“I grew up in large storage yards with huge spools of cable and huge communication dishes. I would have great games of hide-and-go-seek with my cousins,” he said.
But, out of a large number of cousins, he is the only one to have picked up the torch for the business started by Bruce Merrill, Mike’s grandfather.
“He was a bonafied pioneer in the telecom industry. He absolutely loved the business. He lived it. Breathed it. Slept it. It’s the same with my father and the same with me. I’ll work in the industry for the rest of my life.”
He said his grandfather, who passed away about a year ago at one time had 3,000 employees and built out the cable system in Phoenix and other larger cities.
“He was running the show until the day he died.”
CommSpeed was opened in Yuma about 10 years ago by Mike’s father Phil.
“We are known as a WISP. It’s easier to commit that to memory,” he said, referring to the term: wireless internet service provider. “I think it is unique with the sort of application that allows our customers mobility instead of other cable companies that come through the cable company or phone company.
“With us we can provide high speed wireless connection at home as well as a mobile application. you can take it with you,” he said. “When we are the provider, you don’t need anyone else,” he said.
He said prices for their services are competitive with other providers in the area.
“Typically we are in rural communities and people who are away from traditional providers in areas where it is not worth it to them to build out their company,” he said. “It is worth it to us because we don’t have the large beast to satisfy.”
And the owners and employees are neighbors.
“We are a locally owned mom and pop business. This is literally my grandfather’s company,” he said.
Mike, 36, has lived in Flagstaff since September of 2010. Before that he had lived in Yuma for five years, but he was raised in Scottsdale, a fifth generation Arizonan.
He went to Scottsdale schools and then studied small business management at ASU.
He had been working for Mission Linen when his father asked him if he would be interested in working with him in the family business.
His father asked Mike to help him expand the service in Northern Arizona. Now, CommSpeed has 7,000 customers in Cordes Junction, Sedona, Flagstaff, Williams and other outlying communities. It also employs 35 people.
“He knew I had a certain knack for dealing with people,” he said. “Our family history is a pretty cool story. I did take a risk, but it paid off. I would not change it for the world.”
Plus, he is a bit of a geek.
“To be honest, I have always been into technology. I’ve always been a bit of a geek, but I pale in comparison to some of the people I work with. They are super geeks, our network administrators. Those are the guys to manage the actual flow of data. I am the guy who can take that jargon and put it into layman terms so people can understand it,” he said.
He said most of his duties are connected with marketing the company.
When he is not working hard at the business, he likes to spend time with his family.
He said he is happily married to wife Rebecca and has two sons, Robbie, 8 months and Zach, 7. It is too soon to determine if either will enter the family business, but Zach does get a kick out of pointing out “daddy’s towers,” when they pass one.
And he has a need for speed.
“I love engines. I’m a motocross guy. I have been riding and racing since I was a little kid,” he said.
But a serious accident 10 years ago while riding put him “in bed” for a year, so he is not as devil-may-care as he once was.
“I broke my back in two places and shattered a femur. I still ride today, but I ride like an old man now,” he said.
Also speed-related is his desire to become a licensed pilot.
“I am one of the only males in my family that dos not have his pilot’s license. My dad has been a pilot since I was born. I grew up flying in small planes with him. Aviation is huge in my family.
To learn more about CommSpeed call (602) 828-7111.
(Photos: Above, The late Bruce Merrill with son, Phil. Above, right, Mike and father Phil Merrill. Below, cell phone tower behind Summit Fire Station on 89A.