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No blinking lights on the router. No pinging as new emails arrived. No pages loading.
I live rural. Very rural. On the top of a mountain on the eastern edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
No fiber optics to the house. No cable TV. Not even a copper wire for a telephone.
Cell phones are questionable here. A single cellular company’s signal reaches the house. One bar of 3G service on my phone. Calls must be quick before the signal drops.
Many people in rural areas rely on satellite internet. The concept sounds great. An internet signal is relayed from a satellite thousands of miles above us to your home. And, thus, is the problem.
You type in a web address. The signal travels from your house to a satellite and back to earth to a server that responds with the webpage and sends that signal back to the satellite which relays it back to your house. During that time, that signal has traveled nearly a hundred thousand miles – two round trips to a satellite floating in space. That delay makes most things that people take for granted on the internet virtually impossible or, at least, maddeningly frustrating.
Fortunately, I do have Internet service. Thanks to a product called a WISP, Wireless Internet Service Provider.
The concept is simple. A radio signal is transmitted from one tower to the next in a relay until a beam is finally sent to a wireless receiver attached to your house. The key is that the receiver attached to your house must be in a line of sight of the tower that transmits the beam.
If you are lucky enough to be in range, you gain access to true broadband Internet. Well, technically, broadband speeds. We pay $90 a month for 5Mbps download and 1Mbps upload. Slower than satellite, but without the latency or obnoxiously low datacaps. And it is slow to anyone with fiber-optic or cable broadband, or even DSL. Still, it is fast enough to allow me to work from home.
Since a WISP relies on radio towers mounted on the tops of mountains, strange things happen. Lightning strikes. Strong winds. Marauding wild animals.
No, really. I once lost internet service because a curious bear removed the battery pack from a transmission tower.
Yesterday morning started as always. Let the dogs outside. Wander into my study. Power up the computer. Start loading a webpage.
Bam. Internet down.
Is this going to be a temporary blip? A sustained outage? I sit and watch a blank screen.
The dogs are howling for breakfast, so I get up and feed them. Go into the kitchen and eat a little food. Drift back to my study. Settle into my chair. Look at the computer screen.
Before I get to work, I enjoy scanning overnight headlines and reading some key articles. Without my morning internet fix, I might as well move straight to writing time. I am little early from my normal start time of 8 am, but I can just wrap up early since my goal is to write for 4 hours every day.
I have a writing laptop. That’s all I use it for. No annoying messages will pop up on the screen and distract me. I am blissfully unaware of new emails, Facebook reminders, breaking news, or IM’s. In fact, I only connect to brain.fm to play some background ambient noise, a terrific tool to focus me on work. Much better than regular music that distracts me. I can’t connect. The ambient noise is an internet tool. I have never downloaded it.
I try to work in silence. Nothing is truly silent. Birds sing. Somewhere a coyote chirps. A creature crashes through the woods behind my study. Horses clop by. The dogs wrestle.
Somehow, I get through the first hour of writing. A time I give myself a quick reward. A short podcast of ideas. That I can’t listen to.
Back to work. Focus on writing. Typing in the silence. Even the keyboard sounds loud in the absence of my background noise.
Another hour goes by. More words typed on the screen. Time for another break. Decide to call my service provider to confirm they are working on the problem. Pick up the home phone and hear silence.
Of course, my home phone is a VOIP. It runs on the internet. Internet down = telephone down.
Try calling via my cell phone. One bar of service. Amazingly, I get through to them. Start talking to the technician. The call disconnects.
Go outside. Walk through the field and stand in a particular spot. Cell signal is up to two bars. Call the internet provider again. They confirm they are working on it. Hope to have it fixed by the end of the day.
Back inside. Back to writing. Another hour passes. Time for another reward.
Fire up the iPad, connect via cellular service, and try to check my emails. As normal, a single bar of 3G service. I watch the first email eek its way down. Slowly painting the screen. Spam, of course. Hit delete. Wait while it deletes. Give up.
Back to writing for another hour. My four hours are done. Internet is still dead. Time for lunch.
Let the dogs outside for a while. Make a sandwich. Sit down to read my newspaper. Which of course, is on my iPad. Seriously, there are no newspapers delivered to the house up here. Online is the only way to get news. Except when there is no internet.
No worries, I’ll just read a library book during lunch. I had finished the last one on my iPad last night. I have to download a new one from the library. Not on 3G you don’t.
Finish my lunch and return to my desk. Research time. Some facts I need to verify. Pull up Google. More accurately, type Google.com and watch the screen do nothing. Can’t research.
Drumming my fingers on the table, I’m trying to decide what to do with myself. Decide to tackle a little home repair project that I’ve been planning. This is easy, I had just seen the YouTube video showing exactly how to do it yesterday. All I need to do is watch that YouTube video again. Not happening.
I maintain my To Do list in a journal. A manual, handwritten journal. Perfect. Open the book. First item on the list is to schedule an eye exam. Just need to look up that phone number. Except, who has phone books anymore? They are all online. A great tool . . . when you have internet.
Next To Do. Schedule Flu Shot. Using a handy online scheduling tool. Great idea. Next.
Back to my to do list. I do have this one thing where I need to fill out a form. As soon as I download it. Aargh.
Just realized UPS hasn’t shown up yet. They have a package I’ve been expecting. Wonder if it’s on today’s truck. Just enter the tracking information . . . Nope, not happening.
And so my day went, all day, I kept coming up with tasks that I needed to do. Important work that needed to happen. And I couldn’t do any of it without an Internet signal.
After dinner, and cleaning up all the dishes, I wander back into my study. Hallelujah. The router lights were blinking. The Internet was back up. Now to get all my important work done. Settle down in front of the computer.
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