|By Drew Moody|
Special for the Hur Herald
GLENVILLE WV - Glenville State College, with an expanding list of partners, continues
its quest to bring high
speed internet access to increasing numbers of West Virginians.
years ago Glenville captured national headlines with a high speed
wireless broadband pilot project in cooperation with the Center for
Appalachian Network Access (CANA), part of Carnegie Mellon University
(CMU) in Pittsburgh.
That project showed wireless access could be achieved despite the rugged
terrain here. It was the first time such a project had been attempted in
the mountain state.
The Gilmer-Braxton Research Zone (GBRZ), established in 2004 is
another first, partnering both counties with Glenville State College
(GSC) and CANA. The group has created a Request for Information, known
as an RFI, to solicit input eventually developing a plan to secure
funding and create a widely available high speed network here for
research purposes. Verizon, FiberNet and perhaps other
telecommunications companies are expected to be involved as well.
The ultimate goal is twofold; 1) Make high speed internet access more
accessible to everyone, and 2) Work with existing businesses to utilize
the benefits of the system, as well as attract new businesses into
central West Virginia.
This represents the equivalent of a 21st Century industrial park, but
mobile and fluid.
The GBRZ contracted Pittsburgh Gateways Corporation for $10,000 to
investigate economic development, as well as educational and health
applications. These fees were paid for through grants.
Since the release of the RFI two weeks ago, 20 large companies have
contacted the GBRZ, according to Larry R. Baker, GSC's associate
vice-president of technology. He's committed to fully utilizing new
technology, and he believes high speed internet is one of the keys for
the area to survive.
"I don't think it's a save-all," Baker said, "but I
definitely think it's a step in the right direction."
Larry Baker, associate vice president of technology
at Glenville State College, holding a wireless transmitter
that's part of the Motorola CANOPY system
CANA was created in 2003 by CMU professor Bruce Maggs and Pittsburgh
investment banker John Whitehill.
WIRELESS NETWORK PROJECT 2003
The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) and the Claude Worthington
Benedum Foundation gave researchers at CMU's Center for Appalachian
Network Access (CANA) a $250,000 grant to set up the wireless network at
Glenville State College. An additional $125,000 was later donated by
I.L. Morris, owner of WACO Oil and Gas.
The strategic plan document, available on the CANA website, dated August
11, 2003 indicates in addition to securing hardware for the network two
computers were given to the Glenville Police station.
Democrat / Pathfinder also received a computer and was provided with
networking services. In addition the document states, "CANA in
conjunction with local advisory board intends to purchase space in the
newspaper to report on the project. We note that GSC has a similar
program to disseminate information. Secondly, CANA is working with the
newspaper management to provide a digital version of the newspaper."
The CANA website says the Motorola CANOPY wireless installation occurred
over a period of three weeks in the summer of 2004. The equipment allows
for line-of-sight wireless
access to the internet.
The system was eventually set up and tested in
about 32 locations in the Glenville area. High speed internet was
installed in several locations, according to CANA documents. Included in
the initial phase were: the Gilmer County Community Center, the Glenville
newspaper, Information Research Corporation located at GSC, Distance
Learning Center, Glenville Police Station, and several professor's homes.
The equipment was successfully tested and at that point the initial
requirements of the grant were satisfied, according to GSC's Larry Baker.
A HITCH IN THE PLAN
After initial testing there were plans to use at least three towers and
several additional CANOPY units to the signals to be received city-wide.
Local citizens were anxious to be able to finally experience high speed
internet access. It must have sounded too good to be true; and it turned
out that it was.
According to CANA's strategic plan, the system needed to be economically
self-sustaining. To do so a minimum of 100 residential subscribers were
needed paying $19.95 a month, as well as 10 business subscribers paying
Annual maintenance of the network was estimated to be
$25,000. A community advisory board managing the network was slated to
The second phase of the plan didn't materialize and local citizens have
been wondering why they can't connect to GSC's WiFi network.
It's not because the system didn't work.
IF YOU BUILD IT THEY WILL COME
Come they did.
Goodbye GSC's city-wide wireless network.
Sometime around the period of the initial testing of GSC's wireless
equipment, Verizon decided to provide DSL high speed internet service in
Glenville. The move was apparently somewhat unexpected.
Because GSC didn't want to appear to be in competition with Verizon it
ended plans for the implementation of Glenville's wireless network.
Verizon now offers high speed DSL internet access within about three
miles of their downtown hub at prices ranging from $15 to $30.
GSC and Verizon continue to work together. "Verizon is a friend to
Glenville State College,"
said Larry Baker.
Verizon does have competition from other telecommunications companies in
FiberNet recently began laying new fiber-optic cable in Gilmer County
and is working in Braxton County as well, according to Baker.
Frontier Communications installed DSL in Grantsville providing the first
cheap high speed access to central West Virginia, available within three miles of their office.
Baker believes access to the newest technology has the potential of a
significant economic and educational impact in the area. "The objective
is to make sure anyone can get high speed pipe (access) at a price they
NATIONWIDE - POLITICS AND CONFLICT
Cities and telecommunications companies are in a race to install
broadband across the U.S. Politically, states and cities are sometimes
seen as being on different sides of the same issue.
Several U.S. cities, Chaska, MN among them, have created their own WiFi
Chaska used 200 Wi-Fi cells from Tropos Networks to cover the entire 16
square mile area of the city's 7,500 households. It was designed and
installed by city workers in less than a month.
According to USA Today the largest WiFi cloud in the U.S. is in rural
Oregon, stretching over 700 square miles.
Many telecommunications companies, including Verizon, are lobbying
cities, state legislatures and Congress to limit or prevent cooperative
or privately owned networks from being established.
The Huntington Herald Dispatch reported in March 2005 a bill before the
West Virginia legislature intending to increase broadband public/private
partnerships in the state was "toned down" due to such pressure. As it
stands now the topic will undergo a year study period.
LOCAL INNOVATION DIDN'T BYPASS GLENVILLE
"My position has always been progress," said Dave Ramazon of Ramco
Technologies in Glenville. "That's why I offered my tower (to GSC)."
Ramazon has operated a full service computer business here for 25 years.
He singlehandedly, at his expense, brought local dial-up internet
service to the Glenville area about 10 years ago. Ramco offers
high-speed internet access, custom built computers, networking, web
hosting, and offers various hardware accessories for sale at his North
Lewis Street location.
Ramazon acknowledges he's seen the politics of the issues first hand.
"We just stay low," he
said. "I didn't want to be the guy that kept the highway from coming
through," he said,
referring to local business owners who successfully prevented I-79 from
passing through Glenville.
At one point, in the mid-1990s, Ramazon successfully beamed an internet
signal from his tower
to the high school, making that experiment the first wireless bridge in
Gilmer County. It was, at that juncture, a cutting edge experiment.
"He (Ramazon) is the pioneer in all areas of technology as it relates to
the school system, no question about it," said Dave Bishop, assistant
principal of Gilmer County High School.
Until roughly two years ago the Glenville area had very limited high
speed internet access due to the high cost, but it was here. Gilmer
County High School has had a T-1 high speed internet connection for
several years. Glenville Elementary and Normantown Elementary have
recently acquired T-1 lines and Sand Fork is expecting one to be
installed "any day." High speed satellite connections have also been
available in the area for several years.
HUMBLING AND FATEFUL TIMES
Simultaneous events and what could be referred to as a series of
'unintended consequences' that would become a significant factor in
Glenville State College's future occurred when Larry Baker and his wife
decided to leave Charleston, West Virginia. They opted to raise their
children in the country and relocated to the Grantsville area.
Baker, an information technology (IT) professional and teacher, was both
shocked and dismayed at the lack of both availability and the
utilization of high tech resources in central West Virginia.
In some respects he views high tech availability similarly to having
running water and electricity.
Baker began working with the Calhoun County School System and Minnie
Hamilton Health Care in Grantsville. He assessed technology needs and
helped them update services, hardware and networking needs.
been influential in providing Minnie Hamilton with expanded capabilities
that have helped the clinic grow and expand. He now serves as president
of the board there.
Minnie Hamilton now transmits all X-Rays via internet, bill processing
is more efficient, filling prescriptions is faster and as a result
profits have increased, according to Baker.
Glenville State College was in the midst of what seemed to be a
never-ending train wreck beginning in the late 1990s and extending until
The venerable institution lost its two community college
components, half of the enrollment and there were constant rumors of
closure. The school also suffered severe budget cuts.
In 2002, for example, most of the media attention GSC received was
negative, as there was continued speculation the State planned to close
the school. And it was during this time-frame the idea of the WiFi
network was initially discussed.
Citizens, alumni, and a few state legislators who believed in GSC began
to pull together to save the institution.
Then with the help of all of
West Virginia's Congressional members, particularly Senator Rockefeller,
Senator Byrd and Congressman Mollohan, appropriations began flowing to
In February 2003 Senator Byrd and Congressman Mollohan were successful
in getting GSC $2.7 million to expand the student center and add a high
tech classroom. It's been since named after Mollohan.
That same month a
$400,000 grant from Learn.com software was awarded. The following month
funding for a $5.2 million science building was secured.
As associate vice-president of technology at GSC, Baker has secured
grants, is GSC's lead advisor for the wireless internet project, and has
overhauled the college's e-mail system.
The school now has new phones,
there's internet availability in the dorms, and he supervised the
replacement of over 70 computers throughout the school.
The school has
had a face lift.
Glenville State College now offers RN and BSN nursing degrees. And a
National Corrections and Law Enforcement Training and Technology Center
opened last year.
Glenville's enrollment has increased the past two years. The future
looks brighter, but veteran education insiders still believe the school
is not entirely "out of the woods."
Although little has been written
about the subject, sources have suggested there is a plan for West
Virginia University and Marshall University to "divide up the state"
placing all State operated higher learning institutions under their
However, such a move would be no guarantee of the future
status of individual schools.
And the politics of education is a topic rarely discussed, or admitted
beyond the threshold of an
institution's doors. It's as if there is a dark, seedy secret lurking
like a ghost in the halls of academia.
THE DARK SIDE OF THE MOON
Rural America has been largely by-passed in the broadband (high speed
internet access) revolution due to sparse
populations and the high initial start-up costs telecommunications
Accessing the internet through a high speed network is an experience
comparable to the difference between walking and traveling at
In contrast to a dial-up phone connection, DSL and
broadband speeds can be over 50-times faster depending on the type
Higher connection rates allows for video streaming,
teleconferencing, remote learning, tele-commuting, and virtually
endless educational and business benefits.
Telecommunications companies, businesses and other stakeholders, as well
as the President and Congress support universally available
broadband. That goal, as it pertains to rural America, will likely never
be achieved - at least with present technologies.
Broadband over power lines is being tested, as well other new technologies.
For various reasons coalitions are growing to support "Network
This theory holds that the internet is owned by the public
and no entity should exert control over content or how it is used, nor
Concerns about telecommunication buyouts and potential
issues relating to the Government and Homeland Security are growing
concerns for some.