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Yeah, no need for us to imagine here… 53 whole days without internet at home. That’s almost two full months.
Although we made a small mistake on our end that didn’t help, most of the cause of this falls on Panama just being Panama.
And you don’t realize just how critical solid internet is at home until you need to go without it. It’s become such an essential part of our day-to-day lives… for better or for worse.
We adjusted as best we could and of course survived. But 53 days with no internet at home is one heckuva long time to be without something we normally take for granted.
First, a little rant…
It’s interesting to see how things work in different countries. Some things work better and some things not as much.
In the U.S., we hurt ourselves in the long run with Internet Service Providers (ISPs) years ago. As the need for broadband began to become desirable, cities, counties, and states worked with cable companies to gain access. The cable companies were smart and said, “sure, we’ll make that happen, but if we’re spending the money to trench and run underground lines everywhere, we want an agreement that you won’t allow other cable companies in.”
That worked alright at the beginning, but over time, things have changed. Without competition, the monopolistic cable companies have had almost no need to innovate or keep prices low. Because of that, the U.S. now has some of the most expensive internet prices in the world. And as consumers, we don’t have much of a choice because other options generally stink.
The good news is that should be changing very soon. You’ve heard of the over-hyped 5G for cell phones? Well, it’s not that important for cell phones (for now), but 5G will be a world-changing technology in other realms. Self-driving cars that can communicate with each other, traffic lights, etc. are just one big area that will be taking advantage of the new technology.
But the avenue that will be more relevant to us right now is home internet. 5G will provide the ability for consumers to get a 5G modem for their internet access… no need for cables installed to your home. It’ll connect over a 5G signal to the ISP for your connection and give you amazing speeds eventually. Your home devices will connect to the 5G modem via WiFi just like they do to your modem or router now.
Pretty cool right? There will finally be some competition for the cable companies. Additionally, the 5G ISPs will also compete against each other. And when there’s competition, you as the consumer will benefit. There will be more innovation and lower costs in this area and that’s desperately needed.
Right now, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon are offering 5G internet service. The bad news is that it’s still early – it’s not very widespread yet. It will also take a little while to get the speeds up to something worthwhile for most consumers.
Hopefully, we’ll see that happen as 2021 progresses. And with a future of breakthrough satellite internet as well through companies like SpaceX and Amazon, the competition will increase even more.
In the meantime, don’t sign any long-term over-priced agreements with your ISP.
The sales pitch
Here in Panama and most other countries, we don’t have too much of a problem with these horrible agreements limiting competition. That said, the competition is a little less in smaller cities like where I live in Boquete just because of all the start-up costs involved.
When we moved here, we were fine just sticking with basic internet through the local cable company here. It was already included in our rent and the 50 Mbps did the job. We’ve always had the option of upgrading to a faster package but never bothered… until recently.
I saw that a competitor had been receiving a lot of praise throughout the Facebook expat groups here for several months. Supposedly, great speed, good prices, and favorable customer service. I kept that in the back of my mind but didn’t bother with it because of the hassle.
In the meantime, we had an old crappy modem here that was driving me nuts. At least once a day, we’d suddenly have no internet and I’d have to reboot the stupid thing just to get the internet up and running again. I should have called the ISP long ago to get it replaced but I just didn’t want to deal with that hassle either.
If you’re thinking it’s laziness as to why I didn’t bother with each, it’s not. Rather, the language barrier itself is what makes change less appealing. If you haven’t tried to muddle your way through something like this before with someone who doesn’t speak the same language as you, know that it’s frustrating. I’m getting much better at my Spanish, but it’s still far from easy.
Anyway, when we got back to Panama back in October, this other competitor had a tent set up just outside of our condo here in Valle Escondido. They were pushing their new service available to residents in our gated community…
And that’s probably the most interesting part of this story… they were soliciting us. I didn’t randomly call them up on the phone – they were right here selling their service.
In fact, they were sitting and selling from that tent every day for a long time. Long enough, that I finally went down and talked to them on Wednesday, October 28. The salesman I talked to spoke decent English. Between my broken Spanish and his broken English, we did pretty well!
They offered several different plans ranging up to a gigabyte in speed. I don’t need speeds that fast (but it was cool to know I could get that here!) and I didn’t need cable TV or a home phone. After reviewing the different promos, I settled on a 300 Mbps plan that would be $36/month. With taxes, it would come out to $42.25/month. The promo came with home phone service as well but I didn’t need to have them hook it up since we don’t want it.
We were set to get about 6x faster speeds for about $7 more per month. That’s a win in my book.
The salesman checked and determined that they’d be able to get the new internet service installed only two days from that conversation. That would be on Friday, October 30 – perfect!
No internet? What the @#$% happened, Jim?!
Here’s where things went awry. The internet we had was included in our rent and was in our landlord’s name so I filled her in on our game plan. The new service would be in my name so we’d just deduct the $35 we were paying from our rent each month to her and then pay our new internet bill directly.
She was going to be flying back to the U.S. early the following week and would need to cancel our current internet service and return the modem before then. I told her to go ahead and just make it happen for Friday, 10/30. Even if things got pushed back a day or two on the new service, we could get by using hotspots from our phones.
And that’s what happened. She canceled the service on Friday, 10/30 and the modem was returned. Unfortunately, that left us high and dry with no internet at home for longer than we hoped… much, much longer.
Unfortunately, for the poor salesman, I had his WhatsApp number.
At first, the waiting was just a little bit of an annoyance. It’s Panama so there’s always going to be a bit of the mañana way of life here. If you’re not familiar, “mañana” means “tomorrow” in English. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean “tomorrow” in regards to getting things done… a more accurate reflection of the translation might be “not today.”
November’s not a great month to get much accomplished in Panama, to begin with anyway. The month is filled with a lot of Panamanian holidays so there are a lot of days off.
On top of that, Hurricane Eta swung by at the beginning of November. Although Panama’s outside of the hurricane belt, it doesn’t mean we don’t still feel some of the effects. It rained here non-stop for about a week (I’m told at least 6-7″ each day) and that caused big problems. Rivers overflowed, floods destroyed roads and homes, and landslides were just some of the fallout. The flooding caused problems not seen here for over ten years.
We’re fortunate that didn’t affect us directly, but that said, it didn’t help with our “no internet” situation. My contact from the new ISP messaged me: “La lluvia a afectado toda la logistica” or “The rain has affected all logistics” in English.
That’s fair. And in mid-November, a couple of technicians actually showed up during one evening. They scoped out where the line would come into our condo and then went to check a nearby storage building where all the lines came into the development. Then they came back up to my condo a short while later and explained in Spanish that the building was locked. They needed to come back tomorrow to get in.
“Tomorrow?” I said. “Yes, first thing tomorrow morning” was the response. This conversation was said three times before they left.
And, they’ve never been back since… welcome to Panama.
Such is life here – most of you know we roll with the punches. After more pestering to the salesman (I was texting him at least twice a week for updates), he said that it required “special work” to get the install done.
Just a reminder, they pitched their tent right outside our building because they were pushing their new service available and ready for us. Good times, right?
As we got near the end of November, my hounding resulted in him telling me they were getting a work permit and we should be good in a few days. That continued into December.
On Saturday, December 12, he told me that we’d know for sure what was going on by Monday. After not hearing anything on Monday (surprise), I hit him up yet again…
Me: Hola amigo, ¿cuáles son las novedades sobre nuestra instalación?
Salesman: Hola.. Amigo me indican que no podemos instalarle por el momento. Mil disculpas
Or translated to English…
Me: Hi friend, what’s the news about our installation?
Salesman: Hello .. Friend tell me that we cannot install you at the moment. A thousand apologies
46 days. It was 46 days from the day our internet connection was supposed to be hooked up just to find out that they’re not able to do it right now.
Shortly thereafter, I contacted our former provider to set up service with them again. They showed up on Tuesday, December 22, and got everything up and running. This time we have a new modem which is good. We also have an add-on router that we didn’t need or want but the language barrier made it happen anyway.
We now have a 250 Mbps connection for just under $50/month. A slower speed than we would have gotten from the new provider and at a higher cost, but at least we’re back up and running.
53 total days of no internet at home.
How do you make it with no internet?
I know some of you might say that having no internet is a blessing… it’s time you can spend together. You can play board games, go outside, enjoy the quiet it provides…
We’re already doing that stuff so we’re good on that front. But in the meantime, we’re trying to homeschool our daughter online. We were also limited in what we were able to do because of the carefulness of the pandemic here (though a lot of that has changed over the past couple of weeks).
And don’t forget, we don’t have TV service here (it would mostly be in Spanish anyway). So we rely mostly on streaming services to watch a movie together or anything like that. We also like to listen to music on the Google Nest Mini devices we scored during a promo a couple of years ago for $1 each. On a side note, we’d gladly pay full price for these now that we know how much we enjoy them!
Most importantly, I still haven’t missed a week of blogging here since I started in 2015 – it’s a little harder to do that with no internet.
We had our cell phones to use as hotspots for our laptops, but man, that was tough! The 4G/LTE service we normally get while walking around outside does the job well. But while at home, at certain times of the day, we don’t get a good signal from the towers which can get annoying. And even when we did have a good signal, the speeds we’d get through the hotspots were really bad… really bad.
Sometimes Faith would need to do her homeschooling on the balcony just so she’d be able to get a signal. Not a horrible problem when you live in a place with such nice temperatures, but still not great if it’s raining out. We’d have to do the same during phone calls as well since we use Google Voice for all our calls to/from the U.S.
Essentially, we spent a good month and a half of calls dropping and internet pages loading like we were back in the 56k dial-up modem days!
When Lisa and I were on a shared cell phone plan in the U.S., the most data we ever used together was about 5 GB one month – and that was an out-of-the-ordinary month by far. We’re always on WiFi so it never was a big deal.
Here in Panama, we each have unlimited data on our monthly pre-paid cell phone plans. I’ve since learned that it’s not fully unlimited though (shocker!). When I hit a whopping 100 GB for the month on my phone because of the hot-spotting, my service just stopped. I ended up walking to the local store here in town and the customer service rep got me up and running again.
He told me that after 100 GB in a given month, the service has to be reset (meaning I have to go there like I did and let them know). If you hit 200 GB total in a month, you’re just shut out completely until the month is up. Ouch.
We got very lucky though. We have a great next-door neighbor here in Boquete and she headed back to the U.S. in late November until after the holidays. First off, she was nice enough to let us use her car while she’s gone. But second, she also let us use her WiFi.
The signal was just enough to reach part of our apartment. So from our bedroom or the balcony, we could generally get a decent internet connection. Because we were at the edge of the range, it wasn’t perfect but it was much better than the hotspots… enough to help us get by.
It’s weird to think that not having home internet would be that big of a deal, but it’s definitely become a part of our daily lives. Without good internet, a lot of frustration finds itself creeping up throughout the days… and 53 of those days is way too many!
Would you be able to get by with no internet (or rigging it up like we did) for almost two months?
Thanks for reading!!