Officials seek solutions for broadband

O fficials at the county and local levels continue to meet with broadband providers as they try to address the region’s lack of connectivity.

Supervisors from Hampton and Whitehall have met with the Washington County Local Development Corp. and broadband providers, and while no one should expect high speed cable to be strung to every home, there are options available.

“If you expect every outlying community to have cable for Internet, it’s not going to happen,” said Dave O’Brien, Hampton supervisor. “The answer is in different forms of delivery.”

Tori Riley, president of the Washington County LDC, said the key to bridging to the technological gap may be different in each community.

She said the county has been working with local supervisors to identify areas that are underserved.

“Each town is trying to identify the methods that work best for them,” Riley said.

The county has data from the recent census that measures broadband connectivity, but it was done in clusters so assumptions about Internet access were made that may not have been completely accurate.

The county has been trying to gather more accurate information by administering a survey that analyzes access to broadband services.

Stephanie Safka, a member of the Whitehall town council, has distributed that survey to local business owners through the Whitehall Chamber of Commerce.

“It asks what the needs are,” Safka said. “People don’t realize how important this is.”

Once that data has been collected, officials will use it to help determine which methods of delivery would work best for each particular town and what funding sources may be available.

One method that O’Brien said could be viable in Hampton was satellite.

Satellite internet providers like Wild Blue or HughesNet offer Internet connections they claim are 30 times faster than a dial-up connection and are available in rural areas where fiber optic cable and DSL isn’t.

However, satellite broadband can at times be subject to transmission delays that make real-time applications like Internet telephone service, stock trading and interactive gaming unreliable, if not impossible.

It can also be affected by weather and requires additional equipment, which may or may not be included in the price of a package.

There’s also white space technology, which creates pockets of wireless connectivity by using unused radio frequencies between television stations.

White space is similar to WiFi but considered better in rural areas because the signal isn’t impeded by trees, buildings, or even mountains.

However the initial cost to set up the system could be prohibitive in some communities.

A delivery method Riley is high on, and Safka feels has potential in Whitehall, is connecting wirelessly through a 4G device.

Riley said in most areas where there is cell phone service, users could purchase a 4G card and connect to the Internet that way. But as people in parts of Hampton, Whitehall and Dresden can attest to, cell phone service isn’t a given everywhere.

One form of technology that continues to grow in the area and may have the most potential is fiber optic cable, which transmits more data at a faster rate of speed than traditional cable.

Fiber optic is currently being installed along Route 4 from Kingsbury to Fort Ann and from Rutland, Vt., to Whitehall.

Joe Calzone, vice president of Independent Optical Network (ION), the Albany-based company installing the cable, said the line from Rutland to Whitehall is 90 percent complete.

But, while fiber optic lines may bring faster Internet connection to a community, they don’t bring it to a customer’s doorstep.

Instead ION makes contracts with “last-mile service providers” who then connect each house and sell broadband service.

Because of the cost to run the cable, Riley said providers are more likely to build out to a cluster of home or businesses than one or two at a time. “Money is always the bottom line,” she said.

That’s one reason the solution to the problem will have to be multifaceted.

“You have to piecemeal this together,” Riley said. “Each community is taking a different approach. It’s going to take a lot of work and it’s going to take the internal fortitude to continue even if it’s at a slow pace at times.”

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