What Are Our Rural Internet Options?

Reader Contribution by Jennifer Kongs
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The Small Home, Big Decisionsseries 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 Kongsis 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.

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