My wife and I have a third-world broadband speed even though we live six miles from the city limits of Oregon's capital, Salem. Right now -- 7:30 pm on a Tuesday -- I'm "enjoying" a download speed of 5.8 Mbps and an upload speed of .71 Mbps.
That's crappy, because the only broadband available to us is CenturyLink DSL, brought to our house via a copper phone line and, I'm guessing, a team of low-paid internet elves who shovel the content of web sites and streaming services into the phone line as slowly as possible, and with frequent breaks.
Like last night, when I fired up Apple TV to see what HBO Max had to offer and was met with a spinning ball when we tried to watch a program, which would play for a few seconds before the spinning ball returned due to our slow DSL being even slower than usual.
I've spent a lot of time trying to find an alternative broadband provider. None exists. At least, none that I'd consider using.
In addition to living in a rural south Salem neighborhood lacking cable TV or fiber optic providers, our house gets poor cellular reception. So cellular internet isn't an option. Alyrica, a fixed wireless provider, came out to our house last year and flew a drone around in an attempt to find a sightline to their cell tower from the top of tall fir trees next to the house.
No luck. And today I got an online rejection from Peak Internet, another fixed wireless provider. Here's the message I got after supplying our address. "Thank you for your interest in Peak Fixed Wireless service. If your location is in green, you may qualify for service."
Sadly, our house is where the orange marker is, quite a ways from the green.
This week I emailed Danielle Gonzalez, the broadband access staffer with Marion County. She helpfully provided me with a link to a list of internet service providers in our zip code, 97306, which includes both rural areas and an area in the Salem city limits. None of them serve our neighborhood, aside from CenturyLink.
(We used to have satellite internet via WildBlue before I talked Qwest into bringing DSL to our neighborhood in 2008. It was slow and went out in rainy and stormy weather, which is frequent in Oregon. So I'm not interested in HughesNet or Viasat, the only current satellite internet providers.)
Gonzalez said she'll send me the name and phone number of a local CenturyLink manager in charge of broadband once she learns who this is. I've been told by CenturyLink that fiber optic exists along Liberty Road until a few miles north of us. But I'm suspecting that CenturyLink doesn't want to spend the money to extend fiber optic to our neighborhood of several hundred homes.
So that leaves me in despair, trapped in a rural broadband hellscape with only one hope: Elon Musk's Starlink satellite system.
It shouldn't be this way, since fast broadband (in contrast to our 6 Mbps broadband) is a necessity these days -- for businesses, home or otherwise; for online learning; for entertainment, streaming videos, games, and such; for writers/bloggers like me who need to upload large files with photos.
Just as every American should be able to get quality healthcare, so should every American be able to get quality broadband. That neither is happening shows how screwed-up our society is. Government isn't functioning as it should, so people have to rely on private enterprise to fill unmet needs.
But so far no private enterprise has been willing to meet the need of our neighborhood for an alternative to slow DSL. Hopefully Starlink will be our savior.
Starlink ultimately will use thousands of low-orbit satellites to provide internet access everywhere in the world, naturally with the focus being on broadband-lacking areas. As of late April 2020 the word was that beta testing would begin in about three months, with public beta testing in about six months.
The initial beta test will apply to those located in “high latitudes,” Musk added. To date, SpaceX has said that Starlink service will initially be made available to customers in Canada and in the northern United States in 2020, with additional service expansion to follow to other parts of the world throughout 2021. On Twitter in response to a question about whether Germany counts as “high latitude,” Musk said that it does, indicating beta service at least may be available in more markets than the U.S. and Canada ahead of next year.
Well, Salem, Oregon sits on the 45th parallel. Sure looks to me like that should count as the northern United States, though the center of Germany is about 51 degrees north.
Regardless, I hope Starlink turns out to be as good as it looks to be. I'm encouraged by the fact that Elon Musk's Tesla cars are a big success, as is his SpaceX rocket. Reportedly the cost would be about $80 a month, which I'd pay gladly to get a broadband speed nearly equal to fiber optic.
For now, I endure with DSL. Maybe we'll be able to stream HBO Max tonight. Maybe not. I look forward to the day when those "maybe's" are a memory, not reality. For us, and also for lots of other people with no current broadband choice.
It’s the space race, but unlike the 50s, this race’s goal is to connect the world—including rural areas—to the internet. Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite internet project aims to bring affordable, fast internet to underserved parts of the US and the world.
The Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC’s) 2016 report found that 62 percent of Americans have only one choice for “fixed advanced telecommunications capability.” And when they looked at rural areas specifically, the number of Americans stuck with just one internet service provider (ISP) to choose from rose to 87 percent.
SpaceX president and chief operating officer Gwynne Shotwell said that while existing ISPs are improving, it’s still hard for them to reach rural areas. But “Starlink . . . will cover all parts of the globe.”