My computer away from home is a cheap netbook, bought about a year and a half ago, already ancient. A balky electrical connection (faulty cord? worn-out battery?) gives it the delightful tendency to suddenly shut down without warning, even when it's plugged in to the wall.
But the biggest problem has been its increasing tendency to refuse to connect to wifi. No amount of coaxing and tweaking of settings would work this time around. As a result I've been discovering the online limitations of the Android phone I have borrowed from our son. Let's just say I wouldn't want to write a long blog post on it unless I was maybe trapped in an elevator or something (I was, for a short time yesterday, and I wasn't even tempted).
Along with the frustration of all that couldn't be done this past week without an internet-connected computer, I've been fretting and dithering about internet service for our house here in Merida. We want it ready to plug and play for ourselves and guests, whenever we show up.
The range of options from the leading internet providers were disappointing. We don't want a land line or cable TV, but Telmex and Cablemas both require customers to buy their bundle of services along with internet. This privilege costs about $50 a month, year-round, whether you're using it for 12 months or two. On the Yolisto forum people have praised AITel, a smaller internet provider, which apparently has a plan for seasonal residents. You can shut down your service when you're away, and only pay for the periods when it's turned on. I tried to see if we could get AITel but it's not available in our neighborhood, or at least that's what I think I was told in a somewhat unsuccessful attempt at a telephone conversation in Spanish with an AITel rep.
After coming to the conclusion that we were kind of hooped, I happened to encounter a couple of great young employees at stores in Centro who helped me out. I was wandering through the Technology Mall, an interesting conglomeration of shops that seem to sell mostly accessories for myriad devices, when one fellow asked what I was looking for.
I don't know how I got started on my lament about thwarted internet efforts, but he told me the solution was to get Banda Ancha. I'd heard the term but associated it with that poor Indonesian city that was obliterated by a tsunami a few years ago. Xavier Rosado explained where it could be found, how it could be recharged to use when you need it, how it didn't require a 3-year contract. This wasn't even a product he sold in his booth. He walked me around the mall to ask other shopkeepers about where to get it. I began my search for this wonderful object.
Banda Ancha is the same kind of USB stick that North of the Border phone/internet providers offer, but I hadn't been tempted to get it before. We already have internet in Victoria, and the bills are shockingly high, so who needs to add on another expensive frill? But as a standalone, pay as you go, maybe, I hope, reliable internet connection, it seems like it will be a bargain at its $60 (CDN) purchase price plus a little over $15 for a week or $40 a month, only when you need it.
It wasn't easy to find Telcel's Banda Ancha pay-as-you-go product. It is not what you would call heavily marketed. I wonder why? At several small Telcel shops I was told they didn't have it, or didn't even know what it was. A couple of others said it was only available on an 18-month contract. But I finally found mine at the Elektra store at the corner of C. 56 and C. 61, thanks to another super-helpful young guy named Dany Alexis who explained everything very carefully and wrote down the numbers for registering the device and getting some free air time.
It threw me for a loop when Dany Alexis explained that I needed to register with a CURP which is apparently some kind of national identification number. I thought I might have to borrow one from a friend with a residency document. But later, while deleting messages from my Merida cell phone, I discovered I had already been assigned a CURP number with that earlier purchase. (Cue The Prisoner catchphrase: "I am not a number...")
So after several hours of trial and error, it's working! I feel like I've been rescued from a desert island. Albeit a desert island with great food, friends, and no end of interesting things to do.
I realize this story might not resonate for those who are not addicted to, or at least hugely dependent on the internet; or who are not trying to figure out how to make things work in a strange country.
But I guess it's my Sunday sermon, so I should think of a moral or two. How about these: Perhaps we don't have to be prisoner to the cable and telco's cruel efforts to force us to pay for their unwanted services. And, there are a lot of really nice and helpful people in this city, and I would be lost without them. Amen.