3 months of good internet access in the midwest
November 18, 2020 10:02 AM   Subscribe

Need teaching quality wifi access from a relative's house in the midwest from mid-December to mid-February. There is currently no infrastructure there, and we'd prefer to leave none behind. Can't leave the occupant with any recurring payments. Options?

  • My partner will be staying with her mother for about three months from mid-December
  • For some of that time, she'll be tutoring remotely via Teams video calling for up to six hours a day
  • We don't want to disturb the existing ancient landline or install anything permanent
  • Going to a library or nearby college is not an option
  • Cadging off a neighbour's wifi wouldn't be acceptable, either
  • We don't have any existing accounts with US cell providers, as neither of us are resident in the US
  • At the end of the three month period, billing needs to stop with no ongoing commitment
  • Adding cell phone data roaming to our existing plan at a suitable speed and quantity would be beyond prohibitive (we're 🇨🇦)
  • If it helps, this would be in Liberty, MO (64068)
posted by scruss to Computers & Internet (23 answers total)
Does the mother currently get cable TV? Or is the home wired up for cable? Because if so it's probably as simple as calling the cable provider and asking to get an internet plan with no early cancellation fee. Specifics will very but often you pick up a modem (or they deliver it) and screw it into a cable outlet and tada. Then when you're done with it you drop it back off or mail it back.

Otherwise you're going to be dependent on a prepaid mobile hotspot, and I wouldn't want to pick one of those without knowing what service was like at the specific home location. (Like, Verizon service is generally very good but terrible at my dad's house.)
posted by mskyle at 10:15 AM on November 18

My first instinct is to look at something like Visible or Mint Wireless. They have prepaid plans, including unlimited data with tethering, for about $30 / month. (Disclaimer: I use Mint for my personal phone, my brother uses Visible). Here is a link to the Mint Plans page where they advertise their $30/month unlimited plan: https://www.mintmobile.com/plans/.

There are two potential wrinkles I see:

1.) Coverage may or may not be good in your specific location. Companies like Mint lease space on the towers, and so their coverage is not as good as the big companies. Where I live, Mint uses TMobile towers exclusively, so my coverage is as though I used TMobile (noticeably worse than when I had ATT).

Edited to add: knowing the ZIP code isn't enough to know how good the coverage will be, unfortunately. It may vary from one room to another. The only way to be sure is to test it.

2.) Mint provides a SIM card; you need a device to put it in. Part of the deal with these companies is they do not include the phone. But for hotspot purposes, just about any modern android phone will work, so you should be able to get a good deal on the secondary market. If you already have a spare device, so much the better!
posted by dbx at 10:17 AM on November 18

It's not inconceivable you could visit her again, right?

Does "can't leave the occupant with recurrning payment" mean you might be willing to foot the bill?

If you are, then upgrade mom to better (or some) internet, and pay for it forever.

Next time you go visit, you'll be happy it's there...

Some ISPs offer seasonal plans too, so if mom really has no use for internet, you could turn it on and off again as needed.
posted by soylent00FF00 at 10:21 AM on November 18

I looked into tethering my phone for ongoing work use recently and I learned pretty quickly that I burn through more data than any cell phone provider is willing to tolerate. This estimate from microsoft says 500 kb/s for SD video calls, which (if my math is right) works out to about 1.8 gb/hour. Multiply that by many hours (and perhaps upgrade that to HD calling, or add some other internet use) and you're potentially talking hundreds of gb/month.

Mint, mentioned above, limits mobile hotspot use to 5gb/month (I'm assuming you're wanting to tether to a laptop vs use a phone for your primary internet device). I believe all of the major cell carriers limit to about 25 gb/month or less (the highest I could find from a quick search was T-Mobile's biggest plan at 22gb). This is not likely to be enough.

Long story short: I suggest you look at ways to hook up more traditional home internet and then turn it off later - it may require some permanent installation (if your partner's mom doesn't already have it installed for cable TV or something) but it shouldn't be too intrusive and it may be useful infrastructure to have in the future. There are plans available that require contracts and plans that don't - if you ask specifically about no-contract plans, they should be available, even if perhaps at a higher price.
posted by mosst at 10:35 AM on November 18

LTE cell modems / wifi would probably provide what you're looking for. All the major carriers offer this, and i've recommended the Mobile Internet Resource Center before here - this guide on remotely working is probably the most applicable.

That being said - you're in Canada. Me too! Most of the US cell plans require a monthly subscription and a bunch of hoops for Canadians. So I was looking at pay as you go data, and have found GlocalMe recently. I bought their GlocalMe G4, got (and used) 9 GB free, and bought an extra data package, and it seemed to work relatively well for me. It's not overly cheap tho - between $4-$9 per gig of data in the US. I'm a heavy user that uses over 100G / month, so its pretty pricey for data alone ($380/month)
posted by cgg at 11:01 AM on November 18

See if there's a local ISP that offers wireless line of sight service.

Cadging off a neighbour's wifi wouldn't be acceptable, either

What about contacting the neighbor and offering to pay their internet bill for the entire time you are there if they will let you use their wifi? Or if the issue is the signal getting through from the neighboring building, run a wire... do you actually need wifi, or can you get by with wired internet?
posted by yohko at 11:21 AM on November 18

I learned pretty quickly that I burn through more data than any cell phone provider is willing to tolerate. This estimate from microsoft says 500 kb/s for SD video calls, which (if my math is right) works out to about 1.8 gb/hour.

I can't speak to the other aspects of using a hotspot in the US, but I just checked and my own video conferencing data usage is way below that - less than 200 MiB/hour (typical usage is more than an hour at a time). Possibly because I have an old and therefore lower-resolution camera, but I was using a newer camera for a while and didn't notice any big changes in data usage. So it's worth checking your actual numbers on your own equipment.
posted by trig at 12:05 PM on November 18

Google Fi might work - "No contracts, cancel anytime"
posted by exogenous at 12:49 PM on November 18

Does the mother currently get cable TV?

No. No computer in the house and no interest in having one. We've tried …

There is one neighbour who might be okay with an arrangement to share/pay for wifi, but the lot arrangement is such that there would only be signal jammed right up against the north wall of the house. Not great for teaching, and not great if the neighbour's router needs a kick.
posted by scruss at 1:39 PM on November 18

If they are within a hundred metres or so for only 3 months I'd be tempted to just run an ethernet cable out a window or something and across the ground. December to February there is likely to be snow so the cable would be hidden and damage from lawn mowers etc. wouldn't be a problem. Doesn't help with the router issue though many can now be restarted remotely if not totally dead.
posted by Mitheral at 1:50 PM on November 18 [2 favorites]

Ethernet cable can be run a good distance, 100 meters/ 300+ feet, so if a neighbor will allow you to connect, that might work quite well. people have clipped a CAT5 cable to a fence or strung it in trees; it's pretty sturdy, at least for 3 months.

If the landline phone company offers it, DSL is still a thing, and not noticeable in any way, but also not that much bandwidth. probably enough for an okay video meeting.
posted by theora55 at 2:30 PM on November 18

jIf you go the neighbor route...

Amazon.com: KuWFi 2-Pack 300Mbps Wireless Outdoor CPE Kit Point-to-Point Wireless Access Point 2.4G WiFi Bridge Supports 1KM Transmission Distance Solution for PTP/PTMP (Pre-Program): Electronics

Amazon.com: TP-Link 2.4GHz N300 Long Range Outdoor CPE for PtP and PtMP Transmission | Point to Point Wireless Bridge | 9dBi, 5km+ | Passive PoE Powered w/ Free PoE Injector | Pharos Control (CPE210): Computers & Accessories

Outdoor (not necessary) wireless point to point bridge. Most home wifi routers and laptop wifi antennae / power are rather meh. Toss in something that's solely designed to go point to point and bridge a distance.... no problem.

Or yeah, drag a cable and figure out how to get it inside/outside of both houses.
posted by zengargoyle at 2:43 PM on November 18

Mea culpa on Mint -- yes, they cap at 5GB. It's hard to find the fine print, but Visible, at $40/month, does appear to have unlimited hotspot -- they throttle the speed to 5MB/s but don't cap the total data. My brother is using this solution for working from home. For what it's worth.
posted by dbx at 3:36 PM on November 18 [1 favorite]

just run an ethernet cable

None of the computers involved have an ethernet port. None of the users have an interest in dealing with cables at all, including DSL.
posted by scruss at 3:44 PM on November 18

Wait, really, your relative doesn't have a television? Does not watch TV? Network television is mostly a thing of the past, so most people I know of in the U.S. midwest do have either a dish or cable for television. If she has cable -- even without a computer -- her cable service can probably set you up with a cable wifi modem that you return at the end of the visit. If she doesn't have cable but you'd be willing to pay to have cable installed you can do this too. We do this each summer in a house we own and rent out during the year. The house is wired for cable, so each summer we swing by the Comcast store, pick up a modem, and we're in business. We drop off the modem at the end of every summer, which ends the billing.
posted by shadygrove at 4:32 PM on November 18

None of the computers involved have an ethernet port. None of the users have an interest in dealing with cables at all, including DSL.

DSL (usually? probably always?) uses your landlines. The hardware side of a DSL installation is 1) a modem- which you plug into a phone line, and 2) plugging in little filter doohickies on your actual phones so that the DSL doesn't interfere with them. If you get a combined DSL modem/router, the modem will also be a wifi access point. This might actually be the easiest option.

most people I know of in the U.S. midwest do have either a dish or cable for television

My parents live on the West Coast and only got cable TV this year after their DSL setup turned out to be too slow for sustained work-from-home (my dad works with large datasets the DSL was fine for videoconferencing). Before that they only watched terrestrial TV.
posted by BungaDunga at 5:08 PM on November 18

Network television is mostly a thing of the past

Not for my M-I-L. She watches television from somewhere, doesn't have satellite and doesn't have cable.

DSL may be an option but the connections/infrastructure are ancient and more importantly, nobody who isn't immediate family gets inside/near the house with COVID going on.
posted by scruss at 5:29 PM on November 18

You could try Skyroam. It'll be pricey, but if they have LTE service it should work well. They'll rent you the device if you don't plan to use it again, or you can buy it if you want.
posted by aramaic at 5:45 PM on November 18

nobody who isn't immediate family gets inside/near the house with COVID going on.

Like BungaDunga said if you can plug in a land line you can setup DSL. Around here if you don't live within 30 minutes or so of a city they don't send a guy out and instead just mail you the modem/router/wifi appliance. Or you can pick it up at the phone company office/kiosk.

"Installation" is
1) unplug phone from wall jack
2) plug filter into wall jack
3) plug phone into filter socket marked phone
4) plug modem into filter socket labeled DSL/Modem/internet/anything besides phone (filter only has two sockets)
5) plug power cord/brick into wall outlet
6) Profit! (IE: connect to new WiFi access point. The AP will come per-configured with a SSID and secure Password that will be written on the outside of the modem)

The only problem is speed is inversely proportional to distance from the utility DSL injector. And if you have more than one land line you need to install a filter at each phone (using only one half of the filter).
posted by Mitheral at 11:35 PM on November 18 [1 favorite]

I don't want to second-guess, I just also don't want to leave any stone unturned: although she doesn't use cable TV, is there a chance the house is wired for cable TV, i.e. if it is new construction within the last 30 years or if a previous occupant of the home had cable?
posted by mskyle at 4:44 AM on November 19

So I don't know if the quality and price meet your needs, but some comments in this question mentioned a Calyx Institute that offers free actually-unlimited cellular internet as an annual benefit for members who join at $500. (The benefit is for the entire year, but I don't see any reason why you couldn't just send them back their hotspot after the first 3 months.)
posted by trig at 4:54 AM on November 19 [1 favorite]

Just one thing to be wary of if you go the mobile hotspot route: unlimited high speed data doesn't mean UNLIMITED. read the fine print. if you go over a certain number of GB per month or whatever, they will knock you down to a lower speed and you're screwed.

(this was the case with Verizon in 2017 anyway, my mac connected to the hotspot and then immediately downloaded a 4GB software update or something and basically used up all of my high speed data for the month and that was the end of that.)

PC has a setting for "metered connection" make sure you turn that on if you need to keep track of how much data you are using. Mac doesn't have such a setting but you can use a piece of software called Trip Mode and it will help you deal with it.

(also, getting a USB to ethernet adapter is cheap and easy and should totally work fine, if you do decide to go the ethernet cable way, lack of ethernet ports on your laptops shouldn't be an issue.)
posted by capnsue at 11:26 AM on November 19

Posting a link to one more option I just found out about today ("fixed" cellular internet, as opposed to hotspot or tethered cellular internet).
posted by trig at 3:53 PM on November 23

« Older COVID-19 drawing of "Kate"   |   Battle ropes set-up Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments