While shopping around for a personal computer, Joel Deuterman observed a significant market gap in Erie, PA. He couldn’t find the product, price, or tech services he wanted or expected. For that reason, Joel called the owner of a computer firm called SOFTEK, a business located in South Carolina, where he’d grown up. SOFTEK structured a deal wherein he would obtain demo PCs and then place an order for custom-built PCs from their store.
In September 1990, Joel opened his first SOFTEK store at his flat located at 255 East 6th. The PCs shipped from SOFTEK in South Carolina. He sold only 286, 386SX, and 386DX PCs. SOFTEK was incorporated in 1992.
Joel moved to Frontier Plaza at 1656 West 8th Street in Erie, PA. He expanded from 100 square feet to 600 square feet. At first, Joel only sold custom-built SOFTEK PCs to residential users. Soon after opening the store in Frontier, he added commercial clients, one of which was Gannon University. Joel also started working with nearby ErieNet, which launched in 1995.
By 1995, Joel was selling custom-built SOFTEK PCs to residential and commercial clients. To better serve commercial clients, Joel moved to his first Yorktown Centre location at 2501 West 12th Street in Erie, PA in September of 1996. He expanded his company from 600 square feet to 5,400 square feet, wherein he included an expansive sales floor with demo PCs. In December of 1996, Joel launched Velocity.Net with pioneering dial-up Internet rates of $9.95/mo.
In April 27, 1998 a landmark new media case was argued. ERIENET INC. v VELOCITY NET INC. was later filed September 25, 1998 and decided in favor of Velocity.Net. The company grew dramatically from 18 to 28 employees in just two years.
For four years, Joel grew SOFTEK/Velocity.Net at a rate of 3,000 members per year. However, trouble arose when Adelphia launched cable Internet service, which caused Velocity.Net membership to shrink from 12,000 to 8,000 in the following next year.
After the rockiness caused by Adelphia’s launch of Internet services, Joel began planned his next expansion. He moved to a second Yorktown Centre location at 2503 West 15th Street, Suite 10, in September 2001, just after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. This expansion took Joel from 5,400 to 6,300 square feet. At a cost of $1 million, he also replaced his Lucent equipment for Cisco and upgraded to v.92 modems.
Due to a huge v.92 modem promotion (the largest coordinated ad campaign thus far, incorporating newspaper, television, radio, and even billboards) Joel grew SOFTEK/Velocity.Net’s membership from 8,000 to 11,000 members. Customers were directed to stations within the store to sign up and pick up modems. After this success, Joel changed focus to specialize in high-end IT consulting and, advanced connectivity. He even added a call center.
Dial-up Internet regrowth continued into 2003 when SOFTEK/Velocity.net purchased SurfErie dial-ups and added 4,000 members from Stargate following their bankruptcy. Joel also began leasing the Suite 10 office, fondly nicknaming it The Annex. SOFTEK/Velocity.Net won the Coaxial Cable of Edinboro (COAX) account in 2004 and was also voted “Best Internet Provider” in the Erie’s Choice Erie Times News readers polls for 2004 & 2005.
In 2006, SOFTEK/Velocity.net purchased DSA IT division and added five new employees. Once, again Joel’s company was voted “Best Internet Provider” in the Erie Times News readers poll. To adapt to the market and replace everything lost from dying dialup and PC sales, the company refocused on growing their managed service department. By utilizing the latest technologies and forming a team of well seasoned IT professionals, the company was able to implement new processes, best practices, and tools.
The acquisitions of DSA Payroll division and Fishtank Creative were completed. This also marked the third year in a row of being voted “Best Internet Provider” in the Erie’s Choice readers poll. In conjunction with the company’s continued growth of IT services and their service department, the name SOFTEK was to be retired at the end of 2007.
Rebranded as the Velocity Network (VNET) with the slogan “it’s about time,” the business’s services included IT, Internet, communications, payroll, and even creative and innovative solutions.
Velocity Network dissolved innovative solutions, creative services, and payroll to focus on IT. The company also purchased the last remaining local Erie asset, Expedient, in June of 2010. Additionally, Velocity Network purchased Sunesys fiber ring in July of 2010 and rolled out VoIP services in 2011. The company’s IT client base continued to flourish along with fiber ring and other fiber-related services.
With a fiber network spanning more than 300 miles, VNET announced their intention to enter the residential market. Residential fiber service was named VNET Fiber. The announcement of this new service was made in February in an Erie Times News feature. A survey was created to measure the public interest for residential fiber. During this time, the company logo was revised and the slogan dropped. The company grew to 51 employees.
The announcement went out that Velocity Network would be purchasing the Rothrock Building on West 10th Street with plans to renovate and move the company by 2019. Headquarters for the VNET Fiber team was renovated. Construction equipment was acquired and more employees were added to prepare for the debut of fiber optic Internet.
VNET Fiber kicked off with a video announcement explaining the process of installing fiber and a new website that allowed the public to check their address and pre-register for fiber optic Internet. 12 neighborhoods were announced to compete to be the first area with fiber optic Internet installed.
VNET Fiber expanded into new neighborhoods. Construction of the new VNET headquarters spanned the entire year. By the first week of November, most of the employees had moved into the new office space.
2019 saw continued growth for VNET Fiber as it grew its network into more neighborhoods. New personnel were added to the IT services team to better serve its partners more efficiently. Construction on its training facility was nearing completion by year’s end.
2020 marks VNET’s 30th year in business!
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