Over 200 Berne-Knox-Westerlo students without internet service will soon have it.

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

The tower in Berne, built as one of a series for emergency communication at the instigation of Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple will now be used by Hudson Valley Wireless to bring internet to residences and businesses in the Helderbergs.

ALBANY COUNTY — Wireless internet will launch this weekend in the Helderberg Hilltowns, Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy announced at his Thursday press briefing.

He called it “long overdue” and, with current restrictions to control the coronavirus pandemic, McCoy said internet access is “more important now than ever before.” 

With layoffs as businesses are shut, Mccoy said, some families won’t be able to afford the new service. He said the county will make sure that the roughly 300 Berne-Knox-Westerlo students without access to broadband have it.

“We’ll pick that bill up if they don’t have the means to pay for it,” said McCoy, adding that it is crucial students not fall behind in their work.

Financial support to set up the system is coming from Empire State Development and the New NY Broadband Program.

The new system will service Berne, Knox, Rensselaerville, and Westerlo, McCoy said, using towers that were put in place at the instigation of Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple for emergency communication.

The Albany County Legislature passed the initiative unanimously, said Hilltown Legislator Chris Smith.

While the siting of the sheriff’s towers had been controversial, Smith said, “Sure, the tower isn’t the most beautiful thing but now that we can do emergency medical services off of it, the paramedics can talk … kids get high-speed and eventually parents with their work, it’s a perfect package. It makes the Hilltowns perfect.”

The service is being provided by Hudson Valley Wireless, which currently reaches 55,000 homes and businesses in Albany County, according to General Manager Jason Guzzo.

Hudson Valley Wireless is based in Albany and, Guzzo said, “The challenge has always been to connect to rural homes and businesses.” The network uses fiber optics and high-capacity microwave, he said.

Most households need just an entry-level package, Guzzo said, which allows 4.3 people to stream Netflix. Hudson Valley Wireless is now scheduling installations. Due to high demand, appointments are being scheduled up to two weeks from now. Hudson Valley Wireless may be reached online at www.hvwisp.com or by calling 518-458-7006.

Timothy Mundell, superintendent of the Berne-Knox-Westerlo schools, said about 30 percent of BKW students were without internet access. The district serves 731 students in kindergarten through 12th grade, according to the State Education Department.

Although the district had set up a number of hotspots, it was still frustrating for parents to have to drive to those places and sit in a car with their kids doing homework, Mundell said.

“This really changes the ballgame,” he said.

Mundell also said, “This is the information highway. This is the economy of the 21st Century and we are preparing kids for their futures and not our past. This is like the interstate highway system built in the 1950s. When we can provide broadband internet service to all the areas in New York State, this will be a thriving economy once again.”

Since schools across the state have been shut down to control the spread of the coronavirus, Mundell said, “What we’re finding … in the last 30 days is learning changes, home work changes, meaning working remotely for parents.”

Mundell commended the partnership that brought the plan to fruition.

More Hilltowns News

The Altamont Enterprise is focused on hyper-local, high-quality journalism. We produce free election guides, curate readers' opinion pieces, and engage with important local issues. Subscriptions open full access to our work and make it possible.