Friday, January 11, 2008

In Search of Broadband

So close, and yet so far.

I got my first taste of the internet right before I traveled to Asia. On my trip, I made it a game to try to hunt down a place from where I could send email back to my family. Sometimes it took all day. There was no hotmail, no yahoo mail, nothing like that- some Australian librarian set me up with a copy of Eudora on a floppy disc and instructed me to install it wherever I could find an internet connection, and use it that way.

Nowadays, you probably can't travel in Laos or Yemen without finding an internet cafe in any decent sized town. Lord knows we've got plenty of them in Salvador. I thought at one time about opening one, but now the bottom of the market has completely dropped out and it would be impossible to make a living at it. Someone told me these places can only stay open by stealing their broadband connections, and that doesn't surprise me. At least here in Bahia, folks have ripping off basic services down to a science. They call it 'gato,' which literally means 'cat,' and thousands of people, maybe hundreds of thousands, don't pay for water or electricity. Why not internet as well?

I guess it'd be okay by me if it didn't mean that I pay that much more for my services, legally, and sometimes those services are compromised. Admittedly, the brownout I had yesterday, the third in a couple weeks, may or may not have been caused by all the gatos we have here in the city, but I do know that I pay a lot of cash for my power and I'd appreciate it if it worked properly as a result.

But I digress. I find myself in this state of exquisite annoyance because of my new office, the office that is supposed to give me a normal life, that is supposed to make me more productive, that is to augment my income instead of dragging me further into debt. I've got the office, signed a one-year contract, and yesterday I got my phone installed. That was mildly annoying itself, but I won't get into it, except to say that I spent 20 minutes on the phone with a customer service rep who couldn't help me until my phone line went out along with 90% of my power.

One step to go- the broadband internet connection. So close.

They told me that I couldn't sign up for the broadband until they turned on the phone, and made sure it would work. No problem, I knew other folks in the building had broadband connections, I even asked! Plus it's right in the heart of the freakin' city, so if you don't have broadband here, where are you going to find it? I live just a few blocks away, and I have broadband, so it must be available in my new office!

I think you know what's coming.

I called up to get signed up for my new internet connection, which I should mention doesn't come cheap here in Brazil, no it doesn't. There's only one company that provides DSL in Salvador, and they call it Velox. The charming lady on the phone tells me:

"I'm sorry sir, but Velox is not available for this number at this time."

What are you talking about? My neighbors have it, you must be mistaken.

Nope. They could very well have it but because of how it's routed or some such garbage they can't give me Velox at this time.

Well, when can you give me Velox? Next week? Next month? Next year?

Could be next month, could be six months from now, they are always working to provide all their services to all their customers, etc. etc.

Yeah, spare me the bullshit. I hung up, after threatening to cut off my brand new phone line, as I really don't need the phone, just the Velox. This is true. But I didn't carry out my threat just in case I ended up in the kind of situation I'm finding myself- without options. In case I'm forced to go with dialup.

Here in Brazil nothing happens if you don't know people. If I knew people, I'd probably have Velox already, and be happily working away in my new office. What leaves me apoplectic is the random injustice of this place- one office gets Velox, the other doesn't, but maybe in six months or a year. It's not like my mom or my dad, who live in places so remote that nobody has high-speed internet connections, unless they go out and get a satellite dish, and I've heard mixed reports about those.

I really shouldn't be so surprised about this, I went through almost the same thing here at my house. After going ballistic because I couldn't get Velox, I decided to wait for them to get around to making it available, which eventually they did. Took about a year. In the meantime, I signed up with the cable internet service, another nightmare. If it had gone well with them, I never would have bothered to switch to Velox, but I did. I'm not going to get into it. The thing is, I thought they hadn't wired the whole neighborhood, like when I lived in Brooklyn and they said you couldn't get DSL in Park Slope. OK, the whole neighborhood I understand. But one phone line yes, the other no? That's insane.

So I slept on it. Today, rested, calmed down, I went to my new building and asked if any other tenants had Velox. Yes, they do. Who? Turns out my neigbor in 606 has Velox. I go and talk to the guy, he's very nice, he gives me the phone number of their office, turns out it differs from mine by only one digit- mine is 0484, theirs is 0464. Surely they must be mistaken, so I go back home to try again.


The Same


The woman told me: "You can have two phone lines going into the same house, one will be able to handle Velox, and the other won't."

Once again I became enveloped by my belligerent aspect. She tried to explain to me how this could be but I didn't really understand and didn't really want to know either.

I told her I only wanted the line for Velox, and insisted they give me one that could handle it. She told me that even if they gave me another line they couldn't guarantee that it would work.

My Portuguese fails me utterly at these moments. Once again I threatened to cut off the line but hung up before I got transfered.

So now what? Explore other options. I called up Net, which is my cable company, who I hate. I've had many evil phone conversations with their staff. I'm convinced that whenever they pull up my file, they must get all kinds of warnings about my volatility and who knows what else. Generally I'm pretty justified in getting pissed off, and if I get upset at someone who isn't responsible it's not really my fault, they're never going to let me speak to the people who made me miserable.

Unfortunately, Net has not wired my building, so I can't sign up with them. I don't dwell on it too much.

Only one option left.

When I get in these moods, I take on this juggernaut-like quality, where I can't really be deterred from my objective, or calmed down, or told to forget about it, or deal with it later. My advice to those close to me is to get out of the way and let the thing run its course, and please forgive me if I'm an asshole for the duration. People generally think I'm this super mellow, low-key guy- they've never seen me when I'm like this.

So I put on a shirt and a baseball cap and go straight to the mall to explore another option I'd never heard of before last week- the Vivo Flash. This is a desktop modem that works like a cell phone. It's only about 5 dollars a month more than my phone line, without the Velox. I was a bit wary when I first heard about it, but I'm out of options.

"Does this work with Mac OSX?" I ask.

"With what?"

This conversation took place in Portuguese, of course. Portuguese is a beautiful but strange sounding language, and if you hear a Brazilian say something even more bizarre sounding than normal, it's probably a word they adopted from English. So even though I don't know how to say "Macintosh" or "OSX" or "Panther" in Portuguese, I pretty much know how to strangle the English enough that they understand. This wasn't the problem here- they just didn't know what I was talking about. Macs are practically non-existent here, although there are iPods, if you have a fortune to spend. I have never seen an iPhone in Brazil, and doubt they'll make it to Salvador for another 2 to 3 years.

So basically I knew the answer had to be "no," and I spent about 40 minutes trying to determine that fact. Boy was I surprised when, after I'd already decided to sign up for a one year contract with the thing that the brochure I'd snagged for some light reading said that they did support Macintosh. We'll see about that, I think, wisely.

I watched the salesman fill out the contract; he made a spelling error when he wrote "Flash" as "Flesh." Vivo Flesh- which translates as "Live Flesh." I find this amusing, so I don't correct him.

He tested the thing for me, and I was alarmed to see that almost nothing was downloading, it was running slower than my Mom's internet dialup, which is slow even for a dialup. I was extremely shocked when I went to a 'velocĂ­metro' that I use to measure my connection speed- it showed a speed 4.7 times faster than the maximum on my Velox. What does that mean?

I take the thing home, fully prepared for more disappointment. It had to wait until after my Capoeira Roda, which was a welcome diversion and did what Capoeira should always do for me- served as a distraction and a release valve for my personal pressure cooker.

When I looked online for drivers for this charming new device, which I must say is really a great idea, and would be wonderful even if it means networking my race car laptop to my dinosaur vintage 2002 desktop system to get it to work. I may still need to do that. I found there are drivers for OSX, but not for systems with Intel processors, which mine has.

I also found that when I popped the installation disc into my other laptop, the one with Windows XP on it, which is what they absolutely said would work, it came up blank. Slotting the same disc in my new computer and it just gets spit out again.

I downloaded the drivers online, they don't work. I've given up installing it on that machine, and instead decided to write this. I can only justify this because I can't work because I can't access my email server, or any of the other Vermont-based servers that provide me with 90% of my income. But I had planned to write this anyways, it was just too good to pass up.

Now it's two in the morning and I'm supposed to move stuff to the new office at noon tomorrow. Why, I'm not exactly sure, as I don't yet have internet over there and it's looking increasingly like I'll be condemned to dialup after all. I suppose instead of going to bed, like I should, I will doggedly try to install the thing in the dinosaur, and the race car laptop in Vista mode, in spite of its Intel Processor.

Here's hoping, if only a little.


AkuTyger said...

Hahahahaha, I had this velox story too! First they said it wasn't available in our condo, but our neighbors had it, so.... Then it was because the lines were too old, but then they are the same age as the lines our neighbors had.... Then it was because there weren't any spaces left in the "box" ... Then, we found out that the guy paid to install it was calling the house everyday 3 or 4 times, but never leaving messages, so we never figured out what was going on until we decided to call back that number that was appearing 3 or 4 times on the caller ID everyday... Sheesh!

markuza said...

We've had even worse luck with NET, which I finally cancelled this month... I may write something about it later when it finally gets cut off.