So, how IS the internet? Well, I’m glad you asked.

The internet comes to the Manse

Look up, way up. (I hope you will catch the Friendly Giant reference.) Can you see that small diamond-shaped piece of metal attached to the ancient TV antenna that towers over the Manse? That, people, is the magic gizmo that catches the Xplornet internet signal and brings it into our home. It has changed our lives immeasurably for the better.

I don’t suppose it’s been keeping any of you awake at night or anything, but I’ve had enough people ask me whether our new internet setup here at the Manse is working out well that I decided I should give those interested a full and complete report. After all, longtime readers of Meanwhile, at the Manse will be well aware of my many, many posts of frustration and sometimes even despair about the poor (and costly) internet options that until recently were all that was available to us in Queensborough.

(If you’ve any desire to take a nostalgic trip back through the Valley of Katherine’s Internet Despair, click here and here and here and here and here and here and here. It was a long-drawn-out saga, with many chapters.)

It has been a month and a bit since Raymond and I acquired a hookup through Xplornet, the company contracted by the Eastern Ontario Regional Network, a kind of municipal co-op with the mission of providing high-speed internet service to Eastern Ontario. That hookup was made possible by Xplornet making the excellent decision to erect a communications tower on Declair Road, just a little north and east of Queensborough. When those of us who live here in our pretty little river-valley village heard the news of plans for the tower, we were all atwitter: would this finally mean decent internet service? When the tower went into service early this year, we started signing up. Raymond and I were near the front of the line.

And now, after about six weeks of the new setup, all I have to say about it is this: our lives have utterly changed. For the better.

House of Cards

A brilliant online-only show that we can now watch at the Manse!

People, we have endless internet! All we can use, and to spare! We can use Netflix! We can watch House of Cards! We can watch anything! Online! In high definition! On our laptops and phones, we can watch YouTube videos and download audiobooks and even listen to streamed radio broadcasts. And on television (or his laptop, or his phone) Raymond can watch every blessed one of the games that his beloved Red Sox play. In HD.

And it is all costing us less than we were paying previously for the barest of bare-bones internet!

As you can probably tell, I am absolutely thrilled about this. And I am not just thrilled for Raymond and me at the Manse – because, contrary to what it might sometimes sound like here, it is not all about us.

No, what I am really thrilled about is the possibilities that this service offers to our own rural area and to others like it in Eastern Ontario. Suddenly it is possible for a business that needs good internet service (and what business in 2015 doesn’t need good internet service?) to operate here. It means that smart, creative people who are tired of city life and want to come live and work in God’s country (translation: North of 7) can do so, and by doing so can and will contribute to our local tax base and economy and community life.

So please allow me, the person who complained so loudly and so long, so unequivocally and so publicly, when the the internet was bad, to hereby offer up my huge thanks to the good folks at the Eastern Ontario Regional Network (with a special shoutout to Hastings County chief administrative officer and co-leader of the EORN team Jim Pine, who was kind enough to reply helpfully to my emails of inquiry and concern about the situation when I first realized how bad it was), and to those at Xplornet (who put up that blessed tower on Declair Road). Thank you, thank you, thank you! You have made our community a better place, one with more to offer and with a much greater potential to thrive.

People, this is a good-news story, pure and simple. The internet has come to Queensborough. It is good internet. It is reasonably priced internet.

Just when you thought that life in Queensborough couldn’t get any better – it did.

The Magic Bus comes to Queensborough

Internet installation

Ryan from Elite Electronics of Tweed setting up our internet this afternoon. Yay!

“My love, I can’t believe it,” Raymond exclaimed to me just now. “Xplornet has come to Queensborough!” Raymond has been bustling around the house for the past few minutes, setting up all our communications devices to talk to our Apple AirPort wi-fi box – which in turn is talking to the wondrous, magic little Xplornet box that is bringing real, honest-to-God internet to the Manse!

I thought this day would never come. So, probably, did longtime readers, who have been patient and sympathetic as I groused many, many times about the lack of speedy internet at something approaching a reasonable cost here in our little pocket of Eastern Ontario. (For a post that takes you to links telling the whole long, sad saga, click here.)

That real, honest-to-God internet is being beamed our way from a tower that Xplornet – the company charged with providing high-speed internet to Eastern Ontario – recently erected a bit northeast of Queensborough. The tower went live not long ago, and throughout our little village people are signing up for service, after years of the frustration and expense of second-rate solutions.

Today it was our turn. Ryan, a very nice young man from Xplornet outlet Elite Electronics in Tweed, arrived as scheduled this afternoon. He attached some sort of receiver thingy to the exterior of the Manse, strung a cable into the house, and set up the magic box that brings us internet. When we attach that magic box to the AirPort, we suddenly have internet all over the house.

The Magic Box

The internet control centre: the magic Xplornet box (small black thingamabob at right) connected to the AirPort (larger white thingamabob at centre), all of which bring us internet all over this old Manse. A vintage footstool found at a Maine antique market seems just right thing for the setup.

And it’s fast internet! And we have lots of it!

We opted for the super-duper Xplornet package that gives us 200 gigabytes a month (download speed of “25 Mbps,” whatever that means) so that we can stream House of Cards on Netflix and Red Sox games to our heart’s content. And our monthly bill will be about the same as the minimum we were paying previously for a wireless internet setup that gave us the barest of bare-bones service. (And sometimes sticker shock.)

It’s all so exciting! No wonder Raymond was exclaiming as he set up the devices. It’s wondrous! It’s magic! It makes we want to sing! And so here’s a song that came into my head when I wrote that bit about the Magic Box. From 1968 – the era when I was a kid growing up in this Manse. Who would have thought way back then that internet magic would not only exist, but be right here in little Queensborough?

The sign we have been waiting for. 

Internet hope

When you’re Raymond and me, people, this is the sign you want to see.

It appeared recently on Queensborough Road (which you can see in the background of my photo) just a little north of Highway 7. Its message: that a newly erected communications tower – that would be the one on which I was pinning my hopes for decent internet at a reasonable price; I wrote about it here when word of the tower’s coming first landed – is operational. Which means that, in theory at least, the people of Queensborough, many of whom have been struggling with poor internet and/or exorbitant prices for it, will be able to enjoy the luxury of a service that city folk take for granted.

Without sticker shock!

Longtime readers will be well aware of our internet woes here at the Manse:

How we had to rely in the early days on our phones and a very dodgy Rogers signal. (Which, I should note, has since improved a fair bit.)

How we investigated the possibility of satellite-delivered internet, though worried about snow and rain disrupting our signal; and in the end decided no way when the internet guy told us the only way we could get a decent signal was if we put the satellite dish atop a pole we’d have to erect in concrete at our property’s edge.

How we were thrilled when the folks at Telus informed us that they could supply us with internet, and promptly shipped us a wireless modem that, wonder of wonders, did supply the internet. (Except when it didn’t.)

How we were less thrilled when we learned that our regular monthly bill for this pay-per-usage service would be about $100. And we weren’t even using it heavily!

How were really unthrilled when we got a bill for almost $412. What the !&%$!? (It turned out it was because Raymond had tuned in to a CBC Radio online channel featuring opera. Naïfs that we were, we had no clue that logging in to a music-streaming service like hundreds of millions of people do every day would send our bill through the stratosphere.)

How that wasn’t the last such monster bill.

And how we continue to be frustrated and annoyed that we can’t take advantage of great inventions like Netflix, because watching a movie or TV show via internet would send our bill completely through the roof once again.

But all of that expense and frustration may finally be at an end!

Some people in Queensborough have already had the new service installed, and, though it’s very early days, seem to be quite satisfied. Others have set up appointments for the internet guys to come around, and are anxiously waiting for that to happen.

Among the households in that situation is us, here at the Manse. We’re hoping to get a package that should give us all the high-speed internet we could reasonably use – Netflix included! – for $70 a month. I have to tell you that after many, many months of frustration at signals that cut out, constant worry that we’re using too much data just by watching something like a YouTube video, and more than a few bills in the $200 to $300 range, we are very, very excited.

Will it work? Can this actually happen? We’ll find out Thursday. Which cannot come too soon.

Frozen pipes and overpriced internet: ah, rural living

House of Cards

“A Netflix Original Series:” that translates into “Forget about it” if you’re a fan who lives in Queensborough and wants to watch it along with the rest of the world on the internet.

Last night in this space I was waxing on about one of the simple joys of living in an old house in the country, to wit shovelling snow to a soundtrack of chickadee song. But there are definitely some downsides to old-house rural living too. Tonight, for instance, I returned wearily home from work, only to discover after turning on the lights, turning up the heat (Raymond was out) and petting the yowling cat that the hot-water pipe to our kitchen sink had frozen. Again. And did I mention that Raymond was away? The past two or three times that the same thing has happened, he has done what all good husbands do, which is deal with it. Tonight, I was on my own.

Happily I was able to manage without too much trouble, with a small bit of instruction over the phone from Raymond and my trusty hairdryer turned to high. Crisis over.

But then there’s the never-ending issue of poor and ridiculously expensive internet. I’ve written about that many, many times before (like here and here and here and here), but this week there has been a considerable amount of salt rubbed into the wound. Why? Because everybody’s abuzz about the new season of House of Cards, which becomes available this coming weekend on Netflix. House of Cards, House of Cards, House of Cards – you see and hear references to it everywhere, in the newspapers and on social media and in workplace chatter. Everybody’s wondering what that evil, evil Frank Underwood and his frosty and equally evil wife, Claire, will get up to now that, as of the end of Season 2, they’ve managed to make their diabolical way to the White House. Here’s the trailer:

I’m sure you’ve seen lots of images of Kevin Spacey (so brilliant as Frank) all over the place in recent days. Why, there’s even a hilarious Sesame Street version, which, for those who haven’t yet seen it, I will treat you to here:

Anyway, Raymond and I have enjoyed Seasons 1 and 2 of House of Cards, but not on Netflix. Oh no. Netflix, you see, comes through that crazy modern invention called the “internet.” If you live in a town or city, chances are excellent that you can use all the internet you want at a very reasonable monthly fee – maybe somewhere between $35 and $50. And as of this weekend, you can gorge on Season 3 of House of Cards.

But if you happen live in some rural pockets of Eastern Ontario, like, say, Queensborough, there’s no House of Cards when the rest of the world watches it. We must wait patiently for the old-fashioned DVDs.

Here, you see, we have a choice between not-too-expensive but not-very-good (dial-up is not uncommon, believe it or not) internet, or, if you’re Raymond and Katherine, a wireless hub that delivers not-zippy but not-bad internet, at a ridiculously high price. I wrote here about our first case of sticker shock after making the rookie mistake of doing what all city folk do and listening to some online audio. There have been a few more sticker-shock bills since, including this month’s because Raymond had the temerity to use the internet extensively for the work he’s doing as editorial consultant to the National Newspaper Awards. Imagine: thinking you could actually use the internet for work!

Oh, now I’ve gone and got myself all riled up. I must try to calm my nerves with the hope that there is light at the end of this tunnel, just as there was hot water coming out of my tap tonight after a bit of water-pipe blow-drying. That glimmer of light is the new internet tower that has been erected just northeast of Queensborough, and that I believe is to come into service this spring.

An awful lot of people in our little village are pinning their hopes for reliable and reasonably speedy internet, at an affordable price, on that tower. As are Raymond and I, of course. Fingers crossed that it delivers on our hopes – and maybe in time for Season 4 of whatever brilliant skulduggery Frank and Claire can get up to.

Democracy in action, up at the old schoolhouse

The candidates

Other candidates listen as school-board-trustee incumbent Thelma Goodfellow answers a question. They are, from left: Roseann Trudeau, Timothy Donoghue, Jim Flieler and Don DeGenova (all seeking councillor seats), Linda Akey (running for deputy mayor), Kali Meeks (councillor), Brian Treanor (deputy mayor), Fearnley Davies and Jamie DeMarsh (councillor) and Larry Whitfield (school board).

Well, it’s almost past my bedtime, folks, but I can’t retire without giving you a report on this evening’s all-candidates meeting in Queensborough. All of those seeking election (or re-election) for Municipality of Tweed council and public school-board positions in the Oct. 27 municipal vote had been invited to appear, and sure enough, all of them showed up at the venue, the Queensborough Community Centre – our historic former one-room schoolhouse. (Incumbent Mayor Jo-Anne Albert was not invited since she has been acclaimed for another term, having been unopposed.) As for the audience, there was a very respectable turnout, people not just from Queensborough but from other parts of the Greater Tweed Area (as well as some interested visitors from next-door Madoc Township).

It had been a long time since I attended an all-candidates meeting for a municipal election; the last time would have been sometime during my career as a reporter for the tiny Port Hope (Ont.) Evening Guide daily newspaper, way back in the 1990s. And Raymond? As far as he can recall, it was a first. So that was kind of cool.

It was a well-run (by our neighbour Brian MacNeil, who ably served as moderator) and largely low-key affair, with the candidates making brief statements to start and then questions invited from the audience. As you would surely expect, the issues raised were very local ones, and that’s just as it should be; the whole point of municipal governments is that they represent people at the strictly local level.

I suspect I was not the only one in the crowd who was a little disappointed not to hear more about Queensborough per se from the candidates in their opening speeches; two or three made mention of our little hamlet, but it didn’t go much farther than that. Overall their focus seemed to be on issues that affect the village of Tweed, as opposed to the Municipality of Tweed – a much larger geographical entity encompassing vast rural, and even wilderness, areas as well as several hamlets like Queensborough. I was pleased to see that audience members smartly turned the candidates’ attention to issues closer to us than how urban Tweed deals with its too-low sewage-capacity situation. People, out here we are in septic-tank territory, and our only real concern about whether the village of Tweed gets a new sewage lagoon or a full waste-treatment plant is how much it will affect our property taxes.

The crowd

An attentive crowd listens as a question gets posed to the candidates.

So yeah, the Queensborough folks raised Queensborough issues, and that was great. Issues like road plowing, and school-bus stops, and the lack of garbage and recycling pickup, and an issue that is really close to my heart: the lack of reasonably-priced and reliable high-speed internet here. (There was much applause and general agreement whenever that issue got raised; I was happy to see such clear proof that others care about our execrable internet situation as much as I do.) The candidates were asked about deterioration of the bridge leading into the hamlet from the east, and why some of the popular summer Music in the Park events in Tweed can’t be held in the park in Queensborough. Some excellent suggestions were made (from both the audience and the candidates), including designating a geographical area of responsibility for each council member, so that each area’s interests and concerns would have a champion at the council table; doing more to celebrate and promote this area’s aboriginal and French Canadian heritage; establishing a municipal composting program, with the compost sold back to residents for use in their gardens; more support for beautification programs; instituting a buy-local policy for the municipality; and so on.

It was the farthest thing from slick politics. It was down-home politics, the candidates getting close to the people they want to represent and the people getting a close-up look  at those candidates and their positions. And at the end there was an opportunity for one-on-one conversations over coffee and tea.

As Raymond and I walked back to the Manse through a very autumn-like chilly and rainy night, we agreed that it had been interesting and eye-opening. We both came away with changed minds on some of the people we plan to vote for.

Which means that the all-candidates night accomplished exactly what it should have: educating us voters about the issues and the candidates. And as Moderator MacNeil said, in the perfect ending to the evening: Now it’s up to all of us to get out there and vote!

Could there finally be hope for the internet in Queensborough?

New Xplornet tower

This notice in one of the local weekly papers, hot off the presses today, contains what I believe is the best news I’ve heard for a while. It brings internet hope to the Manse!

Oh, big news today, people. Big news! What news, you ask? This: that there might be a glimmer of hope that Queensborough will get out of internet purgatory – or is it hell? – and be able to enjoy the same access to the proverbial information superhighway that most of the rest of the world (and I include in this remotest Africa) already has.

I cannot begin to tell you how excited I am about this.

I have bored you dear readers (most of whom probably enjoy limitless high-speed internet at reasonable cost without even thinking about what a luxury it seems to those of us who don’t have it) many times before with the problems that Raymond and I, and other Queensborough residents, experience on the online front. (Want specifics, or a reminder? Some of my past posts on the topic are here and here and here and here.) When it comes to internet access, Queensborough people are in essence penalized because of the beautiful setting of our village: in a valley, with rocks and trees all around us. Because, you see, the valley thing means that the signals from the existing regional internet-signal towers don’t get to most of us. And trees mean foliage; and as one of the many internet customer-service people whom I’ve called up to complain told me recently, “Foliage is like concrete for signals. They just don’t go through.”

So here’s what happened today. In the middle of my busy workday, while I was editing some really fine student-written news stories and feeling quite thrilled at how well our team of budding reporters at Loyalist College Journalism is doing, a text arrived from Raymond:

WOW! Good news (I hope). Xplornet wants to put a tower up at 371 Declair Rd.

Well! You would probably have had to be here at the Manse one night about this time a month ago to understand how thrilled I was to hear this. That was the night when tears of rage and frustration were running down my cheeks because the slow-to-impossible internet, for which we are paying an arm and a leg, meant that it took close to four hours for me to put up a straightforward post here at Meanwhile, at the Manse about the gardens that would be on display during Historic Queensborough Day. I started in the early evening and, because it took hours to upload the photos (which would have zipped through in less than a minute in any normal internet situation), finished after midnight, long past my work-week bedtime. I was exhausted, frustrated, and mad as hades.

So what’s so exciting about a plan to put up an Xplornet tower on Declair Road? Well, I’ll tell you. Declair Road is located (despite the rather misleading “Tweed” address in the notice that Raymond had seen in one of the local papers, which you can see in the photo atop this post; Queensborough is in fact part of what I like to call the GTA, the Greater Tweed Area) just a couple of miles northeast of Queensborough. If a tower for Xplornet – an internet provider set up by local governments in Eastern Ontario (though it has now expanded to other parts of Canada) to bring service to rural areas – goes up there, it seems a reasonable assumption that its signals might actually beam down into Queensborough! I even venture to hope that this tower is being proposed precisely because the Xplornet people are aware – I know this thanks to a very helpful engineer with the operation telling me so last fall – that Queensborough is what they call “an underserved area” when it comes to the internet.

Now, you can bet your bottom dollar that I am going to be making some calls and doing some research on this. I don’t want my heart to be broken. I want to find out if this Declair Road tower will in fact make my life better, internet-wise. If it won’t – if it will only mean better internet for people outside the Queensborough valley – I will first despair, and then buck up and fight on. (Though of course I’ll be happy for those who will benefit from it.)

But I know there are others in Queensborough who are in much the same boat as Raymond and I are. Some of them are still having to rely on brutally slow dial-up internet. Some of them use Xplornet’s satellite service, and lose contact with said internet when there is snow. (Or rain. Or clouds. Or a hint of fog.) For some of them, including us, a wireless “hub” is the only option, and they pay a fortune for the slowest, most bare-bones service you can imagine. Streaming audio or video? Watching Netflix? You must be joking. Working from home through internet linkups? Not possible. It all makes me want to stamp my feet – as if I were again six years old, as I was once upon a time here at the Manse – and say, “It’s not fair!”

Ah, but that Declair Road tower might bring some internet. And some fairness. And that, people, would make me a happy, happy woman.

I’ll keep you posted.

Who was that woman parked on the library bench?

Getting wifi outside the Tweed library

The scene outside the closed-for-the-holiday Tweed Public Library this hot, muggy July 1 afternoon, minus me and my phone/camera (which were taking the photo): the laptop with which I was taking full advantage of the library’s wifi service. Bless you, Tweed library!

In case you happened to drive through central Tweed, Ont., this afternoon and spotted someone sitting for an inordinately long time on the bench in front of the closed-for-the-holiday Tweed Public Library, bustling about with an array of electronic devices – well, welcome to how I spent the afternoon of the Dominion Day holiday. And welcome to the ongoing saga of trying to get decent internet service at a reasonable cost when you live in rural Eastern Ontario.

Regular readers will probably be bored with my ongoing complaints about the internet thing (like here and here and here). I guess my frustration this evening is that things don’t seem to be getting any better. A few months ago I wrote (here) about a case of sticker shock that Raymond and I experienced upon opening a bill from our internet provider, Telus. As I mentioned in that post, the good folks at Telus took pity on us and reduced the bill. But then, despite all our efforts to use absolutely minimal internet – no streaming of movies or TV shows or radio broadcasts here, let me assure you – we got another huge bill last month.

To their infinite credit, Telus once again took pity and reduced the bill when I called to ask what on earth is causing bills of close to $200 a month. (Though they seem to be as much at a loss to explain it as we are.) One reason, of course, is that the internet is coming to us wirelessly, and that’s always more expensive. (You might recall that our efforts to get a satellite connection, which is what many people around here use with varying degrees of satisfaction, were stymied when we were informed – by a very nice representative for the consortium that does it, Xplornet – that we’d have to erect a pole, encased in concrete, right by the fenceline between us and our neighbours in order to receive a signal. No dice, man. No unsightly (for both us and our neighbours) poles-encased-in-concrete. So wireless it is.

Anyway, thank goodness for the public libraries in the nearby villages of Tweed and Madoc, that’s all I have to say. I mean, I’ve written several times before about how great those libraries are (like here for Tweed and here for Madoc), but that was by and large for other reasons. (Like, say, books, and readings by authors.) Now I’d just like to say that a library that offers free wifi, which you can pick up from an outdoor bench even when the library is closed for the Dominion Day holiday, so that you can update the operating system and software on your laptop and phone quickly and efficiently (when it would take forever and add a whole lot of money to your next Telus bill if you did it at home) – well, that is my kind of community place.

But what a drag that one has to drive 10 miles (from Queensborough) to do this! What about the people who can’t get there so readily? What about wintertime, when it’s not so great sitting out on the bench?

The disparity between how easy and cheap it is to get endless high-speed internet in urban parts of this province and country, and how frustrating and expensive it is to get even relatively acceptable internet when you’re in a rural area, is really starting to bug me.

So I guess my wish for Dominion Day – or, if you must, Canada Day – 2014 is this: fair (and fairly priced) internet access for all! Rural Canadians, are you with me?