March 5, 2021

Digital Divide

Over the past year I have been introduced to the modern digital divide. Around 2010, I worked with M@IN (Mountain Area Information Network) to install wireless internet service for rural towns in western North Carolina. I stopped doing this work many years ago while I continued my college education. Unfortunately, I learned that the problem has not improved very much over the past decade.

The property that I bought in eastern North Carolina did not have any cable services available. However, there is DSL service from the phone company that I could use for internet access. When I asked for the fastest service available, they phone company said that would be 500 kbps. That's right, only half of 1 Mbps was available for this property in 2020!

Only 10 minutes drive from this property, I was renting a townhome with 1 Gbps internet service - that is 200 times faster than what I can get here!

This is the Digital Divide

Luckily, I was already aware of many other options because I installed rural internet service many years ago. Back then, the only options were dial-up, satellite, or one of the few community based services like M@IN. Today, the only addition to this list is cellular data service.

Typical Satellite Internet

  • 12 - 30 Mbps
  • $90 - $150 per month

This option is the most expensive and the slowest. However, it will get you internet in the deepest woods without any lines of towers needing to be installed. If you want to get internet on a remote island or in the middle of a jungle, satellite will get the job done - for a price.

Business Cellular Internet

The service that I am currently using is a business cellular connection. I had to buy $350 in hardware and the cost is $100/month. Service varies based on your distance from the tower. You can look for towers on this site. My service is 70 Mbps and this is sufficient for running my business online.

Currently, I am using UbiFi for my home internet service. They have been out of stock for months due to high demand during the pandemic. However, there is a waitlist and I was able to get my order through after a few weeks waiting for new stock to become available.

There are a few companies that offer this level of service and the pricing is similar for each of these. They are often used by digital nomads who are part of the tiny house and van life communities. These people travel the country with their laptops, working on the internet via cellular data service.

Starlink (New Satellite Option)

  • 50 - 150 Mbps (plans to push to 300 Mbps)
  • $100 per month (when the service is available later in 2021)
  • Hardware $499.00
  • Service $99.00 per month

This service was begin tested by a small group of people in the USA in 2020. It is rolling out now and is expected to be available in the middle or end of 2021. For now, they are Starlink is taking preorders and I am in line to try the service. I can't recommend it yet because I have not tried it - but I have high hopes.

Cheap Cellular Internet

  • 5 Mbps
  • $25 per month

Before the pandemic pushed my wife and I to both work from home all the time, I got by with a 5 Mbps unlimited data service from Visible Wireless. They have an option called Party Pay which brings the price down to $25/month and there is a group on Reddit setup to match people into groups for the discount.

You can get one of their phones for as little at $50 and the service is just $25/month.

I hope this helps you find a better internet solution. Satellite internet has been one of the worst options available for a long time, and that's why Starlink is trying to disrupt that industry. At the same time, cellular service is being upgraded to 5G. One major benefit with 5G cellular service is a maximum of 1 Gbps internet service through those towers. As of the time this is being written, I don't know of any 5G service with unlimited data.

Have a question? Just contact me.

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