In this US town, using Wi-Fi is illegal. Here's whyLast updated on Oct 31, 2019, 12:01 pm
As the demands to have Wi-Fi enabled across public places grow louder, it becomes increasingly harder to imagine places without access to wireless internet.
In the United States, around 80% of homes have Wi-Fi. Yet, in a small town in West Virginia, using Wi-Fi, and in fact, any radio frequency emitting devices, is illegal.
Why? So we can look for aliens!
Green Bank houses world's largest steerable radio telescope
Green Bank is a quiet town in West Virginia, that's because it's required to be.
The town is home to the Green Bank Observatory (GBO), a facility dedicated to radio astronomy.
Armed with the world's largest steerable radio telescope- the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank (GBT)- the GBO has made several groundbreaking discoveries including black holes, pulsars, and the biggest neutron star ever detected.
Observatory also researches extraterrestrial intelligence
The GBO also conducts research for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI). Earlier this year, the Breakthrough Listen project made public one million gigabytes of SETI data collected over three years from GBT and the Parkes Radio Telescope in Australia.
Radio telescopes observing space also need radio silence on Earth
However, to be able to do all of this, the facility needs radio silence. Literally.
In fact, in the 1950s, when the US planned to set up its first national astronomy observatory, it looked for a remote location, away from any radio frequency interference (RFI).
The location also needed to have constant weather conditions and the ability to sustain large radio telescopes.
Laws were imposed restricting radio interference in Green Bank
Green Bank fit the bill and the GTO was established in 1958.
To limit RFI, the Federal Communications Commission in 1958 established the National Radio Quiet Zone (NRQZ) spanning 13,000 square miles across West Virginia and Virginia, Popular Mechanics reported.
West Virginia's Radio Astronomy Zoning Act of 1956 also made it illegal to operate electrical equipment within two miles of any radio facility.
But today, even refrigerators, baby monitors cause interference
However, decades have passed and RFIs are now inescapable.
GBO engineer Chuck Niday, whose job includes sniffing out any devices causing RFIs across town, told Popular Mechanics that he once encountered a dehumidifier with smartphone compatibility leading to interference.
Niday said many devices today, such as refrigerators, baby monitors, HP printers, cause unintentional RFIs. Hence, the ban.
However, townsfolk have increasingly (secretly) installed Wi-Fis.
Wi-Fi has started entering Green Bank's households
Around 1.5 miles away from the GBO facility where gas-powered cars aren't allowed lest their electrically-sparking engines cause interference, Popular Mechanics' correspondent found a convenience store whose owner had installed Wi-Fi.
At the Green Bank Elementary-Middle School, too, many students reportedly used Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and other RFI-emitting electronics at home.
What about the laws, you ask? Reportedly, no one has ever evoked them.
So, what's the solution for this?
Due to this growing disregard for GBO's research and the inevitability of RFI-emitting devices, the observatory is developing "RFI excision techniques," to remove real-time interference from data or separate human-made signals from cosmic data after collection.
This obviously means that their work is only going to get harder, but in a smart device-filled world, you can't exactly ask people to turn off their electricity.