Customer FAQ

Commonly asked questions:

Does your service require a contract or credit check?

Short answer: No.

Our policy is: if you like it, pay for what you use; if you don’t like it, don’t pay for it. Our service is contract-free and does not require a credit check to sign up. Our service also comes with a 30-day trail run where, if you are not happy with your service for any reason, you can return the hardware and we will provide a full refund (minus the install fee).

What makes you different from other broadband providers?

We are a unique broadband provider in that we are operated by a mission driven non-profit organization dedicated to connecting under-served and un-connected rural communities, utilizing a revolutionary and disruptive blockchain-based decentralized mesh networking technology called Althea.

We are a community-focused operation that facilitates individuals to retain direct ownership of their own part of the last-mile network infrastructure via customer-owned relays that create a resilient and self-healing network where the more relays in place the faster, more reliable, and more affordable the network becomes for everyone. Customers that opt to purchase and host these relays receive a real-time revenue for their participation in helping our network grow and provide connectivity to customers around them.

This novel way of constructing a decentralized network creates a multi-stakeholder system that is capable of expanding quickly and efficiently to reach areas that traditional providers are incapable of providing service to, which makes it ideally suited to provide connectivity to the expansive rural areas in and around the Missoula and Bitterroot valleys.

Furthermore, as customer security is one of our highest priorities we are the only ISP to provide fully encrypted and privatized connections, where each customer router is connected to the internet using a cutting edge VPN encryption method called Wireguard, that keeps customer traffic protected as is traverses our community owned mesh network.

Why should I pay for internet by the GB instead of traditional speed tiers or “unlimited” plans?

Simply put: so that you’re only paying for what you use, and not paying for what you’re not using.
Additionally, rather than being forced into a set payment schedule our service allows you to pay as you go, at your own convenience. You’ll never have to worry about late fees, having your service cut off, or being sent to collections.

To start with, when we talk about incumbent ISP’s, there are no true ”unlimited” bandwidth plans. Traditional ISP’s commonly cut off customers service for bandwidth usage at arbitrary limits they deem “abusive.” Speed-tier service plans are the single most used strategy that facilitate traditional ISP’s to massively over-subscribe their networks.

With traditional ISP’s you’re always paying the same amount regardless of if they’re actually delivering the level of service they advertise, if the service is up or not, or if you’re actually using it or away from home or out of town on vacation.
The internet is a utility, the same as power or water. So why should it be billed any differently?

Consider this simple scenario: you leave town for a month. While you’re gone you’re not using your lights, appliances, washer and dryer, running your dish washer, showering, etc.

When you arrive back home you’ll find your power, water, and sewer bills low reflecting the fact that you weren’t using them. But with current internet providers you still owe them the same amount you do every month.
With our service the funds that are on your router when you leave will be the same as when you come back.

To learn more on the advantages of this utilized billing model you can read our blog post and a thorough write up on the subject published by Althea.

What is the cost per GB

Presently our prices per GB range from $0.10-$0.19/GB. Your price will vary based upon the area you live in, which will determine the number of relays your connection travels through our network. More remote / harder to reach areas will typically pay slightly higher prices, whereas customer in denser populated areas that are located closer to our network gateways will pay lower prices. While the price per GB varies and is subject to change, we always aim to deliver the most affordable bandwidth possible to ensure all our customers are paying competitive and reasonable rates.

What is a support fee?

Our support fee is reserved for covering customer support and maintenance costs, replacement of faulty hardware, and customer hardware upgrades when they become available. Also of note is that the support fee is not paid out in a single payment, but instead it is distributed out throughout a 30 day period on a per-day basis.

What happens when my router runs out of funds?

Our service includes a “free tier.” When your router runs out of funds your router will be automatically set to this free tier where your connection is rate limited to 2-3mb/s. This is to ensure that any customer who might not immediately be able to afford to reload funds on their router remain connected to the internet with a connection that is sufficient for basic web browsing, e-mail, or even a zoom call.

The internet is a vital lifeline service in our modern lives. As such it is our mission as a non-profit to get people connected to the internet and keep them connected to the internet. This means that we will never disconnect a customer due to non-payment, or send them to collections.

How is the price per GB set?

We calculate the base cost per GB on several factors: 

1.) The cost of the primary fiber connection from our wholesale providers.

2.) The national average of broadband customers monthly bandwidth usage.

3.) Our customers average bandwidth usage.  

4.) How many relays most customers connect through to reach the closest gateway. 

Using these variables we can arrive at price per GB to ensure our average customers are remaining in that target range of $50-$60/month.

Why do I have to buy a radio and router?

Our network uses highly specialized hardware and software to provide you with the best possible service:

1.) The radio antennas are specially selected ISP-grade high performance wireless equipment provided by a company called Ubiquiti.

2.) Our routers run a custom software called Althea, designed to operate on very specific hardware. This software is what allows your router to automatically find the cheapest and fastest path through our mesh network, as well as facilitating the real-time purchasing of bandwidth from each relay along that path to our main gateway. 

Can I use my own router?

In most cases: no. The Althea software we use requires very specific hardware. If you do own a router that is officially supported, we can load this software on your router for a $25 service fee. You can find the list of officially supported routers here.

Also, if you have a particularly high-end WiFi router that you would like to continue to use we do also offer a more “modem-like” device that you can purchase for a cost of $75.

What if I live in an apartment or rental property? Can I still get service or can my landlord prevent me from getting connected?

For people interested in fixed wireless service, but are concerned that their landlord or HOA would prohibit the installation of an antenna on their property (rented or owned) here are the following FCC “OTARD” regulations that block a landlord, HOA, or community body from attempting to restrict the installation of fixed wireless or satellite dishes.

Here is an article that explains this “legalese” in more direct terminology.

What is a relay and why are they important?

Relays make up the last-mile infrastructure of our network.

In it’s simplest form a relay is no more than an additional antenna installed at a customer’s home that transmits a signal that connects surrounding customers and other relays to our network.

Relays are built out from our gateways (strategically geographically distributed points on our network that connect out to the internet via a fast wholesale fiber connection), via high speed wireless links, to form a mesh network.

Each customer has the opportunity to purchase and host a relay. The more customers that purchase and host relays the larger, faster, more efficient, and more reliable our network grows.

With a sufficient number of these relays if one goes down (due to loss of power or hardware failure) the network is capable of self-healing, instantly sending customer traffic down alternative paths so that our customers service isn’t interrupted.

Additionally, via this distributed and decentralized model of building a network it allows us to connect hard to reach areas that are otherwise unable to receive internet or cell service.

Can I host a relay without using the service?

Yes! If you already have an internet provider you can still host a relay from which you will earn a recurring profit from. Also, if you start as just a relay host and would like to try out or switch our service it is as easy as connecting to the relays router.

What is a network gateway?

Network gateways are the point on our network that connects relays and customer traffic out to the wider internet. These network gateways are key pieces of infrastructure that we construct in a strategically geographically distributed fashion that are connected to fast fiber connections provided by wholesale bandwidth providers.

Due to the decentralized nature of our network, and our leverage of multiple bandwidth providers, this adds an extra level of reliability to our service, where one gateway can go down without customers service going down.

In the event a gateway, or it’s connection goes down, our network is capable of instantly redirecting traffic on the fly to the next closest gateway, ensuring customers always remain connected to the internet.

When will service be available in my area?

We are constantly working on building out our coverage area, with the aim to service the entirety of the Missoula and Bitterroot valleys. Check our network coverage map to see if we currently provide service in your area: Service Area Coverage Map

If you live in neighborhood that lacks internet service we encourage you to reach out to us and we can work with you and your neighbors directly in planning where and how to establish the needed relays to provide service to your area.

Who and what is Althea?

Althea is organization that produces the open source software and technology platform (of the same name) that is at the core of what runs our network. But more than simply software, Althea is a re-imagining of the outdated and inefficient traditional ISP model, and represents a revolutionary and disruptive technological and ideological shift in how broadband networks can be built and operated.
Using a combination of mesh networking technology and a blockchain-based billing and customer management system it allows for modern broadband infrastructure to be built quickly and efficiently, with a significantly lower barrier for entry in terms of the financial capital and other resources needed, by creating a decentralized multi-stakeholder system.

Bottom line: Althea is a significant evolutionary step forward in the building of broadband networks that enables network operators, like us, to create community owned and operated networks that can provide faster and more affordable service to areas that other ISP can’t reach.
Watch this short video to learn more:

If you would like to learn more about the technical details of Althea you can read their whitepaper here.

Who and what is Ubiquiti?

Ubiquiti is a manufacturer of wired and wireless technology that range from home, SOHO, enterprise, to carrier and ISP grade products. They are among the top rated manufacturers of next-generation wired (copper and fiber) and wireless technology.

While we at the Missoula Valley Internet Co-op, and our larger organization of the Pacific NW Rural Broadband Alliance, work with and are constantly evaluating many technologies and manufacturers we have chosen Ubiquiti’s ISP-grade line of products to power the core of our networks infrastructure due to their overall value, quality, ease of use, and visually appealing products for placement on our customers homes and businesses.

What is Wireguard?

Wireguard is an advanced and cutting edge open source VPN software that has established itself as a leading VPN technology known for it’s speed and high level of security and encryption.

As our network uses privately owned relays to connect customers out to the internet each customer router uses wireguard to keep their traffic secure as it travels over our network and out to the internet. This also makes our network the only internet service available that keeps customer traffic entirely encrypted over our network and protected from being inspected or altered by third parties or malicious actors.

Additional questions:

If you have any other questions please don’t hesitate to reach out to us directly via our contact form. You can also learn more on Althea’s FAQ.