Residents of Champaign-Urbana already choose between two or three internet providers with gigabit speeds. Now many of the smaller communities in the area will benefit from ultra-broadband internet connectivity.

Businesses in the old Sangamon elementary school soon will have their own dedicated fiber. Apparently the booming economy with unusually low interest rates, along with plummeting costs of producing fiber optic cable explain fiber’s new ubiquity.

Some skeptics fail to understand optical fiber’s advantages. Fiber shrugs off weather and atmospheric disturbances, unlike with satellite delivered internet.

Companies design fiber networks for tomorrow’s internet, unlike coaxial cable designed for yesterday’s internet. A proper fiber installation enables almost unlimited capacity at gigabit speeds.

Cellular 5G internet service will struggle to keep pace with fiber, not to mention being almost as infrastructure intensive, since it will require far more towers than current 4G cellular.

In most areas fiber with its underground vaults replaces those ugly cable and phone company boxes sticking up on lawns.

A few giant national companies such as Verizon and Google once spread the gospel of fiber only to abandon their mission. Now numerous small companies pick up where the giants left off and we’re the better for it.

Speaking of internet, many home appliances and gadgets attempt to communicate with each other and the internet.

Unfortunately, the current situation resembles the Tower of Babel with competing systems and standards.

Recently, the biggest players, Amazon, Apple, Google and the Zigbee Alliance teamed up to create the CHIP standard, which is an acronym for Connected Home (over) IP (internet protocol).

While there’s no guarantee this all will come together, it promises to finally realize the vision of the truly connected home, no matter what brand or product you buy. Supposedly it will work via WiFi, Bluetooth or Thread, depending on the needs of the device. Voice control should work through Amazon’s Alexa, the Google Assistant or Apple’s Siri.

We recently wrote about battery backups and ways to continue working or game playing in the event of a power failure. Most computer battery backups last only 20-60 minutes.

A reader turned us on to the Ego Power Plus, rechargeable lithium battery packs in their own charger rack the size of a small gasoline generator. It produces 2,000 continuous watts. Depending upon the wattage, it could keep an appliance or electronics operating for one to four hours. Unlike a generator, you can use it indoors. Thus, you can keep your refrigerator cold or run the blower motor on a gas furnace for a few hours. (Be sure to ask an electrician to wire the latter for you.)

It might run the average computer for several hours. If you use Ego power tools or mower, you can swap the batteries out to power those items. A bright, clear, multi-function display indicates every facet of Power Plus’ operation. The Power Plus comes in two configurations that cost about $1,000 and is available at The Home Depot ( That’s about $10,000 less than the lowest priced Tesla Power Wall, although the latter might power the average home for half a day.

Finally, a farewell: The Chicago area’s longest surviving audio/video specialist, Audio Consultants, closed its doors Dec. 21 after a 52-year run. Lauded for high ethics and customer service, it once operated four stores. I worked for it in 1968 and 1974. Audio Consultants fell victim from the shift to “casual” audio of MP3s and smartphones. Champaign-Urbana retains three specialist audio/video stores, Good Vibes, Glenn Poor’s Audio Video and Picture Perfect Sound. Patronize them before we lose them.

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Rich Warren, who lives in the Champaign area, is a longtime reviewer of consumer electronics. Email him at

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