Fight for cable, Internet continues in rural Rensselaer County areas
NASSAU, N.Y. -- Like many rural areas throughout the country, the town of Nassau, at the southern end of Rensselaer County, has been struggling to get connected.
Cable and Internet are luxuries in the area, and providers are making their services difficult to obtain.
Nassau resident Alan Austin has lived in the town with his wife since 1998. They moved from Clifton Park in search of a nice house with more land for their horses.
"It was not a shock about the lack of cable, because we were told that you just used satellite for the television in rural areas," Austin said. However, it has been a struggle.
People in more populated areas have the convenience of bundling services for cost savings and having one point of contact rather than three, Austin said. Television, broadband Internet and VOIP or phone service are typically offered in metro areas, but Nassau residents don’t have that as an option. "Cable would solve that," Austin said.
Austin is also an at-home entrepreneur. His information technology consulting business offers remote support to different states. His work requires a significant amount of data.
A determined entrepreneur, Austin has tried to run several businesses out of Nassau.
"I’ve sort of got a good solution," he said, but "it’s really difficult without good connection."
In a previous business, Austin traded stocks and could lose thousands of dollars within a few minutes without a connection.
For about five years, Austin has been using a cellular broadband connection through Sprint to access the Internet and work from home. The service is delivered through microwave transmissions from a tower.
Previously, he was using a satellite connection, but Austin was not a fan of the limit on data usage and the high price tag. If he went over the usage threshold, he’d be penalized by having the connection shut down for 24 hours.
Before that, it was dial-up, which was "totally inadequate to run a business from," Austin said.
Cellular broadband is a lot better than his previous methods of connection, but "It’s still not as good as cable would be," Austin said. "We’re still trying to get cable."
Cable access also affects education in these rural areas, though it’s not as large of an impact as some would think.
This is at least in part due to teachers forming their homework and other assignments around their students’ resources.
"Teachers bend over backwards to give assignments that kids can do in school if they require internet access," said Sean Crall, a teacher in the East Greenbush school district. "Teachers are sensitive to students who don’t have access to Internet at home."
He noted that it is not just a rural issue, as there are families in urban areas who cannot afford cable Internet and therefore their children also do not have at-home access.
"It places kids at a disadvantage," Crall continued. "Certainly, it’s great for kids to have."
Still, he said teachers encourage the use of other sources, like newspapers, books and magazines, in lieu of the usual Google search.
School officials contacted in the East Greenbush, Berlin and Averill Park districts all said they never had complaints from parents without cable about their student bringing home assignments that needed Internet access. But Averill Park Superintendent James Hoffman agreed that it puts those children at a disadvantage.
Parent Carolyn Fleming, whose husband, Dave Fleming, is the supervisor in Nassau, said kids can quickly be left behind if they do not have state-of-the-art technology, like cable. A mother of two, she also said it also puts parents at a disadvantage because email is a prime form of communication for parent-teacher associations and other school organizations. In Austin’s quest for a good connection, he has taken measures to talk to Time Warner Cable about the problem in his neighborhood. When he inquired about cable installation, he was quoted a $12,000 installation fee. Without the money, they wouldn’t be coming to the rescue. At one point, the fee was lowered to $11,000, but no one dealt the cash. To cover the entire area currently without service would take much more funding.
Nassau has a contract with Time Warner Cable stating it will bring service where there are 20 residencies within a one-mile radius.
"Wherever it’s populated, they’ll get the cable service," Austin explained.
On Austin’s street, there are 11 houses within a half-mile, the same ratio as needed for Time Warner Cable in the proposal. "We’ve asked them to bring the service and they won’t," Austin said.
"We’re out of luck because we’re never going to get another nine houses in this mile," he said. "We can’t get anybody to bring service here, unless we’re willing to pay an exorbitant amount like $12,000."
Austin has even considered paying it among neighbors, but they aren’t willing.
Broadband Internet is dependent on location relative to the nearest tower. Even within a house, its placement affects the speed of data transmissions. For Austin, this means he can’t keep his hot-spot device in his home office -- it has a special place in the peak of his attic.
Even then, there are complications. If it’s too hot or too cold, it stops working. As a solution, Austin rigged a fan to cool it in the summers. "It’s ridiculous," he admitted. "People don’t believe me when I tell them these things, but that’s what we deal with."
Austin said he feels disadvantaged in Nassau because of the lack of cable and Internet connection.
"We’re kind of out in the stone ages here," he said.
Austin has even considered renting office space in Albany to run his business, "which would be ridiculous because I’ve been self-employed since 1991 and the last thing I want to do is go to an office every day," he said. "I want to work from home."
Austin feels deprived that he is just barely able to do that.
Even photographs are sometimes difficult to view, "We can barely take the time to look at them. Simple tasks that anybody can do, we are not able to do," Austin said.
Another struggle is cost. Those with cable connection often bundle their Internet, television and phone for less than $100 a month through Time Warner Cable.
In Austin’s case, that’s not possible. He shells out more than $220 monthly between paying bills for Verizon phone service, DirectTV television and Sprint for broadband Internet.
"We’re paying three different companies and we’re not getting a deal on any of those things, because we can’t bundle it," he said.
At the root of the issue is if Internet is a necessity.
"The cable company isn’t exactly a utility. It’s not quite like gas or electric," Austin said. Cable and Internet are not regulated to the same degree. "If it was, they would provide the service to everybody who wants it, and that’s just not the case."
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