Sometimes it’s better to have no Internet service than bad internet service.
For the past two months, I’ve been living in my RV at a golf course campground in Quincy, WA. This is my third June/July here.
The first year, I tried to get Internet service here using what I was told was the only local provider. The provider uses wireless Internet. It picks up a signal from a nearby tower using an antenna it placed on the golf course’s pro shop roof. The signal goes down to a router and broadcasts Internet service via WiFi to those within range.
That first year, it worked okay for the short time it was available. But the groundskeeper was convinced that its wireless signal was messing with the irrigation system’s wireless signal and had it taken down after two weeks.
The second year, the service was up and running again. My camper was parked in the second space from the pro shop (again) and I was able to connect. I paid the $40 monthly fee and had relatively decent service, although speed was often an issue, especially in the evening.
This year, I’m parked in space #5 which is long enough for my new rig. I soon discovered that although the golf course was using the same provider, that provider had changed the way it did business. Rather than one router for the pro shop and campers, they had three routers installed: one for the pro shop, one as a “hotspot” for the restaurant, and one for the campers.
The Trouble Begins
The trouble began when I first attempted to connect to the RV-dedicated router. The system they used required my MAC address. I’m using three devices — my iMac, my MacBook Pro, and my iPad. So we had to set all that up over the phone. He got the MAC address wrong for one of them, causing all kinds of problems.
By the next day, I realized that I couldn’t hold a signal with the router. My Mac was reporting 3 bars when connected, but half the time, it couldn’t even see the router. Turns out, these idiots had installed a router for a campground that didn’t have enough range to cover the whole campground. I guess if you want Internet service, you need to park next to the pro shop building.
So they switched me to the password-protected hotspot router, warning me that they’d change the password once a month. Whatever. It seemed to work so I was okay.
Seemed is the appropriate modifier here. In reality, it only worked about 80% of the time. Sometimes, the router would disappear. Other times, it would be there, but would not send an IP address. Other times, it was there and sent my devices IP addresses, but those addresses couldn’t connect to the Internet. Outages like this would be frequent on some days, lasting anywhere from 2 minutes to 2 hours. One night the Internet went offline around 7 PM and didn’t come back until 10 AM the next day. The golf course pro shop was having the same problems.
The amount of frustration this caused me cannot be measured. I’d be working on an e-mail message or blog post and not be able to send it. I’d be uploading movie files to a publisher who had me on a deadline and the upload would fail. I’d try to download updates for my computer and they’d stall and eventually fail. I’d have a client calling, asking what I saw on weather radar and I couldn’t get online to look.
And then it would just work again.
Even when it did work, the speed of the connection was sometimes agonizingly slow. I mean so slow that it caused physical pain — from pulling my hair out — to use a Web browser. I couldn’t even watch YouTube videos. Even tethering from my BlackBerry has enough bandwidth for YouTube.
Service sucked and I was paying $40/month for it.
I started seriously considering a MiFi.
The D & J Show
Then there was the surprise password change.
The company is run by two guys. One guy, D, is the money guy and knows next to nothing about technical matters. He’s the guy that answers the phone when you call for help. The other guy, J, is the tech guy and I think he probably does know what he’s doing — at least well enough to get by. When you need help, you’re directed to call his cell phone, which he never answers. He also doesn’t respond to text messages or return calls.
D decided, one day, that too many people had the password for Hotspot and it was time for a change. So he changed it to the word golf. Unfortunately, 4-character passwords were not appropriate for the type of network security they were using. So, as a result, it wouldn’t work for anyone, even if they had the password.
J, upon hearing about the problem, changed it back to the old password. That fixed things — or at least brought them back to their semi-functional service level — for a while.
Last week, I flew up to Chelan to spend a day with a friend. I got back around 7:30 PM, and like any other computer-dependent geek, went to check my e-mail.
I couldn’t connect. The router had disappeared. Instead, there was a different router name that included the word hotspot and was not password protected. I told my computer to connect. Still no joy. I launched my Web browser. And the sign-on screen shown here is what I saw.
I was paid up for another three weeks, but I had never been given login information. All I had was a password. I tried all different combinations of my name with the password to connect. No joy.
I got pissed off. I called the number on the screen and got an answering machine telling me that D was on the phone. Not likely. He was more likely gone for the day. J didn’t answer his phone. I started leaving messages, and they were not friendly. I was pissed off.
In the morning, nothing had changed. No one returned my calls — as if I had reason to expect that they might. I started calling again and still not getting through. I had to connect via BlackBerry Bluetooth tethering just to check the weather and my e-mail.
At 10 AM, when I called J again, he answered the phone. (I heard that hell froze over that day, too.)
“We upgraded the service yesterday and put in a new router,” he told me, as if I had no reason to be angry. “It should work a lot better now.”
He was full of crap but I believed him for about 10 minutes. That’s how long it took to set up an account for me and get me connected. He’d already hung up when I realized I had the same crappy service I’d had for the past month and a half.
And now I had the extra bonus of having to log in several times a day.
The login process is especially frustrating on my iPad, which won’t remember my user ID or password and must be prompted to connect by trying to access a simple Web page (I use Google.com) rather than refreshing whatever was last viewed.
Sputnik. That’s a good name for this service. It’s 1950s technology.
I’m outta here in less than a week, so the frustration will end.
And the folks at the golf course have already told me that they’re thinking of switching to another service.
All I know is that I’m not giving another dime to these clowns again.
Update: 10 minutes after posting
You want irony? Here’s the message I got in my Web browser only 10 minutes after posting this whine. These guys don’t even know how to configure the obsolete software they use.