Saturday, January 31, 2015

Internet when you are off grid



So when you live disconnected from the grid, how do you get internet access? Many people, myself included, like being free from dependance on the main power system for multiple reasons. The main one for me is location and the fact that I am in a remote location with no other option. But that doesn't mean that everyone wants to loose access to all the benefits of internet access with it's wealth of information. So I looked at a lot of options when I was preparing to make that move off grid. There are few options when there is no cable or other hard line connection and all of them have issues.

 Satellite tends to be very expensive and can be affected by weather making it unreliable especially if you live in a little pocket in the mountains surrounded by trees. 

Wireless hotspots through a cell provider are the main viable option at the moment. But they tend to be pricy and come with a limited amount of data use. This makes it tough to do things like watch movies or up and download large photo files. Verizon has the best coverage in my area but 10 gigabytes of data which is about my average use per month costs over $100. AT+T's and Sprint's plans are similar. That's pretty pricy especially if you are trying to keep your living expenses low. 

There are several pay as you go providers that basically resell space on the larger networks. I have used one of these (Page Plus) for my cell phone needs for years now and been very happy with them. They don't provide a data option that works for use with a laptop though. 

First I tried Flashwireless. They offer data plans with approved use of laptops, tablets, and other devices. And they offer an unlimited plan, their most expensive one, with an extra charge per month to allow you to use things like your laptop with it. This added up to about $85 a month. Still pricy, but seemed worth it to me to have internet and not have a strict data cap. They offered a two week trial period and during that time, the service performed perfectly. I tested everything, loading photos to my blog, watching movies, browsing in general, etc. A few days later however, the company slowed the speed down so much that loading a simple web page would take 10 minuets. I contacted them because the difference was so drastic it was clearly something that had changed on their end. After much very frustrating discussion back and fourth I got nowhere. Flashwireless does have an acceptable use policy and it specifies lot of things you can't do. They all make a lot of sense, below is copied directly from their web site.

 (Examples of prohibited data uses: Flash Wireless data Services are provided solely for purposes of web surfing, sending and receiving email, photographs and other similar messaging activities, and the non-continuous streaming of videos, downloading of files or on line gaming. Our data Services may not be used: (i) to generate excessive amounts of Internet traffic through the continuous, unattended streaming, downloading or uploading of videos or other files or to operate hosting services including, but not limited to, web or gaming hosting; (ii) to maintain continuous active network connections to the Internet such as through a web camera or machine-to-machine connections that do not involve active participation by a person; (iii) to disrupt email use by others using automated or manual routines, including, but not limited to "auto-responders" or cancel bots or other similar routines; (iv) to transmit or facilitate any unsolicited or unauthorized advertising, telemarketing, promotional materials, "junk mail", unsolicited commercial or bulk email, or fax; (v) for activities adversely affecting the ability of other people or systems to use either the Services or other parties' Internet-based resources, including, but not limited to, "denial of service" attacks against another network host or individual user; )

 There is also a disclaimer that says they also have the discretion to determine other prohibited uses, but it seems reasonable to assume that would not be out of line with the things listed above. However what I was told was that I had already used 3.5 gigabytes of data that month, (this is only about a third of the data Verizon would sell you on a limited plan with no claim to be unlimited for a similar price) and this use was just too high (on a plan marketed as unlimited, remember) so they had to slow down the date use for the rest of the month. I was also told that if I had a problem with the service or wanted any refund, I had the two weeks trial period to change my mind. Of course, everything worked fine during that period and only after it ended did they slow down the connection. No matter who I talked to or how reasonable I tried to be, no one would budge on either turning the service back up or refunding anything. I finally told them I would be giving them a very negative review and asked them to please disconnect my service. 

Next I tried a small local provider in my area, Silverstar and they have been terrific. Their date plan is not unlimited, but does come with 30 gigabytes of data for about $60 with an additional 30 only costing $10 more. They let you take a hotspot (which is just on loan, but costs you nothing if you return it whenever you discontinue service) home for a few days to test the service in your home since mountains do create small dead areas. Everyone at the company has been extremely helpful and I am very satisfied with their service. So I would recommend checking out small local providers in your area for their wireless hotspots. For me this seems to be the best option for internet at my house.

15 comments:

  1. Your blog has been very helpful and informative as I prepare for my own Tiny House in May. (I've tried to reply to many of your posts but it always disappears, hopefully I've figured out what I'm doing incorrectly) I require Internet for my job, so this is an important consideration. I will be able to set up a router for WiFi from the host home already on the property but there is always distance to consider. Did you have The Shed Yard install a data plug and if so was that helpful? I did choose to have one because I don't want anyone else drilling into the walls! Also, I've wondered what address you use for mail, driver's license, car tags, etc. I was informed I must have a physical address for my driver's license as well as registering my home through the DMV and I'd rather not use the actual address of the property. Also, can you share your choice of insurance? The company recommended on the Tumbleweed website is the only company I've found willing to insure my home. Thanks again for sharing your experiences.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If you are close enough to use someone else's hard line wifi, I think that would be the way to go. With their permission. I should have mentioned that above. No one else lives close enough for that to work for me though. I did not have a data plug installed so I can't tell you anything about that.

      See the two comments below for answers to the other questions.

      Delete
  2. HI Michelle and Ariel,

    I hope you two don't mind me chiming in on this post. Michelle, Dee Williams has been working for a long time on getting insurance companies to insure Tiny Homes. Here's her link to a insurance company that now insures Tiny Homes. http://padtinyhouses.com/real-insurance-for-tiny-houses-on-wheels/

    Also I have a UPS address because UPS gives you a physical street address vs. a PO box like the post office. Prices are higher but worth it.
    Very Respectfully,
    Veeta

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't mind at all! Yes I highly recommend Darrell Grentz if you live in a state he covers. Unfortunately WY is not one of those yet. Though I did talk to him and he seems like a very nice guy, I was not able to insure my house through him due to that. I did go with the company that Tumbleweed recommends and that seemed a good choice as I still had to get Tumbleweed on the phone to the boss of the agent I was dealing with to get them to actually accept my application.

      And a UPS address is a pretty good idea. I already had a P.O. Box since in this little town everyone does, there is no street mail delivery at all. If I do need a physical address, I am able to use the one of my friend who's letting me park on his property. That is different that the address for the property where I am actually parked. So far with the DMV (don't need to renew my drivers license for maybe 5 more years?) they accepted my registration without a physical address. I told them I was in between housing and only had a PO Box at the moment. Since everyone in town has a PO Box like I said, and this was actually true, I was still living in a hotel at the time, they accepted that. We'll see what happens next year.

      Delete
    2. Thank you both, unfortunately Mr. Grentz doesn't cover Kansas yet, either. The UPS address is an excellent idea Veeta, I didn't know that was an option! (I asked the DMV how then do folks who are homeless get their driver's license or register a vehicle, they were very uncomfortable with my question!)

      Ariel, you are more off grid than I will be, but I'm trying to determine the best way to insulate the water hose to prevent freezing. The owner of the land has graciously offered to run a water line to my parking spot with a frost free spigot, but I'm still concerned. Fortunately, I chose to have my home delivered at the beginning of summer so I have some time to get use to the new lifestyle before battling winter

      Delete
  3. Greetings!

    Ariel - Huge props for your informative blog. I've been brainstorming about the same question - how to keep pipes from freezing here in Colorado off the grid (we start construction in May). Do you have a gray water reservoir/holding tank under your house?

    Thanks,
    JFast

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I do not currently. My grey water drains directly into the surrounding landscaping right now.

      Delete
    2. I am in Georgia and I am looking at having a tiny home constructed as well. We freeze every winter, but luckily only for 1-3 weeks. I think I read something about an electric hose cover that heats it and keeps it from freezing.

      Delete
  4. To Michelle Hanrahan,
    I noticed that if I access this blog (and others) through Firefox, I cannot post a comment. It disappears. Not sure why, but I have to use Internet Explorer to post a comment. Hope this helps.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sorry about that. I think that must be an issue between Firefox and Blogger. I'm not sure that is something I can control.

      Delete
  5. Love your blog, Ariel. You might want to spellcheck this post, although it won't show you where you have "date" when I think you meant "data". Cheers!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks! Spelling has never been my strong suite. ;)

      Delete
  6. I am considering a tiny home, where can I go to find one already made in or near to Pennsylvania?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The only builder I know of right in that area is https://www.liberationtinyhomes.com. They do really nice work!

      Delete
  7. BlueHost is one of the best hosting company for any hosting plans you might require.

    ReplyDelete