Rural county goes wireless route

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Dickenson County, a rural coalfield region in southwestern Virginia, soon should be the first in the state to introduce wireless communications countywide as a primary means of high-speed data access for government, businesses and residents.

The Dickenson County Wireless Integrated Network (DCWIN) will be established as the managing authority separate from any government connection once a bill championed by Clarence Phillips, the state delegate who represents Dickenson County, becomes law. The bill recently was passed by the Virginia General Assembly and awaits Gov. Mark Warner's signature.

DCWIN initially will provide access speeds of up to 11 megabits/sec, eventually moving to as high as 22 megabits/sec. It could cut county government telecom costs by as much as 50 percent, according to Keith Viers, Dickenson County administrator.

Wireless access for the county's government institutions is already largely in place, Viers said, and officials expect that the service for businesses will be hooked up by the end of June. Service to residents will be established later as the third phase of the DCWIN installation.

"A fiber-optic network is being established throughout Virginia now," Viers said, "but we are so isolated that it would still be another couple of years before it reached us, so wireless gives us a way of quickly putting high-speed services in place in the meantime."

And even when that fiber-optic network reaches the county, the ground is so hilly and rocky that it makes laying fiber to many county sites impractical. So DCWIN will provide the necessary "last mile" connections to take access from the fiber to homes, business and schools.

The hope is that DCWIN could become a model for the spread of wireless communications throughout neighboring countries and, eventually, the whole of southwestern Virginia, Viers said.

It also is seen as a necessity if more high-tech businesses are to be persuaded to set up shop in Dickenson, he said. The county traditionally depended on coal and other natural resources as the basis of its economy, but those are fading and the county's future may depend on becoming part of the areas that form Virginia's "technology corridor."

Robinson is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Ore. He can be reached at hullite@mindspring.com.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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