Options: Technical Infrastructure on a Small Island

Monday 2010 10 25

It is raining now, finally, but not much wind. October is usually very wet but hasn’t be so far this year. Tank at 10 feet.

First there was the cell phone question. Yvonne would be going to Seattle Friday and staying over with Jeni to go to the Bring Back Sanity Rally at Westlake. Her cell phone wouldn’t recharge and probably needed a new battery. Radio Shack in Eastsound didn’t have one; the phone was too old. James gave it to Yvonne as a backup when he got his first iPhone and it was probably four years old. I had ruined Yvonne’s phone by laying it on the cockpit deck of our SeaSport, which at the time was pretty wet, so we put James’ phone in service.

Verizon has good service for Crane Island, with a transmitter at the ferry landing, a straight shot about two miles away. Sprint is available outside the house as is AT&T. T-Mobile works, we understand, but their coverage other places is spotty. Might as well stay with Verizon.

We have only one cell phone. After too many business years of being tied to one, I don’t want to be constantly accessible. Our current plan, 65 Plus, allowed 200 minutes and cost about $30 per month but Yvonne never used all the minutes even when we were traveling. The Verizon service rep was very helpful over the phone. We averaged 46 minutes a month; the most in July when 14 of us held Borgfest (family reunion) in eastern Washington to celebrate Yvonne’s 60th birthday and visit Grandma Opal’s grave at the Burnt Ridge Cemetery outside Troy Idaho, just east of Moscow.

Prepaid daily service would make the most sense. Any day we used the phone we would pay $.99. Any call we made would be charged at $.10/minute. Our August charges, the highest month, would have been about $16. We were now paying $30 every month. A no brainer. I ordered a prepaid plan cell phone through the Verizon Website. It would arrive Tuesday or Wednesday. Yvonne would take it with her to Seattle Friday, stop at a Verizon store, and they’d set it up and migrate our current number to the new phone. We didn’t want to risk buying the prepaid plan phone at a Verizon store because they might not have this – least expensive – phone in stock.

What about the rest of our communication infrastructure: local phone, long distance, Internet, television? Currently we had the least expensive phone service CenturyLink offered; just a local connection with $.45 per minute long distance (which we never used), prepaid calling cards and iPod Skype at $3/month for long distance, 512kb DSL with Rock Island, a local ISP where we also had our email address, and DirectTV satellite cable access. Altogether this cost about $140 per month.

My calling card was almost out of minutes and Yvonne’s would soon be. We could get refills but that had become less convenient and more expensive. Yvonne wanted to be able to just pick up the phone and call long distance and not worry about it – and the same for guests – who probably had unlimited long distance plans and might well expect us to have that as well – though their calls would cost us $.45 per minute. I was less concerned about long distance, since iPod/Skype calls were clearer and easier for me to understand, given my hearing loss, than a telephone handset. I wanted faster DSL, 768kb, the best the local service could provide. Rock Island DSL piggy-backed on the CenturyLink lines. The higher speed would cost $10 more per month.

A recent mailing from CenturyLink advertised bundled specials with DirectTV satellite cable access. Cable access now costs $62 per month. Could we get a discount or cheaper plan? Or could we eliminate it altogether and get what we wanted through the Internet for free or nearly so? Yvonne watches Seattle news when she cooks dinner and sometimes Oprah and HGTV (Home and Garden). Some evenings, when not watching a Netflix movie (DVD or streaming) we watch The Daily Show and The Colbert Report and in season, Mad Men. That’s it.

CenturyLink was very helpful. We could have unlimited log distance, caller ID, and 768kb DSL for $75 per month and maybe get a $5 discount for having DirectTV provided we didn’t have their basic plan. Though that wasn’t a net lower monthly cost than we were paying for local phone, calling cards, and DSL, it did give us unlimited long distance and faster DSL. We would have the new modem Friday. We would need to change email addresses, something I’m not eager to do – not just because we’ve had these addresses for maybe eight years and so many people know them but because so many Internet services use these addresses as logon IDs. It’s going to be a bear to change them.

Next step was to figure out about cables access. Could we get everything we wanted via the Internet and use Apple TV or something else to display that content on our TV? Hulu has Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert but with a week’s delay. Mad Men is available through one site shortly after regular broadcast but the quality isn’t great. Seattle broadcast TV is available in bits and pieces from the stations’ websites but not in a very convenient way. A new service Ivi.tv streams all the Seattle (and New York) stations for $5/month. It seems to work pretty well but not always. Their application has some bugs. And conventional wisdom on the web is they’ll be shut down shortly by TV stations and cable operators. Yvonne’s says she doesn’t want to watch TV on a computer. That means buying devices, including new TVs, that work in the Internet to TV streaming world. And the content isn’t quite there.

So maybe we could play off DirectTV against DishNetwork. There is no physical cable on Crane Island. But it turns out that won’t work. Even though there is little we want to watch, Dish doesn’t offer both AMC ad Comedy Central in the base package so we couldn’t switch to any advantage. We would stay with DirectTV for now but very much want to dispense with cable access altogether as soon as possible. Maybe a year from now the broadcast, real-time content we want will be available through Internet streaming and by dropping satellite cable access it will make sense to buy the equipment it takes to conveniently watch streaming content on televisions (or whatever those devices become). It seems possible that at some point in the future everything will come through the Internet – broadcast TV, movies (e.g. Netflix), telephone, and the Web. That’s going to be disruptive for telephone and cable companies but probably less expensive and certainly more convenient. Most of our Netflix watching is mailed DVDs. In the future we’ll make fewer trips to the post office. No mail delivery to our little island.

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