SPECIAL REPORT (WENY)-- At home or at school, internet access can be the difference between success or failure. In some homes in the Southern Tier, access is a daily struggle. Think about how much we use the internet every day to complete our daily tasks. For some, it's for pleasure. Others, for business. We all want the same thing though: high speed internet. Unfortunately for some residents in the Southern Tier, including a Horseheads High School Senior trying to graduate in the top of her class, that's just not the case.
Riley Burns is a senior at Horseheads High School. On top of being involved in several different school organizations, she works hard to earn her spot in the top ten percent of her class. There's just one problem.
"It's consistently impossible to do any homework at home," Burns explains. Riley lives in Lowman, where the internet speed is painfully slow for her and her family. A good 75% of her homework is online, and the other 25% could be done easier with internet resources. Most of the time, Riley has to go to a public place to complete her homework. "I've gone to Dunkin Donuts before, the one near the high school, and then most of the time I go to Barnes and Noble, but they're only open until 9," says Burns.
Some days, Riley can't even start her homework until 9:00PM. On top of classes, she is involved with the school band, orchestra, and theater program. The last thing she wants to worry about is if she'll be able to do her homework in the comfort of her own house. "It's something that most people don't have in the back of their mind, that 'can I do my school work tonight, where do I have to go to do my school work tonight, can I go home," Burns says.
At Barnes and Noble, it's clearly easier to get her homework done. "I don't have to wait around waiting for documents for documents to load or my email to open up. Everything just works so much more efficiently," explains Burns. ""For those who don't have access, it's frustrating, it's a huge inconvenience, and it;'s incredibly stressful. No student who already has a lot on their plate should have to deal with something like that," she adds.
The lack of broadband access also has an impact on Riley's sleep schedule. "I'm lucky to get 5-6 hours of sleep per night because my internet is never fast enough to support the work I need to do," Burns explains.
Riley has to do a lot of things from public spaces most students can do from the comfort of their own home, including applying for college. "It was rigorous, that's for sure. It was lots of writing, lots of filling out forms, and I really couldn't do any of it from home. My entire common application was done in my mom's office," Burns says.
Dan Delorme is a physics and astronomy teacher at Horseheads High School. He says slow broadband in the home of some of his students is a problem as well. "I've had kids who will tell me flat out listen, I can't do online assignments, I don't have the internet, or not any meaningful form of the internet," Delorme says. He also feels the broadband problem in parts of the Southern Tier could affect the outcome of students high school careers. "I think it's a big disadvantage because these kids are not able to practice the way they're tested// How many kids never made it to that top tier because they didn't have the advantage of broadband internet access," Delorme explains.
The slow broadband problem is an issue for Delorme as well, as he lives in an area where access is limited. "It definitely affects me in the sense that I don't always get things updated as quickly as I want. Grades, I can't really enter grades at home," says Delorme.
It's even affecting local business owners. Lynn Williams, who's Riley's mom, owns Williams Capital Corporation in Elmira. She provides financial and tax planning services at the company. When the family moved to Lowman, she figured she would be able to work from home like she had when they lived in Elmira. But that's not the case. "If something has to be done, then I'd better get it done before I leave the office for the day because if I come up here, I'll be very limited to what I can do," Williams says. "It just makes it harder. I mean you can overcome it, but most people don't have to, and I never used to have to so I guess I appreciate it more now that I'm out here and it's more of a challenge," she adds.
So what can be done to combat the slow broadband option? Chemung County officials are working with ECC Technologies, a technology and communications consulting company. They're currently conducting the Broadband Aggregation and Adaption Tool, or BAAT, campaign. Meredith Carroll, the Marketing Coordinator at ECC Technologies, says there's two purposes of the study. "The first is to aggregate the data of who has access to broadband, and who doesnt. The second prong of it is adoption, finding out the people that don't have it, why don't they have it," Carroll explains.
The study can be accessed online at https://chemung.baat-campaign.com/. If you can't access the internet, there are also hard copy surveys available in libraries, town halls, and schools. Officials are looking for people all over Chemung County to participate in the study. "We do need people to go on, we want to hear from everybody county-wide, and we especially want to hear from people who are struggling with access to broadband services who have to go to the library, who has to go to a coffee shop that has WiFi.," Carroll says. " Don't just think that because you have access to broadband that we don't need to hear from you, we really, really do," she adds.
After the study closes on April 7th, the county gets the results. With that info, they can pursue options on trying to get broadband access to those who need it. "They need to know where the people are that need it, so that they can then determine what's the best course of action in order to get to them," says Carroll. The BAAT Campaign has been done in other counties before. There's been some changes, depending on the county who has done the study. Some didn't do anything, some changed their mind about an ongoing plan, and one is providing WiFi service to a region of homes that need it. "I know that Chemung County is really eager to solve this problem so that's why we want people to go to the survey so they can figure out what the best way to solve this problem is," Carroll says.
Riley hopes people participate in the study, so there will be a difference for students and other affected residents in the years to come. "It's important because they need to know that there are people that don't have any internet access that's effective, and that there's not just a few of us, there's a lot of people," Burns says.
Last month, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced 341 million dollars in funding to ensure high speed internet access across the state.
You can submit results for the Chemung County BAAT Campaign until April 7th by clicking on the above link.