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Flush with $100M investment, Greenlight Networks promises WNY faster, cheaper internet

Kyle S. Mackie/WBFO News

A Rochester-based high-speed internet company could start providing service it says is five times faster and 25% less expensive than Spectrum in parts of Erie and Niagara counties as early as next year.

The expansion of Greenlight Networks will be made possible, the company announced Tuesday, by a $100 million investment from former Buffalo Sabres owner Tom Golisano.

“We are making a significant investment in this community, and with high hopes,” Golisano said at a press conference at the Buffalo Marriott Harborcenter. “We’ve done very well in the city of Rochester. We have thousands and thousands of people waiting to get the service, and we’re going as fast as we can.”

Greenlight Networks was founded in 2011 and currently provides fiber-to-home internet service at a basic speed of 500 megabits per second for $50 per month to more than 40,000 residences in the greater Rochester area—and there are indeed many more on the waiting list. That’s why, two weeks ago, Greenlight announced a joint venture with LeChase Construction Services to speed up its expansion. LeChase will also help Greenlight “build a state-of-the-art fiber-to-the-home network” in the greater Buffalo region, according to the company, and construction is scheduled to start in the second half of 2020.

Credit Kyle S. Mackie/WBFO News
Investor Tom Golisano, left, and CEO Mark Murphy, at podium, announce Greenlight Networks' expansion to Buffalo/Niagara on Tuesday, Dec. 17.

Greenlight President and CEO Mark Murphy said the company will roll out its service in Western New York according to customer demand, which residents can express using a form on the company’s website. Greenlight offers simply-priced plans with data speeds up to 2 gigabits per second (e.g. $75 for 750 mbps)—and “no contracts, taxes or hidden fees.”

“We’ve already had several thousand folks in the area sign up to get service,” Murphy said, “So, we think Buffalo and the greater Buffalo/Niagara region is gonna be great for us, we think it’s gonna be great for the community, and I think, fundamentally, people want choice.”

Several local elected officials who joined Golisano and Murphy for Tuesday’s press conference also emphasized the importance of choice for area customers.

“This is the stuff America was built on: competition,” said Buffalo City Councilmember Richard Fontana. “In Buffalo, New York, we have not had competition. I know residents out there paying $160, $170, $180 a month for their cable and phone bills, and when they call in and say, ‘It’s just too much. It’s more than my gas bill. I can’t afford it,’ what can they do?”

Credit Kyle S. Mackie/WBFO News
Buffalo City Council President Darius Pridgen said Greenlight's expansion "updates an entire community [and] an entire city."

Councilmember Rasheed Wyatt agreed that the number of complaints the city receives about residents’ current internet service, which is dominated by Spectrum, is “ridiculous.”

“And there seems to be no interest in communication with the residents,” he added. “When I met with Greenlight, they talked about a robust process of engaging the community. That’s what I’m talking about.”

Murphy said Greenlight will spend the next few weeks reviewing the submissions it gets from residents.

“From there, then we turn that [information] over to our engineering and design team and they begin working on network design, we engage with the municipalities in those areas to make sure that we’re working in partnership with the community, to make sure that we’ve got proper access to the rights of way, and then we want to start construction as soon as possible.”

As numerous signs continue to indicate that Buffalo’s renaissance is leaving many of its citizens and East Side neighborhoods behind, WBFO asked Murphy how Greenlight plans to ensure that the new service doesn’t just reach the city’s wealthier, whiter neighborhoods.

“We’re going to be hiring people that are going to be specifically, their job is to be in the communities,” Murphy said. “In Rochester, we have many events a month at different places, whether it’s homeowner’s association meetings, malls, wherever, we want to get out into the community, let people ask their questions and figure out ways that we can help.”

Murphy also said Greenlight is “very comfortable” working with developers of affordable and public housing, and that higher-income, suburban neighborhoods are less economical for the company to lay cable in because residences are less dense than in urban areas.

Expanding to rural communities “hasn’t fit” Greenlight’s business model up to this point, Murphy said.

Golisano, who is also founder of the payroll processing and human resources company Paychex, became Greenlight’s controlling equity partner in mid-2018. Since then, Greenlight has tripled its staff and announced a goal of serving 230,000 customers across upstate and Western New York by the end of 2022. The company also plans to open an office in Buffalo starting with about 15 employees.

Kyle Mackie is a multimedia journalist with reporting experience in Israel and the Palestinian territories, the Western Balkans and New York City. She joined WBFO to cover education and more in June 2019.
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