The Green Bank Observatory is an advocate for internet access in our community. Green Bank, West Virginia is not the land of no internet – there are many misunderstandings about the Quiet Zone we hope to clear up.
Why is there no internet?
Internet is a vital part of life in the region. The Green Bank Observatory and surrounding community use the internet every day. Many residents own cell phones, tablets, and other personal electronic devices. Sometimes, the ways that they connect to the internet look different than they might in your home.
Why is the internet that is available so low in quality?
The town of Green Bank is located in Pocahontas County, which is roughly the size of Rhode Island, and has one of the lowest populations in relations to its size, in the country. The region is extremely rural and mountainous. Historically, there has only been one Internet Service Provider (ISP) for this area. Internet is provided to homes, schools, and businesses using legacy copper phone lines. A lack of maintenance on these lines, and no updates or modernization of equipment, means that the internet in this region falls well below standards of service designated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC.) All of these challenges have made it difficult to attract new ISPs to improve service.
Hear the latest news on this story in an interview with West Virginia Public Broadcasting.
Why is no one doing anything to improve this? Is the Observatory making it worse?
Internet access is fundamental to the work of the Green Bank Observatory, and our staff work closely with area schools, libraries, businesses, and local government to advocate for improved internet for the region. Through its advocacy, the Observatory has helped two additional ISPs provide service within the County. The Observatory has supported applications for funding to improve infrastructure and provide more incentives to attract other new ISPs. The best service solution for our area is the “fiber to the home” (FTTH) project that would provide affordable, wired broadband service. Pocahontas County has applied for funds through the USDA and the ReConnect Grant program.
Advocates compare the importance and necessity of this project to the electrification of rural America, subsidized by the government in the 1930s. The Observatory is a fully committed partner in improving internet access in our region – not a barrier that limits it.
If you have internet, why is it called the Quiet Zone?
The Quiet Zone actually refers to two special places created by state and federal legislation where electronic frequencies and transmissions are limited to allow scientific research to take place.
The West Virginia Radio Astronomy Zone (WVRAZ) was created by the WV Legislature in 1956.
The National Radio Quiet Zone (NRQZ) created by the FCC and NTIA around the same time.
The WVRAZ limits electrical emissions above a certain threshold to a 10-mile radius surrounding the Observatory. This area, being closest to sensitive scientific instruments, has the most restrictions. Wi-Fi, cellular signal, microwaves, and Bluetooth can all interfere with scientific research. Internet is fully accessible through Ethernet cables to desktops and laptops, and people use adapters to connect their mobile phones, tablets, and other personal electronic devices.
The NRQZ covers approximately 13,000 square miles, roughly from the border of Maryland, across West Virginia, into Virginia. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth is usable in these areas, and cellular service is available in many places, but is often hard to find in mountainous and rural areas, due to a lack of service providers.
The Quiet Zones are covered in more technical detail here.