It was the mid-1990s, and the internet was the newest must-have. From a Columbia garage, John Dupuy and George Pfenenger created a dial-up software to connect mid-Missourians to the World Wide Web.
As the need for high-speed internet has increased since 1994, so has Socket’s business. On three occasions, the company was named one of the fastest-growing businesses in the country by Inc. Magazine. It employs around 160 people, with offices in Columbia and St. Peters.
With limited options available for reliable Wi-Fi in rural Missouri, Socket capitalized on the opportunity to become a provider at the perfect time. Adam Voight, Socket’s director of marketing, says being a smaller private internet provider has its advantages.
“We are the local provider,” Voight said. “We are able to react to scenarios and situations faster than what some of the larger companies could.”
For Socket, being small does not mean being powerless.
“It’s a large enough company that we’re able to make a real impact on the community,” Voight said.
The company, now owned by Carson Coffman and Pfenenger, also offers television and telephone services along with fiber-optic internet.
While a majority of its client base is located in Columbia, Socket is expanding out of the area and hopes to continue to grow.
“We are expanding quite a bit,” Voight said. “Actually, at a very rapid pace. It was planned even before the pandemic hit, but it definitely put a renewed emphasis on it.”
Socket’s reach is expanding in all directions.
“We’re getting almost all the way up into Kansas City and St. Louis,” Voight said. “And up north, we’re going up into Kirksville. We’re looking for a lot of expansion in southcentral Missouri, too.”
The demand for Socket’s services has skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There was a major change in how we did business,” Voight said.
People are spending more time at home streaming, working and learning. Socket understood the uncertainty of COVID-19 for many people, and in April, the company provided 90 days of free Wi-Fi services to families with students. It also pledged not to shut off internet services based upon a customer’s inability to pay.
“We are committed to doing our part to help keep our community connected,” Coffman said in a blog post on the company’s website. “We are hopeful this will better support businesses, individuals working from home, and students that need increased internet access during this time.”
Voight, a Columbia native, said he is very proud to work for Socket. In the year he has worked there, he said he has seen so much growth within the company.
“It’s been rewarding,” he said. “We’re working for a company that’s providing an absolutely essential service for the community.”
Socket is the only mid-Missouri company to offer a fiber-optic network. Fiber internet is the fastest connection available, with speeds starting at 100Mbps (megabits per second). The company first began expanding into fiber-optic networks in 2015, and the format is now so popular that, according to the company’s website, neighborhoods petition to be the next to receive the service.
Being able to lay fiber cable fast enough has been a challenge for Socket.
“I would absolutely love to say we’re going to build out the entire town and we could have it done by the end of the year,” Voight said.
But right now, the company is installing it neighborhood by neighborhood, depending on level of interest.
“We’re going where demand is,” Voight said.
Socket is committed to providing underserved areas with the reliable coverage they need.
“We’re trying to do everything we possibly can to expand broadband, not just in Columbia, but also in the rural communities around our area that are within proximity to our network,” Voight said.
Recently, the company committed to expanding its fiber-optic network to the entire Hallsville community and beyond.
“Just in the last year we’ve committed to building out Hallsville,” Voight said. “We’ve done some expansion in Centralia. We recently announced we’re building out Sturgeon.”