Wireless Internet has a home on Chappaquiddick

Chappy WISP owner Bob Fynbo adjusts connections on one of his wireless routers. — Photo courtesy of Bob Fynbo

The island of Chappaquiddick lacks cable service and is reachable only by a three-vehicle ferry that crosses Edgartown harbor. Many Chappy residents relish the remoteness of their community.

But for those who want to be connected electronically a one-man operation has provided advanced wireless Internet service since 2009.

Longtime Chappy resident Robert (Bob) Fynbo is the owner of Chappaquiddick Wireless Internet Service Provider (Chappy WISP) a company he formed to be a “last mile provider” of broadband Internet wireless service to Chappaquiddick and surrounding harbors.

Chappy WISP utilizes an 85-foot tower, with a total height of 94 feet. Mr. Fynbo raised the tower 30 years ago for basic antennae services, primarily ham radio, short wave, and television. “I got TV reception like you wouldn’t believe. I did it as kind of a hobby,” he said.

The town did not have zoning restrictions on antennae structures when he first erected it and he fell under the guidelines of the Federal Communication Commission (FCC). When he began using the tower for Wi-Fi service three years ago, the town only had zoning regulations covering cell phone transmissions and not Wi-Fi. Mr. Fynbo said the town rewrote the zoning bylaws last year and included in its regulations cell phone, Wi-Fi, and WiMAX (a technology enabling the delivery of last mile wireless broadband access as an alternative to cable and DSL).

Mr. Fynbo said the town “had the good grace of grandfathering my tower with cell phone capabilities.” He has begun talking with phone companies about using his tower to improve cellphone service on the island as well.

Mr. Fynbo created his own Internet company out of necessity. “After fighting with Comcast and Verizon for three years and coming to the conclusion that they were not going to provide any high-speed Internet and the satellite was so terrible for Internet access, I decided to see if I could provide a link myself,” he said. “My original training was in the military for microwave communications and my last 25 years has been in computers. It seemed like a natural fit.”

Two high-speed microwave links or backhauls from Mr. Fynbo’s tower to a tower in Falmouth connect Chappy to two fiber-optic circuits in Falmouth. Chappy WISP has redundancy built in to ensure constant uninterrupted service over the 95 percent of the island it covers.

When the power goes out, Mr. Fynbo’s system has three backup sources, an eight-hour battery backup, a gasoline powered inverter which can run up to six hours and a propane generator hooked up to a 1,000-gallon tank which can run for about four and a half months.

Electricity was first brought to Martha’s Vineyard around the turn of the last century, but much of the Island was without power until the 1930s and 40s. A cable providing electricity to Chappaquiddick was first laid in the 30s. The town of Edgartown is close to reaching an agreement with Comcast to bring cable to Chappy, although, as Mr. Fynbo points out, it may be prohibitively expensive for many Chappy residents.

Areas that cannot get a solid connection to the Chappy WISP system can have a repeater installed for a one-time charge of $119. These repeaters have a range of around 1,500 feet, according to Mr. Fynbo. Some subscribers connect via repeaters already installed near their homes. He said that the highest concentration of repeaters is near his tower because the signals from the tower pass over the top of that area.

Three hundred and fourteen units are currently installed according to Mr. Fynbo. Customers may sign up for a day up or for a year. The longer the period, the cheaper it is per month. The monthly charge for a one-year subscription for a single user, which is similar to basic DSL or cable speed service is $27.50 per month. He said that his subscribers can stream movies or do anything most anyone with Internet service anywhere else can do. Many subscribers use voice over IP on his network for phone service.

There are a number of other subscription plans, including dedicated connections and high band width services for additional charges. A subscriber can connect their home phone line to the service for an additional monthly charge of $13 for “essentially the same service as you would get from Verizon,” according to Mr. Fynbo.

Chappy WISP is a one-man operation. Mr. Fynbo hired his two sons to help with the initial installations to get the system up and running during the first three years. He said that he can handle the occasional repairs necessary now himself.

Mr. Fynbo took up permanent residence on Chappy as a sixth grader at the Edgartown School when a series of tornados wiped out his family’s farm in Minnesota 41 years ago. He said, “My family decided to move to hurricane country because there is a little more warning time.” His family connections on the island go back to 1894 when his grandfather, a dentist in Boston, built a big camp on North Neck near the present golf course that he used in the summers. An aunt and an uncle took up permanent residence either before or after World War II, he said. Mr. Fynbo is active as a member of the Edgartown Fire Department. He was an Emergency Medical Technician and a maker of custom furniture until his wireless work consumed his time. He mounted an unsuccessful campaign for Edgartown selectman in 2008.

The elder of his two sons recently graduated from the University of Chicago and the younger is a student at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. Both attended the Charter School and the MVRHS. His wife, Felicia Cheney, was director of the Edgartown Public Library for six years.

Mr. Fynbo has had a number of successful businesses over the years. He designed a hard disk menu program for use with DOS-based computers in the early days of the personal PC and in 1988 formed a software development company named BobCoPro, Inc. that did some work for the government. He started The Computer Lab, a computer training and repair business and with his brother setup VTXexhaust.com, a remanufacturing business for motorcycle exhausts.

Mr. Fynbo has set up several webcams for public use. One is at the Chappy ferry where a viewer may take a reading on the ferry traffic. This webcam can be seen on the Times website, mvtimes.com.

For more information about Chappy WISP go to www.mvwifi.com.