Powerless (aka Life Without Internet, Round 3)

On July 5, 2011, I walked in to a Sprint store to make absolutely sure I was locked in to an ironclad contract for unlimited data service off my mobile hotspot.  The service representative (henceforth known as just another idiot sales person) swore that I could continue to receive the exact same level of service as long as I continued to make timely payments on my monthly contract.  I asked for double clarification.  I stated that I was willing to lock myself into a 5-year contract if necessary, just to keep my data plan.  ”Oh no,” said the idiot sales person, “there’s no need to do that. Sprint will take care of you.”  Based on this information, I cancelled my satellite Internet service (the backup plan for Internet at my house).

Yesterday, I learned that Sprint will be placing a cap on mobile hotspot data – how I get broadband Internet at my house.  When questioned, the customer service rep told me that Sprint can change their contract at any time.  Nice.  Exactly the opposite of what the other rep told me.

Our home Internet usage will be cut back to 5GB of data per month, but we get to pay exactly the same as what I’ve been paying per month for the last two years.   Try to imagine (though this will be difficult for most of you) that you have to carefully think about whether to click on each link.  Is the data it takes to watch that TED Talk worth it?  Is that journal article really all that important to read?  Should you Skype from home or drive back to work so that you don’t have heavy data usage?

Roughly 30% of the U.S. population does not have access to high-speed Internet and my household is one of those.  While most of you have a variety of inexpensive choices for broadband Internet, we have very few.  We have no cable service.  We have no DSL service. And our phone service?  It’s got so much static on the line that it’s not even good enough to use for dial-up Internet.

Now I live in the woods, but not out of town.   I have neighbors within a square mile of my house that DO have cable Internet service and DSL.

Option 1: Keep mobile Internet and pay for the extra data usage.  5 GB per month of data usage a month costs $40 per month.  Between my husband and I, we use about 40GB per month.  I can keep my existing service if I just pay for the extra data usage. For every extra GB, the cost is $50.  At our current usage level, this will cost us $40 + $40 + 30*50 = $1680/month.  Um… not a good option.  Thanks Sprint.

Option 2: Keep mobile Internet and don’t use more than 5 GB per month on each account.  This will keep our costs exactly the same, but severely limit our ability to use the Internet.  There appears to be no way to track how much mobile hotspot data is actually being used (the data tracking includes both mobile web and mobile hotspot data), so the only really safe option financially is to turn the mobile hotspots off altogether.

Option 3: Go back to Satellite Internet.  For $79.99 per month plus the cost of a new satellite dish (my fourth), shipping, account startup, and installation, you can have 17 GB download and 5 GB upload per month.  If you go over this FAP, your account speeds will be severely restricted.  Experience has taught me that your Internet will basically be unusable if you go over (sometimes for weeks).  There is no ability to pay for extra data when it is needed.  This is the best satellite Internet plan I have been able to find.  The real problem?  Your upload speed will only be 256 Kbps.  That’s right, as fast as a dial-up modem (if you’re lucky).

Option 4: Use an “air card” of some kind.  Most of these plans run $40-$80 per month, with a data plan that is “unlimited up to 5GB” … leaving me to question whether marketers ever look at a dictionary.  Apparently the “new” definition of “unlimited” is up to a specified limit.

Option 5: Stop using the Internet at home.  Honestly. I thought seriously about this option last night and this morning.  We live without TV, and we’re probably better off because of it.

I’m tired of being screwed around by various mobile and satellite Internet companies.  Every time we find a solution and invest in the infrastructure to support it, the market shifts and we have to find a new solution.  The companies we “contract” with for Internet and cell service are held to no minimum standards of service.  They are allowed to change their end of the contract at a moment’s notice (and in this case, I have yet to be notified about the change that will take place on October 2).  But if I break the contract, I’ll pay penalties galore.

Powerless – this is the only word I can think of to describe how I feel today. Powerless.  Nobody is looking for real solutions to the lack of Internet for 30% of Americans and we are getting left behind, even more so as everything moves to the cloud.

Tablets, eBook readers, game consoles, and interactive TVs are all expected to run primarily off the wireless Internet in your home (too bad for you if you don’t have it).

This afternoon I resigned myself to my former life of satellite Internet (and a 2-year commitment to pay a little over $2,000 for the privilege of this somewhat questionable service with no minimum standard of quality. Speeds are only guaranteed “up to” a specified limit (oh wait, does that mean the speeds are technically unlimited?)  There is no recourse for a minimum speed, and if I cancel my end of the contract, I have to pay $15 for every month of unused service.  If my Internet speed turns out to be 1 Kbps, that’s allowed under the contract.  I’m paying for a complete and total gamble.

What you might not get yet is that we are all powerless in this new age of cell service and cloud-based computing.  They’re just coming for me and those like me first.  Anyone who has been relying on mobile Internet has now been cut off (Sprint was the last holdout for unlimited mobile hotspot data).  We got capped first, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be next.

These networks can’t sustain 70% of Americans streaming all their TV and games off them, and realistically, there is a potential gold mine in charging customers for data overages.  You might just think this is my problem and I could solve it by moving, but one day, this will be your problem too.  One day, they’ll come to cut off your unlimited Internet.  Can you live without it?

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Spring in West Michigan

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It’s a bird, it’s a train, nope … it’s Tractor Man

You see him coming down the long, dark driveway, lights illuminating his path. You can hear him coming and see the lights before you can make out what it is.

That’s right, it’s Joel on his ancient Wheelhorse tractor. Back for another year of plowing snow.


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Tractor Man

Have you heard that They Might Be Giants song Particle Man? To the same tune, here is Tractor Man:

Tractor Man, tractor man
Doing the things an old tractor can
Try as you might, he’s breaking down
Tractor man!

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Little House in the Big Woods (or … why it’s difficult to get Internet)

Joel showed me that you can go on Microsoft Virtual Earth and get birds-eye views of your house that are disturbingly clear. To do it yourself, go to Microsoft Virtual Earth Live Search and put in your address. We know these pictures (which Joel thinks were taken by drones), must have been taken in the last 2 years because you can see the white satellite dish. They were not, however, taken in the last week, because now we have a black satellite dish in the same place.

The disturbing, and somewhat voyeuristic part, is when you start looking at what’s really going on in your neighbor’s backyards (behind those 6-foot fences). I thought the mess under my side deck was bad last year … but it didn’t hold a candle to this mess a few houses south of us!

So if you’ve always wondered … now’s your chance to get a view from 20-25 yards up.

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