Rural Marion County Wired for Progress; Assumptions of Poor Internet Service No Longer Apply in Most Areas

By BOB PALMER
Jimplecute News Editor

Old ideas die hard.

Many still think to have decent television programming, cell phone service and high speed internet for their personal computer, they must live inside a city.

In Marion County, thanks to the efforts of local organizations like the Jefferson Institute and internet service providers like Etex Communications, high-speed internet service reaches most rural areas. You can even access fiber optic cable in some parts.

Cell towers have sprung up like mushrooms after a rain and you have your choice of satellite television or live streaming off the internet.

If you think the internet permeates your personal life, from homework to Netflix, consider how vital the internet has become for business.

“I can’t imagine anybody not checking on access to high-speed internet before locating a business to an area,” Bob Avery, president of Jefferson Economic Development Corporation, said.

Fortunately, for Marion County’s future economic growth as well as domestic tranquility, experts say the internet infrastructure here, even in many rural areas, is surprisingly robust.

“It’s amazing for a town of 2,100 population to have so many cell towers and fiber,” Jesse M. DeWare, IV, head of the Jefferson Institute, said.

The Jefferson Institute led an effort to bring fiber optic internet service to and through Jefferson.

“Jefferson Institute pushed for fiber technology,” DeWare said. “We worked to get fiber and better cell service.”

Etex Communications, a subsidiary of Etex Telephone Cooperative, which serves Western Marion County, put cell service on the forest tower downtown and through them, Verizon.

“Jefferson Institute encouraged people to sign up all over town,” DeWare said. “Etex spent a couple of million dollars and connected the schools with fiber.”

The fiber cable was eventually extended through Jefferson to Karnak. “Expansion of fiber services within each community is directly dependent on the number of businesses necessary to fulfill the revenue requirements that would justify construction expenses as outlined in our business plan,” Etex President Charlie Cano said. “Etex is the premier rural fiber provider in Upshur and Marion Counties for business needs and also wireless tower backhaul.”

Cano said the system will expand to meet business needs when an adequate customer base to justify the growth warrants the move.

THE NEED FOR SPEED

While many internet users exhibit an insatiable thirst for more download speed, Cano and cyber security consultant Roy Minton agreed more is not always better.

“Broadband comes in at different levels,” Minton said. “Both 30 mbps (megabytes per second) or 100 mbps both are considered broadband.”

Home users with slower download speeds who want to stream videos like Netflix could encounter buffering or jerky movies, according to Minton.

Cano had specific download targets in mind. “Although there are still some families that can function with less bandwidth, residential consumers should seek no less than 50 Mbps internet speed,” Cano said. “The reality is, typically, there are too many smart devices in a home that require higher bandwidth usage.”

For a heavy game player or industry, the need would be greater. “Gaming could function on 50Mbps whereas industry could use anywhere from 150Mbps to 1Gbps,” Cano said. “It is very important to point out that a high-end router would be required for residential and commercial solutions. High-speed internet is only part of the solution.”

INTERNET JARGON

For those who find themselves lost in a sea of internet jargon, Minton provided a quick glossary. Broadband, Minton explained, has a 25Mbps download. This supports many streaming applications such as Amazon Prime, Hulu, and others being in widespread use.

“DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) uses your home telephone wiring to access the internet. Cable internet uses the same cable (coaxial) as Cable TV,” Minton said. Satellite uses a dish for internet. “Think of a hotspot as being a battery-powered, mobile device that connects to cell service to provide WiFi connections to tablet, computers, etc.,” Minton said. “This could be a cell phone or a standalone appliance. I used one for a time from Walmart. You can get it prepaid.”

The various plans can be confusing and it is difficult to say which are broadband, unless you know the speed is 25Mbps or higher.

“It is difficult to say what is available here because whichever type you choose may have limits on what it can provide,” Minton said. “For example, DSL has to be close to a communications trunk or central office before you can get it.”

Fiber optic cable provides the highest-speed data transmission medium available. The cable contains tiny glass or plastic filaments carrying light beams with 1Gbps speeds. Data is transferred at the speed of light. Fiber’s newer infrastructure also boosts its reliability.

HOW MUCH CAN YOU AFFORD?

Price is also a consideration for many, if not most. High-speed internet costs more than $100 per month with Etex Communications. It’s the same with Fidelity in Jefferson. Both Fidelity and Etex, as well as other internet service providers, offer “bundle” rates, as well.

In a random, if unscientific, survey of Marion County residents, the Jimplecute found a mix of internet opinions. Some were content with slower speeds. Some resented the price of higher speed and had adapted.

Residents around Marion County report varying degrees of satisfaction with their internet service. Living on the south shore of Lake O’ the Pines, Gayle Robinson says she’s happy with Etex Communications. She has a 6 Mbps DSL line which costs her $50 per month and is fast enough to stream movies.

District Clerk Susan Anderson pronounced herself satisfied with HughesNet satellite internet service in the eastern end of the county.

Johnny Burwhistle, who lives in the Crestwood area, did have Etex but now uses a hotspot on his smartphone to watch movies and perform other internet functions.

“Etex are the only people we can use at times,” Jeff Ellis at Brushy Landing said. Kim Brown in Karnak uses Windstream. “They’re good, I think. They are very helpful.” Minton agreed while high-speed internet service has greatly expanded across rural Marion County, as well as in Jefferson in recent years, many residents self-limited themselves because of either economics or habit. Current commercial activity indicates, however, someone has noticed.

Enoch’s Stomp would not come here without access to fiber,” DeWare said. “They found it tied to the corner of their building.”

 

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