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Ask Slashdot: What Is the Best Way To Become a Rural ISP?

Soulskill posted about a year and a half ago | from the hit-the-lotto-and-then-buy-somebody-out dept.

The Internet 239

hawkeyeMI writes "I live in a small, rural town nestled in some low hills. Our town has access to only one DSL provider, and it's pretty terrible. However, a regional fiber project is just being completed, and some of the fiber is in fact running directly past my house. Currently, there are no last-mile providers in my area, and the regional project only considers itself a middle-mile provider, and will only provide service to last-mile providers. Assuming this will not be my day job, that the local populace is rather poor, and that because of the hills, line-of-sight service will be difficult, how could I set myself up as an ISP? I have considered WiFi mesh networking, and even running wires on the power/telephone polls, but the required licensing and other issues are foreign to me. What would you do?"

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239 comments

don't (-1, Troll)

redback (15527) | about a year and a half ago | (#41905483)

Leave it to the pros

Re:don't (5, Insightful)

mwvdlee (775178) | about a year and a half ago | (#41905535)

Please explain; how does someone become such a "pro"? Is it perhaps by learning and doing? Or is it by giving up before you even start?

Re:don't (0)

tsa (15680) | about a year and a half ago | (#41905547)

I once had to interview an applicant for a job on our research group who had done just that during his whole life. I doesn't get you far, believe me. What he was seeking at the university I really don't know.

Re:don't (4, Funny)

commlinx (1068272) | about a year and a half ago | (#41905701)

What he was seeking at the university I really don't know.

Probably a job?

Your analytical skills don't seem advanced.

Re:don't (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41905915)

Answer sense no makes your

Re:don't (1)

Joce640k (829181) | about a year and a half ago | (#41906443)

I once had to interview an applicant for a job on our research group who had done just that during his whole life.

Doing what...? Giving up or learning and doing?

Re:don't (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41906565)

Yes.

Re:don't (5, Interesting)

rtfa-troll (1340807) | about a year and a half ago | (#41905751)

There are many routes in. You get working for a big ISP then work your way towards a top technical job. You take a degree then get in more directly. Alternately, you stat doing small scale semi-amateur stuff for some years connecting up e.g. local charities and stuff. What you don't do is start without a good idea of the business and and technical side unless you can safely sustain yourself with no return for at least five years. Firstly there are huge barriers to entry. All the good sites for transmission likely are already taken, for example. Secondly the customers are pretty demanding; fail to fixa customer's internet in two hours and you've lost then. Even in the middle of the night. Thirdly the competition is brutal. A Place can sit without broadband for teen years then get the best internet in the country within weeks of a small ISP having completed their new installation.

Re:don't (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41906691)

Sounds like he wants something ASAP, no dicking around learning, he just wants to do.

1) incorporate to protect yourself. If this goes bad, you don't want it following you for a decade or more; think about alternative models like a co-op
2) talk to your customers. What would they pay, what would they need you to provide, unless they sign something proactively, expect a portion to bail.
3) you need to beat the incumbent by at least 25%, and be repared for retaliation. They have an investment to defend, and they may have a lot more leeway to change than you know (price, upgrading head-end equipment to boost speeds, etc)
3) talk to the provider and negotiate. This is going to be a big fixed expense, and you'll be inning a long term contract typically
4) think outside the box, and focus on need vs what is typical

Re:don't (4, Insightful)

griffjon (14945) | about a year and a half ago | (#41906773)

We have a similar setup blocks from the Capitol Building in DC - not rural or poor, but you can get slow-as-molasses DSL, or comcast cable+Internet that goes out weekly to the extent you need to call their /wonderful/ support services and have technicians dick around and do nothing.

Not that I'm bitter. A local family has cobbled together enough "business-class" connections and shares it over point-to-point wireless: http://www.dcaccess.net/ [dcaccess.net] They're very friendly, and might be willing to help you out on some of the aspects (though your state's regulations are probably much, much different than the District's).

I presume you're mainly doing this for the geek cred of having crazy access to bandwidth. I'd advise you, this being the case, to be willing and financially able to be your only paying customer unless you're going to make this a real full or part time job.

Re:don't (1)

shentino (1139071) | about a year and a half ago | (#41906367)

It's by being friends with the local politicians.

Internet service is not an open market.

Re:don't (4, Informative)

LWATCDR (28044) | about a year and a half ago | (#41906527)

Pretty much. The local government controls access to right of way so you will want them on board. The local chamber is next on your hit parade. You need them to back you because it will help them make more money and bring in more businesses. Next the Economic Development board needs to back you and possibly get you tax breaks and grants.
Do you have a local cable company? If so they will fight you tooth and nail. If not you should at least look at doing TVIP as well as Internet. If you are going to build out then you should make the most of it.
In other words it is a lot of politics these days.

Re:don't (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41906467)

Well pros charge for it. So if you want to be a pro, then charge for it. If you give it away then you are not a pro.

Re:don't (1)

jellomizer (103300) | about a year and a half ago | (#41906909)

He stated that this wasn't meant to be his day job... So he isn't looking to be a Pro at it.
He is opening himself up to a world of hurt. He would need to have a full time job as an ISP owner to keep things running. Even if it is just a one man company. He would be better off getting the Pros to do it. Either working with the local government or a local business.

Re:don't (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41905883)

The best and most honest answer is marked troll?

Ahhh slashdot. how far you have fallen.

Re:don't (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41906303)

The best and most honest answer is marked troll?

Ahhh slashdot. how far you have fallen.

people hate honesty. what they love is being fed a line of bullshit. even when they know its bullshit, makes them feel important. every marketing, advertising, and propaganda employee knows this, that's why those businesses and everyone in them are evil. after all you must REALLY value my opinion if you will lie to me just to influence it your way. it's the only kind of status available to fat stupid people who had a bunch of kids they couldn't afford and now they can't do it on their own.

i mean how do you suppose obama got re-elected? by any rational evaluation of his first term? noooo.... because he's real good at the bullshit. every thinking person is like "WTF are you DOING?!?!!?" for the dumb masses (the ones that get their news from TV) Obama's got a Jobs-esque reality distortion field. and he promise yo baby mama some mo' Obama money from his stay-yash. i mean god damn skin color must be REALLY important to some ppl. so important it makes em think a privileged harvard-educated multimillionaire has any idea what it's like in the 'hood. a permanent tan goes that far, really?

well anyway the american experiment was nice while it lasted. maybe the next constitution can have some kind of anti-Balkanization provision? sure would be nice to hear about "the American vote" and not "the black vote" or "the white vote" or "the hispanic vote" or "women's vote" etc. i mean it's almost as though people are just people, hmm, what a concept right? "oooh yo! yo I's gon' vote fo' dis guy cuz' his skin look a lil' like mines, dawg!" no thought required! that's how a nation crumbles. white people wouldn't get away with "hey I voted for romney because he's white and I'm white!" so let's be fair about this.

Re:don't (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41906631)

AHOY! Strawmen ahead!

Re:don't (1)

um... Lucas (13147) | about a year and a half ago | (#41906073)

It the "pros" were already providing service in his town, yes, of course someone who doesn't know the business end shouldn't set up shop and try to compete. But the pros are overlooking his town/community - that's a perfect reason for someone to step up and work to give their neighbors what they're lacking.

Re:don't (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41906137)

They're overlooking it for a reason and so should OP.

Re:don't (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41906487)

They're overlooking it for a reason and so should OP.

Probably because they don't think that they can deliver acceptable internet with their current profit margins and current prices.
This doesn't mean that someone with less administration and less profit demands can't step in and provide a slightly more expensive service to those who are willing to pay.

From what it sounds like he doesn't even need to provide a good service, he only needs to provide an alternative to another terrible ISP. This will either force the competition to step up and provide a better service or he will become the founder/owner of the best ISP in town. Depending on how much he needs to invest to get to that point it could be a win-win situation, especially if he only have to present the appearance of competition for the other ISP to improve their service.

Use it for yourself. (2)

everslick (1232368) | about a year and a half ago | (#41905511)

Connect to the fiber, and use it up for yourself.

Re:Use it for yourself. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41905551)

One home one ISP!

Re:Use it for yourself. (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41905993)

"Connect to the fiber, and use it up for yourself."

The American way! Fuck the poor, that's Socialism!

+1 Don't (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41905529)

Trick some one else too do it or quit your day job.
Unless you wish too spend all your after hours at someone elses house fiddling with internet. Or have a sweaty ear from explaining that cheap ass firewalls dont do 100Mbit internet at linerate.

Find someone to help (5, Informative)

ccguy (1116865) | about a year and a half ago | (#41905559)

Unless you really want to be a one person ISP, which seems like a recipe for disaster before you even begin, find someone else to help. To me it seems like there's 3 primary roles: a) Someone who bankrolls it, b) Someone how deals with bureaucracy (licenses of all kinds), and c) Someone who at least has some technical knowledge to figure everything out.

I guess you'll hear stuff like "leave it to the ones to know to do it", etc. Fuck that. If there's an opportunity, willingness to learn, etc, go for it. Worst case scenario you will fail but probably will be the "one who knows how to do it" the next time.

Good luck :-)

Re:Find someone to help (4, Insightful)

pubwvj (1045960) | about a year and a half ago | (#41905869)

I completely and totally disagree with your seperation of roles. I have had several successful businesses over the decades, nearly half century, and I've fulfilled all three of those roles as well as more. Those three roles are not at all mutually exclusive.

The question of whether to involve more people depends on how much time it will take to do things. That is to say coverage of the day. If you're setting up a neighborhood ISP and present it with the understanding that this is a part-time, Do-It-Yourself gig that you are sharing then you can probably do it all by yourself.

I would suggest doing a repeater based WiFi type system. If you're in a rural area like we are you can probably find owners of local hill tops who would be willing to have a low profile, minimally visible, solar powered repeater stuck on their hill tops. Start with your own place. Expand to a line of site one. Add more

As to the regulation requirements, it is all online. Go read the regulations. I am building an on-farm USDA inspected meat processing facility. This is a highly regulated industry. I spent a year reading all the regulations as well as a great many case studies and talking with other plant owners and managers online. When I went to get my permitting and regulations settled I already knew all the answers and sailed through the permitting process in one month. Understanding the law makes it so you have a better idea of how to design your system and how to move through the regulatory process.

You may well find that there is a discussion group online about this. Google.

Re:Find someone to help (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41905997)

While you make a good point about how to learn about regulations and how to handle the process, you seem to have misunderstood the GP's point about the seperation of roles. He never said, or even implied, the rules were mutually exclusive. He merely provided a reasonable way of turning the problem into a couple smaller problems.

The submitter seems aware of the limitations on his current skillset in both the technological and paperwork side of the business. Splitting the main problem into smaller ones introduces the option of bringing in a partner which would split the amount of knowledge that has to be gathered/learned. As you said yourself, learning about regulations is a lengthy process and if the submitter has a friend who would be interested in that, the submitter can fully focus on the technical choices.

The submitter could easily both bankroll and do the technical side of the job, while the friend does the "paperwork". Or they could divide up the investment cost in any way that suits them, anything is possible.

Re:Find someone to help (3, Insightful)

ccguy (1116865) | about a year and a half ago | (#41906127)

I completely and totally disagree with your seperation of roles.

I'm not separating roles. I'm pointing out their need if the business is to succeed. One role doesn't mean one person. You can have one person do more than one or need more than one person to do just one.

Those three roles are not at all mutually exclusive.

If you mean in the same person, no. However the OP says he won't be giving up his day job which means that he will need to find someone else to finance the operation, and also means that he doesn't have a lot of time.

The question of whether to involve more people depends on how much time it will take to do things.

It also depends on what your abilities are. If you aren't a people person then you just need someone else do to what a people person does, or the business just won't succeed, unless you are a small eBay seller.

Re:Find someone to help (3, Interesting)

rodrigoandrade (713371) | about a year and a half ago | (#41906225)

Hmm, I'm always suspicious of someone who "had several successful businesses." Did Ray Kroc or Sam Walton have "several successful businesses"??

Re:Find someone to help (4, Interesting)

Razgorov Prikazka (1699498) | about a year and a half ago | (#41906339)

I couldn't agree more. Why not make it a community based movement?
That is the way I would go. If I understand it correctly, this is a small, rather isolated community. Usually in those communities the social cohesion is much stronger and therefore people usually work together in order to get things done for that community.
1 - get people together
2 - decide what way to go (what kind of organisation to set up) in a democratic way.
3 - Ask them to participate with money or getting their hands dirty (digging ditches for cable for example, if you choose not to go for wifi)
4 - quit your day-job and be the (only?) paid employee (can you do tech / administration / tax-stuff / customer support / rest ?)
5 - work hard and you will definitely succeed!

You don't need 'google-sized' servers for this, a couple of x86-64 pc's with a bunch of NIC's should do the trick. I would love such an ISP, especially if you support Linux and BSD as well, and you can personally come over to grandma to set up her e-mail client for her. That way you can provide 200% of the service provided by normal ISP's for a fraction of the cost. Make a sound calculation of the costs including interconnection fee's, hardware costs, electricity, your wage etc.
If you run it from a dedicated room in the house you could even use the wasted heat to warm your house (or tropical fish tank), provide courses for the 'not so technical' people and make yourself much more valued than you would in a normal day-job.
Besides, having your own NOC down the hallway is just friking awesome! :-D
Good luck!

Re:Find someone to help (2)

Razgorov Prikazka (1699498) | about a year and a half ago | (#41906371)

Oh, forgot... If you are going to set up a network, why not interconnecting the nodes, and have it all on a VPN or a TORnet so everybody can be completely anonymous?
Just a thought...

Re:Find someone to help (2)

CastrTroy (595695) | about a year and a half ago | (#41906841)

Something like this would have been fun back in the 14.4k modem days. But I'm not sure how well this would work out in 2012. People expect way too much from their internet. Do they have a number they can call at 2 AM when it's not working? Running an ISP, even a small local one isn't a 1-3 person job at this point in time. If a switch dies do you have one on hand to replace it immediately, or does everyone go without internet for a day or two while you order a new one? Having n+1 redundancy is pretty big overhead if your n is a low number. If you have 1000 switches it's not a big difference in cost to have 1 or even 10 extra switches lying around for when stuff breaks. But when you have 2 switches, you now have to have 50% of your switch capacity sitting in a closet not being used. People aren't going to go digging ditches unless you can provide some pretty big advantages over their local ISP. That includes better uptime, better bandwidth, and most importantly, much cheaper prices. Unless it's a really geeky community, you aren't going to find a lot of people interested in digging cable ditches if they still have to spend the same amount of money every month on their bill, that is even assuming you could get the level of service up to where your other ISP has it.

Re: doing a repeater based WiFi (1)

girlinatrainingbra (2738457) | about a year and a half ago | (#41906599)

San Diego used to have a radio-modem internet access service called Ricochet [wikipedia.org], offered by a company called metricom. Their radio-modems broadcast with one-watt of power over the unlicensed 900 MHz frequency. There's even a wiki-page about the hardware at http://ricochet.wikispaces.com/ [wikispaces.com]

.

Maybe there's a way to use amateur radio instead of wifi for the medium to long hops from your fiber-access to the town and then set up a wifi base station there for the customers. I don't know about the licensing issues with going up over 1-watt transmission though.

Re: doing a repeater based WiFi (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41906895)

Maybe there's a way to use amateur radio instead of wifi for the medium to long hops from your fiber-access to the town and then set up a wifi base station there for the customers

No, you cannot use amateur radio for this, as this would be a commerical service and outside the scope of the Amateur Radio Service. Get an approriate license for your service like cell providers do or otherwise stick to unlicensed spectrum.

Public Service Commission or equivavlent (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41905887)

Assuming this is about a rural USA county, his public service commission would be the ones who would more than likely oversee him in his state. I would talk to them. And they may give him a heads up of some company may get in his grill. Just because there's currently no service doesn't mean some other company may be moving in shortly.

I'd also go to SCORE.org and see if there's some retired telecom executive who would like to help with mgt, where to get money, etc...

The SBA may have some ideas about money and where to get help with regulations.

Grants.gov to see if the government has any money for this - doubtful, but try.

Redundancy (Re:Find someone to help) (1)

Beorytis (1014777) | about a year and a half ago | (#41906263)

I think the "get help" concept should framed in terms of redundancy. All the people involved need to be "good enough" at all the tasks to make do in a pinch, since people get sick, take vacation, and (according to the question) work other jobs.

Want to be my ISP too? (2)

Lythn (965096) | about a year and a half ago | (#41905561)

Usually you dig up a path and install the last mile lines, but if you can work out a deal to piggy back on the power lines it would be much cheaper. I would not recommend the mesh wifi route as there will be dead zones and whenever it rains you could lose internet. Good luck to you, I would love to have something like this as an option. The broadband options in my area are incredibly slow.

Re:Want to be my ISP too? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41906021)

"...but if you can work out a deal to piggy back on the power lines it would be much cheaper."

Sure and you'll get abuse from the customers after every storm when you have to do it again and again and again.
You know how cranky white Americans get when they can't download 'Homeland'.

Re:Want to be my ISP too? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41906619)

if you can work out a deal to piggy back on the power lines it would be much cheaper

That's a big if. In Wisconsin, power companies get a right-away by default, but they cannot allow a 3rd party to use their right-of-way unless that 3rd party also has right-of-way. Unless you're a certified cable or telephone company, you can't hang anything from power poles unless you get permission from the property owners.

A litle late (-1, Troll)

SnarfQuest (469614) | about a year and a half ago | (#41905567)

Become a bundler for Obama, and create a "green" energy business (manufacture solar cells costing $15+ each, to be sold at $3 each is a common one). He will grant you half a billion dollars easily. You can then take the money and immediately go out of business. You now have sufficient funding for your project, or you can just move to somewhere already wired.

Re:A litle late (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41905935)

Oooh, so bitter. Mitts losing must really stick in your craw. Still, 4 more years eh?

Re:A litle late (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41906675)

You should have chosen someone better then Myth Robmey

It. Is. Your. Own. Damn. Fault.

Ubiquity (4, Informative)

PhunkySchtuff (208108) | about a year and a half ago | (#41905577)

You don't want to go through the trouble and expense of rolling out cable to people's houses - you don't have the budget to cover for it, and no one could afford the installation charge if you passed it all on to them. Look at Ubiquity [ubnt.com] wireless gear - it's very good, priced amazingly well, and is relatively easy to set up and configure. They do backhaul stuff, distribution stuff and even 802.11a/b/g/n that is comparable to Cisco at 1/4 the price.

Re:Ubiquity (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41905875)

i am willing to relocate to start it up:) how do i find out where to move? wireless tech , e.g wimax could work in your situation

Re:Ubiquity (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41906187)

I did the design and operations work for one of the largest WISP builds on the planet.

There are lots of WISPs out there, most of them mom and pop shops. You can make a few bucks but it is very hard work. Do not underestimate this.

Ubquity is great value for money and is perfect for your situation. They've got good forums and you should have no problem getting something going.

Please be safe when erecting towers or other antenna supporting structures. If you make a mistake, you can die. Have someone who knows what they are doing show you proper techniques for working on poles, poletop rescue, etc. Do not skimp on this.

Good luck!

Campaign, don't build (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41905603)

Sounds like a huge task.

Why not spend your own time on contacting providers and encouraging them to come into the area, and canvassing the local community for support. There may also be government grants and initiatives available. Speak to your local politician and see where they come in. You're not going to learn much networking and technology in the process, but you're more likely to get some results.

rural isp (1)

ervie (652057) | about a year and a half ago | (#41905607)

0. which country are we talking about here? americas, uk, somewhere else? in any way, you will need to know local regulations for becoming and operating public service provider. 1. you will need to establish a company (firm, commersant, ...) to deal with middle-mile provider. 2. as a head of company you will need to consider your business - financial aspects, sustainability, etc. (it may be that you could do it as offhours project, may be not :) 3. etc. as alternative, if you could persuade that middlemile provider to sign an agreement with you as individual, you could arrange some cooperative type of service. (if you are smart enough, and neighbors are willing)....

Re:rural isp (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41905715)

He's clearly in the USA since he doesn't acknowledge the existance of countries outside the borders of his own in the question!

Re:rural isp (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41906163)

Yeah, it's weird. It's like this is a USA based website or something... next thing you know they'll expect you to speak english!

Re:rural isp (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41906519)

Yeah, it's weird. It's like this is a USA based website or something... next thing you know they'll expect you to speak english!

English is not the officiall language of USA.

I'd advise against, purely based on cost (1)

Shrike Valeo (2198124) | about a year and a half ago | (#41905611)

Whereas I probably know even less than you (I know practically nothing), online searches can come up with the odd bit of info on cost to set the thing up, but fact you still have to rent the line (ignoring whether or not you'd even be granted IPs due to the slight....shortage) guessing by your population spread, it would prove difficult to justify the investment.

However, this thread shouldn't be full of people saying "don't do it" as you are theorising it. You will have to check a lot with your local council, also consider the security issues as you would be responsible for policing anyone using it. With regards to cost, though, it can be useful if you contact locals and see if people are willing to invest beforehand.

Re:I'd advise against, purely based on cost (1)

gtvr (1702650) | about a year and a half ago | (#41906125)

You need to do a business case study. Figure out what your stuff will cost, and what you would need to charge if say 20% of the people signed up. The do some market research, ask "Would you pay X for high speed internet?" "What would you pay" etc. Think about what staff you need. Will people expect 24 hour support? What if you go on vacation? Do you need a legal team to deal with the feds executing a search warrant for log data? Lots of stuff to think about and plan on the business side.

Friend did it in rural area (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41905617)

A friend of mine put up a tower himself, a big wireless modem on top, and started installed the modems at people's houses. I'm not sure what sort of line he was serving his wireless from, but he was eventually bought by the big wireless internet provider in our area, Barrett Xplornet.

Is it really economical? (4, Insightful)

DeathToBill (601486) | about a year and a half ago | (#41905653)

It's not clear what area you're trying to cover, but it seems the sort of thing WiMAX was made for. But I suspect this is still something you're going to have to raise capital for, and therefore something you're going to have to make money back on from your subscribers.

I've no experience, but I suspect this is not something you can realistically set up as a hobby in your spare time. Your costs will look like this:

* Capital equipment - a WiMAX base station and connection to the fibre (probably involves paying the company providing the fibre to dig it up, splice it and run a cable into your house). If you're happy to ebay second hand gear, the WiMAX station could be fairly cheap - maybe a few hundred dollars.
* Monthly invoice from the fibre provider for access. You're going to want some serious bandwidth, or your customers will complain.

Your time is going to look like this:

* Administration. If you're trying to pay your costs, you need people to pay you. That means keeping a list of customers and invoicing them each month, making sure people pay up, etc.
* Support. People *will* blame you when the intertubes is broken, whether its your fault or not. If no-one answers the phone when they call, then you'll lose customers.

Your biggest problem is likely to be that the DSL company will just undercut whatever you set up. Squashing you like a bug is unlikely to show up on their bottom line, while you need to make money consistently to keep up with the fibre costs and repay the capital you needed to set it up.

If you've got $100k lying around to get it all set up and to absorb a few months of fibre access costs while you get people signed up, then you might be able to survive. You might even make your $100k back, eventually. Since you have to work to make ends meet, it seems unlikely this is the case.

Re:Is it really economical? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41906463)

Skip WiMAX. It's dead.

I started mine for under 10,000 usd. Plus the monthly fiber cost

One man. One fiber.

Start small. The big key. One tower start with a goal of 50 people.

Don't do a bridged network.

Get good billing software. Not quickbooks.

Skip WiMAX.

900Mhz? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41905713)

Not going to eliminate LoS issues but should propergate a hell of a lot better than 2.4Ghz.

learn about 501(c)(12) organizations (5, Interesting)

emes (240193) | about a year and a half ago | (#41905743)

I would suggest you learn about what are known as 501(c)(12) telecommunications cooperatives. One specific example would be www.rric.net
It would also be good for you to consult the IRS information on this kind of nonprofit organization.

My Suggestions (5, Informative)

DiamondGeezer (872237) | about a year and a half ago | (#41905763)

Definitely it's a project worth doing but you've got to put in some work, both legwork and office work to make it work.

You need to go to the regional fiber provider and talk to them about becoming a last mile ISP and what their requirements are to terminate their fiber in your town and likely licensing issues, service contracts and support.

You need to speak to your town hall about permits and applicable laws.

Depending on where the fiber actually is, you need to pick a business unit where the fiber can be terminated and where your fiber can be run from.

In that business unit you're going to need reliable power and UPS backup to create a small datacenter (2 or 3 racks should be plenty) on raised floors for cable runs. (There are companies out there that ship all of this stuff in a single container [techcrunch.com], meaning that all you have to do is site it and run fiber and power to it)

You'll need to find out how much it will cost to run fiber from your datacenter businesses (who will be the main consumers) and home users. Get maps and start planning. Your regional fiber network provider should be able to put you in touch with the people who put fiber cables down in streets.

You'll need to talk to your local Chamber of Commerce or Better Business Bureau about likely customers as well as schools and colleges (and the town's own infrastructure like the townhall itself) who will be big consumers of fiber bandwidth and likely to be the baseload of your cashflow. Also likely partners in your state who might like to put their systems in your datacenter to provide services to your town such as VOIP providers, cloud services and storage providers etc. (Speak to them under NDA)

You'll need a business plan, a financial planning showing likely costings and cashflow and a project plan to maximize return by hitting major sources of revenue first.

I would suggest that you go for a low cost base based on opensource software and hardware as much as you can (I hear cheers from Slashdotters!)

Once you've got this done, then find out about likely sources of finance, microloans, angel investors who will need to see the proposed balance sheet and cashflow projections. (You might find that the reason there is only a crappy DSL service in your area is that that is all the demand that there is - economics trumps everything else and the whole idea has to make economic sense)

You will need help. Other people have done this on very limited budgets so use Google and network like crazy. Make contacts with technical people willing to pitch in. You will need to look at project plans created by others and business plans created by others and sources of finance used by others.

This isn't to put you off, but to give you an overview on the size of the mountain you're looking at climbing. Others have started where you are now and made great local companies. But the business must be based on sound economics and a steely concentration on a plan of action.

Re:My Suggestions (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41906079)

"You'll need to talk to your local Chamber of Commerce or Better Business Bureau about likely customers as well as schools and colleges (and the town's own infrastructure like the townhall itself) who will be big consumers of fiber bandwidth and likely to be the baseload of your cashflow"

Did you read the part about 'rural' and 'poor'? There's no 'town', no 'school', no 'college', no 'Chamber of Commerce', no 'BBB', just a bunch of hicks in wooden shacks.

Options (5, Informative)

twisteddk (201366) | about a year and a half ago | (#41905769)

Well, the projects I have been running have all been based on either wifi or xDSL. So I can pretty much only provide my expertise in these areas, BUT......
I see a couple of possibilities:

1) Contact the preexisting DSL provider in your area, and tell them that fiber is now available in the area. Ask them if they would be willing to provide a new DSLAM in the area connected to the fiber, which would boost the speed of the internet considerably (if the DSLAM is within a mile or two you should easily be able to get a stable 20 Mbit connection, which I assume is better than what you have now). Its always easier to lobby someone else to do the job they're supposed to, than it is to start competing with them......

2) Contact the people providing the fiber and ask them what servicepartners they have that are last-mile providers. Contact some of them and ask if they would be intrested in setting up shop in your town. Get the local populace to sign a letter of intent, that they will switch providers, if they can get better or faster internet at the same or lower cost..... Again with the lobbying, but it's an easy way out

3) Consider setting your own lastmile service up. But use xDSL connections or wifi, because FTTH would require that you start digging fiber to each house. I doubt you could make a profit on that if you're a one-man operation. In a hilly area, get a permit to set up repeater antennas on the highest areas. I'm sure you have cell service in the area too, so ask the local cell providers if you could use their towers. Usually, they have the permits in place, and you'd just have to pay rent, or simply swap services with them (your internet for their towers), if you can find someone who'll go for a straight swap..... This option requires a lot of footwork, and negotiation, but it's possible even in an industrialized and regulated society, it's just a lot harder than in Africa ;)

4) Get a group of friends together and work out a division of labour, make plans and set them into motion... More people = less burden on the individual.

I'd say it's possible, but if the market was big enough that you could live of it, then I'm sure you'd have more than one provider covering your area at the moment. So dont expect to get rich in anything except experiences :D

Re:Options (1)

aitikin (909209) | about a year and a half ago | (#41906289)

1) Contact the preexisting DSL provider in your area, and tell them that fiber is now available in the area. Ask them if they would be willing to provide a new DSLAM in the area connected to the fiber, which would boost the speed of the internet considerably (if the DSLAM is within a mile or two you should easily be able to get a stable 20 Mbit connection, which I assume is better than what you have now). Its always easier to lobby someone else to do the job they're supposed to, than it is to start competing with them......

I'm going out on a limb and assuming that this is rural US, which typically means that the distance between one house and the next can easily be greater than a mile, so it's unlikely that the OP would have that DSLAM within a mile or two, and even if he does, that doesn't help out those around him much at all.

WISP is the only real option. (5, Insightful)

wvnet (2018102) | about a year and a half ago | (#41905773)

I'd go fixed-wireless. It's the only option that you can start on a shoestring and end up with a decent business. Tapping the fiber can get quite expensive. It probably goes through the local telephone Central Office, so your best bet is to find cheap office rental as close to the CO as possible, and then contact the middle-mile provider for a quote to run you a drop. Bonus if you can rent a space in a muti-story building and arrange roof rights for a few antennas.

But this is doable, if you are serious about it.
Ubiquiti wireless gear is the way to go right now, and there's lots of technical help on their forum and others. Their 900Mhz gear will handle SOME tree coverage, as will the 2.4Ghz. Their gear is so cheap that you can afford to make little house-to-house relays to get into hard to reach spots. Their wiki has a decent write-up of how to build a WISP with their gear.
http://wiki.ubnt.com/Building_a_wisp [ubnt.com]

There are lots of other gotchas in the biz, arranging tower sites (private landowners are good, but you'll need a solid contract), getting customers to actually pay you (at all, not just on time), each install is going to have to be paid for up front ($150-200) and you won't make any money off that customer for about 6-8 months, service truck & tools, insurance (wispinsurance.com) and lots more.

Go lurk on the Ubiquiti and Mikrotik forums for a few months, and you'll start getting a clear picture of what running a small ISP day-to-day is like.

Re:WISP is the only real option. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41906093)

Backhaul is going to be expensive as hell [a1securitycameras.com].

Difference of opinion (4, Insightful)

OzPeter (195038) | about a year and a half ago | (#41905783)

You said

Assuming this will not be my day job

But I bet your customers *will* assume that it's your day job which will generate a lot of emotion when the system goes down at 9AM and your response is ..

Well sorry, I have to be at work now, I'll get on it after 5

It seems you are already setting yourself up to be just as terrible as your current DSL provider.

Re:Difference of opinion (4, Insightful)

Zontar_Thing_From_Ve (949321) | about a year and a half ago | (#41906511)

You said

Assuming this will not be my day job

But I bet your customers *will* assume that it's your day job which will generate a lot of emotion when the system goes down at 9AM and your response is ..

Well sorry, I have to be at work now, I'll get on it after 5

It seems you are already setting yourself up to be just as terrible as your current DSL provider.

I think OzPeter pretty much nailed this. I have a friend who actually did what the OP suggests. My friend was an ISP as a part time business he did outside of his normal job. He barely turned a profit at it. It took up a lot of his spare time. He mostly had residential techie customers who knew him personally and were willing to put up with delays for problem resolution (he was very limited in what he could do while he was working his primary job) in exchange for what at the time (mid to late 1990s) was faster connectivity than most local ISPs could offer. I don't think he ever had more than a handful of business clients. Eventually he shut it down as he couldn't really grow the customer base enough to make it his full time job and the time to run it outside of a regular job became too much. It's not difficult to imagine the OP winding up in a similar situation.

ComLink (1)

milesmatt (2629063) | about a year and a half ago | (#41905795)

I'd like to think that there's still opportunity in these smaller markets. In Michigan for years there's a company originally out of Westphalia- I think they were Westphalia telephone way, way back, then Westphalia Broadband, and now are in a Lansing 'burb and called Comlink. They've quietly been laying fiber all over central Michigan and even now into surrounding states and providing service for years - sometimes well, and sometimes less so. I've no idea how they're doing these days, but I love the idea of this small company quietly toiling away and if not eating at the monopolists, hopefully at least scaring them a little. So - I maintain hope that this is possible - and admire the cajones of anyone willing to give it a go - but definitely talk to some real experts- even ring up the Comlink folks and see if you can buy one of 'em a beer to talk out the feasibility. Good luck

Buy a shovel (1)

bickerdyke (670000) | about a year and a half ago | (#41905797)

Buy a shovel and start digging.

Or even better: Buy a bunch of shovels and make sure that everyone who wants to get connected does a fair bit of digging, too.

Become a micro-ISP! (1)

TheMathemagician (2515102) | about a year and a half ago | (#41905803)

What should you do? Leave the country and become an Australian citizen in protest! If you're planning on living there for a long time maybe become a micro-ISP as a fun project purely for yourself initially. Don't sell the service to your neighbours until everything is up and running.

Re:Become a micro-ISP! (1)

OzPeter (195038) | about a year and a half ago | (#41905967)

What should you do? Leave the country and become an Australian citizen in protest!

You do know that you just can't waltz up to Oz and say "I want in" and expect to settle there?
 
  Visas, Immigration and Refugees [immi.gov.au]

Re:Become a micro-ISP! (1)

TheMathemagician (2515102) | about a year and a half ago | (#41906055)

It was an attempt at humour. Steve Wozniak seems strangely obsessed with the "last-mile" provision of internet access and has expressed an interest in becoming an Australian citizen specficially citing the US broadband network as a reason.

Re:Become a micro-ISP! (1)

OzPeter (195038) | about a year and a half ago | (#41906081)

Its way too early for me .. I'm humour impaired in the morning.

Steve Wozniak ... has expressed an interest in becoming an Australian citizen

Yeah but he ha$ certain advantage$.

What Is the Best Way To Become a Rural ISP? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41905831)

1- Start an ISP company
2- Move into a rural area
3- Profit?

Re:What Is the Best Way To Become a Rural ISP? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41905843)

1) Move into a rural area
2) Start an ISP Company
3) Get millions in big government handouts from the USF
4) Profit

Immigrate to Australia (1)

warewolfsmith (196722) | about a year and a half ago | (#41905943)

Come to the land of milk and honey, join in the national broadband bonanza, to be connected soon (apparently), but hurry the boats are filling fast. On a serious note, can't you guys get satellite broadband, it's all the rage in rural Australia.

Re:Immigrate to Australia (1)

xeno314 (661565) | about a year and a half ago | (#41906325)

You can get satellite broadband, though last I checked it was significantly more expensive than other broadband options (and with higher latency, but I'm sure you realize that). Again, I didn't go check, but it used to have slower speeds and relatively low data caps, as well.

Western Mass? (4, Interesting)

Shishak (12540) | about a year and a half ago | (#41905987)

If you are in Western Massachusetts and the middle mile network is MassBroadband123 network you should give me a call. I'm the only small ISP left in this region and I can help.

Visit: (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41906009)

http://www.dslreports.com/forum/wisp

Business Case (3, Interesting)

Sez Zero (586611) | about a year and a half ago | (#41906063)

Find out your potential market. There may be a reason there is currently no last-mile provider; perhaps people use cellular data or satellite or have just decided that dial-up is ok.

There's some great advice above about starting a small company, but don't go to all that trouble unless you know there will be enough customers to make it worth your while; don't start a business with a product that no one wants.

However, if you want to start a business that has one customer: you, then starting a small ISP sounds like a great way to subsidize your Internet cost and perhaps a good tax write-off as long as you don't pop-up on the IRS's radar.

Re:Business Case (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41906875)

Popping up on the IRS's radar is no big deal as long as he is reporting properly all the money he is putting into keeping it running and reports it as a loss. Initial losses can be carried over (check with an accountant for amount).

Connectivity is easy, but... (3, Insightful)

Matt_Bennett (79107) | about a year and a half ago | (#41906111)

The tech support will kill you. You can buy the hardware and wires etc, but the physical infrastructure is not the challenge- it's the human support infrastructure. Support will crush any free time you have, and also any love you have left for your fellow man. Your clientele is low income rural people, probably not tech savvy. Problem is, that they will probably also (mostly) be really nice and your neighbors. You do want to help them- without a decent size group of technical people with good personal skills as your support team, you'll be floundering.

Wifi Mesh (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41906183)

Some people have suggested wifi repeaters. I would suggest some nice mesh networking. Also, there is currently some really good work going on regarding wifi latency, including with mesh networking. Lots of algorithm work on QOS and queueing to keep latency down, including on wifi. Check out the CeroWRT project.

WISPA (1)

KenDiPietro (1294220) | about a year and a half ago | (#41906211)

Head on over to WISPA, read through their discussion lists, sign up and introduce yourself. DSLReports also has a WISP forum which is pretty friendly and you would be well-served to check out that resource. Having lived the life you're looking at getting into, License Exempt Wireless is probably the only readily available technology that is within your reach unless you have very deep pockets.

Become a WISP (4, Informative)

fwc (168330) | about a year and a half ago | (#41906291)

There are a lot of us out there doing exactly what you're wanting to do, using fixed wireless technology typically from Cambium Networks, Ubiquiti, or Mikrotik.

Some links which will help you find people who are doing this already, and are more than willing to help you start down this path follows. Believe it or not, most operators in the WISP industry are pretty friendly and more than willing to help a new wisp get started with advice and the like.

www.wispa.org [wispa.org] - The Industry Association for WISPS.
Animal Farm Users Group [afmug.com]
Broadband Heroes Whitepaper [wirelesscowboys.com]
Wireless Cowboys Blog [wirelesscowboys.com]

I'm sure there are others. I'd start by reading what I can, probably joining the (free) email lists on a couple of the sites above, and asking questions. Everyone in the industry was a newbie sometime, and most of us remember what it was like to start out, often with about as much knowledge as you have.

Faster way to get to the same result... (1)

jrwilk01 (88081) | about a year and a half ago | (#41906301)

Withdraw all of your money and all that you can borrow.

Now, burn all of the cash.

Ta-da! Just like trying to start a rural ISP!

Citizen networks are the answer. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41906307)

Take a look at

http://guifi.net/en/node/38392

guifi.net started as citizen network long ago: people setting up wireless access points and networking them together.
Later they started federating proxies along the network: people offering their internet connection to the global wireless network

The final stage became when they wanted to go beyond: to get the same advantages as commercial ISP, they set up a Non Profit Foundation, which gave them the status to apply as communications operator.

Having this status (in my country, Spain), you play with the same rules with which big companies play. An example: if you own two buildings across a street, as normal person you can not install a cable between them crossing that street. Being a "telco", you only have to tell the city council to open the ditch and install the conduit where you will install your wire, as long the wire is "public".

Once you are a "telco", you have free access to public infrastructures and to Internet's neutral points. The last mile infrastructure is "privately owned" -each individual is the owner of his/her "gadgets"-, but in order to belong to the network, you must grant access to network traffic.

Obtaining the status of "telco", gave them access to several infra-used public Optical Fiber infrastructures, that allowed them to transport the signal up to the last mile.

Now they are starting to install Optical Fiber connections in remote places (mostly farms), just installing the cables from one farm to the next (the very farmers demanding an internet connection). I have a commercial 50Mb/5Mb FTTH at home while some farmers in a remote place have 1Gb simetrical.
Fiber is far cheaper than copper. Don't get frightened by the words Optical Fiber.

They call it FTTF (Fiber To The Farms) in opposition to commercial FTTH.

Take a look : http://guifi.net/en/node/38392

Dig! (1)

beaverdownunder (1822050) | about a year and a half ago | (#41906311)

It's probably going to be cheaper and easier to get rights-of-way from the council and dig rather than mess around with FCC stuff. Also, you would be providing a more reliable service to your customers.

Just dig a trench and lay PVC pipe with normal CAT in it, restrict access to MAC addresses of routers you provide to people and there you go. People don't pay, cut off their MAC address. Easy done.

Sure people could spoof their neighbour's MAC address or what-have-you but there's that potential for abuse in any system. But I still think you're going to have an easier time getting clearance to dig trenches than you are dealing with the wireless mess.

Re:Dig! (1)

beaverdownunder (1822050) | about a year and a half ago | (#41906349)

Oh yeah, and the phone company came out the other day (here in Australia they bury all the phone lines) and they have a nifty little bore machine that lets you dig little tunnels under streets, driveways, sidewalks, etc. (Just in case anyone wants to rebut with the whole 'patching concrete is expensive' bit...) =)

It can be done: we just switched to one. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41906391)

It's a husband and wife outfit that runs a point-to-point wifi network for the
extended neighborhood. We have a little square antenna on a pole on the
roof, a POE power injector inside, then the cable goes into the firewall.

They've been around for a while, so it IS possible, but this is a pretty
dense and well-heeled area, so lots of customers in a small area.

Fire up the spreadsheet and start trying to make the dollars work out.

You don't (2)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about a year and a half ago | (#41906415)

I work for an ISP that focuses on Rural broadband. There's a reason people don't do this... It's not profitable. We get large subsidies from the feds and still barely make any money at it. The way this works is, you obviously need equipment to service your customers. When using copper to deliver service you have a limited distance you can send your signal. So you'll have a minimal cost for your equipment and then that equipment can only reach customers that are within a certain radius of that equipment. At the bare minimum we're talking about $200,000. Now you've got a density of customers that can be service by that equipment... In a rural town, you'll be very lucky to get 200 customers. We have remotes that have less than 10 people on them. Customers will not pay more than $50 to $100/month for internet service. So do the math... how long will it take you just to pay off the equipment, much less pay for service? Microwave doesn't work. We've tried it. Wide area wifi doesn't work. We've tried it. Fiber works, but costs a fortune and you'd have to dig up your entire town to do it. Your local ISP will also likely sue you. They have exclusivity rights in your town. You might win, but it'll cost you. This is the state of broadband in this country. Other countries deal with it by nationalizing the phone network, but that has its own problems that are arguably even worse.

Re:You don't (2)

jasper160 (2642717) | about a year and a half ago | (#41906561)

Very true on the rural hurdles. My parent who live on a farm dropped the microwave, wifi, and crap DSL for a MiFi and couldn't be happier. And in the next few months the word of mouth has caused several other farm families to drop whatever they had for a MiFi. May want to resell those instead. if there is cell coverage in your area.

Co-Ops (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41906445)

A few years ago there was a wirless ISP in BC that formed it's own co-op. It tried to obtain licencing for the wirless spectrum to increase bandwidth but it was denied by te CRTC because the owners could not be verified to follow CRTC ownership rules.

FCC regulatory issues (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41906481)

Keep in mind the FCC might come after you.

Get the competition to do it (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41906517)

Y not just make enough buzz and promises to get the local dsl is to boost quality of service. Your community benefits and u can still move forward with plans just in case.

You won't do it alone / from scratch (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41906695)

Before everything, get the support of a bigger, already installed ISP, and ask them all your questions.

In example, in France, there is French Data Network, which is a small ISP (around 1000 users) created in the early 90s, and also, a non-profit organization.
FDN has founded FFDN, which is an association of small local ISPs, and FDN try to bootstrap small/local ISP via FFDN.
The aim is to help them with all kind of administrative issues, and provide them infrastructure level services, so they can reach a critical mass of subscribers before having to do big/long term money investments.

Also, it's clear that FDN and FDN-like ISPs provide only a "best-effort" service (it's not bad at all, but you have no warranty) and it's more expensive than the others ISP. The big plus compared to the others ISP is: net neutrality.

If there is a similar a similar organization in your area, contact them !
If there are FDN guys here, don't hesitate to correct me ;)

Look at what others are doing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41906703)

You could have a look at other community broadband projects to get some ideas on organisational and funding models - for example in the UK we have the Rural Broadband Partnership (http://www.ruralbroadband.com) which allows small communities to facilitate broadband in their areas, and they have lots of good pointers and information on their website. Obviously the regulatory stuff won't apply to you but many of the key issues will and it should give you some food for thought.

become mayor (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41906785)

There is an easy two step plan that you should follow. 1. start a communications club in town and make a pilot project, ie. lay fibre between two peoples homes, they are now the first link. 2. Once the pilot project is done use it as your cause to become mayor. Say to the people "if it cost us X to cable up 2 homes in Y amount of days, we can do it in Z days with AA money". What you in turn might end up with is a municipal backbone, and you get your money back by having ISP's compete for it. If you have a bit of money left over you can even use it yourself for your ISP. I've lived in a town where people did the digging themselves to lay conduit, I don't know where it went but the people thought it enriched them somehow causing them to do digging.

Motorola Canopy (1)

Isarian (929683) | about a year and a half ago | (#41906837)

I worked for a WISP for 3 years and I can tell you that most WiFi mesh gear sucks, and it relies on very noisy radio space that is subject to a high noise floor and interference from all kinds of other gear. I'd look into a point-to-multipoint system like Motorola Canopy. You hook up a tower (water towers are especially great, as you can often trade tower access for sharing bandwidth with the municipality) with 6 access points each covering a 60deg area around the tower. Then you "backhaul" the tower using another wireless link to your central office where you have your upstream connection, ideally fiber. As time goes on you grow by adding more towers, increasing your geographical service area, adding more fiber links, eventually doing BGP across the network, etc.

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