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Dark Thoughts

3:30 PM -- On Monday, July 4, I was sitting alone in the dark, intellectually speaking, when the lights went out in my home.

I couldn't believe it.

Without precious electric power, I can't pay my bills online. I can't watch satellite TV. I can't meet my friends on Grokster to swap documentaries about tobacco production (please don't call them "snuff films"). I can't make phone calls on Skype.

I can't even play solitaire.

"Great Scott!" I bellowed. "Why do these things always happen to me on weekends and holidays?"

"I don't know," replied Scott, who wanders through my prose at odd moments.

Using my cell phone, as opposed to an old shoe, I called the electric company to see if they knew what was going on. They did, it seems, but their policy is not to divulge too much information to the unwashed masses.

The electric company representative, a cheerful woman with a pancake-batter-thick accent of indeterminate origin, explained that my house wasn't the only one affected, but she couldn't go a step further to tell me how serious the problem was.

Good thing, too: You never know what kind of chaos you might unleash by telling customers exactly what is wrong and exactly how you're going to fix it.

So while I waited for my milk to expire and the temperature to hit triple digits, I began to ponder what kind of broadband provider my electric company would make.

Now, my electric company hasn't said they're getting into the broadband business -- and they wouldn't tell me if they were, evidently -- but every so often I hear rumblings about broadband over power line and how it might someday compete with telecom carriers.

Broadband over power lines would be quite a breakthrough. Think of it: Anyone of average intelligence could just plug a modem into the wall, as you normally would, hook the modem up to the computer, and -- Presto! -- nothing happens. So you call the electric company for technical support.

"Yes, there's definitely a problem with your configuration," I imagined the electric company support representative saying. "Unfortunately our company policy forbids me to go into detail about what's wrong specifically. But I can tell you that you're not the only one that can't connect to the Internet at this time."

Suddenly it became apparent to me that broadband over power line won't succeed. The only solution my electric company can offer to any problem is to send a truck or crew to a home or neighborhood -- and that costs too much money.

What's more, every other time I see an electric company truck in a neighborhood, the workers are wielding chainsaws and carving up trees. I don't know how that fits into its broadband plans, but it makes me skittish. If I call one too many times for Internet support, is someone wearing an orange vest and a hard hat going to bump off my crape myrtles?

Despite the screwy business model, if broadband over power line does come to my neighborhood, I am tempted to try it. My electric company does leave me in the dark, occasionally, but they at least do the humane thing and tell me I'm not alone.

"You're a drip," said Scott. — Phil Harvey, Unplugged Editor, Light Reading

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