Wireless transmitters could bring coverage and cash to Albert Lea

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 30, 2002

If Midwest Wireless is successful in its negotiations with the City of Albert Lea, computer users throughout the community will be able to &uot;surf the net&uot; without using cable, DSL or telephone lines.

Customers of the municipal water system should also see a benefit. The Mankato-based company wants to lease space on the city’s water towers for the additional transmitters necessary to make the expansion possible.

According to Rod Mitchell, Data Services Manager for Midwest Wireless, the company plans on expanding high-speed broadband wireless Internet access to the whole city of Albert Lea. Right now the technology is available to users only in the northern third of Albert Lea, using equipment located on a tower behind the Midwest Wireless retail store in the Slumberland building.

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&uot;The biggest advantage will go to computer users who currently don’t have access to cable or DSL lines,&uot; Mitchell said.

According to Paul Sparks, Albert Lea city manager, who is handling the negotiations for the city, the amount Midwest Wireless would pay for the lease hasn’t been negotiated yet. Any income from the leases would go into the municipal water fund, providing the city with an additional source of revenue and helping to keep water rates low, Sparks said.

Using water towers would be similar to the arrangement Midwest Wireless has in place in Owatonna, where the company uses water towers to provide wireless Internet access to 98 percent of the city’s residents, said Mitchell. According to Owatonna Public Utilities, leases for those sorts of installations on water towers in that community range from $3,000 per year for a single antenna on a single tower to up to $16,000 a year for multiple antennas on multiple towers.

Midwest Wireless started offering high speed Internet access over a year ago, and deployed systems in nine communities in 2001. Their plans call for expanding into an additional 30 communities by the end of 2002. It takes them about 45 days to set up a system from installing transmitters to hooking up consumers.

&uot;Our system is very secure, making use of a commercial wireless application that relies on frequency hopping,&uot; said Mitchell. The new service should bring noticeable improvements in download and upload speed, and allow the customer to access the Internet as soon as they turn their computer on, he said. The technology will work for home users or small businesses, Mitchell added.

Negotiations between the city and Midwest Wireless are ongoing, and Sparks hopes to bring an tentative agreement to the city council before the end of May.