Wireless Spreading In Ottawa County

May 21, 2004
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WEST OLIVE — As an entrepreneur deploys high-speed wireless Internet in Grand Haven and a similar venture occurs downtown in Holland, Ottawa County is moving in on Internet access.

A recent survey of Internet service providers and related businesses generated enough interest for the county government to proceed with supporting development of a countywide wireless network.

That interest includes a company that’s willing to take on developing the infrastructure for a countywide wireless network and to work with service providers.

Mark Knudsen, Ottawa County’s planning and grants coordinator, believes a countywide network could begin operating in some areas by the end of the year.

He indicated Ottawa County government would neither own nor operate a network but instead work with private parties and support the venture by helping identify the best locations for wireless towers and antennas.

The idea is to have a single, integrated network infrastructure that would spread capital costs, assure continuity of service across the county, and be available for wireless Internet service providers to use to serve residential and commercial customers.

A single, integrated wireless network is “much more plausible” than multiple infrastructure serving smaller, localized areas of the county, Knudsen said.

“You’d still have the advantage of having competition among the service providers and what you provide and at what cost,” said Knudsen, whose office is coordinating efforts to bring high-speed, wireless Internet service countywide.

Having one network that’s used by numerous service providers also would avoid potential future conflicts and interference on radio frequencies, Knudsen said.

“If we can eliminate those (conflicts) up front, we’re far better off in the long run,” he said.

A study conducted last year under the state’s LinkMichigan initiative found that Ottawa County had spotty access to affordable high-speed Internet services.

While the entire county has access to at least one form of broadband — thanks to satellite television services that fill the gaps in rural areas — in some cases it’s at a price that residents and small businesses are unwilling or unable to pay.

Knudsen’s ultimate goal is to eliminate the service gaps or barriers to access.

As he pushes for the development of a countywide wireless network that could bring affordable high-speed Internet access to all reaches of Ottawa County, a Grand Haven company continues to deploy its network.

Ottawa Wireless LLC rolled out wireless service in March using Wi-Fi technology and now has one-third of the city of Grand Haven fully mobile.

The firm is installing new antennas as customers sign up for the service that offers high-speed Internet access starting at $19.99 a month for 256 kbps.

Tyler van Houwelingen, CEO of Ottawa Wireless, said he hopes to have the network covering the entire city by the end of the summer at the latest.

“It will fill in and we don’t think it will take long before we’re fully mobile here,” van Houwelingen said. “As people are signing up, we’re putting our mobility around it.”

In Holland, a new venture seeks to provide free wireless Internet access throughout the downtown business district.

Wireless Internet service is presently available at the nearby Herrick District Library.

The push for wireless Internet comes as research data shows consumers are increasingly using and demanding the technology.

A March survey conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that 28 percent of respondents and 41 percent of adult Internet users use devices — either laptop computers with wireless modems, cell phones or PDAs — that enable them to access the Web or e-mail.

A February tracking survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that 17 percent of Internet users, or an estimated 21 million people, have gone online using a wireless device.

It was the first time the quarterly survey measured wireless usage.               

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