published Tuesday, November 19th, 2013

Aliens descend on Chattanooga with new Internet service

Brittany Jackson, employee at The Johnson Group Advertising and Marketing firm, reaches over an alien statue character to feed a parking meter Monday at noon for the ViaSat Exede vehicle. The military-style transport was loaded with a spaceship strapped to a flatbed trailer.
Brittany Jackson, employee at The Johnson Group Advertising and Marketing firm, reaches over an alien statue character to feed a parking meter Monday at noon for the ViaSat Exede vehicle. The military-style transport was loaded with a spaceship strapped to a flatbed trailer.
Photo by Tim Barber.

A military vehicle carrying a UFO and an alien pilot has been making the rounds at state fairs, fall festivals and BBQs throughout the counties around Chattanooga.

It's has nothing to do with any of the Area 51 conspiracy theories floating around the darker parts of the Internet, nor is the vehicle part of an an actual alien conspiracy -- at least not that anyone has admitted so far. Instead, the earthlings behind the stunt say it's part of a marketing plan conceived by The Johnson Group to sell a company's satellite broadband service to rural consumers.

It's easy to take Chattanooga's ultra-fast broadband for granted. It's simple to sign-up, it's always on and it's virtually hassle-free. But outside of the highly-populated Chattanooga market favored by EPB, Comcast, AT&T and Charter, there's another world. A world without always-on cable modems and fiber to the home.

"Believe it or not, there are still people out there using dial-up," said Joe Johnson, head of The Johnson Group.

Dial-up Internet may be loud, slow and unweildy, but it's still the only option for people in rural communities that lack the population density to make it profitable for cable giants to build their infrastructure into an area, Johnson said. Such limited connection speeds make speedy online surfing -- something many city-dwellers today take for granted -- nearly impossible.

But thanks to a new communications satellite launched in 2011, a company named Exede Internet is beaming a message of hope from outer space to those stranded in the Internet wastelands. All they need to do is put up a satellite dish.

It may not be the fastest Internet available, but at 12 megabits per second down and 3 Mbps up, it's enough for rural consumers to have nearly as much fun online as their city-dwelling cousins, Johnson says.

  • photo
    Chattanooga Parking Authority employee Johnny Bostic, left, stops to take a look at a ViaSat Exede display Monday in front of The Johnson Group Advertising and Marketing firm. The vehicle took two metered parking spots with the military-style transport vehicle.
    Photo by Tim Barber.
    enlarge photo

"We're not competing in Chattanooga," Johnson said. "This is for people who are outside of the big cities, but who want to be able to surf at high speeds."

Of course, there are some downsides. Because signals are traveling into and back out of space to an overhead satellite, there's some lag that could affect online games. And because one sattellite can only transmit so much data before it gets overcrowded, the company during the day must limit how much data a person can stream to avoid ruining the experience for everyone else.

So 10 gigabytes of data per month, which will work for many users, costs about $50. Customers who want to stream HD movies through Netflix may need to upgrade their plan to 25 gigabytes, which goes for $130 per month.

All plans include unlimited access to everything -- but only from midnight to 5 a.m.

"This is going to be the best option for someone who's on dial-up right now and is ready to enjoy the Internet the way it's meant to be enjoyed," Johnson said.

Bargain hunters can bundle in TV through DirectTV and local phone service as well, officials said.

The alien truck, which was parked outside The Johnson Group's downtown headquarters on Monday, is heading to a secret storage facility for the remainder of the winter, before re-emerging in the spring to visit home shows and RV shows across the region's rural communities.

Contact Ellis Smith at esmith@timesfreepress.com or at 757-6315

about Ellis Smith...

Ellis Smith joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in January 2010 as a business reporter. His beat includes the flooring industry, Chattem, Unum, Krystal, the automobile market, real estate and technology. Ellis is from Marietta, Ga., and has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication at the University of West Georgia. He previously worked at UTV-13 News, Carrollton, Ga., as a producer; at the The West Georgian, Carrollton, Ga., as editor; and at the Times-Georgian, Carrollton, ...

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