World Wide Web Internet map

Photographer is my life. via Getty Images

This week I am going to touch on a sore spot for most of us in the region, the issue of rural internet access. I love living deep in the woods on my 46 acres, surrounded by trees and the sounds of nature. My nearest neighbor’s house is around a quarter mile away. I can see the night sky clearly, at least when I am not under my trees, and I seldom hear a car go by after eight o’clock. However, there is one bad thing about living deep in the woods, the lack of good internet service.

I have lived in rural Missouri for 14 years and have had mediocre internet access at best during my stay. I am always excited when I visit a conference in a big city and can download my larger open source software projects in less than five minutes. These same downloads can take hours and sometimes days at home. So exactly how does someone hold a deeply technical job with need of high speed internet in rural Missouri? For me it has been a combination of solutions.

I was initially a customer of CenturyLink for internet service and found it workable most of the time. The biggest problem I had with CenturyLink was a strong lack of customer service, and frequent outages. The download speed was usually decent, but the ability to upload large projects to the internet was nearly impossible. On average I was getting download speeds of 10 Mb/sec and upload of 512 Kb/sec.

Now I need to explain what these numbers mean. A Megabit (Mb) is 1024 Kilobits (Kb), which is 1024 bits. A bit is a single binary digit and it takes 8-bits to represent a letter or symbol of any written language. The 8-bit unit has another name, the byte. This is where things start to get confusing; most file sizes on your computer are reported in bytes, for example the Word document containing this article is 200 kilobytes (KB) (notice the uppercase B). So if you don’t look closely, you might think you could upload this article in less than one second because it is smaller than 512 Kb, but you would be wrong. It is 1600 Kb and takes about three seconds to upload on CenturyLink.

So what is the problem with three seconds versus 1 sec? Let’s look at something larger. I create custom Linux operating system images that range in size from 150 MB up to 4 GB in size. A Gigabyte is 1024 kilobytes. Let’s do the math. Four GB is 4096 MB, 4,194,304 KB and 33,554,432 Kb, which means at 512Kb/sec it will take 65,536 seconds or 18.2 hours to upload the image with CenturyLink. Downloading it is doable, but you will still be waiting about an hour. In the bigger cities the average internet speeds are between in the neighborhood of 1000 MB/sec download and 100 MB/sec upload, or about 100 times faster than rural internet.

Over the years I have found a couple of options for high speed rural internet (in this case high speed means anything over 10MB/sec) and nothing comes near the 1000 MB/sec available in the cities. I will tell you about my experiences with each of the options I have tried. The first was HughesNet satellite internet. I have to tell you I loved the speeds; I was averaging 100MB/sec downloads and 25MB/sec uploads. It was like heaven when it came to the speeds in rural Missouri, but there was a catch. A little thing called a bandwidth cap. This is where an internet service provider sets a monthly limit on the amount of data you are allowed to transfer at high speed. In my case with HughesNet it was 25 GB, which meant that doing a constant download at their average transfer rate would use the data cap in 56 hours. This happened frequently, usually within the first three days of the month. After reaching the data cap they slowed my speeds to 1 MB/sec download and 256 KB upload, which was worse than CenturyLink. I was locked in to a one-year contract and stuck with internet I could use effectively three days out of a month.

I tried cellular internet service with Verizon, T-mobile, and AT&T and they had the same issues of bandwidth caps keeping my speeds good for a few days a month and leaving me lagging behind a majority of the time, waiting for data transfers. For the last four years I have been using a small internet provider out of Rolla, Mo., Wave Internet Technologies. Wave provides internet via microwave transmission; their speeds are not as fast as the satellite, cellular networks, or even CenturyLink when it comes to download speeds, but their service has been excellent and their speeds have been consistent and they deliver the speeds they promise. I paid them for 3 MB/sec bidirectional, which has served my purposes quite well, but I still keep a backup internet provider by US Cellular, because sometimes the microwave antenna loses signal in the high winds. My latest experiment is back again with cellular internet service as almost all providers are now offering truly unlimited internet access without data caps. I went to US Cellular as I already had a contract with them and I am seeing download speeds of 20-25 MB/sec and upload speeds of 10-12 MB/sec, which is among the best I have seen since moving to rural Missouri.

So if you are like me and need a stable and fast internet connection, reach out to your cellular provider or satellite internet providers and see what they have to offer, but watch out for any fine print about data caps or limits, as they are never a good thing to have on a service as important as internet access. If you are an internet service provider in Phelps, Dent or Texas County and want me to talk about experiences with your service, feel free to reach out and I’ll be happy to test drive and write a review. Until next week, stay safe and learn something new.

Scott Hamilton is an Expert in Emerging Technologies at ATOS and can be reached with questions and comments via email to shamilton@techshepherd.org or through his website at https://www.techshepherd.org.

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap