2017-08-02 / Front Page

Faster Internet coming soon

By SAM ADAMS

A tower being erected next to the old Sandlick Cemetery in West Whitesburg could spell the birth of true broadband Internet service in Letcher County, and the death of wired Internet services, at least in hard-to-serve areas.

When complete, the tower will be part of a four-tower network that will provide broadband Internet via LTE technology, the same type of network used on modern cell phones. The new service is expected to be twice as fast as the fastest service available in the most of the county, and 10 times as fast what is commonly used in homes.

Mike Clemons, owner of Giga- Beam Networks in Rich Creek and Bluefield, Va., said his company and FiSci Technology, a Wisconsin company that builds fixed LTE equipment, partnered on the project. GigaBeam will provide the customer service.

“LTE technology right now does upwards of 100 meg (megabytes per second), we’ll probably be offering up to 50 meg to start with,” Clemons said.

The company currently offers a 10 mbps plan for $39 a month in areas it serves in Virginia, and pricing is expected to be comparable here. It will offer a slower introductory speed for less than $30, Clemons said, though details are still being worked out.

AT&T U-verse currently costs $40 per month for up to 18 mbps in downtown Whitesburg, but it requires a 12-month contract, bundling with other services, has a cap on the amount of data that can be used in a month and isn’t available more than a short distance from the telephone company building.

TVS Cable currently charges $59.95 for 10 mbps.

Clemons said the wireless technology is easily capable of more than 100 mbps over a 10-mile distance.

“Of course it won’t go through a mountain, but it will go through vegetation. The LTE technology is very good for that,” Clemons said.

The Center for Rural Strategies in Whitesburg has been working on rural broadband issues for several years. Chief Operating Officer Marty Newell said broadband maps claim this area is covered by two to three providers, but the service that is provided isn’t true broadband and it isn’t affordable.

“Most consumers are more worried about download speed because that’s what they need to watch Netflix, but more and more you have to interact,” Newell said. “If you fill out a job application, you have to have upload speed.”

Upload speeds here, even on Internet packages that are advertised as fast, are about the same as dialup speeds, Newell said. That makes it hard for businesses or for anyone who wants to upload pictures, video or any kind of large file. Newell said when he’s in Whitesburg, it’s easier for him to move videos to his telephone and upload them than it is to upload them from a computer.

Newell said Rural Strategies doesn’t have any financial interest in the project underway now, but it does have an interest in getting it built. Some parts of the county don’t have anything that even resembles broadband, and probably never will have if they have to rely on wired service, Newell said, because it’s just too expensive to string fiber into remote locations. Systems like the one being installed in Whitesburg now are much cheaper. The tower isn’t even anchored into the ground. Instead, the base is hollow and filled with 105 tons of gravel. It’s cheaper to put in, and it’s fast. Work to build the tower began Friday, and it was up by Tuesday evening.

Newell said the companies working on it already have similar systems in Midwest states, but there aren’t any mountains there. The company that makes the equipment is looking to “test proof of concept” by building here.

“They’re going to see how it works where the terrain is not so friendly. If it works, they’ve got something to talk about, and we’ve got something to talk about when we’re advocating for rural broadband,” Newell said.

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