Rural internet options

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 02, 2005

There's a possibility that I'm going to be spending some time in a rural area with no DSL or cable over the next few months and I need high speed internet access to work on kottke.org while I'm there. I've investigated various options, but there are so many pros, cons, and unknown factors to weigh that it's hard make a choice. Here's the list:

Does anyone have any personal experience with any of this? Any recommendations or helpful pointers? Satellite internet seems like the best option, but looking around at the available services, it seems expensive and just generally like the service they offer is kind of "my way or the highway" and generally makes me uneasy and unclean. Many thanks in advance for anything you can offer.

Reader comments

Brian SugarJun 02, 2005 at 8:26PM

How many feet are you from CO? I have seen our DSL modem go 22,000 feet.

joshuaJun 02, 2005 at 8:26PM

ISDN. Also, many wireless providers have decent wireless broadband.

a superhero by nightJun 02, 2005 at 8:31PM

I have DirecWay up in the mountains of Colorado and it's okay. Upload speeds are terrible and sometimes there is a problem connecting to sites, even when the weather is fine. I don't think I'd recommend it unless you've got no choices left. It's almost as slow as dial up at times (although once you start downloading something, speeds are faster than dial-up).

FinJun 02, 2005 at 8:36PM

I got by fine with dialup for many a year. There's no real inexpensive alternative.

What I want to know is... why (are you doing this)? You're not trying to find you inner male or anything, are you?

cam thomasJun 02, 2005 at 8:47PM

verizon provides broadband thru a cell signal for around $80/month.

jkottkeJun 02, 2005 at 8:50PM

Verizon's service looks like it's only available in select areas and probably won't work with a Mac.

yosefJun 02, 2005 at 8:55PM

just hang out at the local library, let them foot the bill

Anthony YeungJun 02, 2005 at 8:57PM

When all else fails, use dial-up, otherwise, Im opinion GroundControl the most plausible, as people I know have used it, and it seems to give out a good rep.

Mike BJun 02, 2005 at 9:05PM

It looks like you can get drivers for Verizon's PCMCIA cards to be used on Mac laptops w/ PCMCIA slots:

Dominic DamianJun 02, 2005 at 9:06PM

Verizon's service does work with a Mac, although the speeds are not high speed in many areas. I toured with a band over the last year and it worked great on my Powerbook. Only a few, VERY rural areas did not get service, but most of the places were on their 1xRTT (slower) network, major cities, such as NY work on the EVDO network, which is much faster. It's easy to use and convinient, once it's setup.

Matt JJun 02, 2005 at 9:06PM

That's a sticky wicket. Ok, here's what you do: Get a stable of small white mice. Equip them with tiny collars from which dangle St. Bernard-style miniature barrels. Carefully train these mice to run to Area 51 (where the Internet lives). Now, when you are online, take the packets that come out of the back of your computer and carefully but quickly pack them into the barrels and release the mice - shouting your command firmly and resolutely, "SEND!" If you are fast enough, the data rates you can get with this technique will be comprable to the average suburban broadband connection.

RonanJun 02, 2005 at 9:07PM

j, i have put in T-1 lines for disaster planning and the phone companies make you wiat a ridiculously long time. if there is one existing in the area by chance you might be able to share some of the bandwidth. two of my friends are travelling a lot for business and use verizons broadband wireless service which they rave about and they have no connectivity issues even in WVA, which is about as rural as it gets.

sicroJun 02, 2005 at 9:10PM

I can't really comment on the situation in the US, but in Europe one solution would be to use a mobile/cell modem over GPRS or UMTS either through your mobile/cell phone or a special PCMCIA card.
Mobile/cell providers now have reasonable offers for data transfer as they are trying to push more content onto phones.
UMTS would be ideal with 348 kb/s but even GPRS is faster than ISDN or dial-up.
If you'd choose your rural retreat on the Isle of Man in the Irish sea, you'd even get internet access through UMTS for free.

DoriJun 02, 2005 at 9:29PM

Another vote here for ISDN. We had it for almost two years while being told that DSL was coming "almost any day now!"

Hanging out at the local Starbucks works, too, and is a lot less expensive than ISDN.

Kyle RJun 02, 2005 at 9:35PM

Back in the day ISDN was the way to go. I think it may still be the way to go considering your other options.

DirecTV works great, but not DirecWay. DirecWay was TERRIBLE for us. We got stuck in a contract and the speeds were worse than dial-up (strange but true!). All it took was a light breeze or the faintest hint of rain to knock out service. It definitely would not be good for multi-tab, multi-tasked browsing.

Kyle AJun 02, 2005 at 9:54PM

Depending on where your going, you might look around for a Wireless ISP, aka the ever so catchy, WISP. There are a few small ones in various areas that maybe don't get the publicity of the big companies. Our office is 15 miles outside of the nearest small town and our provider is the best (and easiest going) I've ever had.

Depending on the technology and terrain, they can get up to like 30 mile range. Usually have to buy the equipment, but the rate is compareable to DSL/Cable.

DurfJun 02, 2005 at 9:57PM

Make it a rural area in Japan or Korea.

JoanJun 02, 2005 at 10:09PM

Almost a year with Ground Control and I have no complaints. Definitely not earth-shattering speed, but way better than dialup. I know NO ONE who has been happy with Direc. (Or even kept it after they went to the trouble of installing it.)

I've gotten one warning for bandwidth use, but that was during a month with a lot of vacationing PowerBookers hanging out here.

We're less than a mile from the end of the DSL line. Frustrating.

The dish is LARGE.

JoeyJun 02, 2005 at 10:15PM

I've used Verizon's service a number of times, and it works quite well. As Dominic said, their 1xRTT (NationalAccess) service is available in even many rural areas. It bursts to 144K, but I found it averaged about 70K. Not broadband, but faster than dial-up and definitely usable.

Unlimited data on 1xRTT is like $45-60/mo. iirc, though I got something on my plan called "auto-provisioning" where it just deducts from my minutes, meaning unlimited at night and on weekends.

rajJun 02, 2005 at 10:31PM

Verizon's service is ok, but $80 is expensive. You can get the exact same thing by getting unlimited data on Sprint PCS, and then paying the extra $5/mo to enable unlimited roaming on verizon's network. Only $20/month, and works with a mac!

BucciJun 02, 2005 at 10:47PM

ADSL 2.0 has good reach. So, it depends on what the local phone company/ISP has to offer.

danJun 02, 2005 at 10:48PM

How about morse code?... I guess you saw/heard about the thing on Leno's show.

Sean DevineJun 02, 2005 at 10:49PM

I have a Verizon unlimited data plan for my Audiovox 6600 PDA phone. I use it as a wireless modem for my laptop almost every day. It works great - fast enough for most uses and *only* $45 per month. That's not bad considering the portability and dual purpose (PDA email).

jkottkeJun 02, 2005 at 11:03PM

Thanks for the info on the Verizon service...that definitely seems like an option to consider.

Also, for my reference, wireless through the trees. And this one too.

PaulJun 02, 2005 at 11:09PM

"Dial-up is not an option..." Really? I use high-speed at work (provided) and dial-up at home. Please justify your contention that it's so slow you could not maintain your site using it.

Greg DeMaderiosJun 02, 2005 at 11:24PM

Don't laugh. You might look into microwave. There is a small company here in Oregon that offers microwave in a rural area, so long as you can see this one particular mountain (where the transceiver is). If I can shake up the information, I'll post it here

Greg DeMaderiosJun 02, 2005 at 11:29PM

It's called Point to Point Microwave and it looks like throughput can be very good! There is also Trango NLOS service which uses the 900 mHz range. If you need specific URLS of the places in Oregon to read more about it, email me.

LauraJun 02, 2005 at 11:33PM

I live in a rural area with no cable or broadband (7 miles from the CO, not even ISDN, no chance) and for the last bunch of years we've used dual 56K modems. The two modems are ganged so they behave like a single connection. Linux supports it. You can run both modems at once or have one come on when its needed (if, say, you pay connect or phone charges). This works pretty well for basic browsing and email, but downloads of anything over a couple meg are still painful. For that I pack up the laptop and drive down to the local cafe and leech off of their wifi. :)

Just today, however (coincidentally), we got high speed ethernet installed from a local fixed wireless ISP. The slowest and cheapest connection is 750K both ways and $100 a month. Which is of course not cheap cheap, but when you've been tolerating 100K for years, that's cheap. Perhaps in the rural area where you are staying there is a similar ISP. They might be tough to dig up, though -- we live outside silicon valley, we were actively looking and we only stumbled on these guys because they were casually mentioned in Wired Magazine. Sheesh. (they are Etheric networks, BTW.)

LauraJun 02, 2005 at 11:37PM

How did all that space get there? Ack.

I know some people up here in the mountains who do microwave. It works well but the line of sight needs to be very very clear and not all that far away. Fixed wireless can be more mushy. (as I understand it, I am mostly talking out my ear here.)

John MJun 02, 2005 at 11:39PM

How about chaining together multiple dialup lines? It wouldn't get your speed up as quickly as some other options, but could be a last resort. I have a friend who lived in a very rural area and had similar constraints. He found some windows software that can chain together two or more dialup accounts (an an equal number of modems, phone lines...) and aggregated the bandwidth. I don't recall whether this works with all ISPs - he was using earthlink if I recall.

Jordon CooperJun 02, 2005 at 11:40PM

The other option is a socialist government. In Saskatchewan Canada, there are towns as small of 250 people that have ADSL. In the town I work in of 1000 people, they had ADSL before friends of mine could get it in Pasedena, CA.

Of course the tradeoff to medicare and ADSL is horrible economic performance...

ConkJun 02, 2005 at 11:46PM

I use my Motorola V265 (Verizon) as a wireless modem from time-to-time. It works pretty well, and I find that if I disable all non-essential applications that suck internet bandwidth, and also disable image loading in my browser (possible in Safari 2.0, as well as Mozilla and Firefox) then browsing the net and working online becomes bearable.

This article http://homepage.mac.com/jrc/contrib/mobile_office/ on using Verizon phones as wireless modems in OS X got me going. I believe that it is possible to use the Verizon pcmcia national broadband access card in OS X as well.

Friend of Sudbury Valley SchoolJun 02, 2005 at 11:46PM

accelerated dialup works well if you get decent modem speeds in the first place. like from gis.net. noticably faster. but some are Windows only. I keep wanting to try a dual-modem setup. There are also 1-way satellite systems to cut the latency.

Phil BoardmanJun 02, 2005 at 11:48PM

Hope it's not a stupid idea, but multiple dial-up lines?

MattJun 03, 2005 at 12:02AM

I know some folks that live in a fairly rural place that got a T1 line all their own. I believe it ran them about $800/mo, and cost a couple grand to wire up to the house.

Greg HinesJun 03, 2005 at 12:22AM

Disclaimer: I work for a WISP, but unless you're going to a specific area of Colorado, I probably can't sell you anything.

As Kyle A mentioned, look into local WISPs. There aren't many big guys doing this anymore, so you'll probably only find a small company to provide you service. Go to WISPDirectory.com to find one where you're going.

Prices are often competitive with DSL. Installation ranges anywhere from $50 to $500. Most WISPs in my area don't make you buy the equipment but you're still paying for a good portion of it with that installation fee (and the WISP still owns the equipment). With smaller companies you can usually get this price down if you use the "Well, I'd sign up but that installation fee is just too expensive..." line. They'd rather have the recurring income than that extra $50 upfront.

If line-of-sight is an issue, you'll probably want to look for a provider using 900MHz equipment. It'll cut through almost any trees in the way but its range is limited to a little over a mile. Most WISPs use 2.4GHz equipment, which gives you better range and speeds but is less adept at penetrating objects like trees and buildings.

Any good WISP will drive-test the location to see whether they can provide you with service. Even if you're a hundred feet from their hub, they should still drive-test. You're putting your installation fee on the line if you let them install without testing. Plus there's that hole-in-the-side-of-the-house thing.

Wireless co-opts are another option. These really aren't any different than a WISP, except in terms of scale. They typically use off-the-shelf equipment and service maybe 20 people with a T1 line. Range is usually quite limited.

And maybe, depending on the need and interest in the area (and you can't find an alternative), you may want to start up your own wireless co-opt in the area. Check out the Linksys WRT54G and look at some custom firmware (Linksys releases the firmware under an open-source license, and third-parties modify it).

ScottJun 03, 2005 at 12:54AM

Um, I'm just curious as to where you're going and why. As a faithful reader, I've listened to you wax poetic about soup dumplings and the Gates and I'm wondering what's leading you away from the City.

Cory DoctorowJun 03, 2005 at 1:53AM

Get a $600 T1 and a honking huge WiFi setup for the roof and share your connection with your neighbors, asking them to foot part of the bill

KateJun 03, 2005 at 2:42AM

How "rural" are you going? I live on the side of a mountain in North Carolina and even I can get Roadrunner (Cable)...

Neil T.Jun 03, 2005 at 4:21AM

Onspeed may make dial-up more bearable if that's the only option. It works a bit like the Google Web Accelerator but apparently doesn't have the same problems that GWA had. $45/year.

MikeJun 03, 2005 at 5:24AM

It sounds exciting,
escaping from the city
we are so jealous.

As a fan of your site I would love to know more about your proposed move.
Why? where? when?
Will the content change reflecting your new location?

Can't really offer you any sensible technical advice except read Thoreau's Walden!

Mike.....from the edge of my city.

jonJun 03, 2005 at 6:20AM

idsl? about the same speed as isdn, but, i think, a little cheaper.

nexJun 03, 2005 at 7:16AM

whatever you do, you'll have to get used to the fact that in terms of fast internet connections, the US still are a developing country and if you want one, especially in the middle of nowhere, you're an early adopter and have to pay early-adopter prices. OTOH your rent would be lower than in NYC, so if you have to pay USD 100/month for your 'net access ... so what? just don't make the mistake to assume high latencies won't annoy the heck out of you just because you don't play quake. for asynchronous applications like up-/downloading files, e-mail, even streaming media, they really don't matter, it's all about the throughput. but with something as simple as just surfing the web (not to speak of skype and web-based apps like gmail) it's different: imagine the bare HTML takes ten times as long (satellite) to start arriving, and only then the requests for for embedded images etc. start to go out and you pay the latency penalty once again. if you want to click through a hundred links people sent you for your site, this will make you freak out. however you could automate the task of opening all the links at once in separate tabs, wait the minute it takes the pages to load, and then look through them really quickly.

DaveJun 03, 2005 at 8:07AM

Depends how rural you mean, different locations can get different options.. not all rural options work globally..

RonnJun 03, 2005 at 8:43AM

Cringely has talked a lot about how he has gotten broadband at his home where no broadband is avaiable.

Check this for a way to share DSL or Cable with a neighbor that does have access:

And if you think line of sight is a problem look at this:

And for an alternative way to get DSL:

Let us know how it works out.

LauraJun 03, 2005 at 9:18AM

$600 T1? $800 T1? Man, I so wish. We priced fractional T1 at our house a few months back and it was $1200 a month for the line alone (the cost is based on distance). That was just telecom, it was another couple hundred bucks for the fractional bandwidth from the ISP. T1, alas is just not price competitive at all.

JimJun 03, 2005 at 9:27AM

I'd get dialup regardless of what else you get. It works, it's proven, it's cheap and is fine for mail, AIM, etc and it'll work when there is a solar flare that fries all the satellites :)

Then I'd probably look at ISDN - again - it's been around forever.

timJun 03, 2005 at 9:42AM

Interesting posts all. I'm looking to solve a similar situation for a friend that will be far down a coastal peninsula in rural Maine. No DSL, no cable, no WISP, no ISDN, not even a digital wireless phone signal. Even though dial-up is slow, he's mostly going to be using the connection for email so it would be usable. Unfortunately most of the local ISP's are outrageously priced if you only want the connection, and not the 5 email addresses 100mb of storage, etc. Has anyone tried NetZero? The price is right if all you need is an occassional connection.

Nancy ScolaJun 03, 2005 at 9:50AM

A story -- I was recently talking to an acquaintance about his upcoming vacation in South Carolina. After several minutes discussing where exactly he was going, where he was staying and all that, I asked what his plans were for his time down there. He said, "a little of this, a little of that, getting married." Jason, you're now that guy. Tell us where you're going.

mclaughJun 03, 2005 at 9:52AM

if you are going to this "secret place" in New England somewhere, I may be able to help. I am an Engineer for Verizon- let me know where you are going- I can put you in touch w/ an Engineer there that can tell you exactly how far you are from the CO, if there is a remote nearby that's closer and serves you, things like that.
Otherwise, I've heard from people I know that travel to more rural places, and they like the Vz wireless- some say that while Sprint theoretically uses our towers as part of the agreement, some of their phones don't handle it so well? That could be user error, I don't know.

ImajilonJun 03, 2005 at 9:53AM

Know any ham radio people? They might have repeaters in the area that have some kind of internet access. http://www.arrl.org as a place to start.

WayanJun 03, 2005 at 10:00AM

I vote for the Satellite/DSL/Cable Internet co-op (mini-WISP) approach.

Interestingly enough, it is what we at Geekcorps did in Mali, West Africa to make Internet affordable to community radio stations & cybercafes.

First find yourself an ISP. This can be a local neighbor with DSL or Cable or satellite (i-linx.net has a few good options) and then install a point-to-point WiFi antenna system from the ISP to you & your neighbors, sharing costs and maintenance.

Our Bottlenet system signal is good for 5km and is a wallet-friendly $2 or less per antenna.


HensleyJun 03, 2005 at 10:12AM

My 2 cents: I live in the Catskills and work from home, so a high-speed connection was a must. When I looked into options I got a similar list to yours: Cable was going to charge me $2,400 to run cable from the nearest point (ouch), and DSL was not "technically" available. I went ahead and signed up for the DSL service on a month to month basis and got the modem shipped to me 10 days later. . .and it worked. At $34 or so per month, it's worth trying it to see if it works, you can cancel and send it back if it doesn't and you're out less than $50. If it does work you have a much better and more cost effective solution than some of the others.

ericJun 03, 2005 at 10:21AM

I have DirecWay, and while it's not perfect, I find it much better than dial-up and perfectly suitable for maintaining websites. You can get service without a contract by finding used equipment. A friend of mine had DWay, but dropped it for DSL when it became available. They had bought the equipment outright rather than leased, so they didn't have to give it back. I took it (the modem and dish), paid $50 for the certified installer to set it up for me (required by the FCC, unlike TV satellite systems), and have month-to-month service with DWay with no commitments for $59/month. One caveat: if the original equipment owner broke a contract, DWay will not let you use it until the contract is satisfied. Call them with the serial number of the modem before you get it installed to be sure you are in the clear. I've posted this in a AskMetafilter thread a while back but can't post the link here right now (daggone JRun!).

Frank GJun 03, 2005 at 10:25AM

Here is a good one for you. MaxStream has come out with the MaxStream wireless ethernet bridge. I know you said you don't know anyone nearby, but going this route can give you much longer range than Wi-Fi if you can find something to tap into. Maybe you cna find someone else in the town who is frustrated with thev lack of options.

If you use this MaxStream unit with a high gain antenna, they say you can go up to 15 miles. It's a little more costly than Wi-Fi, but not as nearly as bad as paying for running a DSL or T1 line. The maxStream units use 900 MHz and can go up to 1.5 Mbps.

Stefan SeizJun 03, 2005 at 10:43AM

Let me tell you my story. In october 2003 i had to setup our new sales office in Virginia. This was shortly after a realy bad hurricane. It was not possible to get any phonelines installed in time. So we ran the office on cellphones and the internet via a Hughes 2-way sattelite (i guess hughes is direcway).

It worked really well. The office needed to be connected to our central ERP system in Germany all day long ant it woked!

Yes, they wanted a year long contract, but i somehow managed to get the thing installed for 2 month only. We basicaly rented the equipment from them. The setup did cost us around US$ 1000 (can't remember exactly anymore) and the bandwidth a flat fee of around 120$/Month. At the time, given no other options, i found this price to be totaly OK.

I had prearranged the setup on the phone from germany and hughes was very supportive and installed just in time so we could start the new office.

We had decent speeds of around 1.5 Mbit download and 128Kbit upload or such (might have changed in the meantime.
The only problem with Satellite is the Latency which will break any VPN funcionality, but i guess you will not need VPN.

Call Hughes and talk to them, then go for the Sattelite.

jkottkeJun 03, 2005 at 11:03AM

Thanks for the information, everyone. I'm thinking of compiling it into a more handy guide of sorts because I know there's lots of folks out there looking for solutions like these (my dad is just out of DSL range and has been looking for a better option than dialup for years now).

Depending on where your going, you might look around for a Wireless ISP, aka the ever so catchy, WISP.

Looked into WISP. The location is within their coverage area, but there's no line-of-sight with their antenna. :( Would have been a great solution.

As a fan of your site I would love to know more about your proposed move. Why? where? when?

All in good time. :)

AlexandreJun 03, 2005 at 11:04AM

We have High Speed Fixed Wireless at our Island in cottage country. The island doesn't even have any fixed phone lines (only cellular). It's amazing. It easily rivals the internet we get in the city.

We looked at Satellite, but for what you're getting, it's very expensive and seems unreliable. And it's really not too fast. Then we found muskoka.com. They have 13 towers around our area, and the tower that we're pointed at is probably 2-3 miles away (you just need line of sight). It's amazing.

Chances are there's a fixed wireless provider in your area. Keep looking. I wouldn't really suggest Satellite unless it's the last resort. It's not just the latency - the download and upload speeds are pretty slow too.

AlexandreJun 03, 2005 at 11:08AM

Btw, we paid $1200 for setup and equitment and it's about $50/month no contract. But you can also rent the equitment.

PaulJun 03, 2005 at 11:11AM

I met a guy who was running Cingular's wireless on his Mac with the help of some freeware he found. He had a Sony Ericsson card, I think he said he just googled the model of the card and "mac" and found the d/l.

Not sure about the speeds, although (like anything else) the claimed speeds are generally faster than what you'll experience in real life. Plus, of course, coverage depends on where you're going to be.

Good luck!

edemayJun 03, 2005 at 11:38AM

Dial-up would bring you back to the roots! Old-school! Beep bop beep beep bop beep. I think you could do it no matter how slow it is. It's good for you, like a vacation. I wouldn't mind the "less-updating" and such.

RoyJun 03, 2005 at 12:14PM

If you are looking at satellite internet, check out www.wildblue.com.

mattJun 03, 2005 at 12:17PM

I've heard bad things about satellite systems -- "you'll go crazy from the latency" is the usual complaint. But if you're not ssh'ing into remote servers, you won't have to pay for the x-thousand-mile roundtrip for every keystroke, but only for form posts and the like. It might be tolerable.

I have used ISDN with decent success. The key, at least in California, is that your ISP has to be in the same central office, or else you'll end up paying per-minute charges to the telco, which makes the cost prohibitive. I was able to find a flat-rate deal, but even that cost about $85/mth to the telco and $50/mth to the ISP.

You might be surprised at the proliferation of wifi. Two years ago, mine was the only access point within a 10-mile, 130-degree view from my [rural Sonoma County] roof. Last Fall, I could see about 30 access points, several of which were open, using a cantenna I built for about $6. I wouldn't characterize wifi as an easy solution, but it might turn out to be the best if you're willing to do the setup work.

Chris MillarJun 03, 2005 at 1:09PM

Thinking of what would work with a powerbook, you may want to go the wireless hub route and attach an omnidirectional antenna to the normal antenna point. This will give you dramatically improved range. The good news is that you may be able to bunny hop to someone who has broadband and your cost would be $0, the bad news is that you are not guaranteed a solid connection, it's not the most secure, and there is probably some law that says you can not piggy back off someone else's internet connection... maybe you just go to hell for it. good luck.

Gunnar LundströmJun 03, 2005 at 1:22PM

As for ADSL, I am ~2500ft, and a friend ~9500ft from the nearest base station. I have 24/1 and friend has 8/1, with no problems.

The main problem I think is that if the station is ready for ADSL not the distance. I know of some that has extreme lengths to their base station, the only down side for them is the connection speed... which decreases with the length.

You could have the company try to hook you up, but they (usually) have an irritating to take a fee for it, nevermind if it works.

howardJun 03, 2005 at 2:10PM

I have a house in a rural area of NY and dial-up was (at its fastest) 23k

I switched to direcway and it is fine. Works except in the worst of weather (really heavy thunderstorms)-- but comes back up as soon as things ligthen up. uploads are slow-- but the overall speed is decent. Good technical support-- though sometimes difficult to get someone to do the initial installation. Combine the antenna with Directv and you save some money-- but it is a fixed investment.

d. brookJun 03, 2005 at 2:16PM

echoing Roy... wild blue

I've been following them for a couple years hoping that they'll actually pull off their initial claims (3mbps; free installation; etc). While it doesn't look like they did, at least they're still in business. If you go this route, please post lots of feedback.

BarnacleKBJun 03, 2005 at 2:37PM

When I lived with my father we used Starband. At the time they made us buy a really awful Compaq w/ WinME and the modem was really sensitive to any system changes.

They since fixed that, and speeds are acceptable, although it's still a bit pricey, IMO.

But it was Satellite or dial-up, and it did work.

StripesJun 03, 2005 at 7:49PM

I use to live in a "rural" area (it was 20 miles from UUNET and AOL's HQ, but still 18K feet from the CO).

Satellite isn't very good, the latency is like a second, so it is one second to start the fetch of a web page, one second to start fetching each image on it, and the speed starts low and only ratchets up once a second (TCP slow start rules with limited bandwidth and low latency, but isn't so happy with high latency).

Internet over cell should be a good answer, but the cell companies only roll out the high speed stuff in cities where you can already get DSL and cable anyway, so that is no good. (I'm guessing the cell companies would lose money if you used them as primary connectivity...either that or they are real stupid 'cause they could get 100% of the folks in the sticks to sign up).

ISDN in some states is under a "must provide" tariff, so if your telco doesn't claim to offer it call the PUC for your state and see if they are required to (they aren't in VA, but they are in at least one midwest state).

If that doesn't work out start looking for WISPs in the area. They tend to be small companies, and sometimes they can be flakey. There were five in the general area I use to live in, 4 couldn't cover me, one did a "site survey" and said they could, but it turned out they couldn't. It is still worth a try. Sometimes it helps if you offer to let them use your land to put a repeater (I had four acres, and made the offer, three of the companies said I could get free service once they got into range of my house, but none ever did).

If you have to go the T1 route, check to see Frame Relay T1 prices, some states make them "distance insensitive" prices.

I ended up with dial up. "unlimited" dialup that turned out to be "call us after we cut you off for reaching 250 hours and we will reset your account for another 250 hours". Then I ditched that company and went to another where unlimited really did mean unlimited (eskimo.com I think was the "good" one).

Then I left the sticks of VA and moved to sunny CA. Again to "the sticks" because I couldn't afford to live close in. ISDN was available and I grabbed it. I got a ISDN router from weird stuff for $30 and was pretty happy for about a year. Then cable internet came and it is cheaper then ISDN was (about $80/month from SBC plus $30/month from an ISP).

So to sum up, call your PUC and find out what you can force the telco to sell you. If that fails call every WISP in the area. If that fails go war driving, maybe you will find someone with a T1 who will sell you a link (you can do a lot of stuff to get 802.11 where you wouldn't think it would normally go, like using satellite TV dishes as antennas)

Friend of Sudbury Valley SchoolJun 04, 2005 at 12:24AM

Another Dialup Accelerator suggestion: http://www.propel.com/
Works quite well for dialup acceleration and works with Macs and Firefox, etc. Not just Win-IE like some others offered by ISPs (like that of gis.net)

JD137Jun 04, 2005 at 10:51AM

Sprint wireless works well if you happen to live in their network area, probably near a major highway.

Alan LevineJun 04, 2005 at 11:57AM

I'm a proponent of keeping a dial-up service as a reliable just in case backup. We have a cabin in th Arizona mountains using just dial-up at a whopping 24 kbs. It's like a throwback to the internet days of the early 1990s. But then again, that works as an incentive for me not to spend a lot of time on the computer and to be more efficient with what I click on.

A neighbor here had Dway and major poblems getting support (the nearest tech person drove from 100 miles away). They were locked out when snow covered the dish, and he actually fell off the roof trying to clear it and ended up with broken bones and back problems. He says calls into their center are an endless loop of suggestions to call elsewhere.

I would make a deciding factor that nature of your primary connection; for sattlite it is a physical device on your roof (suspect to the elements), compared to wireless (line of sight vs location of towers), vs cable/DSL, a line maintained by your local telecom monopoly.

beau smithJun 04, 2005 at 1:14PM

If you're gonna be in the rural area for some time and you really need something fast (and you really want to splurge) Digital Path licenses it's equipment (though not listed on their website) for shooting wireless broadband to rural areas from a central gateway to a regional point-of-presense (RPOP) to relay points to customer premise equipment (CPE).

The installation here in Chico, California, works really great for those who have direct line of sight, and ok for those with near line of sight. As the spring trees grew leaves, my service got weaker. But without any other options, I'll take what I can get.

MicheleJun 04, 2005 at 3:36PM

You're a smart boy, sounds like you are finally figuring it all out. ;)

JewzillaJun 04, 2005 at 4:24PM

Verizon hasn't rolled out EVDO in most markets, so you're not going to get that, but 1xrtt is tolerable at 2x the speed of dialup. I've been websurfing on my daily train ride with no trouble. I use a Treo 650 with PdaNet on Sprint. Their data service is $10/month unlimited.

xJun 04, 2005 at 7:13PM

note direcway also offers professional-grade option. bandwidth is not better, but it seems a little more reliable and you have access to actual support.

The KalebergsJun 04, 2005 at 11:04PM

We've been fairly happy with Direcway. We're in a valley in a National Park, so it's no cell service, minimal phone service, no line of sight, and no big antenna. The Direcway dish is small and light snow fall doesn't stop it. Heavy snow can, but we don't get a lot of heavy snow. (Besides, the heavy snow tends to drop the power lines as well as the satellite link).

The latency is 1/8 second just to get from earth to the satellite, so the minimum round trip is 1/2 a second plus any switching and server time. On the other hand, most modern browsers will start to redisplay without images, and they'll open a bunch of parallel sockets to suck up additional images, CSS and whatnot. It is much easier than driving in to town for a newspaper, and much faster than dialup. You can even listen to internet radio with iTunes.

We gather that Direcway has a bad reputation. Apparently, their allocation and bandwidth fairness schemes were awful. New software in the satellite(s) and the ground stations has supposedly improved this as of about 18 months ago. They offer two levels of service, with the more expensive one allowing you to have more open sockets and what not. We have the basic level of service and two Macs browsing seem to work fine.

It's great being able to take your Powerbook out in a kayak and having good ole WiFi access! (At least until your P'book takes a dunk).

SteveJun 04, 2005 at 11:22PM

Using an few Firefox extensions you can really speed up browsing when you shut off flash ads, images, etc. I'm not sure what you NEED broadband for... most of us only NEED the 'net for checking email, favorite blogs, news, etc.

Years ago, before broadband, you could buy a modem that connected using two phone lines working as one. Perhaps they still make them (in external form) and you could try that.

Al von RuffJun 05, 2005 at 3:26PM

Rural where?

I'm typing this from a rural location (about 30 miles north of Champaign IL). We haven't had dialup service for about 4 years. There's growing 802.11 WLAN coverage in much of the MidWest, which is what I've got here (see for example http://www.prairieinet.net). It's fast and reliable enough to maintain a moderately-sized website (www.isfdb.org).

Shannon LarrattJun 05, 2005 at 7:16PM

I spent a year using two-way satellite while living in the country (near Tweed, Ontario) via Direcway. I got about 100 kbps upstream and as much as 2 gbps downstream off their basic package (about $140 a month two years ago).

The latency is a pain in the ass if you're doing terminal sessions (or gaming or VOIP I suppose) but other than that I was very happy with it. I used it to maintain a high traffic, high bandwidth site. If you have any questions feel free to contact me.

TonyJun 05, 2005 at 10:51PM

My parents had satellite for years (while I was in college) before DSL was available to them, and it worked pretty good, though sometimes it seemed to me to be as slow as dial-up.

I don't know where you'll be, but here in central VA, a company called Ntelos offers "portable broadband" which is basically line-of-sight wireless broadband. Maybe there is a similar service where you will be? http://www.ntelos.com/wireline/!_d_resint3.html

smaxJun 06, 2005 at 11:15AM

A bizarre possibility that has worked well for me in the past. I'm assuming you have a high speed connection somewhere right now, and I'm assuming that it would be possible to have access to a spare computer. Look into using both and a program like VNC.

What you do is set up your computer on the high bandwidth connection to be a VNC server. Then you get a dialup account in your rural area. You access your high bandwidth computer over VNC, a virtual desktop so to speak. The only issue would be getting any large files on that high bandwidth computer to your dialup box... but hey, that's what libraries are for.

jessamynJun 06, 2005 at 12:31PM

I think I know where you are going and I think I know your options. For what it's worth, satellite will allow you to get your fix on, not too expensively and the latency sucks for gaming but is tolerable for web stuff, esp if you visit pages that are frequently cached. I've been able to use it for ftp and shell access as well though sort of pokily. It works poorly in bad storms though, so you'd have to handle dial-up as a backup. This is like maybe one day a month, not just cloudy days, from what I remember.

Mike Gunderloy from larkfarm.com does the dual 56k modem thing and says it's tolerable.

Unless you're going to be in your locale for a LONG time, I'd say it's this, or getting a little office with wifi in the largest town [or rening a room from someone with wifi as an office, cheaply!] to do your blogging. There are a lot of open wifi nodes near the big school that is near there.

That said also, we live not stupidly far from where I think you are going. We have broadband. You can come visit.

intheknowJun 07, 2005 at 2:26PM

Starting at $50/mo for 512 Kbps downlink, 128 Kbps uplink.
Mac & PC compatible.
24/7 tech support.
Minimally affected by weather.

This thread is closed to new comments. Thanks to everyone who responded.