Rural Internet in the USA

This blog post has been a long time coming. I feel an obligation here to inform any regular readers I have if you are expecting a technology post, this isn’t it. One additional warning, this post will get a little bit into my personal life story.

Some important history

To understand how I ended up in the spot I’m in today there are some key things to know about my past. First, my parents got divorced when I was five. OK, nothing really interesting, happens all the time. What happens less often is your mother dying in a car crash with no last will and testament when you’re nine. Now you’re wondering how this is relevant. When a couple who has a child is divorced has no will, all of their possessions are passed on to the children, or in this case me. This included a house I started making payments on as a nine year old. Well, I didn’t but my father did as my Probate Court appointed representative. If you’re keeping score at home, I was born in 1990 – and started making house payments in 1999. This will come up later…

The beginning of the sad times with no internet “ish”

Back in 2016, I lived in an apartment in the Greater Detroit area. I also started a job working for a company allowing full remote work. Things were awesome. However, within a month or two, my grandmother passed away. My grandmother 98 at the time, had been living in my house back in my home town of Hillsdale. When she passed, I suddenly had a remote job, a house, AND an apartment. Combine all these changes with how my roommate was preparing to move out to live with his now fiancé and it was time to make some decisions. I decided to move home to my small town and start working on making my house nice. I figured worst case scenario I could always use the internet at my dads shop.

TLDR: My roommate in Detroit was moving out, I had an empty house in my home town, my mortgage was cheaper than any apartment I could ever get. So why pay for an apartment?

Internet Options

Getting ready to move back to my home town I started looking at different internet options and I was really excited! A quick glance indicated how things had changed since I left. I even saw some broadband choices. I soon learned this was a lie.

What internet providers don’t tell you is how the coverage maps including the ones provided by the FCC are NOT a comprehensive picture. The way the coverage maps work basically are if any one house inside of a CENSUS block, has broadband the ISP can claim they provide coverage to the entire CENSUS block.

Here is an example of a Census block where because people live on lakefront property an ISP brought a physical connection to them, one mile away from me and as a result if you navigate to the FCC website it claims everyone here has access to the following speeds from these providers.

When in reality:

And before people go about yelling “Oh you doxed yourself” – I’m not hiding where I live is literally government public record. I’m not hard to find.

Now the inevitable answer to this is always “Oh just have cable brought to your house”. Well, of the different providers I tried to reach over the years I only ever got a response from ONE. Let me tell you their response was perfectly reasonable…

The number pictured didn’t change for four years.

Which brings me full circle on why PROPER reporting of where internet access specifically BROADBAND access is available in the USA is so important. The map above claims I have internet is responsible for deciding what companies get what funds.

My CENSUS block, was considered NOT eligible for funding in the Connect America Phase II act. Additionally, Frontier Communications – The ONLY company with a physical hardline to my house (only capable of providing .5 – yes .5 not 5) – received $725K went bankrupt this year.

Give me Options Captain

By now you’re going, why haven’t you moved, sold your house run off and joined a circus, something anything to get back to even second world internet. Well, the answer lies up above. I started making house payments when I was 9 years old. I’m now 30. 21 years of house payments. Consider the average duration of a mortgage and you have an idea of why I might not want to move.

  1. Sell my house, losing my equity, and move somewhere else. (Higher monthly cost of living, but hey internet).
  2. Use LTE Service for Internet
  3. Drive to Town and use the internet at my dad’s shop
  4. Try to find a way to trench cable through a mile of land for home internet.

I tried using an ATT LTE service for a while, unfortunately (and it doesn’t matter which carrier you pick) it only sometimes worked.

I mean if you call this working then I guess…

On RARE occasions it might even consistently run like this:

So you could technically say I had “internet” at my house for the four years I’ve lived here. Sure technically. If you consider the above – adequate internet service for an IT professional.

OK but how did you work?

Fortunately this is my home town. My dad, has owned and operated his own store since 1984 here in Hillsdale MI. He was kind enough to let me build an 8×8 office on his premises and use his internet and electricity in exchange for supporting his… less than modern equipment.

This meant for me any time I needed to do anything other than maybe watch some Netflix on my phone, I had to drive the 15 minute journey to the office. As a nerd and video game lover this led to me spending almost no time at my house at all for four years. I came home to eat, sleep and play with my dogs. The rest of the time I essentially lived in town in my office. Sometimes I even brought the dogs with me.

Enter “Barad-Dûr” or “The Tower”

Prior to me moving back to “the dale” there was one other option available to me. However the trees had grown to a point where it wasn’t feasible to use. The last option was a local Point to point wireless company called DMCI Broadband.

http://dmcibb.net/

Yes, I know the 90’s called they want their website back but don’t hate. The company recently started offering the ability to build a tower for you in your own backyard. So I called them, and low and behold, they could finally bring speeds up to 20mb/s to my area with a promise of 100mb/s later this year.

Unfortunately in order to make it work I had to be able to clear the tree line so I could hit their radio tower: TWO MILES AWAY

So, after some investigation with a bucket truck and a drone. We found we could reach their tower we started building it.

It’s hard to realize how tall it is without the light fixture but 80 feet is REALLY high.. like 6-7
story building tall.

The below speed test was taken this evening, the VP of the website was playing a video game next to me. The tower pictured above finally advanced the internet connection here at home past the age of the late 90’s. While the speed is not a consistent 20mbps at all, I will say the latency has been ROCK solid. Especially knowing they are increasing capacity later this month.

I hope this was helpful in explaining, and I also hope no one else ever has to go through this. Additionally I hope it opens some eyes to just how disconnected Rural America STILL is.

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