The Thurman town board voted to go forward with their embattled 'white space' broadband project Tuesday Jan. 14 after a crowd packed the town hall to experience a live broadcast of the wireless internet access technology. State Sen. Betty Little made a visit to the town meeting, telling the crowd how ‘white space’ wireless broadband was the leading practical option to connect the rural town’s households with the Internet, which she said was vital to citizens’ health, safety, education and prosperity. Also present was State Assemblyman Dan Stec who said businesses were 'dead in the water' without such broadband access. The 'white space' project had been in jeopardy lately due to a campaign to scuttle it — because of contentious local politics and oppositiion from critics who claimed the technology wasn't viable.
After a crowd in the Thurman Town Hall heard local citizens talk on a video-conferencing broadcast how “white space” wireless broadband would enhance their lives — and listened to encouragement from two state politicians — the Thurman Town Board voted 4-1 to proceed with their embattled project to bring high-speed Internet into nearly a third of the households in this rural, hilly community.
The project had been in thrust into jeopardy in recent weeks due to new personnel on the Thurman Town Board, including Mike Eddy who had spoken out against the white space project.
This showdown of white-space critics and broadband project proponents featured presentations by state Sen. Betty Little and state Assemblyman Dan Stec, who had procured a $200,000+ state grant to fund the broadband project, a public-private partnership. The event also featured a live demonstration of the technology.
Voting for the project, which has garnered national attention, were Town Supervisor Evelyn Wood and town board members Leon Galusha, Gail Seaman and newly-elected councilman Dan Smith. Abstaining from the vote was Michael Eddy, who for months had questioned the project’s viability.
The positive vote evoked cheers and applause from the audience, who earlier had watched a demonstration of white-space technology. They experienced a wireless video-conference broadcast from an off-the-grid cabin belonging to Eric Lohrey, an architectural engineer. In this live broadcast, Lohrey talked of the how white-space broadband would allow him to pursue his career more effectively from his remote rural setting. He was joined by Shiela Flanagan of Nettle Meadow Farm, who spoke of how the white-space wireless would allow her to expand her rural business — producing cheese that’s nationally acclaimed.
State Sen. Betty Little told the crowd of how Thurman’s pilot project would serve as an example of how broadband could be brought to other rural, wooded remote communities across the state.
“This wireless broadband project is about providing for the health and safety of local residents — and it’s the future of education and the community’s economy,” she said. Little noted how in public schools, students are expected to be connected to the Internet at home and at school to gather information and complete their assignments.
“Many schools are not even using textbooks anymore,” she said. Little added that the “white space” technology was considered the best option to keep households connected to the Internet, and this would attract more vacationers and second-homeowners who could be productive while in their getaway residences, able to do their homework — and access information — over the Internet.
Some critics of the project suggested that the $200,000 grant that Little and Stec had procured for the project would be better spent by laying miles of fiber-optic cable down the rural roads and connecting to Time-Warner Cable. But Engelmann replied that it would be too costly, and Little said that she was aware of many households elsewhere couldn’t obtain service from Time Warner and other firms for years because it wasn’t profitable for the corporations.
She warned that if Thurman didn’t take advantage of this grant on a timely basis, the money would be turned over to other unconnected communities that also applied for state money.
“If you don’t take this grant, someone else will,” she said. Three members of the five-member board had formerly supported conducting more research into the various available technologies. Engelmann told the crowd that conducting such research might postpone any broadband access for Thurman for a decade.
Stec told the crowd of local citizens how the wireless broadband would protect their home values, boost their children’s education, and allow professionals to work from home — so their pay would be spent locally rather than in metropolitan communities elsewhere.
“People will be able to have their Manhattan paychecks paid here in Thurman,” he said, noting how it would boost Thurman’s rural economy. “Internet access here is a tremendous plus.”
He added that various rural enterprises in Thurman needed this cutting-edge technology to survive.
“Nowadays, businesses without fast Internet connections are dead in the water.”
Thurman Town Clerk Cynthia Hyde read more than a dozen lengthy letters in support of white-space broadband, citing how it would enrich their lives, boost the productivity of their enterprises and connect them with family and friends. The letters described of the expense and inconvenience and slow data transfer of satellite reception, including the data caps and charges that escalated with their usage, unlike the white-space installation, which has not data caps or extra charges.
Engelmann, who is likely to maintain the broadband system, aswered more than a dozen questions about the technology posed by audience members. Engelmann has said that if the project moves forward right away, dozens of households could be connected by this summer. After the board’s decision in favor of the project, the council voted to award the bids for the white space equipment.
Minutes after the vote, Ava Ashendorff, one of the founders of the white-space project, let out a sigh of relief. She’s worked for Engelmann as a volunteer to help Thurman obtain broadband access.
“We’re very excited the town understands the need to move forward into the future,” she said.
Stec offered similar thoughts.
“I applaud the board for moving forward,” he said.