Monday, March 31, 2008

Rural Adventures (Part 2)

Do you take your internet for granted? Do you know how many megs of data do you download every day? When you go to ESPN.com and they're streaming video ads and SportsCenter clips, do you even think about the megabits that you're downloading?

Probably not. You pay a monthly fee, and it's all free from there. Zero marginal cost so download all you want.

But, what about people in rural communities or less-developed countries?

My parents can't get high-speed internet where they live, in rural Western KY. Time Warner has yet to extend to their area. Cingular has 0 bars in their house. The telephone lines aren't good enough for dial-up, you can't even get a 28.8k connection with a modem. My parents aren't poor, but rural Kentucky as a whole is pretty poor and the infrastructure reflects this.

So, my dad and his neighbor decided to split the cost of using satellite internet.

They use HughesNet, which competes with BlueSky and similar companies. (BlueSky has run out of connections for this area, but HughesNet offers connections all over the world).

To get 1.5 Mbps speed, you have to pay $80/month, plus $300 for the satellite, modem, and installation.
This is expensive anyway, but then there's another catch: with the 1.5Mbps plan, you can only download 425 MB per day. So, my dad pays $40 and theoretically gets about 212 megs per day to himself.

If you surf a lot, and stream YouTube videos, ESPN ads, etc. you will use up your bandwidth VERY quickly. The punishment for this from the internet provider is 24 hours of severely reduced bandwidth. You'll feel the wrath of 56k internet.

All the companies have this basic caveat.

When thinking about development, either in the U.S. or internationally, many people try to find ways to link poor people to the Internet. This increases access to information, makes people smarter, etc. But, this is expensive. Knowing that Eastern Kentucky is in a worse situation than Western KY, I suddenly feel for the people who are too remote to have internet access. The internet that is available to them is too expensive to use. I know that ex-Governor Fletcher started an initiative to get all the rural areas access to the internet, but didn't quite succeed.

3rd world countries have the same issue. A nation's entire access is usually entirely dependent on satellites. If a satellite connection goes down, the country is left in the dark. I saw this in Moldova and Azerbaijan quite a bit.

But, that's an aspect of life in rural America that I hadn't thought about before and you might not have either.

2 comments:

Matt McKee said...

Here is a great story on the future of internet access: http://gigaom.com/2008/03/24/googles-white-space-proposal/

I know that it can't come soon enough for people like your Dad. Also knowing Google, it will be very inexpensive if not free.

JTapp said...

I'm not sure the 700mhz access would do them any good either unless someone expands the range of existing towers.