How Local Internet Alternatives Compare to All Points’ Universal Fiber Proposition | Broadband

As Rappahannock County officials head toward the possibility of striking a deal with private internet provider All Points Broadband to bring universal fiber to the county, some opponents of the proposal say there are already several alternatives sufficient connectivity.

While most recognize the central role of internet connection in 21st century life, some remain skeptical about whether the county should commit millions of dollars to install fiber optic cables. Skeptics point to the availability of service from Starlink, Piedmont Broadband and HughesNet, all as alternative internet options for some in the county.

“We should think long and hard, with healthy skepticism, before committing the county and its taxpayers to millions of dollars in fiber optic cabling,” Rappahannock resident Ron Maxwell wrote in a recent letter to the editor, saying the availability of Starlink and Piedmont broadband precludes what many say is the need for universal fiber.

While each option may offer good internet service to some, there are many caveats that prevent one of them from being the answer for everyone, especially compared to what All Points says she can provide.

All Points Proposal

The network is expected to include approximately 3,785 miles of fibre, which is much more reliable than satellite or towers and can be much faster, with over 200 miles of routes within Rappahannock Electric Cooperative’s fiber utility network . More than 300 miles will consist of routes within the Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative network, approximately 2,500 miles will be built by All Points and an additional 660 miles by Dominion Energy.

Parts of Flint Hill, Washington, Sperryville and Amissville will not be covered as they are already considered serviced. However, residents of these areas who do not have high-speed Internet can request a special installation.

After the $199 setup fee, All Points’ cheapest monthly service plan of $59.99, with a one-year service commitment, includes the necessary equipment and download and download speeds. download of up to 50 Mbps (megabits per second), which is enough to comfortably stream video.

For reference, netflix recommends 5 Mbps for HD video streaming and 25 Mbps for 4K Ultra HD streaming. Zoom requires 3.8 Mbps for HD group video calls.Youtube requires 5 Mbps for HD video streaming and 20 Mbps for 4K streaming. Note that these requirements and recommendations may vary from household to household depending on the number of devices vying for bandwidth within a network.

All Points’ service plans get incrementally more expensive for faster internet speeds of up to 1 gbps (gigabits per second) for $109.99, which is one of the fastest speeds available on the market. Comcast, whose network is limited in Rappahannock County, is the only other local option for a gigabit connection. It offers 1.2 Gbps service for $80 per month.

The best alternative to Starlink?

Rappahannock resident Dick Raines ran Carfax, a large, mostly online business from his home in Castleton amid the pandemic before retiring at the end of last year. To ensure network stability, he became a customer of Starlink, Piedmont Broadband and HughesNet, keeping all three as backups in case of failure.

“My life is Zoom as a business person. And it’s interesting how dominant it is. And Zoom, or video [conferencing], has certain connectivity requirements and that is very, very obvious,” Raines said.

And while the service provided by Piedmont Broadband and HughesNet was often insufficient for Raines, Starlink proved to be a game-changer. Since he almost exclusively uses Starlink for his Internet, Raines said he was no longer harassed by the constant worry of a potentially faulty connection at inopportune times.

Starlink’s device has a premium feel and is user-friendly, he said, which also makes it more appealing than others. Although Zoom calls sometimes stutter on a Starlink connection, Raines said of his experience.

Sperryville resident Matthew Black was an early adopter of Starlink after discovering that other alternatives wouldn’t work due to the location of his home. For him, the service was excellent.

Starlink, a SpaceX subsidiary and tech entrepreneur Elon Musk’s new low-orbit satellite service designed to bring the internet to underserved rural areas, offers speeds between 100 Mbps and 200 Mbps, which is significantly faster than Piedmont Broadband or HughesNet can provide even on their most expensive plans which both cost more per month than Starlink.

And unlike those two alternatives, according to Raines and Black, Starlink is often uninterrupted by weather events. The satellite has a built-in self-heating mechanism designed to melt the snow that accumulates on it. It can also withstand high winds up to 175 mph, according to Business Insider.

Starlink: Matthew Black in front of his Sperryville home, which has a Starlink satellite overhead. For him, because of the location of his house, the service has been excellent.

He also boasts significantly lower latency, or the time it takes to send and receive data, than HughesNet, another comparable satellite service.

Another Rappahannock resident, Lynn Dolnick, also an early adopter of Starlink, said she has seen a marked improvement in service quality over time.

But Starlink has two issues that prevent it from being accessible to many Rappahannock residents. Starlink is at full capacity in much of the region, which means it is not accepting new customers and does not expect to be able to do so until at least late 2022 or early 2023, according to the company.

It also depends on having access to a large open space for the satellite to get a proper connection. Residents who live in densely forested areas or next to a mountain may have trouble getting a secure Starlink connection.

An obstruction test, which the company recommends potential users perform to determine if the connection will work, conducted through Starlink’s mobile app outside the Rappahannock News office in downtown Washington, found that the service would not work optimally in the area.

In terms of cost, the Starlink satellite is $499 plus $50 shipping (excluding tax) and $99 per month.

Raines said he would strongly consider dropping the three services he currently uses if what is provided by All Points proves to be as good and reliable as it was billed for.

Black remains concerned about Starlink’s long-term viability, particularly the possibility that Musk doesn’t deem it profitable enough and abandons it. The manufacturing price of Starlink’s latest satellite was reduced last year, but the company was still selling it at a loss, according to Engadget technical publication. Other low-orbit satellite Internet services, such as Iridium, have went bankrupt.

But Black isn’t sure if he’ll cancel Starlink in favor of the service All Points can provide.

“I’m going to have to watch carefully,” Black said. But for the general public, “Starlink is clearly not the answer,” he said, as many homes in Rappahannock are unlikely to be able to receive an adequate connection to the service.

“Starlink is a great alternative for some places, but I think we have an unusual opportunity here. [with All Points] and so hopefully we’ll seize the moment because it won’t happen again,” Black said.

What Piedmont Broadband and HughesNet offer

The other alternatives available in Rappahannock, Piedmont Broadband and HughesNet, do not offer speeds as fast as Starlink or what All Points offered, and are often more expensive.

Due to the line-of-sight technology used by Piedmont Broadband, its installation costs vary depending on the location and the number of physical obstacles that might interfere with a clear connection. Starting installation fees are around $250, but can be more expensive depending on location, reaching as high as $600 in unusual cases, according to owner Russell Pate.


Piedmont Broadband: Technicians Evan Espinola and Daniel Clement install line-of-sight service in a home off Battle Mountain Road in 2020.

“You can’t move mountains,” he said of the realities of line-of-sight technology in Rappahannock.

Black said his home’s location near Sperryville was unable to receive Piedmont Broadband service, which led him to choose Starlink. Raines noted that in his experience, the service provided by Piedmont Broadband was often “unacceptable” to Zoom, and video streams and phone calls over WiFi lacked quality.

Piedmont Broadband’s cheapest monthly plan is $79.95 and includes only 10 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload speed. On the high end, Piedmont Broadband offers 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload speeds for $129.95 per month.

While HughesNet offers free installation of its satellite, all monthly plans have data caps, meaning users are limited in internet usage each month. Dolnick, who was once a HughesNet customer, called the data caps a “nightmare”. Black echoed a similar sentiment.


HughesNet: All monthly satellite service plans have data caps.

Its cheapest plan is $59.99 per month, the same price as All Points’ lowest service, with speeds of 25 Mbps, but only comes with 10 GB of data per month, which according to the company, equates to approximately 15 hours of video streaming. HughesNet’s highest-end service offers 50GB of data, or about 75 hours of video streaming, for $149.99 per month.

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