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Allconet ceremony celebrates technology
Salt Lake City company introducing residential, commercial wireless services over unique local network

By Sam Shawver, Times-News Staff Writer
Saturday, August 27, 2005 9:19 AM EDT
CUMBERLAND - As Jeff Blank tells it, Allconet 2 was birthed over a couple of beers at a local restaurant.

"They turned to me and said, 'Why can't we build it?'" Blank, supervisor of microcomputing and technology for Allegany County schools, told a group of state, county and business representatives Friday.

Approximately 75 people, including the Allegany County commissioners, county department of economic development, and representatives of CONXX Inc. were gathered at the County Office Complex to officially celebrate the "arrival of wireless communication in Allegany County."

It was the year 2000, and Allegany County, like many other rural counties across the nation, was desperately seeking a way to lure high-tech companies out of the metro areas to help replace lost jobs from the closing of old "smokestack" industries.

"Tom Cooley (county economic development director) and his people had shifted focus from smokestack to high-tech industry," Blank said. "Companies wanted to locate here, but they had telecommunications infrastructure problems. We lost jobs because of that lack of infrastructure. "They asked what we could do, and the telecom companies said (a system) would take about $1 million," he said.

The state delegation was able to obtain the $1 million, but the telecom companies raised the price tag to $2 million. The state representatives brought back $2 million, but the companies raised the price again, eventually asking for $5 million to develop the needed infrastructure to offer high-speed broadband services.

"Finally they said, 'If we put it in for you for $5 million, we'll have to put this into every small community for the same amount, and we can't do that,'" said Blank. "I just threw my hands up and we went out for a beer."

At the time the board of education, library, county government and city of Cumberland were connected through Allconet 1, an unlicensed wireless computer network that Blank had helped develop strictly for local government use. Blank was asked what it would take to upgrade that network to meet the telecommunications infrastructure needs of the county.

"We eventually came up with a plan that would cost about $5 million," he said. "And Allconet 2 was built - a very nontraditional wireless network. Now CONXX is managing the network for Allegany County and builds or helps other communities build their own networks. In Allegany County today we can say that the telecommunications problem is solved." CONXX Inc., a Salt Lake City company that provides wireless networks and network operating systems, announced that it would begin to introduce residential and commercial wireless services over the Allconet 2 system Friday. CONXX services to Allegany County will include Voice over Internet Protocol, video and data services. The network will bring cost-effective connection to long-distance carriers.

Federal, state and local officials marked the celebration with a "fiber-cutting" ceremony and tour of Allconet facilities.

"This is real and it's unique. It's a complete system that can be used for anything from paying for lunch at school to providing high-tech police, fire and emergency services," said Todd Tanner, executive vice president of CONXX.

"Thank you for pushing to get this completed," U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett told Allconet developers.

"When the new north-south highway corridor is in, this area will be really attractive for business." "Allconet 1 and 2 have been great experiences," said Aris Melissaratos, secretary of Maryland's Department of Business and Economic Development.

"It's a result of a seamless partnership between every level of government," he said. "Everyone wanted broadband, but Allegany County had the toughest job of all, due to the rough topography. But you persevered and today you're putting together a very vibrant wireless network - the only one of its kind in the country in a rural area like this.

"At some point in the future you'll be able to work for companies in Washington, D.C., or Baltimore, and stay in Allegany County," said Melissaratos. "I commend you for not hanging your heads when industry jobs were lost, but you kept looking ahead."

"Our message to potential businesses is 'We're wireless, well-located, and wish you were here,'" said Jim Stakem, president of the Allegany County Commission.

"The opportunity for economic development is immense here, and is a model for other communities who want what Allegany County now has," said David Kartchner, president of CONXX.

Kartchner announced that CONXX is purchasing a building on Centre Street so the company can have a local presence.

"We look forward to becoming a part of this community," he said.

John Scrivner wrote:

Any chance you could just give us the finer points? It is asking for registration to read the article and I doubt all of us will be doing that.

Dawn wrote:


Interesting read.

Having the state and local government on your side always helps. County wide network goes private.

Any thoughts?


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