A Perfect Model for the Ultimate Failure of Free Market Capitalism
December 14, 2011 6:52 PM   Subscribe

So, long story short: I have satellite internet. I have no other options for internet. My ISP provides neither service nor internet. What (legally, etc.) can I do?

I'm going to preface this by saying that it took me about 30 seconds to load the AskMe submission page, and the AskMe front page did not load at all. Please think about that for 30 seconds, keeping MeFi's lo-fi design in mind.

Now, long story longer: about four years ago, owing to not having much income or any realistic hope of changing that, I moved to the sticks with family. I knew coming in that satellite (and 26k dial-up) via Hughesnet was the only available internet option, and I was fine with that. I understood vaguely that satellite would have certain limitations terrestrial internet wouldn't. I had no idea.

The first few days seemed fine--it was slower than I was used to, but it was going to and coming from outer space! Then it died, randomly, completely, with no warning. After much frustrated investigating and confusing phone calls with actually hostile customer support, I learned about the Fair Access Policy. This is the daily bandwidth allotted per user per day--I think it was 200 MB then, but it's since been upped to 250 MB with a recently added safety net of another 250 MB (which, unintuitively, comes out to "250ish MB" of daily bandwidth, instead of 500 MB). Exceeding this limit results in disabling the user's connection for 24 hours, beginning at the time the limit was exceeded.

(That's not strictly true, but I see no need to phrase it any more nicely. Limiting the user's connection to 2 Kbps is equivalent to just pulling the plug, in my book.)

Anyway, this was a source of much frustration, but I gradually became something of an internet ascetic, and I've coped. There have been many downs and no real ups since then, but I have adjusted to the service and find it bearable when it works. However, it often simply doesn't.

The service is very overloaded, and continually getting worse. Peak hours are a game of Russian roulette. Sometimes everything is fine; slow enough that anyone accustomed to broadband would complain about major slowdown, but nothing I blink at anymore. Sometimes, however, we enter the magical land of Congestion--which is sandwiched somewhere between the hours of 5 and 10 PM--where five to thirteen minutes latency is the average. I have no idea what my actual download/upload speeds are during these periods, because Hughesnet's official speed tests are much more suspiciously optimistic than others, and many web based speed tests will simply time out during the peak hour--I'm at a loss for an appropriate adjective, because "crawl" still implies some movement.

So. I'm tired of this. I'm tired of dealing with this every single day, and going to bed sad and resigned that I cannot use the internet during the only parts of the day in which I ordinarily really have time to use the internet. I am tired of sending emails complaining about the poor service, and tired of receiving replies from robots telling me nothing except that an actual human being did not even read what I wrote. I am tired of calling customer service, and speaking with someone in India whose job is to read from a script at upset Americans for two to three hours and be their emotional punching bad until they've vented enough to calm down and just hang up. I am tired of paying a company who--when I can even contact anyone who isn't a robot or a scapegoat--tell me that their inability to provide the service they sell is not their problem.

If I ever pepper my complaints with specific examples, such as the connection being so bad and so unstable that instant messengers, Second Life and Gmail will simply log me out and refuse to reconnect sometimes during peak hours, I am told not to use those things. "Your service is so terrible that I can't even do basic webmail!" warrants the reply of, "So don't do basic webmail."

I'm half venting at this point, but I do have a sincere question. Given that no other options for internet access exist where I live (no DSL, no wireless, and there's never going to be any), and deal with this every day, and will have to deal with this for several more years at least, there must be some recourse. What is it?

I plan to file a BBB complaint, and expect that to amount to nothing. I pinned all my stupid hope on the recent rural broadband initiative, but Hughesnet has only been soaking that money up. There must be something effective I can do. I am paying for a service that is not being provided. There are bigger evils in the world for sure, but this still isn't right.
posted by byanyothername to Computers & Internet (26 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: P.S. Just submitted this and 20-something seconds later: "Page load error." I am really, really glad MetaFilter saves my posts in cases like this. Please mods, hug whatever little code elf is responsible for holding onto backed-over posts.
posted by byanyothername at 6:55 PM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Where, exactly, do you live?

Zip code is specific enough.

Two reasons:

1) I want to make sure you can't get some sort of wireless service near where you are and

2) I want to make sure you're accurately represented on the National Broadband Survey. Hughes may claim 1Mbps to 2Mbps, but if they're delivering drastically lower rates you may be able to cut them off from those rural broadband funds. That won't help you right away, but it may convince another group to agree to bring service to your area eventually.
posted by Oktober at 7:08 PM on December 14, 2011

Response by poster: All right, I really don't like leaving behind any trail of personal information on the web, but: 79735

1) There is no wireless service anywhere near me, AFAIK

2) Had to compose myself for this one a little. Hughesnet does not actually provide anywhere close to 1Mbps, although their speed tests frequently show something near that (500 - 700 Kbps). I'm really tired and sad after dealing with this for yet another entire night, so I should just go to bed, but in my current state I may as well make baseless assertions: I have no evidence to back this up, but I'm pretty convinced their speed tests are fake.
posted by byanyothername at 7:14 PM on December 14, 2011

Just plugged the zip code you provided into the DSLReports ISP finder, and it returned results for providers besides Hughesnet. Hopefully that gives you some alternatives.
posted by evoque at 7:28 PM on December 14, 2011

Response by poster: None of those ISPs listed in the DSLReports ISP finder are even remotely near me. I have no idea why they're there at all. The only other option for me is AT&T--26k dial-up or the DSL service I'm a mile or two from being eligible for.
posted by byanyothername at 7:38 PM on December 14, 2011

I live in the sticks too, with satellite the only hi-speed connection available until last December.

Hello ATT mi-fi portable hotspot! All the cell companies have them now. If you can get a cell signal, you can probably get one of these.
Its 3g, and plenty fast. My only issue is the 5gb monthly limit. My kids & I can burn thru it in about 2 weeks if we're not careful.
posted by bricksNmortar at 7:47 PM on December 14, 2011

"a mile or two from being eligible" means you can do line of sight wifi for the past mile.

You'll have to forgive me, being someone who live in an apartment building in the suburbs of NYC, but when people say things like "they don't even have Internet where I live" I assume you live in the middle of no where, and as such, you have this huge piece of property with nothing on it. If that last mile problem is really one mile and the one mile is on your property, you can bridge the last mile with line of sight wifi. It might cost a bit in up front costs, but you'll be on DSL with the rest of the people stuck in 90's telco technology with pings measured in milliseconds (though still not on par with the cable modems most people have now). If the last mile is on your neighbor's property, ask if you can install the equipment, maintain it and pay for the service, which of course you'll share with him as well.

Failing that, do you have cell service? Is it 3G? Get a portable hotspot.
posted by Brian Puccio at 7:53 PM on December 14, 2011

Unfortunately, I know exactly where that ZIP code is. You're right that there's miles and miles of nothing before you reach miles and miles of barely anything. There's a reason why Rio Grande Electric Coop exists: it's not worth any private company's time to bother even running power out there. Like bricksNMortar just posted, a cellular device might be your best option. Western Wireless has a lot of towers in your area, though I don't know if any of them are 3G enabled. In addition, RGEC has a deal with WildBlue Satellite Internet. It's not wired broadband, but it's rumored to be better than Hughes.

Another option would be to see if AT&T can get ISDN to your house. That's a tariffed service, unlike DSL, and like regular analog service, so they might be better equipped to get a line working. You can then use an ISDN-capable ISP. That'll be 128-144kbps, but the latency should be pretty low and it'll be reliable.
posted by fireoyster at 7:54 PM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Whoops: Western Wireless isn't its own company; it runs towers for other providers. AT&T used to be big with them, but I believe T-Mobile is now their largest partner.
posted by fireoyster at 7:55 PM on December 14, 2011

Response by poster: and the one mile is on your property, you can bridge the last mile with line of sight wifi.

It's not.

Failing that, do you have cell service?


Is it 3G?


Another option would be to see if AT&T can get ISDN to your house.

I looked into this. It's very expensive, seems fairly slow and no one I've spoken with at AT&T has any idea what ISDN is.
posted by byanyothername at 8:01 PM on December 14, 2011

and the one mile is on your property, you can bridge the last mile with line of sight wifi.
It's not.
Can you ask a neighbor to help you out? Surely you can't be the only person around interested in this internet thing. I hear you can buy things on it and talk to people. Even see boobs.
posted by Brian Puccio at 8:06 PM on December 14, 2011

Response by poster: I don't really have conventional neighbors--my closest neighbor is a disabled man who lives half a mile from my house. I think he has dial-up, but he may have nothing. People here are poor and broken in body and spirit, or they would not be here.
posted by byanyothername at 8:12 PM on December 14, 2011

All I have to contribute is my commiseration for having to deal with Hughesnet tech support. They are a case study in how not to do tech support. Presumably because their customers literally have no other choice.

The only real solution is to move. (That's what we did; I feel like I time traveled ten years ahead to the present day now that I see what real broadband is actually like. )

Failing that, we did at one point have some luck improving our Hughesnet service from unusable to merely execrable by bribing a dish installer to come to our house, aim the dish at a different satellite that was slightly less overloaded, and call Hughesnet on their superseekrit installers-only support line to bully them into switching our account over there too. The latency and lag you're describing sound much worse than what we had -- and ours was bad enough -- so you might make some headway trying that; you're correct that you will never ever get anything useful from their official customer support.
posted by ook at 8:51 PM on December 14, 2011

ISDN is "fairly slow" compared to the broadband city folks get, but it's faster and more reliable than your satellite link on a bad day. Providers used to offer IDSL, which is DSL-over-ISDN and can reach the same distances that ISDN could reach. In the past, I would have suggested Speakeasy.net, but they appear to have been fully absorbed into a business-only outfit.

I would suggest heading into town and trying to track down any small ISP who may be there. If you can't find any, you've exhausted all of your efforts. Either try WildBlue, relocate, or be resigned to dial-up. Unfortunately, you can't force anyone to provide you with quality Internet service in your location as Hughes has already proven. Their "contract" with you basically says "you give us money, we pretend to care," which is the case for every provider larger than 50 employees.
posted by fireoyster at 8:56 PM on December 14, 2011

You don't say what sort of computer you have, but one thing you might look into is tuning your OS to support a large delay. The tcptune web page might be able to help.
posted by Runes at 9:25 PM on December 14, 2011

I feel your pain... In preparation for times when my internet might go down, I rooted my Droid cell phone, which allowed me access to free wireless tethering. Thus, I could use my phone wirelessly for internet access on my computer, which is pretty darn fast. Of course, this is dependent on the reliability and availability of your cell phone access, and is obviously an extra expense, UNLESS you ditch the satellite and can use your cell phone exclusively. "Unlimited" cell phone data plans seem to be going away, but my god, anything's got to be better than 250MB (or the advertised 500MB) a month!
posted by newfers at 9:29 PM on December 14, 2011

With the right antennas, you can go a lot further than a mile with wifi. That might give you a wider choice of neighbors to consider.
posted by flabdablet at 2:51 AM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If your cel provider has 3G in the area and you're not getting it because of signal strength issues (You can find out by taking a trip to within sight of their nearest tower if your phone does 3G.), you might be able to use a booster along with an external antenna to pick up a full-speed connection within the house, with the added benefit of having better voice service.
posted by Orb2069 at 7:06 PM on December 15, 2011

Response by poster: You can find out by taking a trip to within sight of their nearest tower if your phone does 3G.

As far as I know, 3G isn't available here, but I can't even use that map with my connection to be sure. Still. Something to save for later, I guess. Thanks.
posted by byanyothername at 7:23 PM on December 15, 2011

I am told not to use those things. "Your service is so terrible that I can't even do basic webmail!" warrants the reply of, "So don't do basic webmail."

If you really can't get another ISP, I think their advice actually is the best approach. Think internet clients. These will allow you to deal with the horrible speeds by basically downloading things as they occur - just leave them running and when you use your computer everything will be available for you to use because it is already on your machine.

If you are on Windows I'd recommend the following programs to help you deal with the nastiness.

Opera -- good email client and RSS reader
Don't really know of a good facebook client for windows.

If you are on Mac I'd recommend the following programs to help you deal with the nastiness.

Sparrow - Gmail email client, beautiful and way better than the webmail
Gruml - RSS feed reader that syncs with google reader
Socialite - facebook/twitter client also beautiful
Twitter's client is rather nice too.
Searching can be done really well with DevonAgent.

When you must browse the internet proper, Opera has a mode called "Turbo" that compresses the pages before they reach your computer and it will reduce your usage in general too - which will help you reduce that cap you are dealing with - and Opera is available on all. I think I could probably survive on a 56k modem with these strategies - I hope some of them will help you.
posted by Brent Parker at 11:54 AM on December 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: So, I'm sure absolutely no one is watching this thread, but as the ongoing nightmare goes on, I thought I'd post a little follow up before bed...

It turned out I do get 3G reception in my area now, but Sprint's towers are badly, badly congested. I have not tried Verizon's, but would expect about the same. It was pretty comparable to satellite in every way, unfortunately. Sometimes the ping was worse.

ViaSat's new service sounded great, but a quick glance at their bandwidth cap is enough to tell me that ViaSat is a giant hive of lies.

Here's a speed test I just did ten minutes ago (it took a while; I went and got a snack and came back).

Download Speed: 51 kbps (6.4 KB/sec transfer rate)
Upload Speed: 186 kbps (23.3 KB/sec transfer rate)

That's better than it was earlier tonight. I'd say that's a fair representation of what my service is like for six or seven hours every day. That's what satellite internet looks like when it's actually being used; don't forget to factor in the 1200 ms ping, either.
posted by byanyothername at 7:55 PM on January 17, 2012

Response by poster: "It turned out I do..."

Ick. When I got sleepy, my tenses break.
posted by byanyothername at 7:57 PM on January 17, 2012

Wow, asymmetry is normal, but not that way, it's typically bigger down than up (and can support 10:1 easily for most usage). And 1200 ms for a geosynch ping is double what it should be, ~600 is more normal. Is that to your next hop?

So here's a dumb question: have you checked your dish for alignment? That can have a significant effect.
posted by Runes at 9:06 PM on January 17, 2012

asymmetry is normal, but not that way, it's typically bigger down than up

An oversubscribed satellite with heavy download contention could easily cause the observed behavior, though.
posted by flabdablet at 2:03 AM on January 18, 2012

Also, per Wikipedia, 1200ms is about the expected ping time to an arbitrary IP host via a satellite connection. 600ms would be about right to ping the satellite itself.
posted by flabdablet at 2:08 AM on January 18, 2012

Response by poster: Actually, the asymmetry did strike me as being weird in that it was the upload that was higher, but yeah, I think it's just that the satellite is horribly congested and "peak hour" (a misnomer, I think, since this is about six to eight hours out of the day that the connection degrades beyond usability, rather than a two or three hour slowdown) usage brings it that much lower. And yes, my dish is well aligned and I have a strong signal. I had issues with alignment in the past, but it was a totally different beast.

About ping...800 to 1000ms is usually what I see. That always seems like a lot if you're accustomed to terrestrial internet, but you get used to it. It's not very painful, with strong download/upload speeds; it's when the speeds degrade that the one second delay becomes a twenty minute delay, and there's just no point in doing anything online.
posted by byanyothername at 1:47 PM on January 18, 2012

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