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Can LTE Be Rural America's Internet Savior?
Filling in the Rural Coverage $10 Per Gigabyte
by RonPaul 10:01AM Monday Apr 02 2012
A few months ago, while visiting my girlfriend's parents' farm, I hear a sound -- a sound I hadn't heard in probably ten years. It was the sound of dialup Internet. Not only that, but it's 28.8kbit. Now I don't mind this since when I stay there, it's good to get away from technology. But they do, and so do millions of other Americans.

My parents live in a small town a few miles from the nearest cable company, and about 1 mile from where DSL ends on "the other side of the road" from AT&T. I went on to talk with them about high-speed Internet, and how I have Verizon FiOS, and how insanely fast it is. I explained that DSL is distance limited and they probably won't ever see an upgrade.

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The next time I visited I brought my Pantech UML290 LTE stick. They have a metal roof, which further exacerbates the problem. I get 1-2 bars of 3G in just the right place using Verizon. AT&T has very poor service, and offers them a credit monthly because of it. They will be leaving them soon. I was able to run a speedtest and hit approximately 1 megabit down, which was flying compared to their dial-up. I let them use my laptop to browse and look at picture heavy sites for the first time.

So naturally they asked what can do they do to get permanent service at their home? They have heard enough from neighbors about how horrible satellite is, but is 3G or 4G (when it comes) worth it? Do they have to use a USB stick? Is it cost prohibitive? I had read about a possible tie-up with DirecTV to offer home LTE service. I thought-great, they already have DTV, this will be easy when it comes out. It never came, but with Verizon's recently announced 'HomeFusion' LTE service, there may finally be hope for them.

I'm a big spectrum nerd. I like to read about what companies hold what spectrum, tower backhaul, etc. Though a bit dated, Phone Scoop has some good reading on the 700mhz and AWS auctions here and here.

Spectrum Holdings and Service Offerings

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The two big spectrum hoarders I'm looking at here are Verizon and AT&T. Even after giving some spectrum to T-mobile, AT&T has the ability to offer LTE nationwide with its Qualcomm spectrum. Verizon doesn't need the current deal with SpectrumCo to rollout LTE nationwide. Not to be left out, Sprint has some opportunities with its 800MHz spectrum. The real advantage of LTE comes when it is used at lower frequencies, for higher building penetration. The graphics to the right highlight how much an area can improve changing to the lower frequency.

For this comparison, I’m leaving T-mobile out. In my opinion they just don't have enough spectrum, capital, and coverage to offer something reliable to rural America at this point in time. Pretty much everyone is familiar with the USB and other devices offered by Sprint, AT&T, and Verizon. Let’s look at the pricing.

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Sprint: Sprint offers plans in 3,5,6, and 12GB flavors, with the latter two being 3G/4G WiMax. Prices begin at $34.99 and top out at $79.99, plus overages. Current “4G” coverage is limited and doesn’t always work well indoors. They currently offer no fixed Internet options.

AT&T: AT&T offers 5GB of “4G/4GLTE” for $50.00 per month with various other plans for tablets. They also do not offer a fixed residential internet option.

Verizon: Verizon offers LTE plans of 2,5, and 10GB plus overages. The prices are $30,$50, and $80, but the $30 plan is only available for Tablets and Netbooks.

The service that I truly believe makes Verizon a leader in the home wireless space in America is the announcement earlier this month of their Home Fusion fixed service. The product's base tier will offer 10GB for $60 a month, though there's also $90 (20 GB cap) and $120 (30 GB plan) variants -- all with $10 per gigabyte overages. Now, I realize that most people scoff at this extremely low cap and how stupid and greedy Verizon is. Try to look at it from the opposite point of view.

If you currently have a 3G card (if you are lucky in some places), you most likely have a 5GB cap, maybe unlimited in some cases. You probably have to plug it in to one PC only, or use a connection-sharing device or hotspot. You can’t control your own router, can’t change very many settings. You may have mounted your own antenna and spent quite a bit of your own money just trying to get one or two bars of service. Would you want a much faster home internet service in exchange for this?

Yes, 10GB is low. I can burn through that in a few hours on FiOS. The main issue here is that Americans need Internet access, one step at a time. To make this really work, Verizon, AT&T, and others need to make sure this service gets out to the places that need it, not just major cities like Dallas and Birmingham.

This article is part of an effort to solicit content from the Broadband Reports community. If you'd like to participate, please contact us.

147 comments .. click to read

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Grass Lake, MI
·Frontier Communi..

2 recommendations

A very familiar story.

RonPaul, your girlfriend's parents' situation is a LOT like my own.

When we moved from Oakland County, MI to a rural section of Jackson County, MI, I knew we'd be broadband challenged. Since I'd never used anything but dialup I was happy to hear Wildblue would reach us with faster speeds. We bit the bullet, paid for the equipment installation and were good to go.

That ended three months later.

I got acquainted with the Fair Access Policy after Wildblue lopped 25% off our cap because they'd oversold the bird. We have a steel-frame house and radio can't get through the walls so I'd stream the radio, which burned through our allowance faster than I could have imagined. It got worse when our kids became teens and discovered Youtube. I became "netcop," unplugging the modem at night, demanding no downloading, no streaming, etc. It was the most obnoxious, time-wasting and frustrating experiences ever.

10GB caps are NOT enough for families. Single and married couples who aren't home during the daytime probably wouldn't have a problem (unless they want to use Netflix), but satellite and LTE with low caps are more pain than anything if you have kids. Somebody will have to monitor useage and trying to figure out WHO downloaded that HD movie or how you earned a $40 overage charge is next to impossible.

Former satellite users or those of us who were dependant on wireless for home internet have a VERY bad taste for caps. We know what they are and they're despised for a reason. It's why I gave the Frontier technician the third degree when we finally got DSL last October.

NOTE: I am just three miles north of I-94, the main route between Detroit and Chicago. There's a HUGE amount of fiber under that interstate; one poster in Detroit told me he gets a faster ping to Chicago than he does to nearby Southfield, MI. As close as I am to so much fiber, there's no cable provider (and probably never will be). When ISPs decide to expand rather than squabble over existing territory and satisfy the immediate stockholder's demands, that's when things could change. I'm not holding my breath.



3 recommendations

reply to FFH5

Re: No

Software updates are huge. I can check my bank info on my phone. Shopping is just as important TV and Movies online, in other words it's not. It's great technology being crippled in order to line wallets. Quit defending bull shit for once
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