• Charlene Sims, Journal staff

Internet services vary by type and availability

Updated: Feb 14

The lure of federal funding to provide broadband Internet service to rural areas has sparked conversations about providing Internet service across Linn County. But those conversations often carry many misconceptions and misunderstandings.

To help understand the different ways to access the Internet, this is a brief look at the types of Internet providers on the western side of Linn County.

Internet service can be delivered to homes and businesses in a number of ways. Those include wireless, broadband, satellite and Digital Subscriber Line (DSL).

DSL is what CenturyLink offers to the west side of Linn County if you live within two miles of one of their public exchange buildings. These buildings are in Parker, Centerville, and Blue Mound.

The reason for the distance limitation is that DSL technology is distance sensitive. A residence must be located a certain distance from a local phone company hub, called a central office or public exchange. As the length of the phone wire increases, the availability of DSL bandwidth decreases for both uploads and downloads.

DSL is from a family of technologies that uses ordinary-paired twisted telephone lines to transmit digital data service. Because they run at different frequencies, the Internet and telephone service come through on the same line.

When this technology first came to rural areas, it was considered much better than dial up service and people that were able to took advantage of it. Some locations with DSL service on the west side have as low as .17 Megabytes per second (Mbps) download. CenturyLink has indicated it is not planning on upgrading its Internet in Linn County.

Wireless Internet, or tower to tower, and satellite came next. Wireless companies operating in Linn County included Midwest Connections, KwiKom and a few others and they competed for a while. KwiKom bought some of them out and is now the main wireless provider for the area. Mercury Wireless is also in the area.

Wireless Internet requires a direct line of sight from one antenna to another. KwiKom has added several towers to the area attempting to reach more people, but with the hills and valleys and trees, it is difficult to reach everyone. Wireless is a fairly reliable way of transmitting Internet. Unlimited data speeds of up to 5 Mbps download to 40 Mbps download range from $55 per month to $105 per month.

KwiKom has been delving into offering a hybrid service which includes adding fiber-optic broadband to the cities of Parker, Centerville, and Blue Mound and more wireless in areas that are either hard to reach due to distance or terrain.

Satellite service is another method of Internet service. Dishes or antennas are placed on residences and the signal is transmitted and received from satellites. HughesNet, DISH and DIRECTV were early companies that offered this service. Satellite speeds are usually in the 25 Mbps category. Companies offering satellite in the area include HughesNet or WildBlue Internet, which became Viasat and is now EXEDE.

Satellite does sometimes take care of the hills and valleys problem but has problems in inclement weather, whether it be in the atmosphere or its dish antennas filling up with snow.

Traditional companies like HughesNet have one or two satellites which are fixed above a certain location and move with the earth. They are about 22,000 miles away.

StarLink is a new satellite company that is putting up a series of satellites that will stay in a fixed location and, as the earth turns, your signal will move from one satellite to the next. The immensity of this many satellites in the sky has astronomers concerned. StarLink, while not in this area yet, says that they will not have a cap on usage.

Satellite service often says that is unlimited but if a customer reaches their limit, their speed is slowed down so much that service is almost non-existent. When a company sells packages of 10 gigabytes (GB) to 50 GB, it shows that your service is really limited. These packages can range in price from $40 to $130 per month. Being limited by the GB package amounts does make these packages much more expensive.

Some satellite companies then offer to sell you data tokens for more gigabytes or allow you to change your package immediately or encourage you to use the service during the night when they charge you less for the service.

The price of satellite is also prohibitive to many people. While a plan that gives you 20 GB per month for $49.99 per month sounds good, you have to consider how many GB you use per month.

Gigabyte use for streaming 1 hour of standard definition TV is about 1 GB and for 1 hour of high definition TV it could be 3 GB. Using your browser for 12 hours a month can take up 1 GB. Email may take up to 1 GB per day.

Zoom calls with two people can use 1.6 GB per hour, for a group they may use around 2.4 GB. (The figures in this paragraph are estimates taken from several different sources. If you are on a limited plan, check this out for yourself.)

Broadband is run underground and gives the customer unlimited 10 Mbps download to even 1000 Mbps download service for $65 and up. It is not affected by the weather, and if installed correctly, can be a long-lasting conveyor of Internet service. The cost of installation of broadband can be very expensive to the companies doing it depending on the terrain where the line is buried.

Companies that provide broadband in Linn County are Peoples Telecommunications LLC and Craw-Kan. Kwikom is looking at providing broadband services to areas in western Linn County.

Other things to look at when you sign up with an Internet provider is whether you have to sign a contract for a specific amount of time. Companies may want you to believe that a two-year contract that locks in a price is in your best interest, but it may really be in their best interest. Sometimes companies with no contract provide better service to keep you as their customer.

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