I used to love the cable company.
Before I started giving it my money every month, PBS was the only station that didn't suck the brain out of my skull and stuff the resulting void with advertising. And even PBS got annoying: its pledge drives induce nervous tics. The cable company, in addition to the History Channel, also gave me my first taste of high-speed Internet access from my home. But a not-too-long time ago, it did something else--it took it all away from me.
Whether Comcast was having particular problems in my area at the time, I can't say (mainly because Comcast wouldn't tell me), but my cable Internet access had become less reliable than those e-mails promising low, low mortgage rates. I had research to do and e-mail to send. This was a serious issue. I had to find backup Internet access pronto. And where is a guy supposed to find that?
Now, I happen to live in a geographic anomaly that is served by two cable companies and one DSL service; when my access provider is down, there's a good chance that one of my neighbors is still connected. So the last time my power went out, a small demon appeared on my shoulder and whispered a little word in my ear: Wi-Fi. My friend Margaret who lives 10 miles away once told me that she gave up her own service provider when her Wi-Fi laptop automatically jumped onto her next-door neighbor's network. She realized she could borrow
Internet access, her neighbor didn't know (or didn't mind), and only the cable company lost out.
The last time my power went out, a small demon appeared on my shoulder and whispered a little word in my ear: Wi-Fi.
My sense of guilt kicked in right away. But because my notebook picks up at least six wireless networks whenever I fire it up, I checked around for open networks--all the time feeling scummy. To the relief of my conscience, all of them had WEP security turned on. I couldn't sneak into a neighbor's back door to get online, and my soul was safe. The devil on my shoulder suggested driving over to Margaret's house, parking in her driveway, and hacking into her neighbor's network--but then I remembered something.
Instead of being merely a repository of books, my library is a purveyor of information. It freed up yards of shelf space by subscribing to a dozen Web-based subscription services, including Encyclopedia Britannica
and Gale Group
, and put in Web-connected computers for library card holders to use free for an hour or so.
For less than a large chai latte, $3.49 per month, Catalog.com provides nationwide dial-up for 10 hours access.
But it didn't help much during my home Internet outage. Sure, I could do research, but I couldn't save it to a floppy or a USB thumb drive, because public-access library machines are locked down pretty tight--no access to removable storage allowed. Given the parlous state of computer security, I couldn't blame them. So I did a little Web mailing to get the crucial information back to my e-mail address, but I couldn't e-mail any documents I'd already written or integrate my new research into existing files, so I was stymied.
The coffee shop
So I made off to my local Borders T-Mobile Hot Spot, notebook in hand. Of course, I could have gone another half mile to a local Starbucks (or another mile to get to six other Starbucks), but the Borders patrons and staff don't sneer nearly as much at my worn-out, old notebook. But I still got sticker shock. T-Mobile's hot-spot usage fee of $30 to $40 per month might be OK if I used it all the time, but I don't. And--yeesh!
--a $6 minimum for an hour, followed by 10 cents per minute--that's a bit steep. Besides, it looked as though I needed to sign up online first before I could get online at the hot spot--a bit of a catch-22 in my position. So I took my iced chai latte back home to ponder my options.
The dial-up company
As luck would have it, the cable company came through during my hour-long excursion, and I was back on broadband. But after my emergency e-mail, I called one of my domain registrars, Catalog.com
, to order up its new dial-up Internet access service. For less than a large chai latte, $3.49 per month, Catalog.com provides nationwide dial-up for 10 hours access--not much time, really, but just enough for insurance against temporary outages or to get quick on-the-road access. Catalog.com's unlimited access is only $10 per month, right in the bargain zone occupied by NetZero
. And if I suffer an Internet access outage when I really a need fast connection, I can always dial up to sign up for a day pass at a T-Mobile Hot Spot. That's 10 bucks a day, plus however much Borders or Starbucks charge for the chai and the pastries that the devil on my shoulder points out to me as I work.
Matt Lake drinks chai while getting online, but he usually makes it himself from ingredients he bought online somewhere.