Marlon K. Schafer
Odessa Office Equipment

Written by Linda Pond

When you look at Marlon Schafer, do not expect to see bright lights and flashy clothes. He is true to his upbringing. This humble man grew up in a small farming community in eastern Washington and lives there still. He maintains a quiet lifestyle with his wife Melissa, and three children.

Marlon is a fixer of things that are broken, "usually cause I broke them first". Exploration and innovation have been life's steering wheel for Marlon. It did not matter that he didn't know how to fix stuff – he simply thrived on the challenge of the attempt. He was one of the first ISP operators in the entire country to put together a wireless DSL network. Starting in the early spring of 2000, he covered the area of Odessa, Washington, his hometown. Lots of people helped, but nobody showed him how.

In high school, Marlon was the track jock and football star. But he was restless. At 18, he set out to see the world and joined the Air Force. It was here that he got his first taste of being a tower monkey. He became a linesman, working on high voltage electrical systems. Three years in Hawaii, then back to the mainland.

After leaving the Air Force with an Honorable Discharge in 1988, Marlon moved to the "Big City", Spokane Wa. Doing temp work, then full time as warehouse manager, then copier technician, he also went to school at night, tackling 16 credits per quarter in electronics..

"I have always known that the only guy that has any real chance of ‘making it’ in the world was the one signing the front of the paychecks.’ His knack of fixing things progressed to owning his own business and a move back to Odessa. In 1995, Odessa Office Equipment was born. The problem - lack of internet access in his town. He called every ISP he could find including CompuServe and AOL, and non would provide access in Odessa. "It’s too small, there is no way to make money in a town that size.", he was told. So in April 1997 he borrowed $15,000 and hired a Spokane based ISP to set up all the equipment, becoming the area's first ISP. He knew that 56k modems would be an expensive and short term option for higher speed access. He also knew that the phone lines in the area would not likely support most of his customers. In 1997 he began looking for the next generation of technology that could be brought into the area, eyeing DSL. When the phone company said it would ‘never’ bring DSL to Odessa he completely went around the Telco, and found people that could help him do it instead. A local PairGain rep and Howard Fuller from Net to Net loaned him some point to point SDSL modems. DSL had arrived in Odessa.

Marlon discovered it was possible to do DSL without the phone company, and he become a celebrity overnight. He was sought by the international community who wanted to copy his successes. The Telco’s, however, were not that happy with his successful trials. They did not want Marlon and his fellow ISPs to join them on the ‘broadband bandwagon’ as competitors. As a result, Marlon noticed that the Telco's began de-tarrifing the services and raising the prices of dry copper circuits needed for Homebrew DSL. They succeeded in pushing the technology beyond what the market would bear.

So, on the advice from an acquaintance, he began looking at wireless. He set up his first wireless system in the spring 2000, and 'dang it worked.' "When I started talking about how great it was, others who followed my DSL trials also followed me into wireless". Word spread. Marlon became a consultant and salesman who was totally customer focused on selling the best wireless networking equipment available. Most of his advice was still free, but the consulting part of his business began to grow. Speaking and training engagements followed.

His notoriety blossomed, but he has never succumbed to the celebrity mentality. Marlon Schafer shares his life and love with the people he respects, and those that respect him. He is the support net for so many people – his family, his community, his peers, and his friends. When someone needs help, and Marlon is within earshot, he is there with a smile and some duct tape.

In fact, Marlon spends most of his time helping others. He is held in very high regard by the ‘inmates, or audience’ of the ISP-wireless mailing list. By asking and answering questions to the list, he has given direction to the complicated learning curve of all things wireless. He organized a briefing for the FCC, extolling the virtues of the license-free space, which has become the ‘Wild West of Wireless’. The well attended 1 hour session went for 2 and a half hours! He has tested and trained on a large variety of wireless equipment, and is not shy to tell you the top 10 reasons why he loves it or hates it. Companies who gain his nod are very fortunate, for his opinion holds tremendous weight with other people in the business.

In the words of Steve Stroh, well known journalist and good friend of Marlon: "Marlon Schafer is one of the most knowledgeable, generous, and well-respected individuals in the Broadband Wireless Internet Access Industry". I second that notion, Steve. Only I would not limit it to the Internet industry. Marlon Schafer is for the world.