High Speed Internet and Cell Phone Service

City dwellers take high speed internet connectivity and universal cell coverage for granted. But that's not necessarily the case in rural areas like Sullivan County. Here's the scoop on what you need to consider.

High Speed Internet

Cable: Time Warner is the cable company serving Sullivan County, but cable service is not universally available throughout the county. Cable is generally available in villages and hamlets and along main roads. Cable is hit or miss on secondary roads, and depends on the density of houses along those roads. The rule of thumb is that the more remote or dense an area, the less likely there will be cable. If there isn't cable at a house, you can pay Time Warner to run it from the nearest cable-served location, but it isn't cheap — about $4 per foot (or $20,000 per mile.) So if you're looking at a house in the country, don't just assume there will be cable. Check out whether the location is cable-served.

DSL: DSL (Digital Subsriber Line) high speed internet from the phone company has limited availability in Sullivan County. Verizon, the main phone company in the county, only offers it in the more "urban" parts of Sullivan (Liberty, Monticello and south towwards Wurtsboro.) It is generally not available in the Verizon-served areas in the northern, western and northeast parts of Sullivan (i.e. Neversink township.)

Parts of Sullivan County are served by Frontier Communications, which does offer DSL service throughout most of its service area. Frontier-served parts of the county include areas around Roscoe in the 607 area code, as well as areas in the southwestern part of Sullivan County south from Narrowsburg. Many parts of the southwest around Eldred, Barryville and Glen Spey are Frontier-served, but you need to check because Verizon and Frontier dovetail each other down there in a patchwork. While Frontier offers much more DSL coverage in its service areas than Verizon does in theirs, it's not universal — so be sure to check.

Cellular Wireless: Throughout much of Sullivan County, Verizon Wireless' cellular data is still 3G (EVDO Rev A). with download speeds in the range of 800K, and upload speeds of around 300K ro 400K. If you get good Verizon cell reception, and don't have cable or DSL available, this can be a good option. (Note: while Sprint roams voice on the Verizon network here, if you have Sprint EVDO data service in the city, it will NOT roam on the Verizon EVDO network here. Sprint's data will throttle back to 1X dial-up speeds on the Verizon network.) You can either purchase an AirCard for Verizon data service, or depending on your phone, use it as a hotspot. Note, however, with Verizon 3G you can't be on a phone call and be internet-connected at the same time with this option.

Verizon is rapidly expanding its 4G/LTE network, with large swatches of Sullivan County already covered. Verizon is currently equipping the rest of its towers with 4G, and expects to have it turned on throughout its service area here in 2013. One big benefit of 4G/LTE, besides the much higher transfer speeds over 3G, is that, if you use your smartphone as a hotspot, you can be on a voice call AND have data service at the same time.

If you don't get Verizon cell reception inside your home, but find you can make a call out on your deck, standing by an upstairs window or walking up your driveway, you may benefit from a cell booster that can pump the cell signal into your home using an external antenna connected to an inside signal booster. I use one at my house, and it works great. Wilson Electronics is the primary manufacturer of cell boosters. Check out my Feb. 2009 blog post on my cell booster. Note that as of Dec. 2012, there are no boosters that boost both 3G and 4G/LTE signals, although Wilson has announced it will be introducing a dual booster "soon." So if you have a weak 4G/LTE signal at your house, and get a 4G/LTE booster, current models will also not boost phone or data signals for 3G phones. (Cronk's Electronics in Liberty installs boosters. See under 'Satellite Internet' below.)

The big negative with cellular wireless is that for most customers, data is metered. It's not an "all you can eat" buffet like you're used to with internet. Downloading movies, videos and tv shows can eat up a lot of data. Most people with download-limited wireless (or satellite, see below) connections here and regular high speed connections in the city adjust, doing their heavy downloading in the city and bringing it up with them, i.e. downloading movies from iTunes or Amazon and bringing them up to watch. This doesn't work for Netflix, though, ecause Netflix only streams and doesn't have a download option.

Satellite. Satellite internet (Hughesnet or Exede/Wildblue) are the most widely available high speed internet options in rural areas not served by cable or DSL. I live in an area not served by any of the other options, and have satellite (used to have Highes, have switched to Exede). Satellite internet, however, does have its limitations. The biggest negative over other options is the time lag. When you send a page request, it travels from your dish to a satellite about 60,000 miles above the earth and then down to a receiving station. The page that gets returned makes the same trip in reverse. This takes anywhere from 800 to 1600 milliseconds. (A page requested through a cable connection might take 60 to 150 milliseconds by comparison.) For regular websurfing and email, it's really not all that noticeable. But if you need to use a VPN (virtual private network) or connect remotely to your desktop from work (a remote desktop), it is very noticeable. Also, because of the time lag, some applications like Voice Over IP phones (Vonage or Skype) or video chat and meeting applications, do not work as smoothly as over hardwired or even cellular wireless connections. (Although, with Exede, Skype --- either audio only, or audio and video --- works much better than it did on Hughes.) Wall Street traders and online multi-person games may also find the satellite time lag less than acceptable.

With Hughes, download speeds top out in the 1.5Mb range. Exede, a new offering from ViaSat, the owner of Wildblue, offers much higher download and upload speeds. With my new Exede service, I've clocked download speeds in the 15Mb range, with uploads above 2Mb/sec. Both services have usage caps for the amount you can download, but there are significant differences between the two companies. With Hughes, you get a daily cap (about 400 MB / day for their mid range, $80 a month plan). You can roll one day's unused allotment forward a day, and get a couple of 'tokens' every month to reset your daily usage (and purchase more), so you can cobble together an occasional daily download allotment of about 1Gb. That's about one hour of a tv show downloaded from iTunes or Netflix. (Dec. 2012 note: Hughes launched a new satellite this fall, and is offering speeds competitive with Exede, and plans with a monthly rather than daily data allotment.)

With Exede you get a monthly download allotment (15GB on their mid level, $80 a month plan). That may be more appealing to second home folks who may only use their internet connection here a couple of days a week. They also offer a $130/month plan with 25GB of monthly download.

Both Hughes and Exede offer a 'free' download period, though, during the overnight hours, when you can download without using up your allotment. (Actually, there is a monthly cap on Hughes, but it's generous) overnight downloads. The two companies vary slightly in their free download hours.

The last concern with satellite is that it can be affected by weather, although much less often than you'd think. Satellite connections are affected by "rain fade". It doesn't happen every time it rains, but with particularly heavy thick rain. In my experience, there has been very little impact from snow (except when heavy, wet snow accumulates on the dish and I have to go out with a long handled broom and brush it off.)

Finally, the only requirement for satellite internet is that you have a clear view of the southern sky. So if you're on a north facing slope or deep valley location, it may not be an option for you.

If you're thinking of installing satellite internet (or satellite TV for that matter), I'd recommend you contact Cronk's Electronics in Liberty. Phone: 845-795-3231. Prices are the same as if you ordered the service direct from Hughesnet or Exede/Wildblue, and they're great folks with great service. If you ever need your dish repositioned or have some other problem, their service is really responsive.

Cell Phone Service

Verizon Wireless tends to have the best coverage in Sullivan County. AT&T coverage is more hit or miss, but there are a few areas where AT&T coverage is somewhat better. Narrowsburg, for example, has very good AT&T coverage but little to no Verizon coverage. Sprint will roam for voice in most of the Verizon Wireless service areas (but for voice only, not EVDO or LTE data). Nextel and T-Mobile users have much more limited coverage here; you'll generally find service along the Route 17 corridor but much spottier when you get away from Route 17.

Sullivan County has a lot of hilly terrain, and that can greatly affect cell reception. Moving as little as a hundred yards can greatly affect your ability to get reception. If you checked out cell reception at a house you saw on one side of a lake, and then look at a house on the other side of the lake, don't assume you'll get good cell reception there, too. Check it out. Don't rely on the coverage maps on the cellular company sites. They're VERY approximate here because of the terrain. I've seen folks pick up a Nextel signal in an area that shouldn't have one based on the maps, and I've gotten no Verizon service in an area smack in the middle of their coverage area.

If cell service is important to you, be prepared to change carriers. Sure, you may still have 9 months left on your AT&T contract, but you may have to break it and switch to Verizon to get cell reception here.

If you don't get cell service at your house, all is not lost. If you have a land line, you can just forward your cell to your landline when you get close to your house, and turn off forwarding when you leave to go back to the city. It works surprisingly well, and even the most 24/7 connected people can adapt pretty well. Or if you get weak cell service, for example, standing on your deck or at the top of your driveway, a cell booster (see Wireless Internet above) may solve your cellular problem. Cell boosters also come in mobile versions for use in your car.