Simply Bits Evolves
Ting Acquisition Brings Fiber Optic Networks to Region
By Rodney Campbell
One year after selling their internet service company, Simply Bits, Joe Cracchiolo and Bradley Feder are still around, working in their offices on Sabino Canyon Road.
In fact, not much has changed since Tucows, a global internet service provider, purchased Simply Bits through its subsidiary Ting Internet in November 2021. That’s just what Cracchiolo and Feder wanted.
“I had people asking if we were going to stay,” Cracchiolo said. “Of course, the answer was yes. We built a company that supports 60-plus people here. These are people I work with, families with kids. They need to be taken care of.”
Founded in 2004, Simply Bits grew into a leading independent provider of internet, voice and other enhanced broadband solutions in Southern Arizona. Cracchiolo and Feder, who met as University of Arizona freshmen and graduated with bachelor’s degrees in management information systems, say their skills are complementary and neither is shy about telling the other when he thinks he’s wrong.
“It’s not that we always agree with each other,” Feder said. “If two business partners always agree, there’s no need in having a partner.” It’s a formula that has worked for these entrepreneurs. Cracchiolo and Feder also started RightFAX, an electronic fax software, document delivery and fax server product company in 1987 and sold it nine years later.
“We sit down every year and evaluate where the company is and what it’s worth,” Cracchiolo said. “We don’t have unreasonable expectations. If anyone comes in and makes an offer that’s fair, it’s something we’ll consider. There comes a stage when a company needs to have partners to take it to the next step.”
Most of Simply Bits’ employees work from home and no one was let go in the transaction. Becoming part of a larger corporate family has proven beneficial to the team.
“The opportunities for our team members to grow and expand really was enhanced,” Cracchiolo said. “They may have topped out at what they could do at Simply Bits. Their horizons have been widened. They were happy that we didn’t just hand the keys over and walk out.”
One of the keys to the sale was Ting’s ability to create fiber optic networks, complementing Simply Bits’ wireless capabilities. Feder said one of the big advantages fiber has over wireless is that the system is symmetrical, meaning that download and upload speeds are the same.
Fiber networks require significant infrastructure work. While Simply Bits is accustomed to putting up towers for its wireless customers, fiber must go underground at significant cost.
“You need a much bigger checkbook when you want to lay fiber,” Feder said. “That’s what makes us so excited. We want to be the ones who bring more fiber connections to Southern Arizona.”
Another goal is to overcome the digital divide that still exists across Southern Arizona. Many families don’t have the means to pay for internet. It’s estimated that more than 10,000 households in Tucson alone have no internet connection at all.
Simply Bits wants to make wider use of the Affordable Connectivity Program, a federal plan that helps underserved households afford the broadband needed for work, school, healthcare and more. The benefit provides a discount of up to $30 per month toward internet service.
“We’re very focused on bringing that to our customers,” Feder said.
Giving back to the communities it serves has also been a Simply Bits tradition. In fact, it’s one they say will be enhanced under new ownership. “The tools we can bring to bear to help the community will just get bigger,” Cracchiolo said. “We don’t (donate services) for attention. We do it because it’s the right thing to do.”
This past November, Simply Bits helped the Girl Scouts of Southern Arizona in its “Over the Edge” event. The company provided infrastructure and streaming services as participants rappelled 17 stories down the side of 5151 Building on East Broadway Boulevard. The event provides support for the Girl Scouts; each participant raises $1,000. This year’s event brought in $82,000.
“I can’t say enough about (Simply Bits’) willingness to help,” said Girl Scouts of Southern Arizona COO MacGyver Tank. “It seems fun for them to go above and beyond to engage with the community.”
The Girl Scouts connected with Simply Bits through Nextrio, which provides the Scouts managed IT services. Simply Bits has towers at the 5151 building and connectivity is a requirement for the third party that runs “Over the Edge” as crews at the top of the building need to communicate with their colleagues on the ground.
As a bonus, Simply Bits’ ability to provide streaming services gave participants’ friends and loved ones the chance to watch the action on a live feed in the courtyard. The Girl Scouts also showed the event live on their YouTube channel.
Simply Bits has supported numerous other causes, including providing streaming services for the Fort Lowell Shootout soccer tournament and Salpointe Catholic High School sporting events during COVID-19, along with several projects across the Tucson Jewish Community Center campus.
JCC President and CEO Todd Rockoff said Simply Bits started assisting his organization in 2015, when the company helped the center map its Wi-Fi infrastructure. The partnership accelerated over the years as the JCC and its needs grew.
“As we continued to expand, Simply Bits stepped up and helped us think through the most effective and efficient solution to infrastructure expansion,” Rockoff said. “When our new strategic plan included a technology and infrastructure pillar, Simply Bits was once again at the table with several other vendors to address Wi-Fi infrastructure, phone needs and our need for internet redundancy. We are grateful to Simply Bits for their generous support and being an invaluable thought partner.”
Cracchiolo and Feder plan to remain with Simply Bits and are happy that Ting wants to help the region prosper.
“We’re proud to be part of Tucson,” Feder said. “We’ve grown companies here and are proud that Ting is part of Tucson now. A year into it, I couldn’t be more pleased with Ting and the way they run things.”