Sunday, May 24, 2020

Data Deserts

Q&A: Can I use my HughesNet satellite Internet modem in two places?

There are still a lot of places in America where high-speed Internet is not available - and not all of them are in extreme rural areas!

When we had the lake house in New York, it was halfway between Ithaca and Auburn, both of which are depressed little Central New York towns which call themselves cities.   We tried to sign up for DSL or Cable-modem, but were told it was not available.  The Cable companies from either city had their lines stop about a mile North and a mile South of our house, respectively.  It wasn't worth their while to run that last mile, unless we were willing to pay for it.

The phone company didn't offer DSL service, as the switch was too far away.  I called them and they explained they were getting away from DSL and moving to fiber.  And I asked when we would get fiber service, and they said, "Well, if you're last to get DSL then you'll be last to get fiber" which I replied, "that means never, right?" and they said, "right."

So we ended up going to Hugesnet, which was like $800 to install and like $60 a month in fees or more - which was a lot of money at the time and still is.  It had a pretty good download speed - we could stream video as I recall - but upload was worse than dialup modem.  If you wanted to upload a video, for example, it could take overnight.

On the other hand, the DSL service we had in Georgia, and the "U-verse" wasn't really all that much better.  Unless you paid for "top drawer" service, it could be very slow at times.

Today, we use our phones as WiFi hotspots and with unlimited data, we can stream video or do pretty much what we want to do.  Sometimes it isn't the best - particularly when there is a popular weekend and a lot of people visit the island and use the cell towers.  But it works OK.  It sort of is like Skagway, Alaska when the cruise ships come in and the population of the town increases by a factor of ten in a matter of hours.  The local cell towers just get overwhelmed - so forget about even using your phone until the tourists leave.

The problem with less-than-optimal data paths is that you can't do online gaming (such a tragedy!  No way to waste eight hours a day!) and many sites are very slow to load - sometimes frustratingly so.

On the other hand, sometimes there are advantages.   For example, you load a site that detects ablocker, and on a fast connection, it will display a pop-up saying "please disable your ad blocker!" and prevent you from viewing that page.  But with a slow connection, you can stop the loading of the page after the article is up, but before the ads and the adblocker detect sequence launches, and voila! - ad-free Internet!

But having a slow connection allows you to make other observations as pages slowly load.  For example, even though I am not on Facebook, an awful lot of pages have some sort of connection to it.  The message "waiting for" appears on nearly every page I load.  It could be just because most pages today have a facebook link, and are loading that link.  Or, maybe harvesting data - I am not sure.

And then there are pages that take forever to load no matter what.  Google Calendar, for example, can take ten minutes to load sometimes.  Gmail also is very, very slow.  I've searched online for solutions and none of them work - clearing caches, online history, cookies or whatever.    Most financial sites are slow, because they have a lot of unnecessary fru-fru in them - credit card offers or unwanted and unwelcome offers of help from pop-up assistants or online "chat" bots.    Bank of America is slow, but Capital One takes the cake - it takes forever to load, and even selecting a different account throws it into a two minute loop.

So I type my blog while waiting - Blogger, oddly enough, is one of the faster-loading sites.   I was writing about Hertz the other day and out of curiosity I went on their car sales site.   Talk about slow to load!   It has to download pictures of 50 cars each time you refresh the page or change one search term.  And of course, like so many sites today, they have these menus that pull down when your mouse goes over them, obscuring the actual thing you were trying to click on.   Ugggggh!  Whoever invented the auto-scroll-down menu is going to hell, period.

Could we afford a higher-speed internet connection?   Maybe, yea, I guess we could.  But spending $100 a month on Uverse or cable modem (and try buying these services without being pressured into a "bundle" sometime!) in addition to our monthly phone bills, is just, well, wasteful in my opinion. Spending more time on the Internet isn't what I need in my life.

And of course, these data providers have all the charm of a carnival barker.  "Sign up now!  Free installation! Only $39.95 a month!"  But of course, that is the come-on price and after so many months, it jumps to over $100 a month.  Oh, and there is an equipment fee charge of $10 a month, and that $39.95 price is only available if you bundle cable television service, a VoIP landline, and your cell phone (with a contract plan, no less) all-in-one.  Taxes, tags, and insurance extra. Activation fee and early termination fees apply.  Your mileage may vary.  We're lying sons-of-bitches.  Thank you for shopping!

Like I said, you can tell if a deal is shitty from the get-go by the way it is presented.  And playing "obscure the real price" is one sure way to do this.  We decided to go with AT&T prepaid (formerly GoPhone).  And it is a "bundle" too!   The cell phone IS our landline, our cell line, our internet access, and our "television" all for $56 a month, and we can carry it with us when we travel - which we do a lot.  And no longer do I have to go to helpdesk hell every year when they deactivate my modem when I go on vacation.

But down the road, we may even cut back further - to one phone, or maybe even a different provider with cheaper rates (as some readers have suggested).  Consuming less is always an option and a strategy.  These companies selling what are essentially subscription services hope you get addicted to the service (watching television, online gaming, whatever) and thus will compulsively consume. Failing that, they hope you will view their "minor" monthly charges as a necessary but trivial expense in life and just pay it without thinking.

It is funny, when you talk to people, they assume these things as a baseline.  "You have to have two cars - one for him and one for me!"  And you have to have a phone for everyone in the house, as well as high-speed internet, computers for everyone, a television in every room, and all the cable channels - right?   And we wonder why Americans never leave home, other than to go to restaurants or buy food.  Why we are getting so slovenly and fat.

Sometimes maybe, a data desert isn't such a bad thing!