On the lonely corner of a four-way stop near the Holly Lake community sits a small computer shop that is making national waves.
Computer Concepts of Holly Lake — already a Wi-Fi hotspot, a computer nerd’s candy store and the tech and network provider of Holly Lake and beyond — is now working to design an app to aid in disaster relief and increase connectivity in areas hardest hit by Hurricane Laura, too.
While it may appear unassuming from the outside, the computer shop has long been brimming with ideas, activities and services that help the local community.
Take the Wi-Fi modem in the store’s window, for example.
“We provide wireless internet to the building across the street,” employee and tech guru Sydney Lindamood explained as she pointed to the modem.
“This really is our foundation,” said owner Gerald Anderson. “When we opened this on faith, we opened it to help people. That’s always been our objective. We built this store on the foundation that you don’t have to spend that much money when you get your stuff repaired.”
Inside the computer shop hangs a sign that reads: “Happiness is liking what you do.” Anderson said after leaving the oil field, he wanted to do something that helped others, and he always had a knack for computers and technology. He keeps the sign to remind him that helping others is what makes him happy.
“I was looking for an affordable way to help people out, especially in the rural areas — something that doesn’t cost so much,” Anderson said. “What we introduced was an internet plan that you can still stream off of, do your schoolwork, and work from home. And this plan of ours allows you to have somewhere around 200 gigabytes per month, which is plenty for a family of four.”
“Connection isn’t a luxury anymore. It’s a necessity,” said Lindamood.
One way that Computer Concepts is making connectivity available to everyone is by building their own portable data network, or PDN. A PDN usually costs upwards of $9,000. Anderson said they bought a PDN, then reverse-engineered it to create their own so they could provide it cheaper to the community and those in need. Now, Computer Concepts of Holly Lake has started building their own through the business’s EGA Technology Solutions program.
“What I’m after is to make it an affordable unit. It’s probably not going to cover 45 miles (like a commercial PDN),” said Anderson. “But it will get somewhere close, and that’s what we’re after. Something small, not so heavy that we can carry on to a boat, or an RV, or semi truck. It’s movable.”
Regardless of a person’s internet needs, Computer Concepts of Holly Lake says they have an option available.
“Our internet plans are no contract. We partner with AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon, that’s really where EGA technology solutions really comes in,” Anderson said. “We’ve delivered fiber in this area to several companies who were told they could not have fiber. That’s the cool part about it. We are truly like a one-stop shop. If you own a business, you can get pretty much everything you want done here. There’s really not anything we can’t do.”
Computer Concepts may be located “out in the middle of nowhere,” but its service area is national.
“It’s funny, you see all of this,” Lindamood said as she gestured to a stack of old computers, “but behind the scenes we’re running a nationwide cellular network. We’re in upstate New York all the way to California, in Arkansas all the way to South Carolina.”
With the increased ability to set up networks in rural areas, Computer Concepts’ EGA wireless is looking to establish connectivity in places like Lake Charles, which took a critical hit to infrastructure after Hurricane Laura.
“The main plan is to be able to deploy out about 20 to 30 units a day, and to actually get them installed,” Anderson said. “We also have our plug-and-play units, and those can be shipped out immediately. We’re looking at the delivery time for the units would be one to two days.”
In conjunction with providing internet connectivity and credit card processing in the disaster area, Lindamood is designing an app that allows Lake Charles residents to submit tickets that are sorted by priority to communicate their help and rescue needs. The app automatically filters the requests through a low data network, so the system is never bogged down.
According to Lindamood, the app was built through Microsoft Teams, a system that Computer Concepts of Holly Lake praises.
“It is a huge program. It’s a bigger program than most people think,” Anderson said. “We run the whole entire company off of it. From (our) phone system, to all of our billing.”
But perhaps the reason why Computer Concepts has found success nationwide is because of the personal touch.
“He’s willing to walk through technical problems with the customers and do house calls, helping them replace routers, hooking up DVDs,” Anderson’s wife Elizabeth laughed. “He even goes out there and mounts people’s TVs and helps elderly people figure out their Rokus.”
Anderson’s first idea to help the community when the store opened was a “Kids’ Computer Drive.”
“Because there’s a lot of kids out here who are stuck in the middle of nowhere and their parents can’t get them computers,” Elizabeth said. “We take in people’s computers that they want to get rid of, we’ll repair them at our own cost and donate them to Hawkins ISD or a kid’s school or anyone who needs them. Some people even just come up and say, ‘Hey, do you have anything you don’t use?’ and we’ll find them a computer.”
According to Lindamood, it’s this generosity that opens up opportunities to learn technology and to bridge the gap of connectivity in rural areas.
“It gives a kid living in Hawkins, Texas, who has the aptitude for technology, the same opportunity as a kid who lives someplace like Dallas,” Lindamood said.