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

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 07, 2012 @06:41AM (#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.

  • by emes ( 240193 ) on Wednesday November 07, 2012 @07:06AM (#41905743)

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

  • Re:don't (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rtfa-troll ( 1340807 ) on Wednesday November 07, 2012 @07:07AM (#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.
  • Western Mass? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Shishak ( 12540 ) on Wednesday November 07, 2012 @08:04AM (#41905987) Homepage

    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.

  • Business Case (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Sez Zero ( 586611 ) on Wednesday November 07, 2012 @08:23AM (#41906063) Journal
    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.
  • by rodrigoandrade ( 713371 ) on Wednesday November 07, 2012 @08:45AM (#41906225)

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

  • by Razgorov Prikazka ( 1699498 ) on Wednesday November 07, 2012 @08:58AM (#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!
  • More info (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 07, 2012 @10:27AM (#41907117)

    I want to thank everyone for the advice. I already have a profitable small business, and I understand that this probably will not be profitable. My goal is better internet access for myself and my community. It sounds like I need to go with Ubiquity-type stuff, if anything.

    Even if the established provider is simply scared into installing a few more DSLAMs, that would be a good outcome. The best outcome in my mind would be for me to end up leading a community-owned effort.

  • by rjr162 ( 69736 ) on Wednesday November 07, 2012 @12:02PM (#41908367)

    Okay, so skip WiMAX and use what instead for the wireless link from your tower to reach the 50 people?

    Being rural, the houses can tend to be spread fairly far apart. Sure it may be line of site, but it may not be (or be partially blocked). Using 802.11 may not work (also considering any interference there may be near by or within the houses)...

    Ubiquity and use "off band" (non-2.4 or 5.4GHz) equipment? That may work to solve the interference issue, but unless it's another open spectrum space and within the power limits of that space, you'll need to get a FCC permit...

    And no, I'm not being a smart ass, I'm honestly curious about what you'd recommend since you say no to WiMAX but don't mention any replacement.

  • by TubeSteak ( 669689 ) on Wednesday November 07, 2012 @02:19PM (#41909959) Journal

    However the submitter decides to do it, he needs an accountant.
    And if he's getting help for free, two accountants. And no matter who's handling the money, trust but verify.

    My experience has been that people take failure better than any success where their money has been mishandled.
    The worst thing you can do in a small town is to screw up with other people's money.

Never worry about theory as long as the machinery does what it's supposed to do. -- R. A. Heinlein