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AFN launches wireless Internet

Ashland will be joining the ranks of cutting-edge cities that have blanketed their communities with wireless Internet service.

The Ashland Fiber Network has unveiled AFN Anywhere.

With the first antenna installed on city-owned land across Interstate 5 from Ashland, people with a clear sight line are now able to use wireless Internet. More antennae will be installed in the near future, with full wireless coverage available in the city limits in about one year, said Ashland Information Technology Director Joe Franell.

"Our goal is to have every address in Ashland's city limits have access to AFN Anywhere," he said.

The service will cost $1 a day or $28 a month, he said.

Ashland already has many wireless "hot spots" where people can use their laptops and access the Internet in caf&

233;s, motels or other locations. Some residents also have wireless service at home.

But AFN Anywhere will provide full coverage so that people can access the Internet from all locations in the city, even from a park, Franell said.

The wireless service also will provide Internet access for the roughly 10 percent of Ashlanders who can't receive AFN Internet service through regular cable lines, he said.

Extending cable to certain areas is extremely expensive, so AFN has not connected some neighborhoods.

AFN Anywhere will help the city capture customers in those neighborhoods, according to Franell.Tourists also can buy short blocks of wireless Internet service during their stays in Ashland, providing another group of customers for AFN, he said.

The Ashland Police Department will be able to use the wireless Internet service to access information from the field, while Ashland Fire Rescue will have improved communications capabilities, he said.

Franell said if the city had hired an outside entity, creating the city-wide wireless service would cost about $700,000. But AFN and city computer support division staff members are building and installing the system themselves at a cost of about $100,000.

While Franell said some people may choose to buy only wireless AFN Anywhere, he thinks most people who want wireless and currently buy AFN through cable wire from Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will keep their wire-based service and add the wireless capability.

Wireless technology is convenient but is still less reliable than wire-based Internet service, and can be slower as well, he said.

Jim Teece, president and chief executive officer of Project A, said he doesn't think the launch of wireless AFN will hurt his business, an ISP which retails AFN's wire-based Internet service.

"The more people have access, the more people will want Internet," he said.

Teece has already embraced wireless technology. With Alan Oppenheimer of Open Door Networks, he started Ashland Unwired. Several years ago, they helped Starbucks in Ashland become the first Starbucks in the nation to offer wireless service. Other businesses and organizations also began offering wireless technology.

Teece said many locations in Ashland have wireless service, but there are also many gaps in coverage. He predicted AFN's wireless service will prove popular.

"I'm really excited and I think it will be a great success," he said.

But Jefferson Public Radio Executive Director Ron Kramer was less pleased about the launch of AFN wireless service. JPR's Internet service, JEFFNET, is a retailer of AFN's wire-based Internet service.

JPR has transmission sites and could have launched widespread wireless Internet service already, he said.

"The only reason JEFFNET didn't initiate this two years ago was we didn't want to capsize AFN and throw the city into debt," Kramer said.

He left open the possibility that JEFFNET could launch a competing wireless service and accused the city of acting as its own ISP.

Since AFN's inception, city leaders have wanted to sell AFN service through ISPs to help foster &

rather than compete with &

the high-tech industry in Ashland.

"We would probably respond with our own wireless to the degree that the city wishes to engage as an ISP.

They have no monopoly on the ability to do that (launch wireless service)," Kramer said.

Franell said it is not his intention to take customers from AFN's ISPs, but instead to reach those people who aren't getting AFN at all because they are in locations without cable line service or they are visiting Ashland.

Franell, who became head of AFN in the spring after working at a telecommunications company in the southeast, said he hopes the new wireless service - along with coming services he has yet to announce - will help convince residents that launching and keeping AFN was a wise decision despite its history of financial troubles.

"At the end of the day, I think people will be thrilled they were visionary enough to go down this path," he said. "AFN will become really central to life in Ashland. That's our goal. There is hope for the future. They should be happy AFN is here." For more information on AFN wireless service, contact AFN Account Representative Vince Zauskey at 552-2026.

Staff writer can be reached at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.