The 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.” .
Back 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.