Fred Engelmann of Rainmaker Network of Chestertown points out, on a map of Thurman, possible transmission points for broadband in town via ‘white space’ technology. Listening are (right) Thurman Supervisor Evelyn Wood and (center) Ava Ashendorff of Chestertown — a member of U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson’s citizen’s committee, who is credited with bringing Engelmann and Wood together for their broadband initiative.
The town of Thurman may soon enter the digital age, if plans for a public-private partnership for establishing wireless broadband access in the mountainous municipality becomes reality.
Plans to develop a new townwide system of “white-space” broadband access were presented at a public meeting Wednesday Jan. 25 by Thurman Town Supervisor Evelyn Wood and Fred Engelmann, CEO of Rainmaker Network in Chestertown.
Engelmann said that if broadcast trials prove the new technology works well in Thurman’s terrain, broadband could theoretically be available to local residents as soon as this summer. The broadcast trials are expected to begin in two months.
Now, most of the town’s 1,200 residents who seek digital connectivity depend on dial-up, which makes most functions of the Internet useless, or satellite service, which is considered expensive and unreliable.
“White space” technology involves broadcasting digital signals in radio signals between the frequencies carrying television channels. It provides transmission speeds up to eight times faster than satellite and has no data volume limits imposed, Engelmann said.
Antennas for the broadband transmission would likely be placed atop dozens of existing utility poles throughout town. The system would be tapping into existing fiber-optic cable owned by Verizon and Frontier that is now in place, encircling the town’s perimeter. Wood and Engelmann estimated that the system might cost about $100,000 to establish the broadcast system.
Antennae at each household would be grid-like, several feet long.
While receivers and decoders for service might now cost each household $600, Wood said she’d be seeking grant funding with an aim to lower the cost to an affordable $40 or less per month. She said that 135 households have formally requested broadband service, and many others in town likely also want it.
State or federal grants, Wood said, might subsidize a lot of the system’s cost. Representatives of U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson were present at the Jan. 25 informational meeting.
Wood said that bringing such a service, which has fast downloading and uploading speeds, would most likely require a joint venture between the town government and a private firm like Engelmann’s, and the enterprise would subsidize much of the cost for Thurman’s residents, considering the prevailing low income level.
She said that Warren County planner Wayne LaMothe was now drafting grant applications.
“There definitely is money out there for rural broadband service,” she said.
In December, the Federal Communications Commission approved the use of “white space” for carrying Internet signals. If the local system is developed, Thurman would be one of the first several communities to employ the technology, which isn’t impeded by mountainous terrain or tree foliage like wi-fi is.
For the meeting the town hall was filled with residents interested in broadband service. Among them was Mark Terrell, who is a business analyst for Hudson Headwaters Health Network.
He said that “white space” broadband would allow him to work at home during bad weather, and make him more productive, so he could finish up work after hours.
His existing satellite service, he said, occasionally blacks out, and it’s too slow to accomplish real-time functions like videoconferencing.
“White space broadband would be a great option for a lot of people in town,” he said, noting that many employers are now seeking to have their workers based at home. “Broadband Internet connections are so important now, and lack of it discourages people from moving here.”
Mark Antes, who conducts business on the Internet, said he drives to the town hall, where there’s wi-fi, to get his work done.
“We’re looking forward to this new service,” he said.
Looking at the full town hall, Wood said broadband access was vital for most all households in Thurman.
“Broadband service would be everything to these folks,” she said. “Kids can’t do their online homework, people can’t access their medical records, and parents and grandparents can’t ‘Skype’ their kids — these are things most people take for granted.”