Internet Providers and the Homesteader: What You Should Know Before You Sign

Most of us who are homesteaders know the value of having a reliable internet connection. Many of us get the luxury of being able to work from home for employers in urban areas nearby or even in the woods or in the country.  Many of us m write blogs or books or upload instructional videos to YouTube and other video sites, we maintain home-based businesses,  or just stay in touch with family, friends and other loved ones.  In order to do all of these things effectively, a decent internet connection at home is necessary.  It’s far better to have that than have to traipse to a local public library, community college,  a McDonald’s or a truck stop near your home that happens to have free Wi-Fi.

My Own Story

I first got on the internet back in 1995  – during the rage and fury of the Dot.Com era.  Back then, I had a dial-up connection through a local telephone cooperative that gave me unlmited access, 10 MB of webspace and all for the beauteous price of just $20 per month! The price was great, the endless expanse of the world wide web was there to explore back in those heady days – but it was slow. When I actually went to work remotely for a Dot.Com (or a Dot.Bomb as the case ended up being),  they insisted that I have a T-1 connection installed.  They would pay for it. That was a good thing, because running the T-1 line was going to cost about $8K – and there was a $400 per month service fee, along with no assitance in setting it up, just getting it dug and to the box on the side of the house.  Needless to say, that didn’t work – which is just as well because the Dot.Bomb bust happened shortly thereafter, taking my company with it.   So….it was going to be dial up until the phone company got fiber optics to us.  That was going to be in oh….about 7 more years!

Then came U.S. Cellular with its USB Internet hot spot. You could get data through their awesome cellular data network. The cost?  $50 for 5 GB!  Woe to you if you went over. I remember receiving a bill for nearly $400. When you’re on a budget and that kind of thing lands in your mailbox. it’s enough to cause some serious hyperventilation!

From then on, it was me trudging to the community college to use their free Wi-Fi because 5 GB was woefully inadequate, even if you never watched any videos, downloaded music or carefully avoided those websites that would automatically launch video commercials and news stories.  Even attempts to install Flash blockers on a browser were just minimally effective in preventing them going off and running up your data.

Finally, a neighbor told me about a satellite internet company, Wild Blue, that provided service. They charged $50 for 50 GB of data and from midnight to 6 AM, it was free. You could pay an extra $10 for a gigabite more and if you went over your allotment, well, your speed was just so slow, most things timed out.

Later Wild Blue became known as Exede and they offered plans that were 150 GB per month – no free times but that seemed to be about right – unless your spouse or teenager wants to download the latest version of Assassin’s Creed or any other game on the X-Box;  then your data is gone quite literally overnight!   Once again the satellite company changed their name to Viasat. I was with them for nearly 3 years. I never had any trouble except during heavy rain, wind or snow storms.  When our rural electric coopearative announced that they would be running fiber optic cable in our area that would give us UNLIMITED data at 100 Mbs at $69.95 per month, no contract- that was a no brainer. I signed up and they got to me a couple of months later.

I cancelled the Wild Blue / Exede /Viasat service.  Agreed to send back their equipment so that my account would not be charged $320. That meant someone had to get on the roof and get the satellite receiver off the roof (between snow storms).  I hired someone to do this job for a couple of beers. I then had to send this rooftop equipment plus the company’s router back to them, UPS paid.  No problem. I did that, called them to make note that it was on its way. “Great! Thanks for letting us know!” I tracked the package and it was received a month ago. Everything was good. For some unknown reason, in the disarray that is ever-present in my office during projects, I held on to that tracking number.

It was a darned good thing that I did.

I got a text from Viasat thanking me for my payment of $320 this past Friday afternoon. I. Hit. The. Roof.  I was on the phone, asking them why they billed me for equipment that they had in hand for a month and that I shouldn’t have been billed.  The very kind rep, James, said it was because the equipment I returned had not yet been inspected – BUT I would get my money back in 14 business days if all checked out.  Why, I wondered, am I being charged for your company’s inability to do things in a timely manner as you expected your equipment on time? James said he was sorry and I yelled, screamed and cried.  “Saying “sorry” doesn’t put $320 back in my account or pay any overdraft fees or late charges to other people!” I also made it clear that I wasn’t yelling or screaming my hapless rep, James, and it wasn’t his fault. In this, I knew that he was powerless. I told him I blamed Viasat’s CFO, the shareholders and the company’s financial policies that instituted this type of fraud on the backs of their customers.  Looking on the web, there were pages and pages of other past customer stories that matched the experience I was now going through.

In tears, I called my bank. They said they would put a stop payment on anything from Viasat. The cost of $27 for a stop payment was a pittance compared with the attempted bank fraud by Viasat. This morning…they had indeed attempted to send the payment through – but for $321.  My banker said they attempted to send the payment through previously at the original $320 – but it was refused. By tweaking the amount, she said, sometimes companies will do this as an attempt to go around a stop payment – which many banks require to be the exact amount. My bank left the amount blank on the stop payment so that any attempt by Viasat to do an ACH transfer on my account would be refused. (Bless my bank! I love them!)  It is also a very good practice to monitor your bank account very closely and keep on vendors about what they say they are going to do and what they actually try to do thinking that they have implied consent to do whatever they wish. One  of my clients recommends doing this no less than at least twice a day and also insisting mailing in payment.  Yes, I realize that for many people, snail  mail is a thing of the past.  However, given the level of high-level hacks in the recent past and just how many people fall victim to identity theft or lose money to fraudsters, sometimes such old fashioned measures are  much more secure than the credit card, debit card, or ACH payments that many companies try to tell their customers are “required.”

Just Say ‘No’ to Bundled Deals

If you are like most people with a mailbox, no doubt you have gotten fliers offering you great deals on super fast Internet, premium channels and/or telephone service all for one low, LOW price!  It sounds like a great deal, and yes, you can get some great pricing on things that others pay lots of money for. However, be sure to read the fine print before signing up for any service. Companies like Mediacom, Cox, CenturyLink, and Dish will regularly give you low introductory pricing for anywhere between three months and up to two years.  So often such a deal is so very tempting.  The unfortunate part is that most folks get used to paying and only budgeting for the low bundled price – not knowing that as soon as that contract is up, their rates are going up, too. Sometimes the increase can be twice to three or even four times as much as the introductory rate they started out at!

I know about these because for a time I worked in a call center that would service vendors like the aforementioned companies – and also their competitors who wanted to give those consumers better deals. No one should be a cable and internet football held to the whims of some far-off, impersonal company.  Bundling may sound like a good deal, but in the end, you’re the one who ends up paying a premium.  Today, with an internet connection alone, you can access so much more than you get on cable these days anyway.  If you want to watch favorite TV shows, Hulu is pretty decent and you can purchase what you want month to month. For those of us who have Amazon Prime, there are tons of great movies that are included and you can even purchase movies from Netflix, through Microsoft’s XBox or even sign up for other services at a fraction of the price of what you would pay doing it the bundled way. You can even have phone service through your internet connection.  You can pretty much call anywhere in the world for low cost or no cost.  Fun fact:  I used to work for the telecommunications engineering team  that developed voice over internet protocol or VOIP.  So, even though all of that feels like many lifetimes ago,  I can tell you from having witnessed it firsthand, the technology has definitely come a long, long way since then!

Cutting the Cable

According to an article on the CutCableToday website ,  people are saving on average $115 per month by discontinuing their cable service.  Be honest.  Do you really need more than 200 channels to choose from? Does your cable provider provide you content you want to see all of the time, or is most of it outside your areas of interest  and you just have it to have it? More importantly, is it really worth that much money each year? I would be willing to bet that you and your family have better things to do with that kind of money around the homestead!

The cost of a top-of-the-line  arerial antena that picks up VHF /UHF and HD with a range of 100 – 160 miles is likely to cost you less than one or two months of paying the cable company .  Some models can handle two TV’s in the home or more. As of this writing we are getting quite a few free TV stations. Among our favorites are the four PBS stations that we receive.  There are scores of channels available that can be had without cable or services like Dish. If you are an Amazon Prime Subscriber (currently $99, but will increase to $119 as of June of 2018), you get some pretty incredible shows as part of your subscription service that you can watch at any time on just about every device you own. Commercial-free YouTube Red costs $9.95 per month, and other services depend on what you want. Regular YouTube with commercials embedded is still free. There you can learn anything your heart desires and for free.  As far as homesteading videos go, I haven’t found a better source.  Hulu is $7.99 and up to watch classic  and current TV shows.  Netflix cost about the same amount per month and sometimes has offers for new susbscribers to get the first month or two for free.

The key to coming out ahead is to look at what your needs are and never buy more than you need – no matter how  tempting the prospect may be. That’s how the cable companies ensnare you. Read the fine print, and check your statements both sent by your subscription service and your bank and credit card statements.  Or better yet, you may want to have a pre-paid credit card to put funds on so you can avoid your personal and financial information from falling victim to hackers.







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