West Virginia has started launching a $33 million upgrade to its emergency communications tower network and radio system, a state-wide project designed to bolster public safety.

The Statewide Interoperable Radio Network is now scheduled to go into operation on June 30, according to Calhoun OES/911 Director Kathy Wood, with new radios being installed in all of Calhoun's emergency responders, police and fire departments.

One of 17 new towers of a 90-tower system has been erected at Broomstick in Calhoun, Wood said. More towers are expected to be erected around the state.

The project annoucements says it is suppose to make Internet available to homes in rural communities, but details of that part of the project are not clear.

The improvements are expected to nearly double the network's capacity for voice and data communications. The tower network also will likely link up with a national public safety system.

The improved high-band system came about after communication problems surfaced after 9-11.

West Virginia's application for the stimulus funds says that commercial telecommunication providers will be able to tap into to the tower network for the first time, and use the microwave network to serve new customers.

There is a dispute whether the State of West Virginia will keep that part of the deal.

Gale Given, chief technology officer for the state government, said she has investigated regulatory and technical issues and determined that the state will allocate the tower network's bandwidth, or up to a third of the network's total capacity for commercial use.

The network allows first responders to use two-way radios to talk with emergency officials anywhere in the state.

"They can go onto individual channels or all on the same channel and talk to one another," said Dave Eubank, a project technician.

The microwave towers will cover 87 percent of the state after the $33 million project is completed.


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