The Progressive Farmer


Link Up Right
Picking the Right Provider When High-Speed Options Limited

Mon Jun 14, 2010 11:07 AM CDT

By Claire Vath
Progressive Farmer Assistant Editor

Frustrated by the lag time in dial-up connection when trying to send data to the USDA, Georgi Starr, of the Mobile, Ala.-based Producers Gin Company, decided to look for a better Internet option.

“We’d requested DSL and never moved toward that,” says Starr, the cotton gin’s office manager. “Since no one reaches us, satellite Internet was our only alternative.”

After much research and comparison shopping, Producers Gin got online. “We’re connected to USDA for our warehousing, and we have to transmit timely receipts,” Starr explains. “If not, we can be fined or shut down.”

With rural broadband money included in the stimulus package, satellite Internet providers are champing at the bit to reach those in rural America deemed unreachable by traditional broadband companies.

“In urban areas, you can wire a home for Internet in the $1,500 range,” explains Tom Moore, cofounder and CEO of satellite provider WildBlue. “As you get into lower-density areas, cost goes up astronomically; it can be hundreds of thousands of dollars. Thus, it’s impossible to serve a home for an affordable price.”

That’s why satellite companies like WildBlue, SkyWay USA and HughesNet are beefing up their offerings to hone in on those last residents left unconnected.

While Starr and her office settled on HughesNet as their provider, each of the satellite Internet companies offers options for both home and business.

Signing up for service is fairly standard, but a little research on the front end is important before signing a contract and committing to a service.

First, in addition to having a computer that was purchased in the past five years, make sure there’s a place on your property with a clear view of the southern sky for the satellite to pick up signal.

Depending on your location, mounting a dish to a house or building may not be an option. A pole-mounted dish can cost an additional fee based on your area and provider. As of this year, says WildBlue spokesperson Stephanie Lovett, “WildBlue has done away with the extra fee.” But it’s worth asking up front if there are costs involved.

Other costs involved may include those for installation and equipment.

Because service is beamed from a satellite, understand that the more users connected to the Internet, the slower it may be; so read the fine print.

Right now, satellite Internet is a substitute -- not an equivalent -- for broadband delivered to homes through DSL, cable or fiber optics. But satellite can be 10 to 30 times faster than traditional dial-up.

The three major satellite Internet companies have a fair-access or reasonable-use policy that prevents one or two people from using up too much data and slowing down connections for everyone.

A big complaint in reviews of the satellite offerings is that users can’t video chat or play games online. But most of the companies have a policy on their Web site warning consumers that “satellite internet access is not intended to be used for voice over IP [telephone service delivered over the Internet, also known as VoIP] or real-time interactive gaming, where latency caused by sending signals from the earth to the satellite and back again would have a noticeable effect on performance.”

Choose a plan based on your needs. For example, a cheaper package often only allows for light surfing and checking e-mail; it won’t be as fast as an $80 offering which may allow users to upload and download at faster speeds.

Be aware that sometimes rain fade happens. Company literature may tell you otherwise, but inclement weather occasionally can interrupt signal.

“I was worried about rain fade during poor weather,” says Producers Gin’s Starr. “But I haven’t had a problem so far.”

Despite satellite’s limitations, the three companies continue to beef up the products they sell.

“We’re all still working toward creating awareness in the markets,” says Doug Medina, HughesNet’s senior director of marketing.

WildBlue is scheduled to launch a new satellite, ViaSat 1, in the first quarter of 2011. “The capacity is more than all the other satellites currently covering North America combined,” says WildBlue’s Lovett. Users will see faster speeds as a result.

“SkyWay USA is working to rebrand its company as a content provider,” says Don Smith, chairman of the advisory board and compensation committee for SkyWay. “It just takes satellite to get there.”

The company recently has worked out partnerships with educational companies and AgriStar to reach rural communities that might not have access to these resources.

For now, Starr is happy with HughesNet. “Everything we do as far as transmission is now almost instantaneous,” she explains. “Satellite Internet has really opened up our time. It’s streamlined everything we do, business-wise.”

Contract Terms: 24 months
Price: $39.95 to $79.95

Contract Terms: 24 months
Price: $59.99 to $349.99

SkyWay USA
Contract Terms: 12 months
Price: $29.95 to $79.95

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