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Lack of bandwidth drives ISPs wireless

A frustrated group of Albuquerque ISPs looking for high-bandwidth options have decided to go wireless on their own.

November has been a banner month in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Internet history.

This is the month the city finally got ISDN, after a long fight between US West and state officials. But for a frustrated group of Albuquerque ISPs looking for high-bandwidth options, it's still not enough.

Small businesses in the city and outlying areas are pushing for connections faster than 28.8- and 56-kbps modems, says John Brown, founder of internet service provider iHighway.net. Cable modems or DSL lines aren't an option yet, and T1 connections are expensive and often slow to be installed, he adds.

So Brown and a handful of other local ISPs are taking things into their own hands. They're forming a co-op that will jointly buy and share wireless data access, making an end run around the local telephone company's services.

"We've been floundering trying to get high-speed digital connections to our customers," said Mark Kostlow, owner of Southwest Cyberport, one of the ISPs joining the co-op.

"This sends a clear message to the telcos, that if you don't want to bring new high-speed technologies out to our city, if you want to play regulatory games, fine," Brown added. "We'll go our way."

The Albuquerque problem is typical of second-tier and rural markets, where businesses are beginning to wake up to the potential of the Internet and demand something faster than dial-up access.

"Businesses in this market typically follow Silicon Valley by about three to five years," Brown said. "One reason is that they can't get decent service."

Even T1 lines, which are available in the city, can take up to 60 days to be installed, Brown said."Outside the city, some circuits have been on order for 9, 10, 12 months," he added.

The frustration extends well beyond New Mexico's borders. "If you look at the remote markets, they don't have the same level of telephony services," said Dave McClure, executive director of the Association of Online Professionals.

As yet, few ISPs have taken the wireless route, McClure said. "We've seen more ISPs investigate cable modems than wireless. Wireless isn't quite ready for prime time."

But the New Mexico group, for which cable isn't yet an option, says wireless is the right answer for them now.

"Two years ago it wouldn't have worked. The technology wasn't ready," said Kostlow. "I think it is now."

The co-op will jointly lease roof space and negotiate with equipment manufacturers for their wireless service. Brown said he is quoting customers prices of $3,000 to $4,000 dollars for installation. Yet over the long run, this winds up being less expensive than the fees paid to telephony companies for installation and maintenance of a T1 line, he said. That cost will come down, Brown added, as wireless equipment falls in price over the next year.

The group is still in the process of picking its technology. Both iHighway.net and Lobo Internet Services, another ISP in the group, already use wireless service in Albuquerque, but are not confident they want to carry this over to the co-op.

Brown and the other ISPs forming the co-op hope their efforts will kick-start the use of high-bandwidth Internet access.

"This place is a gold mine for Internet access," Brown said. "Being three to five years behind the curve, everybody's now on the bandwagon and ready to roll."