High-Speed internet service is available virtually everywhere in the Corn Belt, and in all but a few locations anywhere in the U.S.
That reality is contrary to common belief. Numerous surveys have shown that a healthy percentage of rural residents don't think high-speed Internet services (also called broadband) are available to them.
For example, in a recent survey of Farm Industry News readers, 58% of readers with dial-up connections said that lack of availability is one of the major reasons for not having high-speed Internet.
Although it is true that rural Americans typically have fewer high-speed Internet options than their big-city counterparts, it's also the case that if farmers and other rural residents want high-speed Internet access, it's available, sometimes from multiple suppliers. But they might have to dig a little to identify all of their options.
Satellite-based high-speed connections are available virtually everywhere with a view of southern skies. That's pretty much everybody in rural America, except those in the shadow of a mountain.
Radio-based fixed wireless connections are available across half to two-thirds of the Midwest.
Phone-based Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) and cable connections also are available in some areas, as are so-called 3G connections through the latest generation of cell phone networks.
The bottom line is that, if you want broadband access, you probably can get it, assuming you can afford it.
Internet access is considered to be high speed if it operates above the maximum speed possible with a dial-up telephone connection, or 56 kilobits per second (kbps). In many rural areas, effective maximum dial-up speeds are in the 28- to 40-kbps range.
High-speed connections generally operate in a range of 300 kbps to 4.5 megabits (1,000 kilobits) per second (mbps), depending on the technology and the service option. That's 10 to 150 times faster than a 33-kpbs dial-up connection.
In addition to offering higher speed, these services are always connected, so you don't have to establish a connection each time you want to use the Internet or check your e-mail. And you don't have to tie up the telephone line when you use the Internet.
Here's what you can expect from the major high-speed Internet options available in rural America.
Fixed wireless services are thought to be available in half to two-thirds of the Midwest geography. This technology uses 2.4- or 5.8-gigahertz radio signals to connect subscribers within a four- to eight-mile radius of a central antenna, although multiple antennas and newer radio technologies can stretch the coverage area. Fixed wireless download speeds range from 300 kbps to 4.5 mbps, depending on the provider and service option.
Costs generally range from $30 to $50/month for basic service, which often includes several e-mail addresses. Installation and equipment costs typically are in the $300 to $500 range, depending on program details and contract terms, though some wireless providers offer start-up costs as low as $99. To qualify for fixed wireless service, you must have an unobstructed view between the central antenna and your antenna location.
There is no central directory of fixed wireless providers, although some Web site listings appear to be fairly comprehensive. One such site can be found at www.onelasvegas.com/wireless/compare.html.
Satellite services are available to virtually anyone in the U.S. with a clear view of the southern sky. Two satellite services — HughesNet (www.hughesnet.com, 888/667-5537) and Wild Blue (www.wildblue.com, 866/945-3258) — are competing the most aggressively for customers. Both are marketed by multiple companies. (HughesNet was formerly marketed under the DirecWay brand and uses the same satellite system.) A third company, Starband (www.starband.com, 800/478-2722), also provides satellite services but appears to be marketing its services to residential customers less aggressively than the other two providers. Many members of the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative (www.nrtc.org, 703/787-0874), whose members include more than 1,300 rural utilities and affiliates in 47 states, sell Wild Blue services. Satellite equipment and services also can be purchased through Radio Shack and other electronics stores. Download speeds average 500 to 700 kbps for basic service plans, but speeds up to 1.5 mbps are available.
Agristar Global Networks (www.agristar.com, 888/777-0440) is focused strictly on the ag and food industries and uses satellite services provided by HughesNet. Its service includes a news, weather and markets information package, including the Hightower Report, and costs $59.95/month.
The typical monthly cost for a broadband satellite connection is $50 to $60. A satellite dish and installation typically cost $400 to $600, although special offers can reduce costs. Equipment and installation costs are down dramatically from the past, when costs topped $1,000.
DSL uses the same telephone line that carries telephone service to simultaneously provide high-speed access. DSL is available primarily in urban areas because the technology works within about three miles of a telephone company switching center or central office. Innovative rural telephone companies in Iowa and elsewhere provide extended DSL service by installing hub-and-spoke systems and newer DSL technologies that effectively extend the DSL coverage area. Others have combined DSL and fixed wireless technologies to provide coverage to 90% or more of their service areas.
DSL download speeds typically are in the 400 kbps to 5 mbps range, depending on the service option. Monthly costs for basic plans have been falling in recent years. Generally, they are in the $30 to $40 range. A DSL modem typically costs $60 to $75. Contact your local telephone company to see if DSL service is available.
3G is an umbrella term that refers to third-generation wireless networks designed primarily to deliver broadband speeds to cell phones and other mobile devices. But 3G networks also are compatible with computers with an appropriate wireless card, which sells for about $100. These networks offer speeds between 400 and 700 kbps, comparable to other broadband alternatives. However, 3G towers generally are concentrated in and near major metropolitan areas and along major highways.
The three main providers of 3G services are Cingular/AT&T, Sprint and Verizon. Unlimited service from Verizon Wireless costs about $80/month with a call plan. Sprint's Mobile Broadband service costs $60/month. The BroadbandConnect service from Cingular Wireless costs $80/month for unlimited access. Cingular also provides a slower 2.5G cellular technology, available over broader areas through its Edge network. With a speed of about 90 kbps, it is faster than dial-up, but far slower than typical broadband speeds.
Contact Verizon Wireless at 800/256-4646 or visit www.verizonwireless.com. For information about Cingular BroadbandConnect, call 866/429-7222 or visit www.cingular.com/midtolarge/umts. To get more information about Sprint Mobile Broadband, call 877/700-8919 or visit www.sprint.com/business/products/products/wirelessHighSpeedData.jsp.