1 SATELLITE INTERNET CONNECTION FOR RURAL BROADBAND Is it a viable alternative to wired and wireless connectivity for America's rural communities? A RuMBA White Paper by Stephen Cobb, CISSP
2 Page 2 of 22 About RuMBA The Rural Mobile and Broadband Alliance (RuMBA) USA was launched to encourage and assist rural residents, municipalities, libraries, Internet Service Providers and other interested parties in establishing full access to high-speed Internet in un-served and under-served rural communities, thus maximizing the beneficial effects of broadband on the lives of ordinary Americans. RuMBA USA is a non-profit corporation registered in the state of Texas. Visit for more information and to join the Alliance. About the Author Stephen Cobb is a 30-year veteran of the IT industry and a Certified Information System Security Professional. Stephen began his first IT project in 1980: the creation of a computerized petroleum tax auditing system for the State of North Dakota. The system recovered millions of dollars in unpaid taxes during its first six months of operation. By 1988 Stephen was a bestselling author of computer textbooks. In 1992 he published the first comprehensive text on PC and LAN security. In 2002 he published the first primer on privacy issues for ecommerce companies. He has testified before the Federal Trade Commission on computer security issues and anti-spam technology. A co-founder of two highly successful hi-tech start-ups, both of which were acquired by publicly-traded companies, Stephen is also an awardwinning documentary film producer. He lives 50 miles from Albany, the state capital of New York, America's third largest dairy producing state. For more information visit:
3 Satellite Internet Connection for Rural Broadband: Is it a viable alternative to wired and wireless connectivity for America's rural communities? A RuMBA White Paper by Stephen Cobb, CISSP Executive Summary: This paper examines the question: Can satellite Internet connections deliver adequate broadband service to rural America? The answer has serious social and economic implications because the future of rural communities in America that lack adequate access to broadband Internet connections does not look bright. The millions of Americans who live and do business in those communities are increasingly disadvantaged by the world's growing reliance on high-speed, high-capacity broadband connections for the delivery of information, digital work product, communications, healthcare, and education. America's commercial broadband providers, like Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, and Time Warner Cable, have been slow to extend broadband service to all rural communities and may never do so unless compelled by a universal broadband service requirement. If these companies can argue that satellite Internet connections are acceptable as a broadband option for rural communities they might avoid the universal service requirements against which they are currently lobbying. Note that this white paper also looks at some other options for rural broadband access, but not in detail.
4 Page 4 of 22 Broadband in America: The Providers Most broadband service in America is provided by large, publicly-traded companies. Some of these companies have their roots in the telephone industry while others have evolved from the cable television market. One way to categorize broadband service providers is to distinguish between terrestrial and non-terrestrial providers. Terrestrial: The vast majority of the American homes and businesses that have broadband connections get them from the large commercial broadband providers, companies such as Verizon, AT&T, Comcast and Time Warner Cable. We may refer to these as the terrestrial telcos because the broadband connections they provide are either wired underground or between poles (as with coaxial cable, fiber optic, or copper/dsl) or transmitted wirelessly between land-based towers (WiMax, 3g, 4G, LTE). What all terrestrial telcos have in common is that they do not use space-based satellites to deliver end-user Internet connections. Non-terrestrial: For obvious reasons, satellite Internet service providers can be categorized as non-terrestrial. Customers of satellite Internet service providers receive and send data using a satellite dish connected to a special modem (the dish is larger and considerably heavier than those used by satellite TV services such as Dish Network and DirecTV). The two largest satellite Internet providers in North America today are HughesNet and WildBlue. 1 Two other satellite providers exist, StarBand and SkyWay, but at this time there is no indication that other companies plan to enter this market. Each bit of Internet data that a satellite user requests from any of their Internet connected devices has to travel more than 22,000 miles up into space where it is received and processed by an earth-orbiting satellite which then sends it down to a dish at the satellite Internet service NOC or network operations center.
5 Satellite Service Gaps: The Big 4 Satellite Internet service may sound good in theory but in practice there are four distinguishing characteristics of a satellite Internet connection, or SIC, that are problematic for customers. I will refer to these as the big 4 service gaps and describe them here. Later I will argue that these gaps disqualify SIC from being classified as broadband, a critical distinction for present or potential satellite Internet users. 1. The Latency Gap To be clear on how a satellite Internet connection works, any Internet data that a user of the service asks for, such as search results from Google, has to travel through the customer's satellite modem to the customer's dish and up to a satellite in space, then down to a satellite ground station located at the service provider's Network Operations Center or NOC. The NOC routes the request to the appropriate server on the Internet. The response from that server then travels back to the NOC which beams it up to the satellite. The satellite sends the data down to the dish outside the customer's property. From there it travels through a cable to the satellite modem and across a wired or wireless network to the user's device. 2 The fact that satellite Internet connections work at all could be considered something of a technology miracle. Unfortunately, it is not enough of a miracle to overcome the laws of physics. Data cannot travel faster than the speed of light. This imposes a strict limit on the maximum speed with which any satellite Internet connection can respond to a data request. This is referred to as the latency of the connection. Here is how Dr. Stuart Cheshire described latency back in the days of the dial-up modem: If you want to transfer a large file over your modem it might take several seconds, or even minutes. The less data you send, the less time it takes, but there's a limit. No matter how small the amount of data, for any particular network device there's always a minimum time that you can never beat. That's called the latency of the device. 3 Latency remains a factor in network performance today even though many homes and businesses now use Internet connections with download speeds 50 times faster than dial-up modems. Fortunately, latency is one aspect of network performance any computer user can measure, thanks to the ping command, a version of which exists in
6 Page 6 of 22 all popular operating systems including Mac, Windows, and Linux. Below you can see how this works on a Windows XP computer. The ping command sends 32 bytes of data to the specified website, in this case and waits for a reply. The round trip time is then recorded in milliseconds or one thousandths of a second, abbreviated as ms. This action is repeated a number of times and an average is computed, in this case 943 ms. If you ping a typical wireless access point within a home or small office network you should see an average latency of about 2 ms. If you are on a cable or DSL connection to the Internet and ping a commercial website like you will see latency of about 60 ms. Unfortunately, a satellite Internet connection is likely to have a latency of 600ms or more when contacting the same website (the example here was recorded over a satellite connection from New York, contacting a Bank of America server in California). The reason that the satellite connection is 10X slower in terms of latency than cable or DSL is because those 32 bytes of data have to travel some 22,000 miles up to a satellite in geostationary orbit and back to the ground. The table on the following page shows comparative latency recorded from the same geographic location using dial-up, cable, and satellite connections. As you will see, satellite latency is worse that dial-up. In practical terms this means a typical Internet activity like logging into a bank account can take five or six times longer via SIC than with a typical cable, DSL, or wireless connection. This is because the process of securing an Internet connection for banking requires multiple rounds of question and response to create an encrypted link. Although the total amount of data sent and received during this secure handshake is quite small, the multiple round trips into space slow the process down by a factor that can be 5X or more. This same factor can also impact the performance of Internet-based workfrom-home technology like Virtual Private Networking (VPN) and popular applications like Google Apps and SalesForce that operate as Software as a Service or SaaS.
7 Connection Type Dial-up: 197ms Cable: 46ms Satellite: 1479 ms Comparative Latency of Internet Connections Pinging with 32 bytes of data: Reply from : bytes=32 time=201ms TTL=241 Reply from : bytes=32 time=186ms TTL=241 Reply from : bytes=32 time=202ms TTL=241 Reply from : bytes=32 time=202ms TTL=241 Ping statistics for : Packets: Sent = 4, Received = 4, Lost = 0 (0% loss), Approximate round trip times in milli-seconds: Minimum = 186ms, Maximum = 202ms, Average = 197ms Reply from : bytes=32 time=45ms TTL=237 Reply from : bytes=32 time=47ms TTL=237 Reply from : bytes=32 time=50ms TTL=237 Reply from : bytes=32 time=45ms TTL=237 Ping statistics for : Packets: Sent = 4, Received = 4, Lost = 0 (0% loss), Approximate round trip times in milli-seconds: Minimum = 45ms, Maximum = 50ms, Average = 46ms Reply from : bytes=32 time=801ms TTL=241 Reply from : bytes=32 time=849ms TTL=241 Reply from : bytes=32 time=848ms TTL=241 Reply from : bytes=32 time=1166ms TTL=241 Ping statistics for : Packets: Sent = 4, Received = 4, Lost = 0 (0% loss), Approximate round trip times in milli-seconds: Minimum = 801ms, Maximum = 1166ms, Average = 916ms Satellite latency means that logging into your bank account, which may take 20 seconds on a cable or DSL connection, can take well over one minute via satellite. This might not sound like a huge inconvenience but the cumulative impact of latency on a typical session of online shopping, banking, and bill paying is frustrating to say the least. Performing work online is where the problem of latency becomes seriously problematic. The time consumed by satellite latency is a measurable drag on productivity, one that is getting worse as more companies, schools, medical facilities, and government agencies transition to Software as a Service (SaaS) for applications from word processing to spreadsheets, data entry, , and contact management (as exemplified by Microsoft SharePoint, Google Apps, and SalesForce) The Bandwidth Gap Adding a new satellite to those already in space is not cheap, or quick, or easy. This means that capacity management is a constant challenge for satellite Internet service providers as they continue to add customers. If satellite construction and launch schedules do not keep pace with the demand for service you end up with a very big capacity gap that manifests itself in one of two ways:
8 Page 8 of 22 A. Lack of new service: A satellite provider may choose to stop accepting new customers in a certain area to prevent over-subscribing the current capacity. 5 B. Decline in existing services: customers experience a decline in performance as new subscribers overburden system capacity until a new satellite comes online. While some people with a satellite Internet connection may not be directly affected by these issues, everyone with a SIC is impacted by the strategy satellite service providers use to apportion their limited bandwidth: the download cap. For example, if you have the HughesNet ProPlus plan, which currently costs $80 per month, the cap, called the Daily Download Allowance, is 425 megabytes per day. To put that in perspective, it is about one twentieth the size of the cap for Comcast cable customers. 6 In other words, the average cable user gets 20X the capacity of the typical SIC user, often for a lower price. One hour of streaming Internet audio can consume 50 megabytes. A set of slides used for work could be more than 40 megabytes. Synchronizing a cloud-based storage folder for a remote worker can easily consume 500 megabytes in a day. A standard definition 90 minute movie delivered on-demand over the Internet from NetFlix or itunes takes roughly 2,000 megabytes. 7 So, unlike cable and DSL users, SIC users cannot watch movies on demand over the Internet. Businesses cannot realistically host web sites over satellite Internet connections. And those are just a few of the activities on which the download cap has a negative impact. An ipod or iphone software update may be 300 megabytes. Updating an application such as itunes can consume 100 megabytes. Downloading an album of music from Amazon.com or itunes can use over 100 megabytes. 8 Operating system security updates from Microsoft and Apple may be 400 megabytes or more. In short, the providers of digital goods and services in America today assume that consumers and businesses have immediate access to low latency, high capacity broadband. They no longer make allowances for people with limited capacity. What happens when a satellite Internet service user exceeds the download cap? In the case of HughesNet the account is subject to the Fair Access Policy or FAP. The FAP restricts the speed of the connection to about 40 Kbps (kilobits per second), roughly the same as that of an old dial-up modem. This restriction lasts for 24 hours, essentially rendering the connection useless (other satellite providers have similar systems). Recently, HughesNet made it possible for the account owner to go online and get that restriction lifted. 9 However, lifting the restriction is not quick and it is not always free. There is a price to pay if the Daily Download Allowance is exceeded more than once per
9 month. A system of FAP tokens is used, with one FAP token required to lift one restriction. You get one free FAP token per month but additional tokens costs $10 each (or 3 for $25). However, you cannot apply tokens in advance. You have to wait for the restriction to be imposed, so you still cannot watch a streaming movie without serious interruption. 10 Just to be clear, this daily satellite bandwidth allowance is per day, not averaged over a longer period of time like a week or month. These megabytes are not like mobile phone minutes, they do not rollover. You do not get 12,750 megabytes in a month (30 x 425). You cannot save up your megabytes to watch a movie. And there is no credit for failed downloads. If you start to download a 25 megabyte file and a service interruption after 18 megabytes forces a repeated attempt, you may consume 43 megabytes, or roughly one tenth of your 425 megabyte allowance, to get that one file. The bottom line for people working from home, traditionally a mainstay of the rural economy, is either a very big monthly bill for repeatedly exceeding the daily allowance or leaving their community. 11 HughesNet and other satellite providers do allow unlimited downloads during the night, for example between the hours of 2:00AM and 7:00AM. This makes it possible to schedule software downloads which may be essential to preserving the security of enduser systems. 12 However, there is no guarantee of network performance during this time so users find it hard to know in advance if downloads scheduled for this period will be completed before restrictions come back into force and further download charges are incurred. Furthermore, software vendors do not make it easy to schedule downloads, preferring to send them automatically. This means satellite capacity limits are not just a serious inconvenience, they have serious implications for computer security. Satellite Internet users have to turn off automated updating of operating systems and applications to prevent incurring costs and usage restrictions arising from bandwidth caps. However, computer and software makers increasingly rely on these automated processes to
10 Page 10 of 22 distribute the security patches required to prevent exploitation of computers by criminal hackers. Computers with unpatched operating systems and applications are a prime target for hackers and these machines are more easily turned into zombies under the control of attackers. Zombies are then orchestrated into botnets that are used to attack other systems, from commercial and government websites to utility systems and entire sections of the Internet itself. 13 The Department of Homeland Security today considers unpatched consumer computers a threat to national security and the problem has been openly discussed by cyber-security officials at the federal level since at least The Price/Performance Gap As you may have noticed in the previous section, satellite Internet service costs a lot more than terrestrial broadband. The HughesNet ProPlus satellite Internet service plan costs $80 per month and comes with a usage cap of 425 megabytes per day. The headline performance of this plan is a download speed of 1.6 Mbps (megabits per second or 1,600 Kbps) and an upload speed of 200 Kbps, however, there is no guarantee that users will ever experience these speeds. Indeed, based on customer reports and field testing by the author, such speeds are seldom experienced in practice. 15 The chart on the right is a test history showing randomly-timed upload and download operations conducted on HughesNet ProPlus over a 48-hour period. The darker numbers show average speed during download and upload of files; lighter numbers are the maximum speed recorded during each test. Darker numbers are the more accurate reflection of actual speeds experienced by the customer during normal Internet activities. 16
11 You can see that speeds can vary according to the time of day. Some satellite users have found that, while 1,000 Kbps downloads may be possible early in the day, speed tends to decline as the day wears on, resulting in 150 Kbps or lower by late afternoon. In practical terms, even without bandwidth caps, you are not going to be watching YouTube videos for work or play over satellite. And if you are working from home over satellite and have to upload a report at 5PM you may be doing so at dial-up speed. 17 Obviously, satellite Internet service providers can do nothing to change the limits of the physically possible, so there can be no reduction in latency, however, there is a lot of room for improvement in the business practices. Many people question the use of 1.6 Mbps as a headline download speed to induce consumers and small businesses to commit to a 2-year contract that carries cancellation penalties, The practice might be deemed tolerable if customers actually got an average download speed above 1.0 Mbps. However, as the chart above shows, it is quite possible to pay $80 per month for a 1.6 Mbps plan and get a median download speed of less than 200 Kbps. This huge gap between advertised rates and reality generates a large number of consumer complaints and at least one class action lawsuit against HughesNet The Service Gap The reliability of satellite Internet service is at the mercy of the weather and atmospheric conditions. Bad weather can degrade or interrupt service in several ways and satellite dishes cannot be mounted indoors. Thus a layer of snow or ice on the customer dish can degrade or block the signal. While there are electric heating elements available to counter some of these problems, there is no way to prevent atmospheric signal degradation. Heavy cloud and haze can block signal, leading to service interruption. Beyond the weather, the technical challenges presented by satellite Internet connections would appear to be considerably more complex than those encountered with wired connections (the latter being, in essence, just an extension of widely understood and time-tested technologies like Ethernet). The techniques used to accelerate and compress traffic over satellite Internet connections can lead to multiple temporary outages during a typical day of usage. Even a brief scan of user reviews of satellite service providers reveals very high levels of frustration and dissatisfaction. 19
12 Page 12 of 22 So What is Broadband Anyway? To ask What is broadband? might seem like an innocent question, and to contest the claim that satellite Internet service is broadband might seem like no big deal. In reality, these are matters of vital importance to the thousands of American communities that lack access to broadband. No longer a mere inconvenience, lack of access to broadband now constitutes a potential death sentence for rural communities thus afflicted. 20 Most attempts to answer the question What is broadband focus on defining a minimum transmission speed at which an Internet connection can download and upload data. This might be stated as something like 1.2 Mbps up, 384 Kbps down. However, these numbers themselves are largely irrelevant to the average Internet user who simply defines broadband in terms of the activities that it enables. In other words, the average Internet user is likely to agree that an Internet connection is broadband if they can: 1. Work from home using a VPN to access their employer's network 2. Trade stocks and commodities in real time 3. Make telephone calls over the Internet (VoIP) 4. Watch streaming video from services like YouTube, NetFlix or itunes 5. Keep operating system and applications secure with automatic updates Fortunately, defining broadband in this way takes us to the heart of this whitepaper because: A satellite Internet connection does not support 5 basic broadband functions. You might have reached this conclusion already, based on the gaps outlined above, but strong evidence supporting this statement also comes direct from the satellite Internet service providers themselves. Consider these 5 statements from the HughesNet FAQ: 1. Virtual Private Networks do not work well over satellite...hughesnet Technical Support does not provide help with...problems associated with VPN clients Time-sensitive applications...such as...real-time equities trading are not recommended with HughesNet. 3. The HughesNet Home Service plan is not recommended for heavy downloading. 4. Voice over IP doesn t work well on a residential Hughes system with satellite. 5. If you intend to watch videos you may exceed your download threshold. 22
13 One surely has to ask what kind of broadband service satellite could be if it is not suitable for streaming video, large file downloads, VPNs, real-time trading, or VoIP? The logical answer is no kind of broadband at all, an assertion supported by the fact that the word broadband does not appear anywhere on the pages that HughesNet and WildBlue use to describe their services to potential customers. 23 Of course, there are other ways to define broadband. For example, you could say broadband is a high speed, low latency, high availability Internet connection with appropriate bandwidth allocation. This last item, appropriate bandwidth allocation, refers to how much data the user of the connection can download in a certain period of time. As we have seen, this needs to be a fairly large number because the term at issue here is broadband and that has always implied high capacity as well high speed. If you want to apply specific numbers to the definition you might say: Broadband is an Internet connection that delivers 99.9% availability of at least 1Mbps sustained download speed and 768Kbps upload speed with an average latency of less than 100 ms, permitting at least 500 gigabytes of traffic per month without cap or added charges. Most American consumers of broadband would probably agree with this definition, even though some of the parameters might be considered conservative. For example, 75% of Internet users in Korea connect at 5 Mbps or higher and more than 45% connect at more than 10 Mbps. And it is not just urbanized countries that are achieving ubiquitous broadband deployment. In the relatively rural country of Finland, 96 percent of homes have access at 1Mbps or above. Whatever your thoughts on specific numbers, what can be stated as fact and not opinion is that satellite Internet service, such as you can get from HughesNet and WildBlue, falls far short of any reasonable definition of broadband. 24
14 Page 14 of 22 The Universal Service Gap Despite all of the facts stated above, which are not seriously contested by the satellite Internet service providers themselves, satellite Internet service is being presented to the American people and to some of their elected representatives as broadband. For example, at the federal government site broadband.gov, run by the FCC, you can see Satellite listed as a type of broadband, despite the fact that the two main providers of such service avoid using the word "broadband" when they are pitching their service. So why include satellite alongside DSL, cable, wireless, and fiber? The answer may lie in pro-satellite lobbying. The logic for such lobbying is simple: If it can be said that satellite is a broadband option for rural communities, as listed by the FCC, then terrestrial telcos can argue there is no compelling need to provide those communities with alternatives. Consider this scenario: If political pressure to provide all Americans with access to proper broadband connectivity continues to grow, that could lead to legislation imposing a universal service requirement for broadband, just as political pressure 75 years ago led the American government to create universal telephone service through the Communications Act of That legislation was aimed at making available, so far as possible, to all the people of the United States a rapid, efficient, nationwide and worldwide wire and radio communication service with adequate facilities at reasonable charges. In effect, our forefathers passed a law enshrining the idea that phone companies doing business in America had an obligation to serve all Americans, an obligation that was felt to be entirely reasonable, given that all Americans had to look at, and make way for, the wires and poles and towers and other elements of infrastructure by which service was delivered. In other words, those wires criss-crossing the country should serve everyone because they impact everyone. In the 1930s many Americans felt there was something UN-American about not extending to all Americans
15 the opportunity to use a telephone to call for help or advice, or to engage in trade or conduct business, for about the same price, regardless of where in America you lived. Today we have copper, coaxial, and fiber optic cables running all across rural America without providing service to all the communities they pass through. Why? The terrestrial telcos do not want to build out their systems to supply broadband services to areas below a certain population density. Their objection? One has to assume it is based on the calculation that the return on their investment (ROI) would be slower than for other projects, ones that serve higher density areas, namely cities and suburbs. If you spend any time at all watching TV or surfing the web you know that the terrestrial telcos are in fierce competition with each other to deliver broadband service to the wealthiest markets at the lowest prices. Not serving all markets equally appears to be a clear example of the market forces producing disparity of opportunity based on geography. Consider the example shown below, where Verizon is offering phone service and 4 Mbps Internet service for $55 per month. A rural Verizon customer may have to pay as much as $55 per month for Verizon phone service alone. To recap, that's $55 per month for phone and great bandwidth for a suburban household, while the rural household pays almost three times as much for phone service and very slow, bandwidth capped satellite Internet service ($55 Verizon phone service + $80 HughesNet Pro Plus + $20 overage = $155). Consider another example: homes in a target rich metropolitan area such as New York City can currently get very fast broadband Internet plus hundreds of channels of high definition TV, plus unlimited long distance phone service for about $80 a month (Verizon FIOS). However, less than 50 miles from the capital of New York State there are scores of communities that have no access to real broadband at any price and little hope of that changing, despite recent efforts by the federal government.
16 Page 16 of 22 People who want or need to live and do business in these rural communities are paying a total of around $250 per month for high speed Internet + television + telephone. These services have to be purchased from three different vendors and they add up to twice or three times the price paid by suburban fiber optic customers or even cable subscribers in small towns that happen to have cable service. And the high-speed Internet service you get with that $250 per month is satellite, with its high latency, relatively low speed, daily bandwidth caps, and frequent outages. Thus you have the irony of farmers producing milk and other staples that the FIOS customers consume, yet unable to become FIOS consumers themselves. On top of that, these farmers have to abide by the warnings on the big red signs dotting their fields, cautioning them not to work the land where the fiber optic cable is buried. In 2008, Senator Obama ran for president on a platform that included expanded broadband access for rural areas (he actually raised the topic in the first presidential debate). True to his word, President Obama has committed tens of billions of dollars to extend access to broadband to more Americans. Unfortunately, it is becoming clear that there are thousands of communities in America today that will not benefit from these efforts, places that have no prospect of getting access to broadband this year, or next year, or even 5 years from now, effectively excluding them from twenty-first century communication resources that are to critical to economic survival, educational opportunity, and social equality. 26 There is considerable irony in the fact that a White House which has placed major emphasis on the need for universal broadband access now has over 1,300 videos on YouTube, none of which can be watched in the millions of rural homes that lack access to broadband. And there should be serious social concern that those same homes do not have access to videos from Health & Human Services (532), FEMA (411), CDC (171), the IRS (126), the Department of State (1,843). the Agriculture Department (230), the Census Bureau (210), the EPA (94), the TSA (62), and the FTC (54). 27 Broadband is Not Optional During the last five years the nature of the Internet has changed dramatically. Instant access to uncapped, low-latency broadband is assumed by most websites and most Americans. Most businesses rely on such broadband to do business and most jobs require the use of uncapped, low-latency broadband. More and more government agencies rely on such broadband to disseminate important public information and, increasingly, to provide the public services that they are tasked to deliver.
17 An example of the degree to which these changes penetrate and impact rural life can be found, perhaps surprisingly, in the business of automotive repair. Many vital functions in today's cars and trucks are controlled by computer chips. Reliably fixing today's cars and trucks requires frequent access to a vast database of diagnostic codes. This is not feasible via dial-up modem. Database suppliers offer either broadband access (instant updates) or a DVD subscription (slower and more expensive updates). At least one supplier is considering going to broadband-only access. In other words, the days of auto repair shops in broadband dead zones may be numbered. From database access to voice calls, from TV programming to movies, from rich content to online education, from tele-commuting to telemedicine, broadband is considered by most Americans to be an essential service, as ubiquitous as dial tone, as reliable as electricity. And therein lies the problem for rural communities that lack broadband: Fewer and fewer Americans want to live without broadband. Forget for a moment the studies and experiments that show rural communities fare much better if they have broadband. Set aside for a moment the preferences of current residents of rural communities with respect to broadband. The fact is, the future of rural communities depends on people wanting to live there. So who will want to live there without broadband? Bleak as things are for places that lack broadband today, they are about to get worse. Despite the upheaval in the real estate market in the first decade of this century, home ownership continues to be the cornerstone of the American way of life and the touchstone of local tax revenues. The relative value of residential and commercial property, expressed as either selling price or rental income, is key to the vitality of a community. If values go down, so do property taxes and the ability of the community to maintain infrastructure and amenities. A decline in infrastructure and amenities leads to a reduction in the desirability of a location, either as a place to live or a place to do business. The schools suffer, roads suffer, more people move away. This is the death
18 Page 18 of 22 spiral that leads to ghost towns and it has begun to afflict rural communities that do not have access to broadband service. Properties in broadband-free communities are perceived to be worth less, either on the market or as rentals, than otherwise comparable properties in communities that do have broadband. The phenomenon of bandwidth deflation is already manifesting itself in a reduction in the tax base of these dial-up deserts as people move out because they must have access to reliable, uncapped, low-latency broadband. Many young people leave rural communities to go to college but hope to return and live and work where their families are located. Today their hopes are stymied by the lack of broadband. Homes without broadband linger longer on the market, rentals without broadband sit empty. Conclusions Satellite Internet service is an amazing technological achievement but it is not broadband. The author has found no recorded instance of a consumer or company choosing satellite Internet service when access to terrestrial broadband is available. Even the providers of satellite Internet service themselves are clear that satellite Internet service does not fit any commonsense or commonly accepted definition of broadband, and it never can. It would appear that the only voices raised in support of the claim that satellite Internet connections are broadband are the terrestrial telcos seeking to avoid regulatory requirements that they serve low-latency, high capacity broadband to America's rural communities. Unless there is a fundamental change in the way we handle access to communication technologies in this country, thousands of our communities will be frozen out of mainstream America, destined to become economic backwaters, bereft of opportunity, blighted by failing and under-funded infrastructure, increasingly cut off from government
19 services and advances in health care, slowly emptying of residents. Conversely, the welldocumented long-term economic benefits of rural broadband are potentially enormous, and not just for rural Americans, but for America as a whole. Surely America, with its history of ingenuity and its fundamental belief in fairness and justice, can find a way to deliver true broadband access to all Americans, including those who choose to work the land and give us reliable and timely access to our daily bread. While a satellite Internet connection is a technical marvel, the evidence presented here shows conclusively that satellite Internet service is not the solution to the rural broadband challenge.
20 End Notes 1 Independent statistics on market share are hard to find but HughesNet claims it has over 500,000 subscribers and in to the author WildBlue states it has "over 425,000 subscribers." Numbers for StarBand and SkyWay could not be located. Note that on February 14, 2011, it was announced that HughesNet is being acquired by EchoStar. 2 Note that the first satellite Internet connection systems used a landline to send the request for data (uplink) to the Internet but sent the response via satellite (downlink). The SkyWay service still works in this manner. Note that the SkyWay website states: "Skyway USA Internet service is intended as residential service, You may use it for a Business, but it is not designed to be a business class product. We also do not offer support for business services." 3 See and also The Quest for Interactivity at Stuart Cheshire, PhD. is currently Wizard Without Portfolio at Apple. 4 Software as a Service is technology by which applications, such as word processing or data entry, are hosted on a remote server accessed by the user over the Internet. For example, SalesForce.com is used to potential clients and support customers. Price quotes may be calculated, and contracts edited, on Google Docs. This technology is very powerful but to function efficiently it requires low latency connections. 5 See letter to the editor, Oneonta Daily Star, February 15, 2010: 6 In 2008, Comcast imposed a cap of 250 Gigabytes a month (upload and download included), per residential customer account under the companies new Acceptable Use Policy. The HughesNet 425 megabyte per day plan = gigabytes per month. 7 See 8 See screenshots below for examples of this problem. 9 Ironically, getting the restriction lifted takes a long time five minutes or more due to the slow speed of the restricted connection. 10 Even without daily bandwidth caps, movies over satellite are not watchable by most satellite customers due to download speeds that are dramatically lower than advertised. 11 The author recently calculated the cost of "normal" telecommuting via satellite to be $200 per month versus $40 for cable. This was based on a monthly rate of $80 for a satellite connection that includes 425 megabytes plus 15 instances of exceeding daily allowance during the month. 12 Scheduling downloads can be complex and requires the use of special software. Setting up an unattended download requires configuring a computer to stay awake or wake up for the event as well as, in some cases, the storing of passwords for site access. 13 See Emerging Cyber Threats Report 2011, The Georgia Tech Information Security Center (GTISC): Organizations including Google, Adobe and a few dozen others in the commercial sector acknowledged that they had been the victims of a highly targeted attack known as Aurora. According to Gunter Ollmann, VP of research at Damballa, the Aurora botnet was targeted against large international businesses with the goals of network infiltration, theft of business secrets and modification of critical system data. 14 The emergence of widespread always on computing, in the form of consumer computing devices connected to high speed Internet connections, created the potential for large-scale attacks on corporate and government systems through compromised hosts (zombies) organized into malicious networks (botnets) by criminal hackers or cyber-terrorists. A prime strategy for turning personal computing devices into zombies is to exploit software vulnerabilities before they are fixed or patched by users downloading and installing updates.
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