Point Your PC to the Southern Skies
by Russell Shaw
Worse than waiting for a large download on a 56K modem is waiting for high-speed or broadband dsl installations in a rural area. The two main providers are DirecPC, which is a service of DirecTV, and StarBand Communications, a partnership that includes the DISH Network, Microsoft and Radio Shack. Depending on the level of service, and whether or not you already are a satellite-television subscriber, both plans cost between $20 and $50 a month
I have a friend who lives in a small city in southwest Georgia. His business calls for him to receive large graphic files over the Internet. For more than a year, my buddy's local phone company has been promising him that they were going to wire his town for fast Internet access "soon." A patient sort, he has taken his Telco's promise of better days on faith, as he tries to squeeze every ounce of performance from his phone modem.
Small, rural towns don't have that many potential subscribers for fast-access Net service, so phone companies have concentrated on the larger cities. Same with the cable companies.
If this is your problem, take a hint from my friend: Look to the southern sky. In a poetic sense, he is "wishing upon a star" - well, more like wishing upon a satellite. And, just like satellite cell phones might be a good option for areas with little or no cell phone coverage, for large parts of rural and small-town America, a telecom satellite in lockstep orbit 22,000 miles above the equator might be your best bet for fast Internet access.
DirecTV and DISH Network, the same two companies that provide most of satellite-delivered programming to television viewers, each offers Internet access through the same dish that brings distant college football games and special-interest nature documentaries to subscribers.
Internet access via satellite isn't quite as fast as cable modems or digital subscriber lines. Still, at around 400 kilobits a second, it is around eight times as fast as a 56k dial-up modem. And the dialups rarely reach even 50k because of background noise.
To get satellite service, all you need is "southern sight" an unobstructed view toward a point in the southern sky where you can point your dish. Your installer will set you up with an antenna, a modem and software. You can even get an Internet access account.
The two main providers are DirecPC, which is a service of DirecTV, and StarBand Communications, a partnership that includes the DISH Network, Microsoft and Radio Shack. Depending on the level of service, and whether or not you already are a satellite-television subscriber, both plans cost between $20 and $50 a month.
If you don't have "southern sight," try Fractional T-1 access. This technology is a bit like a time-share: You get access to a portion of a business's high-speed data network. The National Telephone Cooperative Association, a trade group of small-town phone companies, estimates that more than 40 percent of its members offer fractional T-1.
But be careful: If someone cancels their T-1, you are out of luck. And the service is quite expensive, averaging $300 a month.
Another option, if you send and receive large files, is to ask your clients to store templates for those files on their server. This can significantly trim the time it takes to transfer files.
Finally, you can wait. More than two-thirds of all rural phone lines will be capable of providing fast Internet access within 18 months, according to The National Exchange Carrier Association, an arm of the Federal Communications Commission.
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