Powered by satellite technology, high-speed Internet reaches rural usersBy Karen Jones
With the need for broadband Internet access growing exponentially, rural areas without cable or DSL service will now be propelled into the digital age. Internet access through satellite broadband services has become a viable option for underserved communities nationwide.
Approximately 10% to 15% of the U.S. population has no cable or DSL broadband solution, according to Michael Cai, director of broadband and gaming at Parks Associates. For these consumers, satellite is a good alternative, particularly since the once spotty technology has improved over the years.
A satellite dish called a VSAT-very small aperture terminal-is installed at the end-user location. A connection is made using wireless links to satellites in orbit over the equator. Users are able get broadband access from virtually anywhere as long as there is a view of the southern sky.
Today, enhanced network designs have minimized latency-the delay caused by the signal making a round-trip into space and back to Earth. "Latency problems and uplink used to be terrible," says Cai, but he adds that with recent improvements, satellite Internet broadband service "should now be more efficient."
Like all Internet connections, satellite broadband is determined by the provider. So far, the fight for domination of the market is between three services: DIRECWAY, StarBand, and WildBlue.
Hughes Network Systems L.L.C., headquartered in Germantown, Maryland (www.hns.com),offers high-speed Internet solutions via satellite to remote areas through its DIRECWAY brand. Though Hughes Network lists customers in more than 26,000 zip codes, its principal market is rural, underserved communities, according to Mike Cook, senior vice president of sales and marketing in North America.
Unlike cable or DSL, satellite users purchase their broadband access equipment. This consists of a satellite dish mounted outside the home or office and a modem. The cost of the equipment from the three major providers ranges from $300 to $900, plus installation. Users pay monthly fees ranging from $50 to $160.
Ernest Green, founder and CEO of Hampton, Virginia-based telecommunications firm E&E Enterprises Global Inc. (www.eeenterprisesinc.com),offers a range of satellite broadband solutions to his enterprise customers as a DIRECWAY value-added reseller. "We can place a satellite dish virtually anywhere as long as you have power going to the system and a clear view to the southern skies," confirms Green, who has seen his business grow from $45,000 in annual revenues in 1997 to $2 million in 2005.
Broadband satellite opportunities opened up for Green in 2003, when he became a DIRECWAY dealer and won a $1.7 million contract from the Defense Contract Management Agency. Now, the service represents 70% of E&E Enterprises' revenues. Although Green maintains high-profile clients, such as the Department of Defense and the FBI, he confirms that 75% of his clients are in rural areas and 60% to 70% have no terrestrial Internet options.
Last year, E&E Enterprises brought satellite Internet access to the 28 students in the Blue Mound Elementary School (grades 1-6) located in Mound City, Kansas, a rural district 60 miles south of the greater Kansas City area. Because it is a low-income area, there are no terrestrial broadband options for the grade school, says Matheau Casner, technology director of the Jayhawk Unified School District. "These students now have access to technology which is not in their homes, and they are receiving a richer education," Casner says. "My guess is our students are now going to be better prepared for junior and senor high school and the work world."
E&E Enterprises was able to provide this service as a member of the Schools and Libraries Corp. E-Rate program, which provides technology discounts to schools on free lunch programs. Green explains that if a school facility has 75% of its students on the free lunch program, it qualifies for a 90% discount on equipment, service, and installation. "We are trying to get this information out to the African American community," says Green, who urges interested schools to visit www.sl.universalservice.org.In the future, Green would like to help bring satellite technology to underdeveloped countries while initiating programs in the U.S. to train satellite installers and help desk personnel. He predicts satellite technology will eventually "control everything-TV, Internet and cell phones." He plans to be right there leading the charge.