AT&T cell phone coverage as of Jan. 20, 2012
Not long ago, having a high-speed data connection to the Internet was considered a luxury. But in recent years, broadband access is not just considered a convenience, it’s a foundation of modern life. For both adults and children, it’s virtually a necessity for work, commerce and education.
In many schools, children are expected to have broadband access at home. Students are instructed to receive assignments and check homework updates on interactive websites, and to communicate with their teachers off-hours via email.
College applications are now completed on websites. People applying for jobs or college admission are expected to submit resumes and information online.
Businesses need this connectivity to stay competitive and survive, whether it’s marketing to customers, dealing with suppliers, or securing sales.
Real estate agents in the Adirondacks and other resort areas report that people seeking to relocate want to know if Internet broadband access is available before they buy property. Hotel and inn proprietors are questioned whether their accommodations have broadband connections and Wi-Fi before vacationers book a room.
Routine banking functions are conducted over the Internet. Patients are increasingly expected to obtain medical test results and communicate with their doctors over the Internet.
However, most small communities in the Adirondacks don’t have broadband access, except for satellite service, which can be unreliable and expensive. DSL service in the region is limited. Many of our area residents have only dial-up service, which isn’t practical in the modern world.
Regardless of the accelerating trend nationally to have employees work from home, it just isn’t happening here. Instead, we’ve seen a steep decline in populations of towns in the core areas of the Adirondacks. The reason, many believe, is due to the lack of broadband access.
In 2009, the Adirondack Regional Assessment Project determined that broadband access in the region was quite limited. The study revealed that only 5 percent of Adirondack communities had widespread broadband access, and these were primarily the moneyed resort towns — or situated on the perimeter of the Adirondack Park.
This and other studies have indicated that lack of broadband is hampering businesses, curbing job growth, and throttling tourism. Development of broadband infrastructure has been identified as critical for economic vitality in the Adirondacks.
While the sparse populations scattered over wide areas of the Adirondacks presents a challenge to providing broadband through conventional technologies, recent regulatory developments and technological advances offer hope.
A small-scale broadband project in the southern Adirondacks appears to offer a promising solution that might be applicable to vast areas of the Park.
In Thurman, an entrepreneur is working with the town government to bring fast, affordable broadband to the town’s 1,200 households. The access is based on broadcasting digital signals over the “white space” between television station signals on the radio-wave spectrum. The Internet connection through this technology is up to eight times faster than satellite. The system transmits signals from dozens of existing telephone poles throughout the rural town to small antennas at households.
The technology is promising, because it works over hilly terrain, and transmits through foliage, unlike other digital broadcast options.
We at Denton Publications hail the initiative.
Now, it’s time for action from all levels of government —to go beyond mere studies and jargon-filled proclamations. Our political leaders need to step forward and encourage such initiatives like the one under way in Thurman.
Our politicians should stop giving mere lip service to expansion of rural broadband and take action to develop policies that prompt competition, encouraging local start-ups to utilize various technologies for local broadband networks that fit the requirements of the local terrain and population. This may mean simply relaxing regulations or decreasing bureaucratic permit requirements, or it may mean aggressively pursuing grant funding.
Such action is important to our region’s economic health, as well as preserving the unique culture and lifestyle of the Adirondacks.