Batesville Store owner Cid Scallet has formed Batesville Broadband, a company that is installing a wireless Internet access system in the Batesville area that will ensure that rural residents can get the same speedy response times when using the web that those living in built-up areas can get. The company plans to offer coverage in western Albemarle and northern Nelson counties, but is beginning in the Batesville, Greenwood and Afton areas. Scallet’s investigations suggest there are about 3,200 homes in the initial service area. Subsequently the company expects to grow towards Crozet and Ivy, White Hall and Free Union, North Garden and Covesville, and Avon and south along Route 151 into Nellysford and Lovingston.
“I’ve been wanting to do this almost since the day we opened the store,” said Scallet. One of the store’s features is its wireless Internet access, and Scallet would sometimes notice locals parked in their cars outside the store, using its signal for their laptop computers.
“This community needs affordable, reliable high-speed Internet access,” he said. “I know from experience that high-speed Internet access has become a virtual necessity of life. My most important goal is to get people hooked up who can’t get DSL service. I’m responding to my customers who constantly share their frustration with me about getting high-speed access. Now we have more professionals in the area who work at home and schools are putting pressure on parents to have home computers that are connected to the net.
“I’ve been using it,” Scallet said. “You can tell how cool it is when you do tasks that you are familiar with on your current system. The improvement is dramatic and tangible. Tests of the system show consistent, symmetrical upload and download speeds of 1.2 to 1.45 megabytes with latencies [the lag time in the signal response] ranging from 12 milliseconds to 50 milliseconds. YouTube videos download without hitting the buffer bar. The low latency makes the system great for online gaming. This system is super fast.”
The system is built on an ultra-high-speed AT&T T-1 line brought into Batesville Store and then amplified and distributed from there via a state-of-the-art wireless technology and a web of access points. Office buildings that are wired with T-1 lines usually consider that each line will serve 100 simultaneous users. “We will add a T-1 line for every 50 customers we get to ensure that everyone has guaranteed access,” Scallet said.
Batesville Broadband has hired BOIP, a company that has installed the same technology successfully in Richmond and Virginia Beach, to set up the network. Miguel Laboy of BOIP will be the project’s lead technician and Whitt Whitaker will be the chief installer and head of technical support. Tech support will be handled locally.
Scallet said he first tried to collaborate with a Charlottesville company. “They finally threw up their hands and didn’t come back.” The difficulty, he said, is in the region’s hilly terrain.
The installers will come to each customer’s location to site the receiver in its best spot. Foliage does not slow down the speed of the signal, Scallet noted.
The service will allow for Virtual Private Networks, and within a matter of months, Batesville Broadband intends to offer VOIP, an Internet-based phone service. “We can do highly securitized systems for customers who need that. This system is incredibly secure,” said Scallet.
He said they are expecting to start signing up customers by mid-July. Meanwhile tests are being conducted on the signal around the village of Batesville. Scallet said that as they were first installing the antenna behind Batesville Store, 17 local users started using the signal. All happened to be Mac users whose computers detected the signal.
Customers will not be under a long-term contract and can buy the service on a month-to-month basis. For a monthly fee of $59.95, two computers in a house will have access to the Internet through Batesville Broadband’s password-protected web portal. Access for each additional computer will cost $7.50 a month. The monthly fee also covers the subscriber’s lease of the equipment. There is a one-time installation fee of $99. If a subscriber decides to drop the service, there are no hidden or additional costs, Scallet said. If a subscriber does not wish to use the service in any given month, no payment is required. A subscriber can re-activate the service at any time without penalty.
The network of signals the system creates is based on antennas, such as the one mounted in a sycamore tree near the store (its green color makes it virtually impossible to detect), that resemble fiberglass flag poles. They require an electricity source to operate. At least a dozen will be needed to create the initial network, Scallet said. “An antenna distributes over a quarter-mile to half-mile area, but it’s also sending the signal to another antenna a mile away.”
Installation does not require a clear line of sight to the southern sky, nor do houses need to be wired with fiber optic or other expensive direct cables, nor does the system use dish receivers of any kind. A small outside antenna and an even smaller interior receiver will be sufficient in most cases, said Scallet. More difficult installations might require the use of a pole with a small antenna at the top that would be bracketed to a tree.
“It’s an ‘intelligent’ antenna: it programs itself to find the best signal close to it, not just the closest. It searches all the time. The system creates a web of signals so each house can hunt among several signal sources,” Scallet explained.
“It is an real powerful engineering challenge. They’ve done it in Richmond and Virginia Beach, but it’s flatter there. We have to get around all these piles of dirt here. What’s really cool is that it uses sophisticated wireless technology that gets into the valleys down low. To do it otherwise would require stringing actual cable along the road.
“We have tried dial-up, two different satellite services, and a cell phone company’s portable broadband system, and we’ve found all of them to be severely wanting,” Scallet said. “It seems that every few months the phone company promises that DSL is coming our way ‘very soon.’ The area’s electric coop has been touting its “Internet Over the Electrical Lines” project for close to ten years. People tell us that cell phone cards work okay—when they are not glitching out or slowing to dial-up speed.”
Thus the launch of Batesville Broadband.