Connectivity Issues From Rural Work Places – Part 1

speedtestnet-the-global-broadband-speed-testI recently relocated to Tok, Alaska from Anchorage. Being in Anchorage seemed far removed enough from the happenings in my industry, but I’ve carved out a good stream of social media and web work clients both statewide and nationally even from the Last Frontier. Now, however, I’m in the farflung reaches of the Last Frontier and am faced with major challenges and expenses getting high speed Internet connectivity.

To give you a sense of what I’m facing here, I’ll break it down for you. Here is what I’m used to in Anchorage:

3 MB speed
20 GB bandwidth allowance
$12 per GB over
normal GB usage per month: 15-21 GB

Connectivity Options

speedtestnet-the-global-broadband-speed-test-11. DSL through the local phone/utility company

This is the standard option, and I can get their 512K up and down package with a 10 GB monthly bandwidth allowance for about $180/month ($30/GB over). $50 for the wifi modem, $50 refundable deposit. That is what I have at the moment, and according to SpeedTest, I’m getting 466k up and 205k down.

In just 6 days, I was already at 3 GBs of bandwidth usage. Times 4 weeks equals 24 GB usage. $220 overage fees on top of the $180/month. I could opt for the business package at $469/month for 20 GB allowance, however, the speed remains the same.

2. Satellite via one of two competitors serving the region

For $700, I can purchase an Internet satellite dish and get a $100 rebate. Then pay $180/month for speeds of up to 1.25 MB up and down. But you have to deal with the latency, and I’m not sure how that would affect videoblogging, for example. Also, while there isn’t a GB bandwidth allowance or limit per se, there is some kind of “usage bucket” so after a certain point your connection slows down until you’ve built your usage allotments back up. This is to discourage bandwidth hogs. Like me.

This is an option I will probably explore on a trial basis, if that is possible.

3. Cellular modem through AT&T

After a number of calls with AT&T saying they’ve never heard of Tok, of course they service Tok, their computer doesn’t show service in Tok, and yes they service Tok, I was able to get confirmation locally that AT&T not only services Tok and has a tower there but they also have a satellite phone office in the Tok General Store. So I called AT&T back for the 5th time armed with this information and ended up with an AT&T USB cellular USB modem – technically a Mercury modem from Sierra Wireless.

While AT&T says connection speeds should be about 700k to 1.5 MB, I’m getting about 200k on mine. But it has a 5 GB allowance so when I hit my limit on DSL, I can eke out 5 more Megs. The cost for this was $100 for the modem, $36 activation fee and $60/month as long as I don’t go bandwidth crazy.

So this is what it is like to work from a very rural location. Options limited, expenses piling up, creativity required.

Part 2 will explore the impact of rural (lack of) connectivity on my web work, and how my revenue model and work process may have to change to accommodate the limitations.

What other options are there for very rural Internet connectivity? If you’re rural, what are you using and what does it run you?

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