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Clark Fork Goes Wireless

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Clark Fork Goes Wireless

Grant funding provides broadband from Newport to Clark Fork

If you don’t use a computer to access the Internet, it’s likely you won’t understand the anticipation felt by residents of Clark Fork who have learned that a federal stimulus grant is bringing broadband to town. But those who wait for ages for pages to load so they can pay bills or read the news know that life in a wireless world is going to get a lot easier—and a lot faster—for residents not just in this rural community, but for those along the wireless path from Newport, Wash. all the way east to the Montana state line.

This service is coming to Clark Fork and other areas as part of a federal grant program through the United States Department of Agriculture. Designed much like the Rural Electrification Administration, which brought electricity to the boon toons, these grant funds are used to bring high speed internet to areas which might otherwise do without.

In 2009, Pend Oreille Valley Networks, an internet service provider based in Newport, researched and applied for a grant that would cover 85 percent of the cost of building the infrastructure to provide wireless internet to the community of Clark Fork. In late 2009, they learned they had been chosen as one of the recipients for the Rural Development Utilities Program Community Connect grants.

From Cook’s Mountain in Newport to Clark Fork’s City Hall, a series of towers will beam broadband service to the residents of this small, eastern Idaho town. The addition of broadband repeaters on the towers (not paid for under the grant) will allow POVN to provide broadband access not just to Clark Fork, but to anyone along the way with line of sight (within 15 miles) to the towers. (Amplifiers for greater distances are available at an added cost.)

Recently Melannie Jones, POVN Operations VP and author of the successful grant, answered questions about the service.

TRJ - So what is this wireless service anyway? Is it like satellite?

MJ - No, it’s not like satellite. It’s a land based wireless connection(s) to a fiber optic service at the POVN office in Newport. This service does not have the lag time that is normally experienced with a satellite connection, so you can do things like stream video, play online games and use voice over internet services.

TRJ - I’m tired of waiting! When will  your broadband be available to me?

MJ - Gauging the end date of construction is like naming the day your tomatoes will be ripe! Right now (end of July) our best guess is that Clark Fork residents can go wireless with us some time in October.

TRJ -Why is it taking so long for high speed to become available?

MJ - You can thank Mother Nature for that. First we had to finalize bids and secure leases for the placement of the towers on Gold Cup, Gold Mountain and Clark Fork City Hall. By the end of 2010 we were ready to begin building roads to the tower sites and constructing foundations for the towers. Then came a winter of snow, snow and more snow, as you might remember. With our construction sites on the tops of mountains, it was mid June before we could get back into those areas. And those concrete foundations take 30 days to cure before the tower can be constructed. Right now the tower components are on site and ready to be constructed on Gold Cup Mountain. We are just beginning work on Gold Mountain near Sandpoint. Then we’ll construct the tower adjacent to City Hall in Clark Fork.

TRJ - I live in Clark Fork. What am I going to get for free?

MJ - First, you’ll get our standard POVN WiFi setup package. This includes a site survey, a 2.4 GHz  or 900 MHz radio, plus radio installation, antennae and necessary cabling, a package that usually costs $250 to $350. In addition, the grant requires us to provide, equip and staff an Internet Community Center for two years, which will be located next to your current City Hall. This will provide ten WiFi Internet stations available for use free of charge to anyone.

The 900 MHz radio, by the way, is designed for areas where line of sight may be impeded by trees or brush. We can’t get a signal through a mountain, but some areas without direct line of sight might be serviced on the 900 MHz band. The only way to be sure is to call for a site survey.

TRJ - Is all that available only if I live within the only if I live within the city limits?

MJ - There’s a possibility that homes close to city limits will also be included in the guidelines for the free setup package. We encourage anyone interested in the area to apply so we can evaluate their location. The Internet Community Center is open to everyone.

TRJ - So what’s this gonna cost me?

MJ - Our standard wireless service package costs $50 per month, which is both faster and less expensive than many of the alternatives, like satellite, currently available to the area. In addition, we don’t require any contracts for our service.

TRJ - What about Hope? Can they get this service too?

MJ - The free setup packages are only available to Clark Fork residents. But because POVN invested in repeaters for the towers, Wi-Fi is going to be available to people in all the areas along the service corridor. Depending on where you live, this includes homes in Priest River, Laclede, Dover, Sandpoint, Sagle, Ponderay, Kootenai and Hope. Again, we are encouraging everyone to sign up now for a site survey and to take advantage of our anniversary specials, which include 50 percent off the standard install price.

TRJ - Is this available for businesses, too?

MJ - Yes, businesses in Clark Fork are included in the grant proposal for the free setup package.

TRJ - What’s this I hear about internet telephone service?

MJ - One of the services POVN will be offering that is supported by WiFi  is Internet Telephone (VOIP). Internet Telephone can partially or completely replace base and long distance telephone charges. For the one phone number home a VOIP Adapter is attached to an existing phone and incoming and outgoing calls are redirected over WiFi Internet. Internet telephone works concurrently with Internet usage and does not interrupt or interfere with uploads and downloads. For the business client who has multiple phone numbers and/or extensions requiring personal messages, or who needs to track and record calls, POVN offers phones that will address these needs and provide many other features to enhance businesses needs.

TRJ - Are the new towers going to improve my cell phone reception as well?

MJ - Not at this time. Once the grant period has expired we will be able to offer space to any cell company that would like to add their equipment to our tower.

TRJ - How do I sign up?

MJ - Call POVN at 1-888-800-POVN(7686) 

TRJ - What made POVN decide to do this?

MJ - POVN is a business, and we recognized a business opportunity that would help us reach a broader base of customers with a service they want. But POVN is also especially interested in providing service to rural areas because our company started by a librarian, a retired Boeing engineer and a business entrepreneur who were tired of waiting for large Internet providers to recognize the needs of 400 homes in the Newport/Oldtown area.

TRJ - Do you have future plans for other ‘dead spots’ in Bonner or Boundary counties?

MJ - Expansion is always a part of our growth plan.

TRJ - Anything else we should know?

MJ - Throughout the year, POVN is celebrating 15 years of providing internet service to rural communities by offering over $25,000 in specials and discounts. This includes free WiFi upgrades for dial-up clients, half off the set-up fee for new WiFi customers, additional free months of service, free WiFi hotspot usage, and the chance to win a year of free WiFi, dial-up, web hosting or VOIP service. Give us a call toll free at 888-800-POVN or visit our website at www.povn.com.

The Dish on AirPipe

The excitement about broadband availability in Clark Fork is tempered with confusion. After all, didn’t AirPipe come into the community recently, and aren’t they offering broadband internet service?

The River Journal spoke with Mark Michelson, the regional installer for AirPipe, to get an idea of what AirPipe is offering to area residents.

AirPipe is also a wireless internet provider, but the service they currently offer in the Clark Fork area is a wired one. This is because the company purchased the infrastructure from the Hope Cable network (much of which was purchased itself from Northland Cable), and they’re now offering high speed cable internet to those residents who live along the old cable lines. Those lines are located almost exclusively within the city limits, though they say demand will push the expansion of those lines. To determine whether you can receive cable internet services via AirPipe,  you’ll have to call them. Their toll-free number is 866-969-8351.

The AirPipe website (www.air-pipe.com) lists pricing plans from $49.95 to $199.95 depending on the upload/download speeds desired, though Mike indicated there are plans available from $39.95.

Installation is an additional $99.95, though there is a $50 discount on installation available.

What’s the difference between satellite, cable and wireless internet? Your guess is as good as mine, to tell the truth, though both cable and wireless internet appear to be light speeds (I’m not sure if that should be taken literally or not) faster than satellite.

Unlike satellite, both cable and wireless internet are relatively unaffected by weather.

One difference to be aware of is that wireless internet can be turned off when you so desire, whereas cable internet is generally always on, regardless of whether your computer itself is turned on or off. When either are on, your computer is vulnerable to hacking, and an ‘always on’ internet connection is generally more attractive to hackers than one that is periodically turned off.

Hacking, by the way, is not limited to someone stealing the data from your computer. Increasingly, hackers are using your internet connection to disguise their own, generally for nefarious purposes. This has actually been a real problem in this area, with local residents coming to the attention of the FBI due to “their” computer use, which was actually usage by another party.

Any computer connected to the internet, therefore, should have strong firewalls to prevent outsider access or ‘hijacking’ of your internet service, along with good antivirus, anti-malware and anti-spybot software. If your computer does not have these things, or if you’re not sure whether these types of programs are enabled, you should contact a computer company to make sure you are adequately protected.

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Author info

Landon Otis

Tagged as:

Homepage, Headlines, Clark Fork, wireless, broadband, Pend Oreille Valley Networks, AirPipe, Rural Development Utilities Program, Community Connect grant, Melannie Jones, Mark Michelson

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