PHOTO: Radio tower

Two years ago, a small group of rural Pennsylvanians, fed up with waiting for the government and the telecommunications industry to provide them access to broadband, decided to take matters into their own hands.

No, they didn’t organize a lobbying effort, march in the streets, initiate an email campaign to their state legislators and members of Congress, or recruit candidates pledging to do what their elected officials had failed to deliver. They didn’t march on their state capital or Washington, D.C. to complain that their off-the-beaten-path community was being treated unfairly, or any other form of social activism, for that matter.

Instead, they got together and decided that if nobody was going to provide them with broadband, they’d do it themselves. After Comcast estimated that it would cost $80,000 to lay just six miles of cable that would serve only a few households in the area, the residents of Huntingdon County in central Pennsylvania near Altoona decided to erect their own facility on nearby Stone Mountain.

A group consisting of former military engineers, telecom managers, crane operators, carpenters, welders and business owners formed the all-volunteer Rural Broadband Cooperative, which is currently delivering high-speed internet to their sparsely populated section of Pennsylvania.

The setup—which cost $50,000 and can potentially serve up to 1,000 customers—consists of a 120-foot radio tower, solar panels and a small equipment shed creating a fixed wireless broadband connection that uses radio signals to connect to customers’ homes. They pay about $75 a month for internet speeds approaching those provided by the big telecommunications companies.

At this point, residents who sign up for the service must have a direct line of sight to the radio tower, but RBC says it is already planning on erecting more towers to serve a larger area.

“The Rural Broadband Cooperative was founded on the principle of neighbors helping neighbors to provide low-cost, high-speed internet service to our community. Without employees or government assistance, we raised funds and volunteered our time to make our internet service a reality.”

Volunteer Tom Bracken said that getting their DIY broadband system up and running was a team effort, but one that has definitely paid off. “I mean, it wasn’t easy for us to get it done, but it certainly wasn’t a multimillion dollar effort.”

And RBC members say that if they could do it, so could other rural communities in the country that are still lacking high-speed internet connections too.

The (Fredericksburg) Free Lance-Star

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