Every day on the radio and TV, I hear ads excitedly informing us that the web is now more and more accessible…at faster and faster speeds…practically free!!! Woo-hoo!
Who is the target demographic for these ads? Certainly no one who pays for their own internet service.
Those of us who actually pay attention to our bills know it’s getting more and more expensive to stream video and share files. The wireless companies are bragging that they now offer 15G of data a per month for something like $30. Well, as we know that’s $30 on top of your phone bill and a whole lot of other taxes and fees. I had to shop around in my area to get a decent deal on 15G of data per month (which doesn’t even come close to allowing me to use my apps and programs as much as I would like to – and forget watching movies or streaming live events). My bill is about $134 per month.
That’s a lot of money.
Oh, sure, you can get “unlimited internet” through some of the local big-box stores, but you’ll soon discover that once you’ve used about 2.5G of data, they throttle your usage, and the web becomes literally painful to access.
Whenever possible, I try to use open wi-fi, which in my area means that you either mooch the guest wi-fi of a restaurant, laundromat, mechanic, or other business you frequent while you’re waiting in the lobby – or use the public library. These free services tend to come with filters which don’t allow access to certain sites. One office I use has blocked access to personal email and cloud drives in oder to help prevent unauthorized uploading of sensitive customer information. The local library has blocked access to “fine art” sites because of concerns about pornography and child predators. Some restaurants and businesses will let you use any site you want…until your battery runs out, because they don’t provide power outlets in the public area. These businesses all have understandable limits, but it can be frustrating and expensive to constantly have to shift between your own cell carrier wi-fi and the open wi-fi to simply get an image from your cloud storage to your website. And let’s not even get started on the security concerns with open wi-fi…Wow!
The obvious solution is to pay for your own internet service at home…right? Well, yes, but there are a few caveats there, too. The first is that in order to use your home internet, you have to be…well…home! Some of us have things to do, places to go, people to see. Also, if you happen to live in an area with limited home internet service, this is not as easy as it sounds. For example, at my home address, I have a choice between DSL through the phone company or internet through the cable company. That’s it – two choices, and neither company has local customer service anymore. They outsource to contractors, who are very, very busy. Earlier this year, a power surge killed my DSL modem, and it was going to take about 10 days to get a replacement (The modems available at the local retail stores would not work. Believe me, I tried). I considered going back to cable, but it was going to be about the same wait time for a set-up on that. This is 2015. Who can go for ten days without the internet?!
I believe this whole “paying by the Gig for data” thing is going to be one of the memories of this decade that people will look back at and laugh. You know in the 70s, we had kids carrying around giant boom-boxes on their shoulders. In the 80s people were wearing walkmans and trying to find their cordless phones before the batteries ran out and the handset was forever lost. In the 90s we were all paying out the nose for cellular “roaming charges” and waiting hours for AOL to deliver an email. During the first decade of this century, a lot of business people were waiting for this whole trendy “social media” craze to finally end. It didn’t, and now the web is vital for every kind of business transaction. The more we need, the more we use, and the more it costs…ironically, making it harder, rather than easier to access.
Unlimited data is throttled. Open wifi is filtered. Home internet is a technical nightmare. They say it’s always darkest before the dawn. Is this the digital midnight of data usage? Will we soon begin trending toward more practical, more useful, more safe internet access for all of us? What do you think? Are we close to a turning point, or are things going to get worse before they get better?