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Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.


What Are Our Rural Internet Options?

using a laptop by a window

The Small Home, Big Decisions series follows Jennifer and her husband, Tyler, as they build a self-reliant homestead on a piece of country property in northeastern Kansas. The series will delve into questions that arise during their building process and the decisions they make along the way. The posts are a work in progress, written as their home-building adventure unfolds.

Many folks who live in the country face a dilemma when trying to access fast, rural wireless Internet service at home. Many homesteads outside of town still rely on dial-up service, which doesn’t usually provide the download speeds that modern email and video streaming require. Especially for modern homesteaders who are Google- and YouTube-savvy and rely on these sites as tools to help them take on projects and solve problems around their property, having reliable Internet is invaluable.

We began researching the rural Internet options for our new home a couple of months before we moved. We don’t have, or want, cable or a home phone line. For us, we only needed wireless Internet, but we needed it to be reliable and relatively speedy. While our exact needs, situation and experience won’t be applicable to everyone looking for rural Internet services, the general roadblocks (or more accurately, “treeblocks”) we faced are a good starting point for anyone trying to find information.

Check with your current provider. Sometimes, the company you already use in town will offer satellite other options, especially if you do want to include a dish TV package. The Internet provider we used while living in town does not offer rural wireless Internet, which meant we had to find a new provider. Also, if you do keep land phone line service, such as with AT&T, you can create a package that combines Internet and a phone line (in most places).

Take into account any line-of-sight impediments, if required. While our house is on a hill — well, really, on the side of a hill — we are surrounded by dense woods on both the north and south ends of our property. We thought we had enough of an open pasture buffer between our roof and the trees that would allow for rural Internet providers to establish the necessary line-of-sight (usually via radio signals) connections with their towers. Plus, we assumed that being located along a highway and within a few miles of the city limits would widen our options. Never underestimate the power of Mother Nature: The woods made it nearly impossible for a signal to reach a nearby tower, and would be even worse in summer when the trees are fuller. These type of rural Internet options, however, tend to be cheaper than installing and relying on a satellite dish. So, if this option  is available where your property is located, then it’s worth having the installer out to check the connection and see if it’s strong enough to suffice for your needs.

A national company that provides satellite plans may be your only option. Locally owned? No. Fairly cheap? Nope. Reliable, fast connection and download times? Yes. Available without required a land phone line or cable? Yep. Well, then, HughesNet it is. So far, we haven’t had any troubles and our needs have been covered with a fairly basic plan. Other similar companies exist, but all of our friends who used HughesNet for satellite Internet, coupled with a wireless router, were satisfied with the quality of their connection. We’ll let you know if our opinion changes as more time passes. We’ve switched to watching any movies, TV shows and sports by streaming them online, and we use our cell phones as our home phones — so for us, this arrangement actually saves us money compared with paying for all of those other services separately.

Smartphone owner? Consider using your phone as a hot spot for home Internet. We didn’t go this route because of the limitations with streaming and download speeds, but this technology is developing. If you don’t have a need for a land phone line, prefer to stream video rather than watch TV, and have a data plan that would support this arrangement, don’t overlook using your smartphone as your connection.

Do you know of other options or have you found a different solution? Share in the comments below!

Photo by Fotolia/Ivan Kruk.

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Jennifer Kongs is the Managing Editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine. When she’s not working at the magazine, she’s likely in her garden, on the local running trails or in her kitchen instead. You can connect directly with Jennifer by leaving a comment below.

joseph
4/8/2016 7:22:55 AM

We are off the grid in Southeastern Michigan and have used the hotspot feature of our IPhones for more than 8 years now. We have Verizon and the coverage is good - but the data racks up quickly so you have to monitor usage. We have actually found it is an excellent way to meter / monitor how our teenaged daughters use the internet. Our plan is big enough for email, some web browsing, homework, work related internet and a little extra - like Pinterest for a few hours a month for our one daughter and Instagram for the other. Not enough to stream videos or Netflix - which is okay - especially now that the winter is ending and we are outside more!


steve
4/6/2016 10:36:22 PM

We have Hughes net for phone and Internet, and I would have a hard time putting reliable and Hughes net in the same sentence. We were sold a plan with lots of data - it wasn't until the installer was leaving that we learned that most of our data was between 2:00AM and 8:00AM. We were forever out of data, buying tokens, upgrading... Really pricy. Even a light rain would take the system down, and when it was up speeds were variable and dropped connections and frozen page loads were the rule. Customer service was in the Philippines, representative would go through a script, because our phone was through Hughes net, we could never call when the system was out. When we called - "everything checks out fine, if you still want a service call it will be $150...) Our local phone company (TEC) just installed, after I cleared the large poplar tree off the line and they replaced a piece of corroded direct burial wire we are screaming. In 2 months they plan to have fiber in our area. Good bye Hughes net - hate paying the breakup fee, but it will be good to get rid of this company.


jamesb
4/6/2016 8:38:29 PM

HughesNet? Seriously? They have the WORST customer service and atrociously slow connection speeds. And at TRIPLE the price of a local microwave service. Rise Broadband is a great alternative and I highly recommend that you do a thorough search of alternatives before signing on to HughesNet. They have an iron-clad, two-year contract that will cost you dearly when you find a better service and decide to call it quits with them. The download speeds are slow and inconsistent and their billing scheme is retarded. Extra capacity comes at a dear price and despite claims of free "off peak" service (to supposedly avoid the expense of downloading software updates, etc. during the "prime time" of waking hours), you are still charged for exceeding monthly limits. Shop around; you can do MUCH better than HughesNet. You'll be glad you did.


ebyfarms
4/6/2016 1:27:11 PM

Also be on the lookout for fiber in rural areas. Our electric coop in southwest Michigan is two years into a five year project of installing fiber in the areas they service electric customers. Bye bye unreliable cellular and satellite internet. -Matt


josepht
4/6/2016 9:40:56 AM

I do not work for the company, but I highly recommend Exede.com. They are a satellite provider. We had them for a year, until our local electric co-op brought fiber to their network. My wife was able to VPN to her office and work from home. Very good speeds. Joe, Missouri


julia
12/2/2015 9:56:48 PM

I'm using HughesNet also for rural internet service. It is definitely more reliable than trying to use the cell phone company hotspot. If you have trouble with trees and access to line of sight with towers, using your cell phone as a hot spot will be severely impacted. Over time, I'm becoming dissatisfied with HughesNet. Expensive and even with a decent sized package, there is not enough streaming capability to play a short video on facebook. I envy your ability to stream movies! I have DishTV and they are offering internet now in my area bundled with dish. This is an option I'm going to pursue. They advertise 10 times the download for the same price as HughesNet.


kristyna
11/24/2015 7:15:18 AM

We have Wild Blue here in northern WI and I cannot stream much of anything for any length of time. I would love to be able to use Audible but it doesn't stream properly and then here comes the "overuse" email despite having the middle of the road (next is professional) service. Perhaps I need to move on to Excede. We have Hughsnet as an option but I don't think they'll be any better than Wild Blue. Or bite the bullet and pay the $120.00 month professional? I suspect it won't live up to its promises either. Makes me sad as the whole net is going more to live video etc. and we are long left behind. I'd love to get rid of the TV but when it is cloudy/stormy/planets aligning incorrectly I'd like to see what the weather is doing that is our only option. And even there they discontinued the weather station and made it to "Heros and Icons". More money to be made. I don't watch TV otherwise. That is my husband's thing. EDIT: Even this I can't get to load properly...let's try again...third time is the charm???


danrapson
11/23/2015 9:46:52 AM

So which came first-the property, or the high speed connection.... I am business dependent on the connection. I don't want to have to go into town more than once a week or so...and I also need some access to maybe a backup system... I used Hughes back in the early 2000's and would like to know the speeds and the prices of today's version...


countrylivinginac
11/22/2015 10:30:29 PM

We are in BC and we used HughesNet. We didn't have reliable internet and we found they had terrible customer service. Almost like they knew we had no other option and they kept increasing the price while reducing the reliability. Now we finally have Shaw internet and it is quite a bit better. Thank goodness, because if you work online you really do need something better than dial up!