Bush League

By , July 23, 2016

As I discussed in a previous post (Homestead Advantage) our recent time in town showed us a few advantages our off-grid life gives us over living in town. However, we also saw that some things we perceive as shortcomings on the homestead are little or no better in town.

Perhaps most critically, we learned that a massive corporation that will not be named (AT&T) apparently can’t or won’t provide adequate Internet coverage for Haines any more than they can serve our semi-remote homestead.

After a hopeful start, our forced switch from satellite Internet to cell-based hasn’t proved to be as much of an improvement as we’d hoped (see Switching from Satellite to Cellular Internet Service). We experience a lot of service drops, particularly when the massive cruise ships pass our homestead.

For years, we’ve known that large cruise ships flood cell coverage areas in Southeast Alaska, often overwhelming the bandwidth. Every summer we know to expect a lot of dropped calls on cruise ship days. This rarely affected us, as we use our phones so little. Occasionally, we would lose calls while talking to each other, but it didn’t happen a lot. We heard many complaints from fellow townspeople, though.

When we switched to cell-based Internet, we experimented with boosters and other tricks to strengthen signals to our mobile hot spot. We’ve had a hard go, particularly when the summer tourist season began.

When we agreed to keep house for our friends, I put off software updates and other downloads, anticipating better, faster service in town. We keep our friends’ house often, and have given up on trying to connect to their Internet, but situated so close to town, we knew we’d get a faster connection.

We did—within limits.

I remember one morning, when a large cruise ship docked in Haines unusually early. I’d risen around 5:30 a.m., rather normal for us in the summer, and started the day’s downloads. I had good signal, and things ticked along well, until suddenly, it bogged down completely. When I glanced at my watch, I saw the time: 7:30. I figure right about then, the majority of passengers got up and started calling or texting loved ones from onboard ship. I didn’t get any signal worth bothering with until after the ship left that evening.

Generally, If I got up before the tourists, I managed to go about my business. On many days, though, at unpredictable moments, my connection bogged down to uselessly slow levels.

Sadly, our carrier seems to provide better service than any other carrier that covers this area, so this is about the best we can hope for. And, results vary among users. I have friends who have not had a single issue since switching to AT&T from another local carrier. However, most people I’ve talked to report frustrations very similar to ours.

We’ve burned a lot of hours on the phone talking to an endless parade of AT&T “help” people. We exhaust ourselves trying to explain our conditions here, why the suggestion that we merely drive to someplace with better coverage is not helpful, or even to get them to understand that the device they see listed in our account is a dedicated hotspot device, not a smartphone, like “everybody” owns. I’d always thought that if we could just go to town anytime we wanted to use the Internet, we would have no further problems.

Apparently, that’s not the case. Even when my family goes to “the big city,” we’re still in the bush. And the service we can expect from the big corporations is somewhat bush league.

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