No Wi-Fi, No Internet, No Problem
March 28, 2017
Broadband access in the United States is not universal, with a longtime
digital divide between urban and rural areas.
But in one small town just four hours from Washington, D.C., there's no
internet service at all.
The town of Green Bank, West Virginia, is the site of the largest fully
steerable radio telescope in the world, so internet connections and
anything else that can create electromagnetic waves, such as microwave
ovens, are banned.
It becomes apparent in Green Bank that visitors have to navigate the
old-fashioned way: by reading road signs. That's because GPS comes to a
screeching halt as you approach this West Virginia town, which has two
churches, an elementary school, a library and the world's largest radio
Sherry, who manages the largest store in Green Bank, was born here so
the lack of internet access is normal for her.
"Yes, we are different. Many would say that we live the old-fashioned
way, in the past. But for us, it's just the way of life that we have
always lived," Sherry said.
On her store wall, an artifact from the past ... a phone attached to a
wall jack ... the only way to call someone in Green Bank.
No modern wireless conveniences, such as smartphones, are usable here.
Green Bank is frozen in time, somewhere in the 1950s, because there's a
33,000-square-kilometer zone of silence due to the telescope. Cellphone
towers are forbidden.
But that's OK for residents because there are several payphones.
The closer you get to the telescope, the greater the restrictions.
There's a 16-kilometer radius around the observatory where
radio-controlled items, even toys, cannot be used. Compliance with these
conditions is strictly enforced.
Jonah Bauserman acts as a "technical" policeman. If he suspects there's
an unauthorized signal, he drives to the house and inspects it for
"This equipment allows me to catch even the weakest signals that could
affect the telescope," Bauserman said.
Telescope employees even work in a special room -- much like a
sarcophagus -- that blocks electromagnetic waves from leaving the
"Here imagine a submarine, water cannot get inside, and so this room is
an electric submarine. No electromagnetic waves can get into this room,
just as you can't go beyond it," Michael Holstein, an observatory
The job of these scientists is to minimize the impact of outside
interference on the radio telescope.
Only once a week, when there's regularly scheduled maintenance, some
prohibited devices are allowed near the telescope, Holstein said.
The size of a football field, the telescope is so sensitive it could
pick up signals sent from an alien world. And scientists can't wait for
that to happen.
"All the signals that we now receive with the help of telescopes are
signals that come from cosmic objects -- stars, galaxies. We have not
yet received anything from intelligent civilizations," scientist Richard
people respect the work of the scientists. And they are more than happy
to live life Wi-Fi free.
"When we want to meet friends, we just call each other on a wire phone.
//// And instead of sitting in front of your screen, we talk, we go
fishing, to the mountains," resident Sherry said.
For the latest news, residents read the weekly local newspaper. When
she's looking for a phone number, Sherry reaches for the phone book.
And instead of Facebook, Sherry enjoys daily conversations with her
customers. In this town, everyone knows each other and communication is
face to face.