Waiting for Elon; or first world problems with third world services
I live 17 miles from Hartford in Barkhamsted. My home is on a public through street close to the border of West Hartland. It is a rural location in a rural town, but I want you all to know that the United States Postal Service just can’t make it to our house and about ten others because the extra quarter mile is too much.
So, I get a P.O. Box and wonder every year why I have to pay for it. The reason each year is that, in fact, I do have delivery available if I plant a mailbox a quarter of a mile from our house where our main road intersects with another. Now, I point this out because although it is frustrating, it can be interpreted as quaint or quirky.
Now, for the last six months, my wife and I have shared our house with our adult daughter and her partner. My wife is a public school educator who, due to the virus, works from home using Zoom type programs. My daughter’s partner works for a large international company that has closed its offices during the pandemic and requires its employees to work remotely from elsewhere. He spends over 10 hours a day online with video type calls. So this should be no problem, right? Get a $50 dollar-a-month unlimited high speed data plan and everyone can work at home and be happy. But remember, my house has no postal delivery, so it certainly cannot have high speed internet.
Seventeen miles from Hartford, the cost of the data used by my wife and my daughter’s partner is close to $900 a month. Should I explain?
Okay, our house is serviced by copper telephone wires only. Although the street is a through street, we are the second to last house before the line peters out and the phone feed comes in through West Hartland. There has never been an incentive to move our house and the neighbors into 20th century technology, much less the 21st century. So, in our 30 years there, we have enjoyed the wonders of dial up internet service for longer than most of you, and then as the new century broke, we moved into a form of DSL service unknown to even our carrier provider.
You see, we would call and ask to receive DSL service and were told that there was not the equipment to get the signal out to our house on the line. They confirmed for years that we could not get it. One time, I called and got an eager representative who insisted that we could get it and a switch was flipped somewhere and suddenly we were getting a weak, limp DSL signal that the company would then start charging us for. When I would call the company to see if the speed could be increased, they insisted that they could not because we could have no DSL at our house, even though we were paying them for it.
Our form of bingeing in those DSL days (up until last year) was leisurely. We only used the data for some TV and the buffering and non signal time was so pervasive that we fell behind socially. We’ve done the Sopranos, and the Wire, but are still working through Nurse Jackie. We have a lot of catching up to do.
Well, what about cable? Surely, we could have gotten cable. We couldn’t really. Up until a few years ago, the cable lines did not run out to where our house is. The cable company always said that it would have to run line up the street, which they could do if there were enough customers, but that to run lines off the street into the homes (ours is a 1,000 feet in) would cost a lot and that we would have to pay all or most of that cost.
That story changed over time. We ran a clean underground, sealed conduit from the street to our house for utilities years ago, but the whole thing seems to perplex the cable company. They come out and measure and never contact us again.
Satellite? Nope. The posture of our house on a hillside surrounded by other hills and trees made it unrealistic. The tests showed that it could not pick up the satellite consistently. So we chugged along until early this year when I came up with a pre-Covid good idea. Verizon owns a company called Visible that sells unlimited data plans at a sufficient speed that we could catch up on necessary television shows.
I got a Visible plan for $40 and opened its hot spot and placed it near out TV and voila, we’re into Nurse Jackie. Now comes COVID, my wife’s need to Zoom all day; my daughter’s partner’s need to Zoom all day; and my daughter’s need to continue her doctoral work. Will my Visible rig handle it? No. What to do?
I decided I would step up and get a MiFi device through Verizon and get unlimited data and be ready to join the 21st century. The problem is that Verizon is not as enlightened as its possession, Visible. At Verizon, with my MiFi device, I can’t really get an unlimited plan. The most I can get is 30 GB of blazing speed a month, after which if slows down to a speed that is unusable for any function on either a phone or a computer.
Well, maybe 30 gigs will be enough for my wife’s work. It cost $90 for the “unlimited plan.” Maybe that would be enough. In any case, I was assured that if I needed more, I could add 10 mg of the speedy stuff for $10. The 30GB was only sufficient for about three weeks of my wife’s work before becoming unusable. I get a panicked call from her that she can’t see her students. I contact Verizon to add some more speedy data for $10. No, no there is no such thing, but I can get a 15 GB “boost” for $35 extra dollars. I’m desperate. Give it to me. Okay, you’re boosted.
But then this morning, I’m un-boosted and my wife is unable to see her students. I contact Verizon. What happened? Well, you only got a 5 GB boost, not a 15 GB. Must have been a mistake, but we can give you another 5 GB boost for $35. Sorry for any miscommunication.
So, where are we? Ninety dollars for an “unlimited,” limited plan from Verizon; $35 for the needed monthly boost from Verizon; $40 a month for Visible unlimited (fast, but not fast enough for work, but kept as a back up to the Verizon data speed crashes). The total looks like $165 dollars a month for data for my wife and Nurse Jackie. This is subject to Verizon increases with each “misunderstanding.”
My daughter’s partner is famous internationally in his company. The IT department there keeps statistics on costs of the data plans its employees are using around the world. He is consistently in the top three worldwide, for data cost. Last month, having to use an “unlimited” plan from his company, the data bill was over $750. What is perplexing to his IT department is that he is not working from the arctic on a satellite phone. He is 17 miles from Hartford in Barkhamsted, Connecticut.
My salvation apparently lies with Elon Musk and/or Jeff Bezos. Musk might be my savior with his satellite internet system (I’ve applied); and Bezos apparently is cooking up the same type of thing and adds the promise of impeccable customer service. All this, despite the fact that they may be megalomaniacs taking over the world.
I’ll take that for some well serviced, reasonable broad band.
Greg Cantwell lives in Barkhamsted.
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