Who do you use?


A few weeks ago, our internet service all but stopped working for nearly 2 weeks, I finally figured out it was apparently caused by the solar storms going on, it really made for some quiet days (weeks) since we couldn’t stream anything during that time. Once things got back online for us, it wouldn’t last, last Saturday we enjoyed a rare thunderstorm during January, and I do mean thunderstorm, complete with lots of lightening! We took a direct hit, I was online using my tablet and actually got shocked through my tablet screen, it wasn’t terrible, but it was a surprise, we heard the crackle before the strike and heard the loud boom. We figured we had taken a direct hit but didn’t know for sure until the following day when our friends across the valley told us they saw the lightning hit our place.

Fortunately it didn’t do any damage to us, the SkyCastle is well grounded so most of the energy from the hit went to ground. But the storm did take out our local internet, it was out for the next 3 days, our street was the last one to in the neighborhood to get our internet back up and running.

The first few years we lived off-grid, we didn’t have internet ourselves, our neighbor had satellite internet and I went to his house to check my email about once a week. I knew before we moved out here that my internet options would be very limited so I had shut down quite a bit of my internet activities, shutting down several websites and the such. I hadn’t really gotten into buying online yet and streaming anything was not really going strong yet.

When we found out that an internet company was reviving the old internet towers out in my neighborhood, I jumped at the chance to get back online. I asked lots of questions before signing on the dotted line, mainly about data allowances, if they had any caps, I let them know ahead of time that I was a power user and would be using a lot of data. I was told that would be no problem, I could eat all I wanted at their internet buffet, so I signed up and haven’t looked back since.

Before we moved out of the big city, we had just gotten DSL, I think our speed at the time was in the 3MB range, coming from dial up (56K), that seemed really fast. After getting here, my neighbor’s internet was painfully slow, but it was pretty much the only game in town (before the wireless net was reintroduced out here). I learned that I didn’t want satellite for reasons I’ll explain below.

One question I get asked is how do we get our internet. We use a wireless system, there are antenna towers interspersed in the neighborhood, atop strategic mountains, we have to be line of sight in order to get the service. We were one of the first houses to hook up, being right across the valley from the first tower put up, actually the hardware was already in place but had gone defunct long before we moved out here, mainly because it cost too much to maintain at the time.

Our internet speed was 3MBPS (megabyte per second) down and 1MBPS up. That seemed to be screaming fast compared to my neighbor’s satellite. I had checked into possibly getting satellite, but it was expensive, slow and most importantly, this is the thing that was the deal breaker for me, they meter your bandwidth. What that means is they measure how much you download in any certain period (per day or per month depending on the company) and if you go over the amount they deem enough, then they spank you back to dial up speed for a period of time. I knew I would blow through that allotment in a matter of hours, that would not work for me.

I wish we had DSL available, we have been promised DSL for years, but we can’t have it unless we get fiber optic lines installed, they have promised those for years as well… I don’t see it happening, they have a hard enough time maintaining the copper lines, living in a mountainous area, with not that many people per square mile, it’s just not financially feasible for them to invest in fiber optics, at least not in the near future.

We pay quite a lot for internet service out here, when I first signed up, it ran $40 a month for the slowest speed (3MBPS), over the years it has gone up, it topped out at $60 for the slowest tier, I recently upgraded to the next tier, 6MBPS for $80 a month, that’s 6 down and 2 up, yes I know that is expensive and slow, especially compared to what most can get in the city. But I don’t mind really, I wouldn’t trade it for city life.

Those are our options, satellite or wireless. There is one more option, but I don’t find it to be any better than satellite, and that’s using a cell phone service, it’s sort of available, if you invest in a large antenna to capture and amplify the signal, that’s IF you can get a signal at all, honestly cell phones do not work out here for the most part, I have no problem with that either.

Today I am enjoying my 6MBPS connection, it is more than fast enough to stream anything I wish to watch, listen to or download, hopefully it will be a while before our next outage.


One Response

  1. I’ve been living off-grid for the last 12 years and have used a variety of solutions for internet access. What I currently have is Exede Satellite from Wild Blue. It is far from ideal at $140/month for 20GB of usage at 6-8Mbps. Given that an average Netflix movie comes in just under 1GB, we don’t have the option to stream media if we still want to be able to surf, read email, and such. Having said all that, it is still the best of the satellite options. I’ve used several other providers and have dumped them as soon as my contract was up.

    I work from home, and satellite internet has too much lag for my job, so I also have an AT&T hotspot. This too is very expensive and capped at 20GB/month with hefty overage fees.

    I once contacted several local wireless providers, most wouldn’t even talk to me once they heard my physical address. One of them did a back of the envelope quote of $60,000 to install the necessary repeater towers to bounce a signal up here.

    Bottom line: If you’re thinking of moving off-grid, get maps of service areas for local wireless providers and try to locate yourself so you can get coverage. My one regret about this life is that I can’t get true “unlimited” internet.

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