Can you remember back to a day when the internet didn’t rule your life? Yeah, me neither. Well, maybe, in some sort of dim, distant past.
Actually, I am old enough to remember TV shows where the entire telephone was mounted onto a wall, always at man-height. Lassie’s boy’s mom always seemed to have to stand on tiptoe to speak into the phone mouthpiece, while Lassie’s boy (everyone remembers Timmy, but I watched the Tommy Rettig episodes, and according to IMDB, his name was Jeff on the show) had to pull a stool over to reach the phone.
By the time I was old enough to watch this show and marvel at how ancient their technology was, we had rotary-dial phones with curly cords that would stretch, allowing you to move farther from the wall as you talked. We even, in a burst of luxury, got an extra-long cord on our kitchen phone — you could reach clear across the room with it.
And then phone became cordless, and you could wander all over the house while you were talking on the phone. Sometimes even outside, if you didn’t go too far.
I hadn’t been at the newspaper too terribly long — so still in my early 20s — when management decided we needed to get computers. They came back with some early Macs, and I remember the day we discovered we could go from the telephone to the computer to converse with the people in our Crested Butte office. We typed +++ and the transmission would miraculously switch from us speaking to us typing back and forth. We would do this just for the novelty of it.
This gave way, a few years down the road, to the World Wide Web. Nancy Houston, who owns the Paper Clip stationery store, is one of my favorite people. The web in those days was driving her elderly father batty, as he kept trying to figure out an ownership structure. He wanted to know who had control of the internet. I think these were, and still are, legitimate questions.
I’m pretty sure I had a computer of my own at home, but when I first took up the practice of e-mail, I went over to my friend Matt’s house and borrowed his computer. I must not have had the service that connected the computer to a phone line, and since this was still in the novelty stage, it didn’t seem like a hardship to drive across town and go up a couple flights of stairs to make myself at home on Matt’s computer.
I do also recall the balancing act one had to strike while at work, because when you wanted to access something from the internet, it tied up your phone line, meaning customers might be encountering a busy signal. And then the technology came along that would let you use the phone line for your telephone and your computer — at the same time.
DSL, that’s what it was called. Digital Subscriber Line, according to the internet. I never knew that. See how much you can learn from this blog? See how much I can learn?
Now at work I don’t even technically have a “telephone line.” We use a local company — it’s kind of hit or miss, but it’s local — and our “phone” is VOIP: Voice Over Internet Protocol. I don’t know what that means either, but it functions just like a telephone. Except for the days when their service goes down for a few minutes or few hours. But it’s local, that’s what I keep telling myself.
And it freed me from the tyranny of CenturyLink, sort of.
In Gunnison, we’re all held captive to CenturyLink, because it owns every last fiber optic network coming into the valley. Other companies, like my local company, lease fiber from CenturyLink, and I am reminded of Nancy Houston’s dad’s very reasonable but not-particularly-answerable questions when I want to know how any local company can promise faster speeds than the company providing the underlying service.
I’m sorry, but CenturyLink is just an odious company. They’re one of those that tell you they’re going to offer “excellent customer service” and then deliver precisely the opposite. As a company, it is unhelpful and unreasonable. When I switched to the local company, my bill got cut in literal half. With no reduction in service. And I will say, when our service does cut out, we call from a cellphone and a human being two blocks away picks up, responds and if necessary sends someone within half an hour to solve the problem. That’s excellent customer service.
Lynn and I managed to shed ourselves of CenturyLink at home, too. Three years ago we were having non-stop problems with our internet, “bundled” with our phone. CenturyLink did send numerous technicians, but no one solved the problem, which they tried every which way to blame on us. [It eventually turned out to be their problem: the line into the house was rotting.]
So we switched to a local company offering internet delivered by microwave, Xtream. It’s more expensive than just about any other option out there, but we’ve been very pleased with the service. We chose this because two sets of exurban friends found this company to be the only one to deliver reliable service at a speed good enough for streaming. (Listen to this whole new use of words — “streaming.” What have we come to?)
Lynn and I blithely selected a lot two miles outside of town and assumed everything would go on as normal in our new house. Until she contacted our internet provider because the electrician said they like to run their own line through the walls of the house.
That was several months ago, and Xtream went out to the site, then came back to report they can’t deliver service to our new house. They can microwave their signal to our friends high on a hill west of town, and they can beam it to our friends who live three miles north of town, but they can’t make it work at our location two miles north.
They said they would look into options to see if they could get us a signal, but it’s become clear this past week that we want their service more than they want our business. Lynn has been back several times to their office, and finally managed to light a fire under them this week, perhaps aided by an unknown Some Day neighbor who is also interested in their service.
Xtream thought maybe they could bounce their signal off another customer’s dish to get it to our house, but yesterday they called to say Nope, not happening.
Which makes me wonder if we’ll be able to get our TV satellite service. I asked one neighbor what he does for internet, and his answer didn’t appeal to me: CenturyLink, bundled for TV as well. I haven’t seen any other neighbors to ask what they use.
Ours is one of those modern developments, so all lines must go underground. And that’s another issue with CenturyLink: the box that got installed 14 years ago is on a diagonal right through the most heavily wooded part of our lot. That sounds cheap, digging a trench through old-growth cottonwoods.
Our phones work out there, so we won’t be completely cut off from civilization, but it may be, in a few months, that I will have to have this blog delivered to you all via carrier pigeon. Or go over to Matt’s house and make myself at home on his computer, but that might take awhile, since he’s now several states away.
Who knew moving two miles up the road would move us into the Dark Ages?