Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Internet Access – What it is like to be in an underserved area 

Lorraine DuvallThe New York Broadband Program recently announced the Phase 3 award of $389 million for “public/private broadband investment, covering 134,757 homes and other locations across the State. This represents the third and final phase of the Program, and the successful completion of the historic effort to connect all New Yorkers to high-speed Internet.”  Some New York residents beyond the reach of cable or fiber options are offered two service plans to provide satellite internet service from HughesNet. The least expensive is $60 per month for a 20 Gigabyte Plan and $130 per month for a 100 Gigabyte Plan, with bonus data for off-hours. Both plans include 25 Megabit-per second download speeds, and 3 Megabits upload speeds.  

At our house in Keene (in the 5% in the town that is not serviced by broadband), we are now paying $70 a month to HughesNet for the capability that is included in this Phase 3 award for $60 per month.  This is hardly adequate in normal times, but certainly not now during this pandemic. It’s easy to use up 20 Gigabytes halfway through the month with increased video conferencing and the need for uploading data to communicate with the outside world, to supplement social distancing. Our download speeds are then reduced significantly to 2 Mbps, down from 25Mbps. To give HughesNet some credit, during this pandemic they have been increasing their download speeds from 25 Mbps to 40-50 Mbps, which allows adequate streaming with the result of using up the data bytes faster. They give away what they call free tokens for increasing the data allocation. These don’t last long.

I’ve set up my office in the car in the parking lots of the local libraries to tap into the library’s high-speed internet access. A tablecloth is draped across the backseat to make it is not so apparent that I am socializing and conducting business in a parking lot. My friends in the know say, “There is Lorraine in her car-office again.” On a normal day, one or two cars are parked nearby with drivers checking their phones. We wave.

The New York State Broadband initiative is impressive. Our politicians and local leaders are trying to connect us, but it is still spotty in parts of the Adirondacks, along with many other rural areas of the country. The need for high-speed and affordable internet has never been more pronounced than during this pandemic, including access for school children. I’d like to know how our Adirondack schools are coping.

A recent USA Today article shared the results of a 2018 study by Microsoft that estimated about half of Americans – 163 million people – do not have high-speed internet at home stressing that today “students in rural areas often find it impossible to connect to internet service at speeds that would allow conferencing or video streaming because internet providers haven’t extended the lines. Elsewhere, especially in urban districts with high concentrations of poor students, subscribing is too expensive.” And “ The federal government’s nearly $2 trillion stimulus package doesn’t address this digital divide, even though nearly all American schools are closed.”    . 

HughesNet BPO OfferBack to my tale of woe. There was a week in late March my Mac email would not download to my computer at home. I spend days on the phone with Apple and HughesNet trying to solve this problem, never definitively finding answers, but suspecting that HughesNet was blocking some sites, including ICloud.com, where my email was stored. Because of the increase in demand, HughesNet was giving priority to schools, and other more critical needs than my seemingly insignificant inability to get emails.

Therefore, not only was I conducting meetings through Zoom, but retrieving emails once or twice a day at my library parking lot office. The email problem is now solved, but I’ve already tapped out of the 20 Gigabyte capacity, down to communicating at 2Mbps. Thank goodness the temperatures are rising so I don’t have to keep my car running to stay warm while online in the parking lot.

David Wolff of ADK Action has been very helpful in providing insight into our underserved area. He writes: “Unfortunately, it looks like your address is one that has ‘fallen through the cracks’.” He is referring to the fact that we were not included in the HughesNet deal for the $60 service. That is not so important as we are now paying just $10 per month more for the same service.  

Wolff continues, “The good news is that when the Spectrum network build out is completed in September, 2021, $6 million in an ‘Incremental Broadband Fund’ will become available.  The money in the fund is to be “dedicated to financing incremental broadband expansion projects selected by the BPO.”  First priority is to be given to addresses that ‘fell thru the cracks’.” 

Perhaps this $6 million can be used to provide better service than 25Mbps and 20GB of data. 

 

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Lorraine Duvall

Award winning author Lorraine Duvall writes of her paddling adventures in the book, In Praise of Quiet Waters: Finding Solitude and Adventure in the Wild Adirondacks. Some experiences from her memoir, And I Know Too Much to Pretend, led her to research a woman’s commune north of Warrensburg, resulting in the 2019 book, Finding A Woman’s Place: The story of a 1970s feminist collective in the Adirondacks. Duvall lives in Keene and is on the board of Protect the Adirondacks.




14 Responses

  1. JCurtis says:

    I live out in the country behind a mountain and don’t have access to cable and I have seen our neighbors’ trouble with satellite in freezing rain and snow, plus we would have had to cut down trees to get good satellite reception. We stuck with dial up for years until I had a friend out in the “bush” of western Canada tell me that they had gotten wireless through their phone company and so why didn’t I check with mine. So, I found out that I could get high speed wireless internet through Verizon right from the cell tower near us. We have had it now for several years plus wireless phone in the same plan. It started out at around $105 for 10 gigs per month, which included unlimited phone. Now with an update to the wireless receiver it is up to $115. Sometimes we run over the 10 gigs and pay the overcharges. I wonder why it was never advertised and no one else around here seems to know about it.

    • Lorraine Duvall Lorraine Duvall says:

      Thanks for the info. However, there are some of us who also do not have cell phone access from our home. The mountains get in the way of the nearest cell tower.

  2. Vanessa says:

    Thank you for this article Lorraine! I have been wondering about internet in the Keene @ KV area. Do you or anyone know how fast the broadband is? How many year-round homes have it available?

    Many thanks for the info! 🙂

    • Lorraine Duvall Lorraine Duvall says:

      Years ago an initiative by Jim Herman and Dave Mason in the Town of Keene lead to 95% broadband access to town residents. KVVI was the provider then, purchased by Slic Network Solutions years ago. I suggest you contact them.

  3. Richard Ross says:

    thank you Loraine. I hope it is not too late for the remote area to get better internet than Hughes Net, which in the past I’ve paid hundreds $ for less than desirable service.
    I currently have one of the few Verizon Home Fission (cellular broadband) plans, which is no longer offered but can only get 40 GB at $150/month. The service is extremely reliable, but i do need more than 40 GB. I’m remote, there are no phone poles or electric near me, all solar. However, I think just because many people in Lewis County get cable, i’m just a minority in the woods and might be without options for good high-speed internet. North Country Broadband had started but somehow stopped. This area needs help for a low cost system.

  4. Big Burly says:

    Does Dish provide service to your area?

    Had similar issues with Hughes, switched to Dish with satisfaction and 50G/mo for about the same $70. Also used Dish on a separate hookup for TV.

    Now have glass fiber, with SLIC, but I recommend Dish, the link was pretty consistent at 25Mb down and 8-10Mb up with 800-900 ping, good enough for Zoom

    • Richard Ross says:

      Dish subs it to HughesNET. Which as mentioned is not very reliable with the weather of the North Country. We need a cellular broadband similar to Verizon Home Fusion with more data for less cost. Towers are plentiful here near Fort Drum.

    • Lorraine Duvall Lorraine Duvall says:

      Hum. I’ll check out Dish and its connection to HughesNet. Thanks.

  5. Rick says:

    Check out viasat.com updated satellite service.

  6. Glenn Pearsall Glenn says:

    Here out by Garnet Lake, Warren County the best we can get from Frontier, our only choice, is a flickering 0.9 Mbps down and 0.05 Mbps up. Horrible does even begin to describe the service and even worse now that NYC seasonal residents up here trying to work or do schoolwork remotely. 2017 area awarded state funds for SLIC to upgrade. Thought would be done by year end 2019. Now told will not be done until year end 2020. ?

  7. John Bruno says:

    When willClemons and Huletts Landing get Internet.

  8. Richard Ross says:

    When will ALL of Lewis county get broadband?

  9. MARK LEVY says:

    I live near Lorraine and there is one thing that she mentions that I would like to amplify.
    Kudos to area libraries for leaving their wi-fi on 24/7!!!
    My wife and I (together or separately) regular park outside at a couple of local ones — uploading and downloading emails. I appreciate that it means extra financial charges as well as costs in time and energy to them to provide that community resource. I know that providing the survice was even a topic of debate a few years ago at at least one. Tnx to our local libraries for all their services — doing much more nowadays than they did when I was younger. Tnx to Keene, Keene Valley, Wilmington and all the other Essex libraries and librarians who do this.
    (I would comment on one other little item about HughesNet service and costs. I wish there was a seasonal charge — where a subscriber could pay for a few months and not the whole year. If I found a way to connect from my Cabin’s location, I’d be willing to pay for 3-4 months, but paying for a whole year makes it prohibitive. Driving down the hill to a local library remains my only option.)

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