Chocolate Chip Cookies for the Cable Guy

fiber optic rural

Like many teenagers, my 17-year-old daughter can be prone to doing crazy things. A few weeks ago, for example, she baked a couple batches of chocolate-chip cookies from scratch. That may not seem so weird at first—but she baked them to give to the electric company’s cable-installer guys after they’d installed our new fiber-optic Internet connection. She even wrote thank you notes explaining how excited she was to be able to finally rely on using the Internet at home.

 

In all my years in the consumer-electronics industry, I can’t say I’ve ever heard of anyone being so thrilled about the prospect of an installer coming to their house—and, yet, there’s my daughter, a giggling, screaming installation-crew fangirl.

 

To put things into perspective, we live in an area just to the north of the middle of nowhere, tucked away anonymously in the bowels of flyover country. We’re not totally uncivilized. We have indoor plumbing, electricity, and even a landline telephone connection. The power goes out often enough that we have flashlights stashed around the house, plus battery-powered lanterns for those times when the house is dark for an extended period.

 

The phone connection, however, has such poor sound quality and reliability that Alexander Graham Bell is embarrassedly rolling over in his grave. Adding insult to injury, the phone-line repair guy once actually laughed out loud when I asked him about the possibility of getting DSL service. (It turns out we’re the very last phone connection on the line.)

 

When it comes to cellphone service, we’re more likely to see a ghost in the house than we are to see even one bar of signal strength on our phones—regardless of the provider. Cable TV is something we and our neighbors don’t talk about because as far as we’re concerned, it doesn’t exist.

 

For rural families who’d like to have a taste of what 20th-century communication and entertainment technology is like (forget about this century’s offerings), the only solution is to subscribe to satellite for both TV and Internet. Until a couple of weeks ago, I had at least one neighbor who only had satellite TV and drove to town when they needed to check their email.

 

I’ve had satellite TV for years, going back to well before I decided to live on the frayed edge of the technological grid, and I’ve never had a major complaint. Satellite Internet, on the other hand, was an unknown for me before moving here from the big city a decade ago. Had I stayed there, I wouldn’t bear the deep psychological scars satellite Internet usage has left on me . . .

 

I won’t bore you with the technicalities of why satellite broadband Internet sucks. It’s not the providers who are the problem. It’s the nature of the technology and implementation involving high latency and transmission of packets, and some other stuff I don’t care to understand. As a result, websites were often annoyingly slow to load—even with download speeds that averaged 10-12 Mbps—and access to corporate VPN servers (or using a subscription VPN service) became well-nigh impossible.

 

Our data cap of 15 GB/month was a particularly distressing feature. (To be fair, satellite ISPs aren’t the only ones that impose data caps.) With app and OS updates, connected device updates, file downloads, and a movie or two, you can blast through 15 GB of data in just a couple of weeks—and we usually hit our limit by the middle of each month. Once we passed that threshold, our access speeds would drop to near dialup levels for the rest of the month—leaving us to beg for scraps of leftover Internet in the nearest grocery-store parking lot.

—Darryl Wilkinson

Stay tuned for Part 2 of Darryl’sand his daughter’sadventures with fiber-optic Internet.

During his 33 years of tenure in the consumer-electronics industry, Darryl Wilkinson
has made a career out of saying things that sound like they could be true about topics
he knows next to nothing about. He is currently Editor-at-Large for
Sound & Vision, and
sometimes writes things that can be read—if you have nothing else to do—elsewhere.
His biggest accomplishment to date has been making a very fashionable Faraday
cage hoodie.

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