Farm Horizons, May 2009
Rural areas enjoy quick Internet
By Starrla Cray
For some local country folks, the days of slow Internet are over, with wireless broadband Internet becoming available to more than 90 percent of the state.
Jami Berg, who lives eight miles north of Howard Lake, first tried wireless broadband March 2008, with a 20-day trial thru Verizon Wireless.
“The first night, I loved it so much I knew I was never going back,” he said. Before signing up for wireless, Berg’s family had used dial-up Internet service.
An average broadband line is about nine times faster than the best dial-up connection, according to an article from www.explainthatstuff.com, while a quick broadband line can be more than 100 times faster.
Wireless broadband Internet first gained popularity about 10 years ago, but many people are still unaware of its existence, said Anthony Will of Hutchinson, who has been in the industry since 1999.
“We give people Internet where they’ve been told ‘no’ over and over again by the telephone companies,” said Will, who is vice president of a Victoria-based company called Broadband.
Ben and Roxanne Raymond, who live six miles north of Howard Lake, said wireless Internet has been very cost-effective for them. The family recently discontinued their satellite TV service, and instead, watch movies online. Roxanne, who works in Eden Prairie, said she also uses the Internet to work from home when road conditions are bad.
Within a city, Internet service is usually provided through cable and DSL companies, but in the country, the service is often not available. As a result, rural residents are left with three options for Internet access: dial-up, satellite, or wireless broadband.
Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs) use radio frequency bands to broadcast the signal from an elevated tower. Users mount a dish to a high place, such as their roof or silo, pointing it toward the transmitter. For this to work, customers need a “line of sight” not blocked by hills or a thick forest, Will said.
To determine if wireless is available in a particular area, an installer will come to the property and do an assessment. Although coverage isn’t 100 percent, Will said it is getting better all the time.
“When we first started, we had about a 50 percent success rate,” he said. Now, it’s up to between 80-90 percent. The technology is also getting cheaper, he said, which has allowed the company to lower its rates.
Some companies, such as Verizon Wireless, AT&T Mobility, and Sprint, provide wireless Internet through cell phone towers. Because Internet can be accessed anywhere there is a cell tower nearby, this type of connection is especially useful while traveling, Berg said.
For people looking for a less expensive option, dial-up (analog), which runs through the telephone lines, might be the answer.
“That’s all we’ve ever had,” commented Denise Ernst, who lives west of Lester Prairie. Ernst said her family mainly uses the Internet to check e-mail. “We don’t use it a whole lot because it’s so slow.”
Satellite Internet, which connects users via a satellite that orbits the earth, is faster than dial-up, but also costs more. One advantage of satellite, however, is that many people in remote areas can receive service.
“As long as there’s a clear view of the southern sky,” a McLeod Coop Power representative said.
One drawback of satellite, however, is that it is affected by weather. Condensation in the atmosphere, as well as thunderstorms, can block the signal, McLeod Coop Power said.
In Minnesota, wireless broadband is becoming widespread, according to non-profit organization Connect Minnesota, which recently released a map detailing the availability of broadband across the state.
Early data shows that 92 percent of Minnesota households have broadband available to them, according to Gene R. South, Sr. of Lakedale Communications, a wireless provider serving the Annandale area.
“The average download speed statewide is higher than we have seen in any other state, at approximately 6.5 mbps,” Brent Legg of Connected Nation, (the parent company of Connect Minnesota) noted. “The average upload speed is approximately 1.5 mbps.”
Although the best type of Internet connection for each household may vary, the demand for Internet access in rural areas is increasing.
“It’s a way for farmers to be more cost-effective,” Will said. Online, farmers can order equipment, pay bills, check current feed prices, and receive updated weather forecasts.
“We get a great deal of farmers,” Broadband president Mark Wegscheid said.
The Internet can also be a tool for learning and entertainment, Wegscheid added.
Currently, his company is working with Ron Schara of Minnesota Bound to stream live nature videos directly to the Minnesota Bound web site, www.mnbound.com.
They are planning to use a solar-powered IP camera attached to a 150-foot cable, which will run a signal to the radio tower. This will allow live footage of coyote dens, eagles’ nests, beaver huts, and other wildlife to be streamed directly to the Internet.