Super Wi-Fi topic of Wood Commission discussion

PARKERSBURG – The Wood County Commission will hold a meeting Monday to further explore a Super Wi-Fi program that could make free Internet services available in remote areas of the county where the service is inaccessible.

The meeting is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Monday in the Fort Boreman public meeting room of the Judge Donald Black Courthouse Annex. Officials with WV Net out of Morgantown will be the presenters. WV Net provides all the Internet connections for Wood County government offices.

“We are holding a follow-up discussion to the meeting held last month regarding the potential WiFi in our area. This technology is young and less developed, using white space WiFi and old television frequencies, however it is federally pushed and being distributed through WV Net out of Morgantown,” Wood County commission President Wayne Dunn said.

The technology utilizes existing white space, the old broadband width which used to come into television sets. After television stations were required to go high definition digital, this space was left open.

“We are presenting this technology to all people interested, especially those in government and education, Information Technology departments, law enforcement. It should be very interesting and something that we all can benefit from hearing about,” he said.

Dunn said although the technology may end up being financially out of reach for individuals, it could be used, at least initially, in a pilot project for the schools, similar to another project launched earlier in Huntington.

“It is a great opportunity but in looking at it, it’s so early in this technology and the cost of some of the components is still high to the point a lot of individuals, I suspect, probably won’t want to put the money into it. But for larger entities, it will be an opportunity to expand their communications to more people and quickly,” Dunn said.

“What will come of this we don’t know, but this meeting is for information and education so we can at least be prepared and in a position so whenever the technology is more refined and less expensive we can incorporate it all over the county. It will be a roundtable discussion, what they can provide, what we want and need, and where the technology is,” Dunn said.

“In the Huntington pilot, students were hooked up for studies and testing. I think it could be especially helpful to education and law enforcement,” he said. “It would probably be a stepwise project, and education may be the pilot program that could go first,” he said.

In a teleconference with the commissioners in June, retired Cabell Circuit Judge Daniel O’Hanlon who is heading up the statewide Wi-Fi project and also serves as chairman of the Governor’s Broadband Committee said after the Huntington pilot was launched, inquiries about the program began pouring in.

“We aren’t trying to make money on this project, just cover our costs. Sen. Rockefeller feels this is not the complete answer, but is a beginning in addressing inaccessibility issues in West Virginia,” O’Hanlon told the commissioners.

O’Hanlon said the project was not in the private sector, it is only available for governmental entities, educational institutions and could later be used with nonprofits. He said the technology could be used in patrol cars to directly link computers with the county’s central database to assist in finding warrants and related information.

Wood County Schools officials who attended the June meeting said the project would be welcome to help ensure more isolated students were not left behind. Officials said there would be password protection to gain access, filters for the system made available to the school students so they would not have access to unacceptable websites, and the system would need to be separate from the county’s system in use now.

O’Hanlon said the radios have a 6-mile radius, but with West Virginia topography that would be reduced. He said he found at least 21 channels available in this area, there could be more, based on additional zip codes.

“We have two more pilots this summer, including rural Morgantown students,” O’Hanlon said. “My phone has been ringing off the hook, calls from cities, counties, schools that see the benefits of this project and I only have a staff of five. You would be the first county commission to get on board if you decide to go with it.”

Following the June meeting with O’Hanlon, the commissioners unanimously agreed they were interested in learning more about the project.