Over the years, numerous studies have provided evidence that rural Americans are less likely than their urban counterparts to own a computer and have access to the Internet. Although recent data show the "digital divide" is closing, many rural areas still are without high-speed, internet connections.
But that's not to say it's impossible to get broadband in the Heartland. As David Miller discovered last spring, some companies are investing an astronomical amount of money in space-age technology to satisfy rural America's "need for speed."
Amy Caniglia is playing an on-line game with her children that requires a high-speed internet connection. This may not seem particularly significant until you discover the Caniglia's live in Jefferson, Colorado. Jefferson is located in a remote part of the state where hard-wired broadband internet service of any kind is unavailable. But the family has found another way to get on the information superhighway by traveling an additional 22,500 miles into outer space. They are making a broadband internet connection via satellite through WildBlue Communications.
Amy Caniglia, Jefferson, Colorado: "...we were using dial-up. So, you couldn't get anything else done on the telephone while your using the computer or the, ya know, fax machine. So, it took a lot longer to do everything."
Having satellite service has allowed Caniglia to take an additional digital step and add a wireless network to her home. This allows the use of her laptop anywhere in the house...including the kitchen table.
Caniglia's decision to switch to WildBlue required no extra thought. In 2005, she stopped at this store located 16 miles from Jefferson in Fairplay, Colorado. Caniglia, who is operates a real estate business in nearby Alma, Colorado, had the service installed in her office almost immediately.
Amy Caniglia, Caniglia Group: "...when I started in real-estate in '99, ah, we used the internet very little. ...back then they had books that they would send out once a month. So the information was pretty much obsolete when we went out to look at a property."
Last September, Caniglia had the service installed in her home so she could spend more time with her two young children.
Amy Caniglia, Caniglia Group: "Now that they're a little bit older, pre-school age, um I find I need to get things done quicker around here so I can, ya know, if I'm going to work at home, I need to get get it done faster."
Currently, Wild Blue is only available in the Continental United States. Sales and installation of the necessary equipment is handled by more than 2,000 independent distributors.
The company offers three levels of service with download speeds ranging from 512 kilobits per second to 1.5 megabits per second in at prices ranging from approximately $50 to $80 per month. Even though these download speeds are slower than most hard-wired services, customers have not made any complaints about WildBlue's speed.
David Leonard, CEO, WildBlue Communications: "Anybody who has experienced broadband connectivity finds it virtually impossible to go back to a dial up environment"
David Leonard, Wild Blue's CEO, has heard more than his share of testimonials from customers more than pleased with the switch from dial-up to WildBlue.
David Leonard, CEO, WildBlue Communications: "Our customers really they're a very diverse group. Some are telecommuters who have moved to the country to "get away from it all." But they find once they're there getting away from it all if that means severing connectivity to a broadband platform."
The entire operation is controlled from a secure facility in Denver, Colorado. From here, more than 200 employees take care of several duties including monitoring the broadband satellite signal, answering complex support questions, and supervising system security.
Up until March of this year, WildBlue could only supply service to 100,000 subscribers. The limiting factor was the capacity of the equipment being leased on-board Anik F2, a satellite in orbit more than 22,000 miles above the earth. But last December, the company launched its own satellite from French Guyana. The $350 million investment in Wild Blue1 has allowed the innovative internet service provider to open its doors to more than 750,000 new customers.
David Leonard, CEO, WildBlue Communications: "...it's one of the most intense experiences that you'll ever have because here you spend basically 350 million dollars on an asset and you load it onto what is effectively a bomb and hope that all goes well at the time of the launch which it did."
Al Wood, a fourth generation farmer, has 50 head of feeder cattle just outside the town of Estherville, Iowa. Even though he lives a little farther than six miles from town as far as broadband internet goes he may as well be living next door to the Caniglia's in Colorado.
Al Wood, River Oaks Farm: "I called my local phone company which is actually a fairly wide coverage area and asked for DSL if I could get that. No, we don't have that equipment available in your area. So, I was relegated to dial up. And I think I had 28 kilobits I believe at the time and it was amazingly, agonizingly slow."
Wood was able to find relief. His electric service provider, the Iowa Lakes Electric Cooperative, had been testing satellite internet services and offered him a chance to test out WildBlue in 2005. Wood made the switch and has never looked back.
Al Wood, River Oaks Farm: "...first thing I do in the morning is plug in the coffee pot and then I go to my computer and check the weather, check my e-mail, check markets and whatever else I might be interested in that day. It's possible that I need to buy some cattle, I can go get a time and a place for an online auction ... "
When WildBlue began marketing its service in mid-2005, Iowa Lakes was limited to 200 subscribers. Now, with WildBlue1 in orbit, officials at the cooperative are looking forward to marketing the service to all of their 9,000 members.
The idea of being connected in remote locations has gone beyond being an experiment in technology. Wood and Canigila both agree that having a high-speed internet connection has become more than just a luxury.
Al Wood, River Oaks Farm: "...this is a necessity, absolute necessity. I don't have the patience or the time to stay with dial up. It just doesn't meet the needs that I would have..."
For Market to Market, I'm David Miller.