Rural Internet Access: Help my Dad get a connection that can actually let him stream..., well, anything!
December 13, 2012 7:43 AM   Subscribe

Rural Internet Access: Help my Dad get a connection that can actually let him stream..., well, anything!

At one point in my youth, I was heavily into hardware and could have probably figured out a way to do this, but at this point -- I'm all ears for help.

The scenario is this. My Dad lives in a small, central Illinois community whose internet access providers are slim to none. Right now, he has a tiny 'dish' on the side of his house that transmits to a wireless access point that is perched on an enormous grain elevator that towers over the entire town. That signal relays to a central station, and he's on the Internet. His downstream is steady at 0.5 Mbps.

We looked into WildBlue, but I'm uncertain as to what plan he would need. I haven't ever had to translate internet usage on a household into gigabytes, only on my phone since I have to abide by my 2 GB limit through ATT. I never hit that, but that's on a phone, not a computer that can stream Netflix, etc.

The other option is... he has a giant house TV antenna that sits outside and is roughly 50 feet tall from the ground. Is there a way to attach some sort of extender that could possibly get him to better providers?

What about other options? Monthly fees is a problem unless he's getting good service. If we can make purchases of hardware (one-time) to improve his service, that would be ideal.

Any suggestions are welcome! Help him enter the age of streaming movies!
posted by MMALR to Computers & Internet (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I saw "small central Illinois community" and started to recommend Prairie inet but reading further into your post it seems that may be what he is currently using. If Prairie inet is his provider, then he should be getting better speeds than he is seemingly getting. We regularly stream Netflix, my hubby pays online games regularly and we can do both at the same time (yes, there are slower times than others and weather can be a factor). If prairie inet is not his provider, have him look into it!
posted by labwench at 8:04 AM on December 13, 2012

Latency is still a major issue with satellite providers; that is, the turnaround time between clicking a link and seeing the page actually start to load will be longer than you're used to, even if the bandwidth is high enough that it comes through quickly once it starts coming in.

Knowing the town he lives in would be helpful in narrowing down what his options are, but it sounds like the WISP ("Wireless Internet Service Provider") he's using now is sorely in need of an infrastructure upgrade (or there's something the matter with his particular setup.) Has he called them to complain, or to ascertain whether the level of service he's getting from them is all they can provide? It's unfortunately standard practice with a lot of ISPs to leave their customers at whatever speed and monthly payment plan they signed up for, even as the basic plan gets faster and the prices come down. Often all it takes is a phone call to get yourself bumped up to current standards (which they'll act like is some big favor they're doing you, rather than something that should really happen automatically.)
posted by contraption at 8:12 AM on December 13, 2012

@labwench According to their site, he would require clear line of site within four miles from an access point. Gilman is located three miles from him. Onarga is another 2. Crescent City is about 5 miles away. It's worth trying to call them and seeing if it is possible. That may be one option.
posted by MMALR at 8:14 AM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

@contraption He lives in Danforth, IL. Small, rural town 3 miles south of Gilman.
posted by MMALR at 8:15 AM on December 13, 2012

To anyone interested, he is currently using this - Connxxus. It's absolute garbage.
posted by MMALR at 8:24 AM on December 13, 2012

Last time my parents were on WildBlue it was pretty bad. Speeds downstream were 0.5, 1, or 1.5 Mbps. And as @contraption mentions, latency was very high. They could load webpages, but never could get a video to play.

Now they're on microwave relay, which sounds like what your dad is using (it's a square, usually grey antena). But you should be able to get higher speeds than what you're seeing. Trees are a particular problem for microwave relay because water absorbes microwaves. I'd see if you couldn't place his receiver on that higher TV antenna.

The only other option we've found in our area (rural city outside Peoria, IL) is possibly a Verizon MiFi hotspot. But we haven't explored yet what type of signal we'd get at their house (AT&T barely works there, for instance). Does your smart phone get a good 3G/4G/LTE signal while at your dad's place?
posted by sbutler at 8:39 AM on December 13, 2012

Having gone through this with internet at the farm, I'm not really sure any of us can help. Wireless coverage is too variable from location to location to give useful advice. Our neighbors all use services with good result that simply don't work for us. In the end we just had to grind through it and give everyone a try. Rural wireless companies tend to have free trials, so give them a try. If you get decent Sprint coverage, give Virgin Mobile's Broadband2Go a look. (We activated a trial month of service for $10, so we were out the $10 when we couldn't get reception and returned it, but $10 was worth it to give it a try.) I believe Broadband Blue and most other similar companies use Sprint's network, so if you don't get a good signal to a Sprint tower, you're likely SOL.

It's possible your father is using the same tech as our farm, which is a duplexed GSM signal, and is doing good to get 0.5Mb. How old is it? There's a possibility that the provider has upgraded the tech but is slow in rolling out new equipment to their subscribers. Give them a call. (Unfortunately not an option for the farm since Verizon bought them and retired the tech. Can't wait for the rural fiber to get switched on in the spring.)
posted by Ookseer at 10:49 AM on December 13, 2012

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