The Elders of the Internet do not know who we are
September 29, 2015 3:59 PM   Subscribe

The overlords who control the internet in my parents' rural town will not provide service to their house. How do we fix this?

My parents recently moved to a farm about a mile outside a small (7,500ish) town in northern Illinois. They don't actually care about cable TV, but they do watch Netflix and conduct business and try to FaceTime with Little Pumpkin. Their cell service is also abysmal and would benefit from a mini cell tower, which requires wireless.

As luck would have it, my husband is a network engineer, and sometimes needs access when we're visiting.

--Comcast (cable modem) refuses to extend their service past the road that is literally 500 feet away from the farm.

--Frontier (DSL) has old copper cables that need replacing, and they probably need to install a new repeater or something, because the house is too far from the DSLAN (or whatever Frontier is using) to work.

--Dish/DirecTV (satellite) won't do an unlimited data plan.

Are there any other options for rural service that don't cost an arm and a leg? Are there ways to nudge these companies? (We are related to the city manager...)
posted by St. Hubbins to Computers & Internet (17 answers total)
Some rural places are still just unreachable. It's definitely something to consider when you buy a home in a rural area. I have a friend who lives in Shutesbury Massachusetts and can only get either satellite or dial-up. Her cell is so spotty as to be unworkable, too (like you can send a text there and she might get it a few hours later). She uses dial-up and forgoes things like facebook and netflix when she's at home. The entire town is in talks to get a town broadband service, but still nothing so far. She works in IT, so it's really not ideal. No working from home in the depths of winter! I don't have any suggestions. The story linked above had an update, but it was an expensive one.
posted by clone boulevard at 4:21 PM on September 29, 2015

In my experience Comcast and Frontier will be a bit more flexible if you call their SMB side of things and setup a business account. Usually it's not much more expensive ($30 to $40 a month) and if they complete the construction you can always switch if not in a contract. You will likely have to pay for construction costs which can vary widely. I've only done this for commercial property however so YMMV.

Often there is a rural provider that might be more helpful. City Hall, the local Chamber of Commerce, or neighbors might be able to offer some direction.

Worst case, send an angry tweet.
posted by EsotericAlgorithm at 4:28 PM on September 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

This is sort of parallel to the question about internet providers, but maybe they want to investigate other cell service providers. It won't be enough to stream Netflix, but it could help with basic email, Facetime and basic internet usage. We often stay in a cabin in Maine which has zero coverage from some of the cell networks but it has fantastic Verizon coverage.

Could they pay for the Comcast costs to extend some kind of cable from the street 500 feet away? I'm guessing not. But I can't see how you're going to change Comcast's mind about something like this. I fought with them for months about something much cheaper.

Start a petition in the area and see if you can increase coverage with some media outreach?
posted by barnone at 4:28 PM on September 29, 2015

Yep, I work with someone who lives in rural PA and he can't get anything but dial-up because he's too far away from the cable and internet infrastructure in his area. He investigated further and his only option was to pay close to 20K to pay to have service extended to him (he had to pay for the extension of the infrastructure to his property).
posted by quince at 4:30 PM on September 29, 2015

All the rural folks I know get online with either satellite or a "mobile" hotspot from Verizon or Cricket. I say "mobile" because everyone leaves the hotspot device in their homes--they don't use it for crazy business travels like it is marketed.

Verizon has the best coverage of rural areas in my experience (and I believe surveys show this too). The people I know with a hotspot find it fast enough for Skyping, but I don't know about Netflix. And they definitely don't have unlimited data, but that might be a limitation of their budget. It might work for your family. I think you usually get 14 days or so to try it out.
posted by purple_bird at 4:36 PM on September 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

Do they have phone service on the copper? If the copper is damaged to a point that phone service isn't possible, this might be a lever to get Frontier to install new copper - at Frontier's expense.

Alternatively, do they have a neighbor with access that might want to share? It is possible to create a wifi link over a significant distance (miles are actually possible) - if you can see the other house you can probably get a pretty good signal with the right kind of directional antennas and some fiddling. I'm sure you could rig this up - google "Yagi antenna wifi"
posted by NoDef at 4:59 PM on September 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

A rural couple I know don't have wi-fi for this reason. Literally, if they lived 50 feet closer they could have affordable internet. The cost to extend it to their property are crazy expensive. Their neighbor who is more financially comfortable uses a hotspot for internet access. I know this isn't really helpful, I just want to point out that for city folk such as myself, it can be unthinkable that there are places where wi-fi just isn't a choice.
posted by Aranquis at 5:02 PM on September 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Can you look into microwave wireless? It's pricey, but might be doable.
posted by Annika Cicada at 5:28 PM on September 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

If as others have suggested you can find a neighbor agreeable to sharing their own connection, and your husband is feeling ambitious and there's a line-of-site between your parents' property and the neighbor's, a free-space optical link with equipment like RONJA (a build-your-own-hardware project from kits) might be a possibility, if more conventional directional Wi-fi antennas didn't work.
posted by XMLicious at 5:30 PM on September 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Here's a rural wireless provider for a portion of northern Illinois, not sure where you're at though.
posted by Annika Cicada at 5:33 PM on September 29, 2015

My parents have this same issue (rural property 15 min outside a major metropolitan) and they ended up finding a boutique microwave/line of site Internet provider. It's about 50% more than regular internet and not quite as good, but the best option available. The cost to extend the 1000 feet from the major internet supplier was in the 20k range (likely why the service never bothered for the 8 houses on my parents street).
posted by saradarlin at 5:53 PM on September 29, 2015

$20K kinda sounds like a good investment given what the future's gonna be and all, and 500ft might not actually cost that much once you start really looking into it.

Also: maybe your husband's company can pitch in.
posted by rhizome at 6:06 PM on September 29, 2015

The last option sounds ok if the only deal breaker is unlimited data plans not being available. In Australia, unlimited data isn't a thing anyway (at least, not common and more than likely crazy expensive). I was gobsmacked to discover how many US households didnt bother securing their wifi cause the plans were unlimited. The Netflix might be problematic but business and FaceTime stuff should be fine.
posted by kitten magic at 7:48 PM on September 29, 2015

--Comcast (cable modem) refuses to extend their service past the road that is literally 500 feet away from the farm.

Ok, then have them drop service to a tool shed you build within the service area either on their property or a neighbors, then set up nanostations, one on the shed, and one on the house.

I wouldn't even bother with any other solution. Rural DSL is TERRIBLE. This will be high performance if it's configured remotely correctly(and those aren't hard to set up, or expensive.

Home depot/etc sells prebuilt sheds. Get an outhouse sized one. Or even a doghouse. Make sure it has a vent for the summer time.
posted by emptythought at 9:32 PM on September 29, 2015 [7 favorites]

Seconding emptythought: The problem isn't getting internet to the property, it's getting internet to the house -- which is easy to do with off-the-shelf equipment. Once Comcast installs their cablemodem anywhere on the property they'll support, you can set up point-to-point wireless, and ethernet maxes out at 100m but you can extend this. Find out what they'll accept: maybe you just need a waterproof electrical lock-box mounted on the telephone pole with power and big enough to hold the cable modem and whatever equipment you have.

Also: maybe they'll just put their little blue plastic box on the pole and run just the coax to it, leaving the rest to you -- it's possible to buy your own cablemodem and activate it.

Of course, how much will be supported by Comcast will vary; it depends on how handy your parents are (or how often your husband wants to get support calls :) but it may be more than you think -- regardless of the 500m distance, Comcast does provide some help with computer setup and such for people who do their own in-house wiring, so it shouldn't be too different.
posted by AzraelBrown at 5:18 AM on September 30, 2015

My previous question on doing your own wireless Internet links. The Nanostations described there work great. They're designed to work for several miles (with clear line of sight), so depending on how creative you are you might be able to set up something ambitious.

Alternately, what you want is to buy service from a WISP, a wireless ISP. They are effectively installing equipment like those Nanostations and selling Internet access. It's often the best option in the rural US.
posted by Nelson at 7:56 AM on September 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have radio wireless off a fiber line. I tried for years to get any info at all about paying to run a cable or T1 line. I used a Verizon hotspot for most of it and the connection was good but hugely expensive. The local water company is just past the edge of my property so I called them and asked who provides their internet and that's how I found the guys who run radio wireless off of a fiber line for the local community.

So I guess ask around and see if that is an option for you - it is pretty specific to my situation as I have a great line of sight to the radio tower next to the school in town where they have fiber but unlimited 1.5mbps is phenomenal compared to 20GB a month on Verizon (about 3mbps up and down). I have Netflix!
posted by annathea at 10:12 AM on September 30, 2015

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