Rural Internet Options Still Fairly Limited

DSL and cable are usually not available

If you live in even a small city you likely have plenty of options for connecting to the Internet. But if you live in a rural area, your choices can be extremely limited. Not only that, each of the choices has its drawbacks.

As a basic option, there is dial-up service. Your computer connects to the Internet through a built-in modem and a telephone line. The connection speed is extremely slow, meaning all but the simplest web pages will take forever to load.

And good luck finding simple web pages. These days the Internet is designed for broadband access, with most pages containing large amounts of data. Forget about playing rich media like video.

The choices

So if you've decided you need a broadband connection, your choices are limited to satellite, mobile broadband through your cellphone provider, or a local wireless network, if one exists in your area.

Very few homes in rural areas have cable TV access because few cable providers find it profitable to go to the expense to install digital-capable cable to serve them. At the same time some telephone companies serving rural counties do not have digital equipment in these locations that can provide DSL service. At some point they may upgrade their equipment but they won't until they deem it to be profitable. And who knows when that might be.

Satellite Internet service is provided by HughesNet, WildBlue, StarBand and SkyWay. One of the biggest problems with satellite Internet service is latency. Latency is the delay between requesting data and the receipt of a response. This is no one's fault, it's simply physics. It takes time for the signal to travel from your computer to the satellite, which is way out there in space. Even when actual data download speeds are fast, the latency issue makes satellite Internet feel very sluggish. 

Variable speeds

But latency isn't the only drawback to satellite services. 

“We were thinking if we paid $70 a month, we should be able to use all we want; that is not the way it works with HughesNet,” Susan, of Luthersville, Ga., wrote in a ConsumeAffairs post. “I would like to get a smart TV, but I don't have Internet service smart enough to let me use it. I could never use streaming Netflix with HughesNet. Netflix is cheap enough, but HughesNet would cost me a fortune.”

Gertrude, of Newport, Tenn., is a WildBlue customer who says the service isn't fast enough to play a game.

“Also they said that you have to monitor your usage or they will slow down your Internet,” Gertrude wrote. “I am a student and I need to download some large files for school. But when I called them today, they told me that I was not able to download them because I have used the Internet too much.”

Government subsidies

As part of the federal government's stimulus program, millions of dollars were allocated to subsidize development of rural broadband services. But much of the money was spent for satellite services, not for building out wired services.

For rural consumers who have good reception to a cellphone tower, mobile broadband can provide an alternative. The service is basically the same that consumers use to access the Internet with their smartphones. While 3G speed is about the same as the very lowest DSL speeds, 4G speed, which will eventually cover rural areas, is much faster.

But consumers using mobile broadband for everyday Internet access must carefully monitor their usage. No carrier offers unlimited data service. They are all measured, meaning consumers must stay within their usage plan each month or pay an overage fee.

Story provided by ConsumerAffairs.
Consumer Affairs

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