High-speed satellite Internet

Agriculture.com Staff 01/02/2007 @ 7:00am

Location, location, location. Farmers like Theresa and Randall Eichelberger, Muscatine, Iowa, used to be hamstrung by location when they asked for high-speed Internet access.

Their scenic location between the Cedar River and the Mississippi River was the hang-up. "We were frustrated with dial-up," Theresa says. "But we couldn't get high-speed Internet cable or DSL."

Last summer they subscribed to AgriStar Global Networks, a satellite-based Internet service that partners with Hughes Network Systems.

"They were here quickly to install," she says. "We got a $125 equipment rebate because we're members of the National Corn Growers."

The Eichelbergers are satisfied with their decision. Occasionally they notice weather-related problems. "Sometimes we lose the signal, but it happens to satellite TV, too," she says. (All satellite providers caution that weather is a factor.)

Satellite Internet requires more setup and a greater service commitment than DSL (digital subscriber line) or cable. It's also generally more expensive.

But many farmers and rural families say it's their only option. An estimated 10 to 15 million U.S. homes and small offices don't have access to DSL or cable modem.

A key satellite installation requirement is a clear southern view. All Internet technologies (satellite or land-based) share available network bandwidth in some way. Download speeds for levels of service will vary.

Latency is the time it takes a packet of data to travel across a network. With satellite service, data travels to the satellite and back (about 45,000 miles). This round-trip adds about a half-second delay to the time a computer takes to communicate with a Web site or host server. This may impact voice-over IP (phone service delivered over the Internet) or real-time interactive gaming.

"We download pages very quickly," Theresa says. "It's not instantaneous. But it's good compared to dial-up."

AgriStar signed its first subscriber in February 2002. The Eichelbergers subscribe to its basic service package, Star100. It provides high-speed access to one user at a time.

AgriStar sets itself apart because of its package of ag information services, including markets and charts, weather, and daily ag news. "We love having all of the news and weather and markets at our fingertips," Theresa says.

Its start-up equipment investment (modems, coaxial cables, and dish mounted on a roof, wall, or pole) is higher, but it includes installation. A rebate for members of some livestock and commodity groups is offered.

Other service packages include Star200, designed for two users accessing Internet at the same time. Star300 through Star500 are aimed at businesses with more employees.

Dawn and Dave Clark, Lake City, Iowa, signed up for WildBlue one year ago. WildBlue launched its service to the 48 contiguous states in June 2005. To date, it has over 100,000 rural customers.

"We don't have a cable option," Dawn says. "Our phone company said we were ¾ of a mile too far from town to get high speed. We no longer need to pay for DTN now that we have fast access to markets."

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