to. And I think those two things have really been highlighted during the pandemic. Those things have really put a spotlight on where our weaknesses are in our existing communications infrastructure.”
On the bright side, that gives us a really good canvas to work with. We’ve perceived a substantial disconnect in what people want, what they were promised, and what they are getting. That’s where NFINET can really shine. I think our technology and business model assists with a problem like what we faced (and are facing), because if you’re physically prevented from interacting, or if there’s a barrier to getting your work done, NFINET can help ease that burden. NFINET can help you connect in ways that you couldn’t before.
Describe the future of your industry. What does the future hold? What is society going to look like?
Charles Florance: “Take TV resolution— you’ve seen increases from 480p to 720p to 1080p to 4k and 8k. It’s just getting better and better. If you look at new TV technologies, the trend is definitely going higher with higher resolution. Those resolutions come with a bandwidth appetite. And that’s just one piece of residential bandwidth usage, but it’s a pretty good indicator of where these technologies are headed. Once we get more sophisticated in the way we consume internet technology, we are going to need more bandwidth. And the flip side is the more available bandwidth we have, the more nascent technologies can be more readily adopted.”
“Remember, once we got the internet to a certain stable point of a couple of megabits per second, we got streaming services. Now there’s the option of doing real-time video conferencing. What’s next? It could be hologram-like programs from Star Wars. It’s difficult to envision exactly what kind of technologies will come into people’s homes and require that bandwidth. But I think we can say with certainty, advances will happen, and we need to be there to support that infrastructure when it comes.”
What plans do you have coming up?
Charles Florance: “Our first major pilot program is already nearing completion. We’ve got about two or three more weeks (as of July 13, 2021) of drilling left in Waterford Green in Granger, IN. So that entire project should be wrapped up by the end of July. Once that’s complete, we’re going to expand into other neighborhoods. Our next target is going to be the Quail Ridge South development, also in Granger, IN. And from Quail Ridge South, we’ll push outward to reach more homes and to get more cooperative buy-in for our larger networks.”
What would your advice be for people trying to get into your industry?
Charles Florance: “Do your best to raise the bar. Trying to compete with national service providers, it just isn’t going to cut it anymore. We need to be the new entrance to the industry. We need to be the guiding force toward developing, testing, and deploying new technologies that are going to serve the communication’s mission. And it’s just not enough to rely on the old way of doing business because the old way of business is just completely unsatisfactory.”
Charles W Florance is the Chief Executive officer of NFINET. Charlie was an infantry officer before he retired from the US Army in 2013. He then went to business school at Notre Dame and started The Indiana Whiskey Company in South Bend, disrupting national alcohol brands with hometown ingenuity. He was the distillery’s president for 8 years and is currently its board chairman. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he founded NFINET in 2021 with hopes of giving Hoosiers a compelling alternative to national providers.