Monday, January 4, 2010

Internet at the end of the earth

Internet options can be pretty limited out here in the woods. Back in the old dial-up days it didn't matter all that much.

At one time I maintained two separate phone lines. One was pretty much the Internet connection. I got sick of paying for two lines and reduced it to one. So as not to miss important calls, I subscribed to a service called Callwave. When a phone call came in, a small message box popped up on my screen with caller ID. There was the option of letting it go to message or taking the call.

When broadband became common in the cities, us rural areas got let behind. There were no plans to bring any sort of broadband service into my area. The closest anything planned ended about five miles away from me.

Not only was dial-up the only option, it was half speed dial-up due to the poor conditions of the local phone lines.

To make matters worse, my daughter and her husband moved in with us, and they wanted Internet connection too.

The only practical option was satellite Internet. Satellite service at the home consumer level is provided by two companies, Wildblue and HughesNet. Everyone I talked to who had Wildblue seemed pretty much satisfied. There were horror stories from those who went with HughesNet.

I went with Wildblue, their basic service started at $50/month, not including installation. It's been in operation here for about two years and pretty much works as advertised. Their basic plan is not quite as fast as most cable or dsl systems, but it's about 20 times faster than what I did have. There is about a half second delay due to the limitations caused by light speed. The satellite is far enough out there that it takes a moment for communication to go back and forth. Wildblue does something to screw up voice over Internet so services like Skype don't work. That bugs me a bit.

One thing I do like is that the equipment runs just fine on my twenty year old modified sine wave Trace inverter. That's a huge plus. Even if the utility poles come down taking power and phone lines with it, the satellite connection will still work. E-mail communication with the outside world is unaffected. A few times that's come in handy to let friends and relatives know we were fine in spite of the phone and power lines being down.

Much to my surprise, I've noticed crews stringing fiber optic cable past my house. Through a series of public and private grants, a special broadband to rural areas project came to my area. Some parts are up and running. Those who have it seem happy.

I'll look into it, but I'm torn. Skype or some other Internet phone system would be nice. Faster speeds wouldn't hurt. However, the fiber is being strung on the same poles as the power and phone lines. If a pole is taken out, that's it for my ability to communicate with e-mail. Too bad cell phones don't work here as it'd be a backup method of communication. There is the option of using my CB radio but communications are hit or miss here in the mountains. Maybe I'll just have to break down and get my ham radio license.