Satellite DSL or Other Ways of Speedy Internet in Rural Iowa?
February 7, 2005 4:21 AM   Subscribe

I live in rural Iowa, and can't get landline DSL. I'd like to hear of any success stories with satellite DSL. I'd also like to hear the horror stories.

And if there are other ways of getting fast Internet in the sticks, I'd love to hear about that, too.
posted by bricoleur to Computers & Internet (11 answers total)
The Broadband Reports Wireless ISP Forum is probably your best bet for these sorts of things. Try your zip code in the search box in the left side, and the site'll tell you more about what's in your neighborhood, along with user reports of the service quality.

I've had one-way (telco return) satellite access before, and I was unimpressed. The general rule is that web browsing's OK (but not nearly as good as DSL/cable/etc), streaming video's fine, but that the latency of getting that data up to the satellite and back makes response times for games or VoIP too slow. You're probably better off with a fixed-wireless ISP that uses terrestrial gear if there happens to be one in the area, those can easily be the equal of DSL if you happen to be in the right place.
posted by eschatfische at 4:41 AM on February 7, 2005 [1 favorite]

I had two-way satellite broadband when I was living in rural Sweden. It's a weird experience: it's very laggy, but also very fast once it gets going. You can download big files pretty quickly, but web pages take forever. The ping times are immense, naturally, so you can forget about gaming.

Also, it's really affected by heavy rain and snow. Having the quality of your internet connection controlled by the weather is slightly surreal.

But it does work, and you do get to have a box with blinky lights and the word "transponder" on it. This makes up for a lot in my geeky mind.
posted by DangerIsMyMiddleName at 4:44 AM on February 7, 2005

I wasn't able to get DSL or cable, either, so I found a local ISP that installed a special radio wave receiver on my roof. It was expensive to install ($300) but works great (256k)! I thought it would be a 'weather permitting' kind of deal, but I haven't had any problems, even with high wind, clouds, or snow. Certainly less than the dish tv has.
posted by dual_action at 6:08 AM on February 7, 2005

I've got DirecWay/DirecTV out here in Western Massachusetts, where cable and DSL aren't options. It's really not all that bad. Weather doesn't seem to affect it terribly, aside from the occasional ice storm that coats the dish with ice (I've been told that I can spray the dish with Pam or some other kind of non-stick cooking spray to avoid this problem).

It's certainly not as fast as DSL or cable, but it's faster than a phone line. Since I work at home and need an always-on connection, I justify the expense by comparing it to what it would cost to have a second phone line just for a modem. Download speeds are plenty fast for what I need, and while upload speeds are slower, they still beat a dialup connection.
posted by Framer at 6:34 AM on February 7, 2005

Here's another AskMeFi thread about satellite internet.
posted by ewagoner at 7:01 AM on February 7, 2005

Do you have a LOT of money? Be ready to pony up lots of cash for satellite internet.

Standard ping times will be about 400 - 500 ms when your upload is through a modem, and about 750 ms when your upload is through satellite. Think speed of light and you'll understand. :-)

Consumer satellite uplink rates are usually around 64 - 128 kbps, which will give you 5 - 10x modem speeds.

Satellite downlink rates vary from 2 - 20 mbps depending on your provider. Your provider may rate limit your download regardless, it will depend on their setup.

Things to watch out for:

If you have to pay per GB, either get your account capped at the amount you are willing to spend, or monitor your usage carefully. SATELLITE BANDWIDTH IS EXPENSIVE AND YOU WILL BE PAYING FOR IT!

If you have unlimited service, understand that during peak times, it will be slow as molasses. Considering the options, this is what I went with originally (they changed to capped per GB plans later, which was ok -- at least at 8 pm I could use the internet again!)

Some providers implement a "Fair Access Policy". DirecPC is one of them. Their FAP is designed on a leaky bucket algorithm. Think of your internet access as being what leaks out of a bucket filled (slowly) by a tap running at, say, 64 kbits. If you don't use the internet for a while, you have lots of bandwidth stored up, and it runs quickly. Once you empty the bucket, you're back at 64 kbits, the rate it fills up at.

Note that the FAP is a very contentious issue. Some people love it, some people absolutely hate it. Read about it before you choose a provider that FAPs like that.

People who get their water through a gravity feed know EXACTLY what I'm talking about. :-)

Access during bad weather will be spotty at best. This isn't unusual for digital satellite. Live with it or buy a bigger dish.

One last note, some providers (namely DirecPC) use non-standard equipment, which sucks because you'll never sell it except to another DirecPC customer. More intelligent providers use DVB data standards, which means you can use any DVB compliant computer satellite receiver to log into their service. Myself, with the provider I had (Nebulink, who I don't think offers consumer service anymore), I ran the service using a 10 foot dish linked into a Linux box on a Telemann DTP-200 card (BTW: This card SUCKS).

HTH. If you have other questions, just ask, I do this sort of stuff for a living.
posted by shepd at 10:23 AM on February 7, 2005

Bricoleur, what is the reason you can't get DSL. Does your phone company not offer it, or are you too far away from the central office or concentrator? If you're 5 cable miles or less from your CO (Central Office, the little nondescript brick building in town that you may or may not have noticed) you're technically capable of getting DSL. Now, of course, whether your phone company actually would provide it is another matter.

Who is your phone company? One of the small companies I work with is a 250-person town in rural central Minnesota. While they don't officially offer DSL service, about 5 customers have it using point-to-point modems. They're basically just boxes that extend ethernet up to five miles.

A project I've been working on is setting up a package to offer drop-in DSL service for particularly small phone companies. There aren't many here in Minnesota, but I've noticed a lot in Iowa, so I'm not surprised you have that problem.

Anyway, so I guess my point is that if you're close enough to the CO, you may be able to get DSL somehow. And don't forget to check the availability of wireless. Only if after all that would I go for satellite -- it's niche really is for those who can't get service otherwise.
posted by afiler at 11:20 AM on February 7, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone, for the grist. If I do end up shopping for satellite service/gear, I'll be forearmed.

ewagoner, I apologize for not searching for old threads before asking. I don't think I'll forget to do that again. OTOH, a lot can change in 7 months, so I probably would have asked anyway; I just would have made it clear that I had read the earlier thread.

ISDN is not an option, or so my phone company/ISP tells me. I'm a good 6 miles from the CO.

It appears that while a fortunate few are happy with their satellite service, the majority find it frustrating at best. I don't really need that extra bit of frustration in my day. True, dialup is frustrating, but I tolerate cheap frustration much better than I do expensive frustration.

dual_action, I am definitely going to look into the radio transceiver option. Thanks for bringing that to my attention.
posted by bricoleur at 1:45 PM on February 7, 2005

by the way, don't call it "satellite DSL" unless you're comfortable giving the techies something to chuckle about behind your back. "DSL" is a technical term meaning "digital subscriber line", and it refers specifically to a technology for transferring data over telephone lines.
posted by Mars Saxman at 2:31 PM on February 7, 2005

Depending where you are in Iowa, Prairie iNet may be an option as well. They have a land-based wireless system that relies on line-of-sight coverage. Not so good in hilly or wooded areas, but works reasonably well otherwise. My parents are just outside their range, otherwise they'd probably be using it right now.
posted by mikeh at 8:09 PM on February 8, 2005

Response by poster: Mars Saxman– And "comprises" means "embraces or encloses," not "composes," or did. For better or worse, language is driven by the least common denominator. I try not to be an agent of its degradation, but sometimes, I fail. Thanks for the heads up.

mikeh, thanks for the tip. But, as I've come to expect, they don't cover my area.
posted by bricoleur at 4:16 AM on February 9, 2005

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