From credit card processing to college applications, much of modern life revolves around the internet. But while high-speed, broadband service is taken for granted by many Americans, close to 20 million, or six percent of the population, still lack access.
Some areas are relegated to using dial-up technology, and some have no internet access at all. In the upstate town of Thurman, NY, residents need to visit the single wifi hotspot at the town hall if they want to connect to anything faster than dial-up.
Thurman has an unusual conundrum – not only is it rural enough to lack broadband service, it also sits in Adirondack Park which means erecting towers and other structures on peaks and high ridge lines is not permitted. The town is one of the first communities in the country trying to create a residential white space network.
White space is the unused portion of the analog TV spectrum. It can be used to provide wireless internet access that is stronger and longer-ranging than traditional wifi. In places like Thurman without many analog TV stations taking up spectrum bandwidth, the white space is plentiful.
“It’s a matter of a relay, bouncing signals from one spot to the next. What we are doing is we are borrowing, or renting, a space on the fiber from Frontier or Verizon and we will plug into that and then we will be extending that, ” said Ava Ashendorff of Rainmaker Network Services.
“We’ve had businesses close down because they don’t have internet, they can’t process credit cards, they can’t get online. They’ve actually had people stop their sale to buy a home here when they found out there was no internet,” said Ashendorff. “We’re hoping that once we get Thurman up and running and everybody else sees what we were able to do we feel certain that it will just take off everywhere.”
While the effects of being cut off from broadband internet service are mainly felt in rural areas, metropolitan areas are not necessarily immune. Three percent of New York City and Long Island residents, or 137,580 households, lack access according to the New York State Broadband Program Office.
In neighboring New Jersey, 92% of the state has broadband coverage but over 28% of households don’t have access according to the New Jersey Office of Information Technology. It’s also worth noting that while between five and six percent of New York State residents don’t have access to broadband, about 30% haven’t adopted it for in-home use.