Jon Kennedy's 'Postcards from
County-wide high-speed Internet comes to Cambria
Jonal entry 1067 | August 22 2008
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:
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:
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 hardwaremaybe 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:
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.