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More internet service is coming to Penns Valley. What does that mean for residents?

Antennas installed to help community internet access

Centre WISP Venture Company with the help of Mains Technology Solutions and Centre Communications installs a sector antenna on a tower on Centre Hall mountain to help the valley with internet access.
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Centre WISP Venture Company with the help of Mains Technology Solutions and Centre Communications installs a sector antenna on a tower on Centre Hall mountain to help the valley with internet access.

Residents of Penns Valley will soon have a new option for wireless internet service.

Centre WISP Venture LLC, which won a bid to use three of Centre County’s 911 communications towers to install equipment providing wireless internet service to underserved areas of the county, is gearing up to offer service in Centre Hall and its surrounding areas in August, said owner Dave Gibbons.

Through the terms of its lease with the county, Centre WISP will pay the county $10,616 from April 23, 2019 to April 22, 2024 to lease the space, with an annual renewal after the initial expiration.

The company also plans to install equipment on the Woodward tower in Haines Township either fall of this year or spring of 2020 and the Willowbank tower behind the Willowbank Building in Bellefonte after that.

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A crew from Centre Communications and Mains Technology Solutions help Centre WISP Venture Company install two sector antennas on a tower on Centre Hall Mountain on Wednesday. The two antennas installed will have a 180 degree coverage area of the valley. Abby Drey adrey@centredaily.com

In addition, Centre WISP just acquired wireless internet service provider Flashpoint ISP’s customer base of about 100 in Millheim, Aaronsburg and Spring Mills along the Route 45 corridor, said Gibbons.

“We will be taking over their customers ... and working on upgrading them,” he said.

Those upgrades include making service to those customers less prone to outages and more able to support general modern internet use like streaming videos and television, internet-based homework and working from home, he said.

Doug Dodson, a Spring Mills resident who previously spoke to the Centre Daily Times about his internet issues in the valley, said the advent of Centre WISP is very exciting for his family. From his position in the valley, he can clearly see the tower on Centre Hall Mountain, which is about 5.6 miles away.

Dodson and his family are current customers of Flashpoint ISP, but they started having problems with it last May when the internet would cut out for long stretches. He also noticed “high latency,” or a delay in transferring data when using the internet, and customer service was poor when reporting problems.

He figured if Centre WISP could come through and give his family “the transfer rates we’re looking for,” they could drop their Dish satellite TV service and Flashpoint ISP internet, which would save money and cut down on signal repetition, he said.

“From my perspective, the value (of having Centre WISP service) for our family is going to be significantly more,” he said.

The Flashpoint ISP website shows a 404 not found message and has no phone number listed for contact.

Currently, Centre WISP is installing equipment on the Centre Hall 911 tower, which Gibbons said will provide line-of-sight service to Centre Hall, parts of the Route 192 corridor including Madisonburg and Rebersburg, Spring Mills and parts of the Seven Mountains area, including Tusseyville.

The company will offer three packages with speeds ranging from 7 Megabits per second to 30 Mbps for download speed and 1 Mbps to 4 Mbps for upload speed, he said.

“We’ve had more than 100 people request more information on our website. We’re pretty happy with that outcome,” said Gibbons.

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A crew from Centre Communications and Mains Technology Solutions helps to install a sector antenna for Centre WISP Venture Company on Wednesday on Centre Hall mountain. Abby Drey adrey@centredaily.com

Several providers serve Centre Hall, including major providers Verizon and Comcast, but in Penns Valley there are fewer options — the Route 192 corridor boasts only one other fixed wireless provider, getwireless.net, a few satellite internet services like HughesNet and Verizon DSL.

Since the target date to begin service from the Centre Hall Mountain is mid-August, Centre WISP will be running tests for the month of July to determine a more accurate service area, he said. Topography often makes reaching houses that should be direct line-of-sight to the tower difficult, as trees or hills that block the view can also block service, he said.

As for the previous Flashpoint ISP customers, Centre WISP will start servicing those new customers in the Millheim, Aaronsburg and Spring Mills area right away, but it will take several months to make speed and latency improvements, he said.

“It’s definitely a priority for us ... but unfortunately just kind of takes some time,” he said.

For now, Gibbons said, Centre WISP will focus more of its efforts on advertising and attracting new customers so that they have a good base when service is expected to begin in August.

“We’re really excited about activating that service,” he said.

To find out more about service, visit www.centrewisp.com.

Students and teachers from Penns Valley High School talk about the difficulties they face with the internet when if they try to work from home.

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Sarah Paez covers Centre County communities, government and town and gown relations for the Centre Daily Times. She studied English and Spanish at Cornell University and grew up outside of Washington, D.C.
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