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Last frontier — Internet access in rural Indiana

Finding an Internet service provider is easy in big cities or most suburban areas. People who live in rural areas aren’t as lucky. Their options are scarce.

Last frontier — Internet access in rural Indiana

Finding an Internet service provider is easy in big cities or most suburban areas. People who live in rural areas aren’t as lucky. Their options are scarce.

Purdue University’s Bernie Engel says 56K dial-up is no longer an option for today’s Web. Many sites would take minutes to load, causing much frustration. Engel also says a satellite connection is probably your best bet if there aren’t cable providers.

Key Points

Rural Internet options depend upon what’s offered in area.

Most common options: satellite, cable, DSL, line-of-sight and 3G.

Weigh pros and cons of the available choices.

“The only drawback is that your satellite needs a direct view of the southern sky,” says Engel.

Getting a direct view of the southern sky shouldn’t be too hard. However, another important aspect is weather. Harsh conditions, like a thunderstorm, can impede or completely disrupt a satellite Internet connection.

Specific options

Two common satellite providers in Indiana are HughesNet and WildBlue. If DSL and cable connections aren’t available, satellite may be your best option. In some areas, there’s another option —companies that transmit signals from towers in line-of-sight transmission. The distance a line-of-sight provider can send a signal tends to be increasing.

If you have a cell phone and a strong signal, a 3G data plan may suffice for your needs. In simple terms, 3G is the third generation of the network that cell phones use to connect to the Internet. You can purchase an adapter from your provider that plugs into your computer and will connect to the Internet.

The downside to 3G connections can be slow speeds; they’re only faster than dial-up. They also can’t be used without a data plan from a cell phone provider. Most run about $60 to $70 per month.

There’s also usually a bandwidth limit per month. This refers to how much data you can consume before paying extra fees. The limit, more often than not, will be 5 gigabytes. If you want to do anything besides e-mailing friends, consider another type of connection. You typically must commit to a contract with a provider, too.

Weigh choices

Some simple things to consider when narrowing your choice down will be price, speed and location. If you’re a casual user of the Internet and want to save money, try to get DSL. It’s usually around $20 per month for decent speed. Most DSL providers have up to three options of service.

Experts say cable will be fastest. Most cable companies have cheap prices for the first few months. After that, expect to pay around $70 per month.

Satellite has some up-front costs — the satellite and installation fees. Bandwidth is also limited. For example, HughesNet has three package options, and the highest only allows 400 megabytes to be downloaded daily. That could be consumed watching an hour of high-definition YouTube video. WildBlue offers three packages, the most expensive being $80 for 17 gigabytes download and 5 gigabytes upload each month.

Black-Disalvo is a Purdue University ag communications senior and has experience in this field.

Availability of DSL service depends on where you live

Jim Facemire, Edinburgh, lives three miles from town. His local phone company said DSL wasn’t available in his area.

“I went with a satellite service, and it was much faster than dial-up,” the farmer says. Satellite providers typically have contracts, too. About the time his two-year agreement was set to expire, he learned his neighbor convinced the phone company to service him with DSL.

“They agreed to hook me up, and after sorting out a few glitches, it’s been great,’ he says. “I can only get the $20-per-month option, but it’s plenty fast for what I need.”

Facemire discovered that the phone company was reluctant at first because its calculations indicated he was too far out to get reliable service.

Read provider’s fine print on bandwidth, if you can find it

We’ve used high-speed Internet for nearly 10 years. Until just over a year ago, I used a satellite provider. Over the span of years, service improved, with less down time, especially during storms. Download speed was faster than upload speed, but that’s fairly typical.

About 18 months ago, once a daughter taking college courses moved home, I would hit a couple of days where the Internet was slow, if it worked at all. Usually e-mail worked, but little else. The pattern repeated itself roughly once a month.

What I didn’t know then but know now is that my plan included the bandwidth limitations Black-Disalvo discusses (see story above). Apparently, once I reached the maximum allowed, service would be nearly non-existent, until my next allotment began.

The frustrating part was the company had never informed me. No message pops up indicating why service is slow, at least not in understandable English. It’s in such fine print in the contract, most people will never find it. In fact, the person who finally resolved the issue spent considerable time on the company’s website before even finding a reference to the issue, or that different options of service could be purchased. Unless you’re an Internet guru, it’s a well-kept secret.

Fortunately, a company offering line-of-sight service began operations. It’s several times faster and about $20 per month less. Except for one lightning strike, it’s been problem-free.

I even used it to successfully bid on a live Internet auction, during a snowstorm. You won’t get your bid registered in time unless you’ve got a high-speed connection.

This article published in the February, 2011 edition of INDIANA PRAIRIE FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.

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