CUMBERLAND — The Allegany County Board of Commissioners has invested $1 million to bring wireless internet service to several areas with little to no connectivity.
The investment includes installation of equipment at six sites in addition to four new towers across the county. Additional coverage has been added at Cash Valley, Ellerslie, Flintstone, the Warrior Mountain region and Oldtown.
The need to improve high-speed internet access has been a priority for several years and became more prevalent during the COVID-19 pandemic as work from home, virtual education and telemedicine became a challenge in those and other areas in the county.
“As the last year has shown, broadband is more important than ever. Allegany County is committed to making these continued investments for the long-term benefit of our community,” said Jake Shade, commission president.
Funding for the expansion came from the federal coronavirus relief package and state grant funding.
The expansion builds upon the existing Allconet wireless network, which was first installed in the county in 1996. Allconet partnered with Conxx NE, which provides data transfer and networking service, to implement the upgrades. During the past few months, the Allconet network has been undergoing testing and optimization to fine tune expanded internet service for area residents and businesses. The expansion can provide speeds of up to 100 mbps download and 10 mbps upload.
“Allconet core network speeds were expanded in some areas by 10 times,” said Shade.
“While this does not completely eliminate service gaps, the new service delivers a significant increase in broadband availability for residents and businesses,” said Beth Thomas, director of information technology for Allegany County. “We now have this carrier-grade service up and running to enable local residents, institutions and businesses to be more efficient and more competitive.”
The Allconet wireless system was established in 1996 when the state offered financial incentives to help wire public school buildings for fast internet access. But connecting the public schools with fiber-optic cable would have been prohibitively expensive. As an alternative, officials with the Allegany County Public Schools suggested a wireless network in which signals would be transmitted via microwave relays, traveling from one high point to another.
The first antenna was mounted on top of the Allegany County Courthouse.
A decision was made in the early 2000s to expand the wireless network to residents. The network now covers more than 90% of the county, including Frostburg State University and over 40 government entities and nonprofit organizations. Two retail providers, SkyPacket and TWR, serve about 75,000 residents.
In addition to expanded service areas, the Allegany County commissioners are helping to make connecting affordable for households. To drive down the cost of connecting, customer equipment was purchased for Allconet deployment to enable participating internet service providers to waive their equipment fee. The CPEs are available on a first-come-first-serve basis.
Residents and businesses can inquire about service through Allconet affiliated internet service providers SkyPacket Networks, Fibercreek, and TWR Communications.