Miscellaneous Ramblings

Bog-slow: A Return Visit to Dialup Internet

Charles Moore - 2010.06.08 - Tip Jar

I've been revisiting the alternate universe of dialup Internet this week - and not liking it a bit. Well, except for the fact that it works, which my wireless broadband has decided not to do whenever it rains, or even when a heavy dew is down.

This has been the rainiest week of the year here so far.

We finally got a broadband hookup last September 10 (see Charles Moore Finally Gets Broadband!), and it's been very reliable up to now, including through plenty of rainstorms over the past nine months.

Theories

There are several theories regarding this new issue that I've discussed with my service provider's technical support representatives and with my tech-support savvy daughter who has experience with marginal wireless setups. One is that new leaves are finally coming out here on deciduous trees (we get very late spring here in eastern coastal Nova Scotia), and with a stand of tall trees between us and the wireless tower, about 2-1/2 miles away, it's speculated that rainwater on the leaves - especially if fluttering in the wind - may be creating interference that's blocking the wireless signal.

There were still leaves on the trees last fall when the wireless was installed, but at that time of year they have a low moisture content, and I suppose that means less potential to interfere with line-of-sight wireless signals than with fresh and moist new spring leaves. It's also possible that the internal modem might be defective, but the timing of this problem cropping up at exactly the same time as the green-up (as it's called here) is interestingly coincidental, to say the least.

We won't know until they get a service tech here. I requested a service call on Saturday, and the dispatcher finally got back to me to set up an appointment Tuesday morning. I'll cut them some slack because violent thunderstorms and localized torrential rain rolled through Sunday night, precipitation a lot of service calls, but it's very frustrating when one's livelihood depends on Internet access, and more rain and showers are predicted for three of the seven days of the current forecast.

Chopping Down Trees

On the weekend I decided to take things into my own hands, so to speak, and working between rain cells, I cut down a 30 foot maple in the backyard that was directly in the antenna's line of trajectory to the tower, plus two scruffy balsam firs for good measure. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to have helped much. The broadband crapped out as soon as it began to rain in earnest again. When the weather dries up, the broadband signal returns.

The problem is that perhaps six or eight more trees (and probably more) need to be cut down in order to give the antenna a clear shot at the tower, and some of them are pretty big. I know the limits of my expertise at tree felling, and these specimens are beyond it. I don't really want to drop that much timber without confirmation that leaves are really the cause of the issue, but if the service guy can't find another cause for the poor wet-weather reception tomorrow (the weather is predicted sunny all day), I'll have to request some tree-cutting assistance from my neighbor, who does a lot of it.

Back to Dialup

Anyway, I've been obliged to fall back on Plan B for Internet access in wet weather: dialup. I let our dialup account lapse last fall, but a good friend has kindly given me permission to access her account for emergencies, although if this issue persists for any length of time I'll be ethically obliged to become a dialup subscriber again for the duration. I hope it doesn't come to that.

It's not really a very satisfactory solution, other than it's rock-solid reliability. In 12 years as dialup users, we never went more than a few hours without service, and those extremely rarely. It's only been nine months since we got broadband, but I keep asking myself how I put up with this for a dozen years. (The short answer is that there was no affordable alternative.)

Performance seems to be even worse than I remember. Actually, it probably is qualitatively worse than I remember.

For example, my favorite news and entertainment media site redesigned its already abominably slow and busy webpage right around the time I got broadband. It's none-too-swift even on high-speed, but it's like the proverbial cold molasses running uphill in the wintertime on dialup, taking a good four or five minutes to load the home page.

And that's just one example.

Dialup Users Left Behind

The Web has moved on, leaving dialup users by the wayside. Unfortunately there are still parts of this province that have no access to broadband other than astronomically expensive satellite Internet. The ISP dispatcher this morning said the service tech would be checking out the possibilities for reception for someone else in this neighborhood, but doubted that it would be feasible. There are many more like that here who have just one affordable broadband option available, and that's if you aren't behind a hill or other obstruction. Wireless is convenient, easy to set up under the right circumstances, and a lot cheaper than hardwired infrastructure like DSL, but I remain an aficionado of hardwired solutions.

Here's hoping this rain crap-out issue can be identified and solved with reasonable dispatch. I'm not at all a happy or patient camper on dialup anymore, although I have to say I'm grateful it's still available here. Bog-slow Internet is better than no Internet at all.

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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