Southeast Missouri has a new source of broadband Internet access with the announcement that Verizon Wireless upgraded its systems to provide data at speeds five to 10 times faster than previously available.
On Monday, the company turned on the new EVDo, or Evolution Data Optimized, standard for its coverage areas. The result, said Cheryl Bini Armbrecht, is a switch from data speeds similar to a dial-up Internet connection to speeds comparable to broadband connections.
While the new service was initiated Monday, the company waited until today to begin offering it in order to make sure there were no last-minute glitches, Armbrecht said.
The new data standard supports a wireless Internet modem plugged into laptop computers as well as handheld devices such as Blackberries and a host of other devices designed specifically for accessing such content as videos and music, Armbrecht said.
The coverage area for the new offering will be concentrated along major highways, from Perryville in the north along Interstate 55 to Kennett in the south. Along U.S. 60, the coverage will extend from Poplar Bluff to Charleston, she said.
The coverage areas include all of Cape Girardeau, Jackson, Sikeston and Poplar Bluff.
The new service is expensive compared to many broadband offerings. Verizon will charge $59.99 per month for accessing up to 5 gigabytes of data per month, said Don Hinkebein, operations manager for JCS/Tel-Link, a local Verizon dealer.
Obtaining broadband coverage in rural areas is sometimes difficult if not impossible. The Missouri Public Service Commission, in a report released in September, reported that approximately one in five Missouri households do not have access to broadband service. Those without the service are concentrated in rural areas.
And while he welcomes the new service, commissioner Robert M. Clayton III said it is unlikely to make a big dent in those numbers. Clayton helped write the report on broadband access.
The plan described by Verizon, Clayton said, seems "limited to corridors or larger towns like Cape Girardeau that already have services. There are more options in the larger communities. It could be a part of a bigger solution but by itself it is not enough."
A major step, unlikely to be taken by wireless telephone providers until they have saturated larger markets, would be to provide the services in all locations, Clayton said. "If Verizon had complete coverage from Perry County to West Plains and the Bootheel and throughout that territory, that would be a darn good service even if it was expensive."
Along with the monthly costs of service, Verizon customers must have the hardware to support access. The modem card for a laptop or desktop computer can range anywhere from free, after a rebate, to about $150, Hinkebein said.
Depending on terrain, Hinkebein said, the service will be available for customers within about seven miles of a Verizon transmission tower. An add-on antenna can make the signal stronger or extend that range, he said.
"I can see where a lot of people who didn't have a good solution last week have a better solution this week," he said.
And while he can't predict future prices, Hinkebein said the cost of Verizon data service has dropped from $99 a month three years ago to its current level.
Clayton said the state needs a comprehensive plan for encouraging investment in broadband delivery. Government-directed programs resulted in universal service for land-line telephones and electricity, he said, and could do the same for broadband access.
"There needs to be a public policy decision and then creative solutions applied to the problem," he said.
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