I’ve been spending quite a bit of mental energy trying to determine how we might as a nation do a better job getting decent internet access into the rural portions of our country, while at the same time, boosting the capabilities of existing infrastructure in our downtown urban areas.
If you’ve ever spent any time living in the country, you know first-hand how difficult it can be to get a decent internet connection at your residence. In my case, my small country town Centreville, AL has two non-wireless options for internet. These options are cable-based and DSL-based internet services.
First, we’ll address the local cable company. In Bibb County, AL, we are served by Sky Cablevision, a cable company based in Meredian, MS. (This is the company I’m currently with right now for my internet needs.) They offer TV, internet, and VOIP telephone service to subscribers in their coverage area. As of this time, I understand this to include the more developed areas of Brent and Centreville, the cities in the southern portion of our county. They offer download speeds ranging from 3mbps at the low-end to 12mbps at the high-end. During my ping tests on this network using the 12mbps tier, I tend to average anywhere between 20ms and 40ms ping– a pretty solid number when compared to tests I’ve done in other localities. In theory, this should be a decent, albeit a little on the slow side connection. When the service is up, it works pretty well. Games such as Minecraft and Counterstrike run nicely. VOIP calls have no lag or static, downloads are fast, and the speed is consistent– even during peak-use hours. The trouble is, the reliability of this provider has been shaky at best. I’ve found the need to call customer support quite a few times over the duration of my service for issues with the modem syncing, or issues with the network node causing internet to drop completely for hours, sometimes days, at a time. To make matters worse, the customer support for this company is outsourced to a 3rd party, one which does not always have the most up-to-date information for what is causing the most recent outage. This can be quite troublesome when you depend on internet for your work, and has left me wondering if it’s time to reconsider using them as the internet provider at my house. As of right now while writing this article, my internet is down again, and I’m relying on a Verizon MiFi to stay connected while their staff restores connectivity for my location.
Second, we’ll address the local telephone company. We’re served here by AT&T, and their U-verse highspeed product. This service is a hybrid between fiber and old-school copper lines setup in this area mostly in a fiber-to-the-node (FTTN) configuration. They provide download speeds ranging from 768kbps to 45mbps. I tend to average around 35ms ping on this network, also a respectable number in comparison to other localities in the surrounding area. Unfortunately, there are still large segments of our county market that are undeserved with this product. If your home or business is distributed internet from the central office (CO), or an old-school internet-ready access device (IRAD), your speeds will be limited to 6mbps– as is the case at my house, where this older technology is in place. U-verse TV offerings are also not available for this configuration. That being said, where a video-ready access device (VRAD) is being used, such as the neighborhoods off Grey Hill Road in North Bibb County, you’ll enjoy much higher speeds, and the U-verse TV product. My speed test from my parent’s house on Grey Hill road showed low-ping (35ms) and download speeds OVER the tier originally purchased. (Around 20mbps on a tier advertised to deliver around 18mbps. Very impressive, AT&T.). This shows that while the service can be really awesome, lack of universal availability can leave customers with less than optimal choices, in an age where higher internet speeds are desired in many cases for an optimal online experience.
So there are my choices. Fast, but sometimes unreliable cable with poor customer support, or reliable but slow U-verse DSL service. What policy or personal choices could be made on the county-level to address the need of better internet access and availability for residents of this county, without resorting to plundering each other through taxes and bonds?
More to follow in part 2… Stay Tuned.