Farm Horizons, October 2013

Getting up to speed with rural Internet access

By Starrla Cray

There was a time, not so long ago, when “mouse” referred to a furry rodent in the granary, and “web” was a silky strand dangling from the barn ceiling.

Today, of course, those words have taken on new meanings – even in areas where Internet access has been limited in the past.

“Rural areas may not have as easy access to high-speed Internet, but there are quite a few choices out there,” noted Karin Colberg, who lives in Dassel Township. “It is important for everyone – rural or otherwise – to have this access in this day and age.”

In Dassel Township, a few of the Internet carriers include CenturyLink, Hughes, Xtratyme, and Charter Communications.

The Meeker Cooperative Light and Power Association website lists Excede by ViaSat as an option, as well. Excede provides satellite Internet at a 12 megabits-per-second speed, which is suitable for streaming videos, downloading music files, and other applications. Plans currently range from about $57 per month to $137 per month, depending on usage.

Dish Network is another possibility in some rural areas. Dish partners with several Internet companies, including Verizon, AT&T, EarthLink, Windstream, Frontier, TDS, and CenturyLink, to give customers value packages that also include TV and phone service.

“Only a portion of Cokato Township has high-speed Internet available through CenturyLink,” resident Brad Morris commented. “Wireless and satellite services are available, as is dial-up.”

Dial-up, which provides Internet through telephone lines, is often used in remote areas. The connection speed, however, is often too slow for Internet usage such as online gaming and media streaming.

The wonders of wireless

After years of slow Internet, Rosanne Peterson of French Lake Township recently obtained high-speed wireless Internet access through AT&T.

“High-speed Internet has been a major issue at our rural home, because of only having had dial-up connection for years,” Peterson said. “We searched for what was available to us, and so far, this has worked well.”

Although wireless costs more than dial-up, Peterson said it has been worth it, especially since her children are taking college courses.

“Students who do not have access to high-speed Internet are simply not able to complete their work, and find it very frustrating to deal with,” she said.

In many local townships, wireless (which provides access without underground copper or fiber network cabling) is the only option for high-speed Internet.

One kind of wireless is satellite, which was introduced in the mid-1990s.

Two other wireless forms include fixed wireless broadband (which utilizes mounted antennas pointed at radio transmission towers) and mobile broadband (which tethers a cell phone to a computer, giving Internet access anywhere within cell tower range).

“For a lot of us in Middleville Township, the only thing available is wireless,” said Middleville Township Clerk Joey Berg. “I, personally, have it through Verizon Wireless.”

Some Middleville Township residents who are close to town are able to obtain Internet access from the antennae on the water tower, Berg added.

Gordy Seiffert of Ellsworth Township signed up for wireless Internet several months ago, through a Hutchinson and Victoria-based company called Broadband.

“We are very pleased with them and the service, although I don’t have enough information to compare them,” Seiffert said.

Broadband specializes in providing service to rural residences and businesses.

One of the newer wireless options Broadband offers is WiMAX (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access). WiMAX operates much the same way as cellular communication, and signals can extend several miles from its base station.

Internet usage increasing

Although the best type of Internet connection for each household may vary, the demand for Internet access in rural areas is increasing.

According to the Center for Rural Policy and Development’s 2012 Minnesota Internet Survey, about 75 percent of rural households have Internet.

Of those who choose not to buy service, the most frequent response was that they don’t need it. Less than 1 percent of people who aren’t connected said it is not available where they live.

Senior citizens are the least likely to have Internet, but usage in that age group is also increasing. In 2003, less than 6 percent of rural senior households had broadband. In 2012, that number had jumped to nearly 49 percent.

Sending and receiving e-mail is cited as the most common use of the Internet (96 percent in rural areas and almost 99 percent in the metro).

More than three-fourths of rural Internet users also use the computer for checking weather (89 percent), accessing news websites (80 percent), researching purchases (80 percent), purchasing items (78 percent), and banking/paying bills (77 percent).

When the study asked how many hours per day someone in their household is on the Internet, the average response for rural Minnesota was 4.2 hours, compared to 4.6 hours in the Twin Cities.

To view the full study, go to www.ruralmn.org/publications, and click on “2012 Minnesota Internet Study: Digital Divide 2.0 and Beyond.”

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