In many rural areas, people who want high-speed Internet access have only one option: relatively slow and expensive satellite dishes. Now parts of rural Vermont could get a new choice.
Phone company FairPoint Communications Inc. intends to beam Internet connections over radio waves to homes and business in the state, in what appears to be the largest planned U.S. deployment of "fixed wireless" technology as a substitute for wired Internet service.
FairPoint has 300,000 phone customers in Vermont, most of whom it acquired from Verizon Communications Inc. this year. Three-quarters of them will have access to broadband by the end of the year through their phone lines.
But some phone lines in rural areas extend so far from the phone company's base that the DSL broadband signal doesn't reach the subscriber. For those, FairPoint plans to use wireless WiMax equipment from Nortel Networks Corp. and Airspan Networks Inc., the companies said Wednesday.
Tens of thousands of homes and business could be offered WiMax service, FairPoint spokeswoman Beth Fastiggi said. Prices haven't been set.
Unlike cellular broadband cards for laptops, the WiMax antennas won't be portable or usable on the go. The speeds will be comparable to low-end DSL, with downloads of 1 to 3 megabits per second, Nortel said. The transmissions will have a range of a few miles, or up to 10 miles if FairPoint's tower has a clear shot to the receiving antenna.
Sprint Nextel Corp. and Clearwire Corp. are building a network in parts of the country using another WiMax variant that allows for mobile use. AT&T Inc. is using "fixed" WiMax, much like FairPoint plans to do, in two communities in Alaska.
FairPoint also bought the New Hampshire and Maine service areas of Verizon, but hasn't announced whether it will use WiMax there.