Cobb's Satellite Internet Whitepaper Published by Rural Mobile & Broadband Alliance

Update, December 18, 2019: A recent decision by the FCC has put the spotlight on satellite internet service for rural communities in America (see Viasat gets $87.1M for rural broadband). I researched this topic - from a rural home that depended on satellite service for its internet connection - back in 2011. This article describes, and links to, the whitepaper in which I wrote up my research (PDF, 2 megabytes).

Original article:

I'm happy to announce that a document I've been working on for some time now has been published by RuMBA: the Rural Mobile & Broadband Alliance. Here's the full title:

Satellite Internet Connection for Rural Broadband: Is it a viable alternative to wired and wireless connectivity for America's rural communities?

RuMBA Satellite Internet WhitepaperYou can download the whitepaper here (this a 22-page PDF document just under 2 Megabytes in size).

For those who haven't heard of RuMBA, it's a non-profit organization that was launched in February 2009 by Luisa Handem Piette as an advocacy group "seeking to ensure that rural communities are offered the same access to affordable mobile and broadband services available to urban and suburban areas."

I admit that I first got involved with RuMBA for purely selfish reasons: I live in a rural community that has no access to broadband and I like broadband.

Okay, it's more than that. I need broadband to earn a living. Sure, I could go through some sort of retraining program and earn a living as a farmer or lumberjack or trucker, but to keep doing what I've been doing for the last 25 years, researching, writing and publishing, I need broadband.

(I actually think broadband can help you be a more successful farmer, lumberjack, or trucker, so it's not like those careers wouldn't benefit from better access to broadband as well.)

When I found out about RuMBA, a group of people looking to expand rural access to broadband, I signed up. One of the things I like about RuMBA is that it's not just an organization for consumers of broadband. And it's not just a meeting place for suppliers of broadband. RuMBA is a good mix of consumers and suppliers and experts, and a great place to research this field. I have already learned a great deal from RuMBA members about the possibilities and challenges of bringing broadband to un-served or under-served areas.

Which brings me back to satellite Internet. Attentive readers of this blog will know that I've had a lot of experience using satellite Internet over the last 5 years. Until recently it was the only way to connect to the Internet from the cabin in Upstate New York where I live and work IF you wanted speeds above those of an old-fashioned dialup modem.

In fact, the claim "faster than dialup" has been at the heart of marketing efforts by HughesNet and Wildblue, the two largest satellite Internet providers, for many years. What you don't see when you look into signing up for these services on the web is the phrase "satellite broadband." And there is a good reason for that [spoiler alert--the next sentence reveals the primary conclusion of the above-mentioned whitepaper].

Basically, satellite Internet is not broadband. It is not sold to consumers and small businesses as broadband. But it is getting promoted to government agencies and regulators as broadband. Which raises two questions:

  1. Why did I write a 22 page document to make that point?

  2. What's the problem?


Let me state the problem first: The traditional terrestrial Internet providers, the purveyors of DSL, cable, and fiber, do not want the government to require them to serve rural areas in the way that America requires telephone companies to serve rural areas.

Have you ever wondered how it is that your relatives on the farm way in the middle of nowhere North Dakota have a phone line? The answer lies in federal legislation dating back to the 1930s. That's when America decided "to make 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."

One of the principles established back then can be stated like this: If a company wants to run cable or beam waves across this great land of ours, everyone living on this land should get a slice of the service those cables and waves deliver. For example, a great big rope of fiber runs right through my village here in rural New York. My neighbors have to exercise care with their farm equipment so that they don't damage said cable or the power injectors and related fiber-phernalia. It seems only fair, at least in that old-fashioned 1930s way of American thinking, that a slice of said fiber should serve the community through which it passes. Right now it does not.

And one of the arguments that fiber/cable/DSL companies in America make against a universal broadband service requirement is that the country does not need it because: rural folks can always get broadband via satellite. And of course the satellite companies love that; they even got federal broadband money to build out their subscriber base. The telecommunications industry can say: "See, there's no need for universal service requirement because everyone has access to broadband."

Except they don't. That's because Satellite Internet is not broadband. And just so there could be no doubt about that statement I decided to make available an argument-ending document full of facts and references that anyone can print out and hand out and email, something that substantiates that statement in language anyone can understand. (And that answers question 2 above.)

If you would like a copy, it is free, and I encourage to download it now then please, spread it around.