Too Much Bandwidth; Too Much Internet

By now you know much I depend on the Internet. I’m slowly realizing that I have become too dependent.


The whole philosophy of Longleaf Breeze is built around the idea that many of the labor-saving devices on which we modern westerners rely are unlikely to function well in the future. For example, even though we could easily use electric heat and air conditioning in our little home in the pole barn, we have designed our home instead to remain comfortable and functional year round without either. We could use the neem oil, organic fertilizer, and countless other expensive bottles of goop for sale everywhere we look and remain “organic,” but we choose instead to grow our food without man-made chemicals so we can learn now what it takes to do that successfully (hint: a LOT of work and cussin’, not necessarily in that order).

By all accounts from anyone connecting the dots, the Internet is not likely to remain with us much longer, at least in its present form. Reliant as it is on ubiquitous, reliable 24/7 servers and a reliable electrical grid, the Internet will quickly see a dramatic drop in usage when users lose confidence that the information they need will always be there when they need it. At first, major web sites and information providers (like banks, for example), will advertise certain hours when they will make sure their servers are running and available. Eventually, though, all but the most well-trafficked sites will abandon the pretense of reliability and fall into disuse. Parenthetically, this means that little sites like this one will become unavailable. That’s a challenge for me, because it means I will need to work to develop some more resilient way of storing the information available here. No one uses Longleaf Breeze more than Amanda and I do.

Strangely enough, all this came to a head for me because of the availability of new technology. 4G is now available from Verizon in our home town of Tallassee, AL. Verizon supplies our Internet service over 3G now, and I would welcome the improvement in connection speed 4G offers. If we simply upgraded, however, we would lose our “grandfathered” status and no longer have access to the unlimited data plan we use now. So what would unlimited data cost using 4G? It’s not available. Despite the fact that it’s dirt cheap for Verizon to pass data over its system, Verizon has chosen to charge for bandwidth usage by the Gigabyte. Our data use now puts us in a class of users that are so data-hungry there isn’t a defined plan that would cover us. The salesman says the company would have to calculate a price for us. I don’t know what that price would be, of course, but I know it would be hefty.

So we keep our head down, using our old reliable 3G Internet connection and unlimited data plan for as long as Verizon allows us to do so. But what happens if Verizon says “no more,” or simply goes out of business? Where would our Internet service come from? So now you begin to understand why I’m nervous about my reliance on the Internet, and specifically nervous about our high Internet data usage rate.

I could choose, of course, to purchase another Internet connection from a competing provider (like a satellite Internet service), each of which comes with its own limitations on bandwidth. But there are two disadvantages with this approach. The first is that I’m reluctant to incur additional expense unless and until I have no choice. The second is that using two Internet services requires that I engage on a regular basis in some kind of hands-on “load balancing” activity. My assumption is that it would be invisible to Amanda, but it would be a pain for me.

All of this leaves me with a most unwelcome sense of angst about my use of the Internet and the determination to use it less. Here are the primary ways I use the Internet now and how I plan to approach each one.

I use it in my legal practice. I typically check e-mail several times a day. Because I actively discourage clients from trying to reach me by phone, it’s important that I be available to them by e-mail. This won’t change. I also use the GoToMeeting.com during sessions, so clients can see their divorce documents while I’m preparing them. Clients seem to appreciate the practicality and immediacy of this service, it’s not expensive in the context of my practice, and I plan to continue using it even though I know it’s data-hungry.

I monitor several sites using Google Reader. Google Reader has become my “newspaper,” the place where I go to glance at the headlines on the sites I monitor. If an article interests me, I go read it in its entirety. I spend two hours or more each day reading Google Reader and the stories I find on it. I plan to do this less. I realize this means I will be less informed, but I’m willing to pay that price. When I’m honest with you and with myself, I must admit that I’ve become something of a peak oil and collapse junkie. I sort of get it now; I really don’t need to spend any more time reading descriptions of how collapse is likely to occur, when the more important task is to prepare myself, my loved ones, and my community to survive and thrive in a post-collapse world.

I monitor Facebook. I spend probably 20 minutes a day just reading what my friends post on Facebook and responding to their posts. I need to do this less. This is a painful decision, because I am genuinely grateful to be able to stay in touch with friends in Birmingham and to reconnect with friends from junior high and high school. And of course, the MAIN reason we use Facebook is to keep up with our children. I need to continue monitoring Facebook to keep up with my children, but I’m not sure I need to be reminded again that my friend from high school loves her husband SO MUCH. I’m going to begin systematically hiding the posts of many of my friends on Facebook.

I listen to podcasts. I love listening to podcasts. The KunstlerCast, To the Best of our Knowledge, In Our Time, This American Life, and of course, Longleaf Breeze, are all pleasant ways I have found to fall asleep in the wee hours of the morning (I’m grateful to say that they don’t seem to disturb Amanda’s sleep at all). However, nearly all podcasts are data-hungry, so I think it’s time to use them less.

I update our sites. I update the Farm Log daily. This has become life-giving for me, and I can’t tell you the number of times I have been grateful for the daily record of what we’ve tried, what has succeeded and failed, and when it was that we last turned that pile. In addition, Amanda and I record and post the Longleaf Breeze podcast each Wednesday, and from time to time I post articles like this one. I also maintain and update Divorceinfo.com on a regular basis. I don’t plan to change this and may in fact increase it. I think it’s important that Amanda and I remain willing to share this adventure we’re having. More and more of you are trying variations of it, and you seem grateful that we’re willing to talk frankly about our experience.

So what will I do with all the time I’m going to free up? Without sharing it with you, I’ve become concerned lately that I have fallen out of the habit of reading books. I need to read books more, starting with the one my daughter Michelle recommended about dogs, The Art of Racing in the Rain. We have shelves of books we have acquired but not yet read about growing and farming. I need to be more attentive about digesting that rich storehouse of knowledge so Amanda and I can make better use of it as we work here at Longleaf Breeze.

Let me stress that this is Lee’s decision and not Amanda’s. She has a different point of view about the use of the Internet. Perhaps I can entice her to share it with you.

9 thoughts on “Too Much Bandwidth; Too Much Internet”

  1. It’s not cheap for a wireless network to pass data. In many respects, data is more costly for a wireless network to carry than voice. Unfortunately the carriers are upside-down on their pricing strategy, which assigns a higher value to voice than to data. I suspect, in fact, that the carriers are actually losing money on their current data pricing. That explains why they all want to impose usage caps, or real-time bandwidth throttles, on data plans whenever there’s a discontinuity like 4G that opens the door.

    There’s a fantastic blog about this at http://mobileopportunity.blogspot.com/2011/06/who-will-pay-for-mobile-data.html .

  2. Hi Chuck,

    Thank you! Good to have your perspective here, which would help to explain why the wireless companies are all moving away from the unlimited data plans. Because there’s no wired service available to most people like us in the hinterlands, I’m afraid we’re making the case stronger for my reducing my reliance on the Internet. Too much data!

  3. Rural people(like me) can now get satellite internet at a government subsidized rate through a program called the Recovery Act. It is in fact how I am posting this comment now. I can’t tell you how great it is to be reconnect to the internet again. Maybe you should check it out. I am quite satisfied with my service thus far.

  4. You’re right. It’s a slightly helpful subsidy. Unfortunately, the daily download limit (400 MB on even the priciest plan) makes it unworkable for us. Glad to hear that it’s making a difference for you, though.

  5. On the plan we have the daily download limit is 200mb. I was initially worried about that thinking that I would have to be really careful not to go over; but as it turns out when I go over there is not penalty they just throttle my downloads and I can tell that they are slower, but just barely which is effectively like not having a limit at all. Additionally they supply a free download manager which will download large files for you between 2 and 7 a.m. when downloads are unlimited. It may not be right for everyone, but until cable make it out here, it’s awesome.

  6. This is interesting. So if you start to download a file, does it prompt you to set it to download instead during the wee hours? And if you download during the wee hours, there’s no limit on the file size?

  7. Interesting take on the internet dependability, I certainly agree. Looking back, your situation with Verizon reminds me of my Dad and our cabin on Lake Martin. He was grand-fathered in to the phone company’ “party line” plan, which he was able to hang onto for probably 8 to 10 years longer than anyone else, in fact, until there was no one else on the party line. The phone company finally axed it in the late 70s or early 80s.

    Due to the course of nature in Tuscaloosa, we’ve had to part ways with the cable company (something we wanted to do for a long time) after the tornado we had and the cable provider was unable to even predict the month they would provide service again. For the month we had no cable, gas or television, we found ourselves actually sitting around and talking to each other more, what a concept! NPR became something we listened to every night, rather than only in the car while commuting.

    While I’ve switched to Verizon wireless intenet (also switched to Direct TV), I struggle with the data limits Verizon has and find myself free-loading for downloads when I visit friends sometime, or saving up any downloads I need and travel to the local library to use their internet for downloads weekly.

    On an interesting note, Lee, information from you helped us be prepared (like a good Scout) for the April tornado and the aftermath it brought. We had our generator (with 20 gals of stored fuel), a 2 month supply of non-perishable food and plenty of water stored. Not to say that we are anywhere near where we need for future endeavors, the sudden loss of trees has allowed us to expand our raised beds and we are currently i the process of adding 2 more raised beds for gardening. Keep up your posting! 🙂

  8. I feel your pain, Chris. Amanda and I offered to buy an Internet connection for our little church in Tallassee so we could make wireless Internet available free to the community. It would be available for folks just like you who need a download every now and then, as well as people who don’t have Internet service at all. Unfortunately, the church passed on it, so now we’re going to talk with the city to see if they would allow us to pay for it at the police department.

    It means more than you know to hear that we’ve been helpful to you. Thanks SO MUCH for telling us.

  9. My browser doesn’t prompt me when I download a file. I had to download a free program provided by hughesnet. When I installed it a little box conveniently labeled drop box popped up just above the clock on my start bar and when I wish for something to be downloaded later I just drag and drop the link to the file into the box. There are several different settings that I can use. I can start, stop, and pause all downloads at once at any time. I currently have it set up to download during free time any files that I have added to the queue. It downloads them one at a time in order and stops when free time is over at 7:00 am. There is no limit on files size but of course the larger the file the longer it takes. If there is quite a lot in the queue it may not finish in only one night; for example it took two nights to download all of the backlogs of the Longleaf breeze podcast. I have found that it takes an inordinately long amount of time to UPLOAD photos to facebook; however every time of done this has been during peek hours and I’m assuming that this is probably the cause. Generally though, I can tell that it’s not quite as fast as the cable internet that I previously enjoyed and I don’t have the bandwith to watch movies or tv shows or download them now but overall I find it very usable and a great alternative to dialup and much faster than verizon internet which I have used before.

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