Rural internet
February 21, 2017 1:09 PM   Subscribe

Help me decide which crappy internet option to go for...

So my fiancé and I are moving to Vermont beginning of March. Comcast are extending service to our new house but it's going to take 5-6 months. Permits and utility stuff holds things up. So in the mean time we have 2 options:

- Fairport DSL @ 768 kbps, no data cap - $65.77 (including phone too)
- HughesNet satellite @15 mbps with a 50gb per month data cap - $89.99 per month (also a $15 per month charge for the dish)

We have already resigned ourselves to the fact we can't play online video games for a while and we probably can't stream anything for a while. We signed up for Netflix DVDs again (pretty excited about this). We initially thought satellite was the only option but I'm really concerned about the data cap. I think I'd rather pay less, have slower internet and not worry about overages.

Is this the smart thing to do? If so, what can we do with 768 kbps internet? I haven't had slow internet in so many years, I can't remember what it's like. Just slow browsing and email right?
posted by shesbenevolent to Technology (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I presume you've looked, but often small local microwave ISP companies can provide surprisingly excellent microwave service (at least I think it's microwave). What's required is line of sight, which is extremely location dependent. Generally they'll install the transmitter/receiver on your house and I've seen them offer 2Mbps or higher.
posted by mrzz at 1:15 PM on February 21, 2017

Satellite internet is abysmal, there is a ton of latency (the time between your computer requesting something and the thing actually starting to download) that makes it an awful experience regardless of the throughput (that's the "mbps" number they advertize) you actually get.

I agree with mrzz that, if available, a WISP is a better option than either of the two you've mentioned (as long as your local one is good, as small businesses their quality can vary.) Given the choice between just those two, I'd go with the DSL.
posted by contraption at 1:27 PM on February 21, 2017

Satellite has a lot more latency to contend with, and so DSL might edge it out in perceived performance for the bursty traffic that email and web-browsing is likely to have, as the amount of time you have to wait for a response would be significantly less. Satellite is also more likely to have service interruptions or reduced performance due to weather. I'd personally go with DSL (of the options you presented), even if the speed is that low, and especially if it's a temporary situation.
posted by Aleyn at 1:29 PM on February 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

what can we do with 768 kbps internet?

I used to use YouTube over a 512kb/s down, 128kb/s up ADSL connection before ADSL2+ came to my tiny town, and it basically worked. So did VoIP telephony, though not at the same time as streaming video or file downloading. As long as the latency isn't awful, it shouldn't actually feel horribly slow unless you do stuff like trying to torrent high-resolution movies. Streaming 360p video should work fine. High def, not so much.

Satellite, on the other hand, even at high nominal bit rates offers a simply abysmal user experience because of the ridiculous latency due to the inadequacy of the speed of light given the extreme length of the signal path.

Given the choice between 768kb/s ADSL and any geostationary satellite service, I'd pick the slow ADSL in a heartbeat.

I agree with others who suggest looking for a local fixed-wireless operator.
posted by flabdablet at 1:47 PM on February 21, 2017 [3 favorites]

Have you considered cellular service? See this page from Verizon, for example.
posted by actionstations at 1:48 PM on February 21, 2017

Won't threadsit, but this could be an option for us? Has anyone had anything similar?
No extra fees if you go over your limit, so we may not be able to stream/game at some point in the month but would still be able to web browse etc until the next month. Pricy but probably would mean we could do more. I mean we pay $89.95 right now for great internet in Jersey City. Also there are no contracts.
posted by shesbenevolent at 1:48 PM on February 21, 2017

Cellular service is usually horribly expensive per gigabyte compared to pretty much everything else.
posted by flabdablet at 1:49 PM on February 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

WiFi hotspot. I have a $200 smartphone and 5GB from Tmobile for $30/mo (I think you have to buy at Walmart for this price.). After 5GB it's very slow but sort of usable
posted by H21 at 1:51 PM on February 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

In the satellite realm, you may want to consider Exede over Hughesnet. No data caps and it's faster. Full disclosure: My husband works for Exede's parent company.
posted by elerina at 1:57 PM on February 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

I was in your situation not too long ago!

Like others, I'd recommend against satellite service—there is extremely high latency which makes the quality of service poor.

In my situation, even DSL isn't an option, but I do happen to be perfectly positioned for a Verizon WiFi hotspot—I am able to get 4G service here, and so my internet speed is actually quite good, but the downside is that you have to pay by the gigabyte, and so you need to keep your usage down (e.g. no games, no video). If you do go this route, I strongly recommend installing an adblocker in that case, like uBlock origin, and also having it block large media elements and webfonts. Be sure to check (with your literal cell phone) first, though—I found that Verizon's cell tower service maps weren't accurate.
posted by ragtag at 2:30 PM on February 21, 2017

The only thing worse than Hughesnet is not having Hughesnet. If you go with them, investigate 3rd party Ku band dishes and modems vs. the new Ka band "Gen4" setups. There used to be a 3-4 hour early AM window that was unmetered on the Ku bands.

Here's a stash of utilities for Ku equipment, I used to use to avoid having to talk to their tech unsupport.
posted by ridgerunner at 2:35 PM on February 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Used to work for a rural ISP. I found a lot of the time, rural spaces are oversold - a bit surprising. If you can get in contact with some neighbours in the area and ask them how the internet is, I'd recommend doing so, since it depends very heavily on the load of the given satellite coverage area (can be multiple on one satellite) or, if on a tower, the local tower.

For rural internet, the ideal IMO is WiMAX or LTE or some other kind of line-of-sight tower if you have a decent line-of-sight.

On satellite: even if satellite has higher bandwith, the latency can make make any kind of intermittent activity (like clicking around on the web) *feel* much slower than a lower-latency connection. And the weather sensitivity where you are and where the base station is can be very frustrating. It might be better for streaming, though.
posted by one of these days at 2:58 PM on February 21, 2017

Satellite is garbage. Of your two options the DSL is better. Like folks have said here LTE / cellular hotspot is a reasonable option, but expensive by the gigabyte. Fixed wireless from a WISP is a much better solution; the microwave solution folks have talked about. Ask your neighbors, I'd expect there to be a local WISP in Vermont. I'm typing to you now from a 12 Mbps WISP and it's not so bad.

I lived with 768 kbps for a couple of years and it was annoying, but usable. The web is mostly fine. Streaming video is nearly impossible. You can just about squeak in 240p (ie, low quality on YouTube) but the moment anything else in the house is also using Internet, it goes to hell. Download software also sucks. 768 kbps is 300 megabytes / hour. A lot of Windows and Mac apps are now 100 MB downloads, that's 20 minutes. A 10 gigabyte game? Over 24 hours. Just wait until all your iPhones decide to download an iOS update at the same time.
posted by Nelson at 3:16 PM on February 21, 2017

I have Fairpoint DSL in Vermont. You can buy it without a land line ("dry loop") if you don't need a land line and save some money. Are you sure that is as fast as it will get? VTel are good people. If you want to drop me a MeFi Mail and tell me where actually you're moving I might be able to give you more local info about options. I would not trust a thing Comcast says. Welcome to Vermont.
posted by jessamyn at 3:29 PM on February 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

Seconding Exede satellite internet. My husband an I got it when we moved to a rural eden last month. We have their Freedom 150 plan (which I do not see on their website right now), and it gives us 150 gigabytes a month, no overage charges, and a slowdown if we go over 150 gigs. We stream a fair amount of TV and movies and stayed comfortably within limits last month. This month we have added an antenna to the house so we can watch junk TV and are even more within limits.
Downside: not available everywhere. $100/month plus modem rental. 2 year contract. Reputed to be not fast enough for gaming, but we are not gamers and haven't tried this.
posted by SLC Mom at 3:49 PM on February 21, 2017

If those are the only two choices, I would choose the DSL. Latency on satellite is pretty bad, and such a low data cap is unappealing to me.

For what it's worth, I would expect you to be able to play video games just fine over 768 kbit DSL as long as nobody else is doing any big uploading or downloading while you are trying to play. Playing any kind of latency sensitive video game over satellite, on the other hand, is a complete non-starter.
posted by Juffo-Wup at 1:19 PM on February 23, 2017

I work for ECFiber in central Vermont. If your new home is in our service area, we are who you want. No contracts, fiber to the home (as opposed to FailPoint’s Fiber-to-the-node), and speeds of 10MBps, 25, 100 and 500 (up AND down).

I lived with Exede for 9 years before ECFiber was available, and while it was frustrating, it isn’t completely unusable. You can get the down speeds, but the caps and latency will keep you from video or gaming. Fine for surfing.

However, if VTel is available I would check with them mostly because of no contracts. Despite what they say they do have limits.

Send me a MeMail if you want to chat about specifics including where you live. Even if we can’t get you broadband, I’m happy to answer any Vermont-related questions you may have. Welcome to the neighborhood!
posted by terrapin at 8:37 AM on February 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

Sorry, just re-read your post, and apologies for not digging deeper. If you only need to wait 5-6 months for Comcast don't bother with anyone but VTel as you will be required to signed a 2-3 year contract. Again, IF you are in ECFiber's service area, please consider us. We are owned by the 24 towns that make up the service area, not a huge soulless corp. Again, MeMail me if I can be of any assistance.
posted by terrapin at 10:30 AM on February 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

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