Axiom Technologies LLC
3 Water St., Machias
Services: Internet connections; network design and managment; computer sales and repairs; website design, posting and e-mail
Annual revenue, 2009: $1.04 million
Lured by the promise and the potential of the Internet, Susan Corbett decided to relocate her medical billing business from Massachusetts to Jonesport in 1998. She soon discovered neither the promise nor the potential of connectivity were terribly strong in Washington County.
"They have wireless in Taipei, why can't I have it in Jonesport?" she recalls asking a Verizon engineer she knew back in Massachusetts.
Challenged by its small population and remote location, Washington County wasn't a market on any big telecommunications company's wireless priority list. Eventually, Corbett signed a three-year contract with Verizon Wireless for a fractional T1 line for her medical billing business, Morning Glory Enterprises, which cost $750 per month. Eager to find a lower-cost option and better reliability, she connected with Nelson Geel of Axiom Technologies LLC, a telecommunications company Geel founded in Machias in 2004. Inspired by the economic potential of connecting the county's businesses with broadband and the excitement of growing a technology business, Corbett joined Axiom and, in 2005, purchased the company.
Now, five years later, Axiom has established 90 broadband access sites in 48 Washington County communities. The company has 2,000 wireless, DSL and dial-up subscribers in its database and a waiting list of 1,700 people, says Corbett.
"I became the champion here for broadband in rural Maine," she says, amused by local folks who anointed her "the goddess of the Internet."
Not that it was an easy title to get. Starting with little capital, Corbett won a $75,000 ConnectME grant in 2007 and used it to purchase radio transmitters. Axiom engineers created the company's broadband network by mounting the transmitters on trees, water towers and buildings. In some cases, Corbett says, Axiom made agreements with property owners to mount transmitters in exchange for free broadband to help fill gaps in service. (She acknowledges she can be very persuasive and credits her homemade crabmeat rolls and ice tea as well-used instruments of success.)
Since then, the company has leveraged $825,000 in ConnectME grants, adding to the $450,000 in corporate investments and $350,000 of Corbett's own money she has invested since joining the company.
"I did not take a salary for the first three years and when I did take a salary, I was the lowest-paid employee here," she says. The company has grown from three employees in 2005 to 14 full-time staff today.
Most recently, Axiom applied for a federal grant totaling more than $1.4 million to provide training and consulting services to help fishermen, farmers and nurses in Washington County learn how to use broadband technology. Corbett says she'll find out this month if the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration approved Axiom's grant. She's also waiting on word of a $200,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Utilities Service that would be used to assess the need for commercial broadband connectivity in the county and provide technical assistance, training and marketing support.
As far as they've come, Corbett and her staff acknowledge they have a long way to go to realize her goal of bringing broadband access to everybody in Washington County. A March grant application says they're trying to reach another 375 homes and businesses, or 10%-30% of their service area that's off-grid. She's sure the answer to extended access will come from private companies like her own.
"I told the staff when I first came onboard there are no knights in shining armor so if you think (government) is going to come rescue us, that's not going to happen," she says.
What's the biggest challenge of your career? Ensuring that every resident in Washington County will have broadband connectivity.
When did you know you'd made it? I think you never feel you're at the top of your game because you feel there is always something to reach.
What advice do you wish you'd gotten early in your career? Give more than what is asked of you and do it for the right reasons — money is not one of them.
"I'll relax when… everyone who wants broadband in the state of Maine has it, and not one day sooner."
What was your "Haven't we moved beyond this?" moment? To get [lending institutions] to look at broadband as a necessity while I was finding the financing.
Robert M. Cook