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Internet in the Sierra Foothills

This is to help people discover their choices for internet connections in my area. This includes the towns of Grass Valley, Nevada City, and the Nevada County region

• If you are very close to a town such as Grass Valley or Nevada City, you might be able to get cable internet from Comcast, or SuddenLink in the Southern Nevada County area. I know people complain about poor customer service from Comcast, but it's one of the fastest connections you can get in this area.

UVerse from AT&T would be a second choice, but it is not as available outside of the more densely populated areas, such as downtown Grass Valley or Nevada City. There is also DSL from AT&T. It's a slower service, and they are trying to phase that out in our area, so if you don't already have it, they may not offer it to you (this has been a very annoying problem with AT&T). Check with them to see what's available. If UVerse is not available in your area, and if AT&T says they do not offer DSL, you can try getting DSL from Spiral Internet (a local company).

• If cable, U-verse, or DSL is not available (or DSL is too slow for you), you can check with SmarterBroadband, a wireless service, that may be able provide service in areas where the others cannot. There is also Digital Path, a similar wireless service. The wireless services tend to have large set up costs and long-term contracts, however I recently saw a pretty good promotion from Digital Path. Check with both before making a decision.

• You can use your cell phone as a hot spot (like a wireless router), and connect your computers and other devices to it. The speed can be acceptable, but the cost could be higher than the other solutions. From my experience, Verizon has the best reception in the Nevada County area.

• Your last and worst choice would be satellite from Viasat (previously Wild Blue), HughesNet, DirecTV, or Dish. They are not always reliable, and if you use too much bandwidth per month, they slow your connection down to an almost unusable speed.

Generally, a "wired" connection, such as cable, UVerse, or DSL, will be more reliable, and a better choice than the wireless services (SmarterBroadband, Digital Path, cell phone, satellite). But you will need to decide based on what's available, the minimum speed you need, and what you are willing to pay. If you are using digital phone lines (VOIP), reliability is an important factor, even though a typical call does not require a lot of speed.

★★★ Race Telecommunications is involved with distributing a high-speed wired connection throughout parts of the county. That connection promises to be the fastest and most reliable internet in our area. Nevada County Connected also has an article about this.

You may already know that Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, has created another company called Starlink (, that is providing internet access. They are launching thousands of satellites to provide fast internet service from almost any point on earth. They plan to offer download speeds of 100 Mbps or more with an extremely low latency of 20 milliseconds. If they can accomplish that, the service will be great if you live in a more rural area with limited internet options. The other satellite providers (HughesNet, ViaSat, etc.), will not come close to providing what Starlink can. Right now (July 2021), Starlink is still in development, with a limited number of customers. If they can achieve their goals, I will probably switch to Starlink when it becomes more available.

About SmarterBroadband

I have used SmarterBroadband, a local Grass Valley company, for many years. I get a faster connection (12MB down, 2MB up) than AT&T DSL (2.5MB down, .42MB up). The customer service is good, but the problem for me is that it is not as reliable as the DSL, and lately (July 2021), I rarely get close to the download rate (12MB) that I am paying for. I suspect that will be the case with any wireless service (Digital Path included). It's not down too often, but when it is, it could be anywhere from a few minutes to all day. That's why I also have a DSL connection with AT&T (I was lucky to get it a few years ago). It rarely goes down, and so I keep all my VOIP phones connected to that network, and use the SmarterBroadband for the computers, tablets, and phones. When SmarterBroadband is down, I connect everything to the DSL. Being a web developer, it's important not to be down for any length of time, so a backup provider is essential. My 12MB service with SmarterBroadband can vary quite a bit (down to 2MB or 3MB), while my DSL speeds tend to be more consistent (a fairly constant 2.5MB). The DSL is also cheaper, especially if you can get one of the AT&T promotions. If reliability is the most important factor for you (especially for VOIP phones), choose something other than wireless or satellite if you can. If speed is important over reliability, SmarterBroadband might work well for you. It's a bit frustrating for me to pay SmarterBroadband $89/month for service that has varying speeds that are often less than half of what I am paying for. It will be worth trying out Starlink (mentioned above), when it becomes more available.

Update 02/11/2020:
SmarterBroadband sent out a technician, and they installed new equipment that gave me a faster speed (up to 12MB download and 2MB upload). Since the equipment is high up in a tree, I had to pay the first hour for the tree climber ($80), and they covered the remainder. The service is much better now, and I am getting up to 12MB downloads. However, I noticed that the service still tends to slow down every evening from about 6pm to 11pm. The upload does not slow down very much, only the download slows down (which is the more important direction for most things). At least when the speed reduces, it only goes down to 5MB or 6MB, which is still acceptable, compared to the previous service that would drop to 2MB or 3MB in the evenings.

I have performed various SmarterBroadband speed tests. I wanted to see what was really happening over various time periods. Below are the results.

Visual chart of 12MB service at various intervals starting 03/16/2020
Table of 12MB service at various intervals starting 03/16/2020.
These tests were performed after they installed the new equipment with the 12MB service.
Visual chart of 12MB service every 15 minutes from 02/11/2020 to 03/06/2020
Table of 12MB service every 15 minutes from 02/11/2020 to 03/06/2020
I stopped the long testing period above on 03/06/2020, but continued with more tests on 03/16/2020, because I started noticing slower speeds, even during the day. It's not completely continuous at 15 minute intervals, but I might do that later if necessary.

This was with 8MB service, before they installed the new equipment on 02/11/2020.
Visual chart of 8MB service every 15 minutes from 02/03/2020 to 02/11/2020
Table of 8MB service every 15 minutes from 02/03/2020 to 02/11/2020.

Other useful web sites

Test your Internet connection speed