Internet Tutorials | John Faughnan | Robert Elson

Small ISPs and Rural Internet Access

  • Caveat
  • Introduction
  • Recommendation
  • When there's NO Local Service Provider
  • rev: 01 Nov 2004.


    This is a very old page. Don't be fooled by the "last revised" date, this page was last updated @ 1998! I'm leaving it up for now as a historical document and a source of ideas, but it may be more "noise" than value. If you think I should remove it email me using the address in the footer.


    Until 1997/98 many rural areas lacked local dial-up access. Now not only do most small towns and villages have local access, many have high speed cable modem or ISDN service that is unavailable in many urban areas.

    Nowadays the issues with rural internet access are much the same as issues with using a "small" or community Internet Service Provider (ISP). Most ISPs in rural areas are small businesses with one or two employees. Computer facilities may be relatively limited. These companies are more likely to go out of business than, say, AT&T. More importantly, they are small enough so that if they do go out of business, no-one may take them over. You lose your Internet connection, but, much more seriously, your email address dies. The same issues apply if you choose to use a small ISP in an urban area because of price, support, or extra services (typically web services).


    Fortunately, we have a work-around for the email problem. It depends on the surprising fact that you don't have to get your email service from the ISP you connect to.

    1. Follow our standard recommendations if you have more than one local ISP to choose from. Getting Connected: Rules of Thumb.
    2. Get email service somewhere else. Your best choice may be a college or university. Many colleges and universities offer lifelong email addresses to alumni. These are great email addresses, unless you think your university is going to disappear. Often you can become an alumni member for as little as $25 a year. Some universities will let you be an "alumnus" even if you never attended. Otherwise you could sign up with an ISP like MindSpring at their "low use" rate, just for email service. Or you could use a web-based service like HotMail for your email.
    3. Ask your local ISP to set up your email accounts with them so their address "forwards" to your alumni, permanent address.
    4. Now that you have two email addresses, use your local ISP address as your "public" address, and the alumni address as your "unlisted" address. Use the public address when registering on web sites, joining lists, giving to patients, etc. Give the alumni address to friends, colleagues, etc. After a few years, if you're getting too much junk mail at the "public" address, just shut it down and get a new one. See also: Fighting Spam: Multiple email addresses.

    When there's NO Local Service Provider

    Every month there are fewer communities in North America that lack local dial-up access to the Internet. If you fall into that category, some of these recommendations may be of use. These go back a 2-4 years and are quite dated. I've removed contact information because of the usual spam problems.

    Start a Local ISP

    This is probably the best solution. Get together with local schools, entrepreneurs, etc. and start up an ISP. Might be a good investment opportunity.

    In small communities connection costs may be on the order of $50/month for dial-up access.

    800 number Solution

    Many ISPs offer "toll-free" 800 or 888 numbers. Typical charge is an additional $5.00/hour. This adds up fast.

    Use of a "re-routing" box. Less than $2.00/hr.

    A small group of local business people started an Internet provider service in town here by using a "re-routing box" that connected us with a larger provider in a bigger city. We therefore had a local access number with no long-distance charge and with SLIP/PPP access. The cost is CA $20.00 per month for one hour per day. Extra hours each day are CA$2.00 per hour. (Canada)

    Small Town Direct Access Solution: Less than $1.00/hr.

    Toward the end of 1994 Plymouth was fortunate enough to be chosen as one of three sites for the Rural Datafication Project sponsored by a grant from the National Science Foundation.
    The project through the NSF grant was sponsored by the local county extension office of Purdue University, and the internet access (both terminal and SLIP/PPP) was free. Now the grant money is running out, but it appears to have served its purpose. The local school system has recognized how much support there is for local internet access and has decided to provide access when the current system expires.

    Florida Medical Association: $25/month for unlimited toll-free access

    The Florida Medical Association is providing toll-free access to rural physicians (MedOne) at the same rate as local dial-up: $25/month or $250/year with unlimited access. This is available only within Florida to FMA members. JSS Enterprises (904-942-0656) is in negotiation with other states (not MN) to have their respective medical societies assume responsibility for rural/local access. JSS is talking with Sprint. JSS recommended contact our local medical association and have a representative call them if interested.

    Polaris TelCom: Limited rural access for $1.00/hr

    We are currently looking at Polaris TelCom--a subsidiary of MEANS to provide local dial-up service for our communities. Polaris provides various "packages" for rural sites starting I believe at $9.95 for 10 hours. They can provide service to about 75% of our communites but some of the more distant sites still can only connect via long distance call or AOL etc.

    Last Revised: 01 Feb 2002. Author: John G. Faughnan M.D. and Robert Elson M.D. Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this and related pages are strictly those of the page authors. Anyone may link to or print out any of these pages.