Broadband at last

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Technology
June 16th, 2010 • 4:17 pm

It’s hard to believe it’s taken so long but yes, today is the day that my home office has finally been hooked up to a decent Internet service provider, namely the rural broadband service offered by Eastlink in mainland Nova Scotia.

After surviving for ten years (until 2006!) on dial-up and then having to bite the bullet and acquire an expensive satellite-based service, we had to deal for three years with a change of ownership (from Aliant to Xplornet), unreliable service (bad weather, defective parts, and so on), and unacceptable restrictions (bandwidth throttling, limited access to certain specific sites, etc.) that we had to put up with simply because we didn’t have any choice.

The reason we didn’t have a choice was that our specific neighbourhood, while not far away from the area along the main highway that is served by both the phone company and the cable company, was geographically too far for the phone company to provide DSL service and had never been equipped with the cabling required for cable service either.

Over the years, we (as in me and a number of other people in the area) unsuccessfully tried to lobby the cable company to expand their service to our neighbourhood. But the response was always that it required too much of an investment on their part for a limited customer base, and that therefore there was “no business case” for it.

Then in 2007 the provincial premier at the time announced a “high-speed Internet for everyone” broadband program for rural Nova Scotia and we were told that everyone in Nova Scotia would have access to broadband by the end of 2009.

Later it was announced that the company hired by the government to provide Internet service in our area was Eastlink and that it would be provided in the form of a local wireless service via strategically placed towers.

And so we waited. As the deadline approached, the status of our particular area stayed desperately stuck at the planning stage and so we started to worry again, and with good reason. Before the end of the year, it was confirmed that the project had been delayed and that we would now have to wait until April or May 2010.

I kept monitoring the status of our area regularly and, in early April 2010, saw a change to a status that indicated that the project was near completion and that the last phase would last no more than a week.

And then… nothing. For several weeks, the status stayed stuck at that same near-completion stage. And then the end of May 2010 deadline was reached and we still had nothing.

Thankfully, a friend of mine who was monitoring the situation sent me a link to a media report in early June indicating that there were “fewer than 200” people province-wide who were still waiting for Eastlink to hook them up, which was patently untrue. But I went back to the status page and then I discovered that it had miraculously changed altogether and that the service was now listed as being available in all areas.

So I picked up the phone and, to my surprise, without even being put on hold, I was put through to a representative who confirmed that the service was now available in my area and offered to set up an appointment for me. She called me back an hour later with a date of June 16, and just warned me that it was an appointment for an “installation test” and that normally they should be able to set me up, but if there were any problems with the signal reception, they would have to come back later with more powerful equipment, “at no extra cost” to me, but of course with more delays.

While waiting for the appointment, I checked the location of the towers in my county on Eastlink’s map and saw that I was located about mid-way between two towers, which was not too reassuring. On the other had, one of the towers was across the bay from us, meaning that there would be a clear line of sight with no obstacles whatsoever.

And so we waited for June 16. Two days ago, I got an automated call reminding me of the appointment. When I had talked to the representative, she has said that they would call me in the morning to give me the approximate time of their arrival. But this morning I didn’t get a call, so I started to worry again.

But finally around noon I got three phone call attempts from a cell phone (cell service is pretty bad in our neck of the woods) and on the last one I was able to determine that the technicians had the wrong civic number and couldn’t find me. I corrected the number and five minutes later they showed up at the door.

Colin and Jason were nice young fellows and they immediately reassured me that they didn’t anticipate any problems with signal strength from my location. And sure enough, their first tests with the tower across the bay confirmed that the signal was excellent, and so they proceeded with the installation, which requires a small antenna on the roof and a ground connection in addition to the service connection, for safety reasons.

They did an excellent job of hiding the cables (including the hideous lime green one for the ground) and a couple of hours later we were able to test things on my computer and confirm that my connection had a download speed of over 3 Mbps and an upload speed of nearly 1 Mbps. Yey!

(The officially advertised download speed is 1.25 Mbps, but the technician said some people got a better speed, for a variety of reasons. He did warn me that they might eventually throttle it back down somewhere closer to the advertised speed. I guess we’ll see.)

Beyond the speed/throughput numbers per se, the big changes are of course that there is no more latency (something that is unavoidable with a satellite-based service) and no more throttling back or blocking of specific sites (“no usage restrictions,” says the web site).

I will have to give it a bit of time before drawing any conclusions about the overall reliability and consistency of the service, but while these speeds are of course at the very low end of the spectrum in today’s world, and even in what Eastlink has to offer, they are also obviously much better than what I used to have with the satellite-based service, which would so often throttle things back down to near-dial-up speeds.

So this is it. Finally, we have broadband, and finally I can say goodbye to lengthy downloads and choppy streaming. What a relief. I think we deserve a nice bottle tonight with our supper to celebrate the end of 15 years of waiting!

One Response to “Broadband at last”

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