Satellite Internet companies strengthen a lifeline to rural areas

Michael Schuppenhauer, a biotechnology consultant, lives in an idyllic canyon off the Pacific Ocean near Half Moon Bay, Calif. The Internet has passed by Schuppenhauer’s ranch. It’s too far from the local telephone hub for a digital subscriber line, or DSL. There’s no cable.

So Schuppenhauer gets broadband Internet service through a coffee-table-sized satellite dish on the side of his house that sends his Google search requests on a 44,600-mile round trip into space.

“As people start realizing that there will be Internet haves and have-nots, they will be setting up satellite dishes,” Schuppenhauer said.

HughesNet and its main competitor, WildBlue Communications Inc., are betting hundreds of millions of dollars that their lock on that market will last. They’re more than doubling their capacity this year with two new satellites.

That’s good news for second-homers, farmers, long-distance commuters and others who are looking to get connected. However, the new satellites will do little or nothing to improve on the quality of service, which is handicapped by the capacity of the satellites and their distance from Earth.

Schuppenhauer calls his current HughesNet service “bearable.” Compared to cable or DSL, it’s slow and expensive — $85 a month — but it allows Schuppenhauer to work full-time from home.
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