“Life Without Broadband”
Stories from western North Carolina
Editor’s Note: Following is a selection of testimonials from rural citizens who struggle without affordable broadband Internet access. These accounts were solicited and received during July-August, 2008 by the Mountain Area Information Network (MAIN), a nonprofit Internet service provider for western North Carolina founded in 1995.
I run my business from home and high speed internet is essential to operations.
Prior to purchasing my home in 2007 I spoke with Verizon and confirmed that high-speed was available. After moving in I learned otherwise.
The effect has bee debilitating, I attempt to work with a wireless card which provides spotty coverage, I attempt to work with satellite internet which is slower than the wireless card.
In short I have learned the hard way, you can not run a business in today’s world without high speed.
Despite spending hundreds of dollars per month between wireless internet cards and satellite, I am still forced to drive into town and beg access in order to send or receive any large files.
If times were not so tough I would consider the added expense of opening an office away from home but that simply is not an option.
This opportunity seems to be the only relatively short-term solution. Please do not let it pass us by.
Mars Hill, NC
We live in a very rural part of Mitchell County, a couple of miles away from the nearest paved road. Cable is unavailable to us. Wireless will not reach us here. DSL is not available here. Satellite is very unreliable and very expensive, so we don’t consider it a viable option. That leaves us with dial-up. Our connection speed averages about 28.8K because we are so far out. We have been with MAIN since we first started using the Internet in approximately 1998.
My son takes on-line classes from our local community college, and a faster connection speed would be a godsend for him. I want him to succeed, but our slow connection speed is very frustrating to him.
I work at home as a medical transcriptionist. Right now the job I have is probably the only job I could get with the Internet I have (many companies require cable). If I had broadband, it would open up a lot more job opportunities to me. I would have the security of knowing that if I needed to, I could find another job in my field.
We had pretty well given up on ever having broadband, so the idea of it becoming available to us in the near future is really exciting. Thank you for allowing us to share our story with you.
Mitchell County, NC
I am the Program Manager for the True Nature Country Fair. The fair office is my kitchen table, in my house on my farm in Macon County. Dial-up is the only reliable and cost effective Internet connection available to me and it is a constant cause of wasted time and loss of efficiency in my job. Just this morning I waited nearly 45 minutes for documents from the local health department to download. When it is time to take on-line classes or do research in connection with my work or participate in an on-line conference call, I load up my computer and drive 40 minutes to the Macon County Public Library. Not only are my work hours limited by the library hours of operation, but I lose the travel time and spend those BIG dollars on gasoline.
I look forward to a time when the public airways will provide me with the benefits of a high-speed connection that are now enjoyed by my friends in the city.
Macon County, NC
I live in Cedar Mountain NC, a beautiful community right on the South Carolina line in Southern Transylvania County. We are a small community where there are full time residents and also summer residents. I’m president of the Cedar Mountain Community Center and a member of Cedar Mountain Fire Rescue.
We need a wireless system in Cedar Mountain because of the remoteness of the area. Currently we don’t receive a cell phone signal in our area at all. As a matter of fact you even have to travel several miles to get any type of signal for your cell phone regardless of what company your phone service is with. Opening up a wireless internet signal could help many of our elderly neighbors which comprise most of Cedar Mountain and especially our summer folks who may leave there own doctor back in their own home town.
This signal would also open many possibilities for the E.M.T.’s from the Fire Department in being able to get medical information easily from an emergency room doctor and may also assist in the locating some of the homes that are hid in the woods. It currently takes 20 to 30 minutes to have a paramedic for Transylvania county to be on scene and if you live on the South Carolina side of our primary area of coverage, that wait may be 45 minutes and then an another 45-minute ride to the hospital. We have excellent coverage by helicopter if the weather will allow.
As President of the Cedar Mountain Community Center my main focus this year has been on the child. We would like for every child to go to college, that has the want and need to go. We will this assist many of our children with needs of school materials and I hope at some point that once a week, or more, we can open up our doors at the community center for use of a computer and help with studies. Currently our center closes up in the winter because we have no way of providing this to our community. Having the signal to come into our community would be the first big step to helping our children with their educational needs.
These children will have limited options as what they will do for a living if this doesn’t occur. We have several families in our area that have home schools. The need for a computer with a good high speed signal is absolutely necessary for these homes.
We have two state forestry areas in our area where children and botanist could come, bring their computers and study the wet areas and plant systems in these areas to make this a better world. We currently entertain thousands of people a year with our water falls and mountain trails, why not use these areas to educate as well as entertain.
These are all great things that we need but what about the business person in Cedar Mountain that would love to have a faster way of communicating with clients. We have just started to open the doors of possibilities for our community. I don’t want to be overstating here but this could help with the high price of gasoline and diesel fuel for many of our resident. Many will be able to work from home while others can do business with stores over the Internet.
I could go on and on, but I think you can see the need already. Thank you for your consideration.
Cedar Mountain, NC
I was very pleased to read about the new solutions to the end of Dial Up—-I use my computer to search for competitive prices on a myriad of products and services. I do research on new products, and the competition. I order on line, pay my bills on line and of course check the latest news. I have become increasingly frustrated with the dial up service because I can wait for up to 45 minutes to receive pictures from my grand and great grandchildren.—I sometimes need to contact loved ones in the western part of the US and if the dial up is down and phone service is out I am stuck!
Because the cable Co will not run cable in this area because there is not enough population–that is out–as is the towers cannot jump the height of the mountains surrounding us–Satellite is out because of costs–then if the clouds roll in with rain that goes out too–also if dish gets snow build up. I am on a limited income and even now consider the service I have a luxury. With gas, groceries, electric going up–I do more shopping on the web and therefore do not waste gas to travel as far as I have to for some necessary items.
Hoping for a solution–that is not cost prohibitive.
Yancey County, NC
Yes, I am MOST interested in the expansion of broadband to rural areas! I am delighted with the land-access service I’ve had with MAIN for more than ten years. I live in the developed area around Mount Mitchell Golf Course - 17 miles from Burnsville, Marion or Spruce Pine. The last time I checked with the Help Desk, broadband (or DSL?) is as near as Celo, about 7 miles away. At that time, I was told that further extension of the service was undetermined.
A bit of my story begins with the information that I am a 73 year old female and live alone. (Yes - one of the LOLs that depends greatly on the SAINTS who patiently man your Help Desk.) When I retired from my job at the Washington Post in 1995, I came back to the mountains of WNC where I had lived in various places from 1960 to 1984. I had planned to live in Asheville where my two daughters were born in the 60s. A last minute decision led me to this place where I intended to ‘camp out’ for a year in the mountains of Yancey County. The beauty, peace and serenity here have extended my intentions more than 12 years. Many neighbors are summer residents from further south, but there are more and more of us who are ‘year-rounders’. I have also had the great privilege of meeting people who have lived in the mountains all their lives, as well as some of the local artists. All are wonderful people, friendly and caring.
Would I have been so content without close contact with friends who live in various parts of the country? Or being able to read the next day’s edition of the Washington Post before I go to bed each night? Or the ability to get the answer to ANY question - research, medical, trivia, or otherwise? (Google is definitely of ‘best friend’ status!) Or the convenience of shopping for WHATEVER (except groceries!) as I sit here in my housecoat without makeup ? My answer is ‘not likely’. MAIN has enabled me to live happily in a way that I would not have imagined possible in earlier years.
Most of my friends have some sort of ‘rapid, on-line access’. I AM one of the few remaining ‘dinosaurs’ in the technical world. (Even my cell phone doesn’t work within a ten-mile radius of my home!) Yes, there ARE other sources of rapid access - costly, but available. I will likely remain a dinosaur until necessary changes are made so that I can still be a loyal customer of MAIN that has provided outstanding service over the years!
Thank you and your staff for all that you do in addition to continuing the fight to provide added pleasures for us ‘rural folk’!
Blessings to all, and GOOD LUCK!
Yancey County, NC
Several months ago, my employer offered me the opportunity to do 80% of my work, medical research involving use of the Internet, from home. Given the current cost of gas and the fact that I live 20 miles from my employer, the possibility of working from home was very attractive, but not an option because my ISP did not offer high-speed internet access. After doing some investigation I learned that I am actually in a location that receives a moderately strong high-speed broadband signal from Verizon wireless. I then made the difficult choice to switch from the non-profit, community-based ISP (MAIN) that I have appreciated and supported for many years to Verizon. However, I have several friends who, like me, live in rural areas where broadband signals simply do not reach. It is unconscionable that in 2008, countless rural Americans still have virtually no access to high-speed Internet. Every opportunity to change that situation and bring the US into the 21st century with the rest of the industrialized world must be vigorously pursued.
Madison County, NC
I have been a loyal MAIN user since it became available here in Swain County. The frustration for us is there are resources and opportunities for fast Internet service, but only if you live in Bryson City (cable) or most recently along the highway Verizon DSL, if you attend SWCC at the Almond school, if you are along the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad tracks and have access to the fiber optics laid along the tracks.
But if you live up on in the hollers that sprinkle the county west into the Nantahala Gorge our options are Verizon DSL (if you are along the highway) or Hughes Net satellite which is expensive and the service and equipment and connection is poor and unreliable.
Many of the people who live in this area can not afford the $60-$80 per month fee for satellite but do have low cost access to the Internet via dial up and MAIN.
We need alternatives. When countries like India have low cost cellular service from $6-$10 a month and thus possible access to Internet via Broadband cards why do we in the US have to struggle to get the same options. Thanks for you continued work on behalf of the western North Carolina residents and the MAIN community.
Swain County, NC
Though we live in Black Mountain and have access to high speed Internet, we have 2 stories that may help you.
First, we live about 1 mile up Montreat Rd. Though less than 17 miles from WCQS, we have poor reception because of the effect of the mountains. Less than 1/2 mile down or up Montreat Rd. there is better reception. This shows how the ability of the signal to bend matters. It, also, means that during certain weather cycles we have normally strong signals have signals on the same point in the spectrum reflected into WCQS’s area. There are 2 of them nearby.
Second, our tailgate and farmers markets send out regular notices to our customers of availability at the markets, special promotions, etc. Because many of our customers don’t have high speed, we are very careful to limit the size of our messages. It would be great to be able to include photos of our markets and/or produce.
Finally, we are moving to rural SWVa so we will be facing this head on in the next couple of years.
Thanks for your hard work on this.
Black Mountain, NC
As with all technology, when you don’t update along with the leading edge,cyou get left behind. Many sites, including mail order pharamacies used bycMedicare recipients, are not accessible to dial-up connections. The HumanacRight-Source mail order Pharmacy is just such a site. When users get the dreaded 404 error code, calling customer service gets the response; “I’mcsorry we don’t support dial-up at our site.” There are 44 million dial-upcusers in the USA, yet accessibility is becoming a widely experiencedcproblem. [source:chttp://www.tamingthebeast.net/blog/web-development/dialup-access-statistics-0407.htm]
Good luck, Wally. And after you win your cause, let’s see a price break for people on disability. Our returning disabled soldiers will need a price break with the cost of gas.
Yancey County, NC
Dear MAIN, We live on Town Mountain Rd, 5 miles from downtown Asheville! And we have no access to broadband. They’ve been promising it for 2 years now and dragging us along. it’s be Feb, the April, Then June. Nothing yet.
Yes it impacts our lives! From the youngest of our family on up.
My daughter purchased 2 webkinz while on vacation with her own money (she’s 7)- opened them and greatly enjoyed them at Grandma’s (with high speed access) only to be broken hearted at home where she cannot “feed” her pets.. She’s been anxiously waiting ATT to come through with their promises to expand to our area - she can tell you all their promised dates which have gone by the wayside.
My 11 year old spend many more hours than necessary doing homework (web research)
Though I always wanted to work from home, I find myself considering setting up shop somewhere to avoid the wasted hours spent with dialup.. My Healthy Chocolate business is largely conducted via internet marketing and virtual connections.
My Husband is a Federal Government Employee (US Forest Service) who has finally worked his way into having a home office. Several times a week he is forced to go into the main office in town for the sole purpose of downloading or sending large files. His time and mileage expense is of course paid for by the government.
Think about it, with the price of gas now home offices are more commonly accepted and yet without widespread broadband access those who are farther out actually end up costing more money and resources as they are forced into town to make use of high speed connections.
Thanks for what you’re doing
My name is Brian Beaudet and I live in rural Marshall, NC. Actually, I live in what’s called, locally, a holler - 13 beautiful wooded acres surrounded by ridge lines on 3 1/2 sides. It’s very secluded but my family likes the privacy and the nature that surrounds us.
I’m a software developer who moved to this area because of the fact that I can work from any where as long as there is a broadband connection to the outer world. When we bought our house we were assured that it was cable ready. I didn’t think to ask why they had a satellite on their roof if the house was wired for cable. Of course, after having purchased the house, while I was setting up the telephone, TV and internet ccounts, I learned that there is no cable connection and Charter Cable wouldn’t be able to drop a line to my house even though the nearest cable box is about 1/4 of a mile away. OK, so plan B - DSL. Well, Verizon, who services our area, doesn’t offer DSL as far out as I am. Now, it’s panic time.
My only option, other than dial up, was satellite internet. I did some research and found a company called Skycasters who offered reasonably “fast” satellite internet. I say reasonably because, with satellite, there’s no way to avoid the approximately 1/4 second latency as the signal is bounced to and from space. But they did offer fast service once the signal hit their routers. The satellite wasn’t the only thing that was astronomical - the price was about $130 per month. However, I made due and it helped me continue working from home.
At some point, Skycasters decided to offer new plans that boosted their price several hundreds of dollars more than my existing plan. I couldn’t afford it at the time as my home based work was drying up and I had to find a new job in Asheville. It didn’t make sense to pay for a very expensive satellite system I was barely using. My wife could check her email with dial-up which was (barely) fine for her.
About six months ago, I had an opportunity to work from home again doing full time software development. This time, however, to get this job I needed to use voice over IP (VoIP) which requires a speedy broadband connection. Verizon still wasn’t offering DSL to my home yet and Charter was out. Wireless Internet is an option but both can’t reach a good enough signal from Main or Aloft (from Burnsville) systems without building a tower of some sort (thanks to my holler). I looked up satellite connections that worked with VoIP and yet again Skycasters popped up. In the end, forced into it if you will, I chose a plan that cost me $249/month but due to bandwidth caps I ended up paying $400-$500 per month total. And this was very minimal usage - no streaming audio or video or huge downloads. This was a poor choice, but the only one I thought would work for me. I’m locked into this plan for 2 years.
I decided to get out of it anyhow. My penalty? Pay $2000 for an early out. Additionally, I went with another satellite vendor (HughesNet) and they cost me $180/month but have less restrictions so I can use more bandwidth without paying any penalties. I still have to pay Skycasters and that’s going to take some time to get the extra money to do so. In the meantime, I still have to pay $249/month for a service I no longer use. And I’m locked into my deal with HughesNet for two years as well. So if something better comes along, I still have to get out of this contract which will involve, yet again, another large payment.
People choose to live where they live for various reasons - family, jobs etc. But cost of living was one of the main benefits why my family decided to have our home in the country. We could afford a huge house with 13 acres if it’s in a rural area. But the high cost of Internet connectivity is really making it difficult for a small business like mine to succeed.
Thanks for listening to me gripe.
I have in fact been in touch with your staff members in the past. Even offered to lease a space on our ridge on the Buncombe/Madison line for an antenna, but apparently our site wasn’t suitable.
Moved to this location in April 2005. I need a fast connection for my work. DSL wasn’t available here, so I went with an ISDN line. It worked fine from April through August. Then suddenly in August, the line started frying expensive ISDN modems. After multiple service calls, BellSouth couldn’t identify the problem and kept claiming it was my equipment. (It wasn’t, the line fried multiple modems at about $300 each.) Interestingly, each tech had a “piece” of a similar situation that had occurred at a household “just over the ridge,” but none of them could tell me the *whole* story or how to stabilize the line. (And interestingly, every one of them said it didn’t really matter to them whether the problem got fixed or not when they came out. “I get paid the same amount either way” was the general response.) So, not being able to *use* the line or get a repair from BellSouth, I terminated the service. I estimate my losses from that situation exceeded $1,000.
Then, after researching other options (including Main’s wireless, which unfortunately wasn’t available here yet), I decided to go with dataBahn, a satellite provider. The service had a lower monthly fee than the BellSouth ISDN line, but the upfront costs of purchashing the dish and installation were approximately $2500. It worked beautifully for a year or so, then the ISP sent an e-mail indicating it was having some type of dispute with the operator of the satellite on which it was leasing space. Two weeks later, *poof,* the company went under, and there was no service nor any recorse for subscribers like me.
I tried to find another satellite ISP that I could sign up with and still use the expensive equipment I had purchased. I identified one based in KY, but after multiple phone calls and e-mails, their sales person was not responding. So, $2,500 worth of equipment rendered useless in about a year.
About that time I was put in contact with Main employee Robbie Robinson. He’s the one who came out with a GPS and checked out our site. Interestingly, it was Robbie and his wife (who works from home, like me) who were the folks “over the ridge” from me who had the same ISDN problem I had had. Apparently they had spent well north of $1,000 out of their own pockets (even though it was BellSouth’s line), to pay to install special grounding on the ISDN line to prevent power spikes from burning up modems. Apparently, BellSouth had been made aware of what they had done, but as I experienced in my story, apparently BellSouth’s record keeping and communication is abysmal, because BellSouth couldn’t even describe this repair to me to give me an option.
So, after I lost dataBahn service, I decided to go with HughesNet, not only because it was a larger provider, but also because I would have the option of higher bandwidth service plans should my needs warrant it. I paid the typical amount (somewhere in the $400 range I recall) to purchase equipment and establish service with them. I have been fairly happy with the service, save for a recent 4-day outage, ironically again due to an service volume issue with satellite IA6 (the same bird I was on with dataBahn). LOL, a couple of months after I established service with HughesNet established service, the rep from the KY satellite ISP finally e-mailed me. A day late and a dollar short.
I am lucky because I can at least write off the equipment as a business expense. But the amount that I have spent on equipment to try to get reliable service not to mention the monthly expense $80/month for ongoing service vastly exceeds the means of the typical rural family. For me, the time I’ve spent has been even worse–hours and hours dealing with service issues and repairs that lead nowhere, and additional time researching the next best option when things went wrong.
Buncombe County, NC
I have been a resident of rural Madison County since 1979. In 1993, I changed vocations and entered the world of information technology. I have steadily moved up in the world of corporate information systems, and am now the Information Technology Director for a company in Arden. My daily commute is 110 miles. There is much of my job that could be done from home if I had high-speed access to the internet, including a VPN with my corporate network for monitoring and support. This is completely out of the question with dialup or existing technologies like satellite. It isn’t as if I am unwilling to pay for technology that is relatively cheap for those who live in more urban areas. I routinely write checks to DirecTV for larger amounts that residents of Buncombe County pay for digital tv, highspeed internet, and in some instances, their phone service also. This I consider to be a lifestyle choice that I am willing to make. However, the lack of broadband availability is going to soon force me to choose between the lifestyle that I love, and my career.
As a mountain homeowner I am concerned about the primitive connectivity we suffer with in the rural Asheville area. I am a member of the large and active senior population commonly referred to as “Babyboomers”. Like many of my neighbors and friends in the rural mountains I hope to “semi retire” to that area while maintaining an active part time role in my business. It is hard for me to function up there now, on even a temporary basis for a few days. It will be severely limiting to try to conduct that business over the existing internet access we have for even longer stretches of time. It seems to me that both our Government and Private Industry would benefit from many people like myself being able to remain actively employed and productive in our “Early Golden Years”. That will have the very desirable effects of delaying the Boomer’s pressure on Social Security benefits while keeping much needed, experienced employees, in the work force who will be paying income taxes during their extended earning years. Certainly, fast, reliable access to the internet in the rural areas being sought out by us “semi retirees” will facilitate that activity, as well as benefit the full time residents who need the services just as much as those living in better served high density urban communities.
For these reasons as well as convenience, educational, and safety issues, I urge your active support of the use of vacated TV channels for internet access conduits.
Buncombe County, NC
We live just 1/4 mile off of Interstate 40 in western North Carolina. McDowell County is one of the poorest counties on the I-40 corridor from Asheville to Raleigh. We have very few jobs either in industry or agriculture, and no town of any significant size. We rely on M@in to provide us Internet service in Old Fort. Dial-up service is available from Verizon, but broadband is not. Our only options are satellite or WildBlue. Satellite high speed is prohibitively expensive for our family and WildBlue is not much faster than the dial-up we have now, though it is more that twice as expensive as well. We have asked Verizon again and again to let us know when we can sign up for high speed internet services and each time we inquire, they say that have no plans to improve the wires to support such services at this time. We have difficulty even with our phone lines. Every time it rains, the line goes dead. They keep coming to fix it, but to make a permanent change, they need to replace all the wires, and that is not in their business plan for the county any time soon.
My husband is a studio potter. His business is here at our house. He has a studio and a gallery on site and he sells retail ceramics out of his gallery. He has not put up an interactive website where other galleries that he serves can order online, because the dial-up services are too slow to handle photos and billing processes. I often work out of our house too with my job and internet access if vital for me to stay connected to colleagues and do my work. Often, I find myself having to drive up to Black Mountain to work in a coffee shop so that I can get wireless.
Please open these unused TV channels so that North Carolinians and others can have access to the web.
Old Fort, NC
My name is Rhonda Seaman. I live in rural McDowell County. I have tried to find high-speed Internet connection through the phone company. It is not available. I do not want cable TV or satellite TV but was willing to investigate the cable high-speed Internet possibility for the convenience of high speed. The cable company does not have a cable connection at my location. I even talked to a local wireless company who has towers in the area but we have no access due to ridge tops and trees. They did tell us we could put up our own 30 foot tower to access their connection but I can’t even imagine what that would cost. And I don’t even think I have a southern exposed sky to access the Hughes Net company. I am truly at the mercy of the FCC in my location. I would love to be able to have high speed Internet for my family. We are a home school/farming family. We are trying to sell wholesale vegetables through a local marketing group that is utilizing the Internet for orders. I am unable to fully participate due to the inability of my dial up service.
Other problems I have with dial up Internet service.
I have to asked friends and family not to send pictures over the email because I of the time it takes to download them,
My children have a difficult time accessing school assignments or doing research from home due to slow dial up.
I cannot access any video clips, pod casts, or even websites with lots of graphics due to the slow load up time. I hear there’s a thing out there called you-tube out there with a lot of neat life experiences on there but I can’t access it , so I don’t know. When I try to access these websites my computer seizes up.
I cannot download updates to my virus protection software due to problems with the dial up connections. When I try to access these updates my computer seizes up.
I cannot actively participate in any on line auctions due to the slow reaction time to dial up.
I cannot access large pdf files on the Internet due to my computer seizing up. This makes it impossible for my daughter to access the class schedule at the local technical college from home.
Having access to Broadband high-speed Internet would make a WORLD of difference to us. We do all of our Banking and other activities on the Internet. There are times waiting for dial-up to come through can be so exasperating (and sometimes costly) we have to wonder how is it we can launch a spacecraft into outer space to rendezvous with a space station, and we can’t make high-speed Internet available to all Americans, rural as well as others. We strongly support whatever can be done to help us in this area. Thank you.
Richard and Emily Ford
I started a B & B business five years ago USING DIAL UP. As you can imagine the life and death of this type of business is determined by a web presence. Challenged with building a website on DIAL UP, and then marketing such a site on DIAL UP and then joining multiple indexes where personal pages were built on DIAL UP was a very painful experience. Due to the time it took it slowed my progress down, impacted my revenues all along the way. Then when I grew enough to afford an on-line booking system I found out they were incompatible with DIAL UP. So, I was reduced to continuing a paper calendar with hash marks and the possibility of overbooking was always a threat. (YES, I did overbook) Finally I found one system that would take me on with satellite. That is not much better due to the sensitivities of satellite. Just writing this e-mail I was thrown off the web due to a storm in God knows what county.
The Foothills Connect Business ands Technology Center is a rural economic development program, which seeks to develop entrepreneurs through technology. As in many rural areas the fact that high-speed broadband is scarce, sometimes gets misinterpreted that there is no need for broadband in rural areas. Foothills created a website, www.farmersfreshmarket.org that links the fresh food inventories of dozens of growers to the chefs and restaurants in Charlotte. Gradually, the farmers will be required to maintain their own inventories and participate in virtual dialogues with Chefs about their culinary needs. The program grows weekly as more farmers and chefs are determined to participate in this new market, only achievable through rural broadband.
The Rutherford County community has expended a great deal of effort, culminating with a $1.45 million Golden Leaf Grant to extend high speed broadband through fiber optic connectivity provided by the non-profit provider, PANGAEA. The 23 schools in Rutherford County were connected to PANGAEA’s fiber in Feb of 2008. Within weeks, a local high school’s Future Farmers of America team won the State Championship in Soils Judging. This team qualified for the National Championship in Oklahoma City.
The preparation curriculum for the National Championship was made available to these students only through an online data base which the students were able to access through the newly available fiber optic connectivity. The team, thus prepared placed a respectable 42nd out of 96 teams. Had the competition been held 90 days earlier, it is unlikely that the Rutherford County FFA team would have been competitive.
Rutherford County, NC
My wife and I each have a computer connected to the internet by dial up with EarthLink. We have a Verizon wireless broadband card that works very well in our home in FL and our motor home most ANYPLACE we are in the country. But it will not work where we live in Madison County. I have to listen to my wife yell about how slow it is accessing her checking accounts and trying to pay all our bills on line. She likes to purchase things on-line and that is frustrating.
I work for a company that also allows me to work from my home because I can do it with my computer, waiting for files to download at 26.6 is so frustrating I go into my work shop and work on something else until it is done. I can not work with a client over the phone because he is high speed and I’m not. I am also using a third phone line to talk while I am on the computer, and still have to switch one of them to operate the fax. I have waited for years hoping something else besides another Satellite hook up that I can afford.
We would welcome your opportunity with open arms,
Madison County, NC
First off thanks for caring about the rural Internet problems of past and PRESENT! I am a self-employed artist and as such the lack of high speed access keeps the e-commerce world just outside of my reaches. Also as a self employed citizen I need to research my own health care and sifting through all the information can take forever. The Phone lines outside of Bakersville North Carolina are so bad that my dialup speeds average below 21KB! These are equivalent to 1997 speeds! Its funny my phone service is through Verizon and my cable is through charter two of the major players in telecommunications. I know for a fact that Verizon offers DSL on my road but it ends less than three miles from my house! And they have told me they have no plans to run the lines further, whatever that means. These two major companies feel that it is fine to still bother me with phone offers of high-speed internet access which they can not provide, talk about salt in the wound! I can’t wait for the day that our free market society reaches the point of equality it is suppose to offer. It is not currently a level playing field when fellow self-employed artists in my county have access to greater services than i currently have. Good luck with your battle and us small guys appreciate it.
I live in Marble, Cherokee County, just outside of Murphy. I have been needing high speed Internet for years! The package the local Cable Company offers is unaffordable. Verizon, the local phone provider says they cannot furnish it where I live due to lack of equipment in the area, but promise this will be corrected soon- depending on who you talk to, but it never happens.
I am 82 years old, living alone, on social security and rely on my computer for a lot of things. Everything is more difficult and sometimes it is impossible to access certain things on the web I would like to. I pay all of my bills on line and sometimes have a problem with certain accounts due to the slow speed. I sometimes sell things on ebay for extra income. This is also much more cumbersome. I do not use the internet frivolously, but use it for education and research, a lot of it medical and health related. Broadband would make everything much more accessable and doable.
I have been with Main a long time and have been impressed with the service and personal help. Success with this endeavor will help so many people!
Cherokee County, NC
I am someone that depends on the Internet for my job. I work at Park Ridge Hospital and also temp sometimes at other hospitals via the Internet. Hospitals have firewalls and VPN networks requiring high speed networking which in a rural area has prohibited me from working at certain facilities. I pay for two internet systems. Verizon dial up (which on a VPN get me the speed of 33 kb per second) which is very slow and I pay for a Hughes network satellite connection. This has megabyte downloading but uploads speeds are similar to dial up if not slower when working on VPN which means if I use this connection I may be having less than 33 kb per second. Most systems will not work at such low speeds and I am constantly pressed to try and find work that offers programs that don’t require much speed. [Note- a regular dial up modem is suppose to run at 56K but because of Verizon's old telephone lines everyone can only get 33.]
My husband uses the Internet for banking. He works full time and is self employed and sometimes driving over a vast area it is difficult for him to get to the bank. The Internet offers him the ability to do that part of his job in the comfort of home instead of driving as wasting precious time.
My hospital has now allowed me to begin commuting from home two days a week because of gas prices. When I drive to work it is a 120-mile round trip. I could work from home full time on my job but due to my Internet connection I do not have the capability to access all my programs. I work on what I can at a very decreased speed then go into work the next day and work on the system I could not access at home. It saves some money and keeps me efficient but how much better if we could just get what everyone else on the planet seems to enjoy in high speed internet.
I believe most everyone in my neighborhood has been praying for high speed and hopefully this will help you understand that we are not just gamers. I am mother and working person who depends on the internet to make a living. My husband operates a business. Please work to get high speed Internet SOMEHOW to rural America. Especially REVERE.
When we moved to the mountain 2 years ago, one very important aspect was that we had a dependable Internet service, as fast as possible without breaking the bank. We were totally sold a bill of good by Hughes.net which is nothing but dishonest. If we knew then what we know now, we would never have moved to Western North Carolina.
I’m self employed and run both an Internet site and blog from home. It’s vital I stay connected in order to generate business. We are currently paying $80 per month and receiving about 20% of the speed we are contracted to get. Hughes.net couldn’t care less…..both my husband and I have been on the phone with them up to 6 hrs. at a time trying to solve the problem, or get a reduction in our fees and every time we mysterious are transferred from person to person after huge long waits in between. Their techs are all from India so you can barely understand what they are saying. They just give run around after run around, and finally, every time, we get disconnected. It can not be a coincidence! Installers have told us the problem is that too many people are using this service, that’s why no one can get quality connections. Hughes.net continues to sell their load of lies that this is fast, inexpensive Internet, and more and more customers sign up, making it even slower and slower. Their customer service is by far the worst I’ve ever dealt with for any company, EVER!
I’m furious, my business is suffering because I’m spending too much time away from other important tasks as I try to do the Internet portion of my daily tasks, which should take 30-60 mins, but usually takes 3 hours due to the pitiful service. Downloads are a nightmare as well.
I feel like we are being held hostage by big business who don’t want to service our less populated areas and will only do so with super high fees and terrible service. I don’t want to depend upon the government to feed our family, I’m happy to earn my own way…..but I’m not being allowed to by the various cable and telecom services. The airways are free…..why can’t they be used for all the people? We need action to bring quality, affordable Internet service to our mountains.
Thank you for your efforts to bring quality Internet to the mountains.
Mary Stori Clyde, NC
My husband and I live in a remote area of Madison County, NC. We moved here in 2002 because we embraced the simple lifestyle we can enjoy here. By choice we do not have a TV. We get most of our news from public radio or the Internet.
My husband is retired, but I still work as a freelance nature photographer and writer. When we moved here, it was still common for me to send film-based photos to publishers worldwide via courier delivery services. In the past 6 years, this has changed to predominantly marketing my images on my website or by sending targeted emails to buyers. The only problem is that we are on dial-up internet service, and because of our chosen remote location, the only logical provider of DSL (Verizon) has no idea when they might upgrade their services to include us in the DSL service area.
Yes, we are really remote. For several months when we were having trouble getting a good connection via our voice phone line, Verizon strung a temporary emergency line through the neighbors’ woods, pasture, and across their turnip patch just to get us passable service. We have a dedicated line for dial-up Internet connection, but on most days the best speed we can get from it is 16,800 to 19,200 baud. Our voice line usually achieves 24,000 baud, so we often use it, which leaves us with no voice capability while we are online.
There is a distant possibility that a cell phone tower might be put a the ridge that we see from our front porch (an expansive view that has only one distant abandoned cabin and one light at night in winter when the leaves are off the trees). As much as we would like the possibility this could bring an opportunity for better Internet service, we would not favor it because of the visual intrusion on the skyline of rural Madison County.
The possibility of delivering broadband service via the public spectrum that may become available in Feb 2009 is very exciting. It would not create any additional visual intrusions on our lovely landscape. And it could provide Internet access very necessary to my business. I currently have to drive to the public library, a 22-mile round trip, when I need to upload or download large files related to my photo sales. With the increasing cost of gasoline, this is becoming quite burdensome.
I would be happy to provide additional information if you need it in your quest to bring public spectrum broadband transmission to rural NC.
Thank you for your efforts,
I am a software developer and EDI consultant who lives in rural Missouri, and works primarily from home. I have been begging my phone company to provide me with DSL but they refuse, saying that there are not enough customers in my area to justify installing the equipment. Anytime I need to download or upload large files I have to drive to my company office, with is 58 miles away (one way). Using the vacant TV channels for broadband sounds like a great idea to me. Good luck with your campaign.
We first came to know MAIN when we needed to be able to reach out far and wide for support. Connie was fighting Multiple Sclerosis and I was struggling to care for her. The local phone company wanted us to dial long distance in order to dial up an internet provider. That is when MAIN provided for us a local phone number. We were then able to connect with others in similar circumstances. Connie corresponded with Julie, who was an English woman with MS who use a connection through the University of Helsinki, and I corresponded with Joe, Woody and Steven in South Africa. We were not alone.
Connie died in 2002, but my needs have not. Just this week our paper, The News-Record and Sentinel reports that “Tower access denied”, citing there is not enough room on the tower and the Madison County Commissioners decided that “the remaining space on the tower be reserved for emergency service use”. That is not right!
Inside the Town of Mars Hill city limits, there is no available wireless and fast service. Requests get routinely blocked by those who find it necessary to gain every possible cent from our rural community. It is now at least $60 to get connected. Tobacco has gone by the wayside, it is hard to make a living around here. We love our community and it difficult to find the money to travel these mountain roads. We need a way to connect.
Thank you MAIN for doing, and for having done for so long, a great job of representing our needs to the powers out there who do not have a clue what it is to live in Madison County.
Madison County, NC
My name is Carol Murray and I have been waiting for a long time for faster service. Not because that I am in a hurry to go any where just my endurance is not what it used to be because of my disability (Polio). I belong to the group Cyberpals through Independent Living/Pathway for the Future. MAIN has been so gracious to make Internet Connection affordable to the Cyberpal group. I love my time on my computer and I would love it even more if it were faster.
I live at the Brooks-Howell Home in a three story brick building about a mile north of the center of Asheville. This is a city, not a rural area, but it is not possible, it seems, to get broad band service to function properly. It is blocked. Therefore there’s a constant lack of telephone service while I’m on my Internet and my contacts are frustrated by my phone always “being busy”.
Anything to bring broad band to me here close to the center of Asheville would be most helpful. Please continue your efforts and much appreciation for same.
I am a small business owner living in rural Haywood County, NC. I have had dial up with MAIN since I first got Internet access in 1998. I like working with MAIN because they are right here in my region and provide regional, pertinent information and incredible customer service. I do NOT want to have generic Internet access from a company like Charter or ATT, who are taking over the communication in the country and I shouldn’t have to! Currently, though I have a computer in my home office, I have to drive to town to access the internet at a friend’s house in order to load my webpage updates with any degree of speed. This is an added expense both in gas for my car and in my time. I teach music and know that there is a world of information available on the Internet that is at other people’s fingertips, but not conveniently to mine. Once again, I drive to somewhere else to access video music lessons, to expand my own learning for my teaching business. I can’t easily do this, as I am not welcomed to sit in a library to play my guitar while I work with an online music lesson. I must find a friend who will let me come over and use their computer. I should be able to access the Internet in my own home through my local provider, MAIN, with a reasonable degree of speed. Last I looked we all, both rural and urban citizens, live in the 21st Century.
These things my sound small to some of you but they are big inconveniences to me as a resident and business owner. The lack of broadband Internet to my home impedes my efficiency, quality of time and is an issue that should not need to be an issue. Please open up access to rural areas.
I am an educator in Mitchell County. I am also a single parent of a 15-year-old. The problems that we encounter with dial-up would take several pages to list. It is not MAIN, but the fact that fiber optic telephone lines are not available in our area. We live five miles outside the city limit The internet is my only connection to the rest of the world. So much is out there for an educator and a student. However, because the speeds are so slow, most of the time whatever we are trying to research has to be canceled because we don’t have all night for something to load. My daughter complains to me that text books, on-line tutorials and other educational tools are of little use to her. Many times we have to go to school early or find someone “in town” that has a higher connection speed than 28000 kbps-Sad.
Having the ability to access the Internet at high speeds would be a dream come true. Even if I could afford the $60.00 a month fee to buy DSL, it would do me little or no good since the fiber optic problem is still there.
The key is “rural” and because we are “rural” we have no choice regarding the speed at which we connect. I feel like I am punished for living in a rural community. We have always wanted to the same things that are available in larger cities. Many people in our county are out of work. Having the ability to obtain access to high speeds and low cost would make a big difference in the lives of not only the students, educators in this county, but also the unemployed.
I have been a customer of MAIN since it began. I believe that MAIN will do whatever they can for rural customers. Please give them the support they need to provide us with higher speeds so we can actually experience what the rest of the world has done for years.
Spruce Pine, NC
This may not seem important to most computer users, but it is to us. We are in our eighties and like to see pictures of our grandchildren as they grow. We live in an area where there is no high speed Internet and it takes forever to download one picture. We were not able to attend a family reunion recently and my family offered to send us a bunch of pictures but it would have taken hours to download them so we said to send some by mail if they could. That is only a small sample of the aggravation of using a slow dial-up. I may be old and slow but in this day and age my computer doesn’t need to be.
Graham County, NC
As an IBO with Quixtar (Amway) since 1995, I have used the internet to place orders online. This has become basically impossible since their web page was updated. I have been forced to start placing the orders by phone. I can no longer even visit the bookstore at InTouch.com because they have also updated. I fear as other websites are upgraded they will also become inaccessible by dial-up. The possibility of DSL in my area is very slim. We don’t even have cable available. DSL is available within 5 miles of my residence, but I cannot obtain any timetable for DSL to be available to my residence. Why should I be denied service?
Any assistance to remedy this problem would be appreciated.
We reside in Burke County where there is no MAIN.
ATT has us by the balls. Their wireless service requires a two year contract. The service charges and fees for wireless phone, land-line, and internet service are $150/month. There is no way we can afford to add cable or satellite TV, which is okay since there is so little worth watching.
The idea of completing a Master’s distance program at UNC-Chapel Hill (or anywhere else) remains a dream without affordable, fast access internet.
Waiting for MAIN in Burke County,
I live right behind a mountain but only 6 miles from Asheville. I have realized for years that I need reliable, fast speed access to the internet for my personal educational growth — but it has been very expensive here. I also must have good access for my business, now very slow due to the subprime mortgage fiasco and its continual spread into the larger economy. I must pay a substantial monthly charge to Verizon South - $40/mo. to get DSL, and their DSL looks like a tortise compared to the Buncombe County Library system’s no charge access. A few years ago, main.nc.us found it could not supply broadband to me because of the mountain, but now I see the big change to HD TV will open the old wavebands for internet access. Internet access in this country has fallen behind foreign countries — I know because my responsibilities have taken me to Bangkok in recent years and their dial-up is very fast and I can get DSL prepaid for a month and have excellant connectivity and speed. Yet for the return to the American consumer for deregulation I see my phone bills always going up and internet access being very expensive. Now the story is coming to mind — the big ISP companies wnat to buy up most of the soon-to be-available broadband width leases vacated by TV stations’ going to HD digital and then they can be the money-changer at the gate: the more you pay, the faster you go. Why should the American citizen allow his or her ability to keep up in this information-based economy to be dependennt on the amount of money he or she may have available? Why is such a thing considered to be just? We need a well educated electorate to withstand the challenges to our nation from the right and from the left and from anti-democracy people. The companies didn’t create the internet, the American citizen did by paying the taxes. The companies enjoy incorporation as legal entities but really are extensions of individual, living people. They should not be allowed to take this democracy away from us under some money worship oriented ideology. The American companies, and perhaps their foreign rivals trained in latter day American business practices, just are not measuring up to a satisfactory standard anymore because they are milking the cash cow too much and they are not working on the things that will help the common man. M.A.I.N. offers a reasonable alternative and a full-portioned sufficiency of broadband width should be set aside for local and low cost alternitives to the big players. With the new technology, perhaps I could get a better access at a lower cost.
It is amazing how the people who live in rural America are penalized by the internet companies because it is not cost efficient for them to bring internet access at an affordable price to these areas. They make a significant profit, however, there is no social responsibilities to bring hard to reach locations into the 21st century. If it is available, it is at an extremely inflated rate. So much of today’s activities are performed over the internet. Credit card, both statement and paying, banking, shopping, communication and much more. We who live in the mountains are severely handicapped by the lack of available options. Dial up is so slow that many times, the page times out. On the other hand, satellite isn’t much better and often does not work. There has to be another solution. Main seems to feel there is one. I for one, support and applaud their effort to bring an affordable high speed internet alternative to the rural communities. With the technology available, hindered by legalese, how ridiculous not to tap into the raw and ready market.
I thought I’d contribute my story:
I’ve been living on the side of a mountain in SE Buncombe county, NC for 6 years now. I lived with dial-up internet and subsequently had to live without such wonderful items as video streaming, internet games, downloading anything over 1 MB, etc. It also made it so difficult to work from home (I’m in Real Estate) and I would find myself driving to the office even when I didn’t have any appointments, which is expensive and contributes to global warming. I finally broke down and got satellite Internet, but I’m not happy with it either. It is faster and now I can work from home, but I’m at the mercy of the weather, and there are still some things I can’t do. For example, access to Buncombe County GIS and register of deeds is slim to none on my satellite connection. Then there’s the ugly satellite that I either had to put in the middle of my garden or cut down a whole bunch of trees. That on top of the expensive installation ($450), high service charge ($60/month) makes alternatives to satellite very desirable.
Thank you for doing what you’re doing,
Black Mountain, NC
My name is Chris Orr and I live in a little town in western North Carolina. I have currently started school at our community college and am about to start online classes from a school in Georgia. My reasons for this is that I cant afford to drive down there or rent a place to live there. We have Hughes net at our home now and it’s the only thing that we can get besides dial up. Hughes net is not very fast at all and it is very expensive and when it rains it goes dead an after continued use of it, it then is downgraded and slowed almost to the point that I cant even view a web page. If we do not have access to high speed Internet soon I’m afraid that I won’t be able to complete my school work on time do bad in my classes all because of my internet access. So I really hope that we will have access very soon.
Western North Carolina
I got my first computer for my 80th birthday. I signed up Main for internet service. Finally I learned to receive and send emails…..what a joy this was to keep up with my friends.
Lately it is taking so long to download emails….just today it took over an hour to download seven……..I am now 85+ and its about a full time job taking care of this old woman I have become……so, this and the other things I have to take care of don’t leave much time for email….However, I am learning to use some pretty bad words and have made up a few choice ones of my own.
I would like to think there would be some way to improve this………….but with improvements comes additional cost. My little fixed income won’t stretch.
Anyway, I’m wishing you much success in this endeavor. We desperately need help……
This is an economic development issue; as long as we rural residents are second class citizens of the Internet world, rural economic development dollars will be far less effective than need be, and rural education in the US will seriously lag behind the rest of the country.
I work full time and recently went back to school to earn my BA in special education. Many of the classes are now on-line. Without high-speed Internet access, I cannot successfully complete my college courses. I live in Burnsville, NC where high-speed Internet access is very limited.
I hope that changes soon. I want to continue to support MAIN.
Our family endeavors to spend our money locally whenever possible, and we were much dismayed that MAIN does not offer high speed internet in our area although we are only about ten miles from downtown Asheville. Our other options consisted of increasing our monthly bills by eighty or so dollars to install a land telephone line so we could get AT&T, or we could pay for the exceptionally basic cable and the internet for an extra sixty dollars a month (once the introductory special expires). This increased cost has led us to cut out some of our other spending especially in light of the rising gasoline and food expenses we are facing.
The Internet is indeed a luxury when compared with basic services that others do without; however, it allows us to have more access to varied news outlets as well as making it much easier to contact our elected representatives and stay in contact with far-flung friends.
The news access is growing in importance as we have but one local newspaper and television station in the Asheville area. Not being able to afford the expanded basic cable that would provide the cable news services, we depend on the Internet to offer other points of view as well as exercise quick fact checking.
A representative republic can hardly work if the electorate faces undue burden in making contact with the elected. Email, blogs, and websites are crucial to obtaining position information as well as being avenues for contact with the official or candidate; in a representative republic like ours, it is crucial to have an informed and active electorate to ensure quality governance. The Internet provides a space for geographically disparate constituencies to come together.
I thank for your efforts to secure the soon to be open TV airwaves for use burgeoning rural and suburban Internet service.
Buncombe County, NC
For the past four years I have been struggling with the lack of broadband service in my neighborhood in the Higgins area of Yancey County, North Carolina. Apparently I am located in a ?dead zone? that suffers from the unavailability of DSL, cable modem or Wi-Fi service. From my discussions with other residents of Yancey County it appears that large areas of the county also suffer from a lack of service. Verizon has some DSL circuits available within 16,000 feet of their switch approximately three miles north from us on US Highway 19W North in the Bee Log community. According to Verizon my house is 25,000 feet from their switch and therefore does not qualify for DSL service. I know that DSL service can be easily xtended using remote terminal equipment installed in a pedestal closer to the subscriber?s homes. Similarly, Country Cablevision?s data network stops three miles south of us at Langford Branch Road. After repeated contacts and requests for extending Verizon and/or Country Cablevision?s network to our neighborhood over the past four years it has become clear that neither company intends to make the capital investment to extend their service to us reportedly because of a relatively low density subscriber base. Their business plan prefers to ?cherry pick? the ?low hanging fruit? located in the denser populated neighborhoods. I have offered to help recruit subscribers for both of these companies but they are not interested.
Fixed wireless services is also not available because there is no line of site access points available to us because of the mountainous terrain. Satellite Internet providers such as Hughes Net and Wild Blue are not satisfactory broadband alternatives because of poor and erratic service, high cost and bad customer service.
The unavailability of broadband Internet service has been extremely detrimental to my ability to use my computer for business, research, education, job search, e-commerce, e-mail and participating in government and public affairs. Having to rely on slow dial-up service has basically made my computer unusable much of the time. Microsoft and Anti-Virus security vendors regularly issue operating system ?patches? and ?security updates? with file sizes in excess of 40 megabytes. At the 28 to 33 kilobits per second dial-up speeds that I typically connect at using EarthLink it is impossible to download these huge files. Additionally, most of the Web sites now contain streaming audio, video, Flash content and other data rich services that take forever to load on a slow dial-up connection. Consequently I am forced to drive 8 or 10 miles each way to an Internet Café of the Public Library to use my notebook to do research or simply keep my computer up to date.
I am not alone. Many of my friends and neighbors are also in the same predicament. One neighbor is an internationally known artist who does work around the world. Museums frequently request images, videos and graphic files that typically take ten or more hours to upload one file over a slow connection, if at all. Other artists, craft persons, writers and small business people find it exceedingly difficult to work because of poor Internet access. The lack of broadband service has most definitely been a deterrent to many potential small businesses who are interested in living and working in rural areas. Similarly, unavailability of broadband has cause a hardship for school age kids and people who are stuck at home because of economic reasons or health issues. Our society and economy is now runs on broadband speed and those of us stuck in the ?slow lane? Are rapidly being left behind. A changing economic base and globalization has caused a huge loss of manufacturing jobs to other countries. Employment opportunities now require a high level of computer software and Web technology skills for even entry-level jobs. In fact, many of the fastest growing employment sectors require home based tele-computing capability. Quite literally we are suffering a slow business death because of slow Internet connections.
I applaud your efforts to open the rural areas of North Carolina to participate in the new economy. Just as the TVA and the Rural Electrification initiatives brought electricity and later telephone service to the Appalachian Mountains, so too must we insure that everyone has the opportunity to participate in our modern society through the Internet and Wide World Web. The Federal Communications Commission and the North Carolina Public Utility Commission have been slow to recognize the extent of the rural data accessibility problem and to require the public utility carriers, e.g., telcos like Verizon and the cable television industry to provide universal service for this now essential service.
Good luck with your efforts. If you can overcome the technical constraints of line of sight WiFi then MAIN will be our hero. Please feel free to call or write me for a more in depth description of the daily nightmare I face trying to live in a Broadband based world on an obsolete and antiquated dial-up telephone network.
Here in Northeast Tennessee I am also on dialup. Several times a week I spend 2 to 3 hours getting my computer back up and running when someone has sent me something that my dial up will not handle. It can be pictures, animated “stuff”, videos, even e cards take forever to load, like 10 minutes or more. Even pdf things sometimes take 30 minutes to download. Games don’t do well either. Opening several windows can make things freeze. The only thing that does not give me trouble is the plain text groups I belong to, that allow no attachments, photos, etc. My age is 73 and with the price of gas I must stay home much more than I want to, and not being able to use the Internet comfortably makes my days stressful as I try to keep up with life!
I am a software engineer and my wife is from a town just north of Asheville, North Carolina. When we were fortunate enough to have the opportunity for me to eventually find a telecommuting job and for us to live near her family we took it. We live in a farm house approximately 30 miles north of Asheville, just a few miles from where she was born and raised, and we hope to raise our family here too.
The one prerequisite: my job (of course) requires broadband internet access.
I anticipated great savings from not having to drive to work, but was stunned, instead, to find that there are virtually no affordable broadband options in my area. Paying for broadband is likely more expensive than paying to commute to work. Yes, we are on a farm, but we are not “in the boonies.” We are 5 miles from the local post office; we have landline phone and electricity; we have neighbors and paved roads; we have (at least to some extent) cell phone service and broadcast TV; we have good friends who live 4 miles away and have reliable DSL service. Why don’t we have reasonable broadband access?
Between our friends’ house and ours are a mountain ridge (which limits line-of-sight wireless) and a county border. Local cable companies have no service or intention of installing in either area. But, in their county, a small, local telephone company provides excellent service. In ours, Verizon holds a regional monopoly (for instance, they own our landline phone and cell phone access). Verizon is big enough to simply ignore any attempts to contact them regarding broadband service — they have determined (and announced publicly) that “only 30%” of their potential customers are rural and, compared to urban profit margins, the potential rural profit margin is not worth improving their service. In urban areas they are running fiberoptic lines to front doors, in rural areas they are barely even supporting their existing phone services.
After months of searching for an alternative, we were left with a choice of Verizon “3G” service and satellite service as our only options. For 28 days we tried the Verizon “free trial” of their 3G service — the price seemed high at $60/month, but it seemed our best option. The bandwidth was not, as advertised, 1400 Kbps — it was, in our area, 100 Kbps. (One fourteenth of what it claimed to be, and only about thrice as good as typical dialup). Further, their throughput was capped at 5GB per month which was below what is required by my job. As this was unacceptable, we cancelled — the final cost of this “free trial” was, I believe, over $300. A company this size can simply lie, about service quality, about pricing, about coverage, about cancellation fees — no lone individual can fight the legal battles necessary to hold them accountable and, in any case, they have a monopoly on virtually all communication in the area, so, for those of us who need anything more than postal-speed communication, there is no option but to deal with them. (As much as it galls me we still must use them for our landline and cell phone communication.)
Since Verizon’s broadband offerings were inadequate we had only one other choice, satellite. While the ads for such service seem competitive (”DSL speed for $49/mo”, etc.) they are deceptive — the truth is buried in some extremely fine print. Satellite access is typically capped at a few GB per month — not enough if one needs to administer a server, backup databases, transfer files, etc. (i.e. to put in a full workday on the internet). In fact, just basic web use for a few hours a day (on today’s internet) will typically total 2GB/month (often much more). Actual speeds are usually half of what is advertised, and those speeds are based on data-compressed figures (so secure and other non-compressible connections will perform much worse).
We were forced to choose a commercial-grade plan from HughesNet. The installation cost approximately $1,000 and the service is $190/month. Advertised at 2000 Kbps, the effective speed is 1100 Kbps (below DSL) and the bandwidth is capped at 1.25 GB/ day (still well below the size of some of the files with which we deal). Even worse, satellite latency is typically over 1 second (about 20 times what it is for cable, DSL,etc.) — which means VoIP, VPN, Remote Desktop, et al. common business internet uses are almost completely impossible. Paying prices this high for service this bad is a ridiculous extreme, and is totally impractical for most rural Americans, but their only real alternative to such high-priced, under-powered solutions is to have no broadband whatsoever.
Four miles away, on their local telco, our friends enjoy the same service without any download cap, with a tenth of our latency, for $50/month (with essentially free installation).
The only solution ever given is “Just move closer to town.” That is a comment born from ignorance which puts the cart before the horse. $10,000 worth of 5-watt, solar-powered relays and a few hours of skilled labor could connect my entire valley to the local fiberoptic network. Advocating that an entire group of productive people should abandon farms, take losses selling their property, and flock into urban centers is preposterous — especially when a small company with a few thousand dollars (and the will to spend it in a rural area) could provide service to them all AND make a profit while doing it!
The facts of the matter are that these are honest, mere-mortal profits (not Verizon-sized troves) and most incentives in this market favor the monopolies. The “little guys” who need to flourish to cure this problem are, instead, being starved out so the fatter cats can make a percent or two more profit from urban customers (and continue to overcharge or ignore the rural markets). Whatever legislation that can prevent this — ensuring that smaller companies have access to a portion of the wireless spectrum, reducing incentives to companies in overserved areas and shifting it to companies attempting to provide service in underserved areas, increasing accountability for false claims of service, preventing red-tape traps of drowning new companies in nuisance litigation — these changes must be made in order for any competition to survive in the rural markets.
Providing broadband to households such as mine would be healthy for the economy (profitable to everyone involved), healthy for the environment and the nation (each telecommuter is many gallons of gas unburned, traffic jams and car wrecks avoided, even each virtual trip to the library will save a gallon here and there). Giving rural households competitive options for broadband access to the internet is the right thing to do.
Closing this door by allowing intransigent monopolies to persist, relegating their rural customers to over-priced, under performing solutions is, instead, saying clearly that rural America may as well be disconnected as it has nothing to contribute — that attitude is false, and a terrible conceit on the part of those who already enjoy such service.
For America to work it needs healthy competition in all its markets. The rural broadband market is one in which the customer is forced to choose among abusive monopolies or complete lack of service. Rural Americans matter, and they deserve competitive pricing among good services, they do not need any more condescension or neglect (they have had more than enough of that already).
At a time when America is falling behind in the information age (e.g. the entire nation of Japan already has available satellite access at 155,000 Kbps, the EU is expanding wireless coverage and exploring internet-over-powerline that could connect it’s entire power grid at 50,000 Kbps) we can’t afford to bow to companies who would keep our best service at a tenth of what other countries enjoy (and our best rural services at a tenth of that).
Why have we chosen our fattest, laziest companies to represent America in this race?? We need a fairer market that better rewards invention and excellence. We need innovative entrepreneurial efforts and we need them yesterday.
Healthy profit could be made by giving good service at fair prices to rural Americans. A considerable number of us would be willing and appreciative customers if quality services were made available at reasonable prices. Please support efforts to make the internet access of all Americans a point of pride.
Madison County, NC