Burlington Telecom gets all the press — and that’s just fine with Greg Kelly, founder, president and CEO of TelJet. Kelly doesn’t feel the need to advertise that he operates one of the largest fiber-optic networks in Vermont and New Hampshire. Commercial and institutional users in need of premium fiber-optic broadband know where to find him: at the company’s brand new headquarters and data center in Williston.
Although it’s small as tech companies go — just 10 employees — TelJet is serving some of the biggest and most technology-dependent organizations in the state: Middlebury College, the University of Vermont, Champlain College, St. Michael’s College, Fletcher Allen Health Care, Vermont Public Radio and Vermont Public Television.
Its progress is impressive, considering that TelJet didn’t even exist a decade ago. Kelly dropped out of college in 1983 to start his first company, selling phone systems. He stayed in the telecom business for many years and founded several other firms, including one, CatchTV, that developed patented technology that links a TV viewer to the Internet.
In February 2000, after a two-year gig as chief information officer for the nascent Oxygen network, Kelly found himself unemployed and living in Vermont. He realized there was money to be made buying and selling the “high-tech junk” being unloaded by companies that had jumped into the deregulated telecom industry and went broke. Kelly describes the opportunity as “the biggest fire sale this nation has ever seen.”
He quickly started buying up the stuff for “pennies on the dollar,” including warehouses full of electronics, conduits and fiber-optic cables. In 2002, Kelly joined with partners Douglas Hyde and David Storandt to form TelJet. The name, which sounds like a commuter airline, was itself something of an afterthought. It was the only telecom-sounding domain name that wasn’t being used by another company.
TelJet started by buying its own utility rights of way and offering redundant, backup fiber networks to large institutions in the event their primary networks went down. And that’s exactly what happened. Clients began switching their broadband service to the smaller but more reliable company.
TelJet, which also applied for federal stimulus money but was denied, offers only fiber-to-the-premises technology, no wireless or antiquated copper lines, Kelly explains. “What we’re really focused on is efficiency,” he says. “It’s all about how you build it, going that extra mile to build in quality.”
For example, TelJet runs most of its fiber lines underground to reduce maintenance costs and improve reliability. And, because TelJet doesn’t try to offer service to every part of the state and doesn’t serve residential users, it only goes where it’s economically feasible to do so.
Kelly emphasizes that his company is about more than providing basic high-speed broadband.
For example, he’s been working on technology to transmit live performances from Burlington’s Flynn Center for the Performing Arts and the Elley-Long Music Center directly into Fletcher Allen Health Care for patients to watch on unused cable channels. Similarly, he envisions helping VPT offer a live cooking show from the New England Culinary Institute; he says his company has the technological expertise to pull it off.
Vermont’s broadband landscape is still “like the Wild West,” says Kelly. And, while his company continues to invest in an ever-expanding fiber network, he admits it remains to be seen what other new technologies, including 4G LTE wireless, will mean for underserved areas of the state.
“The technology is constantly changing,” Kelly says. “We’re just hanging on for the ride.”