The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Business

October 3, 2007

Empire sells Fast Freedom

Derek Spellman 10/3/07 flair at bottom

By Derek Spellman

dspellman@joplinglobe.com

Empire District Electric Co. in Joplin has sold its Internet service subsidiary to a Granby company, officials said Wednesday.

Empire had purchased Fast Freedom Inc., a provider of wireless broadband, DSL and dial-up Internet service, several years ago. Empire now has sold Fast Freedom to Stouffer Communications Inc., which has been providing dial-up Internet and high-speed DSL service to Granby, Diamond and bordering rural communities since 1995.

“It should be completely seamless for the customers,” said Jon Stouffer, president of Stouffer Communications, of the transition.

Amy Bass, a spokeswoman for Empire, said Fast Freedom had 5,000 customers. She declined to disclose the sale price of Fast Freedom, citing company policy.

Bill Gipson, president of Empire, said the utility bought the Internet business at a time when Empire and other utilities were studying the broadband-over-power-line concept, which allows a customer to receive Internet service through a power outlet.

“One of the things we wanted to understand was the customer side of that technology,” Gipson said. “Now, a few years later, we find ourselves in a place where there are plenty of other places to invest our money. The Internet business has taken a back seat to our mission. It is no longer core to our business.”

Stouffer said Empire approached him about selling Fast Freedom several months ago.

He said his company has been trying to carve out a niche as a provider of high-speed Internet in areas that currently lack that service, especially rural areas.

Stouffer Communications acquired The Net Advantage, a Joplin-based Internet provider, several months ago. Net Advantage and Fast Freedom provide high-speed Internet, Web development and hosting, and other technology support services in Southwest Missouri.

“It is the first time we have expanded on this scale,” Stouffer said of the two acquisitions.

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