Let's Get WV Connected! Broadband in West Virginia

Free WiFi

Do you live in or near a town in Roane County, Calhoun County, or Clay County?
Do you live in Spencer, WV or Clay, WV?
Ok, do you want to access free WiFi, especially in the downtown areas?
Read more about this effort, and fill out the contact form to throw your hat in the ring!

General Plan – Mesh Network

We need a willing sponsor (or two) to provide some bandwidth; this should be someone with a business connection (for licensing/sub-letting issues) and speed/availability.
• We’ll use the Ubiquity line of radios to minimize cost/performance; look it up at www.ui.com, then pop over to Amazon and check the prices!
• We need some folks willing to allow the installation of an antenna on their homes or businesses; we’re talking about an antenna of size that will fit in a shoebox(ish). How high up depends on many things; some will mount to the wall, some on a mast. We’re trying to avoid any tower installs to minimize cost. You’ll need to provide power for the antenna, which uses a cell phone type charger (actually called a POE injector); so it will use a small amount of electricity. The range on these antennas varies with the model, ie: 10, 25, 100, 200 kilometers, meaning 6, 15, 62, 125 miles as the crow flies.

For example, Spencer WV to I79 on Hwy 19 is only 30 km straight line distance; so a $1000 radio talking 100km is overkill. It does not matter, because of all the mountains in between mean you would need a super tall tower (too expensive). Can we find some places/hilltops to bounce the signal around and use less expensive radios? Sure! Every hop gives us the ability to drop a wire/another radio for community access. Overall, this is very do-able and affordable!

• The real obstacles are the hills; the radios doing the back haul *require* line of sight; the radios for end users are the familiar hot spots many of us have in our homes.
Bottom line: We need several people/businesses/community organizations with high ground and power available to step up, and “Let’s Get Connected!”.
• The more volunteers we have allowing us to mount antennas, the better the coverage; mesh networks benefit from extended coverage.
• We’ll need some funds to purchase the antennas; they are very affordable.
• Who owns the equipment? Installer, back haul provider, building owner?
• The following is a simple outline for Spencer, WV…

Here are examples of the Mesh radios. Of course, we’ll need several of these around town. Can we afford an MSRP at $100 or $200 for the Pro version?
The Unifi AC Mesh
up to 867 Mbps on 5Ghz band
up to 300 Mbps on 2.4GHz band
Range 600 feet


The Unifi AC mesh Pro, $200
1300Mbps on 5GHZ
450 Mbps on 2.4GHz

About the same size as above.

Spencer Free WiFi

Start with a topography map to see the high ground:

Identify residence/business concentration areas:

Use various (ha! free!) WiFi planning tools to develop a heatmap from those folks who will let us mount an antenna on their building and allow us to plug in; we’ll call them Spencer Volunteers:

Ok, so that gets the install done. We’ll use lightning arresters, of course.

Would a system like this withstand the saturation of a full blown Black Walnut Festival? Nope. That’s a different problem we won’t have for a while given current circumstances.

Management

This system needs to be managed. This person is often called the moderator; it can be a volunteer, or a paid position. Maybe an additional duty of someone already on the city/county payroll? Maybe not?

Cost/Price

Price: The Ubiquiti line of products has a disruptive price model where they sell you the device, and provide all of the software, even enterprise grade stuff – get this — for free. Upgrades, firmware, updates – all are included at not cost. Many other companies use a licensing, model with fees, and renewals to squeeze money from the customer. So our choice of equipment, Ubiquity, is one and done in regards to cost.

Captive Portal/Landing Page

To access the free wifi, you will land on a page with marketing messages (advertising!), with the rules of the road, much like in a hotel. The connection is throttled to a reasonable speed for all users, and you’ll need to reconnect every 24 hours (or sooner or longer? – it’s a choice). Should we want to offer a higher tier of speed, this can be done with a payment, or a code. Or not. We’re open to suggestions. What do you think? Use the contact form to tell us!

How good would something like this look on your way into town?

Or, what would this do for tourism? Would your restaurants, eateries, and other shopping places see more traffic?

If and when school ever starts back up, (thanks Covid!), a WiFi covered town area helps dramatically with remote learning.

Here’s a link on how Vermont pulled off something like this:

https://www.vtrural.org/programs/digital-economy/services/wifi

Woodstock went wireless, and built an entire marketing page/web site in support of their efforts: https://wirelesswoodstock.org/

The reality here is this is do-able and affordable. The technology is not that complicated and we have enough tech folks in the county to make this work and keep it running. As for cost, thanks to Ubiquiti, the equipment is truly inexpensive.

The obstacles to an e-Spencer, WV reality, are sadly, our people and their willingness to act. A pandemic is not helping, either, but ironically drives home the very reason we should undertake such a venture.

Do you know your town’s mayor? City council members? County Commissioners? A business owner with a fast connection who’s willing to simply have a conversation about how this might work and benefit them? Ok, say something to them, tell them about this website, get involved and Let’s Get Connected!

Fill out the contact form and let’s get this project underway!

For those astute observers, this page blended information about back haul radios and mesh radios together; we really should separate out the content. It was a literary choice, given the low cost of the radios to begin with and technically, a mesh radio is part of a back haul or is connected to an Internet drop anyway. The backhaul radios can be inexpensive, circa $100, or into several thousand for three foot long dish units. It all depends on the speeds you want and distances you need to cover. We won’t need the radio’s with a comma in the price tag, because a town wifi project, at least in rural West Virgina, does not need those incredible distances.

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