Key Peninsula residents have turned to wireless hotspots and satellite service for solutions to inadequate internet access as Pierce County’s plan to expand access to broadband moves forward. “But many people are desperate for connectivity and cannot wait,” said Pierce County Council Chair Derek Young (D-7th, Gig Harbor).
Peninsula School District had extensive experience with hotspots during the pandemic, serving more than 700 families at its peak and 120 currently. Hotspots require good cellular service, which can be a challenge on the Key Peninsula. Verizon and AT&T hotspots generally worked best depending on the location, said Kris Hagel, PSD executive director of digital learning.
“We found that you might be able to have up to two people using one hotspot,” Hagel said. PSD benefits from state-negotiated rates, but most plans charge for data, “So that can get expensive.”
George Hovany, who lives near Camp Seymour, has been using a Verizon hotspot device despite his one-bar signal strength. He said that his internet speed had slowed over the last month, but that it was good enough that he probably would not sign up for satellite service. “I am happy but not overjoyed.”
A number of Key Penners and neighbors have turned to Starlink, a satellite service operated by SpaceX. A mostly clear view of the sky is required for the service, which can be an issue for many on the Key Peninsula, but installation is usually simple. There is a waiting list, the initial cost is $599, and the monthly fee is $110. (See “Internet From Above,” KP News, December 2020.)
Geoff Mitchell moved to Belfair from Puyallup six years ago. “We had Xfinity, and the internet was just a part of life,” he said. “Moving out here was like returning to the Stone Age.” He had DSL CenturyLink service, which he said was “painfully slow,” and then tried a Verizon hotspot but the data limits were a problem.
Mitchell installed a Starlink system a year ago. His home is surrounded by 150-foot-tall trees, so he paid to have the receiver installed at the top of one. Because the system included only a 100-foot cable, he needed additional cable, a power box at the base of the tree, and then an ethernet connection to the house. The cost of the installation was $2,000.
“It was worth every penny,” Mitchell said. “I have a business, my wife works from home, and I have two kids.”
Rick Quintus moved to Longbranch from east Lewis County in 2019 where he had Gigabit internet service. He tried HughesNet, a satellite service, but data limits and poor speed made it untenable. He turned to a Verizon hotspot, but poor reception rendered it inadequate. Astound Broadband (formerly Wave) provided service across the street, but there was no access to houses on his side and an estimate to get a line installed was $20,000.
Quintus recently installed a Starlink system but faced the dilemma of trees obstructing the signal.
“The whole point of moving out there was I kind of like living in the woods,” he said. “A lot of people on the KP will be faced with that decision.”
At installation he confronted the same issues described by Mitchell—a limited cable run, the need to get power to the receiver, and running cable to the house. Once the installation was finished, he said the speed was great and there was no problem streaming video. But he loses connection for a few seconds each minute, and that presents a problem for applications that require a constant connection. He hopes to get the Starlink system working well enough that he can cancel his DSL service.
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