Wi-fi in the Mountains
Every since we moved up here six years ago, there have been promises to wire the state for high speed Internet. It’s come up with every politician I’ve seen interviewed.
We had to go to the public library six miles away to use the high speed connection there. Every time someone sent us a picture of their dog (which a surprising number of people feel compelled to do) our dial-up connection clogged and/or crashed. We would send desperate, barely polite reminders to the senders to just send text emails. Apologies followed, and soon thereafter, more gargantuan files. We were frequent library users. Sometimes when the library was closed (it’s open 32 hours/week) we even had our laptops outside, balanced on the often freezing book return box as we sent and received files.
Governor Douglas cut a deal two years ago with FairPoint to take over Verizon’s lines and install DSL throughout the state. It was controversial. The Vermont Public Service Board had doubts about FairPoint’s fiscal stability and customer service record. The doubt was well founded. FairPoint filed for bankruptcy and is reorganizing now.
Anytime I saw a FairPoint service truck stopped, there was a crowd surrounding it, asking about high speed Internet. They were like the ice cream trucks from my semi-suburban youth, only nothing got resolved. The poor drivers gave evasive answers about when It was coming, shook their heads ruefully about management, and finally got away. Stories abounded of bad service, too, or even no telephone service at all. One friend reported that a woman in the FairPoint repair office, to whom he’d spoken many times about not having telephone service, took pity on him and told him how to shinny up the pole and fix it himself. Which he did, gratefully.
Now we have both DSL, and Wi-Fi. It feels like a miracle. I can keep up with work email, and even make timely contributions. I can download pictures. I can send pictures of rugs to potential customers. I can edit and share group documents online. I have a blog. Yesterday I even hosted a party for gubernatorial hopeful, Doug Racine, and had his speech streamed into my party. I can watch YouTube.
I’m old enough to recall when we had party telephone lines. Each house had its own ring, but there was nothing to stop nosy neighbors from picking up and listening in. All very amusingly quaint and Norman Rockwell, but no one hesitated when private lines became available.
With DSL came fewer trips to the library. Fewer trips meant less gas used but also less casual contact with friends and neighbors. DSL has allowed me to reach out to the world beyond my little mountain county, but it also could isolate me from that county, if I’m not careful. The irony of having high-mindedly dumped our ailing television a decade ago only to have current episodes of The Office now deliciously available for our amusement is not lost on me.
One must be conscious of the consequences of each choice. A very wise doctor once told me that every medicine has side effects, even the most mild, even aspirin. (Well, especially aspirin!) You had to be aware of them and then make your choice.
What will be DSL’s side effects? There will certainly be more advertising for Vermont products, since state government has no advertising budget at all. But there will also be more exposure to (sorry) rotgut pop culture for our children. There will be more online opportunities for education. If you’ve ever watched a You Tube how-to made by some kid in his garage, and marveled at how clear, how free of know-it-all, I-work–in-a-hardware-store-and-you-don’t attitude his presentation is can see how important the Internet is already becoming to education.
Access to the big, bad, amazing world is a mixed blessing. Bring your tweezers.