By Dean Close, Editor
Have you ever wondered what kind of informal awards you would receive, if they gave out random awards based on your habits, personality or actions?
For example, I may receive a “Most Likely To Burn Down My Neighborhood Award,” somethng my neighbors and two fire departments can attest to.
Or possibly, I could be the first recipient of the “Dorkiest Songs by a Grandpa Trying To Get A Toddler To Sleep Award.” My singing is so horrible that all of my progeny have begged me to please stop singing, even at age 2. Even Talitha, who brags that I am “HER” grandpa and says we need more time together, says “PLEASE stop singing!!!!” every time I try.
But there’s another award that I think I deserve, and it relates to work and technology: The “Doing The Most With a Web Site With The Very Least Internet Service Available Award.”
As you know, we have been doing Vinton Today since March of 2010. We love doing the online newspaper thing. We love the freedom, the not-having-to-squeeze-everything-just-right-on-the-page of the traditional newspaper business (Not to mention a lot of the other limitations of that technology).
But of course, being an online-only newspaper means you do everything on-line. Which, of course, means using the Internet. Which, of course, means using some kind of Internet provider.
What you probably don’t know is that we have been doing this for many years with an extremely limited Internet service.
We live in the country, on a hilly, tree-lined gravel road, about 8 miles north of Vinton, in the area I like to call Baja Brandon (although the name has not become as common as I’d hoped).
When we started Vinton Today, we were using the basic telephone service, first from Iowa Telecom, which later became Windstream.
This system uses a regular phone line to transfer data for web sites.
Using a phone line for internet data is like hooking a garden hose to a fire hydrant – you are connected to all the data you need, but there is just no way to get all you need because of the limitations of the conduit.
We tried this for several years, with results that were both exasperating and comical.
For example, we would literally load our photos from events into online albums, and then go to bed, hoping that when we woke up, they uploading would be done. At times, it was.
I have the cleanest office in the world, not because I am that much of a neat freak, but rather because I have time to straighten my desk, sort my papers, and even dust, while waiting at times to upload a story.
I am often using two and sometimes three devices at a time, doing photos on one computer while waiting for the other to use the internet.
After calling the telephone company several times over several years, and being told they were trying to improve our service, we finally called someone who is familiar with our area. That person explained that no, the service will NEVER get better because we are at the end of the Brandon service area, and our tiny garden hose of a phone line could just not carry enough data.
So we started looking for other options.
A couple of providers promised service just about anywhere in Iowa, using signals beamed from towers a few miles away.
I called them.
“Sure,” said the person on the phone.
“No way,” said the technician who came to install it. He explained that we have way too many hills and trees for the signals to get through.
So we went to our final option: Satellite.
“I think we can,” said the tech guy, as he stood next too me at the far south end of the roof of my house (away from the trees) and pointed something toward the sky.
He could. Kind of.
“It think we can aim it over the trees, and up to the satellite,” he said.
We have fairly decent internet, unless it rains – something the tech guy said shouldn’t matter.
So, for the past 8 years, we have often used our home internet to do Vinton Today. At times, we have also gone to the library or McDonald’s, where there is a good signal. We can at times use our cell phones for a “hot spot,” which basically means you can use a cell phone to connect a laptop to the internet – kind of.
I know not all of you rely on strong internet service nearly that much. But many of you do.
During a recent VMEU meeting, the board heard from the spouse of a doctor who described the challenges of attempting to communicate with patients because of the less-than-stellar internet service currently available in Vinton.
I know how important good internet is for work, for education, for health care.
So when the iVinton thing began, I began asking if we would be eligible to participate.
It’s too soon to say for sure but the answer we have received is, “quite possibly.”
We sure hope so.
In the next few weeks we will most likely be writing stories to tell you how much a fiber optic system would cost to build, which companies may help Vinton bear the cost of the project, and how much it would cost local residents to hook up to local Internet, TV and phone services, if they choose to do so. We will be explaining, again, exactly what a fiber system is and why it works better than my phone lines or even satellites. And of course, we will be discussing the cost, and who would help pay for such a system.
I just hope that when it comes time for us, as a community, to decide on this issue, the question we ask is not if do to this, but how.
It matters that much now. And it’s only going to matter more in the future, when more and more information is available – to those who make sure their technology is ready for it.