An upcoming option for Internet access

While Monterey is in the process of offering high-speed access to the Internet, and New Marlborough will offer Charter/Spectrum cable access available this spring/early summer there are a few other options, and one more literally on the horizon. (If you’re interested in Monterey’s fiber, you can get early sign-up discounts here.)

Image by PIRO4D from Pixabay. Open license from Pixabay

The existing options used to include getting a slow DSL line from Verizon, but apparently they’re not installing any new ones. For the past few years, many on the Lake have had access via their cell phones to what is now a T-Mobile cell tower. More recently Some of the Lake gets access via a Verizon tower. In both cases with a service plan you can browse the Net on your cellphone or use your cellphone as a wifi hot spot by “tethering” it. You can get better reception and sometimes special plans from the mobile companies by buying a special router designed for Internet data. The routers can be a bit pricey, and virtually all plans — even ones that tout “unlimited data” — drop you down to 2G speeds good for email and other text-based communications if you go over their monthly limit. Some of them let you purchase more data for the month, but many don’t.

Our 2 two towers: Green is T-Mobile. Red is Verizon. From

Verizon coverage map
Verizon’s map of coverage. Red = covered (source)

T-Mobile claims to have complete 5G coverage (including 4G) (source)

If you’re going to rely on those cell towers, offers the only truly unlimited data plan that I’ve found. (Chime in in the comments.) You have to buy a special industrial strength router that has the advantage of being able to get a strong signal from the AT&T tower, and it doesn’t cap your “unlimited” data. At about $300 for the router and about $100/month for the data, it is not the cheapest plan. (Last year they ran out of SIM cards for the router. They hope to have them this year. And of course the prices may change.) Also, now has a plan that cuts in half the usual price per gigabyte for data once you’ve passed your limit, if the company lets you buy any extra data at all; the extra data costs $5/gig at Ting. You may discover better deals elsewhere. If so, please consider posting them in the comments. (Disclosure: I have friends at Ting. I’m also a customer, but have no commercial interest in them.)

Now for the new possibility. You may have heard of this Elon Musk guy. One of this projects is becoming real, or at least it’s in beta. His company, Starlink, is putting 12,000 communication satellites into orbit. With a ground antenna you’ll be able to connect to the Internet. The current plan is for the dish antenna to cost $500 to install, and the monthly fee will be $100. So, not cheap. On the other hand, early users are reporting speeds of about 100mbps (megabits per second). This is at least twice as fast as our best speed when connected to the T-Mobile cell tower. And, as far as I know, the plan is not to limit the amount of data you can use.

No word on whether you’ll be able to subscribe only for the summer months.

Also, people’s speeds will depend at least somewhat —but how much? —on the simultaneous usage by others connecting to the same satellite.

Starlink lets you sign up for the beta for free and without committing to the service, but there’s no indication of how likely it is that you’ll get onto the beta. We may well have to wait until it’s actually in production. When will that be? Ask Elon Musk.

Starlink’s download speed is one tenth of what fiber connections provide. But if and when Starlink is available, and if it actually works as promises, it should at least give us more than enough Internet connectivity for streaming and zooming, if somewhat short of providing Star Trek “Beam me up” capabilities. Whether it works as promised and makes economic sense for us is TBD.

Please use the comments to correct any errors I’ve made and to report on your own experiences. Happy connecting!

Better internet is coming, but Monterey residents need to act

Internet availability, or the lack thereof, has been a frequent topic of discussion and in many cases, angst, over the last decade.  Even with the AT&T cell tower offering interim relief, those of us who use it for data have seen a pronounced degradation over holiday weekends due peak demand.  Fortunately, there is progress being made.  For homes in New Marlborough, the town has entered into an agreement with Spectrum and work is underway. The targeted go live date is in the first half of 2021.

For residents on the other side of the lake in Monterey, the log jam between the State and Fiber Connect (FC) has been broken and the State will release about $1.1 million to FC to wire 96% of the town with fiber optic lines PROVIDED 51% of the Monterey households commit now.  Without that commitment, the State will not release the funding and FC will not move forward.  Furthermore, since FC has already wired a significant portion of Monterey, no other company will likely enter the market.

As of July, 2020 FC had received commitments from 39%.  If you are interested in true broadband and have not contacted FC about your interest, you may want to do so now. In addition, FC is offering some very attractive installation discounts if you commit now.

Even if you don’t see the need personally for broadband access,  it is fair to say your property values will be adversely impacted by the lack of broadband availability.

An alternative way to connect to the Net

For those cottages that have relied on Verizon’s DSL for Internet connectivity, the story seems to be getting worse every year. But there’s an alternative that so far has been working well for us.

The problem

DSL uses existing phone lines to provide Internet connectivity. This means the access provider doesn’t have to install special cables to connect users. But telephones lines are far from the optimum medium for the Internet: DSL is routinely advertised as providing speeds of 15Mbps (megabits per second) and sometimes more, which is below the FCC’s definition of “broadband” as at least 25Mbps. That’s why Verizon refers to DSL as “High Speed Internet,” as marketers will. Still, 15Mbps is plenty for browsing the Web and streaming music.

Except as Verizon DSL users at the Lake, we have not ever gotten anywhere close to 15Mbps. We’ve routinely limped along with 1.5Mbps, and on a very good day, 2.5Mbps. For this we paid Verizon about $70/month, which included a landline. During the winter when we suspended service, we paid Verizon about $30/month for the privilege of not using their service.

Then this summer our connection dropped to 0.6Mbps and lower. Our upload speeds, which are always lower than download speeds, dropped to 0. If more than one person was using the Web, the connection became unusable. Verizon checked our lines and declared that everything was just fine, and 0.6Mbps was totally within the range we’d contracted for. And, no, there was no higher tier that we could pay for in order to get minimally viable connectivity.

It has been widely reported, and not always denied, that Verizon wants out of the DSL business.  So chalk it up to my cynicism that I think it plausible that Verizon has been lowering DSL speeds in order to chase people off of their service.

If so, it’s worked on us.

A Solution

We were on the verge of going with a satellite dish solution when my nephew suggested a device like a MoFi SIM4 Gateway. I know it sounds technical, but the idea is simple.

On a hill on the northwest side of the Lake you can see a lonely AT&T cellphone tower. A device like the ones from MoFi sends signals to and from that tower just the way an AT&T cellphone does. But the MoFi device only uses the connection to send and receive Internet data. It’s like a cellphone that you only use for data, not for phone calls.

The MoFi device also creates a wifi hotspot so anyone with the password can connect their laptop, tablet, Alexa, Google Home or any other wifi-enabled device to it, and then through the MoFi to the Internet.

AT&T sells a device that does the same thing: the Nighthawk. It costs about half as much –. the MoFi device costs $315 – but the the MoFi has far more powerful antennas for connecting to the cell tower.

Setting up the MoFi device entailed choosing a name for our wifi hotspot, and an administrative password and a user password. The box itself is about 3 x 4 inches  and is mounted indoors with a power supply that plugs into a normal outlet.

If you decide to get the MoFi, you’ll also need a data plan; this is like a normal cell phone plan except you won’t get a phone connection. There are some issues with AT&T’s own data plan, though. Most important, it limits how much data you can use per month. After 10 gigabytes, AT&T throttles the connection for the rest of that month. If you have a few people doing the sorts of things people do with the Internet these days, you may hit that limit.

So we instead decided to get a data plan from In fact, we bought our MoFi router through them; it’s the same price but they pre-install the sim card and configure the device for you. Ubifi has three advantages over AT&T’s data plan.

First, it is unlimited. Use all the data you want.

Second, the support people I spoke with were great. There’s no big phone tree to navigate, and no scripts the support people are required to speak from. The support folks were friendly and super competent.

Third, while the per month charge is $90, and thus substantially more than AT&T’s data plan and even more than Verizon’s DSL + landline charge, Ubifi lets you suspend your service for free. No monthly charges at all. They can do this because you don’t actually suspend your service. You cancel it. To re-start it, you pay $30 for a new sim card and you’re good to go. This makes the annual cost more attractive for those of us who are summer residents.

Our experience with the Mofi so far has been good. The unit arrived in three business days as promised. The Ubifi support folks said that while the bandwidth depends upon how strong the reception is, their users typically get 15-40Mbps. We are getting 15-25Mbps, depending on factors we don’t know and can’t measure. That’s about 25 times the bandwidth we were getting from Verizon. ( is reportedly a reliable way of testing your bandwidth.)

So far so good.

(Note: I have no connection to any of the companies mentioned here.)