Rural Internet – StarLink is king.

The digital divide is real, and the past year with the pandemic has really brought this to the forefront.

So our situation is this, we live in a rural area of Indiana, but around here that is just 15 to 30 minutes to “The City” we have 2 working adults, 4 kids, 4 dogs, 4 cats and 5 chickens. The animals require little internet time, except for Lord Grantham the white Pomeranian who enjoys watching tv, but the kids all have varying internet requirements ranging from light use to mega video game archiver which pushes our DSL to the limit every day and this was before the pandemic hit. Now add school video conferences and increase usage of video chat among the kids to stay in touch with their friends / classmate and our DSL just couldn’t keep up. It was so bad the Alexa robots we have in every room even complained just as loudly as the children about internet bandwidth.

Easy solution order a second line, have one for work and one for everything else. If it were just so easy, but alas it was not to be. DSL is a aging technology, it barely meets the FCC’s definition of high speed. (Yes, 3MBS is considered high speed by the Federal Government.) Because of its age and slowness companies are not spending anything on the infrastructure – so as equipment dies, it isn’t replaced and capacity is decreased. Which meant for us we couldn’t get a second line. The annoying part is we didn’t find this out until after the scheduled appointment. When I called to see why the company was a no show and the Customer service person read me the technician’s note on the ticket. Ah, nothing like keeping your paying customers happy is there.

This is where I started my quest to find better internet – little did I know this would be like looking for the holy grail.
Big name cable providers list my town as 100% covered, great call make an appointment and on the day of the appointment cable company is a no show. Which leads to a call to find out that we are over a mile away from the closest hookup, which is too far away, but they said thanks for calling.

Fiber is all around my location, just not down my street, but a survey went out requesting help with letters to justify our county’s Federal Grant application. After months we get word that we have received the grant, but the money is being used for the other side of the county. So that isn’t an option.

Next stop is looking for Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISP) that are in my area. Got lucky found one, and it has a transmitter on a water tower close to my house,but after several phone calls found out that with all my old-growth trees I can’t get a signal, although I could bounce the signal off a neighbors house if they gave permission. What is that warm feeling – is it optimism, dare I hope that this could be the solution to our increased internet needs.

I mean it is a pandemic we are all locked inside of our houses how difficult would it be to drop off the new power brick and swap them out right – no contact should be needed one would think. Weeks go by, and I get that sinking feeling, so I call the WISP people again and find out that the neighbor hasn’t responded to emails. Well, that isn’t going to work, pulled out a nice looking thank you note from our stationary, and my wife pens a nice note asking how they were, and did they need anything since we haven’t seen any cars come and go lately with a gentle request to call us concerning their internet access, and stuck it on their door. We risked our health for a chance at better internet.

Another couple of weeks go by, hope is fading when i get a phone call from the neighbor. We talked about how things were going, i found out he and his wife left town to weather out the pandemic storm at their lake cabin, but sure the WISP people can have access to the house to do what they need. A year has passed and I’m still no closer to getting the power brick switched out than i was when we first spoke.

Now after months of my wife and I using our cell phones for internet access to do work, we were feeling the pinch – as the cellular network was getting crushed and priority traffic appeared to be a thing of the past. I found a third party cellular provider and signed up – add in a couple of yagi antennas and trip to Home-Depot and my wife and I can not get online without using our phones data plans, downside we can not stream. So strictly for mom and dad to do work stuff with.

Somewhere in this journey Elon Musk announced StarLink better than nothing beta program and I signed up as soon as I found out about it and then I promptly forgot about it for almost a year, until I received an email 2 months ago letting me know I had a limited amount of time to secure my Dish if I wanted to take part in the program, don’t have to ask me twice I slapped down the credit card and started to anxiously wait on the delivery. Excitement builds over the next two weeks as I begin reading the reddit r/Starlink posts filled with speed test screenshots ranging from 50 to 200mb down. Oh, I can almost taste that sweet sweet internet speed.

Fed-ex arrived on a cold rainy Friday evening. Oh, it was like Christmas morning, unbox the dish, open a window to run the cord and fire the thing up. Then wait 30 to 45 mins for it find satellites and perform updates then we were off to the races … sort of. Our first location was ok, we got decent speeds but obstructions were causing the dish to lose the link to the satellite every couple of minutes. I spent the next couple of weeks trying to find a spot that would work. Ended up placing it on the Chimney – with a plan. Remember those old-growth trees that mentioned earlier well they have gone nowhere, so I decided to have 12 of them cut down.

Starlink mounted and hopeful.

My wife reaches out to her local network and finds several recommendations, and I begin calling them to come out and give me a quote on the work.
The first guy to show up was rough, single man operation who was not bonded or insured, thanked him for his time, but since all the trees were close to the house, I needed someone that was insured in case something goes wrong.

Just some of our trees

The next guy showed up and after looking at my trees for 5 mins decided he needed his boss to come out and give the quote. Ok, odd but not totally unexpected. His boss shows up later in the evening. We walk around; me pointing to the trees that were targeted for removal. The first thing he does is tell me that is a lot of trees, followed by unsolicited advice “You should just get cable internet instead of going thru all this hassle.” his tone and smug expression of witty satisfaction as he half smiled at me just set my teeth on edge, as he tells me in rough figures that what I wanted done was too risky and too expensive. I smiled as I asked him, “Are you interested in the job?” To which repeated himself about the risk, I started walking to the house thanking him for his time over my shoulder.

Tree guy number three, confident, knowledgeable, bonded, and a price way cheaper than I was expecting. I signed him up on the spot. 4 weeks go by and the trees are still standing, phone calls aren’t returned and suddenly I know what it feels like to be ghosted.

No big deal call a couple more tree guys from the list and basically to sum up the quotes we got, it’ll be $3,000 a day and 15 to 20 days to complete the job so a ballpark figure of $60,000 to get the trees down and they don’t offer a veterans discount – yes I asked. I came in from those conversations feeling defeated. There is no way I was going to pay that much to get better internet.

Now the situation is getting dire. Trees are blooming Star-Link obstruction time is climbing higher and higher each day.
I’m dreaming about cutting down trees, I’m obsessed with finding a solution, but I’m feeling stuck.

Enter Leslea my wife, who has been patient, understanding all the good things you want your spouse to be as you go around crazy wide eyed about a project – suggesting that we use our little clearing at the bottom of our driveway as a last ditch effort to get Starlink working.

Location 2

Of course, this presents its own challenges. Our driveway is nearly 500 ft long, 400 ft to the location we plan on using for our testing.
This is where we dive into the weeds a little, the StarLink dish has a fixed length ethernet cable attached to it. The dish uses Power over ethernet. (POE), which limits its length to 100 meters or 328 feet from the power brick. Which is 100ft outside my house.

So to achieve this I needed two cat7 outdoor rated cables, and a conduit to protect the cable from little woodland creatures, a coupler and several waterproof boxes – Amazon order placed for everything but the conduit which i hope to pick up from Home depot. Now I just have to wait patiently once again as i wait for the deliveries to roll in over the next week.

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