Saturday, October 09, 2021

mañana forever -- the ongoing internet debate

Speedy internet is becoming the gold standard of choosing a place to live.

One of the most frequent questions posed on our local Facebook pages from northerners thinking of relocating to Mexico runs something like this.

"Dear Abby:

"I operate an online business marketing exotic underwear. But I am tired of life in [Toronto/Chicago/London]. I want a more relaxed setting where I can live a calm life. All I need is a house on the beach with a pool, four bedrooms, and full staff for no more than $200 a month. But, most important, I  need reliable and fast internet.

"Is Barra de Navidad the spot of my dreams?"

OK. I made up the Abby part. But the rest sums up the spirit of the questions that have been showing up lately as northerns start deserting their respective countries of birth. "Reliable fast internet" seems to have replaced "tall, dark husband" as an aspirational benchmark.

The problem with terms like "reliable" and "fast" is their subjective nature. It is like my mother asking me if she needs a coat to go out. I hardly ever do; she almost always does. And the reason for that variance is that "cool" means something different to each of us. I do not feel chilly until the temperature drops into the upper 30s.* She needs a thick coat in the 80s.

So, one would think adjectives like "reliable" and "fast" when applied to internet service on the Costalegre would suffer the same lack of specificity. But, they don't. For one simple reason. By almost anyone's reckoning, the internet here is neither reliable nor fast.

But before I wind up the Whinge Machine, let's offer our prayers of thanksgiving. I am happy that there is internet of any sort here.

It is not that long ago that people who live here did not have any internet. None. My first visit to this area was to an internet-free zone.

Those days are gone. I can now sit down in the morning and chat with you good folks who are hundreds or thousands of miles away. That is something close to a miracle. Just like the vaccine to fight The Virus.

Or, at least, I can do that sometimes. Since the end of August, internet connections from here with the rest of the world have been spotty -- at best.

Internet locally comes in two different packages.

The first is Telmex, Mexico's land-line telephone service. Telmex uses its land lines to deliver a signal to houses and businesses. With a modem, users can either hard-wire their computer to the internet or they can use wi-fi to distribute the signal wirelessly.

The other option relies on the cellular network. Several companies provide modems to users, who then have the same option: hard-wire or cellular. The only difference between Telmex and the other providers is how the signal is delivered to the modem.**

I have both -- Telmex and a cellular modem with Telcel. Telmex's service was so unreliable that I decided to pay for two services in the hope that at least one of them would keep me connected with the internet. And that worked for a couple of years. While Telmex's speed was tortoise slow at times (often 0.16 Mbps -- slower than 1990s dial-up services), my Telcel modem regularly provided speeds up to 20 Mbps. Not any more.

At the end of August, hurricane Nora blew through town doing what hurricanes do best -- blowing things down and knocking out utilities. Electricity and internet services were prime victims.

The electric company (Comisión Federal de Electricidad -- CFE) had trees cleared and power to houses within hours of Nora's eye wandering to gaze upon some other place. And, when power was restored, my Telcel modem came back to life -- with a much-weakened signal.

My Telmex modem survived, but the signal did not. Because I rely so heavily on my Telcel connection, I did not notice Telmex had not returned to the party until I checked on my Telmex-powered app for my solar panels. The connection was dead -- and had been since the end of August.

I do not sell exotic underwear. But I do rely on the internet to publish my essays, and Omar needs a fast signal for his Zoom connection for university courses. The slow-downed Telcel modem is not meeting our needs. (For some reason, my telephone reverts to my monthly data plan because the Telcel wi-fi connection is not to its taste. I have no idea why.)

Omar called Telmex to report the problem. Two days later (this past Thursday), a technician showed up late in the afternoon. He verified that my modem was working and said he would return the next day.

He did. On Friday, he borrowed a ladder and tested the connection to the house. It was fine. Just as he expected. He expected that because the problem is not just with my connection; it is the entire neighborhood. It had been out of service since the end of August. For everyone. He had no idea when it will be fixed because new lines need to be strung.

So, we sit here waiting for an internet service that will be restored m
añana. Of course, while my service is out, Telmex accepts (no, demands) my payment for its non-services.

That raises an interesting question. Why is CFE able to restore electrical service within hours after a hurricane while Telmex takes weeks?

My Canadian friend Bill believes CFE is more efficient because it is government-owned. Bill, a retired Army officer, is the only living person I know who still believes that the Soviet system was the gold standard for economic efficiency.

But Bill may not be entirely wrong. The answer is probably economic. Every second the power lines are down means that CFE is losing revenue. When Telmex's service is down, the revenue keeps rolling in. There is no economic punishment for inefficiency.

Now, it might be intellectually satisfying to sit down with Ludwig von Mises and Milton Friedman to ferret out the vagaries of a not-so-free economic system, but the conversation will not feed the baby. And baby needs a new pair of shoes. Or, at least, a working wi-fi signal.

The infraction is reported. My choice as a moral agent has been met. I now will practice my Mexico-acquired patience for the day when "reliable and fast" internet service comes knocking at my door.

I can then start marketing that exotic underwear I have heard so much about.    

* -- Non-American readers of Mexpatriate will simply have to translate for themselves. We speak Fahrenheit here. 

** -- Satellite coverage is available, as well -- at a high price and with slow service. That may change with the arrival of Elon Musk's Starlink. Or, as I like to call it in my more-Terminator moods: Skylink. 

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