Bridging the Internet Divide

Accessing the internet is a powerful tool to help you communicate with other people, search for information and learn. There are many tools that you can use to monitor your farm's conditions in real-time - but you need a solid internet connection! Recognizing this need, the Government of Canada has committed $7.6 billion to ensure that 98% of Canadians will have access to a high-speed, dependable internet service by 2026, with 100% planned for 2030.  There are several options for high speed internet access out there - read on to learn more and explore solutions for high-speed internet access on your farm.

Important Considerations

When thinking about getting internet access on your farm, there is a lot to consider. You’ll need to think about what’s available to you, what you want out of your internet service, how much you’re willing to pay and so on. When choosing the right internet for you, here are some factors you need to consider:

1. Availability

Perhaps your location is remote, you live in a valley or lower area, or you have a lot of trees on your property.  Each of these factors can affect the type of internet service available to you.  If you’re looking for a new provider, checking with your neighbors is a great place to start.  The Government of Canada maintains a National Broadband Internet Service Availability Map where you can see the providers available to you in your area by the type of service provided (more types of services later).  If you’re in Alberta, you can use the Internet Service Coverage Search provided by the Government of Alberta. https://www.servicealberta.ca/WISP_Search.cfm

2. What are your requirements?

Internet speeds are reported in Mbps or megabits per second – this refers to the amount of data that is being transferred per second.  Download speed refers to how quickly you receive data from the internet to your device; Upload speed refers to how quickly you can transmit data from your device to the internet.

The number of devices and activity on each device will help you determine your minimum requirements. If you have several devices or several users on your farm you’ll need faster download and upload speeds. For more details on how download and upload speeds you can view this resource from Hello Tech. 

3. Contract and terms of service

Some internet services require a contract to access lower fees or free installation – but be aware that cancelling early will likely result in cancellation fees. Some plans have discounted values for the first couple of months, so make sure you are ok with the value you will have to pay after the initial discount period is over. Also, be aware of the terms of your service, some plans have a specific amount of data you can access per month. If you go over your limit you may have to pay extra or have slower internet for the remainder of the month.

4. Customer service

Even the best internet might go through some problems. Make sure you know how to contact your provider and get technical support when you need it. 

Internet Service Types

As we mentioned earlier, the National Broadband Internet Service Availability Map will show you what services are available in your area (this list may not be complete, but it is a good place to start).  The Availability Map shares providers by the type of service provided in a given area. Below is a description of the most popular kinds of internet.

  1. Dial-up: This is likely the way most of us started accessing the internet.  It is an old way of connecting to the internet. It is usually very inexpensive, but it requires a landline to work. You cannot make a call while using dial-up internet. Dialup connection has slow internet speed, because of that, video and audio chats are not possible. This type of connection is likely available in some locations but is obsolete.  However, for some types of data monitoring on your farm, this may be an option! 
  2. DSL (Digital subscriber line): DSL provides internet access through a telephone landline but internet and phone can be used at the same time. It is faster than a dialup connection. DSL is reliable, affordable, and often available in areas that do not have access to cable or fiber internet.  
  3. Cable: Cable internet is typically only available in urban areas.  It uses a modem that connects the internet through the same cable that provides TV services. Its speed is comparable to DSL and it is usually available at a wide range of prices. Reliability is a concern with cable internet because the coaxial cables used by this type of connection are susceptible to network congestion during peak usage times.  You will likely pay a higher monthly feed to access higher speeds on this type of service.
  4. Fixed Point Wireless : Fixed Point Wireless Internet has likely been the most common method for rural customers to connect to the internet until fairly recently. This connection uses line-of-sight radio towers to transmit data to a receiver antenna on your property.  Since the antenna needs a direct line of sight with the hub, if there are hills, trees, buildings, or other obstacles nearby, the connection might not work effectively.  Some customers have installed their antennas on a tower, or on top of a taller outbuilding to receive a good signal.  You will likely pay a higher monthly feed to access higher speeds on this type of service.
  5. Fiber optic: As the name says, it uses fiber-optic cables to transmit large amounts of information quickly. It is very fast and reliable but not available in many rural areas due to the limitations and costs of creating the network infrastructure.
  6. High Earth Orbit Satellite: This type requires a special dish to connect to geostationary satellites orbiting the Earth (approximately 35,000 kilometers above earth). For this type of satellite you only need a clear view of the sky towards the satellite. Due to the distance that the signal must travel, there is a delayed connection or lag. Satellite providers may limit the amount of data you can use per month.  Basic satellite internet is not very fast and plans with higher speeds or more data are often expensive but it may be the only type available in remote areas. 
  7. Low Earth Orbit Satellite: In the past couple of years another type of satellite internet has become available. Low Earth Orbit satellite internet has lower lag because the satellites are closer to Earth (approximately 550 kilometers). LEO satellite can also provide higher speeds.  The antenna requires a fully unobstructed view of the sky. Some plans allow you to take your satellite antenna with you as you travel (for an additional fee).
  8. Cellular or Mobile: All major mobile phone companies have a mobile internet option that uses the same network as your mobile phone. Depending on the company, this type may be called a rocket  or smart hub and may also provide home phone service using the same device.  This type can be useful if you are travelling and want to take your service with you.  Speed will be limited by the cellular network in your area.  The major drawback to this type of service is the cost of data – some provider plans start at only 5GB of data for the month while others offer up to 500 GB of data per month.  

Making the Most of your Connection

Did you know that you can beam your internet service from your house to your barn or wherever you need it?  Wireless Bridge technology utilizes two small antennas to beam a signal from the house to the barn.  Have multiple places you’d like to have an internet connection, perhaps a grain drying shack?  Not a problem!  Just add another dish.  You do require line-of-sight to make this technology work and an installer familiar with the technology.  In the experience of the author, we are able to beam a signal from the home office to the farm shop a mile down the road.  It works so well we are able to use a cloud-based security camera system to monitor the farm 24/7.  

There are other technologies out there that specialize in connecting your farm – some even allow you to connect grids miles wide so you can be connected when you’re out in the field (a mesh type system).  

If you have more questions, do not hesitate to contact us at brendar17.sg-host.com

About the author(s)

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Born and raised on a mixed farm just outside of Edmonton, Brenda has experience with all kinds of poultry and has a passion for extension.