West Virginia is ‘Off the Grid’

November 28, 2010

I recently spent a week in West Virginia, my birthplace, for Thanksgiving. It’s actually the longest time I’ve spend in a ‘chunk’ like that in a while. At least, when there wasn’t other reasons for being in (IE, a relative in the hospital) that was vying for my time.

Since I was just there for ‘vacationing’, and since I’m currently on the job hunt with people trying to get ahold of me … Just how deeply WV is ‘Off the Grid’ was driven home. I mean, I know that Internet & Cell access is going to be highly restricted when I go in. In fact I have troubles often explaining it to people, especially those that live in Cities and just can’t fathom the idea of not having signal 🙂

But I ran into some bigger issues this time. Primarily based around the fact that the ‘world’ at large now, assumes that everyone has a high speed internet connection. So, at my mother’s house, she has dialup only (All that she can get, while she could have satellite internet, she can’t find anyone willing to drive out to her place to install it).

Her dialup only connects at 26400 (Yes, 26kbps), because that’s all the phone lines there can handle. I’ve often went and browsed from there, and well knew the twiddle-my-thumbs version of browsing.

But this time, it was worse. Far worse. Because every website in existence has gotten HUGE. I remember back in the days where modems were king, working at Hubble Space Telescope, where we made sure that every webpage we created, in total was under 35k. That included all HTML, Images, CSS, etc.

Nowadays, well, the homepage of Amazon.com weighs in at 525k when I just checked. Walmart.com is 456k. And loading a gmail screen to check your email came in at 325k. Suddenly any browsing is extremely painful, sometimes downright impossible to do.

This is made worse by the fact that since so much software assumes you have an internet connection, that it is wasteful with the bandwidth. I found that Firefox, Windows Update, and Java, were all trying to concurrently download updates to my mother’s computer in the background, while I was trying to just hit a few webpages to research something for her.

It doesn’t help, that this is just the tip of the iceberg. There is no cell phone service at either my father-in-law’s house, nor my mother’s house. In fact, while as you travel to local towns/cities, you start to get cell phone service, and can at least make phone calls. Internet over cell is still lacking. Only in the biggest of cities, there does 3G exist. In even medium sized areas you’ll only have an EVDO connection. And I found the EVDO to be extremely spotty. The phone would often claim to have an EVDO connection. But quite often you’d never get a connection to anything.

Overall, what’s my point? Not sure I really have one. It’s just that this trip specifically really brought home the point to me, of just how ‘off the grid’ WV has become. It’s so much more painful now, as the world becomes more and more connected, that the ‘gap’ in technology is becoming severe. 10 years ago WV was on ‘equal footing’ with the world when it came to the internet, since everyone was using a modem in the first place. But now with the world assuming high speed …

WV is getting left behind, and disconnected.