Island Internet: You Can’t Live With It, You Can’t Live Without It

Internet on this rock is problematic, to say the very least.

Take yesterday, for instance. It was on for a few short minutes when I got up, just long enough for me to see that there were no yellow, orange, or red X’s on the map of the Western Atlantic that is my home page. Comforting news, though not that I expected anything else, given that we’ve reached the end of hurricane season.

But then I clicked on Gmail, and was met with the same screen I remembered looking at the night before. Okay… so I didn’t bother to shut it down last night. Fair enough. Let’s refresh. I click on the little arc at the top of the screen, hoping it will allow me to look at my most current list of emails. And… nothing happens. I wait a few beats, twiddle my thumbs, click it again, twiddle some more, and then I get the mostly white page that politely states, “This page cannot be displayed.” It goes on with the advice to: “Check to see that you typed the web address correctly.” Damn it, computer – I didn’t type anything. I just clicked on the same spot I always click on to get my email. Making a typing mistake when clicking is difficult.

I yell down the corridor, “Bob, do you have internet?”

No answer. I have to wonder – Did he use up all the oomph the internet had this morning, and now they are both resting?

Back to the drawing board. I’m supposed to be good at this. I’ve been using computers daily for 35 years. It’s unfortunate when you can’t even phone a friend, because YOU are the friend that other people phone when they have computer problems.

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I find the minute icon in the lower right hand corner of the screen that looks like a section of a pipe organ and click on it. Oh goody, what a surprise… it says, “Not connected”.

At this stage, I have the option to click “Trouble-shooting”, though I’ve tried that too many times and know from experience that it will result in as much success as it would if I joined a coven in the rainforest and danced around a bonfire in the starlight chanting to the computer gods.

I resign to my fate and call the cable company. Lo and behold, I get to speak to a real person, without being placed on hold. When we first moved here, I had had to learn the local vocabulary for these issues. Even though the television feed and the internet are supplied by one company – a CABLE company – fixing the cable won’t fix the internet. Fixing the cable only fixes the television. I have to specify “internet” to get a technician who knows what to do about that.

Once that’s sorted out, the nice woman on the phone reassures me that a technician will be here this afternoon. No technician shows up. I call again – “He’ll be there tomorrow.” Tomorrow arrives and no technician, though this time there’s a printed card on the gate mysteriously saying that he was here. I call again. It turns out we are supposed to watch for him, all day long, because he only comes to the outside of the gate. He is not required to open the gate or even ring the doorbell because, “there could be dogs”. Perfectly understandable, though since we don’t have dogs, it didn’t occur to me. Couldn’t they have given him my phone number so he could call when he is at the gate?

When we are finally able to coordinate his visit, he’s inside the house and fixes the problem in no time. The second time this issue occurs, the same quick fix happens and I inquire further, hoping to be able to cut out the middle man and take care of this myself more expediently next time.

“What did you DO?”, I ask, and the answer is that he simply unplugs the modem, waits 10 seconds, and plugs it back in again.

“But I shut off the power to it!” I protest.

“That’s not enough,” he says. “Even without power, it knows it is still connected.”

Sigh. More evidence of witchcraft.

As you might assume by now, in my future attempts to fix my island internet connection, sometimes the reset works, and sometimes it doesn’t. One particular day, it went off and on every half hour or so. I’d be reading this blog, and suddenly, nothing would work, all was frozen. Click on the pipe organ and it says, “no access”. Here one minute, gone the next. Those computer gods I prayed to earlier must be telling me it’s time to hit the beach.

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This whole situation is frustrating enough in and of itself, but fairly frequently, I also get a phone call saying, “You haven’t paid your bill. You have to come in and pay it today or your cable and internet will be shut off.” (I guess they phone because the internet they provide is not that reliable.)

I protest. “I didn’t get a bill.”

“Well, we sent one, and payment is overdue.”

“How am I supposed to know it’s due if I don’t get a bill?”

It’s perfectly logical to the unsympathetic employee of the unsympathetic cable company. “Just come in before the tenth of each month. We’ll tell you how much you owe.”

I have no choice – they have the internet, thus they have all the power.

On another one of these not-so friendly payment calls, I explain, “I’ve already paid it. I did it online.”

“Our online payment system has not been functional for months,” says the woman.

“That’s really strange, because I have been paying online for months. Wait a day or two – the payment will come through,” I assure her. And what do you know? It does.

And yet, with all its trials and tribulations, internet – any internet – is wonderful, and I’m so grateful it exists on my little rock in the Caribbean at all. I can email my friends and actually get answers while I still remember the questions. I can look up books, and have them sent directly to my Kindle, bypassing my computer altogether. I can look up parts I need for everything around me that continues to keep breaking, and have them sent here. I can find video demonstrations with understandable English that tell me how to fix never before encountered problems (like putting our fancy windows back in their frames). I can even phone anywhere in North America, anytime, for a flat fee of $20 per year, provided of course that the internet is working at that moment.

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I lived in a similarly remote situation 40 years ago, where the only communication was by snail mail, on a partially paralyzed snail. Sometimes the letters just ended up in the toilet with the corners ripped off, because a stamp collector regarded them as fair game for his hobby.

So… yes. This is better. I’ll take it.

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Val Zacharias

About Val Zacharias

Val and her husband Bob retired to Nevis (the small relative of St. Kitts, in the Leeward Islands) in January 2013. They often sit on their porch and smile and say, “This was a good decision.” – though never on those days they have to spend dealing with Revenue Canada. Val is unable to do nothing, so she spends her time doing stained glass, making vases and hangings out of palm fibre, playing bridge, and having a go at baby golf (there are 10 tees and 2 greens). That’s when she’s not fixing things (like the automatic gates that keep out the cattle, sheep, and goats), killing cockroaches with a hammer (because otherwise they get up and walk away), and collecting/trying out all possible remedies for insect bites (many of which somehow appear when there have been no insects in sight). Her dad used to say that in Northern Canada, the mosquitos may be too big to go through the screens, but they bring their little ones along and shove them through the holes, where they grow up and wreak havoc inside. Val has found the same to be true here.

The grocery stores are interesting. They only occasionally have prunes, for instance, but filo (Val thought it was phyllo) dough is readily available. That requires work, though, so it stays on the shelves.

Val has found that the key to living on Nevis is to start all conversations with, “Good morning, good morning, how are you?” and to actually be interested in the answer. People are very friendly and amazingly helpful. The 22 months they have spent on Nevis feels like a nice long summer so far – one nice long summer.

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9 thoughts on “Island Internet: You Can’t Live With It, You Can’t Live Without It

  1. This witchy woman says do the full moon dance to the technology deities. You will likely have more luck! Great post- everyone can relate for true!

  2. Very timely post! Our internet is provided by our landlord and included in the rent, but unfortunately, it’s with the *worst* service provider on island. After 8 months of unplugging and resetting the box, restarting the computer, and praying to the technology gods – to no avail – we finally sucked it up and had a second service installed, paying for it out of our own pockets every month. In the beginning, it was fabulous! The new service was lightning-fast (relatively speaking) and never went down. I thought I had scored a rare victory over the island gods, but alas, it was short-lived. Just this week, the new service has slowed to a crawl and drops every hour or so. And the original service? It’s been completely out all week, with no restoration expected until next week. Lesson? The island gods win. Every time.

  3. Boy, can I relate to this, I am quite certain we have the crappiest internet ever known to man, and like Danielle, our internet is included in our rent and works occasionally. I am sure our landlord chose the worse internet package available.

  4. All too true and usually I am not laughing, but I enjoyed your sardonic piece, especially the line:”I guess they phone because the internet they provide is not that reliable.)” which made me laugh aloud.
    I recall when I learned if you take the plug out of the modem for the supposed magical ten seconds ( it actually takes less), I began to feel like a magician myself. Maybe I should hire myself out as a techie!

  5. Oh man.. I can relate to this, BIG time! When we first moved to Virgin Gorda, we had no internet for days. They said that they were working on it. It took almost 2 weeks for it to work. And then, it was so so so slow for months. It was modern day torture.
    Luckily, nowadays it works better.. But I totally feel your pain. Great post. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Val,
    Enjoyed your article!
    I have been getting up at 4am now for well over a year. Kinda nice listening to the birds and watching the sun come up while enjoying my coffee.
    The reason began because I found at that hour, we had faster internet.
    We tried Cable but then switched to Lime which seems to be more dependable, however when I need to speak with a Rep they are in some foreign country judging by the accent and lack of comprehension of my English. I do know the “unplugmodemfor10minutes” trick and it mostly works except when it doesn’t.
    You might want to join the “early bird internet geeks” at 4am. My dog is thrilled having my company at that hour. This is also why I am such a party pooper-asleep at 9pm. Diane

  7. First let me say that I am a man, married to a wonderful woman, abut my question is Who can help me find the name of a well known authore who wrote a book in the 1950’s about a NY man who came to the islands in search of a perfect retirement resort to buy? I also do not remember the name of the book, right now.
    The crux of the whole story was about his never ending series of local problems, both political and physical, but the story did end with him escaping back to NYC.

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