Conxx Network for Lackawanna County PA Lauded in Scranton Times Review
The upfront $2.8 million paid for 24 large microwave radios that replaced the county’s existing fiber-optic and copper-wire systems. The wireless network now connects every part of county government, saving money in telecommunications bills, chief information officer Jeff Mando said.
The Times-Tribune recently reported that nearly 30 percent of Scranton residents and 27 percent of county residents have no Internet access at home. Mr. Mando last week offered an update on the network’s progress two years after its launch in 2013.
Today, 26 county buildings, the county 911 and disaster recovery system, all county parks, Jessup’s Station Park and Memorial Field, Dunmore’s McHale Park and the Dunmore Community Center, Moffat Estate in Covington Twp., and Felter Field in Moosic rely on the network for service, Mr. Mando said. Lakeland School District and the 10 county libraries also use the network.
This kind of wireless network is not like the small WiFi networks people set up using their home router. That’s what’s known as a “last-mile” portion of a network, which connects customers to a larger network. This is one step above, akin to the services provided by companies like Comcast or Verizon.
“We offer fiber-quality service without the expensive cost of running fiber, and our entire county is covered,” Mr. Mando said in an email. “We will identify line-of-sight to one of our many tower locations and verify that we can connect the customer prior to any commitment…This alone keeps the cost down.”
While the network does not provide direct home Internet access, it enables people who cannot pay those bills to use free WiFi at county buildings, parks and libraries, said Alex Kelly, co-owner of ICON Technologies Inc., one of the network’s private customers.
“If you’ve got somebody in a jam, they can go there and connect on a tablet or something like that,” he said.
At the county’s McDade Park, the network-enabled free WiFi is popular with visitors and employees alike, lifeguard Paul Emiliani said, holding his smartphone.
“As soon as you try to access the Internet, a prompt will come up on your screen and say you need to accept these terms,” he said. “As soon as you do that, it usually just connects right away and we never have any problems with it.”
Mr. Emiliani and his fellow lifeguards spend 40 hours a week at the pool. The WiFi network offers something to do during their lunch break and the little down-time they get when not cleaning, he said.
“There are really good reviews from the patrons who come around and say, ‘Oh, you guys have WiFi here,’” he said. “You’re able to use it, it’s free, a lot of people seem to like it as well.”
For Mr. Kelly, the service has helped him keep his business in Carbondale, saving him gas money and keeping him near his family.
“For me as a high-tech business owner, it’s been a big boost in terms of quality of life,” he said.
Since 1992, his company has provided networking, software development, Internet access and Web design for local customers. But because of his location at the county’s northern end, he could not get the bandwidth he needed from a commercial service provider.
“Because of where we’re located, there’s just not the infrastructure,” he said.
The county approached him to switch over and offered a “very reasonable” price competitive with commercial providers, he said. Though he plans to keep using some commercial services for redundancy, he is pleased with the network’s up-time and reliability, as well as the customer service.
“Beyond the network, the people at the county and also their vendor have been excellent,” he said.
He expects to rely on the wireless network more and more as his existing contracts expire, he said.
Two other private users rely on the system, TekRidge Center in Jessup and the Scranton Enterprise Center, both projects of the Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce.
“Jeff and his team have been great to work with,” the chamber’s facilities manager Aaron Whitney said. “Our needs have been met if not exceeded.”
Before the county’s network, Scranton Enterprise Center relied on service from commercial providers, Mr. Whitney said. They found service on the county’s comparable after making the switch.
During development of TekRidge, broadband service was not available from commercial providers to their location at Valley View Business Park, he said, making the county’s network crucial for the new technology incubator.
“The wireless aspect of the Lackawanna County Internet has come in really handy for us because of the remote location,” he said.
The county built the network mainly to bring service to areas with limited or even no Internet selections, Mr. Mando said in an email. “It’s all about presenting the opportunity to get service into those areas, he said.
While the network brings in $150,000 in annual revenue, its purpose was economic and community development, Mr. Mando said. The investment also eliminated $475,000 in the county’s annual bills for telecommunications services, saving the county money.
Through the wireless network, local institutions can also access a statewide fiber-optic cable network created by the Keystone Initiative for Network Based Education and Research, he said. Most of those connected are colleges, health systems and universities. Locally, the county is the only institution connected besides the University of Scranton.
“Since the Lackawanna County Wireless network was built for our community, we are open to suggestions from the taxpayers as to how the network can be best used,” Mr. Mando said.
Brendan Gibbons, Staff Writer
Published: August 30, 2015
Contact the writer: email@example.com, @bgibbonsTT on Twitter