Online Again

I finally get a reliable Internet connection.

AirPort SignalI’ve been trying, since arriving here in Quincy, WA, to get a reliable Internet connection. Today I succeeded. Sort of.

I’m camped out in an RV park at the Quincy Golf Course. The golf course has just changed ownership and the new owners — the Port of Quincy — are trying hard to get the place up and running for the summer. They’re doing a damn good job. But they didn’t have Internet and they had too many other things to think about before adding it.

One of the people who works there, Matt, lives about four houses down the road. I could see his network from my computer, but it was secured. He kindly gave me the password. For the next week or so, I could connect during the day and take care of file transfers, Daily Show Downloads, blog posts, and e-mail. But when my next door neighbor returned around 5 PM each evening and parked his truck in front of his camper, my connection was cut off.

I could use my Treo and did so when there was no other choice. It uses Bluetooth with a Verizon service called BroadbandAccess Connect — which is also known as Dial Up Networking (DUN). (I wrote about DUN here in an article titled “Setting Up Your Mac to Use a Smartphone’s Internet Connection.”) I pay $15/month for this service and it’s worth it. It’s the only cellphone based Internet service I know that doesn’t have a bandwidth cap. I don’t like to use it because (1) it’s not terribly fast — perhaps 256-512 kbps and (2) when I get an incoming call, not only does it disconnect me, but my Mac always seems to need restarting before it will connect again.

I researched other options. All wireless options had a bandwidth cap that was far lower than I needed. (5 GB a month? Are they kidding?) Other ISPs who worked in remote areas — I’m in the middle of farmland 5 miles outside of town, for heaven’s sake! — didn’t serve this area. But there was one ISP who did serve this area.

I contacted them shortly after arriving, when I realized that the borrowed access wasn’t going to serve my needs. It’s obviously a small company. I spoke to two different people. I won’t use real names; let’s just call them Don and Pete. Don was evidently in charge of sales and was anxious to make a deal — even for a period as short as two months. Pete was the technical guy who did the installations and evidently had no desire to come to Quincy. Pete made a lot of excuses. It kept getting put off. Then I got Don on the phone again and made a deal with him. I was willing to pay $220 for two months of broadband access. (I really need access to get my writing work done.)

Pete came out to check my site. The service they offer is the same type I have at home. They mount an antenna in a high place and point it at their antenna within visual range. Then they attach a router to the local antenna and I’m in business.

Pete seemed pissed and was not very friendly. He went through the motions of pointing the antenna at one of two sites. But he was standing on the ground and he wasn’t trying very hard. He said there was no signal. He couldn’t help me.

I wasn’t about to give up. It had taken two weeks to get him there and I wasn’t going to let him leave. I suggested putting it on the golf course’s clubhouse building, which was 100 or so feet away. I talked to the golf course manager and he said okay. He also said that they also wanted Internet service, so they’d pay for the installation. All I had to do was pay for access for the two months I wanted it.

Pete didn’t seem happy about this. He said he’d come back in “a day or two” to do the installation.

Of course, he didn’t come the next day.

Wireless AntennaHe came today and did the job. He put the antenna on the roof of the building and set up the router in the golf course club house office. He connected one of the golf course computers via Ethernet. Then he came to my trailer and fetched the MAC addresses for the three laptops I have with me. (I really am serious about getting some work done.) He programmed them into the router so no one else could get access without paying for it. After a few false starts, we got all three of my laptops to connect, although my old 12″ PowerBook doesn’t pick up the signal as well as my MacBook Pro and Dell Latitude. I joked with him about living in a trailer with three laptops. He didn’t laugh. He still wasn’t happy. I wonder if that guy is ever happy.

Then he tried to collect $220 from me.

I told him the golf course people said they’d pay for installation. He got Don on the phone. I talked to him. He was very agreeable. When we hung up, I wrote a check for $70 for the next two months of access. I should be gone by then.

After he hurried off to be cranky elsewhere, I discovered the shortcomings of my connection. First of all, it drifts and sometimes drops — although it’s been pretty good for the past few hours. Second, they must have a port blocked because I had to reconfigure Mail to use a different port to send e-mail. (Read more about this solution here.) And third, because I’m sharing the connection with the golf course people, if they do some heavy surfing, my connection slows down.

But overall, it works well enough. And the price was less than I was willing to pay.

June 24, 2008 Update:
Read how this situation changed the very next day.

What do you think?