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West Virginia town bans cells, Wi-Fi: Highly enforced with a knock on your door

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There is actually a town where cell phones and wireless Internet are outlawed and in this day and age, it is becoming a monumental task to enforce this. The town is Green Bank, West Virginia and the 150 residents who call this place home are forced to live without these modern technologies. While many would consider a huge inconvenience, that’s not the case for these folks, according to MSN News on Sept 2.

Along with Green Bank’s 150 residents, the world’s largest radio telescope also calls the town home, the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope. It is because of this radio telescope that the town is force to live technology stunted like it’s still in the 1960s.

According to the National Journal, this radio telescope can see into the universe using sound waves and its scope covers a much greater distance than the typical telescope that relies on sight. The telescope picks up the faintest of radio signals and charts the heavens with this sound.

Cell phones and wireless Internet interferes with the radio frequencies, so in order for this radio telescope to work properly the cell phones and wireless Internet needs to be banned within a 10-mile radius of the telescope. Even a microwave oven can disrupt the radio telescope.

The 100-meters-in-diameter dish is owned by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory and it measures radio waves that are emitted from objects in space, but it needs complete radio silence and there’s not many places left on earth that can offer that.

This radio telescope and National Radio Quiet Zone is all part of the 1958 decision made by Congress to erect this structure. To police this was easy at first, but today it is tasking to the man who job its been for years to hop in his truck and track down any radio interference detected in the town.

A ring of mountains around Green Bank offers a natural barrier from the unwanted radio waves coming from the outside world, but within Green Bank, it is Mike Holstine who keeps this ban in check as general manger of the NRAO.

Years ago, if a radio wave was interrupting the radio telescope, he would hop in his truck to track it down and knock on the door of the house it was coming from. He would simply explain the problem and fix it. A few decades ago, that problem might be an appliance giving off that sound.

Today anything from a remote controller to a microwave can play havoc with the telescope, so Holstine’s days are full and he now has a crew to help track down the interference. They have a truck equipped with antennas to find the source of the unwanted radio waves. When interference is detected, they take off in their truck, which acts like a locator, and they track down the origin. Then they knock on your door and ask you to turn it off or fix the problem.

The people who live in this town have been great about not using cell phones or other electronics that would interfere. When a visitor comes to town, that's a different story. Once they find out they can’t use their cell phone or their kids’ can’t use Netflix, some angst is created.

There’s even a small ski area in town that has to stay radio-free. Who wants to be the person greeting the customers telling them “no cell phones?” That has to be met with unpleasant gestures from outsiders who have become very attached to their wireless communication.

While nothing has been said about the property value in this town, who would buy a house where you can’t have any of the modern day communication systems in your home, such as a cell phone or wireless internet? This has to discourage new residents from coming into Green Bank.

“Policing the interference requires constant vigilance, cooperation and creativity,” says Holstine. The airwaves activity is monitored 24-hours a day, seven-days a week and 365-days a year.

Would you, or better yet could you, live in Green Bank with these bans?

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