No need for Wi-Fi: Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
The barely populated Green Bank, West Virginia, is known as the quietest town in America due to the fact that both cell service and Wi-Fi are banned out of concern over interference with the Green Bank Observatory.
Despite internet access functionally being a crime, town children have managed to excel in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and local tech competitions — and breach digital walls attempting to prevent them from going online.
“The first time I walked into Green Bank Elementary-Middle School in West Virginia in May 2017, a student was in trouble for creating a hotspot using a teacher’s computer,” Stephen Kurczy writes in a Slate-adapted excerpt from his new book “The Quiet Zone: Unraveling the Mystery of a Town Suspended in Silence.”
“Beyond the fact that the 13-year-old had hacked into the network, he was potentially also breaking state law by broadcasting an unapproved radio signal so close to the Green Bank Observatory, whose giant radio telescopes loomed behind the playground like silent sentinels,” Kurczy goes on, adding that the teen and his girlfriend had found numerous ways to flout local rules and access Wi-Fi. “I got the impression it wasn’t the student’s first offense. He readily confessed to knowing how to create a hotspot using school computers as well as how to sneak around the administration’s web filters to access social media.”
Indeed, the $100 million Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope requires radio silence from the community in order to operate ideally, many locals have hotspots. (Notably, the Wi-Fi-ban extends only within a 10-mile radius of Green Bank. Many surrounding towns have limited and slow internet access due to bad service.)
And despite legal and physical limitations, the town students are proving preternaturally capable in the fields of digital tech.
“They won the statewide app competition, even though there’s no cell service here,” Kurczy told Insider of a local STEM club’s victory in a statewide competition for a weather-warning app proposal. “In [the mind of the club’s most lauded member], the lack of cellphone service, the restrictions on technology, they weren’t holding him back at all.”