Beginning this spring, in an effort to bridge the digital divide, a startup company is planning to bring wireless internet to residential and commercial customers in York and eventually Lebanon counties.

Based in York, NetKey Communications is the brainchild of Bryan Donovan, who lives in Camp Hill, and Gary Schaeffer, a Lebanon County native. Their goal is to reach urban and rural areas that either lack access to broadband internet altogether or affordable high-speed options.

NetKey is a wireless internet service provider, meaning it uses wireless signals that beam from a central location. The company plugs into a fiber optic network, and each consumer has a dedicated beam that isn’t shared, creating efficiency, Schaeffer told LebTown.

According to the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association, “Fixed wireless is the fastest-growing sector of the broadband industry, characterized by cost-effective deployment, rapid technology innovation and many credible new entrants. Networks can be built and upgraded rapidly at a fraction of the cost of those based on DSL, fiber, cable or satellite technologies.”

There are WISP operators in all 50 states, with more than 2,000 providers and more than 4 million customers overall, the WISPA website said. Typical download speeds are 5 to 50 megabits per second residential and up to 1 gigabits per second business.

Schaeffer, who comes to this venture with 35-plus years of telecommunications experience, said that WISP technology has been around “a good 10 years or so,” but advanced exponentially recently.

NetKey will utilize the latest technology and see “where the market takes us,” he said.
The company is installing its first wireless transmitter in York at 701 Hay St. and experts to start service in York County at the end of April and first week of May, Schaeffer said.
The opening for Lebanon County is slated for the first week of September, he said.

Schaeffer’s partner, Donovan, owns 701 Hay St., which he bought last year for $542,000, according to BizNewsPA. He also owns the Lebanon Paper Box building at 1131 Cumberland St. in Lebanon, where NetKey plans to install its Lebanon transmitter.
Donovan provided the initial startup funding for NetKey, which he estimated for BizNewsPA at around $50,000.

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There’s a need for wireless internet among both urban and rural customers, including those who previously had no choice but to buy a satellite dish, Schaeffer said. “Our technology eliminates a lot of that.”

NetKey also caters to low-income consumers who lack an entry-level offering from other providers. “It’s great if you have access, but if you can’t afford it, you really don’t have access,” he said.

The goal is to expand farther into Central Pennsylvania and elsewhere, to Dauphin, Lancaster, Berks and Lehigh counties, Schaeffer said. Schaeffer told BizNewsPA that NetKey is hoping to sign up nearly 1,000 customers by the end of 2022. NetKey will offer internet-based phone service and other network services as well. The company also is an authorized dealer of AT&T TV.

Residential plans start at $39.99 per month, business plans at $74.99 per month. For phone service, it’s $24.95 per month for homes and $34.95 for businesses. “We’re putting bundles together,” Schaeffer said, and NetKey will release its website menu in the next couple of weeks.

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Paula Wolf worked for 31 years as a general assignment reporter, sports columnist, and editorial writer for LNP Media. A graduate of Franklin & Marshall College, she is a lifetime resident of Lancaster County.