White space may bridge digital divide

A one-two punch from geography and economic conditions all too frequently put rural students on the wrong site of the digital divide. I’ve written before about the difficulties students in my rural corner of New York State would have getting on the Internet if they don’t have an ISP at home.

A broadband technology is emerging that may offer some hope.

In December the Federal Communications Commission approved technology that allows Internet signals to be carried wirelessly in what is called white space, the  spectrum between television stations. The FCC approval takes effect Jan. 26.

Signals in this band travel better than WiFi because the signal isn’t impeded by physical structures such as buildings, trees, or mountains.

Thanks to the FCC decision, the medium will be accessible to small networking firms as well as to unlicensed and experimental users.

The white space signal must originate from fiber optic lines serving cell towers. Providers would have to reach agreement with the local cell carrier for use of the fiber optic cables to bring the signal into an area before the providers could deliver the signal to the customer’s location. (See the diagram at Mashable.com)

The FCC says unleasing the white spaces spectrum will provide a massive economic boost to businesses and result in new jobs being created.

One of the first locations to carry signals in white space is to be Thurman in the Adirondack Park, where Chestertown-based Rainmaker Network Service, LLC plans to test the technology later this year.

Interest in the new technology is high. Officials from other rural municipalities turned up in Thurman Jan. 25 to learn about the prospects and costs of the program..

Having Internet service available wouldn’t necessarily make it affordable for students in economically depressed rural areas, but it would at least remove one of the multiple barriers to rural student ‘net access.

Photo credit: House at the Hill uploaded by  iprole