Open Range brings wireless Internet and jobs to Yuba-Sutter area

With as much as I’ve griped about the lack of Internet service providers in this area, it shouldn’t come as a shock that I leaped on the chance to find out more about another option for the Yuba-Sutter area.

As an added bonus for reading this, I’ll even point out a few job openings created by Open Range.

Last week, the Appeal-Democrat reported about federal stimulus dollars going to local governments. It turns out the feds are also helping a new ISP take root throughout the valley.

Competition in the valley

Open Range will begin operating in the Marysville/Linda/Olivehurst market on Aug. 13, according to Daniel Gillan, general manager for Open Range in Northern California. Parts of Yuba City will also be covered.

The company is offering a plan for $38.95 a month with speeds up to 3 megabits per second for downloads and 1 MBpS for uploads. For those of us stuck on DSL, that’s roughly 3,000 KbPS and 1,000 KbPS respectively. Also the first month will be free and no contract/commitment is required.

Cutting the cords

But as exciting as pricing and speeds are, the intriguing part of this service is the fact it’s wireless. No copper to upgrade, no new cables, just one all-in-one box. The service runs off of a WiMAX/4G cellular connection through the Freedom 4G router.

The Freedom 4G (not in any way connected to Appeal-Democrat parent company Freedom Communications) acts as a modem, router, phone and, yes, even an answering machine. I’ll touch more on the phone bits in a second.

While the service is currently only rolling out in the Yuba-Sutter area next week, the Freedom 4G router offers an intriguing level of portability. Theoretically, as long as you’re plugged into a power source and are within range of an active tower, you can take your Internet with you wherever you go. Granted, right now it’s limited to just the poor unlucky sap commuting from Red Bluff to Olivehurst, but it’s a start.

 

The rollout is expected to cover 78 towers throughout the state and 546 in the country over the next 5 years offering rural coverage to roughly 5 million people. This includes sites in the valley stretching most of the Appeal-Democrat and Tri-County Newspapers coverage areas. While Gillan wouldn’t give an exact date for when the service will be rolled out, he said most of them should be handled by the end of 2011.

The phone bits

As I mentioned earlier, the Freedom 4G also can replace your phone line. For $59.95 a month, Open Range will handle your phone and Internet coverage. Gillan also mentioned calls to Mexico will cost as little as 2 cents a minute.

The monthly rates for both phone and Internet are guaranteed for 24 months.

Who’s footing the bill?

The USDA Rural Development Program has invested $260 million into Open Range, while One Equity Partners – a private arm of JPMorgan Chase & Co. – has invested $100 million.

And jobs
To get a foothold in the market, Open Range is hiring 15 sales representatives for the Yuba-Sutter area. If you’re interested, call regional sales manager Mike Spence at (814) 403-6917.

Is it worth it?
Not having access to it yet, I’m going to wait to reserve judgment on whether or not Open Range is a worthwhile proposition. Having another ISP is always a good thing, especially one that can serve rural communities. AT&T offers 3MBpS DSL for $35 a month, which undercuts Open Range by a few dollars. But if you don’t have access to that plan, as many residents in the area don’t, this seems like a good alternative.

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