Huntington to Tap Unused Broadcast Frequencies for Free WiFi


Huntington hopes an old technology proves to be the key in a new technological world.

Using new technology, Huntington will tap into an old form of technology, unused broadcasting frequencies. Since television stations are going digital they have left frequencies out there available and those areas, known as white space can be used to provide wireless internet access. So a group called WVNET or West Virginia Network for Educational Telecomputing has teamed with Huntington to provide the internet to the city free of charge for a year. Huntington Mayor Steve Williams said the technology could mean big things for the city.

“What I’d like to do is create a start-up community, in essence a start-up village that is technologically based and WiFi of this nature, certainly by being free and we’re showing that we’re doing it on the cutting edge will send a message that Huntington clearly is open for business,” Williams said.

All that’s required to tap into that free white space and provide a free WiFi signal through it is the use of the appropriate technology. The system will be composed of a main hub at Marshall University, Antennas will be placed around the city that will pick up the broadcast signal from the hub and translate it to wireless technology that can be picked up by any piece of equipment that can pick up WiFi signals. Dan O’Hanlon is director of WVNET and vice chancellor for technology at the Higher Education Policy Commission.

“It’ll be like you’re sitting at home or in a Starbucks, it’s just like WiFi, it’s just Super WiFi because it covers such a broad area,” O’Hanlon said.

It’s not a new idea for WVNET to use the technology. WVNET has a system set up at West Virginia University for students to receive Super WiFi while they ride the Personal Rapid Transit around campus. WVNET hasn’t done it for a city yet, but it won’t be the first nationally, either. According to a report by the Broadband Center of Excellence, Wilmington, North Carolina is the only U.S. city currently using white space to create a municipal “smart city” wireless network.

“I visited Wilmington this year and looked at how they’ve established their antenna and I’ve done a partnership with the company that did it in Wilmington and they’re coming to Huntington and they’re doing it as a pilot at no cost to the city of Huntington,” O’Hanlon said.

O’Hanlon said they have thought about what happens if they find access points are becoming overloaded. He said they’ll add more if need be later on. The coverage area would stretch in a 6 mile radius around the downtown area. He said if not used the FCC is considering selling the space to cellular companies.

Mayor Williams said he wants the city to try to be ahead of the game, that’s why he wanted to be a part of the WiFi pilot program.

“If you’re not the lead dog the scenery never changes and truly if we do this in Huntington and we prove that we can do it here, then it also sends a message to the rest of West Virginia, we don’t have to be 48th, 49th and 50th, nor should we be 19th, 20th or 21st, we should strive to be the best,” Williams said.

Williams said if successful after a year, then the city will have to find ways to support and finance the system into the future. The city is also having a study done to look at the feasibility of making the area a gigabit city, meaning internet that will have speeds of up to a gigabit a second. Williams said those high internet speeds could mean the different in keeping or attracting tech business.

“We have some businesses that we’ve lost in this area, move to small towns in North Carolina just because they weren’t able to get the capacity that they needed or if they were it was going to cost them an arm and a leg,” Williams said.

The program is expected to switch on later this month or early July. Williams says they’ll monitor the system to make sure that the included encryption techniques keep the WiFi secure.