Jon Kennedy
Jon Kennedy

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County-wide high-speed Internet comes to Cambria

Last Friday's Tribune-Democrat had a story I found surprising and fascinating from my vantage point out here in Silicon Valley. Sandra K. Reabuck's opening portion is this:

Cambria County residents and businesses waiting to connect to the county’s new high-speed, wireless telecommunications system now can be connected through private providers, the commissioners said Friday.

“The core network is completed,” President Commissioner P.J. Stevens announced.

The ring of 18 towers now is finished with the one in Carrolltown in place, he said.

In addition, the second connection to the fiber system – redundancy for security purposes – is linked to the Internet, he said. The state-of-the-art telecommunications system includes voice and video streaming. Wi-Fi hot spots soon will be set up at locations throughout the county, officials say.

I find it ironic, living here in the center of San Jose, that Cambria County is away ahead of our county (Santa Clara, California) on having anything like this. There are towns in our county that claim to have free, generally accessible Wi-Fi, but my experiments at accessing it haven't been very fruitful. Here, by the way, is an "official" definition of Wi-Fi, which won't be very helpful, but at least it will put you in the right baileywick:

Wi-Fi (pronounced wye-fye, also unofficially known as Wireless Fidelity, is a wireless technology brand owned by the Wi-Fi Alliance intended to improve the interoperability of wireless local area network products based on the IEEE 802.11 standards.

Parts of San Francisco claim to have free Wi-Fi covering certain neighborhoods, and Philadelphia announced a couple of years ago that it would be one of the first cities to have it citywide. But I've subsequently read that its progress wasn't very encouraging. In theory, if a whole town has Wi-Fi and you have a laptop computer with built-in wireless, you can boot up and connect to the Internet anywhere, for free. Where I live, I have "that kind" of Wi-Fi but it's courtesy of a neighbor who has his house "wired for wireless" and enough of his radio signal reaches my house that my wireless Ultra Mobile PC can get online piggy-backing on his. I hear you can do the same thing by parking your car in front of the Nanty Glo Public Library, but I haven't tested it. And of course when the library is open, you can go inside and use it there with your laptop, which makes more sense than parking out front.

A lot of coffee shops and restaurants, and even health clubs, offer free Wi-Fi, too, and that is the kind of use of it I've made over the past several years, including at Nanty Glo's Niner Diner when it was an Internet cafe. (I hear the management there gave up the experiement because there was not enough customer interest.) Beginning last month, Starbucks started providing free Wi-Fi to its customers who use a Starbucks card and register it on their website. If you're a customer, that should be no problem, as the card (comparable to any department store or other "gift card") not only does not charge a use fee, using one also entitles you to free refills and other perks. So I've been an even more loyal Starbucks customer since the first of July, doing much of my last six weeks work at my recently left job there. And since retiring, I've been there every day working on my books. I have Internet access at home, of course, and go back there later in the day to continue, after I've been caffeined up.

When you register your card at Starbucks, you create a user ID and password for an AT&T Wi-Fi account, which is being sponsored by Starbucks. So when you boot up at Starbucks and launch your web browser (Internet Explorer or whatever substitute you use) you don't see your default "home page," but rather an AT&T page that requires you to enter the same user ID and password, to get access. I've gone over all this to say that this is how the Cambria County system works. It isn't free. You have to have an account which works like the Starbucks AT&T accounts, except that you have to pay a monthly fee for it. But based on my research, the fees are better than those from Comcast (where it has high-speed Internet; it's the one I have in my own home) or your local telephone company's high-speed wired Internet accounts. (There may also be some special software and/or hardware—maybe a special modem or "wireless card"—required as well. I didn't think to ask.)

Out of curiosity, I checked into "In the Stix Broadband of Loretto" which, based on the descriptions of the three service providers listed in the Tribune-Democrat story, seemed the most likely to actually provide the Wi-Fi service in the part of Cambria County I used to live in. It offers the following "residential packages": Residential Package: Up to 1Mb = $29.95/month * Up to 3Mb = $39.95/month. I found their "up to 1 Mb," "up to 3 Mb" confusing, so wrote for a clarification. I asked if, for example, a customer were to download one of the Nanty Glo Home Page's 23Mb GloTube videos, would that greatly exceed a use quota. I got this kind reply:

The packages DO NOT refer to an allotment of total downloadable use within a month. They DO refer to the speed in which downloads/uploads occur at any given second. 1Mb is shorthand for Mbps, referring to enough bandwidth to download 1 megabyte per second or Mbps. So you can download all day/all night for 30 days straight and it won't cost a bit more, a 1Mb or 3Mb customer is buying that speed as a max speed at a per second rate. One of your 23MB (megabyte) videos would take approximately 3 minutes to download, they could do it all the time and not get charged extra or limited in any way.

I'd certainly welcome the opportunity to advertise or be promoted via your site(s). If you have additional questions/concerns please let me know and I'd be glad to speak with you.

Robert Dillon
In the Stix Broadband LLC, Owner

So at the !Mb connection, you could download a whole GloTube video of 10 minutes playing time in three minutes (I'm not sure why it's not 23 seconds, but not to quibble). Not bad; it's as good as my Comcast connection provides, at $49 per month. This is good news for the Nanty Glo Home Page because our primary target audience now has more options for having high-speed access to the Internet.

I'd settle for the 1Mb package rather than spring for the 3Mb one, but as you probably already know, I'm cheap.

Webmaster Jon Kennedy


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Jon Kennedy's latest book is The Everything Guide to C.S. Lewis and Narnia, now in stores, from Adams Media, F&W Publications. From May 9, 2007 through July 2, 2008 his blog entries or "Jonals" were articles inspired by readings in Lewis's work that didn't fit into the book. Click here for a list of all articles in the C.S. Lewis Overflow series. The book is available for purchase in support of the Liberty Museum in Nanty Glo and is also available on Amazon.

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