When connectivity dies

Anthony Caruana
26 April, 2008
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I remember the day well. I was in the middle of writing a feature for mobility-focussed magazine when the internet connection in my home-office failed. The installation was very recent, having flipped from my Optus account to one of Bigpond’s offers as, at the time, it offered better value. However, I should have immediately been suspicious when the installer appeared in smart-casual business attire and had no overalls.

I asked the installer to run all the cables through a conduit I had and directly under the house so that my overly curious Labrador puppy didn’t see the cables and decide that they were a new plaything, installed for his edification. However, the installer told me that he "didn’t crawl under houses". I must say that I was a little surprised.

So there I was, two days or so after the installation, and my connection fails. I call the support line and we establish that the problem is local to my installation and not a more general network fault. I take a look outside and, you guessed it, the dog ate my internet. You can imagine my chagrin. Everything I’d expected to happen transpired because the cable installer didn’t want to get dirty.

Fortunately, my editor (who had his own deadline to meet that was dependent on me delivering the content I was providing) was very understanding and even offered me the username and password to his spare dial-up account. However, no longer having a computer with a dial-up modem was an issue.

At the end, I was able to reconnect the severed cable (I’m glad I paid attention to my dad when he was connecting coaxial cable for TV antennae at my childhood home) and get some connectivity in place until the installer returned. He still didn’t want to get dirty so I crawled under the house and did all the dirty work to conceal the cables.

Internet connectivity has become the fifth utility (behind electricity, gas, water and telephones). We are so dependent on it for our news, communication, work and entertainment that we ought to think about contingency arrangements (business types call this "continuity"). So what can we do that will keep us connected when our main internet connection fails and we have to be online.

Option 1: Dial-up. Most ISPs offer either very cheap or free dial-up services to their broadband customers either as a backup or for when you’re travelling. Sure, the speeds are excruciatingly slow when you’re accustomed to multi-megabit connections but they’re good enough for e-mail.

Option 2: Mobile phone. Many mobile phones allow you to make a Bluetooth or USB connection so that the phone can be used as a modem. If you’re on a 3G/HSDPA/NextG network this is well and truly good enough for e-mail and some browsing. The catch is cost. Some mobile phone plans offer some data. For example, the $29 cap I have with my Three contract includes 10MB of data per month. It’s not a lot but it’s plenty for a day’s e-mail.

Option 3: Mobile internet. All the mobile phone carriers and some ISPs offer mobile internet services. Even Dodo (the most complained-about ISP according to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman) is in that market. Dod offers a $5 per month 100MB plan to existing customers. You’ll need another $200 for the hardware, but as long as you’re in an Optus coverage area (Dodo’s reselling Optus 3G connectivity) you’ll have a connection. If you’re in a metropolitan area and need regular access to mobile internet then I’d suggest a look at Vodafone and Three for their data plans.

When connectivity dies, you need not be isoloated from the online world. There are ways to stay connected.

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