Residents of cities such as Birmingham and Montgomery take high-speed Internet access for granted, but rural residents in Alabama have fewer choices for broadband. ConnectingALABAMA, a project launched in 2008, is working to improve access for the rural areas of the state. As of the time of publication, however, options for high-speed Internet remain limited in much of rural Alabama.
DSL and Cable Access
Some areas of rural Alabama can access high-speed Internet through DSL lines or cable services. These areas, although rural, are located near the large cities of Mobile, Huntsville, Montgomery and Birmingham. Near Huntsville, for example, computer users can choose from Time-Warner, Comcast or Charter, all of which offer cable Internet services. Near Montgomery, DSL is available from Nationwide Broadband Direct. Both DSL and cable high-speed Internet allow users to take advantage of services that are impracticable over dial-up. Such services include video streaming as well as stock tickers that are updated live when the markets are open. Rural residents of Alabama who do not live near a large city are unlikely to have access DSL or cable Internet.
Alabama residents far from urban areas can access high-speed Internet by using a satellite service. Two companies offer satellite Internet in Alabama: HughesNet and WildBlue. Satellite Internet requires more hardware than a DSL or cable connection. In addition to a modem networked to a computer, the system requires a satellite dish mounted on the outside of their home. The dish must precisely point at the HughesNet or WildBlue satellite in orbit. This means that a technician must install it because most users are not able to point the dish with the pinpoint accuracy required.
The Speed Issue
Users streaming video or downloading large files will find that satellite access is slower than DSL and cable but faster than dial-up. Telephone access to the Internet typically provides download speeds of 64 Kbps, which stands for kilobits per second. A kilobit is a measurement of the amount of data sent to the user's computer. A DSL line may deliver speeds of up to 3,000 Kbps, but actual speeds vary according to a user's subscription plan; faster download speeds cost more. Cable Internet is theoretically able to deliver speeds of up to 30,000 Kbps, but most cable lines actually deliver speeds between 1,000 and 6,000 Kbps. The speed is variable depending on the amount of usage of everyone else sharing the cable Internet line. Note that speeds above 1,000 Kbps are usually converted to megabits per second. 3,000 Kbps equals 3 Mbps.
Cost and Usability
Rural residents who are limited to either dial-up or satellite access need to consider cost versus convenience. Satellite Internet is much more expensive, with plans starting around $50 per month as of the time of publication; these plans come with download limits. Dial-up plans may cost as little as $10 per month and have a de facto download limit; since speeds are so slow over telephone lines, users cannot download much. Using dial-up access also ties up a phone line. This is not the case with satellite internet. Rural residents of Alabama who live near enough to a large city may prefer DSL or cable to satellite access. While HughesNet and WildBlue are available in cities as well, they are usually more expensive than DSL and cable options.
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