Pulled over on the information super highway
By RYAN M. TAYLOR
For the Capital Press
TOWNER, N.D. — Back in the days when the ranch first got dial-up access to the Internet, I thought we were pretty hip and high-tech. Coupled with a fax machine, my little freelance writing office on the northern edge of Smokey Lake Township was on the cutting edge of the information revolution.
Our local telephone cooperative has always worked hard to provide us the same conveniences of modern life as our city cousins. Ever since the days they strung the copper lines that connected our voice to the telephone operators in town, they’ve kept us connected.
There wasn’t much money to be made in providing those services to farms and ranches strung out over miles and miles of countryside, so country folks did it themselves, and did it cooperatively. Everyone chipped in, worked together, their government lent some capital, and life got better in rural places — rural telephone, rural electricity, rural water and, soon, rural broadband.
Help on the way
We’ve had something faster than dial-up Internet access for a while but I wouldn’t go so far as to call it high speed. They’re doing the best they can to amplify the signal that carries the data on our old underground copper wires, but with every neighbor between our place and town trying to post a FaceBook status, watch a YouTube video on how to train a cow dog, or Google the latest information on a long lost relative who might possibly write them into their last will and testament, there’s not much data trickling out the far end of pipe anymore.
But help is on the way. Our cooperative is running fiber optic line to the homesteads this summer and then we’ll really be able to stream some video, music and social media. For now though, on particularly slow days, when I can’t find enough other inside tasks to do while I wait for something to download, I take the drastic step or just going outside and getting to work.
Of course, chores are done with a smart phone in my pocket so I can catch up on my email, and check the weather and the commodity markets, while I’m driving from the hay yard to the cows. Doing that, though, I discovered that if I was in the right spot, I could get faster Internet on my phone than I could in my house.
That gave me an idea. I would take my office out on the range until the fiber optic cavalry rides into our yard later this year to save the day, and possibly our marriage, and my writing career. Like my ancestors who realized the importance of rural electricity and rural telephone to keeping their marriages intact, I’m realizing the importance of rural broadband to the happy modern marriage.
Office on the hill
So, I upgraded my iPad to the kind that pulls in a cellular signal, and I got a keyboard for it. If my Internet gets too slow, I get in the pickup with my iPad and drive up to the top of the hill where I know I can pick up three or four bars of cell signal.
There I can sit and set up my hilltop office — writing, working, crunching numbers, researching and wasting time on social media when I should be working — my usual office tasks. But the view is pretty good as I look across the prairie horizon, watch cows roam their paddock and listen to the meadowlark on a nearby fencepost.
And if I’m sitting there this summer when the crew drives by plowing in the fiber optic line to our house, I wonder if I’ll follow them in to resume my spot at the desk in our house. I’m guessing it’ll depend on the size of my cell phone bill. If I’m exceeding my cellular data plan I’ll probably jump on the trencher and help them snake the line right in to our house.