A1 Connect 0424 - WiFi Network

David Kartchner, president and CEO of Conxx, speaks during the unveiling of the Cambria Connected wireless telecommunications program on Monday at the rotunda in the county courthouse in Ebensburg. Conxx will build, market and opererate the network

The Cambria County commissioners unveiled a $10 million wireless telecommunications system Monday that will provide high-speed voice, video and data capabilities countywide.

It not only upgrades Cambria 911 system and police, ambulance and fire communications, but also will be made available for a fee to businesses, industry, schools, universities and residents.

The commissioners will borrow the money for the system. But they said they expect to be able to meet the annual debt payments without raising taxes.

The network is expected to pay for itself quickly.

After three years, it is expected to generate $225,000 a month for the county. That’s $2.7 million a year – the equivalent of more than 2.5 mills of propert-tax revenues.

“No area will be remote. From Blandburg to Brownstown to Bakerton, and everywhere in between, the county will be connected,” President Commissioner P.J. Stevens said.

Cambria is the first county in Pennsylvania to inaugurate such a system. It was made possible after Verizon – which by state law had the right to operate a system in the county – decided not to launch a wireless network.

By year’s end, the network promises to be operational and available to the public.

It will start with what is known as “Wi-Fi hotspots” – areas for wireless communications – for universities, colleges and medical facilities, officials said.

Officials said the network, dubbed “Cambria Connected,” is viewed as a valuable tool for economic growth and for homeland security.

A similar one is in operation in Allegany County, Md., but Cambria’s will have even newer technology.

The system will be built, marketed and operated by Conxx, the Salt Lake City company that designed the Allegany system.

Cambria expects to enter a contract soon with Conxx for that service, the commissioners said.

Conxx has been working in the county for months. It was hired in August under a $98,000 contract to design the network.

Commissioner Milan Gjurich sees cost efficiencies. He noted that a network limited to the 911 upgrades – already mandated by the FCC – would have cost $4.5 million.

The additional cost to make it available to everyone is an investment in the future, Commissioner Bill Harris agreed.

About 50 people, including many business leaders, attended Monday’s news conference.

Robert Layo, executive director of the Greater Johnstown/Cambria County Chamber of Commerce, said wireless communications are as critical to economic development as highways have been.

Rural areas such as Cambria have been at an economic disadvantage in not having wireless, Stevens said.

“Communications infrastructure is critical to growth and prosperity,” he said. “It became clear that implementation of this wireless infrastructure became the responsibility of county government when it could not or would not be made available by the private sector.”

Lorraine Valenty of Valenty Bottled Water, Nicktown, sees the network as a “powerful tool” that will allow the company to update its office computer programs on site, to build it own Web site and enable customers to e-mail the company.

With the 911 upgrades, there will be no “dead spots” in the county, and emergency personnel will be able to communicate with each other while in the field, said Brian Feist, the county’s emergency management director.



Cambria Connected

The $10 million telecommunications network being established by Cambria County:

• Will provide high-speed voice, video and data capabilities to every corner of the county.

• Is expected to reduce the county’s communications costs while providing a new source of revenue.

• Will be made available for a fee to business, industry, municipal governments, schools, agencies and homes.

• Will be running by Dec. 31.

Benefits

• Viewed as a tool for developers in luring new business and industry.

• Will improve communications for and among police, fire and ambulance services and Cambria 911.

• Make high-speed Internet service available at an affordable price.

• Could be used to monitor everything from classrooms to gas meters, dams and waterways.

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