About broadband internet and cell service — information for real estate buyers in Sullivan County, NY


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 less 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 landline phone company in the county, only offers it in the more "urban" parts of Sullivan (Liberty, Monticello and south towards Wurtsboro.) It is generally not available in the Verizon-served areas in the northern, western and northeast parts of Sullivan.

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.

DSL has slower download speeds than cable or even satellite, typically topping out around 3MB. But Frontier is in the process of upgrading much of its DSL network (in 2015) to double download speeds to the 6MB/sec range.

Cellular Wireless: 4G/LTE can be a good option if you get good cell reception and don't have access to cable or DSL. Verizon Wireless has the largest cell coverage footprint throughout the county, with 4G/LATE fully implemented. AT&T has been expanding its coverage area and upgrading to LTE. But beware — both of these carriers, have largely metered data on their plans, and downloading a Netflix movie in HD can eat up a lot of bandwith.

Sprint and T-Mobile's all-you-can-eat data plans can be attractive in the city and suburbs, with almost coverage. But here in Sullivan County both providers have much more limited coverage. So be sure to check. Note, also, that Sprint roams voice on Verizon's network, but data roaming is much more limited.

If you don't get  cell reception inside your home, but find you can pick up a signal and make a call 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.

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, because 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 Hughes, 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, downloading a movie or streaming music 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. Wall Street traders and online multi-person gamers may also find the satellite time lag less than acceptable.

Satellite download speeds have improved a LOT over the past few years, and now download speeds on Hughes and Exede rival cable.

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 companies also have 'free' overnight download periods on some of their plans, where usage isn't metered. Be sure to check out the free download options, as they can vary by plan.

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 in more apprent 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 AT&T has been playing catch up and there are  some areas where AT&T coverage is better than Verizon. 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 LTE data). 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 an AT&T 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 (or vice versa) 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.