Broadband blues

How it is chez nous - PhotoXpress-Goran Bogicevic

Are we the only people on the planet without broadband? This is not a rant, more of a whinge really. But it increasingly affects our daily lives.

When we moved here in 1997, the Internet was in its infancy and broadband was a gleam in someone’s eye. Since then, the technology has moved on in leaps and bounds. Unfortunately, where we live hasn’t moved with it.

The way we were

To start with, we were still ordering air tickets through a travel agent by telephone. I was sending work to clients by snail mail rather than by email. Internet sites were relatively simple and could be accessed – if somewhat slowly – with a modem connection.

Fast forward a few years and things had changed out of all recognition. Internet sites became not only de rigueur for any organisation worth its salt but also increasingly complex with pop-ups, slideshows and all sorts of bells and whistles. These required an increasingly sophisticated means of capturing them at the receiving end.

We (don’t) have the technology

Unfortunately for us, we are at the end of a very long telephone network and have no hope, ever, of being connected to broadband (or ADSL as it’s known in France). The further you are from the exchange, the less likely it is that you can benefit from broadband. Beyond 6km you can forget it altogether. People who live only 1km from us as the crow flies are on download speeds that we can only dream of. We just happen to be in a zone blanche where we are too far from the exchange and the population density is insufficient to justify France Telecom ever doing anything about it. Fibre-optic networks are also an impossible dream in rural areas like ours.

Would you believe that up to 20 months ago, we were still operating with a modem connection, supplying a download speed of 32kbps? There’s no way I could have contemplated running this blog on that performance. The local communauté de communes entered into an agreement with an Internet provider to supply Internet connection by radio waves/WiFi. But this covered only certain areas and, with a horrible inevitability, ours was not included and probably never will be.

A partial solution

Fortunately, there was still one option left: satellite. Several providers offer a system whereby you can connect to the Internet using a satellite dish and pay a reasonable monthly tariff. As the market has become more competitive, so the tariffs have reduced. We duly signed up with one of them and installed the system ourselves at a cost of around €300. There are three different tariffs offering a progressively higher speed the more you pay.

Nothing is ever simple, though, is it? While this system provides us with vastly greater connection speeds than we had before with the modem, there are still numerous downsides:

  • The download/upload speed still doesn’t approach anywhere near full broadband speed. We have to plead with friends and relatives not to send us photos or video clips, we can’t use Skype and I have to upload images to this blog in compressed format, which is why they always look blurred and less than satisfactory.
  • We have a download quota, which is reset every month. If you exceed the download quota before the month end, the download speed reduces progressively.
  • If the number of people connecting to the satellite exceeds a certain number at any one time, it just shuts down. This is really irritating if you are in the middle of a transaction or trying to upload something to an Internet site.
  • It’s now a selling point for your house to have broadband (ADSL), something we are unable to offer. 

None of these things was an issue when we moved here. So, when you’re downloading a 50MB computer programme at the blink of an eye, spare a thought for us here, still in the age of steam.

I still wouldn’t swap our place, though, for anywhere else. Not till I win the Premium Bonds, anyway.

Copyright © 2011 A writer’s lot in France, all rights reserved

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About nessafrance

My husband and I moved to an 18th-century farmhouse in SW France in 1997. I am fascinated by French history, rural traditions and customs and enjoy seeking out the reality behind the myths. I run my own copywriting business and write short stories and the occasional novel in my spare time. My husband appears here as the SF, which stands for Statistics Freak, owing to his penchant for recording numbers about everything.
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6 Responses to Broadband blues

  1. Janice says:

    Are you registered as a business in France? I remember when I was writing to the deputy and the mayor and France Telecom about our lack of broadband in rural France (sorry we did get ADSL in the end) it was mentioned that if we were a business that France Telecom had some sort of arrangement that would speed things up. Not sure if it still is available but it might help.

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    • nessafrance says:

      Hi Janice, Thanks very much for the suggestion. Yes, we are an s.a.r.l., but even that doesn’t help – we’ve tried playing that card. We are just too far from the exchange for them to be able to boost the line. However, it’s worth another try, I suppose. Actually, on the TV news the other evening they mentioned that a new satellite has been launched which should work much faster and will be operational by the end of the year. Fingers crossed.

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  2. Stephanie says:

    We were in your situation in Ireland, and there was never any chance of broadband, despite the fact we were far less remote than we are now. Ireland is more backward re broadband than Ethiopia apparently! We could hardly believe it when we discovered we could get ASDL here. I do sympathise. Fingers crossed that things may change X

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    • nessafrance says:

      I have a feeling that we’re more backward than Ethiopia in that regard too! I don’t hold out a lot of hope that it will change, but the satellite technology will probably get more sophisticated and faster.

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  3. Rob Innis says:

    Yes I do understand your frustration when I had my new house on a brand new urbanisation in the middle of no where (well about 15kms form a town actually) in Spain it tooks ages for any service tro arrive including the phone! I thought the EU had said ADSL for everyone? It is now a major disadvantage not to have good high speed access to the net – and after all even Bangladesh has it!

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    • nessafrance says:

      Yes, it’s just unfortunate that we bought our house when we did, before these things became an issue. I can’t see us ever getting ADSL, despite what Brussels says. However, we have heard that a new higher-speed satellite, operated by SFR I think, will be coming on stream this year at a competitive tariff. Bye bye current ISP in that case.

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