Knox Broadband Committee working with Hudson Valley Wireless on internet problem

From Jason Guzzo

This map shows Hudson Valley Wireless cell towers and the company’s service range in Knox, where the company is working with town officials to improve much-needed internet coverage.

KNOX — Yet another Hilltown is moving to improve internet access for residents. 

A month after the town of Westerlo was officially awarded just under $1.7 million in federal funds to build out broadband infrastructure, Knox Supervisor Russell Pokorny told residents at a town board meeting last week that the town’s broadband committee met with internet-service provider Hudson Valley Wireless earlier in the month, “and they had some ideas for proposals and some progress that we could make on [broadband].”

Hudson Valley Wireless General Manager Jason Guzzo confirmed for The Enterprise this week that the company is working with the town, but that they’re in early stages and not ready to discuss specifics.

“My team is still working on the engineering, and it is probably too early for us to comment on the details,” Guzzo said. “There are still some questions about funding and timelines, and I want to ensure we accurately manage constituent expectations.”

Guzzo added that the company already services “a large portion” of the town and is hoping “to extend coverage to additional unserved homes and businesses.”

Town representatives were in the middle of meeting with Hudson Valley Wireless on April 26 when The Enterprise followed up with Pokorny by phone.

“We’re just getting started with their presentation, but it looks pretty promising,” Pokorny said. 

At the town board meeting last week and over the phone, Pokorny pointed out that residents who are blocked from connecting to the internet by financial means can apply for discounted service through the Affordable Connectivity Program, a federal program that offers residents who live on non-tribal lands a discount of up to $30 per month, along with a one-time $100 discount off an internet-capable device, per the Federal Communication Commission. 

The commission states that a household is eligible if its total income is less than or equal to 200 percent of the federal poverty level (which starts at $27,180 for a household of one); benefits from a federal assistance program like Medicaid or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program; or has received a Federal Pell Grant in the present year, among other things. 

Pokorny also said that the committee had discussed line-of-sight internet access that would allow residents who are in view of a cell tower to establish a wireless connection through it.

The downside of that method, Pokorny said, is that not everyone has line-of-sight, owing to the topography of the Hilltowns. 

“But I think it might work for a lot of people,” he said. 

At the town board meeting, Knox resident Brigitte McAuliffe suggested to another resident who said she was having internet difficulties that she look into Starlink, which is a satellite internet service run by SpaceX. SpaceX received massive federal funding in 2020 to expand its services nationwide, including to the Hilltowns.

SpaceX was founded by Elon Musk in 2002 with the goal of reducing the cost of space transportation so that Mars can be colonized. In 2015, Musk announced the development of Starlink, a satellite constellation, to provide broadband internet service.

It’s not the first time that The Enterprise has heard residents discuss the innovative service that bills itself as “ideal for rural and remote communities” since it became available.

One Berne resident said to the Berne Town Board once that it should look into adopting the service for town buildings following his own positive experience. 

The company currently charges $110 per month for internet and $600 for the necessary hardware, plus an additional $100 for taxes and shipping, totaling $700 to get started. 

When The Enterprise compared the price of Starlink service to that of a more traditional ISP last year, when Starlink service was $90 per month, it was twice as expensive to use Starlink, which appears to offer only one package, as compared to different speed-levels typically offered by other companies for different prices. 

Internet affordability is as much a concern in the Hilltowns as availability, and one that is “not solved merely by improving coverage,” Rensselaerville broadband committee chairman Hans Soderquist told The Enterprise in early 2021.

A digital equity map of New York State that was published last year  shows that income is a major predictor of connectivity in the Hilltowns, as the connection rate for each household-income category above $35,000 per year in annual income is higher than 80 percent while the rate for the $20,000-to-$35,000 category is 69.4 percent, and the rate for the $10,000-to-$20,000 category is 35.3 percent. 

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