The internet came, and then it went away again

Queensborough, we have an internet problem. Again.

But then, if you live in the Queensborough area, I’m pretty sure you know that. Why? Because not long ago I asked you, and you answered. Boy, did you answer.

Some good news about this internet problem, however, is that I have put my journalistic skills to use, made some inquiries, and now have a suggested plan of action. It does require something from you, my dear Queensborough reader, but only this: that you pick up your phone and call our local internet provider. Yes, you know the one:

Xplornet logo

For the benefit of non-Queensborough readers, let me provide some background on all this. And then I’ll share what I’ve learned about what can be done.

Longtime readers of Meanwhile, at the Manse may recall my many posts on the topic of slow to non-existent internet from the early years Raymond and I spent here in Queensborough. Between our purchase of the Manse in January 2012 and a magical day in March 2015 (more on that in just a bit), our internet situation was absolutely dire. The signal was impossibly slow; streaming services such as Netflix were out of the question; and the incredibly lame service that we had was still costing us $100 a month. (You can read some of my posts on the topic here and here and here.) Many were the evenings when the frustration of the endless hours it took to do a simple internet thing like putting up a blog post for you all to read had me practically in tears.

But then on March 19, 2015, the internet came to the Manse! Xplornet Communications, the company tasked with providing high-speed internet to rural Eastern Ontario, had just erected a tower on DeClair Road a bit east of Queensborough. On that magical Thursday in March, a technician came to the Manse to install a setup allowing us to connect to the tower. As you can read in my excited post about it here, and an even more exuberant followup a month later, we suddenly had endless and gloriously fast internet, for about the same price we’d been paying for the previous ghastly setup. We could watch Netflix! Raymond could watch his beloved Boston Red Sox games, streamed in high definition! I could do blog posts quickly and without tears! It was wonderful!

And it wasn’t just us: suddenly all of Queensborough (with exception of one household that had too many trees between it and the DeClair Road tower) had access to lightning-fast internet. Basically, it changed our lives – forever, we thought.

Alas, “forever” turned out to be about three years.

Since this past spring, internet in Queensborough has once again been terrible. Not so much in the daytime, mind you; but in the evening, when everyone’s home and online – Facebook, Netflix, Raymond watching his Red Sox via the Major League Baseball streaming app – it slows to a crawl at best and a complete freeze a great deal of the time. Here, let me show you with a little video of the action – actually inaction, due to the internet freeze – during a Red Sox-Tampa Bay Rays game the other night. The only “action” you’ll see until the freeze finally lets up is the ever-circling “loading” wheel – appropriately named (not by me) “the spinning wheel of death”:

These freezes happen dozens of times during every game. Lately, Raymond’s just given up trying to watch most evenings. And while that’s causing him so much grief, I’m usually trying to compose emails or blog posts or some such, and experiencing exactly the same thing – freeze after freeze, and more of the spinning wheel of death. The situation is every bit as frustrating as it was pre-2015. And we’re paying more than $100 a month for this?

About 10 days ago, I decided I’d had enough. It was time for action.

Step 1 was to get confirmation of how bad, and how widespread, the problem is. I already knew from a couple of conversations I’d had with neighbours that we are not the only household experiencing suddenly terrible internet. I felt quite certain that all of Queensborough was having the same problem – doubtless because more families have moved to the area in recent times, and because they (and everybody else) are using the internet more than ever. My educated guess was that the DeClair Road tower could no longer meet internet demand from Queensborough. But I needed some ammunition for Step 2, and so I sent out a message via social media outlining our no-internet-in-the-evenings situation and asking my fellow Queensborough-area residents to tell me if the same thing was happening to them. Which they did.

Facebook post on slow internet

The Facebook post in which I asked residents of our area whether they are experiencing the same internet problems as we are here at the Manse. The replies came thick and fast, and confirmed that we have a Queensborough-wide problem.

“I have the exact same experience and complaint, Katherine,” wrote one person.

“We had tons of issues in the last year with the internet service,” wrote another.

“Same issue,” said several others.

“I almost curse them all the time now,” wrote someone who happens to be a devout Christian. Wow!

Armed with confirmation that the problem is Queensborough-wide, I moved on to Step 2, which was to call Xplornet. Two hours on the phone later, I had a much-reduced internet bill and quite a bit of information. Which I now want to share with my fellow slow-internet sufferers.

The first department I got was customer service. I explained to the pleasant woman who took my call (after about 45 minutes on hold) about how all of Queensborough was experiencing the same internet problems, that the tower that services us must be beyond its capacity, and that we’re all pretty darn frustrated. She told me that:

  • Additional panels can be put onto a tower to resolve the problem of overload (though she stressed that this technical end of things was not her area of expertise).
  • All calls about such problems are logged and actively monitored by Xplornet, and if there is a sudden influx of calls of complaint from one particular area, there’s more likely to be action to resolve the problem. Which is why, Queensborough people, you should call! The number (which you can find on your bill) is 1-866-841-6001.

Anyway, back to my call. The last thing the customer-service rep did was: cut my monthly internet bill by $30! The reduction is good for the next six months, and if service hasn’t improved at the end of that time, it will be renewed.

And when I politely but persistently reminded her that I’d already paid more than $100 a month for several months’ worth of terrible service, she also gave me a rebate of one month’s charge. The next bill arrived a few days later, and because of all the reductions, I ended up with something even better than a zero balance: a credit of about $25.

So: did I mention that you should make that call? That number again is 1-866-841-6001. (But make sure you have a cup of coffee and something to read in hand, to get you through the wait time to speak to an agent.)

So then my helpful customer-service rep transferred me over to Xplornet’s technical department, where I had a long and enlightening chat with a member of the technical team. Once again I told my whole story, including the fact that all of Queensborough is experiencing the same problem.

He told me that towers, including the DeClair Road one, are being upgraded with what’s called an overlay, to add capacity. He noted – and I know this is true – that these upgrades can’t be done at the drop of a hat; there are licensing issues involved that take time. But he did confirm that the work “is under way.” When I asked when it would be completed, he said Xplornet does not give out end dates for such projects, but said he suspects it’ll be mid to late September at the latest – if only because the company doesn’t want its workers up on the towers when bad weather comes.

When I told him about the customer-service rep’s advice to urge people to call about the problem, he agreed that a bunch of calls from our area might well get the timeline for the tower work bumped up. So people! Call! 1-866-841-6001. And please tell them, as I did, that the problem you’re experiencing is shared by everyone in our area. This definitely adds oomph to the complaint, and avoids an agent trying to solve a (probably nonexistent) problem with your own personal setup.

Oh, and a bit more information I got: for those of you who get your internet via Xplornet satellite rather than from the DeClair Road tower, but are experiencing the same problem with painfully slow loading times: it’s again because of capacity issues. Demand on the satellite signal is growing very quickly, just like demand on the towers. I suggest you too call to let the company know about the problem, and inquire what can be done about reducing your bill until the signal comes up to snuff.

Internet announcement

The posting on Hastings-Lennox and Addington MP Mike Bossio’s website about the plan to bring the internet via fibre-optic cable to our area. The announcement was made at the Signal Brewery in Corbyville (once the site of the famous Corby Distillery), and on hand were (from left) Signal owner Richard Courneyea, Bay of Quinte MP Neil Ellis, Navdeep Bains, the federal minister of innovation, science and economic development, Jill Raycroft of the Belleville Chamber of Commerce, MP Mike Bossio, and Xplornet chief executive officer Allison Lenehan.

FibreRoute

The network of fibre-optic cables that will bring super-duper internet to our area within a couple of years – or at least, that’s the promise. (Photo via lennox-addington.on.ca; click to enlarge)

Now, in the slightly longer term there is some good news for us all. Last month, our MP, Mike Bossio (a schoolmate of mine in Madoc back in the days when I was growing up in this area), announced a partnership between the federal government and Xplornet to improve high-speed internet in Eastern Ontario using an existing network of fibre-optic cables. You can read about it here, and you’ll see on the map, as well as in the news story, that our entire area – the Municipality of Tweed, of which Queensborough is a part, and neighbouring Madoc Township, which is Queensborough-adjacent – are included. This is fantastic!

The only down side is that this new and improved service won’t be up and running until 2020. And yes, I know we’re already more than halfway through 2018, but a year and a half is a long time to deal with frozen-screen baseball games. Just ask Raymond.

So until then? Call Xplornet. Be polite but persistent. We had great internet for one brief shining moment. (Okay, it lasted three glorious years). We need to get it back!

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.

Sieste the Manse Cat is the queen of routine.

Sieste in her bed

Sieste the cat where she likes to be of an evening (and for much of the day): on the living-room couch, in her bed. Or should I say, “On her throne”?

Since moving to the Manse from her old home in Montreal, Sieste the cat has developed quite a lot of routine in her life. I think it keeps her grounded. Because she is a very important part of daily life at the Manse – she is one-third of our house’s total occupants, after all – her routine has a fairly big impact on the routine of the other two-thirds of the occupants, who are Raymond and me.

Here is Sieste’s daily routine:

  • If the humans aren’t out of bed at 6 a.m. (which is when the female usually gets up on weekdays to go to work), make some noise – in fact, make quite a bit of noise – and try to force the issue. If it’s the weekend, and therefore the noise isn’t working and the humans are clearly going to sleep a bit longer, return to own bed on downstairs chesterfield.
  • Spend the first part of the morning up and about. Eat. Drink. Examine things. Watch humans get start on day. Retire to own bed on chesterfield by 9:30 a.m. or so. It is time for long morning nap.
  • Have lunch at some point. Begin long afternoon nap.
  • Be very, very quiet and unobtrusive during these long daytime naps, and even when awake during daytime. Male human is, after all, working. Or maybe out in town running errands. Either way, no need to yowl. There’s good napping to be had.
  • When female human returns from work about 6 p.m., wake up loudly. Yowl. Say hello. Say, “Where have you been?” Continue yowling. Prowl about. Eat. Yowl. Drink. Yowl. Watch humans start to make supper. Yowl. Yowl some more. Seek attention. Demand attention. Demand that early-evening tradition, dispensation of cat treats by female human, be fulfilled. Snarf up cat treats and be quiet. For two minutes. Then yowl some more.
  • When female human sits down at vintage telephone table between 7:30 and 8 p.m. to call her mum (who used to be the châtelaine of this house, though little does Sieste know that), yowl like all get out. Female human is paying attention to person on the other end of the red phone, not Sieste. This requires the lodging of a long and loud series of complaints throughout female human’s telephone conversation.
  • Upon completion of telephone conversation, and as dinner is being served by and for humans, settle down again in own bed on chesterfield. With any luck there will be an episode of Downton Abbey or The Good Wife or, in summer, a Red Sox game, to be watched on the television before humans retire to bed. This television thing is useful because it places humans in the living room, one of them on chesterfield. Near Sieste. All are together. There is quite a bit of stroking of Sieste’s fur. There is attention. Sieste is queen of her subjects, and in fact of all she surveys.
  • “Life is good,” thinks Sieste. “It is time for bed.”

The peepers are back!

Where the peepers are

Yes, I know this is a bit of an odd photo; it’s because it was taken on this dark night in the pouring rain, using a flash. What it shows, though, is the wetland area kitty-corner from the Manse where the magical sound of the peepers comes from. If you’d like to hear that sound, check out the video, shot from the same spot, at the bottom of this post.

It is kind of a magical evening here at the Manse. And no, it’s not just because the Red Sox are leading the Yankees on the TV. It is a true April evening, mild and misty and wet with the showers that bring the proverbial May flowers. And best of all: the peepers have returned! By that I mean, of course, the baby frogs that inhabit the wetlands round about our little village. Tonight we heard their beautiful chorus for the first time this year. Which means: it really truly is spring in Queensborough. Would you like to hear them? Listen:

 

This just in from Raymond: “I’m allergic to blackflies.”

This is what Raymond won't be doing this coming weekend: outdoors work in the Manse's yard. But he sure worked hard during our big cleanup the last time we were there, which is when I took this photo.

This is what Raymond won’t be doing (because of the blackflies) this coming weekend: outdoors work in the Manse’s yard. But he sure worked hard during our big cleanup the last time we were there, which is when I took this photo.

Tonight I was going to leave off the blackfly theme of the past two posts (here and here) and write about – well, you’ll have to wait for another day to find out.

Oh, all right. Hasenpfeffer.

But I’m putting the Hasenpfeffer on hold because I have breaking news to share. I have just learned something from Raymond that keeps the blackflies-at-the-Manse saga alive. He is – wait for it – allergic to them.

As he just announced (rather offhandedly, actually) to me a few minutes ago while he was watching Jerry Remy and Don Orsillo report the Boston Red SoxTampa Bay Rays game (Red Sox 8, Rays 2) on his iPad.

To which I said: WHAT?!?!?!?!?

Because contrary to my hopes that the cold spell would have knocked this year’s blackfly crop out, and my (possibly delusional) insistence that the blackflies in Queensborough have never been all that bad anyway, there seems to be some pretty solid evidence (see comments here and here) that the blackflies are not only out, but out in force, at the moment. This very evening our Queensborough friend Marykay reported that she was outside watering her plants, “not in my Darth Vader gear [protective hats and other stuff] and they are terrible!!!”

It was when I was reading aloud that rather alarming comment to Raymond a few minutes ago that he casually informed me that he is allergic to blackflies. Good lord.

Regular readers will know that the reason Raymond and I have been waging fierce battle against wasps at the Manse is that he is allergic to them, too. Deathly allergic, basically; a wasp sting means he must get to the ER very, very quickly. (Needless to say, EpiPens are at the ready when we are in Queensborough. And this potentially fatal allergy is another reason why I think there should be a hospital emergency room in central Hastings County.)

But until about the third inning tonight I was blissfully unaware that he is allergic to blackflies too. And this as we’re about to spend the Victoria Day long weekend in what people in Queensborough seem to be suggesting is Blackfly Central!

Fortunately, Raymond’s blackfly allergy is nowhere near as severe as his wasp allergy. Blackfly bites make him puff up a lot, that’s all – he says. But still, this is going to mean there won’t be a lot of outdoors time for Raymond this weekend.

Especially because he is the biggest bug magnet I have ever seen. He and I can be sitting outdoors for half an hour and I won’t even have noticed that there are bugs – blackflies or mosquitoes or whatever – and will be utterly unscathed. And Raymond will have bites all over.

That’s what it is to be sweet, I guess.

The neighbourly wave

Still a little stiff in the execution, but Raymond's initiation into the rural wave is coming along. (Note reminder of his favourite team having from the rear-view mirror.)

Still a little stiff in the execution, but Raymond’s initiation into the rural wave is coming along. (Note the reminder of his favourite team hanging from the rear-view mirror.)

One thing I’ve had to get Raymond trained up on, vis-à-vis having a home in Queensborough, is the habit of acknowledging drivers you meet when you’re out on the road. It’s a time-honoured rural tradition, as those of you who are familiar with rural ways will know. As our friend Lindi Pierce put it in a recent Queensborough-themed post on her excellent blog  about architectural heritage, Ancestral Roofs (ancestralroofs.blogspot.ca): “In the country one does not pass another human, known or unknown, without acknowledging her presence; how rude would that be?”

It’s a nice friendly thing, the driver-to-driver wave. I’m used to it thanks to having grown up in Queensborough, but because I was not old enough to drive when I lived there – we moved away around the time of my 15th birthday – it was not something I had occasion to practise myself. My mum or dad were the ones behind the wheel and thus the ones who waved to the drivers of cars we met. And then I spent many years living in larger places, and in larger places the rural wave is unknown.

When Raymond and I bought the Manse and started spending time there, the habit of waving came back naturally to me. But for Raymond it was a new thing, and I always had to remind him to wave when we met another car. Occasionally I still do. And it’s interesting (and sometimes kind of amusing) to observe him getting used to it. You see, there’s a certain technique in the wave, and he’s still learning it.

For one thing, it’s not an actual wave; it’s more a casual brief lifting of your left hand from the steering wheel, uncurling your fingers and raising them up perpendicularly from the wheel. (Sometimes men with big hands – I have often seen my father do this – just raise a finger or two.)

Spotted in the Madoc Foodland parking lot. Do you think this driver knows about the rural wave? (Photo by Raymond Brassard)

Spotted in the Madoc Foodland parking lot: do you think this driver knows about the rural wave? (Photo by Raymond Brassard)

The other element of the art of the rural wave is timing. Raymond sometimes waves a little too early and a little too quickly, so that it’s over and done by the time we meet the other car and the other driver won’t have seen it. Your waving motion has to be a little slow and lazy – laconic, let’s say; and you have to wait to do it until just a half a second or so before your two vehicles meet.

But we’re practising, and he’s learning. He’ll get there! Meanwhile, I have a question for you: do you think this driver knows about the rural wave?

It’s a long way from Fenway

The view from our seats at Boston's Fenway Park before the start of a Red Sox game in August 2011. Do you know they actually sing Take Me Out to the Ball Game in the seventh-inning stretch? Magical.

The view looking to the outfield from our seats at Boston’s Fenway Park before the start of a Red Sox game in August 2011. Do you know they actually sing Take Me Out to the Ball Game in the seventh-inning stretch? Magic.

Watching the hard-working vendors who sell Fenway Franks in the stands is almost as much fun as watching the ballgame. (Photo from redsoxhome.com)

Watching the hard-working vendors who sell Fenway Franks in the stands is almost as much fun as watching the ballgame. (Photo from redsoxhome.com)

Raymond comes originally from Lowell, Massachusetts, so you won’t be surprised a) if you hear him talking about pahking the cah, and b) to know that he is a huge fan of the Boston Red Sox. And quite a bit of that Red Sox fandom has rubbed off on me, though I was annoyed when they got rid of coach Terry (Tito) Francona and captain Jason Varitek before last season. Raymond has taken me to a few games at Boston’s legendary Fenway Park, and that is a thrill – and I’m not just talking about the Fenway Franks (though there is nothing to beat ballpark hot dogs). There are few things finer than whiling away a warm summer night watching the Red Sox – and singing along with Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline, as they always do at Fenway in the middle of the eighth inning.

It is a hardship for Raymond that not that many Red Sox games get aired in Canada, though they do show up from time to time on our TV in Montreal, where cable brings us more channels than we really need or want.

Ah, but the Manse is another matter. As I have reported before, there is no TV reception at all there – at least until and unless we buy one of those dish thingies, which I’m not too crazy about. Some have advised us to try the modern-day version of rabbit ears, but we will probably be lucky if that brings in CHEX, the CBC affiliate in Peterborough; I don’t think TSN or the Rogers sports channels are going to materialize that way. This is not good news for Raymond if we want to spend any length of time in Queensborough through the summer.

At the Manse, Raymond shows off a Red Sox-themed birthday gift I gave him last year.

At the Manse, Raymond shows off a Red Sox-themed birthday gift I gave him last year.

But to every problem there is a solution, it seems, and technology is often a key part of that solution. Major League Baseball has created an app that allows you to watch games live on whatever device you happen to be using (computer, iPad, iPhone), and a cord allows you to plug that device into your TV monitor (which we do have at the Manse). So as long as you have a signal that gets you on the internet, you can watch the Red Sox to your heart’s content!

Which means that we are all set. In theory. Queensborough is, however, not the centre of the internet universe, and the 3G signal there can be weak or nonexistent, depending on which direction you’re facing, the time of day or night, and lord knows what other variables.

So we’ll see: maybe we’ll be watching the Red Sox at Fenway (and on the road, of course) from the comfort of our Manse, and maybe we won’t. But for a Red Sox fan – hey, they waited 86 years to win the World Series! – hope springs eternal.

And on that optimistic note, and with a nod to the baseball season that starts (for the Red Sox) in 13 days (but who’s counting?), let’s sing along with the fans at Fenway: