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Meanwhile, Back On the Prairie

Two years and 4,000 customers later, Pairie iNet is far beyond the homebrew stage, and is seeking to expand into surrounding states such as Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, and Minnesota. Receiving second-round financing of $57 million at a time when most venture capitalists and investment bankers have shut their doors to anything high-tech has enabled the company to embark upon a number of creative projects.

In conjunction with NASA, Purdue University, and the Potash and Phosphate Institute, Prairie iNet has produced webcasts with the results of research on precision farming and remote sensing. Likewise, farmers can compare maps of soil composition with actual yields in order to devise effective planting strategy.

At the 2001 Farm Progress Show in Lafayette, Indiana, remote cameras allowed a birds-eye panorama for home viewers. And on-site exhibitors were able to put their web sites on display because of specially constructed booths provided by Prairie iNet. During the past year, it has even had a touring bus travel to various towns, allowing people to get a hands-on feel for the services the Internet offers.

Although the company recognizes increased competition for a market niche that was once all its own, Dennis Riggs remarks, "We will provide superior service, and in order to do that, we have dedicated a staff of 10 to handle only customer service calls all day."

In a market segment that has been largely ignored by the majors due to the economics of cable, DSL, and satellite tower construction, wireless entrepreneurs are finding a ready market of customers as well as funding in order to make technology's fast-lane possible for everyone. Indeed, because the FCC estimates that it would take up to $10.9 billion to wire all of the United States, wireless systems are sure to fill the void.

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