Life (Rots) Without Broadband

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Sorry about all those e-mails I didn't return over the holidays. I'm living a life without broadband.

It's not a cable or digital subscriber line problem. My RCN Corp.-supplied RCA cable modem apparently was working just fine: I ran a test on the DSL Reports Web site that depicted upload and download speeds with red bars practically across the page, in a good way. But Web pages were coming up very
slowly.

That's how I knew my four-year-old Dell computer was having problems, culminating in a total hard-drive flameout on Dec. 24.

Having to spend more time on the phone is an annoying side effect of losing access to the cable modem and its sad smile, only two of three green lights flashing. The phone is much less efficient than e-mail, and much more cumbersome than getting information over the Web, especially with a high-speed hookup.

I even found it harder to watch TV. You get used to checking your email or surfing during commercials, and Web-based program guides, like Yahoo! TV, are easier and faster than using the clunky TV Guide interactive guide on my DCT-2000 digital set-top. We're definitely among that 37 percent of consumers that the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing said last week have the PC and the TV in the same room, and when they both work they're both pretty much always on when we're in that room.

With Webmail access to my office system, it's also easy to extend the work day — or, as I did to the annoyance of some colleagues, forward various tidbits to various editors during the first day of what was supposed to be my vacation. Luckily for them, those helpful forwards came to a screeching halt the next day.

A nice page-one wrap-up piece in the The Wall Street Journal
last Wednesday took note of broadband's continued growth — a combined 100,000 homes added on each week, it said — and how The Walt Disney Co., some Hollywood studios and others are figuring the base is big enough to launch paid content services aimed at high-speed-connected homes.

I'm still not that keen on subscription services, like the one Real Networks Inc. has tried with baseball-game replays and the like. But for communication, I'd much rather give up the cell phone, which costs almost as much a month, than my cable modem.

Losing a computer isn't the worst thing in the world — at least not compared with what my two neighbors went through around the same time. Across the hall, an 80-plus-year-old widow had her brother-in-law visiting. Christmas Eve night, he developed heart problems and had to be rushed to the hospital, and later needed surgery that an HMO was reluctant to approve. Next door, on Christmas, their four-year-old daughter tumbled while playing and broke her arm.

We avoided hospitals. Just spent a lot of time on the phone with Dell, which actually could learn a thing or two about customer service from RCN — a scary concept.

As for Dell, which is supposed to call and schedule a (paid) visit to come and install the new parts, making sure everything (especially the cable modem) works right again, I guess I'll have to resort to phone harassment a while longer.

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