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?



I feel your pain, I am a web worker originally from Seattle but relocated to Wasilla. Not quite as off the beaten path as Tok but I am still shocked at the differences in what you get for the money for broadband between Anchorage and the Valley.



I work for and with rural telco and utitily companies on broadband deployments. I just got back moderating a panel on the future of wireless backhaul and all the attendees were rural telco or service operators.

In a nutshell, the cost of wire loops of cable from you to where the Internet goes might be a possible reason for slower speeds. Of course there are many factors, but you just want options right? The next concern would be the egress to the Internet from your telco. Those can be addressed as well if there is demand and available capacity to gain transit for subscribers like you.

Many of the other comments so far are correct in that there may be more than one way to get the bandwidth you seek. The challenge comes in when you are on the far end of a 12 mile road with no neighbors and the incumbent is a nameless, faceless, and decidedly non-community oriented corporation.

Let’s hope that isn’t your situation! :-)

Who is your local telco there?

I’d be happy to call on them and talk with their plant manager for you and report back findings.


Aliza Sherman

Thanks to everyone for the suggestions. Really great stuff. I’ll report back on what happens.

And yes, fixing anything in Alaska in the winter is an exercise in futility.


I agree with the posters who have recommended against satellite. I just switched to a Verizon wireless card and was very happy to bid satellite good-bye. Latency creates a lot of problems. The really frustrating thing is that my location is really not THAT remote, certainly compared to yours. I’m also hoping that the Obama initiatives create more options in my area.

John B

I know some people who live in remote locations, although not as remote as Tok, and they have connections that use a network of wifi towers to relay from a base connection in a more developed area.

I took a look at Google Earth, and it seems that Fairbanks is your closest “city” and it’s kind of far, but maybe if a good connection is available in Fairbanks, and you could get a group together in Tok that would share a connection, you might have some success with that route. However, I can imagine fixing Tower #3 in an Alaskan February would not be fun.


I live in a rural area too (just not quite as rural as Tok) and I have DSL (1.5 mb down /375 kb up is the fastest I can get). The only other option is Satellite – no cable here.

I do remote support over the internet and connect to a client who has Satellite and the latency is deadly – seriously you could die while waiting for the screen to refresh or your mouse arrow to catch up to the mouse position.

I’m in the process of adding DSL to my second phone line and bonding the 2 DSL lines using MultiPPP (which my provider supports) to double my speed to 3mb.

You may want to consider this if you provider supports MultiPPP because you’d get double the allowance and double the speed for less than the business plan you quoted.

Also you might want to check your MTU settings as your down speed seems slow compared to your up speed – adjusting some settings may bring your speed up.

See for an MTU tool and info

See for info on turning a consumer router into a MultiPPP router.

Good luck,

Owen Marcus

I live in Sandpoint, Idaho 50 miles from the Canadian border. A couple of years ago I wrote the CEO of Verizon to see why they would not keep their agreement with the State of Idaho and connect their DSL service to people outside of town. He had his assistant call me – all the assistant could over was appeasement.

I tried a Verizon air card. That didn’t work. I am stuck with Hughes satellite and their Indian tech support.

Let’s hope Obama keeps his commitment to bring broad band to rural America.


I know I had somewhat recently read of others with similar issues. You might find these discussions informative (after you filter out the noise).

Off the top of my head, two thoughts come to mind:
1) Reduce your wasteful bandwidth use by running everything through a local proxy that aggressively caches (i.e. does not obey suggested lifetimes) on certain types of content, like images, static video, and other bandwidth hogs.
2) Setup a proxy server someplace with fast/cheap internet access that aggressively compresses the data on the client side (your side) of the proxy before it gets shoved down your slow pipe. Something on your end would need to decompress it. This requires hardware running someplace other than where you are.

Both of these ideas require a high level of technical know-how to get setup. However, considering your prices, it may be worth your while. You might also find a market for your solution in others in your area.


I use Sprint’s 3G datacard and it’s blazing fast, but only when you’re in a city.

I also have an original iPhone, and the EDGE network on that is pretty widespread…not sure how that compares to their 3G network, but EDGE is definitely more prevalent than Sprint.

When I signed up for Sprint, last summer, there were no monthly limits. Now there are, I believe.

Monthly limits are lame, but I’m particularly surprised that your cable provider (assuming you had cable or DSL) in Anchorage had a limit. I’ve heard of limits in Australia and Europe, but in the 48 continentals, we don’t have limits on our monthly usage. As it should be.

On another note, is it just me or is “WebWorkerDaily” more like “WebWorkerHourly”. Too many puppies, says I before unsubscribing. :(


The DSL in our area is slow and overpriced.

I use Verizon 3G. I’ve gone over the bandwidth limit several times, but they haven’t done anything about it. I’m very pleased with the service.

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