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The Pitfalls of Internet Connectivity in Vermont

(this review has an update)

"Having a Vermont hideaway while maintaining your links to the big city may cost more than you think..."

Many areas of rural Vermont are without high speed internet. The cable companies won't provide service to outlying areas because they don't want to compromise their profitability by running costly high speed cable long distances to only a few potential customers. The same goes for the phone companies. They don't want provide high speed internet to rural customers either for the same reasons. Shareholder profits (and perhaps expensive parties in Italy) are more important to them than providing a modern communications system as a public service.

If you live in a rural area without good connectivity, the only answer is satellite. But satellite internet, unlike satellite tv, is expensive. Until recently, the service was also prone to frequent down times, incomplete page downloads, slower than molasses connectivity and exasperating response time to your key strokes, known as latency. Latency is caused by the tremendous distances invovled in transmitting and receiving a signal.

The big player in the satellite game is DirecWay, an offshoot of Hughes. But there is another player in the business now as well - Wildblue. More about that later, but first my experiences with DirecWay. The DirecWay service, when operating properly, will enable you to download an 80 MB book from Audible.Com in about 8 minutes. Downloads from Apple's ITunes Music Store are accomplished within seconds. The download portion of the service can sometimes exceed the speed offered broadband customers. However, the upload, or transmission part of the service is often slower than a telephone modem. This means that you'll wait as much as two or three seconds to get a response to your key strokes on a service like Pay Pal. Live Internet Chat is virtually impossible.

"If you abuse the system you will be automatically FAPED..."

For a transmit and receive modem, cable, and dish installation you may well pay well in excess of $1,000.00 for a DirecWay system. Monthly fees can be around $60.00. If you "abuse the system" you will be FAPED.

If you are FAPED, it means you have violated DirecWay's Fair Access Policy by downloading too many megabytes of data. Your connectivity speed will be cut back to something slower than the slowest telephone connection. DirecWay automatically measures your activity on an hourly basis. If you break up your downloads over a 24 hour period you can probably download 300-350 Megabytes of data without being FAPED. Over a period of one month, you can probably download as much as 10 Gigabytes of data and still not get stopped by the FAP policing.

I used DirecWay for three or four years and went through three upgrades. At times the service was good, but more often than not it was beset by problems such as too many subscribers being assigned to the same satellite channel. Snow storms resulted in an immediate shut down. The DirecWay Control Center is located in Washington D.C, where the signal is received and distributed to the internet.

"More reliable service can be very costly.."

A more reliable service, closer to that of broadband is provided by Skycasters of Akron, Ohio. Several years ago Skycasters contracted with DirecWay to be a reseller. This arrangement proved to be unsatisfactory to Skycasters, mostly because of the many complaints it started to receive about DirecWay service. It is now trying to ween those customers over to its new and independent VSAT service with its own satellite, independent of Hughes. The cost of the conversion is about $1,000. Monthly fees are about the same for basic service. But, there is a catch that could cost you dearly if you choose VSAT. Skycasters will charge you 10 cents per megabyte if you go over its monthly allowance of one Gigabyte. This means a monthly outlay of about $1,000 per month for anyone who consistently downloads talking books, movies, ITunes, and software updates and a ton of junk mail. Clearly, Skycasters doesn't really want its DirecWay customers anymore!

More Questions and comments ? Join our forum and we'll try to answer them!

Timothy Palmer-Benson November, 2005

Did you know that many of the photos seen here on Scenes of Vermont are available for sale and download on