A dairy farmer needs to check which cows are coming into heat for the breeding season. He also needs to take a look at a couple of heifers in the back pasture that haven’t been eating well lately. Instead of grabbing his coat and pulling on his boots, he walks down the hall to his office, turns on the computer, and with the aid of remote sensors and transmitters, gathers all the information he needs in order to make effective decisions. The wireless transmitters located on the cows send data to his computer program that allows him to know when it’s time to move the bull down to the pasture. He can also tell that those two heifers he’s been worried about have actually been eating well for the last 24 hours.
It’s time to plant the spring crops. Odds are that today’s modern farmer spends a large portion of his preparation time on the computer monitoring things like soil temperature, moisture amounts, short-range weather forecasts and current market trends.
The farmer may also spend time analyzing GPS coordinates and statistics gathered remotely through the Internet from GPS units mounted in tractors and other equipment. Programs also exist that will log in to the on-board diagnostics of the farm’s equipment and report any performance issues that need to be addressed long before it would be noticed by the operator of the equipment.
A retired farmer and his wife have discovered new and profitable pastimes by selling homemade silver jewelry and metal art sculptures made from parts salvaged from old farm machinery. They designed and created a website to market their creations and have customers from as far away as England and Mexico. They are enjoying their rural lifestyle, and they are able to market their products through the web.
The common thread linking these scenarios is the ability to easily and consistently access the Internet from a rural location. While new software programs and systems are being developed to enhance productivity in rural areas at mind boggling speed, without Internet connectivity there isn’t a way to take advantage of them.
Whether you are tracking farm equipment and assets, marketing services or products through a blog or social media, or even if you just want to email your family and friends to stay in touch, being able to connect to the Internet in rural areas is seen by some as critical to your quality of life. Although rural residents’ access to the Internet is much more limited than their urban counterparts, rural Internet users do have options available depending on their locations. Here are some of the current options available for rural Internet access.
Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) is a means of using your telephone line to connect to the Internet by transmitting digital data over the lines of a local telephone network without interfering with the voice network.
Advantages of DSL
• The telephone line is already in place.
• You can leave the Internet connection on and still use the phone line for calls.
• The speed is far superior to a dial-up modem.
Disadvantages of DSL
The DSL connection is faster for receiving data than it is for sending.
• DSL service isn’t available through all telephone providers or areas.
• It may require the purchase or lease of a DSL modem.
Prices vary, with most providers offering different plans based on individual needs. Basic packages start around $20 per month with 770 kilobits per second (Kbps) download speed and up to 128 Kbps upload speeds. You can pay for packages that increase both upload and download speeds, but overall, the speed will be about two times less than a cable Internet connection. Even the basic plans provide for email accounts, anti-virus software and customer support. Some services may charge for installation and other associated fees, so make sure you read the fine print.
The term cable Internet is a connection running through your local cable television connection. This is accomplished by first connecting your standard cable connection to a cable modem, which then can be used as either a direct connection to your computer or to a router that can enable wireless communication throughout your home.
Cable speeds are, in most cases, rated as twice as fast as DSL speeds, but the availability of cable in remote rural areas goes from extremely limited to nonexistent. Depending on location, prices for cable range around $30 per month for a basic package, but prices also increase with various increased speed options. As with DSL, cable packages come with email accounts, anti-virus software and customer support.
Advantages of cable
Performance is not based on distance to provider.
• It has fast speed compared to dial-up or DSL.
• There is the ability to bundle services, such as telephone and television with Internet.
• One company provides all services.
Disadvantages of cable
You will share bandwidth of a single cable with others connected near you, which can mean
decreased speed at peak user times.
• If Internet cable is damaged or service goes out, you lose all services.
• It can be more costly then DSL.
• Few options exist in rural areas.
Satellite Internet access is provided through communication satellites. These satellites can offer high-speed data to virtually any location in the continental United States, giving even the most remote rural user access to the Internet.
Satellite speeds vary between 17 megabits per second (Mbps) to 1 Mbps for downloads, and 4.8 Mbps to 0.2 Mbps for uploading information. To give you an idea what those speeds mean, at 17 Mbps you can download an average movie in about 30 minutes. At 1 Mbps, that same movie would take 500 minutes to download. That being said, functions such as using email, surfing the web or downloading pictures require limited bandwidth and are close to, if not exceeding, some DSL providers.
Prices vary with satellite providers based on the monthly plan you select. Starting prices average at around $50 per month for a minimum plan and go up to $130 per month for the maximum usage plans. Because the system requires a dish and installation, satellite users may incur higher installation costs, monthly equipment leasing fees and activation charges, and most companies require a two-year contract.
Advantages of satellite
It allows for the greatest Internet connectivity in rural areas.
• It doesn’t tie up your local telephone service or cable TV subscription.
• Your existing home phone or cable wiring does not affect the connection speed with satellite Internet.
Disadvantages of satellite
It is usually more expensive than other Internet options.
• Satellite Internet access requires a larger set-up fee and may require professional installation.
• Connection speeds are generally slower than DSL, cable or fiber-optic services.
• Weather may create some delay or loss of transmission, and the dish must have an uninterrupted line of sight to the satellite(s) in orbit.
Mobile wireless broadband (WiFi)
This form of Internet connection is provided by cell phone companies using cell towers to relay signals to your cell phone, tablet or computer via a series of cellular telephone towers over large geographical areas.
Companies like Sprint, AT&T and Verizon offer 3G and 4G networks that deliver download speeds around 3 to 6 Mbps and upload speeds of around 1 Mbps.
Costs will vary by carrier and include monthly or annual contracts from $20 per month for a basic data plan up to $50 per month depending on total data usage.
Remember, with most broadband plans, regardless of the method to deliver your Internet connection, you are only allowed as much “usage” as your plan provides. If you go over the amount of data in your plan, you may be billed the excess at a much higher rate or have your access throttled down at the end of the month.
Advantages of mobile wireless
You do not need to purchase a landline, which may make it more cost efficient than DSL.
• Because it’s mobile, you can easily bring your Internet with you wherever you go.
• Bundling options allow for mobile and home Internet at competitive pricing.
Disadvantages of mobile wireless
Access is limited in some rural or remote areas.
• Mobile broadband may be more expensive than DSL, and pricing can vary greatly depending on where you live.
• You may purchase unlimited mobile broadband for a flat rate per month, but you will be monitored for usage if your data usage goes over a specific amount of gigabytes per month; access speeds may be lowered significantly.
The future of rural Internet
The methods of how we will access and consume data in rural areas will continue to expand and improve. In the future, rural Internet users may be able to secure broadband service through what’s called TV White Space. This method would allow Internet service on unused frequencies reclaimed from the bandwidth formerly occupied by analog TV stations.
If you haven’t explored your Internet access options lately, it may make sense to find out what other options are currently available in your area. Talk to your neighbors and friends to find out what they are using and their experiences with products. You may save some money and increase your Internet access and quality.
Read more: Another take on rural connectivity.
Tim Nephew, a freelance writer living in Minnesota, manages his 80 acres for wildlife, with the help of a few electronic devices.