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Internet access continues to be an issue for many rural communities

Emily De Vito and WNYT Staff
Updated: August 13, 2020 11:49 AM
Created: August 13, 2020 11:48 AM

Internet has become a necessity with remote learning, but it can still be a challenge for some people living in remote areas.

Gov. Cuomo directed people to work from home, and remote learning is an option many students are taking this fall. However, those options are not available to everyone.

According to a report from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, around 98.4% of the population in New York has access to broadband. In rural areas, only 87% of the population has access. Meanwhile, in urban areas, 99.9% have access.  

NewsChannel 13’s Emily De Vito interviewed a viewer in Schenectady County and one in Montgomery County. Both people are without access to internet.

They rely on hot spots, but those don’t always work.

Anabel Felton, who lives in the town of Duanesburg, has been working from home with her husband. Her daughter finished her school year alongside them. A few weeks ago, she learned the university she is attending in the fall would be doing all online classes.

They’re hoping to get through the fall.

“Now my husband and I are working on patching together enough cellular signal, enough data, for all three of us to work through the first semester. We need about 100 gigs per month,” Felton said. “If you’ve worked on cellular hotspots, you know that after about 22 gigs they can slow you down.”

Another problem with hotspots is the cost. When you use that much data, the bill keeps going up.

Emily De Vito reached out to a few school districts in the Capital Region. They include Amsterdam, Town of Duanesburg, and Berne-Knox Westerlo. They all gave similar responses on how they deal with the problem of students not having internet.

That is because the Department of Education said schools should provide a computing device and consistent reliable internet for students. Many of the districts do that with hotspots.

The Amsterdam School District said it is a 75% poverty district, so many can’t afford internet.

The school buys neighborhood hotspots for remote learning, and they said many take advantage of the free internet Spectrum offered to students.

Berne-Knox Westerlo is a very rural school district. They said about 25% to 30% of their families are without high-speed internet. They said they’ve put hotspots in various places around the districts, so parents have to go to the closest one to their home to have students work.

The district has been working with Albany County and Hudson Valley Wireless on an initiative to provide high-speed transceivers to families in need.

The superintendent said this is an equity issue for rural communities. Assemblyman Santabarbara agrees with that. He said the governor has yet to address the issue amid the pandemic.

“The things that the governor is saying we must do are just not possible in some of these areas,” Santabarbara said. “What happens is some kids have gone without the education they should have gotten. Some people were not able to work from home, so maybe they had to go on unemployment or do something else, or give up their job.”

Emily De Vito will have a full report starting on Live at 4.

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