Do you live out of reach of DSL, cable or cell phones? I do. And as I sit here at the library because I've exceeded my 30-day bandwidth limit on satellite internet, I began to ponder whether I'm not the only ruralite who both needs to make a living on the farm, and lives on a farm out of reach of inexpensive broadband.
As a farmer, getting your business off the ground means having a website. And social networking has become central to getting the word out about your farm (when you're not actually in the field, which presents its own issues). There's even software for taking CSA orders online, which can streamline your workflow and simplify your life.
But none of it matters if you're stuck dialing in on an old, crackly phone line, or wasting valuable hours driving somewhere that has an Internet connection. What are your options if DSL and cable aren't available? From what I've found you have a few:
- Fixed wireless. Fixed wireless is a relatively new technology for Internet connections. It offers high-speed connections using radio transmitters and repeaters to boost signal to rural areas. With fixed wireless, you must have line of sight to another tower. This makes it challenging in hilly or mountainous terrain. This type of service is popping up in more and more places in rural Vermont - sadly, not where I live. My neighbors who live just a bit uphill from me can get it, though.
- Cellular. If you can get a cell signal (I can't), there are many new options for accessing the Internet via a data plan. Verizon offers this snazzy new Intelligent Mobile Hotspot that can connect up to five computers!
- Satellite. This is what I rely on. The two main satellite Internet providers are WildBlue and HughesNet. I've heard mixed reviews about each of them, but HughesNet is the only one with truly business-level options - beware, they come with a business-level pricetag. I have been using WildBlue, but after exhausting all the options by calling every provider I can find, yet again, to see if anything has changed, I may end up switching satellite providers.
That bring me to another tip: things change, and ISPs expand coverage constantly, so make sure you call every 6 months to a year to see if they've expanded coverage to your area yet. And, don't forget about the possibility of mobilizing your community to get Internet. Most small providers serving rural areas will tell you how many people they need on board to bring Internet to your town or area. See if you can whip up a little support for broadband, and things might change for your small farm.
*Note: I have no affiliation with HughesNet or this reseller, but a representative from SatelliteInternet.com contacted me to say they can offer an additional $25 off to SmallFarm readers - and that they often run specials, rebates, and packages for HughesNet installation and service (you can get whatever special they're running, plus an additional $25 off). Use coupon code D3SLIMB.