Internet Problems in the Middle of Nowhere

Internet connectivity can be difficult in rural areas.
Internet connectivity can be difficult in rural areas.

We have no cell phone coverage at our house. Instead, we use Wi-Fi calling. This means our cell phones connect to the internet via our Wi-Fi router. For the past three years, it was seamless. over the past few months, our call quality started to suffer. We would drop calls and people we were talking to would have a hard time hearing us.

We both had iPhone 8s, which is quite an old phone in the Apple scheme of things, so last year I upgraded to a 13 and this year my wife upgraded to a 14. Our battery life improved, and we enjoyed some of the new features, but it did little for our call quality.

Then my wife started to experience problems watching Netflix. In her home office, her computer’s Internet was very slow. So we upgraded from our Nightforce router, which was at least six years old, to a new TP mesh network with a router upstairs and one in the basement where my man cave is. This not only upgraded us from Wi-Fi 5 to 6, but it gave her a stronger signal strength. Unfortunately, her internet access was no faster.

Throughout this process, I ran speed tests, and while we consistently showed about 80 MBPS downloads, our upload speeds dropped over time until they were around 0.6 MPS, sometimes dropping as low as 0.2. For those that aren’t techies, let’s just say that 0.2 is SLOW.

So we called our internet service provider, and they came out the following week, did some diagnoses, and replaced the modem. Our Internet speed is now as high as 140 MBPS with our uplink speeds around 9 MPBS.

Better, but not Great

Our phone service immediately improved and my wife’s Zoom calls no longer lagged. Watching TV using our Fire Stick was still ugly. I figured, if the modem can “wear our” in four years, maybe the Fire TV stick can as well. So I bought a new Fire Stick 4K, which supports Wi-Fi 6. BOOM! It was a huge improvement. Steaming is no longer making us wish we had cable. We are finally back to the highspeed connection we had come to expect, even out here in the middle of nowhere.

Speaking of Internet, getting broadband service in rural areas can be difficult. I called one company that said they served our zip code and they looked up my address and said, “Sorry, but no one within 2500 feet of you has our service, so we can’t run cable to you.” Where was the closest customer? Seven miles away. As a result, we have one local supplier and they have a monopoly on the service. At least, until Starlink became available countrywide.

I know two people who are using Starlink and they report a very high level of satisfaction with it. Both of them are older folks who live alone. I expect they have two or three devices on their Wi-Fi network, rather than the 11 we do. (Several of ours are cameras.) Still, Starlink appears to have very positive reviews online as well. If we could not get satisfaction from our local provider, we would have moved to Starlink, despite its upfront cost. Preppers should consider it as a communication option in a local or regional grid down system, assuming there hasn’t been a space war that knocks out the satellites.

Electronics Fail

The lesson I take from this experience is that we had two electronic devices, the modem and the Fire Stick, that experienced significant deterioration because of cheap Chinese electronics. (The router was fine and is now our backup unit. Likewise, our iPhones still worked although their battery performance had degraded.) So if you are counting on using any electronics after the SHTF, update them occasionally or have a spare. An EMP may shut down your electronics on day one, but a glitch that shuts down a key device on day 572 of a disaster will still be a problem.

Granted, in a serious TEOTWAWKI event, there may not be an internet, but if you have power, you may be counting on using your microwave or a hot plate. Our battery-powered devices include flashlights, lanterns, headlamps, red-dot optics, radios, power tools, digital thermometers, and more. Will these electronics still work four or seven years after a total collapse? Or will a loose wire, a bad diode, a dead transistor, or some other component fail, leaving us SOL?

I dare say a 25-year-old HAM or CB radio will outlive a 10-month-old hand-held just because they have sturdier cases and more robust electronics.

Cheap Chinesium

I don’t know if this is built-in obsolescence or just a side effect of using the lowest bidder that populates their consumer goods with cheap Chinese-made circuit boards. I fear it’s the latter.

Our local appliance repair shop recommends against buying Samsung and LG appliances, both of which are Korean, not Chinese. Based on their repair experience, they say these brands fail more frequently than others, and when they do, parts are expensive. But even our Whirlpool refrigerator has needed service. All they could do was send off for a circuit board and replace it. Lucky for us, the repair tech picked the correct one out of three possible boards and was able to fix it on the first try.

We were at a gathering of my wife’s friends and they started comparing the Shark with Dyson vacuum cleaners. (Scintillating conversation, no?) “None of them will work better than a 1972 Hoover,” I said.

“Or, an Electrolux,” said one of the other husbands. There were nods all around. Those old vacuums were built like a tank and lasted decades. Today’s machines are made from plastic, cost more, and don’t last as long. Some trade off.

The sad truth is, they aren’t building things like they used to. As preppers, we need to keep that in mind.

Manual Tools

In my experience, power tools with gasoline engines last longer than those with electronics. Of course, they require oil, greases, and gasoline, any of which might be hard to come by in a crisis. And when they fail, you might need parts. We saw how hard it was to get parts during the recent supply chain crisis; it will be harder if we go to war with China or there is collapse.

It’s great to have a tiller, but you should have a shovel or three as a backup. The only time my shovel failed is when we broke the handle. We have enough hickory trees in the area that I can fashion a new one, if necessary. It will take longer than driving the hardware store, but if the hardware store doesn’t exist or the new handle is too expensive, I’ll have a viable option.

Some states are forcing people to adopt rechargeable lawn and gardening tools; I expect the need to buy new devices and batteries will outweigh the savings in carbon emissions they are counting on. Sure, I love my 18-volt battery-powered tools, but I have one dead battery and a charger that doesn’t work. That’s why I have manual tools, including two hand-crank drills and several hand saws. I also kept my old plug-in drills and circular saw. I haven’t needed to use them for years, but they are in the workshop, just in case.

Preppers often say “one is none and two is one.” That’s a good mantra. Always have a spare. When it comes to something that uses electricity, have a manual spare.