Internet and cable TV service are challenging when you live on a boat. Our marina has Internet service that is, in theory, available to everyone here. But it is an old system and extremely, painfully slow. We’ve been told you can get enhancers to draw more of the band width to your own boat, but we have deemed this too iffy and too much bother. We know a couple of people who have done this and it works somewhat successfully for them, but it does draw band width away from other boats so it’s far from an equitable system. We were once told by one of the band width bandits that we didn’t need to stream movies; we could simply download them from Amazon and then watch them at our leisure. The problem for us was that downloading proved to be pretty much as slow as streaming and we’re not convinced we were being given the entire story of just how and why they are able to watch countless episodes of Perry Mason from their PCs.
Shortly after we moved aboard we invested in the least expensive marine TV antenna available at West Marine, notorious for its overpriced equipment, gadgets, clothing, etc. for all things boat-related. The antenna works pretty well, but we are back to the basics – ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS and Fox plus a few Spanish speaking channels. Each network has two channels, one for the regular network programming and one for local news and weather. PBS has four channels, two for BBC series and/or concerts, one for Florida legislature news and one for nature and other educational programs. We are remembering why we have been so grateful for cable TV for the past 30 some odd years… Occasionally the wind knocks the antenna about and one or more channels become fuzzy or completely unattainable. I was pretty frustrated our first year on board when on Oscar night 2014 all the channels came in clearly with the exception of ABC which was the one airing the Oscars. No clue what was happening but ABC has been perfectly fine ever since, including its MeTV channel which broadcasts classics from the 50s – 90s – everything from “The Andy Griffith Show” and “Gilligan’s Island” to “Seinfeld.” My weekly go-to MeTV show is Colombo on Sunday evenings.
Streaming (ie., Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and other popular streaming services) is impossible due to the unreliable, excruciatingly slow Internet service. We are able to do ordinary Internet stuff like email, Facebook, Twitter, shopping and bill paying using our Verizon MiFi devices which work remarkably well. I was pretty upset with Rick when Verizon convinced him to invest in these two little devices when we still lived in Seattle. But now they are more valuable than gold to us! Thank you, Verizon, for the slick sales pitch and, Rick, for accepting it!
The big downside of these little beauties is their cost – we need a lot more data (on top of our normal 4G phone service) than the average user because we rely on them for hours every single day, including watching occasional youtube clips. I laugh when I see ads on TV for “super big” data allowances of 12 GB. Try 30 or 40. Streaming, we learned the hard way, gobbles up 1 GB of data basically every 3-5 minutes, so a 2 hour movie devours way more data than anyone would want to pay for.
We are far from TV addicts. Often just sitting on the deck enjoying the evening breezes, driving to a local beach (such as Sanibel!), walking along the river and reading soothes the soul. But, during winter months, when the days are short and the evenings long, we like to zone out with familiar, comfortable electronic friends. Binge watching TV series, courtesy of the public library, Redbox (well, Redbox is actually single shot viewing of recent movies), Amazon, and Barnes & Noble has become part of our winter evening routine.
When Allie was living here she tirelessly researched the Lee County Public Library System to see where we could locate the series we were currently watching. We spent many hours a week driving around Lee County to feed our nightly TV habit. We learned a lot about local geography and I remember those days nostalgically and fondly. We always brought Apollo, our elderly Golden Retriever, with us and took him on walks around library grounds, an activity which we all enjoyed. For the most part we were able to get all of the DVDs we needed, but we did end up investing more than I care to recall in the more recent “Dr. Who” series. My current favorites include several British crime dramas and “Doc Martin” about a curmudgeonly GP in Cornwall, England.
When we first got here, aside from the marine antenna that we purchased, we checked into several TV/internet options, including DirectTV who said they could provide service but we would need to install our own equipment (huh?); Dish TV who “just said no” to boats and Comcast/X-Finity who said “don’t even think about it – impossible!” Periodically over the past three years, we have chatted with neighbors about their wireless/TV situations. One neighbor (who has since sold his boat and moved back to condo living) installed an expensive marine antenna which provided him with 100+ channels to two televisions. At first, as we all tend to do, he claimed to be ecstatic with the service, but a couple of weeks later he admitted that it wasn’t working out; that it worked fine for the main TV but not for the secondary one.
Because the marina internet is so weak, people here are always checking to see what other internet connections might be available in the drop down menu that pops up when your computer prompts you to see what networks are available. When our MiFi devices are on, they show up in the list. Though they are password protected, there is never a guarantee that a savvy user might not be able to hack into our systems. Which is precisely what happened a couple of months ago. I was shopping at DSW one day when I noticed my cell phone blowing up with texts, all of which were from Verizon informing me that we had gone over our monthly data allowance and were gobbling up 1 GB every 2 or 3 minutes. It became clear to me that someone had, indeed, hacked into one of our networks and was watching a movie, courtesy of us. I called Rick, who was on the boat, and told him to shut down his device immediately (mine was off because I was not there and always turn it off as a precaution if I am not actively using it.) The frantic texts from Verizon stopped and when I got back to the boat, Rick and I both changed our Administrator and device passwords. My network is now called “staythehellout” and, so far, hasn’t been tampered with.
Clearly, getting a better, less expensive WiFi system seemed like a good idea – but we still didn’t know how or what, if anything.
But, not long after the hack into our MiFi devices, I noticed Century Link working on one of our neighbor’s boats. It was a very involved, complicated process that took all day, in fact two days, and entailed opening up the cable boxes on the City utility lines at the head of the dock plus I don’t even know what with the boat’s outdoor electric connections pillar, cables running in and out of the boat, and a modem (?) hooked up just outside the boat. After that we noticed them working on installations on two other neighbors’ boats and finally approached the Century Link technicians to ask if they could install a system on our boat. We are at the far end of the dock and the current telephone and other necessary cables would need to be twice the length they are to get to our neighbors’ boats. But the technician made a cursory visit to our end of the dock and surmised that the cables might already be in place and that it should be a fairly simple installation.
Encouraged by this, we set up an appointment for May 31st. The technician who came (not the one who had promised to come and give us a discount on the installation) spent some time scratching his head, peering at our electrical connections pillar, running over to one of the other boats to look at his installation, and finally told us that since we were ordering only WiFi and not cable TV, we would need to have the marina approve and arrange for the installation of a telephone line to our boat. Plus we would need to purchase a modem; a special, needless to say expensive, outdoor cable to connect to our power source; and a router in addition to whatever it was that Century Link would install. Can’t for the life of me figure out what that might be. The technician left after 20 minutes. Not really wanting to deal with getting permission and a special installation from the marina, we decided that our system works well enough, told the technician very clearly that we were no longer interested, and assumed that would be the end of that. However, a week later I stopped to chat with one of our neighbors who has Century Link and he claimed that Century Link had told him that we were good to go as soon as we secured the promised equipment and necessary wiring and contacted Century Link to come back to install. Our neighbor offered that, failing that scenario, if we were to purchase a router, we could share his connection for a “modest” monthly fee. Whew! The wheeling and dealing at a marina! I’m also kind of curious as to why a technician was talking to someone else about our installation. I suppose they’re not doctors, so confidentiality may not be part of the protocol.
After our failed installation, I asked the first neighbor who had gotten Century Link installed how the service was working out for them, and he said he had no clue since it wouldn’t work until he got the modem installed. It had been well over a month since his “installation.”
In any case, two weeks later I received an email thanking us for being new Century Link customers and stating that the technician would be here the next morning (June 11th) to set up our service. I tried to cancel the appointment both online and on the phone to no avail, so I was stuck waiting on the boat Saturday morning from 8 – 12 (fortunately the technician showed up around 9). As soon as he arrived I went to the door and told him we no longer wanted the installation nor the service and to please go away. He said he had called Rick’s phone (Rick was in NY) to tell him he was on his way when both Rick and I had told Century Link they were always, always to call my phone for any service appointments. This is a common problem we have –no matter how many times we beg and plead to have me be the primary contact, it is the husband (Rick) who ends up top on the list. Oh well. The technician mentioned that cancelling was fine but it hadn’t been a waste of time for him because one of our neighbors had called him over when the technician was on his way to our boat to have him fix the poorly done (“it was a mess”) installation on the neighbor’s boat. Again – I’m a bit perplexed as to why a technician thinks it’s ok to work on someone else’s installation when the appointment is with us.
I did manage to get the installation officially cancelled and the service account officially closed after spending quite some time on the phone with Century Link service reps. Imagine my dismay and surprise, then, when on Sunday night I received two emails stating that our first bill would be coming shortly; that I needed to sign up for online billings; and teaching me how to read the bills. I think it was resolved after another hour on the phone with Century Link Monday morning but time will tell…
In the meantime, I am ever grateful for my wonderful reliable private network “staythehellout!” And I am only too happy to continue to frequent the library, Barnes & Noble, Amazon and Redbox.