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Boston tech company netBlazr takes on Comcast, offering low-cost broadband without a cable company

Local startup netBlazr is making a big push this year in wireless Internet-providing.

netBlazr technician Daulis Gonzalez installed equipment on a South End apartment builNICOLAUS CZARNECKI/METRO

Sick of Comcast and its overwhelming presence in Boston?

Local startup andnetBlazr is challenging the status quo, pitching their Internet-via-radio signal service as a way to get cheap broadband andbypassing cable companies.

The MassChallenge alum's equipmentsends targeted Internet signals around the city via hundreds of rooftop transponders. They'remaking a big push this year, signing contracts with a dozen new apartment buildings and recentlysecuring $1 million in funding.

So is the netBlazr’s big provider-bypassing business model a middle finger to Comcast?

“Sure,” said CEO Jim Hanley, who criticized the communications giant’s customer service and called it “the most hated company in America.”

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Venting sessions with new netBlazr customers, and in comments online, tell all, Hanley said.

“People call in basically foaming at the mouth about the big monopoly,” Hanley said. “It makes us laugh, but it tells us there really is a market there for what we’re doing.”

A spokesperson for Comcast said the company has working to improve customer service — updating a support app, for example. He also pointed out Comcast’s extra features like mobile hotspots in the city and said the company offers the fastest broadband available.

And Comcast does also have competition from RCN (which doesn’t cover all of the city), Verizon (a spokesperson said broadband speeds right now run at up to 7 megabits per second, much slower by 2015 standards) and Internet-via-satellite (which has struggled with latency issues and susceptibility to weather). But for many in the city faced with just one viable option for Internet, the “monopoly” image sticks.

That’s where netBlazr comes in as the first Boston startup to capitalize in a big way on wireless ISP.

netBlazr’s signals bounce around the city via hundreds of antennas and dishes attached to rooftops, which means they don’t have to run cable through the ground and inside buildings to access customers.

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“It’s a lot easier to maneuver Boston hopping on rooftops than pulling up cobblestone streets,” Hanley said.

As long as nothing gets in the way—trees, other buildings—the signals work in much the same way satellite dishes do. Hanley said they offer speeds up to 300 megabits per second.

He said the bigger telecom companies haven’t made a fuss about them just yet, adding that his business model is fundamentally different. NetBlazr, he said, can really only offer one service, while Comcast and RCN can sell bundled packages of Internet, cable and phone.

netBlazr has less than 1,000 customers, Hanley said. But Hanley told Metro he believes his company could take 5-10 percent of the Boston market for broadband.

“We’re still small and we represent maybe a rounding error for these guys in the marketplace,” he said. “But we can provide real choice and the consumers are screaming for this.”

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Working in netBlazr’s favor right now: cord-cutting, the buzzy term for young people who don’t buy cable TV and instead stream movies on Netflix or watch shows on-demand using services like Hulu.

The biggest market shift, though, is the way new technology could make it less necessary to rely on legacy companies for access to the Web, said Daniel Lyons, associate professor of law at Boston College specializing in telecommunications.

Wireless, he said, could be the “disruptive force of the future that will eventually break the existing mold.

“The technology is on the march,” he said. “Eventually technology will solve the problem. The question is: when?”

 

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