Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Rural Highspeed Internet

a realistic reviews of 'online'  on the California back roads

Ages ago they sold us on the digital revolution. How we needed to learn computers for our future, for college, for our careers and for life. Well folks, it is finally here, almost. Work-from-home fantasies can dwindle quickly without a stable high speed internet connection. City dwellers never worry about if their internet is offline or not. They pay the bill and the service works.

Unfortunately, the rural areas of California are not as hi-tech as you might think, even in this day. Check email from your lodge room at the ski resort, your vacation home or your iPhone - in areas like Mammoth or Tahoe, but forget about great coverage around the SoCal mountain communities. Various broadband companies try to provide to hundreds of remote locations within California, but nothing is real stable yet. The dang San Andreas fault line must be throwing every off.

As of September 2008, according to the Center for Rural Affairs, "Only 38 percent of rural Americans have access to a high-speed internet connection." read more on this

Seriously now, if you plan to buy a mountain cabin and work from home as your primary source of income, best to do your research thoroughly on high speed internet options and their stability. I wish I did. Certain popular areas like Big Bear and Lake Arrowhead have real DSL - and so does historic Gold Country w/ Twain Harte, CA. Most of the California Central Coast is hard wired, but certain canyons aren't. Ridgecrest has it, but Randsburg does not. Do real estate shopping - while also doing your homework on the utility companies and internet access. Promises of 'whats to come' do not count.

In a decade I have been through 4 internet providers while trying to live - and work, Total Escape - from the mountains of California. For background, I am a web professional who uses the internet daily. I run an outdoor driven, 14 year old web site that focuses on camping and recreation in California. My site sees some serious traffic of 10,000 people per day and I obviously do not host my web site a home, but I can manage it from home. Or so I thought.  For the past decade I have sold and shipped topographical maps through an ecommerce store, so I must be online nearly every day (except when I am camping).

Mountain High speed neighborhood:
For over a decade I have been working from home w/ my web-based business. First from a Hermosa Beach apartment, then from downtown San Diego and now, a mountain area just north of Los Angeles. We have thousand of people living and working from higher elevations, right next to Mount Pinos.... without cell phone signals and without reliable high speed internet. So much for my hi-tech career!



The real deal, if you live in a populated area with proximity to a freeway. Stores and gas station pumps require stable internet. Basically, the closer you are to an interstate the more likely you will have real fiber optics nearby with DSL service from your phone company. Reasonable pricing. $20-50/mo

Earthlink 56k (dial up) - the safety blanket
As a web pro I have always had Earthlink as my backup system - for 56k dial up connections, when the high speed falls offline, which is quite often. Numerous local numbers to choose from in almost any local. Toll free dial up numbers also available. Cheap. $9-19/mo

Hughes Satellite

In 2003 I tried Hughes Direcway. Purchased the Hughes satellite for my high speed internet, but soon found out the realities of satellite service. Snow on dish means no service; Upload speeds are close to dial up speeds; Accessing any kind of database is slower than molasses; and then the dreaded FAP (fair access policy - means they cap your bandwidth after several hours online). Expensive pricing. $50-80/mo

Wireless Internet
Wireless signals are bouncing all over the cities and people are becoming so used to digital service everywhere. Tourists and vacationers should be warned, rural back roads lead to places out in the sticks. Smaller mountain communities like Idyllwild and Pine Mountain have had wireless internet service

In 2005 my next try was to Frazier Mountain Internet, but I could not receive their wireless signal because I am located in a deep valley. Dense pine forest and steep landscapes make for poor wireless signal transmitting. Reasonable pricing. $20-50/mo

Cable Internet

This option is usually the worst case scenario, no matter how you look at it. 30 year old cable television wires can deliver your hi-speed internet, as well as satisfy every cable television customer? Hardly. Reasonable pricing. $25-50/mo

In the Frazier Park area, poor Rapid Cable was recently bought out by CalNeva - and while they might have new digital equipment installed in house, the staff is clueless, rude and lacking, the damn wires feeding the PMC hills are still not working properly. They must still be running old coax cable from 1980, cuz I've never seen such horrible connections in my 20 year computer career.

Rapid Cable was the joke of the mountain - as it fell offline almost daily. In 2007 I  got so fed up, I went back to dial up 56k (as my main internet connection) for over a year. Then the announcement came. Rapid Cable was being bought out by CalNeva, a new company that plans to dump some serious cash into this old equipment. Wow, really? 

I waited a few months and heard praise from the neighbors, so I decided to give them a try. And so did a hundreds other local folks. Their service has been going progressively downhill for the past 6 months. I begin with CalNeva Oct 2009; They waived my outstanding $150 balance from previous RapidCable; Opting for lowest cost: $25 for a lower bandwidth 256k connection, I still had my doubts on the stability of this system. Now it's a year lately and I am certain we are screwed, indefinitely. 

CalNeva falls off-line daily - or is slow most of the time! There is no customer service assuring me things will get better, no price discounts, no one in tech support telling me about the new equipment upgrades, no letters from a CEO informing me of what is going on. No communication at all. 

There is obviously no way to work from home like this. I used to keep track of every time I experienced downtime, wasting time logging each incident and who I spoke with on the phone at customer service. Now a year later, I am so angry I've decided to write this article for the world to see just how pathetic this 'rural internet stranglehold situation' actually is. One day these utility companies might get their act together, but I am not holding my breath. Until then, I am typing from my single phone line (listening to the screeching of a dial up modem) just to post this blog. Go Earthlink, go!