Navigating Options for Rural, High-Speed Internet Access

I recently switched from HughesNet satellite (center dish) ...

... to this Alltel USB modem (black thing on right) to access the Internet.

One drawback to living in the country is the lack of true high-speed Internet access. I’ve been in search of the best Internet connection available ever since we moved to the country six years ago. As a result, I’ve switched Internet providers four times.

And while exactly what constitutes high-speed access is relative, none of the options I tried involved dial-up Internet access; that’s simply not an option for someone who works from home and must have fast, reliable, always-on Internet access for her livelihood. Unfortunately in the sparsely populated area of West River South Dakota where I live, no companies have invested in any fiber, wired option for high-speed Internet to those of us in the country. So I’ve been sampling the wireless Internet access options.

I went from HughesNet satellite Internet access, to WildBlue satellite Internet, back to HughesNet and most recently to Alltel wireless broadband Internet access. And through it all, I’ve purchased three satellite systems and two routers as I’ve struggled and anguished and yearned for the reliability and speed of the service I had when we lived in town.

Initially, the big issues for me were cost, reliability and speed. As my business grew and my kids grew, our reliance on the Internet continually increased. As a result, the biggest issue for me in my most recent Internet service provider change was Fair Access Policy restrictions.

I understand that only so much data can be moved over the Internet at any given time, and that everyone should have the same chance to move this data. But I don’t believe 200 or 250 megabytes of data per day is enough for the average household anymore. Not when we are transmitting graphic design files for proofing and printing, uploading pictures for printing and sharing, publishing web sites and blogs, enjoying YouTube, and downloading and purchasing music, television episodes and podcasts. Something has to be done to increase the Internet infrastructure so it can meet our ever-increasing demands.

I’m not yet ready to recommend wireless broadband access over satellite, but I will share what I’ve experienced and learned:

Satellite Internet

Two satellite services offer Internet access in my area – HughesNet and WildBlue. Both services offer several packages featuring different speeds and allowing different levels of usage. Both companies require customers to purchase or lease equipment, and both allow multiple computers to access the Internet through the use of a standard router.

Each company has a different Fair Access Policy (FAP), and those who exceed the allowed usage are “FAPed” or restricted in their access for a certain period of time. Both companies offer e-mail addresses with Internet access, and both require two-year contracts for best pricing, particularly on equipment. Satellite access requires a clear view of the southern sky and access can and will be interrupted by weather including rain, snow, fog and high wind.

HughesNet The basic home package costs $60/month; the fair access policy for this plan allows for 200 megabytes of data to be transferred (downloaded and uploaded combined) in a 24-hour period before restrictions are applied. Installation is generally free, but equipment can cost an additional $20/month for up to 24 months. Customer service is great, and customers are allowed one free token per month to reinstate their Internet connection if they are “FAPped.”

WildBlue The basic home package costs $50/month; the fair access policy for this plan allows 7,500 megabytes of data to be downloaded and 2,300 megabytes of data to be uploaded in a 30-day rolling calendar. Installation is also generally free, and equipment costs tend to be less than those for HughesNet. Customer service wasn’t as good, and while neither satellite company will guarantee their speeds, rumor has it that WildBlue has added more customers than it can handle and therefore speeds have dropped for everyone.

Wireless Broadband Internet

There are only two companies currently offering cellular service in South Dakota – Alltel and Verizon. AT&T is in the process of taking over the Alltel business in the state since Verizon purchased Alltel and one company cannot maintain a monopoly. Wireless broadband Internet requires the purchase of a USB modem, which can be plugged directly into a computer or can be plugged into a special router, allowing multiple computers to be online using the same Internet connection.

One positive to wireless broadband Internet access over satellite service is that customers can actually access the Internet while traveling, as long as the appropriate cellular connection isn’t lost. But if the USB modem is taken on the road, anyone left at home cannot access the Internet.

Customers can also connect a phone with an existing data plan to a computer for Internet access, but the phone cannot be used for voice calls or for text messaging at the same time. And the data limitations of the existing plan still apply.

Wireless broadband speeds should increase as local networks are upgraded from 3G to 4G systems.

Verizon Wireless Verizon provides a free USB modem after rebate for customers who agree to a two-year contract. The company also offers a modem in a network-compatible device at a reduced price under a two-year contract. Customers must choose between getting the free modem or the reduced-price network device.

Verizon service costs $60/month and allows for up to 5 gigabytes of data to be transferred in a 30-day period. If a customer exceeds the 5-gigabyte limit, access is not restricted. Instead, customers are simply charged an additional 5 cents per megabyte over the limit; so if the limit is exceeded by 1 gigabyte, an extra $51.20 will be charged.

Verizon’s nationwide calling plan allows customers to access the Internet from virtually anywhere in the United States. Verizon also offers a 30-day trial period.

Alltel Alltel also provides a free USB modem after rebate, and customers only have to agree to a one-year contract. Or customers can choose to go with a network-compatible device at a reduced price so multiple computers can go online under the same Internet connection. Service costs $60/month, and there is no limit on data transfer. Internet access is, however, limited by Alltel’s service area. Nationwide access is available for an additional $10/month. Alltel offers a 15-day trial period.

Alltel customers will become AT&T customers within the next nine months or so. While equipment will need to be upgraded, it will be at no cost to the consumer. And customers will be allowed to continue with the terms of existing Alltel contracts, which means the unlimited data feature should continue to be available even though AT&T does have data limits on its wireless broadband Internet.

As I mentioned, I recently switched to Alltel largely because of the unlimited transfer of data option; I was tired of being “FAPped” with HughesNet. I’m actually a Verizon customer for my cell phone service, but the Verizon wireless broadband option still restricted my data usage. I also liked Alltel’s one-year contract rather than two years, so I don’t have to wait as long to change again if I’m not completely satisfied. The cost for Alltel was the same as HughesNet and Verizon, and the speed seems very similar so far.

In summary, my Internet speed still isn’t as fast as a true DSL connection, and I do pay more than most folks with the cable/DSL options available in town. But I’m glad there are options other than dial-up for those of us choosing the country life, and I am hopeful that the options will continually get better.

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15 thoughts on “Navigating Options for Rural, High-Speed Internet Access

  1. Interesting, I’m in the same boat. We had a Cricket aircard for a year and a half, it was quite dependable but slow. Then my daughter started online school so I looked for something faster. Verizon was a bust, connected but slower than Cricket. Then I was able to borrow an ATT smart phone with data for testing and we got an amazing 1.5 – 2 mbps. So I signed up for the aircard but it has been a frustrating experience. Despite not doing any gaming or video we went over the 5 gig limit the first month. They say they will charge you the ridiculous $51/gig overage but they don’t, they suspend service! No school today…

    So now we have relatively high speed, we just can’t use it. ATT should realize that for some people the aircard is their only available connection and offer a reasonably priced 10gig plan.

    • Doesn’t it make you feel like we’re almost being forced to live in an urban setting in order to have true, reliable, high-speed Internet access? Your comments do worry me a little as to what will happen to my access/costs when AT&T officially takes over our local Alltel service …

      • Ha ha, I hear you: one of the biggest drawbacks of living in the country is the internet. We have tried Exede and currently get service from Blaze Wifi (http://www.blazewifi.com), but I haven’t heard of Allltel.Maybe we should check them out when it’s time to renew our contract!

      • Hello Jess,
        Alltel is/was a regional cell service provider. They have, however, been purchased by AT&T, so there is no longer an “unlimited data” option for cell internet service without paying significantly high fees. At least none in my area. I have recently switched to a local company that provides internet service through some sort of connection on a local cell tower, although it is not tied into the cell system. I am not fully educated on how this works, but I am extremely happy with the speeds I am receiving. And the best part is that there is no data limitation and the fee is still less than $60/month! So now my family can enjoy downloading music, watching Netflix, uploading pictures, etc.

  2. This is the battle I am fighting right now, too. For the past 2 1/2 years, we have had Verizon’s Mi-Fi Service. The service works great but for a photographer and a connected family, even the 10 gb service isn’t enough. We had their new High Fusion equipment installed last week but today, I took it back after a second technician came out and said we do not have a strong enough 4g signal here to use it. It is very frustrating! CenturyLink is the phone provider in this area but because we live 2/10th of a mile off of the main road, all by ourself at the end of a lane, they said they will never run dsl to us. We only live 7 miles from town! It is so frustrating!

  3. EXEDE HIGH SPEED INTERNET PLANS AND PRICING
    All plans offer Up to 10 Mbps download speeds and up to 3 Mbps upload speeds! Simply choose your Daytime Data Zone.
    10 GB per month $49.99
    15 GB per month $79.99.
    25 GB per month $129.99
    With Exede you will also get:
    A complete suite of Google Apps, including contacts, calendar, customizable home page and word processing. You will also get tools to build a professional Web site.
    Professional standard installation performed by a certified technician
    Free Download Zone: Unlimited downloads and uploads between 12am – 5am. Choose any of the free download managers available online so that you don’t have to be awake to take advantage of the Free Download Zone
    Also, you can save the streamed shows from Netflix & Hulu to view later, helping you to take advantage of our “Free Download Zone” http://www.ehow.com/how_6967751_save-xbox-360-hard-drive.html
    Unlike others who charge you for going over your monthly plan, we give you the option to purchase more data as needed. If you go over your monthly data we just throttle back the speed so you may still browse the web and email.
    We offer:
    * Free Standard Installation
    * Fast Speeds – Download speeds up to 12.0 Mbps & Upload speed up to 3 Mbps
    * Great Service – Stream video, movies and online music with little to no buffering
    * Exceptionally fast web browsing and email
    *10 email addresses plus 7 GB of storage
    *Connect multiple computers, smart phones, tablet devices and web-enabled TV’s
    Popular Science 2012 Best of What’s New
    The well-known tech magazine recognized Exede in its annual Best of What’s New special issue. The magazine reviews thousands of new products and innovations and chooses the top 100 winners across 12 categories.
    “For 25 years, Popular Science has honored the innovations that surprise and amaze us – those that make a positive impact on our world today and challenge our view of what’s possible in the future, “ said Jacob Ward, editor-in-chief ofPopular Science. “The Best of What’s New Award is the magazine’s top honor, and the 100 winners – chosen from among thousands of entrants – each a revolution in its field.”
    Exede was recognized in the Hardware category.
    “This is a great honor that adds to the very positive feedback we’re seeing in the marketplace for the new brand of high-speed satellite services that ViaSat-1 is enabling,” said Mark Dankberg, chairman and CEO of ViaSat. “The conceptualizing, design, building, and launch of the system took an extraordinary effort by so many of our people and this award is a great testimony to what they accomplished.”
    You can read about it in the December, 2012 issue of Popular Science. Here’s some of what they said:
    “With download speeds up to 12 megabits per second, the satellite broadband service delivers faster rates than DSL. Engineers increased the satellite’s capacity by adding a number of small antennas; the extra hardware can transmit twice the usual amount of data-carrying beams, up to 72.” — Popular Science
    Fierce Innovation Awards finalist
    Also in November, 2012, ViaSat was recognized as a finalist in the categories “Last-Mile Innovation” and “Transport Innovation” for Exede Internet by this year’s Fierce Innovation Awards.
    The Innovation Awards are an operator-reviewed program from the publishers of FierceWireless, FierceTelecom and FierceCable. A judging panel made up of telecommunications professionals evaluated submissions based on technology innovation, financial impact, market validation and end-user customer experience.

  4. I can relate to this. I feel that we are being penalized for living in a rural area. In the days of streaming movies (Amazon, Netflix, Blockbuster) and You Tube, I feel like we are not getting a fair shake. We have Dishnetwork Broadband and we get 10GB per month and if you go over they slow it down so much that is almost unbearable to use. They also give 10 GB in off peak which is from 2AM – 8AM, which is great if you are up all night or have time before work in the morning. It’s funny that Dish offers streaming movies through their Blockbuster division but even though we have their sattelite and broadband service, we really can’t use it because if we do, we can’t do our usual internet searches, email, social media because we would be slowed down after streaming a movie or two. It has come a long way since the days of slow phone connections but it certainly hasn’t come as far as I would like it to. With smart tv’s and all they have to offer, most features use up so much data that it isn’t even worth it.

    • I am using a local company that offers broadband internet with no data limitations through some sort of wireless satellite connection. It differs greatly from the national satellite companies as it is faster and not limited. But I can’t really recommend them to my readers as they are only available in and around my community.

  5. I’m about to move to a rural area, and we’re struggling with researching internet options as well. AT&T offers service to our neighbor’s house, but not ours *sigh*. Most services cap us at 40GB per month. There are 3 of us, and I often work from home, so we will burn through that much too quickly. The one unlimited data service we found was through Blaze for $125 per month. It had decent speeds, but Blaze mentioned that we were likely to get inconsistent reception.

    I know this blog was posted a while ago, but there seem to be some more recent comments. If anyone has found an option that works well for them, I’d love to hear about it.

  6. We live in a rural area as well…I guess they figure us country folks are too busy to use internet lol. We had Hughesnet installed and we are very frustrated with it, so slow that we can’t watch Netflix without it being interrupted often and 10GB is not enough for us or most people. I am going to Best Buy today to look into Verizon’s mifi. There are several towers near us so I am hoping this gives us better service. I will come back and let you know.

    • Please do let me know. I am wondering if you will still feel limited by Verizon’s data charges, especially for services such as Netflix. I actually found a local company that offers broadband internet with no data limitations through some sort of wireless satellite connection. It’s great, but unfortunately it only offers service in my area.

  7. Hi Country Mom, fellow rural denizens seeking internet out in the boonies, I’m now in the same predicament. Right now, I’m connected via a cable company that throws its monopoly weight around with gusto. I’ve used them for years largely because they don’t use contracts and are still cheaper than fixed wireless or satellite providers. But then the FCC allowed them to require customers to use a set top box (aka data collection and habit surveillance box) for all tv. I’ve never permitted such boxes in my house and so I declined. As a reward for no longer buying tv (or their phone or home security services bundles), I am being charged just for internet what I paid for tv and internet. I could go on but let me just say I’m tired of being unappreciated and pushed around by essentially the only game in town. I’m tired of waiting for my government to reign them in.

    So, now I’m shopping around for satellite or fixed wireless internet. So far, each broker/re-seller (InMyArea dot com) has told me HughesNET does not service my area, nor does People’s Fiber or AT&T UVerse (DSL, which is excruciatingly slow). (I can get tv from Dish or DirecTV but not internet.) It’s looking like only Exede (via Bluebird out of LA) is even available. (I’m in Northeast Texas–in the biggest town in the county fercryinoutloud–which is in the Okla-Ark-LA-Tex region.) So far, the reviews I’ve read for Exede vary from lousy to great, very few down the middle. I’m about to contact BlazeWifi dot com but it looks as if they re-sell Hughes.

    I’ve read all kinds of complaints such as you’re stuck with the dish if you cancel and you have take it down (I’m disabled, I can’t climb a roof), that they force you to pay by auto-deduction from your credit card or checking account (a vile method of guaranteeing their payments (while they guarantee zip) but I can setup a stand alone account just for this) and of course, the dreaded two year contract with early cancellation fees of $250 or $15 for each month remaining.

    Never having had to deal with data caps, I’m beginning to think 10GB/mo is bare bones and I should get more like 20GB or unlimited. I don’t use Netflix, I doubt I will, I do watch YouTube and LiveLeak (here and there, certainly not for hours on end), sometimes I use Twitter/Gab.ai, sometimes I use FB, but mostly I read the news, look stuff up, send emails, watch C-Span to see what our Congresscritters are up to.

    Any feedback any of you could give me would so very appreciated. Please, don’t suggest I stay with Suddenlink, they’ve soured me badly with their arrogant “customer (is always wrong) service.” I don’t need tv, especially since lately, it’s become quite bad (lots more infomercials, far less content, more stations are now just static weather radar images with occasional news reports).

    I sure wish Country Mom would just mention the name of her local regional ISP because for all we know, we could sign up with them. 😉 Unless it’s some super special kinda on the side rigged up by a super geek cousin sortofa deal, in which case, I understand. Does the cousin have a phone number and what would s/he charge to travel?

    I keed… kinda. Again, many thanks for any feedback and I’ll check regularly for a while.

    Cheers all.

    • Hello HeyNonnyNonny,
      Thank you for your visit to my blog! As you can probably tell, I haven’t given much time to writing on the blog recently, except for the piece about Trump. So yes, the internet piece is a bit dated. I have found a great option for my own internet, but it is a regional solution. You can view more about it here, and from this you can tell that I live in Western South Dakota. This service involves reselling data using a network that builds off of area cell phone towers.
      Regarding your options, my primary opinion is that data caps have been a real problem for me, but I operate a business from home and have had two teenagers under my room at the same time.
      I wish you the best of luck as you pursue your options.
      Thanks, also, for your views on Trump. It is such a divisive time in our country, and witnessing all of the negativity has been challenging.

  8. (Perhaps Country Mom, you don’t want to say because it would pinpoint your location? If so, fully understand, I don’t want to know. Cheers.)

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