I’m not sure people realise how bad it gets, the joys of rubbish rural broadband

It all started innocently enough. Suddenly I could not download my emails.

Now you might wonder why I should want to. Simple, rubbish broadband. If I use client like Outlook I can still read my emails when I have no broadband, (like now, when we have a power cut so of course the router doesn’t work.) Not only that but if somebody has sent me a particularly large email, Outlook goes out and collects my emails at ten minute intervals anyway. With our broadband, downloading an email with a lot of attachments is a bit like watching an python swallowing a goat. You can see the bulge inching its way along the wire down to my computer!

Well with Outlook this can happen in its own time, I’m not kicking my heels waiting for it to happen.

Anyway it stopped happening. I couldn’t download my email. Yes they were all there on the website, but they weren’t coming down the pipe to me. So what was going on? I switched my machine off and back on again. Still didn’t work. So I phoned BT. They diagnosed the problem, I was using Outlook 2013. Microsoft no longer supports it. This means the antivirus stuff is no longer up-to-date which means it doesn’t know the current correct funny handshake it needs to talk to my ISP.I would have to upgrade, download the next version.

Did I mention our rubbish broadband? In simple terms, when your broadband runs at 3 Mbps and drops out occasionally you do not try and download new software. When I got a new printer, I had to download printer drivers. The lass on the HP help didn’t believe her eyes when it said it would take 45 minutes to download. In reality it took longer but we were lucky and it did manage it.

So there was no way I could download a new version of Outlook, it would not only take so long, but if it broke off half way through I might not only have to start again, but sometimes you have to disentangle the now damaged half version that you’ve got.

So I had to take it to a shop where they’d download a version for me. While they got it, they’d clean it etc. (Old farm house, no central heating, open coal fire, not a computer friendly environment.)

But it is the same every time I get a computer. In the good old days I’d ask for it to be loaded with Microsoft office and a pdf reader. That did me, and the computer would arrive with everything installed ready to just switch on and go. Now, it comes with the operating system, useless apps I’ll never use, paint and notepad. (So I’m writing this in notepad on a borrowed laptop.)

So the computer had to go back to the shop whilst they found a way of installing office for me. The rule is simple, no office, no sale. (Yes, I know there are cheaper versions, doubtless equally good, and if you can tell me somewhere handy where I can take them in to get them installed, I’m happy to try, but don’t say, “But you can just download them free of the net.”)

People have suggested that I do it on my phone. The issue here is coverage. My phone is on pay as you go, and so far this year (end of June) has cost me about £2. The landline works fine for phone calls, just rubbish for broadband. When I’m out working I rarely want to phone anybody, anyway. And to be honest when I’m working I’m not all that keen on being disturbed by phone calls. Standing in the middle of a field, in the rain, surrounded by dairy heifers, isn’t a good time to talk on the phone. But I thought I’d try my phone using the house Wi-Fi.

Have you ever used a ‘smart phone’ working with 3 Mbps Wi-Fi? Continents drift gaily past you. Still I persevered. My daughter has given me a couple of those rubber ended pen things you can use to press the screen so I have a sporting chance of getting the letter I want. Armed with that and wearing my reading glasses I set to work. I decided to go to facebook first because a lot of people contact me via messenger. I remembered my password, logged (slowly, oh so slowly) onto facebook only for them to tell me that as I was logging in from a new device, they’d send me a pin to enter. They did, by text to my phone. The same phone that I was using at the time.

By the time I’d got out of the browser, opened the text, noted down the number, and opened the browser (all at 3 Mbps) the facebook page had gone and I had to start again. Which of course meant that the number they sent me was no longer current and I had to ask for a new number. At that point I abandoned the process.

I mentioned that I was on a borrowed laptop. During the day there was a Test Match. My lady wife has the BBC scrolling commentary on as she’s working. When I was using this laptop, our Wi-Fi, with two of us using it, dropped to 0.38 Mbps. At that speed, she could no longer watch the little video clips the BBC include, as they just never stopped buffering.

And now there is a risk that the Inland Revenue want us to submit tax online. Now we have no accounting software. I know, you can get accounting software, “Just download it from the Web,” but she prefers to work on paper and I also hate scrolling endlessly across spreadsheets.

But obviously we’d have to somehow acquire the software, at a cost, and pay for the inevitable updates. I’m looking to start a denomination that finds dealing with government electronically heretical and offensive, and we’ll revert to paying them in cash.

Oh yes, and just to put a tin hat on it all, I left my desktop machine at the shop. They cleaned it and then phoned me to come in to do passwords and stuff as software was upgraded. So they hooked my machine up to their Wi-Fi (I bet that made it dizzy!) and I opened Outlook to start the process.

When you open Outlook the first thing it does is to go can collect my emails. It did, right there in the shop and it downloaded them. I looked at the chap in the shop and he just shrugged. “Nothing wrong with Outlook, it’s just that your broadband is so rubbish there are times when it cannot even download your emails.”
Back in the day we used to get dialup. It was cheaper, slower, but could at least download email.

♥♥♥♥

There again, what do I know, talk to the expert !

As a reviewer commented, “

This is a delightful collection of gentle rants and witty reminiscences about life in a quiet corner of South Cumbria. Lots of sheep, cattle and collie dogs, but also wisdom, poetic insight, and humour. It was James Herriot who told us that ‘It Shouldn’t Happen to a Vet’ but Jim Webster beautifully demonstrates that it usually happened to the farmer too, but far less money changed hands.

I, for one, am hoping that this short collection of blogs finds a wide and generous audience – not least because I’m sure there’s more where this came from. And at 99p you can’t go wrong!”

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57 thoughts on “I’m not sure people realise how bad it gets, the joys of rubbish rural broadband

  1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt June 30, 2022 at 4:08 am Reply

    Sounds as if you know what you’re doing, to me – you just have rubbish to do it over.

    • jwebster2 June 30, 2022 at 4:45 am Reply

      After a while you get used to operating on the fringes 😦

  2. Eddy Winko June 30, 2022 at 6:04 am Reply

    I remember when we used to upgrade people to ADSL from 56k modems, half the reward was seeing the faces of people as they witnessed browsers opening in seconds 🙂
    I also remember lots of problems with the telecoms wiring as the engineers had a habit of leaving long ‘tails’ on the wiring. A simple tidy up at the exchange boxes could often solve problems, that and fixing the incoming ADSL moderns as close to the copper entering the building, in an attempt to rule out any internal house wiring as a possible cause of latency. Not that any of this helps you, but I do sympathise with your communication with tech support, as I can confirm that it is never going to be anything they have done wrong 🙂

    • jwebster2 June 30, 2022 at 7:02 am Reply

      Yes our ‘external’ copper comes into the house and is about six feet from the router 🙂

  3. Cathy Cade June 30, 2022 at 7:21 am Reply

    Yup! We finally got upgraded a year or so ago. (this was two years after being told I couldn’t have a grant towards satellite broadband because BT would be ugrading our broadband within the year!) I remember dial-up. I was trying to help FE students research their computing assignments on our single internet computer in the library. Usually the connection dropped out before we even got logged into the approved online database.
    This was worse.
    Windows updates caused all kinds of drop-outs. TV catch-up programmes had to be downloaded overnight to watch tomorrow. Updating the SatNav was a nightmare. New maps had to be left downloading overnight (and back then it had to be plugged in to an app on the computer).
    How’s your local library? That’s where we uploaded our books to Amazon for publication, (although the library used to be open occasionally back then).
    You have my sympathies.

    • jwebster2 June 30, 2022 at 8:50 am Reply

      Last time I looked, our local library did have some computers, but you had to book, and there were very strict rules on what you could do with them. So you couldn’t download stuff to take away on a memory stick. Indeed they were so worried about virus, they were dead against any downloading. Don’t know what it’s like now, but their priority was people with no internet trying to go on line for benefits and job seeking demanded by the department of work and pensions

      • Cathy Cade June 30, 2022 at 9:14 am

        I take my laptop and just log into their Wifi. It’s free!

      • jwebster2 June 30, 2022 at 9:31 am

        I don’t have a lap top, well not normally. (I dislike them intensely, the keyboard is all wrong, and if I use one I have to fit a mouse 🙂

      • Cathy Cade June 30, 2022 at 9:54 am

        Ah… that does complicate matters.

      • jwebster2 June 30, 2022 at 10:19 am

        Yes I like a computer that doesn’t follow me about 🙂

  4. Doug June 30, 2022 at 7:22 am Reply

    Sometime circa 2000 I was living on a property in Oz. You couldn’t call it remote by Australian standards, as it was only a 100km round trip to do the shopping. Dodgy dial up on antique copper meant that 56k modems would sometimes give you 9600 baud if you were lucky (kids, find an ancient techie to explain that..). Then we were told, wow, ADSL, you will whiz along.. 2 mbps was lightning fast by our standards. Except.. not available in your area, the exchange is too old to support it, scheduled for upgrade in 2010. Patience not being one of my notable virtues, especially the patience to wait 10 years for ADSL, I used my little available patience to wait through many diversions, much pressing of button 2 and #, and endless muzak to eventually speak to a telecom person about an exchange upgrade. Would you believe that exchange was upgraded within a week? And all it took was for me to point out that the Cabinet Minister responsible for telecoms lived in his enormous rural property when he wasn’t sitting in the Senate, and that rural property was not 2km away on the opposite end of a long tail from the exact same exchange. The idea of Peter knowing what a modem even was is patently absurd, but it is the one good thing that side of politics has ever done for me.

    • rootsandroutes2012 June 30, 2022 at 8:48 am Reply

      Doug, as I turn 61 next month, I’m the kid you’re talking about 🙂

    • jwebster2 June 30, 2022 at 8:52 am Reply

      Alas we lack any form of political influence 😦
      Perhaps I ought to invent a gangland boss who is getting hacked off by poor connectivity in his rural hideaway 🙂

  5. M T McGuire June 30, 2022 at 7:49 am Reply

    Ugh. You have my sympathy. We have, kind of, the opposite problem, but trust me, ‘good’ connections are not all they’re cracked up to be.

    We live in a densely packed area in town and so when I look at the wi-fi on my computer I have a choice of about 10 routers to choose from all belonging to neighbouring houses. When two wi-fi networks overlap the wi-fi signals tend to interfere with one another, each making the other weaker and reducing the range, when there are ten or more on top of one another the results are interesting.

    The cycle starts with us renewing our contract or signing up to … whoever. They immediately send a new router with a very strong signal that drowns out those of the neighbours and everything will run at lightning speed for the first six months Then it starts to drop out at random times for a few seconds. Usually in the middle of something important. The official solution is to spend hours in a loop on BT’s help people which involves them insisting we wait 24 hours after changing some settings at which point, they assure us they will call us back. They never do. After waiting 48 hours we ring them, only to have them insist we do the same 24 hour test again, because they are in India and no-one does petty bureaucracy like the peps over there can when they put their minds to it … and so it goes on ad infinitum.

    The cure is to buy a router with a stronger signal, which works for a few months, until enough people have moved in and out of the flats opposite for the BT standard equipment they have to send out a stronger signal than ours and then we’re back to square one.

    I’m guessing your area has no phone signal. I have made a wi-fi hotspot on my phone which I use when it’s especially bad because they’ve given me more data than I can use, to be honest and on most occasions, it’s better and more reliable than the wi-fi.

    Also, they are in the process of upgrading our network to superfast fibre. The entire town is bristling with temporary traffic lights and has been for the last two years. The worst bit is that they seem to need to dig up each piece of road twice. And since the problem, for us, is the strength of our modem versus the ones around us, it’s not going to change anything, anyway.

    So you have my sympathy but also, I feel your pain.

    • jwebster2 June 30, 2022 at 8:53 am Reply

      Mobile signal isn’t good with us either, especially not indoors

      • M T McGuire June 30, 2022 at 10:40 am

        Yep, I can just imagine the kind of old house with big thick walls that you live in. Pretty much like the one I grew up in, although it was a barn but it had big thick flint walls and as a result my mum’s Wi-Fi indoors is absolutely terrible. There’s no mobile signal where she lives either. To be honest though, I should imagine you’re more likely to end up with a decent mobile signal than you are with a decent internet. Your best bet might be to wait until that Elon musk satellite thing comes and then you might be able to use that.

      • jwebster2 June 30, 2022 at 11:08 am

        Yes, we’ll have to look at Star link or whatever it’s called. But the problem is we’ll have to keep our landline, because then at least we will be able to communicate in our regular power cuts (Our longest was six and a half days)

      • M T McGuire June 30, 2022 at 11:47 am

        That’s impressive! I’m guessing a wind turbine one day might help with the power situation but I should imagine solar panels wouldn’t really be that much use. And all extremely expensive.

      • jwebster2 June 30, 2022 at 12:18 pm

        Yes, next door has a wind turbine which means planning probably won’t give us one as they’re all off shore round here now.
        But watching wind turbines is interesting. Too windy, they have to be switched off. They don’t work every day

      • M T McGuire July 2, 2022 at 10:09 pm

        Absolutely. You need both turbines and solar – As I understand it, photo full take tiles are getting a bit better than they were. So it’s now possible to roof houses with authentic looking slates that are actually solar panels. The difficulty is that it’s very expensive and the installation industry for both is bristling with charlatans. It’s like trying to find an honest double glazing company. The way I see it I’d quite like to have one or the other not because it would replace what we get from the grid but I could keep things like the fridge and freezer running during a 5-day power cut and still be able to open them. 🤣🤣

      • M T McGuire July 2, 2022 at 10:09 pm

        Thank you phone. Clearly I meant photovoltaic tiles there.

      • jwebster2 July 3, 2022 at 4:49 am

        In our worst power cut (six and a half days) it was early January so we didn’t have all that much daylight. Never mind ‘sun’. And I’ve noticed that for the last few years, between Christmas and New Year, we’ve often been trapped under a low so no wind and not much light.
        You’d probably still need a small petrol/diesel generator to guarantee your freezers
        At least the phones used to work in power cuts, but they’ve decided to change that as well ;-(

      • M T McGuire July 3, 2022 at 10:35 pm

        Seriously? Are they taking the power out of phone lines? I suppose hardly anybody has a landline these days so there’s no point. But to me that’s sad because they had this bizarre BT measurement system for the power which was called ren. And the number of functioning phones you could plug in was determined by the amount of rent they all took off because there was a certain amount per house. I think off the top of my head it was 6:00 but don’t quote me on that. And I always wondered if the rels that The daleks measured with in Doctor Who came from that.

      • jwebster2 July 4, 2022 at 4:46 am

        It’s a side effect of fibre because fibre doesn’t transmit electricity. But after the storms last winter they suddenly realised that whilst it’s not a problem in Urban areas, because there will pretty much always be mobile connectivity. In rural areas where mobile connectivity is more sporadic they discovered that people couldn’t alert the emergency services, or even report the fact they had lost power. Indeed if somebody was caught with a phone that didn’t have a lot of charge, they couldn’t report it even if there was good mobile signal.
        So they’ve rather stopped replacing copper in rural areas with fibre because their answer to ‘just keep your phone charged’ was regarded on the same lines as ‘let them eat cake.’
        Then there is the move to switch of 2G and 3G because urban areas want to use these bandwidths because it’ll let them do more with 4G. But a lot of rural areas don’t get 4G so there’s a danger that people who currently have some coverage will lose even that. (Whilst a formal closure for all 2G and 3G services in 2033 has been announced in the UK, Vodafone and EE have announced they will be shutting their 3G networks in 2023.)

      • M T McGuire July 4, 2022 at 5:15 pm

        Jeepers that’s mad.. Blimey.

      • jwebster2 July 4, 2022 at 5:19 pm

        yes if it hadn’t been we had particularly bad storms last winter they would just have kept on tearing out the copper to help pay for replacement fibre

  6. rootsandroutes2012 June 30, 2022 at 8:50 am Reply

    Anyone know what those rubber ended pen things are called? Or where to get them? I could do with buying a couple.

    • jwebster2 June 30, 2022 at 8:54 am Reply

      Here I can help, try “rubber tip stylus pen”

      • rootsandroutes2012 June 30, 2022 at 9:03 am

        Thanks – I’ll get some next time I’m in ‘rubber tip stylus pensRus’.

      • jwebster2 June 30, 2022 at 9:11 am

        🙂

  7. Words on Paper June 30, 2022 at 9:11 am Reply

    I live in a busy town and my broadband is only marginally better than yours Jim…
    I just wish there was a better way to go out of my mind…

    • jwebster2 June 30, 2022 at 9:12 am Reply

      Rural isn’t unique. In a town near us, one side of the street struggled and the other side was on about 70meg because the connection between the two sides of the street seemed to be rotting aluminium.

      • Words on Paper June 30, 2022 at 7:04 pm

        Life just gets worse, doesn’t it?

      • jwebster2 June 30, 2022 at 7:33 pm

        I have a problem with connectivity. It’s fine but there are very few people who have my mobile phone number. (Most of them banks and suchlike who want to send me a pin 🙂 )

  8. Dan Holdsworth June 30, 2022 at 10:23 am Reply

    OK, well as a sometime biologist turned computer sysadmin, this is right up my street, as it were. Firstly, Windows isn’t the only operating system out there, and Outlook (“Outhouse”, as it is more usually termed) isn’t the only email client and it is nowhere near the best.

    Outlook will likely be talking its own special lingo to the email servers. Other systems will likely use the international standards which are pop and imap, generally talking over some sort of encryption. These are less prone to errors but are also just as flakey when the internet link is dodgy.

    Secondly, where computers are concerned it is possible to get hold of industrial computers which are fanless and cool themselves by dumping heat into the casing. Apple kit does this, but is heinously expensive, but so do a whole slew of cheap Chinese makers. An industrial computer would suit a dirty environment much better, although this likely isn’t your actual problem.

    No, the real problem is simple: you’re way out in the sticks away from everyone else and relying on a technology which gets slower and flakier the further your place is from the transceiver in the telephone exchange or cabinet. This may change, but probably won’t.

    The only real way of altering things is to move to a different technology. The options are long-range terrestrial microwave links, and the satellite-based Starlink system. If you can stomach the costs (£90 per month plus over £500 for the kit) then this will easily out-perform most ground based systems.

    • jwebster2 June 30, 2022 at 10:29 am Reply

      Outlook does do POP and whatever.
      Over heating isn’t so much a problem, we’re not a warm house, no central heating.
      But yes, I’d be interested in other email clients, provided I can load them from a disk 😦
      I’m pondering Starlink but haven’t bitten that bullet yet.

    • Doug June 30, 2022 at 3:42 pm Reply

      I investigated rural broadband options 20 years ago professionally as part of the Australian Networking the Nation initiative. Things haven’t changed much. Microwave requires line of sight, and can be adversely affected by weather. Satellite is expensive. Not many other choices unless you can get a local collective to fund fibre or a mast. In terms of energy – we did work with micro-solar/water power, but not sure about those in Cumbria. And for those in flint barns or old buildings you can use the power sockets as network connectors, so it will solve the transmission problems.

      • jwebster2 June 30, 2022 at 3:51 pm

        within the house we got a couple of dishes recently and they have worked really well. They spread the wifi out and we now have it in every room we used to have it three years ago without them needing to be present!

  9. Dan Holdsworth June 30, 2022 at 12:08 pm Reply

    As far as free Windows email clients go, Thunderbird is one of the best and the one I use (although on Linux in my case).

    As far as broadband goes, I fear you may simply have to bite the bullet with Starlink. The problem is that the likes of Brutish Telecom, Clueless and Witless and all the other telcos are not going to invest in upgrading rural broadband infrastructure if someone like Musk is going to come along and offer a better product for less, which is effectively what he is doing.

    Now that Starlink has shown that the business is viable, low orbit broadband is going to carry on as a thing. It may not be Starlink supplying it; the next-gen satellites may have little extra tricks such as providing a GPS-like service as well as broadband for instance, and it isn’t beyond the bounds of possibility to stick optical sensors on the units and use them as a huge synthetic aperture telescope or spy system.

  10. rugby843 June 30, 2022 at 2:17 pm Reply

    The being in one device trying to correct something is something I had to learn on my iPhone. I’m not good at it.

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    • jwebster2 June 30, 2022 at 2:23 pm Reply

      I’d never had to do it so it came as something of a surprise, especially when I had less than two minutes to work out how to do it 😦

      • rugby843 June 30, 2022 at 2:26 pm

        Exactly. Even with great Wi-Fi it’s maddening switching back and forth only to see I’m too late.

  11. OIKOS™- Art, Books & more June 30, 2022 at 6:06 pm Reply

    Oh, you had really sad experiences, Jim! May i give you a little tipp (for the future)? Try to get a so called Linux LiveCD (i am sure someone will burn you a free downloadable version). So you will have a complete system alternative to Windows, which is working with nearly every computer. Honestly, you should use some spare time to get closer to Linux. xx Michael

    • jwebster2 June 30, 2022 at 6:12 pm Reply

      My problem is that I have absolutely no training on computers, nothing (well actually I did a two night course back in the 1980s on BBC machines) so I’m not sure I could cope with Linux.
      A lot of IT seems to assume a level of knowledge that I’ve never had, so I don’t find any of it intuitive. (Excel really irritates me, the way that the cell formulae don’t actually obey proper maths rules and notation 🙂 )

      • Doug June 30, 2022 at 6:47 pm

        The reality is that Linux and other derived O/S need some degree of knowledge beyond the level needed to operate a mobile phone. Until it gets to that level, then Windows with all its flaws and Apple with all its exclusive walled (and monetised) garden are still a better choice for the non IT specialist.

      • jwebster2 June 30, 2022 at 6:49 pm

        I can make phone calls on my mobile phone, never bother with text, and take photos. But I don’t do data so my phone cost me not much more than £2 in the last six months 🙂

      • OIKOS™- Art, Books & more July 1, 2022 at 1:08 pm

        Don’t worry about Excel, Jim! This is something i had learn over months, but it never stayed too long in my brain cells. ;-)I will try to look for a helpful manual. Will be back soon! Best wishes, and enjoy our weekend! xx Michael

      • jwebster2 July 1, 2022 at 1:15 pm

        have a good weekend 😉
        Excel I don’t use every year 🙂

  12. Stevie Turner July 1, 2022 at 11:12 am Reply

    Sometimes I yearn for the good old days of pen and paper…

    • jwebster2 July 1, 2022 at 11:34 am Reply

      A lot to be said for them 🙂

  13. Chris Kemp July 4, 2022 at 12:54 pm Reply

    One of the joys of being a dyed-in-the-wool* Townie, Jim.

    Regards, Chris.

    * Lincoln green. in case you are wondering “which colour?” 🙂

    • jwebster2 July 4, 2022 at 1:32 pm Reply

      none of the cheap stuff!
      You’ll be strutting in scarlet leggings next! 😉

      • Chris Kemp July 10, 2022 at 6:40 pm

        Hey! I look good in tights! 🙂

      • jwebster2 July 10, 2022 at 7:43 pm

        You should have gone into the law, at the very least you could have aspired to silk stockings and breeches 😉

  14. Widdershins July 4, 2022 at 11:37 pm Reply

    We’re currently accessing the internet via Wi-Fi that the entire campground is using. It’s not so bad during the day or the middle of the night, but those ‘prime’ times? I don’t even bother trying.

    • jwebster2 July 5, 2022 at 4:58 am Reply

      yes we see that effect as well with our broadband, There are times of day when it’s worse

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