League City-based ERF Wireless Inc. announced Monday that the company has completed the acquisition of the assets and operations of TSTAR Internet Inc. The transaction, which closed on October 31, is the tenth acquisition by EFR of a Texas-based wireless Internet service provider and includes all current customers and network infrastructure equipment of TSTAR, including approximately 22 tower locations.
Three weeks ago, ERF acquired Momentum Online Internet Services Inc. and Momentum Online Computer Services Inc., including all of their customers, network infrastructure equipment and 33 tower locations.
The acquisitions provide ERF access to a large geographic area covering Blanco, Burnet, Comal, Gillespie and Llano Counties, amounting to approximately 3,200 square miles of service area. The ERF footprint will cover 22,500 businesses, over 550,000 residents and 36 regional and community bank charters aggregating 462 branch locations.
Robert C. “Bobby Mack” McClung, CEO of Momentum Online, has joined the ERF management team and will oversee the company’s central Texas operations from their current Blanco location. The staff of Momentum and TSTAR will be combined, and the Marble Falls TSTAR office will remain open.
In an interview Tuesday, McClung said the acquisition will mean enhanced service for customers. “Medium-sized Internet service providers like Momentum and TSTAR find it difficult to build in full redundancy and staffing requirements to achieve the level of uptime that customers today expect from their ISP’s. Joining with ERF will allow us to operate more like a utility, providing full-time reliability for our customers.”
The only change customers will notice immediately is the address for mailing in their payments. Over time, the ERF name will appear alongside both Momentum and TSTAR on service trucks and business locations. TSTAR customers will now have the option to pay their bills with a credit card, and both locations will still be open for walk-in payments.
In the near term, pricing of services will remain the same for current customers of both ISP’s. McClung said that standardized pricing for Momentum and TSTAR services will occur over time, and that the company will offer specials to both existing customers and new customers.
Although the corporate name implies only wireless service, McClung said that ERF’s central Texas operations will still offer dial-up service for its customers.
Asked whether combining two ISP’s in the area will dampen competition, McClung said, “With Time Warner, Northland Cable, DSL, and four other wireless suppliers in the area, competition will remain strong and healthy.”
Although Momentum and TSTAR have been long-time players in the same market, McClung said that he and Butch Kemper of TSTAR have been friendly competitors for years. “We referred customers to each other when one of us could not serve their needs, and we have been friends for years.”
Kemper and his wife, Janice, are the sole shareholders in TSTAR Internet Inc., which they bought from Kingsland-based Telstar Communications in 1998 and built into one of the area’s largest Internet service providers. Kemper said, “The consolidation of two outstanding central Texas WISP networks under the ERF Wireless banner will give the company the potential for substantial growth in this market service area and I’m looking forward to working with ERF Wireless management as we integrate the TSTAR network into ERF Wireless’ growing network.”
According to its investor services department, ERF Wireless Inc. is a “fully reporting public corporation located in League City, Texas.” Its stock trades over the counter on the Bulletin Board Exchange under the trading symbol ERFW. The Bulletin Board was formerly known as the “Pink Sheets” in the world of stock trading.
Two of ERF’s board members have roots in the space program. Sixty-four-year-old Dr. H. Dean Cubley, Chairman and CEO, was a NASA engineer and project manager before launching many private ventures. Cubley said, “Both TSTAR Internet and Momentum Online have built first-class networks and have achieved solid reputations with their respective combined customer bases of more than 5,500 customers and over $2,400,000 of profitable recurring annual revenue.”
ERF’s website says that the company is financed by both public and private sources. Its “recurring-revenue customers provide much of the operating overhead cash flow” the business needs. Private investment from individuals, institutional investors, and other entities provides additional operational and growth cash needs.
Acquiring the two established ISP’s fits the corporation’s growth plan. In its continuing effort to construct a “planned wide area footprint,” ERF says that in many cases “it is more economical and time-efficient to acquire large blocks of wireless broadband coverage area than to construct a similar footprint.” ERF also points out that acquiring existing ISP’s “eliminates a potential competitor in the geographical area where it is acquired.”
McClung is “excited about the acquisition.” The capital and human resources that ERF brings to the service area will translate into a fully staffed technical support team for customers. Tech support contact numbers will change in the near future for local customers. McClung said, “ERF has trained tech support staff all over Texas who will be available to our customers for better service and quicker response to problems.”