Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Little Things: The Internet

A couple of months after we moved to Hamburg I saw an article about communications innovations in third-world countries. Villages were getting satellite phone booths and small computer centers with Internet access.

My first thought? I. am. so. jealous.

That’s right. As an efficiently run first-world country we expected no issues with Internet access in Germany. Boy, were we wrong.

Michelle as a baby, wide-eyed in crib
This is pretty much how I felt
through this whole ordeal.
To make a very long story super short: after five separate five-hour installation appointments spread over four months, we had nothing to show for it but wasted time and bitterness. I sent a letter cancelling our Internet order, we sent back the modem equipment, and they sent it back saying we were past the cancellation deadline.

I sent another letter. Not as polite as the first.

I got a voicemail assuring me our account was cancelled and we didn’t need to do anything else. Great. Except Vodafone was the main game in town, and we still didn’t have Internet service.

I’m not sure if I felt better or worse knowing that we weren’t alone. For every person we talked to with no issues getting service, there were one or two in the same boat as us. One person waited 5 months before getting service, another waited 10 months.

10 months! He could have walked to a third-world country and accessed the Internet sooner.

So what’s the problem? Part of it is infrastructure. Part of it is liability. Part of it is that there's apparently a smaller portion of the German population clamoring to be online.

Any or all of those may play into the fact that there's a different focus here. In the U.S. you have different speeds with unlimited data. Here it’s pretty much, This is how fast it goes. How much data do you want to pay for?

We definitely had to do some research and make some adjustments. You don’t realize how much is churning in the background until you have to monitor where the MB go.

Photo of wireless TP-Link router
This little guy is what's keeping me online!
For the first few months this blog (and all of my other Internet activity) was managed primarily via an Internet USB stick or using my cell phone as a hot spot. 

The USB stick was our first lesson in how data flies out the window. And having to trek downtown to top off the balance on the stick was not feasible. Similarly, I learned to turn off data for all of my phone apps unless I was using them in that moment.

I considered other options: hunting down the increasingly elusive Internet cafes (apparently they went the way of the rest of the 90s), buying an all-day ticket to use wi-fi on one of the two bus lines that has it, or paying oodles to rent time at one of those shared office spaces.

In the end, we settled on a wireless router that takes prepaid SIM cards that we can manage by text or online.

It wasn't all bad, returning to the days that I realized most of my Millennial friends have never experienced. I've cleaned up neglected computer files, sketched out new ideas for future writing, and read. A lot. 

But am I glad to be back online more regularly? Absolutely. 

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