Group to limit internet dead spots

[Published in the Altoona Mirror, November 3th, 2022]


A group is working to reduce or eliminate dead spots on Blair County’s fringes lacking internet service and where topographical barriers interfere with radio signals.


Such “pockets” are most common in the hollows along the Allegheny Front to the west, but also present in the “dips and hollows” on the eastern edge, Hazard Mitigation Planning Committee Chairman Dave McFarland, the county planning director, said at a meeting this week.


The committee has been working with nonprofit Alleghenies Broadband Inc. to remedy the situation and has also contacted a local firm in an effort to “fill in those holes,” McFarland said.


ABI is conducting a survey to identify the holes, McFarland said.


“We encourage everybody and his brother” to take it", he said.


The survey is accessible at https://southernalleghenies.servicezones.net/.


Comcast, which is establishing a presence in the Altoona area, starting south of the city, will likely take care of some of the dead areas as it lays fiber, McFarland said.


But serving the hollows where there are too few houses to justify fiber will require companies that offer wireless service, he said.


Such companies build towers that are served by cable or rent space on such towers and install equipment on them that can send radio signals in all directions to connect with customers who are provided with receivers, according to Stew Majewsky, scheduling and dispatch coordinator for Crowsnest Broadband of Altoona, and a Crowsnest website explanatory video.


Sometimes the signals need to be relayed via receivers and transmitters on towers or poles located on residential properties, according to Majewsky.


The radio signals must have a clear “line of sight” to connect with the relay towers and poles and with the residential receivers, according to Majewsky.


There are situations that aren’t amenable to wireless service.


“Someone who lives in the middle of the woods, surrounded by woods — that is what it is,” Majewsky said.


Similarly, the hollows in the mountains can block the radio signals, McFarland said.

There are wireless signals emanating from the northern and southern ends of the county that are blocked by slopes of the hollows, McFarland said.


One possibility for helping mitigate the problem is mobile relay service, via equipment mounted on vehicles, according to McFarland.


That could allow riders on such vehicles — perhaps those operated by paratransit services — to connect while on board, he said.


It could also provide an internet connection at appointed times for homes that are otherwise without service, with vehicles parked in strategic locations, he said.


That could include a connection that would allow homebound individuals to keep telemedical appointments, he said.

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