Wireless access points are cheap and easy to set up, creating a wireless cloud surrounding the access point for 50-70 feet in all directions. Anybody inside that cloud with a wireless-enabled notebook computer can connect to the Internet.

There’s another use of wireless technology, where a wireless signal is beamed from a transmitter to a receiver over a long distance, potentially as much as several miles. That equipment is getting cheaper and easier to set up as well, leading to some interesting experiments. Folks in rural areas may have some broadband options after all!

The Press Democrat wrote a long article about some of Sonic’s plans for wireless Internet access. Sonic is experimenting with rooftop wireless access in Occidental and Graton, where any house or business with a line of sight to a transmitter in the area can get online.

In addition, Sonic is setting up wireless access for businesses in Rohnert Park, Cotati, Penngrove and Petaluma at significantly higher speeds (and significantly higher prices). Contact Bill Henry at Sonic for more information.

Sonic is also experimenting with having its subscribers set up wireless access points that can then be used by neighbors, with money incentives for the original subscriber hosting the connection.

It doesn’t cost much to get started in this game on a small scale. Pogowave.com appears to be a few folks who have set up a tower in west Sonoma County that covers parts of Sebastopol and perhaps into Santa Rosa and Cotati. They’re promising relatively low speeds – 128K or 384K downstream – but the price is low and heck, it beats dialup access.

There will be a blur of services being rolled out and changed by big and small ISPs for the next year or two. Expect prices to be all over the map and expect some of the services to be technical nightmares while the kinks are worked out. But if you’re in rural Sonoma County, check frequently to see if something becomes available for you to get broadband access. And buy a Centrino notebook!