Off the Grid

Before buying our new house in Almost Iowa, I had two important questions.  Would our old place sell and was there internet access at the new place?

Our real estate agent assured us on both accounts.

It’s not like we didn’t trust him but let’s just say real estate agents tend to be optimistic.  So we pressed him on the issues.

“There are plenty of buyers for rural homes,” he told us.

“What about the internet for the new place?” I asked, “It took an act of God to get DSL at our old house.”

Actually God had nothing to do with it but complaining to the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) did.  I used them to motivate the phone company and some say the PUC has more power than God.

“Don’t worry about it,” he said. “It’s not like it used to be.  Rural areas now have digital cell networks, satellites and micro-wave links – and it all works great!”

Again, real estate agents tend toward optimism – so I checked it out. I spoke to my prospective neighbors and they all raved about the micro-wave links they use to access the internet.

So in early March, we bought our new house.  It has a two-car garage, a big metal shed, a pond, a grove of oaks, a sauna (no kidding) and four acres of pasture for horses.

Amid the chaos of moving, I called the micro-wave guy to link us up, but the best he could do was schedule an appointment for six weeks in the future.

So in late April, he rumbled down our road dragging a long contrail of dust behind his boom truck.

Turning into our driveway, he rolled down his window and muttered, “I dunno.”

“What don’t you know?” I asked.

“Your place looks great on a contour map,” he said, “but micro-waves travel by line of sight.  I can make out the transmitter on Peterson’s grain bin but I’m worried about these trees. When they fill out, they’ll block the signal. Is there any way you can cut them down?”

“I don’t own them,” I told him, “The DNR (Department of Natural Resource)  does.”

Then you’re screwed,” he said as he rolled up his window.

Oh yeah, remember the other thing our real estate agent assured us about?  Selling the old house?

That was optimistic.

It’s been months and nary a nibble.  Now, I have two yards to maintain.  On Friday, I was out at the old place stumbling behind the mower when a guy pulled into our driveway.

“Notice the locate flags?” he asked.

I did.

I had been dodging red and orange marker flags all morning.

The guy was a sales rep for the local cable company. “We are wiring your [old] neighborhood for fiber-optic,” he beamed. “It’ll bring you high-speed internet, phone and cable TV. Can I sign you up for our triple-play package?”

“I don’t live here,” I told him. “I just work here.”

Then pointing to the FOR SALE sign, I said, “but I’ll tell you what.  When and if the new owners arrive, I will tell them all about it.”

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