The edgeInfrastructure Week focused in part on how dire the broadband problem currently is for Americans. On Monday, we showed you a map of the worst counties for broadband in the US – and Friday, we closed the week by showing that satellite services like Starlink aren’t enough to close that gap.
But even for the people who do have high-speed Internet access, many of them have done desperate things to secure access to it. Our team lives all over the US and they’ve shared some personal stories below about their experiences getting (or not getting) high-speed internet.
But we also want to know which lengths you have gone for internet access. Did you have to beg a reluctant ISP to expand its high-speed service to your area? Have you resorted to using a device in an inadvertent way to access the Internet? Have you used smart solutions to improve your internet (or hitch a ride on that of a neighbor)? Share your story in the comments below.
When I returned from college one summer, I noticed that my mother had switched from a dial-up connection to a slightly faster RF Internet. There was a dish on our porch behind the grain elevators in town (the largest building in the area). The ISPs were just a few nice young guys who used cable lines to thread internet from the center of town to the grain elevators, where they would then beam it to people too far away to get DSL or cable. The internet was fine most of the time, but slowed or stopped altogether when there was interference. Most of the time it was a heavy storm or heavy fog. But the worst was when the hay fields between the grain elevators and my house were harvested. It would stir up dust and leave me totally internetless. I felt very comfortable playing World of Warcraft at coffee shops and diners in rural North Texas.
– Alex Cranz, editor-in-chief
The internet at my parents’ house (where I worked much of the pandemic since my 60-square-foot apartment is not an ideal office) is mind-bogglingly slow. This is a problem for me as someone who reviews laptops, especially gaming laptops, as I have to constantly download stuff. Red Dead Redemption 2 For example, it took almost four days to load my drive onto my parents’ Internet, and everything else crashed so much that I had to find another solution. So I want to take this space to shout out the Congregational Church of Salisbury, which this year has allowed me to absolutely bombard their holy internet with piles of heavy downloads. There is no experience more serene than spending the morning in an empty chapel, hearing the chirping of birds echoing through windows and over the benches, feeling at peace with nature and God, downloading AAA game after AAA game.
– Monica Chin, writer
Back in the day, when international data access cost a small fortune, a friend of mine came up with the ingenious solution to use the free 3G connection on his Kindle as a temporary solution. He spent an entire summer using the basic browser built into his e-reader to load up Google Maps and navigate his way. It was a painful process and I don’t think he got anywhere that fast, but it was better than having to pay the international roaming charges that were being charged at the time.
– Jon Porter, news reporter
Being a freelance video professional and having to upload large files, my internet connection can be the difference between spending a day getting a video online or a few minutes. Sadly, living in NYC means I pretty much only have one internet option from the old cable provider (Spectrum). Like most cable providers, they offer decent download speeds, but limit upload speeds to the same meager 30Mbps for all of their plans, and even then, you rarely get the full 30Mbps. I wanted fiber optic internet as it provides modern bandwidth for uploads, but there was little incentive for Verizon FiOS to run their service in the pre-war building I live in on the Upper West Side. However, I was determined and went door to door to every resident in the building to get enough signatures that showed interest in a fiber optic option for the Internet. After getting a majority of tenants to sign up and calling and writing to Verizon every week for nearly six months, I was able to have them coordinate with the landlord to install service on our building. Now an average video that would take several hours to upload can be put online in minutes. By troubleshooting a problem or quickly changing a video for a customer, I can meet customer requests that many other producers would not be able to handle. My upload speed can be the real difference between getting the next job or not.
– Liam James, producer on Decoder
I studied in mainland China during a major crackdown on US websites in college. So I spent half a year playing a constant game of whack-a-mole with Tor and a series of sketchy (but faster) free web proxies whose names and links were passed down through my cohort as if we were sharing the passwords with a speakeasy. I’m lucky I didn’t end up with some sort of horrific malware, but on the bright side, this is the only time I can imagine feeling cool and rebellious visiting Facebook.
– Adi Robertson, senior reporter
My family only upgraded from dial-up around 2012 which meant we didn’t have WiFi either. Of course, that didn’t stop me from going online, so I did what any preteen would do: grab my PSP 2000 and wander my neighborhood looking for unprotected hot spots. I eventually found one close to our house (my neighbors!), And eagerly connected to it. Luckily there was a tree in just the perfect spot, where I was as close to their property as I could have been without technically entering.
– Mitchell Clark, news writer
Dial-up internet was the only option during my teenage years on the outskirts of a small town in Ohio. We got service through CompuServe, and it showed its limitations when I had to do pretty much anything but use MySpace, Xanga, or GameFaqs for text-only game guides. I remember it took a week to download a 63 MB trailer Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater on Kazaa. So it was totally inadequate for playing online games like Weapons of war on the Xbox 360, which all my friends were playing at the time.
In order to get something that could even be considered high-speed internet in our home (I remember that speed was well below 500 Kbps for download and upload speeds), I had to repeatedly call and beg the local ISP for it to go to the place where I lived, about 20 miles out of town. It finally worked after a few months of persistence. I got my way, and I could And last but not least play online synchronous multiplayer games for the first time. Shortly after, a stranger entered online Weapons of war told me he was going to come to my house and kill me so I stopped playing with it.
– Cameron Faulkner, writer
There are four rooms in my apartment. Living room -> Kitchen -> Bathroom -> Bedroom. Thick concrete walls between each of them.
My router is in the living room. It does not reliably reach the bedroom. If I leave the bedroom door fully open, I can maintain a consistent signal.
I know I have to buy an Eero or something, but I keep thinking there will be a better model coming out soon.
So I bought a $ 30 Wi-Fi repeater and a long extension cable instead. I ran the cable from an outlet in the kitchen to the hallway (there are no outlets in the hallway) that leads to the bedroom. The cable is somewhat delicately hidden around a door frame using a series of small nails meant for hanging picture frames and wire to hold the cable in place.
The WiFi repeater now floats near the ceiling, halfway between the router and the bedroom. When I connect to it I can get AOL speeds in my bedroom.
It has been there for 12 months now. I never use it.
– Jake Kastrenakes, editor-in-chief