No Travel, No Internet, Lots of Phone Calls

During the COVID-19 lockdown, I’ve had quite a terrible adventure dealing with the dregs of the internet provider community.  I could write pages and pages of the full story, but I’ll leave it with the shorter synopsis below.

  1. Since our home in Illinois is tiny, Christina and I effectively moved to my family’s farm in northern Wisconsin for the duration of the lockdown.  
  2. For work, we’ve been using our phones’ wi-fi hotspots to connect to the network.
  3. For the month of April, our mobile providers added free capacity to our mobile hotspots to keep us going.
  4. After April, our total mobile hotspot usage is capped at 15 GB / month, not nearly enough to keep us going a full month.

Given that the Illinois lockdown is still scheduled well into May, we needed to do something to keep our connection going.

Our first plan?  Get home internet for our home in Wisconsin.  We’re pretty far off the beaten path and have tried before with no success, but the CenturyLink web site surprised us by telling us internet was available at our current location.  So we scheduled the appointment and prepared for service.

The day of our installation came, but no tech ever showed up.  CenturyLink’s customer service was confused as to why no one showed.  The next day I got a “cancellation of service” email. Only after spending a day on the phone with them did we learn that CenturyLink decided our property was too far away from the terminal and they canceled the service without telling us.  Even worse, CenturyLink refunded me $100 less than I paid them, and I’m still fighting to get my money back.

So plan 2: explore unlimited data options on a phone plan.  A lot of people don’t know that most “unlimited” data plans aren’t truly unlimited, and that after 10-15 GB of mobile hotspot usage, the speed of service gets throttled to an unusable level.

I found a service that promised truly unlimited data, with no throttling, called Visible.  It seemed way too good to be true ($40 / month for unlimited everything). Visible advertised that it could offer truly unlimited data by capping transfer speeds at a reasonable level of 5MBPS, which would be enough to allow me to work.

The only catch was that the coverage map didn’t cover where I’m staying.  But I contacted Visible, gave them by address, and got a cheerful response.  “Great news- you’re in a Verizon LTE extended coverage area, so the service will work for you!”  The next day, I signed up.

I drove four hours each way to my home in IL to pick up my new device and get it set up.  It worked great at first… Until I got back to Green Bay. North of Green Bay, I couldn’t get a single bar of service for phone or data.

The next day I contacted Visible again, and they apologized and told me extended LTE does not work for Visible devices.  My only option was to cancel my service. Frustrated, I accepted.

The next morning, my phone service was still between providers- Verizon hadn’t reinstated my phone plan and I hadn’t received any refund from Visible.  I really needed a phone since I spend about 6 hours per day on the phone for work, so I contacted Visible to see what was going on. They apologized and promised to expedite the process.  I borrowed a phone for work.

The next day, no new updates, no new progress.  I contacted Visible support again… and I had to spend an hour proving that I had indeed asked for my number to be sent back to Verizon and not canceled altogether.  When I finally convinced the rep that I did indeed want my phone number, he told me that the rep from the day before who tried to expedite my refund did so by cancelling my transfer request to Verizon.  The only option was to reopen the line with Visible, transfer to Verizon, and then close again with Visible.

And even with all of that, Visible has a very short return window on its devices, so I need to find some time during a work day to drive forty five minutes to the nearest town with a UPS Store.  Insult to injury, with how much time they’ve cost me due to their failings. At least gas is cheap right now.

It’s not all disastrous, though.  We’ve had some great support at Verizon to get set up again and get me a temporary number to hold me over.  I’ve upped my Verizon plan so Christina and I have 40GB of mobile hotspot between the two of us, and Verizon’s bigger plans include Disney Plus, so we’ve got a lot of fun content to explore.  I probably have a lot of friends/family wondering why I’m not responding to their texts, but aside from that, everything is back to normal and I’ve even been able to jump on Discord with some friends to play online escape room games.  

So in spite of the disasters with CenturyLink and Visible, things could be a whole lot worse.  We’re safe, we’re able to get a lot of fresh air, and we’ve got a lot to look forward to. No travel to look forward to in the short term, but we’ve got lots of vacation days left to spend once everything is back to normal!

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