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  • Connecting rural Illinois

    How one family’s access to broadband betters their lives

    Norris Electric Cooperative members Karen and Sherman Newlin of Hutsonville have two children, Kaleigh and Trenton. Like most Illinoisans they spend a great deal of time utilizing the Internet to augment their daily activities. From school research to conducting business transactions, their broadband connection allows them to do things that rural families just one generation ago would never have dreamed of doing.

    Sherman is a farmer, but he is also a commodity broker with Risk Management Commodities, Inc. Having high-speed access to the Internet has had a great impact on his life.

    “We had dial-up at first, and I just wasn’t able to do the things I needed to do,” says Sherman. “When either Karen or I were on the computer, the phone line would be tied up. That meant we had to purchase extra phone lines so we could use both at once. I had to call around for quite awhile to even find a broadband offering. Eventually, I found out that Joink was offering wireless service in our area.”

    The problem facing many residents in rural areas is there simply isn’t a broadband service provider available, or if there is, residents just aren’t sure where they can get access.

    That’s where an organization called Broadband Illinois comes in.

    Broadband Illinois is a non-profit organization with a mission to increase Internet access and adoption in Illinois. The organization’s free website can help you find an Internet provider in your area. Go to www.broadbandillinois.org and type your address in the white box to pull up a list of potential Internet providers. (Note that its address search does not list information on satellite providers.)

    It may sound silly to suggest to someone that’s looking for an Internet connection to visit a website, but keep in mind that many local libraries and schools have access available. Libraries are morphing into the “broadband hubs” for rural Illinois.

    After finding Internet provider names, you can then check your local phone book or go to www.google.com to find contact information. Check with your neighbors as well to see what providers are available in your area. There are several things to consider — availability, cost, speed, reliability, download limits/caps and technical support.

    The Newlins definitely had to consider all of those things when they were looking into speeding up their connection.

    Karen is a business analyst for a health insurance company that licenses and appoints brokers. Her company converted from a mainframe system to vendor-supported offices in Green Bay, Lawrenceville and elsewhere. Before the Newlin’s upgraded their access, in order to do her job, she was forced to drive long distances every day.

    With the upgrades to her company’s systems and the new connection available at her home, she is able to spend more time at home, and accomplish even more work because she isn’t on the road between locations so much. Of course, that means she is on the phone many hours a day, and it’s important that she can look at the same screen at home even though she’s not even in the same city. She needs to be able to see the policy and insurance information because she supports many different agents and large agreements.

    “I enjoy having the ability to do the same types of work in both the home and at the office. It wasn’t always this easy. We upgraded from dial-up to satellite Internet access, but using the satellite didn’t give me the speed necessary to work from home. In August 2010, I was unable to work utilizing our home Internet connection, but as of the spring of 2011, our wireless connection was installed and I could work at home,” says Karen.

    “I can open files off my network drive at work. It’s very fast on the wireless network, which is critical to doing my job. With dial-up and satellite I couldn’t do that, but now I literally can do everything at home the same as I do in Lawrenceville.”

    Sherman adds, “Our satellite connection was always very weather dependent, but now with the wireless connection I can get quotes from Chicago and New York streaming down in near real time. That’s very important. In this business you want the most up-to-date information possible.”

    And that communication goes both ways. With the new connection Sherman is able not only to get quotes, but also enter orders directly to the Chicago exchange.

    Of course, there are other benefits as well. Their faster connection has helped out with their farm and their children’s schoolwork.

    “Using our computer we can now get up to the minute radar for weather forecasts. We have enhanced research capabilities that help us with planning for equipment purchases. We can research and order parts. There are manuals out there for just about anything you can think of, and we can do price comparisons for upcoming purchases. All of that is available on-demand now,” says Sherman.

    Karen adds, “Our children use the Internet for research for school projects too. Our son is a freshman in high school, so he needs to use it frequently.”

    Because wireless works via a signal transmitted from a tower, the Newlins had to remove a tree that was blocking line of sight. This is a common problem with wireless service, especially in rural areas. If you’re looking to upgrade your service, keep in mind that you may face similar issues. Problems increase with distance from the tower. It is difficult for Internet service providers to predict if addresses on the edges of service areas actually have good access.

    Also, many Internet providers have download limits, especially if it is wireless or satellite service. Download limits are caps on the amount of data you can download. If you go over the limit, it will affect your service. So, if you want to watch Netflix video service or download a lot of songs, it can put you over the limit. Make sure you ask your provider for details on caps on your service. There may also be charges for going over the limit.

    Broadband Illinois has other opportunities available as well. Please check the Broadband Illinois web site under “eTeams” for training opportunities in your area. On the website, you can also sign up to get more information on being a Broadband Illinois volunteer within your community. They could use the help in getting the word out, and it would be a great addition to your resume!

    If you would like to get more in-tune with the digital age, but are concerned that you just don’t understand enough about computers, give your local community college or library a call. Both are great sources of free or almost-free training.

    If you find that you absolutely do not have broadband available, then that’s another area your local library will probably be able to help out.

    Make sure you also take a moment to let the folks at Broadband Illinois know that you don’t have access. Just send them an e-mail at findservice@broadbandillinois.org. Include your county, your name, 911 address, town, zip, phone number, and whether you have no Internet service or slow service. Or you can call 217-886-4553 and leave a detailed message with the above information. Although they can’t guarantee they’ll get you service, they do work closely with providers to match your needs. They will also pass your information along to providers who can consider it when doing new projects in your area.


    Just what exactly constitutes ‘broadband’ anyway?

    The term broadband commonly refers to high-speed Internet access that is always on and faster than the traditional dial-up access. Broadband includes several high-speed transmission technologies such as DSL, cable modem, fiber, wireless and satellite. All of these have a role to play in the future of broadband in Illinois, so it’s important to understand the advantages and limitations of each.

    Satellite broadband is another form of wireless broadband, and is also useful for serving remote or sparsely populated areas. Downstream and upstream speeds for satellite broadband depend on several factors, including the provider and service package purchased, the consumer’s line-of-sight to the orbiting satellite and the weather. Typically a consumer can expect to receive download speeds of about 500 kilobits per second (Kbps) and upload speeds of about 80 Kbps. These speeds may be slower than DSL and cable modem, but they are about 10 times faster than the download speed with dial-up Internet access. Service can be disrupted in extreme weather conditions.

    Wireless broadband Internet access services often require a direct line-of-sight between the wireless transmitter and receiver. These services have been offered using both licensed and unlicensed spectrum. For example, thousands of small Wireless Internet Services Providers (WISPs) provide such wireless broadband at speeds of around one million bits per second (Mbps) Mbps using unlicensed devices, often in rural areas not served by cable or wireline broadband networks.

    Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) is a wireline transmission technology that transmits data faster over traditional copper telephone lines already installed to homes and businesses. DSL-based broadband provides transmission speeds ranging from several hundred Kbps to Mbps. The availability and speed of your DSL service may depend on the distance from your home or business to the closest telephone company facility.

    Cable modem service enables cable operators to provide broadband using the same coaxial cables that deliver pictures and sound to your TV set. Most cable modems are external devices that have two connections: one to the cable wall outlet, the other to a computer. They provide transmission speeds of 1.5 Mbps or more. Subscribers can access their cable modem service by simply turning on their computers, without dialing-up an ISP. You can still watch cable TV while using it. Transmission speeds vary depending on the type of cable modem, cable network, and traffic load.

    Fiber optic technology converts electrical signals carrying data to light and sends the light through transparent glass fibers about the diameter of a human hair. Fiber transmits data at speeds far exceeding current DSL or cable modem speeds, typically by tens or even hundreds of Mbps.


    Communications company ramps up service

    There is good news for many residents of rural Illinois. In July 2010, Frontier Communications added customers in many new Illinois areas as part of a 14-state transaction with another company.

    Prior to this, many of these customers in Illinois could purchase only voice services for residences and traditional data services for businesses. Since the transaction, Frontier is investing over $50 million to bring high-speed Internet (HSI) to more towns across Illinois. The company is well along in its three-year plan to extend broadband services to at least 85 percent of all the homes and businesses served in Frontier’s newest markets.

    “We’ve been working very hard over the past 12 months to bring the benefits of broadband to many parts of Illinois,” says Michael Flynn, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Frontier Communications. “Broadband availability makes a community more attractive to new businesses, allows schools to offer an expanded curriculum and enhances the quality of life by opening up access to the Internet’s resources, especially those related to health, entertainment and financial information. Our philosophy is simple — choosing to live in a more rural area should not mean settling for lesser-quality communications. We’re committed to using the best technology to deliver broadband to our customers regardless of the size of their town or the geographical challenges.”

    If you sign up for Internet service through Frontier you can expect (2) two-hour appointment windows. A trained technician will install a customer’s computer and a wireless router and offer a basic course in how to access and navigate the Internet. In addition, Frontier offers a full array of customer care Frontier SecureSM services that include Internet security, 24/7 100 percent U.S.-based technical support and online backup service.

    Keep in mind that the company is slowly rolling out its product in newly acquired areas, so it may not be in all areas yet, but it is certainly working on it.

    You can find out more information at www.frontier.com and www.frontier.com/ir.

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