ISP of the Month: Chief Se’khu of RedFi Broadband 

RedFi Broadband

“My tribe’s need for internet when Covid dropped is why RedFi exists to this day,” says Chief Se’khu Hadjo Gentle. Chief Se’khu, 48, founded RedFi Broadband in 2020 to ensure that his tribe, the Yamassee people in Allendale, South Carolina, could access telehealth services.  

Chief of the Yamassee Indian Tribe

Chief Se’khu has held many titles, including director, writer, cinematographer, WISP Owner, historian, and even firefighter. In fact, he was on-call at his reservation’s fire station during his interview with the Vilo team. 

“I’m always trying to give my time to the community as much as possible,” he said over Zoom. “So if the tones drop, which is them telling us there’s a 911 call, I may have to do the interview en route” he laughed. 

Of all of his titles, it’s clear that “Chief” is the most important to him. After dispelling Hollywood’s portrayal of chiefs, Chief Se’khu explained, “Chiefs, true chiefs, are not leaders at all; they’re actually servants. So I’m the servant first of my people. I’m the voice of my people.”  

His people, the Yamassee Indian Tribe, was thought to be extinct. According to the Chief, historians and genealogists recently investigated their ancestry and found that the Yamassee people had merely been renamed and reclassified as the “Seminole” people.  

“My jurisdiction as Chief is wherever my people are,” he added. Most of the Yamassees reside in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina.  

RedFi Broadband and reliable internet during Covid

RedFi Broadband was founded on Chief Se’khu’s devotion to his people. In 2020, when the Covid pandemic reached South Carolina and the elders of his tribe were unable to go to the doctors and the children couldn’t attend school, Chief Se’khu knew he had to take action. 

“That put me in a position where my leadership skills had to kick in,” he recalls. “I can’t wait and depend on a government agency or someone else to do it for us. That’s never how we have been as native people.” 

Before starting RedFi Broadband, Chief Se’khu ran a telecommunications store front for his tribe. Though he knew how to run cable and follow instructions to set up another company’s equipment, he knew very little about running his own internet services. And with the added internet demands during Covid, the service they had at the time “was not cutting it.” 

Chief Se’khu recalls studying YouTube videos to learn how to set up his own WISP. With the help of his mother and wife, RedFi Broadband was successfully providing internet to eight customers by the end of their first year. Today, RedFi has nine part-time employees, most of whom are the Chief’s fellow firefighters, and provides internet access to over 300 customers covering roughly 10-square miles.  

RedFi provides internet at no expense to a large portion of its customers, as Allendale is an impoverished area with nearly a 40% poverty rate according to the latest Census data. “So a lot of people here can’t necessarily afford internet, especially the elders,” Chief Se’khu explains.  

RedFi and the WISP community

Chief Se’khu attributes a lot of RedFi’s growth to knowledge and confidence he gained from being in the WISP community. “I have seen the smartest people in the WISP industry that I have ever seen in my life. The WISP community and smaller ISPs do things that larger ISPs can’t even fathom—with all of the creative ideas to get the job done.” 

It hasn’t been smooth sailing for RedFi Broadband, though. In April 2022, an EF-3 tornado tore through Allendale, damaging several properties and destroying a large portion of RedFi’s equipment in the process. Chief Se’khu remains grateful to the members of the WISP community who came to his peoples’ aid shortly thereafter.  

“People in the WISP community started giving us equipment, and no one asked for any money.” he began. “And Vilo came in and donated as many [routers] as we needed. They donated whatever we asked for. That is important at the end of the day, because if you’re going to do business with a company, do business with a company that cares.”  

Chief Se’khu’s experience with Vilo

Chief Se’khu first discovered Vilo when a friend introduced him to our affordable routers. “When you’re in an impoverished area like we are here, I can’t go to these people and say, ‘Hey, here’s a $400 mesh system that you need to have to make sure your house is covered,” he said. 

When his first 3-pack of Vilos arrived, he was using a Linksys router at the time that was connected to RedFi’s fiber head-in near his office. “With the Linksys router, I was probably getting about 120 Mbps down, and I thought that was great at the time. When I installed the Vilo router, I instantly jumped to 400 Mbps. And I’m like, ‘Okay, hold-up, what is this?’ And so it sparked my interest.” 

From that sparked interest, Chief Se’khu became one of Vilo’s earliest beta testers and loved how all the ideas he suggested to Vilo’s cofounders were not only welcomed, but often implemented. “No other company is working with the WISP community the way Vilo is,” he said. “I’ve watched Vilo actively shift and change based on the advice of their customers—people like me, and that says wonders. It says they’re in it for the long-game.” 

In the early days of RedFi, the Chief ran into challenges such as a lack of visibility into his customers’ networks and the ability to remotely manage them. “We were installing routers that we had no control over, and had no insights on, so Vilo helped us with that hurdle because now we’re able to monitor our customers’ networks—we’re able to manage their experiences through the ISP portal.” 

Chief Se’khu also noted how invaluable analytic insights are for an ISP. “Being able to go into the customer’s accounts, having the numbers and the information, which is what Vilo offers, plays such a large role in making business decisions,” he explained.  

The future of RedFi and the Chief’s advice

RedFi also provides security cameras and alarm system services. Moving forward, Chief Se’khu plans on expanding RedFi’s reach into more rural areas and to be “a one-stop shop for anything that connects to the internet.”  

His intention to expand, again, is motivated by his commitment to his people. As Allendale is an hour and a half away from the nearest large city, providing every internet-related service possible alleviates the high costs of having technicians commute all that way. 

With gratitude for all he has learned from his fellow WISP owners, Chief Se’khu offered this piece of advice in return: “Don’t rush. Take your time and think outside the box.”  

When he began researching what it took to start a WISP, Chief Se’khu believed that heighth was key; that he needed a 120 ft. tower. “That wasn’t the case,” he said, “I’m able to get to whatever location I need using micropops; I’m on the ground, I’m only 20 ft. in the air. So don’t rush, take your time, plan it out so you can do it right the first time and not have to do it over again.” 

Discover Vilo’s ISP solutions! 

Vilo Living provides complete Wi-Fi hardware and remote management solutions that empower ISPs of any size to delight your customers, reduce your operating costs, and grow your business. Schedule a demo today! 

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WISP of the Month: Kyle Robinson of Vertrees Electronics

WISP of the Month Kyle Robinson

From microwaves to providing internet services 

“The middle of fricken nowhere,” is how, Kyle Robinson, 28, describes Vertrees, Kentucky. He and his wife moved there from Bardstown, Kentucky, the Bourbon Capitol of the World, after getting married in 2016. Though he still adores the “itty-bitty” town, he didn’t love the slow internet speeds there when he first arrived. 

“There was three megabit DSL provided by Windstream in Vertrees—absolutely horrible. I got really fed up with their poor speeds and I heard other complaints from my neighbors and everything,” Robinson recalls. “Prior to that, starting a WISP had never crossed my mind. Not once.” 

With ten years of commercial two-way radio, microwave engineering, and I.T. experience under his belt, Robinson decided to research what it would take to start his own internet company. As luck would have it, a friend from his old two-way radio shop had started a WISP himself. “So I started talking to him like, ‘what does it take to start a WISP, man?’” 

From that conversation, Robinson realized that starting a WISP would be easier than he thought. His first step was to find a commercial space to use for a data center and a head-in.  

“I knew I didn’t want to run it out of my house,” Robinson said, explaining that in order to grow his business, he wanted to appear bigger than he actually was at the time. “It’s all about perception,” he added. 

Luck would be on Robinson’s side again because, just as he moved into town, the school building next to him, which was already equipped with fiber cables, closed down and he knew the man who bought it.  

Vertrees Electronics CPE, photo provided by Kyle Robinson.

“So I called him and I said, ‘Look, here’s what I want to do, man. I want to start a business. I know there’s fiber in there. I want to put equipment on the roof so I can shoot to some other sites. And I want to use the old [main distribution frame] and computer lab upstairs.’ And basically, he looked at me and said, ‘go for it.’” 

After ripping out the building’s old I.T. infrastructure, taking out a $10,000 loan for new equipment, installing his own network infrastructure, and successfully connecting to fiber, Robinson was ready to provide internet. But for the first six months, he wanted to test the connection so he only provided internet for himself and his neighbor—who saw Robinson setting up a dish and jumped on the chance to be his first customer. 

“So for about six months it was just me and one other person on it, and it worked fantastic,” he recalls. “And then, you know, my whole neighborhood found out what I was doing and it almost exploded overnight in that area.” 

Within his first two months of officially opening Vertrees Electronics for business, Robinson gained 35 customers. Today, he has around 160 subscribers across 13 sites, covering nearly a quarter of Hardin County, Kentucky. Robinson attributes most of this growth to word-of-mouth advertising, having only spent money on some big bright yellow yard signs he posted around town and a few Facebook ads. 

One of Vertrees Electronics’ yellow signs, photo provided by Kyle Robinson.

Robinson is also a huge proponent of running a personable and responsive business. “One thing that really sets me apart from other companies,” he says, “is if somebody calls me, it doesn’t matter what time of day, you know, it doesn’t matter if it’s after business hours—if I see a voicemail for me, I call them back because you never know what opportunity might be there today.” 

Vertrees Electronics and Vilo Living 

Kyle Robinson became a partner with Vilo Living at the beginning of 2022 after his friend and fellow Kentucky WISP owner, John Gill, insisted he try Vilo’s Mesh Wi-Fi System. “So before Vilo, I tried every kind of router that existed for my customers. I mean, everything,” he says.  

“We tried TP-Links. We tried MikroTiks, and I never could find a good balance of something that was manageable from my end perspective of things, that was easy for me to set up [and] easy to pass control to the customer. And the biggest thing people want now is parental controls and things like that to turn off their child’s devices.” Robinson remembers wishing there was a set up similar Comcast’s Xfinity Home custom cable design but for WISPS, and that’s when Gill helped him discover Vilo Living

Right: Kyle Robinson (Wisp of the Month) of Vertrees Electronics. Left: Cam Lasley of Telecast Communications.

“And from the first time I tried Vilo, I was like, ‘Okay, this is all I’m buying for my customers.’ And now, this is the best thing since sliced bread,” he says, adding how easy Vilo’s system is to set up and manage. “I went through and ripped every old router out of any customer’s house and replaced them with Vilo—every one.” 

Robinson gives all his customers their first Vilo unit for free and gives them the option to expand by selling them additional routers should they need them. The option to expand combined with Vilo’s app and remote management system has made “all the difference in the world” for Vertrees Electronics. 

The ability to collaborate with Vilo on new features has also been a highlight of Robinson’s experience with the brand. “Vilo is the first company I’ve ever worked with in any industry that, when their users give them suggestions, they take it to heart and implement the suggestions. They are the first company I’ve ever worked with that you can say, ‘We want to see this feature,’ and boom, they have it implimented within just a few months time.” 

Vilo Living isn’t the only product that has made a world of difference for Robinson. He also swears by Gorilla Ladders—ladders that have A-frame and extension functions. Robinson was able to replace four different ladders with one 18’ Gorilla Ladder. “It has literally just made my life so easy,” he grins. 

Cody Thompson, a Vertrees Electronics employee replacing a damaged fiber cable, photo provided by Kyle Robinson.

Robinson plans on expanding Vertrees Electronics to service all the underserved rural parts of Southwest Hardin County and Northeast Grayson County. You can follow Vertrees Electronics on Facebook by clicking here, or check out Vertrees Electronic’s website by clicking here

Discover Vilo’s ISP solutions! 

Vilo Living provides complete Wi-Fi hardware and remote management solutions that empower ISPs of any size to delight your customers, reduce your operating costs, and grow your business. Schedule a demo today! 

Schedule a demo