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    • This week I’m living on the wrong side of the digital divide.  We are visiting the family farm just South of Colfax, IL, population 1,104, and the Internet is out at the farm because a thunderstorm Thursday evening blew out the DSL modem. 

      For those of you born after 1975, DSL, or Digital Subscriber Line, is Internet delivered over twisted wire pair, the technology Alexander Graham Bell invented by to deliver voice calls.

      Unfortunately, the only Internet service available on the arm is provided Frontier Communications, who recently filed for bankruptcy.  When it works, 12 Mbps is what they can deliver, which is impressive for an unshielded pair of wires.

      I can’t order my own replacement DSL modem from Amazon because this 1980’s circa technology is no longer generally available even with 210 million products on their platform, so we’re dependent on Frontier.  We have ATT Direct TV at the farm, but they do not offer internet service to this area, and besides, the lightening strike also blew out their receiver and dish power supply.  We’re waiting for that to be replaced as well.

      Tt the moment, I’m using an ATT hotspot on my iPhone which has one bar of service in Colfax, probably from a cell tower in an adjacent town.  AT&T and T-Mobile, the two providers for my iPhone and iPad respectively, do not have cell service in Colfax Illinois.  If I stand next to the cell tower in town – there is only one – I still only have one bar of service.

      Now if I walk into town to Bumpers Café, one of two eateries in town, I can get 100 Mbps WiFi free of charge.  I recommend the club sandwich.  The town itself has Mediacom cable which provides 1 Gbps service.

      But our farm is directly on the South side of Route 13, the dividing line between the town of Colfax and rural farmland, so our only option is Frontier.  No cable, no satellite, just twisted wire pair.

      Below is the service map for Frontier which covers a lot of rural America.  You'll notice their primary offering is DSL.

      I cannot blame them for not wanting to string fiber down country roads, and as farms increasingly consolidate, there are fewer and fewer customers on those farms.  But I do miss my 1 Gbps ‘gigablast’ service from Cox Cable, my cable provider back home!

    • I have family in a similar boat except DSL isn't even an option for them. After trying satellite and having that be a mess the only real option ended up being a mobile cellular hotspot which was fine for text/small images but that's about it with the low signal strength. Even podcasts and low bitrate audio streams were a pain to get through it, but in the last year or 2 this has improved A LOT. They now have a dedicated antennae to go along with it as part of a new plan and while they still can't download huge AAA video games pretty much everything else is available to them and I'm getting a lot of questions about what to watch on the different streaming services.

    • Maybe? For my family it would work since they've got a farm in the valley but line of sight could be an issue for those living in the mountains.

    • When it works, 12 Mbps is what they can deliver, which is impressive for an unshielded pair of wires.

      Ahem. 😜

      My octogenarian parents live in a suburban area, just a few miles from me. I recently discovered that their DSL service is capped (due to distance) at 5 MBps. They refuse to 'spend money for television' (a.k.a. cable Internet/video service).

      A decade-plus back, there was a terrestrial microwave internet service that I had for a few years (until the company went out of business) that worked quite well.

      Due to saturation, many urban areas have a large number of choices for service. @Chris question is valid - will it be sufficient enough to fill in all of the service gaps over time? Will it be competitive in cost? ($50 - $75/month)

    • Will 5G cellular eventually fill in the gaps in the rural areas of the US? It seems like Fibre optic cables and cell towers will be cheaper and more effective than satellite or balloons or whatever else is introduced if one requires real high speed two way communication - both up and down.

      Cellular towers might be connected via laser linked microwaves rather than fibreoptic cable in some areas due to extreme distances, either to fibreoptic backlinks or orbiting satellite transponders.

      Many rural counties offered monopolies to cellular vendors to even get any cellular service years ago, so there are numerous counties in Indiana with only one cellular carrier as well. But not only in the mid west either - I remember attending a photo workshop in Monument Valley 15 years ago and it only offered AT&T, not Verizon, nor Sprint - hopefully those days will begin to dwindle away.

      I have wondered if AT&Ts interest in streaming TV services is not based on their expectations of 5G service ultimately, since 5G potentially offers cable like speeds over the air.

    • I'm split on that. It's a great possibility in terms of bandwidth and latency at full speed but with wireless internet data caps come into play. If it's a hard cap that'll be a huge issue since there are more and more experiences that require a ton of bandwidth. If you like video games they clock in at over 100GB now and that's only growing. And multiple 4K streams can quickly add up.

      A soft cap would be the best thing for rural areas since it's likely to not be an issue. Basically after you hit XGB your connection can be throttled if the network is congested. But with so few people that might not even come into play.

      Then there's the issue that 5G comes in 3 flavors. The one getting all the news is extremely fast but it's short range and easily blocked. A middle tier in terms of range and performance. Then most important for rural coverage is the long range setup which is closer to 4G performance and over a similar coverage area. That's useable and better than DSL but still would leave a digital divide especially for those without full signal strength.

    • their DSL service is capped (due to distance) at 5 MBps.

      I see your 5 MBps and lower you to 2. I live within skateboarding distance of Google's and Apple's campuses and often in the middle of the day with my high-priced Comcast premium connection in my nice neighborhood, I can't get as high as 2 MBps.

      My neighbors want to work from home and socially distance but head to the office most days because bandwidth during peak hours. If only I lived on the right side of the digital divide.

    • My son, when he was in West Hollywood, had a very similar complaint with his cable service. It became acute when my daughter-in-law returned to working from home.

      They left there not long ago for the Woodland Hills area. One of the features of the place they're in is some pretty respectable Internet service.

      Thus, it would appear that this 'digital divide' exists...pretty much everywhere.

    • Chris raises a good point about all the work-from-home folks degrading Internet performance, so I did a quick review of my personal Internet performance.

      I manage eero networks for three homes in Pleasanton, CA; Paradise Valley, AZ (Scottsdale); and the aforementioned Colfax, IL. If you're not familiar with eero, it's a well-regarded home WiFi router and mesh networking system, acquired by Amazon some months back. I absolutely love eero partly because it has a great network monitoring and management app.

      eero automatically runs daily speed tests for each network at the router gateway - the eero device that is plugged into the cable modem or DSL modem - so I can look back and see historical performance.

      Sure enough, Internet download speeds have been degrading recently.

      Paradise Valley, AZ (Cox) 391 Mbps July 12 - 18 down from 633 Mbps June 7- 13

      Pleasanton, CA (Xfinity) 227 Mbps July 12- 18 down from 368 Mbps Apr 19 – 25

      Both are below their contracted service levels: 1000 Mbps for Cox and 300 Mbps for Xfinity.

      eero ran these tests early in the morning: 6:15am for Paradise Valley and 7:31am for Pleasanton, CA, so it begs the question why both services are suffering such degraded performance that early in the morning. The Frontier-based DSL service in Colfax, IL isn't a fair comparison because that was recently upgraded from 2 Mbps service to their lightening fast 12 Mbps service in preparation for our visit last week. (I have standards!)

    • I'd argue that is no one's 'fault' for Internet connection 'degrading', as perceived by some end users. It could in fact be their own setup and equipment occasionally, and more often than not actual overbooking done by their ISP's causing the degradation. Don't forget, it's connection proximity to the backbone of internet that also matters a lot when you try accessing that Russian site. And it's not just speeds that matter, consistency and quality of transmission is.

      This may be a good case for accelerating developments such as:

      But my feeling is that in the USA, due to the regulations or lack thereof - ISP's tacitly agree to not step onto each other's turfs to compete, and rather divide and conquer the consumer market, one street and neighborhood at a time. Obviously, if they can't make easy profits, none have any interest to actually serve communities of isolated locales.

      Elon could buy (or claim? ) few acres of the Moon and build his own Internet tower there, it'll have less impact on Earth's fragile environment.

    • But my feeling is that in the USA, due to the regulations or lack thereof - ISP's tacitly agree to not step onto each other's turfs to compete, and rather divide and conquer the consumer market, one street and neighborhood at a time.

      Well, in my state, at least...not quite the setup for an ISP and a community.

      A governmental entity (city, county...) gives an ISP "A" a license to setup a system, which gives the ISP rent-free access to city rights-of-way for the installation of backbone elements. This system has to meet various requirements (capacity related in all cases...) that makes it worth their while to provide service.

      If ISP "B" wants to do it, it's all in how the governmental entity wishes to set up the services. I can tell you that here, you'll have one 'cable' provider, and one or more DSL providers in (or very near...) city limits. In the outlying county areas, a different 'cable' provider exists, along with those same DSL providers.

      Since the DSL providers are using much of the same 'last-mile' infrastructure, your speeds are predicated by where you are physically located in the network.

      So, if Elon (with Starlink) or anyone else has the capability of breaking this monopoly that cities have with incumbent ISP's...else...we're screwed.

    • I live in California and on Nextdoor we grouse about Comcast having essentially a monopoly in our area, so when network performance degrades to the point our neighborhood has, we have nowhere to turn.

      I don't understand the something something mumble grumble about state legislature, but the EFF claims they do and it doesn't have to be this way and we're not gonna take it anymore like we have since 1991 when we built our home here:

    • Agreed, probably similar here in Arizona.

      Interestingly, this story popped up locally. The state wants to utilize the Interstate Highway right-of-way for improving regional interconnections:

      This obviously helps more for increases in highway cameras, message signs and the like, but if there's enough bandwidth to help many of the rural areas of the can't be a bad thing!

    • That and public libraries, they were honestly a life saver for my family. And being a rural area they were understanding when say they brought in an iMac so it could update its' OS.

    • If you're interested, check out Juganu, an Israeli startup that makes hi-tech street lights that (1) are energy efficient, (2) have integrated traffic cameras, and (3) a mesh WiFi network that keeps you connected while you drive down public streets.

      Full disclosure: I'm an angel investor in Juganu.

    • I went to Juganu's website, trying to discern what specific products they are offering. One thing I did notice, which I found off putting, is a mis-spelled word - Welbeing - on the bottom of this link, beneath Our Core Values

      I did see on a different page on this site that wellbeing was spelled correctly with two Ls. So the website creators do know the difference.
      Forgive me for being a bit of a "snoot", someone concerned with words, and their correct usages, lexicography and grammar, a term I learned from a book recommended here on Cake - "Nino and Me" by Antonin Scalia and Bryan Garner. Well worth reading and very entertaining.

      I would normally mention this issue to you, privately by PM or email, but Cake doesn't offer me either of those options of contacting you.

      I only mention this issue, because I suspect I am not the only person who may discount companies or businesses with poor spelling or grammar in their public documents and statements. It always feels to me like a bit of overlooking of details.

      Like this sign in a state park

    • Off Topic

      Pathfinder, since you mentioned "Nino and Me" did you see Garner's recent tweet regarding an interview which was held eight years ago in which Piers Morgan interviewed both of them?

    • I live in a tweet free Universe, by choice. So thank you for the head's up!

      Not certain if that is the right choice, but it feels like it to me.

      So, no, I didn't see it.

      I do recall the mention of an interview by Piers Morgan in the book - Mr. Garner stated that Justice Scalia was unfamiliar with Mr. Morgan ( p. 181, July 18 ) which I'm sure some thought rather humorous. Piers Morgan wasn't one of the amused, apparently.

      I will try to watch the interview later this afternoon or evening.


      I did watch the 3 episodes of Morgan's interview - interesting but not very informative or educational - read the comments by viewer's on youtube and you will find many who agree with me. I do wish the video quality of the file was much better also.

      I did find this interview of Justice Scalia at the Hastings College of the Law at the University of California, on March 17, 2011 -( long - almost 1.5 hours) - but a very erudite and enteraining interview of Justice Scalia where his personality and intellect REALLY shine. Much better than Piers Morgan's. The video quality is also very good, both audio and video.

      The interviewer, Professor Calvin Massey does a much much better job of interviewing Justice Scalia, and both men seem to enjoy their interaction, and each other's humor.

      "In Heaven there will be no Law,

      And the Lion will lay down with the lamb..."

    • We moved in April from a 1GB fiber connection in SOCAL to a 18/1 DSL connection here near Conroe Texas. The 18 down is actually adequate right now for our needs but Apple iCloud streams were killing us as the iCloud uplink would saturate the 1M and cause severe buffer bloat every few minutes and cause timeouts. I had to resort to bridging the DSL modem and installing my old Mikrotik router which qould create mangle rules on the prerouting to control the prioity of uplink queues. I think I finally have it tweaked right and no more saturation.

      Wife is happy she can watch her Hulu without interruption :)