Fiber-free zone: FCC finances 25 Mbps, data-covered satellite in rural areas

Enlarge / Viasat-2, a satellite launched by Viasat in 2017.

The Federal Communications Commission gives $ 87.1 million in national broadband funding to satellite operator Viasat to help the company lower prices and increase data caps.

The Connect America Fund of the FCC generally pays ISPs to extend their networks to rural areas that do not have proper internet access at home. The Viasat satellite service already covers 98 percent of the US population in 50 states, so it doesn’t need government funding to expand its network like wireline operators. But Viasat will use the money to offer internet services “at a lower cost to consumers, while also allowing higher usage fees than it usually offers in areas where it does not receive support for Connect America Fund,” the FCC said in its announcement yesterday.

The $ 87.1 million from Viasat will be used over the next 10 years “to provide service to more than 121,700 remote and rural homes and businesses in 17 states.” Viasat must offer speeds of at least 25 Mbps for downloads and 3 Mbps for uploads.

While funding for Viasat could certainly improve access for some people, the project helps to illustrate how great the broadband shortage is in rural parts of many states. Viasat service is generally a last option for people in areas where there is no fiber or cable and where DSL is not good enough to provide a reasonably fast and stable connection. Viasat customers have to pay high prices for low speeds and heavy data limits.

Future services that rely on satellites with a low orbit around the earth from companies such as SpaceX and OneWeb can significantly increase speeds and data caps and lower latency. But the Viasat service still relies on satellites in geostationary orbits about 22,000 miles above the planet and suffering from a latency of nearly 600 ms, far worse than the 10 ms to 20 ms of fiber optic services (as measured in FCC customer homes in September 2017 ). The Viasat service is classified by the FCC’s Connect America Fund as “high latency” that is less than or equal to 750 ms.

The Connect America Fund is paid by Americans through charges on their telephone bill.

Prices and data caps not disclosed

A Viasat spokesperson would not tell us what the prices and data caps will be applied to the FCC-funded plans of the company. Viasat said it will provide the required 25Mbps service “along with an evolving user charge and at FCC-defined prices, for certain areas, where we will be subject to a new set of federal and national regulations.”

The materials released by the FCC yesterday also provide no information about prices and data hood. We have contacted the FCC and will update this article when we receive answers.

Viasat’s current prices and data allocations are pretty poor, so hopefully there is a significant improvement. Plans and prices vary per postcode; offers listed on BroadbandNow include $ 50 per month for download speeds of up to 12 Mbps and only 12 GB of “priority data” per month. The price rises after a two-year contract expires.

“Once the priority data has been used up, speeds will be reduced to 1 to 5 Mbps during the day and possibly below 1 Mbps after 5:00 PM,” says the BroadbandNow summary. Customers can use data without affecting the limit between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m.

Other subscriptions include $ 75 per month for speeds of 12 Mbps and 25 GB priority data; $ 100 per month for 12 Mbps and 50 GB; and $ 150 per month for 25 Mbps and “unlimited” data. Even with the so-called unlimited subscription, speeds can “have priority over other customers during network congestion” after using 100 GB per month. Because of these heavy limits, Viasat lowers the quality of streaming video to reduce data usage. Viasat says it offers speeds of up to 100 Mbps, but only ‘in certain areas’.

Viasat also charges installation costs, an equipment lease of $ 10 per month and taxes and fees. Viasat offers a 2-year prize slot, but this does not apply to taxes and fees. To avoid signing a 2-year contract, you must pay a $ 300 fee for “No Long-Term Contract.”

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