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Options expand Internet access in state

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Many West Virginians who haven't had high-speed Internet access now have one or two options.

Access has been a problem. A report issued in August by the Federal Communications Commission, based on mid-2011 data, said about 845,000 West Virginians, or 46 percent of residents, didn't have access to broadband service.

In recent months, Verizon Wireless and Frontier Communications have rolled out products aimed at reaching those potential customers.

Verizon Wireless' product, HomeFusion Broadband, uses the company's wireless network coupled with a special roof-mounted antenna.

Under ideal conditions, a cell site can stretch up to five miles, so HomeFusion Broadband will put many towns in West Virginia that lack high-speed Internet options within range of Verizon Wireless' network, said Jennifer Derkin, the company's regional data sales manager.

Verizon Wireless says its fourth-generation Long Term Evolution network, known as 4G LTE, has speeds up to 10 times faster than its third-generation network.

The company made its 4G LTE network available in downtown Charleston and at Yeager Airport in July 2011. In August, the company expanded the network to include South Charleston and along the Interstate 64 corridor from Kanawha City to Charleston.

"By the end of 2013, the Verizon Wireless 4G LTE footprint will completely cover all areas served today by the company's 3G network," Derkin said.

Potential customers who want HomeFusion must be in a 4G LTE coverage area. You can find out if you are in a coverage area by going online to  http://network4g.verizonwireless.com/#!/coverage. Scroll down and type in your address.

HomeFusion requires an antenna that is "extremely powerful," Derkin said. It looks like an upside-down paint can. It is installed outside.

"We set up the installation," Derkin said. "We have an installer come out, inspect the property and test to see what location has the best reception."

The HomeFusion installation also includes "a wireless router for up to 20 different WiFi devices and four Ethernet ports," she said. "You can plug this right into a computer that might not have a WiFi card in it."

A HomeFusion account comes with up to five email addresses.

The price ranges from $60 for a 10-gigabyte-a-month plan up to $120 for a 30-gigabyte-a-month plan. Customers can sign up for automatic email alerts when they near their monthly usage limit. "For every one gigabyte you go over, it's an additional $10," Derkin said. "So you could go over by three gigs and it's only an additional $30."

HomeFusion can be tied to Verizon Wireless' Share Everything plans, which allow multiple devices to share one pool of data.

Many Verizon Wireless stores sell HomeFusion. "Before we sell this to any customer, we walk through it because there are a lot of variables," Derkin said.

"Customers in West Virginia should really give this a shot if they're lacking a high-speed Internet connection," she said. "The equipment is free. The installation is professionally done at no cost. There is a 14-day trial period. It does require a two-year agreement if you decide to keep it after the 14-day trial period."

Dan Page, Frontier's communications manager, said that since the company unveiled its Frontier Broadband product last fall, "the response in West Virginia has been strong. Many customers have found the service to be just what they need."

Unlike HomeFusion, which only works if you're within range of a cell tower, Frontier Broadband is available anywhere there is an unobstructed line of sight between the customer's property and the satellite.

"Frontier Broadband allows us to provide essentially every household and business in West Virginia with access to the Internet," Page said.

"While Frontier has invested tens of millions of dollars in West Virginia during the past 30 months to expand broadband access and strengthen our networks, we recognize that satellite service is the best option for some residents and business owners," he said. "This particular technology is especially impressive because it delivers competitive speeds and bandwidth."

Page said the product "is especially meaningful given Frontier's longstanding position as the largest provider of communications services focused on rural America."

Frontier Broadband uses the Hughes EchoStar XVII Satellite, launched in July, with Jupiter-brand high-throughput technology. Page said the technology supports high-bandwidth applications and permits residential and business WiFi.

Frontier's local technicians install the service.

The price for residential service ranges from $54.48 for a 5-gigabyte-a-month plan up to $124.48 a month for a 20-gigabyte-a-month plan. The price for business service ranges from $58.48 to $135.48. All plans require a two-year contract.

Additional information is available online at www.frontier.com/frontierbroadband/.

Suddenlink offers television, Internet, phone, security and other services to more than 220,000 households and 9,500 businesses in West Virginia, making it the largest cable broadband company in the state. It does not offer a wireless or other alternative method for delivery of services to very rural areas.

Contact writer George Hohmann at business@dailymail.com or 304-348-4836.


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