Staying Connected in the US

Note: AT&T recently changed their Go Phone plans, and the information here isn't correct. If you want a "daily" type pay-as-you-go plan, and want data, then AT&T has nothing for you. Their new options are absolutely ridiculous.

I have been travelling back and forth to Kentucky regularly for nearly five years. In the early years I would try and stop to eat at Burger King, the only chain that consistently had WiFi at that time. I would get off the highway, order my meal, and quickly check my email on my Windows Mobile phone. Even then I had long given up on trying to use Pocket Internet Explorer to check my favourite sites.
Apart from the occasional fast food/Internet fix I would typically just accept that I was going to be out of touch for my weekend dashes to Kentucky. Just answering the phone would cost me $4, and then another buck or two per minute after the first minute.
Eventually my Sweetie (now my wife) got high-speed Internet and, using Skype, it was easier to stay connected. We married in 2010 and still travel to visit her parents who live in eastern Kentucky and use dial-up to connect. So much for high-speed.
In the fall of 2010 I switched away from Telus as my cell provider and tried out Wind Mobile. I know not everyone has had the best experience with Wind, but it has been great for my family. One big advantage is using the phone in the States. Wind charges 25 cents per minute for using the phone in the States, and no additional "roaming charge". It's still not cheap enough that you want to have extended conversations, but I don't have to worry about answering my phone to talk for a couple of minutes.
This helped quite a bit but we soon found out that we were limited to T-Mobile coverage and sadly much of eastern Kentucky isn't covered. I already had an unlocked phone so the next challenge was to figure out which US pay-as-you-go provider was the best choice for us.
AT&T's GoPhone service has a $2 per day service for unlimited calls within the US, 19 cents per minute to Canada, and unlimited texting in the US and Canada. You only have to pay the $2 on the days you actually use the phone, and if you add $25 at a time the balance doesn't expire for 90 days.
As for data, earlier this year AT&T updated their data packages for GoPhone to include 10MB for $5, 100MB for $15, and 500MB for $25. This isn't exactly what I would call cheap, but honestly I find that checking my email, some web pages, Twitter, and Google+ only uses about 25 to 30MB over a few days. It's definitely enough to stay connected. It isn't enough for streaming audio or video, but that isn't realistic in the hills of Kentucky anyway. I end up on AT&T's EDGE (2G) network in Lee County Kentucky and typically see speeds around 200 Kilobit per second. That is about 5 times faster than dial-up; slow but usable for non-streaming types of applications.
Smartphones have also improved by incredible amounts in the last five years. I switched to an Android phone when I switched to Wind. Most of my online activities can be done easily on my phone, but I can even use my phone as a WiFi hotspot if necessary. This entire blog was typed on my phone using the Blogger app.
As for Wind in the States, my wife's phone, with the Wind SIM card still installed, actually registered on AT&T's network this past weekend. We looked at each other surprised when her phone rang at her parents' place. Maybe Wind has updated their US partnerships.
Staying connected while traveling in the States has become progressively easier over the last five years. Hopefully things keep getting better.

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