Wireless Broadband Heading to Long Lake

On December 19, 2012, it was announced by the New York State Regional Economic Development Office that the North Country Region was one of the top performers competing across New York State for several large scale financial awards to complete some vital economic expansion projects. A total of $738 million in awards were announced Wednesday. The regional councils were established in 2011 as a way to reinvigorate the state’s approach to economic development grants. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a press release that prior, top-down economic development policies didn’t work.

Long Lake will reap a gain from Wednesday’s announcement. SLIC Network Solutions, from Potsdam NY, was awarded $1.37 million to install the “final mile” of broadband in Long Lake and surrounding areas. This project will expand broadband access in the Adirondacks. Planners and engineers are in the process of acquiring permits to complete the project and they are hopeful to see movement in 2013. Phil Washgal, President of SLIC reports: “we are in the process now of working on the engineering and the permitting and we are still shoot to provide service for the next common ground alliance meeting so that we can do a video conference.”

I moved back to Long Lake, NY after living in the New York City suburb of Cranford, NJ for several years. While living in New Jersey I enjoyed the indulgent pleasures of gasoline pumped by an attendant, curbside garbage pick up (for added fee and stereotypical warfare between two hauling companies), home mail delivery, a buffet of cell phone service and the dueling availability of Comcast High Speed Internet or Verizon Fios.

In making the decision to move to Long Lake I knew there would be sacrifices of convenience. We’d have longer distances for grocery shopping, eye doctors, orthodontists, dentists, hospital care. Our family was willing to make lifestyle accommodations to gain the benefit of living in a remote and beautiful location where the kids would have a small school, safe community and we’d be surrounded by family. But there was one thing that was required before the big move. Access to the web.

In Long Lake we only have one option when it comes to internet. Ok – two if you really can deal with dial-up or three, if you want to pay for a satellite uplink. So before the movers even arrived with the boxes, I called Frontier Communications to make sure the internet was set up before I nestled in for my first night. And as much as I love the lake, mountains, woods and the lack of vehicular traffic, I also rely on the internet to do my job and stay in touch with the outside world. Availability of internet service was mandatory when my husband and I were making the decision to uproot our lives and move to the Adirondacks, miles from the nearest city. So hooked up we were. We left the world of Comcast behind and entered the great unknown to us, the world of DSL.

As it stands now internet the average download speed in Long Lake is 76% slower than the United States with an average speed in the US registering at 11.7Mbps and in Long Lake it’s 3.04Mbps. The current upload speed in Long Lake is 0.20Mbps, 87% slower than the US average of 2.4Mbps. Speeds were tested using Speedtest.net and testmy.net. The warning at the bottom of the computer screen has a big yellow exclamation point flashing, “YOU MIGHT HAVE A PROBLEM.” For those lucky enough to live within one or two miles of the hub, Frontier Communications is now upgrading their speeds and consumers may be able to have 6Mbps download speed.

So the tests show it’s slow for a regular consumer like my family, but somehow my kids are playing games on line, we’re using Netflix and on busy summer days it seemed like a cacophony of summer friends stop by to use the web portal to check on their real lives. So if it could handle that, what’s the problem?

Ask the guy living year-round in Long Lake, more than two miles from the Frontier Communications portal, who relies on internet to do his work. He has a job with Hewlett-Packard. His download speed works well enough, but his challenge, the upload. This fall I ran into him and he reported he had cut firewood, painted his living room and climbed Coney Mountain while his files uploaded to his office base in Nashville. He wasn’t overly stressed when he mentioned it took eight hours to upload the files. It was the weekend and he didn’t mind because it would be there by Monday. He had gotten used to it, having made his living off and on in the Long Lake area for over 12 years by working from home. He plans his time wisely to cope with his limited upload speed. He perks up when asked if he’d sit on a local group to identify ways broadband could improve the quality of life in the central Adirondacks. He heartily agreed and said that an increase in his upload speed could impact him directly and he could stay home longer and travel less.

I learned about upload speeds all on my own when a good friend was about to undergo a liver transplant and I was on tap to upload a five minute inspirational “We hope you don’t die before you see this video” a few hours before his surgery. Reality was, it took so long to upload, he was actually out of surgery by the time it finished uploading. Luckily he survived and managed to see it, but lesson learned, don’t wait until the last minute to upload your big files. That goes for graphic heavy files if you are working in print media, uploading mega database files, or anything for that matter. When we send our emails we count megabytes. It’s like a throttled twitter feed, only worse and it’s an everyday limitation. There could be smoke coming out of that modem box if you think you’re attaching the family wedding album or sharing files with a co-worker half a world away. Sharing software ala dropbox and yousendit are options, but allow enough hours in the day and find other things to do while you download or upload those files.

Doing business up in the Adirondacks can be done and we have a slower approach to life so we’ve learned to cope. It’s actually got it’s own moniker, “HamCo Time.” It would be more convenient if there was a bigger “buffet” of internet access with redundancy (meaning if the internet goes out, you can get it via another path.) That would have helped in October when the internet was down for a day over the entire region because of a car crash in Gloversville.

Not everyone interested in relocating to the area is waiting for fiber. Some recent transplants to Long Lake are business owners and entrepreneurs who were able to move to Long Lake because of the availability of cell phone service via AT&T.

So the big dream is coming. Competition! When SLIC arrives and sets up their fiber network coupled with wireless portals, two hotspots and wifi options to homes that can’t be connected via fiber the big question remains, what will that mean for every day consumers and their “regular life?” It means improved quality of life. In regular life terms, it means business owners have options. Businesses can upload data and mega files and access goto meetings. It means updating a graphic heavy website, email, calendars, instant messenger, and collaboration tools. Residential consumers can stream movies, skype, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Stumbleupon, local news, national news, news of the world, streaming Netflix, Hulu, Skype, shopping, research and Minecraft for the kids. It can be wasting time or productive time, it’s the viral world unleashed.

Don’t get me wrong, we’re grateful to have the internet we have, but turns out we will have choice and better service for our dollars. It means more economic opportunity. There will be jobs available for at home workers who can work at night after the kids are tucked into bed. College kids might actually stay or even move home if they can stay connected to the outside world at a competitive speed. Small rural businesses can expand their business opportunities. Travelers and second homeowners could extend their stays because they could do some work from their vacation spot. Broadband and a working cell phone tower? In the middle of the Adirondacks? What would the bears think? Could we finally be as advanced as rural Canada who has already made the commitment to have broadband or fiber internet available to everyone in the country by 2015?

Long Lake