Life Unconnected and Offline

On June 28th our internet service provider shut down.  Since that time we’ve been essentially unconnected and offline (dial-up only).  It’s made life, well, “interesting”.  As I write this I am in my car, parked on the landing above my house, laptop plugged into a car-lighter converter, connected to the internet using my Xoom tablet as a wi-fi hotspot.  The view is great, the connection passable (3G) but it’s not very good for actually working.

It’s amazing how many things in my life revolve around the ability to go on line (with a real, not dial-up, connection).  I can read and respond to email through webmail using my system up here on the landing (but I can’t respond to email I’ve already downloaded).   And I can surf the net just fine from up here, although somewhat unsecurely.

But for things that need programs on my computer, I’m out of luck.  I can do my accounting, but can’t process credit card payments or access my bank account.  I get online statements from my credit cards , but can’t access them to make a snail-mail payment or pay online.  I can make soap and products, but my recipe system is online and I can’t get to it.  I get orders for my book through PayPal – but I can’t get logged in to retrieve them.  And I use com for shipping, but can’t get online to fill my account or print shipping labels.

For all of July I moved my whole computer system into town and was driving in each day to work.  Must say, I DO NOT like “commuting”.  Driving 12 miles each way is probably less than most people have to commute, but I had to drive 8 of those miles on a gravel road dodging log trucks!  I finally took everything home last week because I thought we were just a few days from having an internet connection.

We had a great connection at a very reasonable price ($50 per month for excellent speed and no band-width restrictions) through Rural Access Internet, an internet access system using radio transmissions that a local computer guy set up.  Unfortunately, he passed away early this year and his wife decided to discontinue the service.  They were to shut down June 30th, but they were cut off a few days early, and our service quit on the 28th.

Since that time we’ve been looking at options.  For those of you in cities, the options are easy – call the cable company and get a hook-up.  Out in the sticks (we’re not actually in the middle of nowhere, but you can see it from out house), the options are a little different.

First we called Verizon to see if we could get connected through our cell phone or Xoom.  Nope.  We just BARELY get cell service at our house, not enough for a stable connection, and the bandwidth is limited to 5G per month – not enough for Jere and I to actually work.

Next we tried DirecPC (HughesNet).  We had that before, and my daughter has it now.  To get a usable level of speed and bandwidth, it would cost about $350 per month — for about 1/2 the speed we had with our previous ISP, and still just barely enough bandwidth.

We checked with Frontier Communications, who recently bought the Verzion phone service here – partly on the basis that they would provide internet access to rural areas.  Nope.  They won’t have the infrastructure set up for internet in our area for at least a year, and even then it’s unlikely they will string a line as far out as we are. (Just as a note, the phone infrastructure here is so far behind that we can’t even get voice mail services on our land-line phone!)

ComCast, the local cable provider?  They aren’t going to expand out to our area.  Ever.

Then we went to the ISP that was providing the backbone connection for Rural Access Internet before they shut down.  Ah-ha!  Possible option – a T1 line, using existing phone cable   “Of course it can be done,” they said.  No problem.  Only $500 per month, but great speed and bandwidth.  Now, 6 weeks later, they found out that the equipment needs to be “upgraded” and we are still waiting to see what that would involve.

But there IS good news.  We’re not the only ones in this position and good old country ingenuity is coming through.  A local web guy, Dave, is setting up a new system, similar to Rural Access Internet, but better and faster.  Luckily, from this very landing we can see our house and my daughter’s house, and also Dave’s house (8 miles away) and the backbone connection he’s using (10 miles) – which means that the radio signal will reach here and from here to our house and Liz’s.

It’s been a process getting everything set up, though – and it’s still not working (YET).  It took Dave a while to get the radios all talking and relaying information, but he has internet access at his house now – the first step.  We know the system works.  We have to pole up, the incoming radio and outgoing wi-fi units ready, batteries (4 six-volt units), lockable job box to secure everything … just need the power converter.

And the best news?  As I write this, Jere is cruising down the freeway to Grants Pass (6 hours round trip) where he’s picking up the solar panel(s) and converter.  He’ll be back by 6 or so, and tomorrow morning everything is supposed to get attached, pointed in the right direction and powered up.

By this time tomorrow I hope to have an update – posted from my desk in my house, using my computer.  And once again I’ll be able to work in my pajamas!

Update – August 9, 2001, 8:27pm – Most of the day was spent getting the radios, batteries, solar panels and the infamous converter hooked up.  Everything seemed to go fine … but no power to the radio.  After searching online for help (through the Xoom on the landing) it turns out the radios use non-standard POE (that’s “Power Over Ethernet”, I recently learned) to keep their system “proprietary” (read that as “secret” and a way to sell more add-ons).  In order to make THAT work, we need a simple $8 gizmo, only available from the radio company.  It’s ordered, with overnight shipping; ships tomorrow and it will arrive on Thursday.

And the internet is lost for a few more days, all for the want of a  …. POE converter.  Would be a lot easier if it was just a horse shoe nail.



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