One doesn’t hear a lot of complaining out here in the country, but a fairly consistent complaint is about telephone service. I think that this is unfair, because the phone lines seem in as good a shape as they were the day Alexander Graham Bell strung them.
Thoughts visit the amusing old movie, The President’s Analyst, in which it turns out that the universal villain is an organization called “TPC,” which stands for “The Phone Company.” But I actually kind of like The Phone Company. When you think about the telephonic things that we have come to take for granted, it boggles the mind. The telephone system, like computers, is clearly impossible.
Out here in the country, the impossibility sometimes seems to win.
For example, calls to other parts of the town in which I live are long distance, though calls to other towns much farther away are not. The zones seem strictly and perhaps arbitrarily drawn; I do not know for a fact but I have been told that there are places nearby where a call to the house across the street is long distance. I had always imagined that local coverage was determined by something like a circle, several miles in diameter, with the phone subscriber at its center. And I suppose that in places with new equipment and fiber-optical cables, something like that does take place.
But not here.
Looking out my kitchen window and across the creek, I see the box into which modern new cabling terminates. Were the wiring extended just a little more, not even a mile, a world of new possibilities would be mine.
The Internet, for instance. It is a fact that better than half of the country remains on dialup: modem and telephone line. It would be wonderful if web designers remembered this, because they might then sacrifice some bells and whistles in order to make their pages load more quickly. Out here, dialup is the rule and it is very, very slow. You can have the very best 56-kilobit-per-second modem and it does not matter — it’s like putting a very big nozzle on a garden hose. This makes the pump-and-dump scamspam, where crooks seek to artificially raise the price of worthless stocks by sending millions of unsolicited email “stock advice” messages to everyone, all the more galling. Try waiting for an important message while watching dozens of useless swindle attempts trickle in on a connection that would have been thought slow a decade ago.
But that is the way of communication in the woods. I asked a fellow from The Phone Company when new technology is likely to be extended the few hundred feet necessary for me to take advantage of it. “Well …” he replied, “prob’ly never.”
There is an alternative, and I’ve employed it: satellite modem. This is the Internet coming in over a dish similar to the ones commonly employed for television service out here in the country.
You may have seen the advertisements for satellite Internet. After using mine for a little more than two years I can say with confidence that it is better than dialup. That is all that it is better than, however. I don’t think you could accurately call it high-speed. “Medium-speed” seems closer to the mark. But one learns to make do.
And, truth be known, I’m old enough to think that sending my Internet messages over a satellite from a dish attached to my house is pretty cool. I remember the launch of a satellite called “Telstar,” and the first television images it beamed from Europe — ice skating, if my memory is telling me the truth. Regular television was interrupted to bring us this exciting event. And it was exciting. (A lot more exciting than realizing that I remember something that happened 45 years ago!)
It could be, too, that I’m being unfair in my criticism of The Phone Company. When there is a storm of any note, I lose electrical power. For a time I assumed that telephone service went out at the same time, but once, early on, I rummaged through some boxes and found an old, non-electronic, wired telephone and plugged it in. There was a dial tone. Since then, I’ve lost power many times but never phone service. Cynics might say that the quality of the phone service is such that not even a storm could make it any worse, but I do not join them.
Instead, I’m impressed.
It might be a good idea if the power company were to call The Phone Company and find out what kind of wire they’re using, and get some of it.
Though I imagine the reply would be that it all got used up by Alexander Graham Bell.
Dennis E. Powell is crackpot-at-large to Open for Business. Powell was an award-winning reporter in New York and elsewhere before moving to Ohio and becoming a full-time crackpot. You can reach him at email@example.com.