About dweinberger

Lake resident for 60 years

An alternative way to connect to the Net

For those cottages that have relied on Verizon’s DSL for Internet connectivity, the story seems to be getting worse every year. But there’s an alternative that so far has been working well for us.

The problem

DSL uses existing phone lines to provide Internet connectivity. This means the access provider doesn’t have to install special cables to connect users. But telephones lines are far from the optimum medium for the Internet: DSL is routinely advertised as providing speeds of 15Mbps (megabits per second) and sometimes more, which is below the FCC’s definition of “broadband” as at least 25Mbps. That’s why Verizon refers to DSL as “High Speed Internet,” as marketers will. Still, 15Mbps is plenty for browsing the Web and streaming music.

Except as Verizon DSL users at the Lake, we have not ever gotten anywhere close to 15Mbps. We’ve routinely limped along with 1.5Mbps, and on a very good day, 2.5Mbps. For this we paid Verizon about $70/month, which included a landline. During the winter when we suspended service, we paid Verizon about $30/month for the privilege of not using their service.

Then this summer our connection dropped to 0.6Mbps and lower. Our upload speeds, which are always lower than download speeds, dropped to 0. If more than one person was using the Web, the connection became unusable. Verizon checked our lines and declared that everything was just fine, and 0.6Mbps was totally within the range we’d contracted for. And, no, there was no higher tier that we could pay for in order to get minimally viable connectivity.

It has been widely reported, and not always denied, that Verizon wants out of the DSL business.  So chalk it up to my cynicism that I think it plausible that Verizon has been lowering DSL speeds in order to chase people off of their service.

If so, it’s worked on us.

A Solution

We were on the verge of going with a satellite dish solution when my nephew suggested a device like a MoFi SIM4 Gateway. I know it sounds technical, but the idea is simple.

On a hill on the northwest side of the Lake you can see a lonely AT&T cellphone tower. A device like the ones from MoFi sends signals to and from that tower just the way an AT&T cellphone does. But the MoFi device only uses the connection to send and receive Internet data. It’s like a cellphone that you only use for data, not for phone calls.

The MoFi device also creates a wifi hotspot so anyone with the password can connect their laptop, tablet, Alexa, Google Home or any other wifi-enabled device to it, and then through the MoFi to the Internet.

AT&T sells a device that does the same thing: the Nighthawk. It costs about half as much –. the MoFi device costs $315 – but the the MoFi has far more powerful antennas for connecting to the cell tower.

Setting up the MoFi device entailed choosing a name for our wifi hotspot, and an administrative password and a user password. The box itself is about 3 x 4 inches  and is mounted indoors with a power supply that plugs into a normal outlet.

If you decide to get the MoFi, you’ll also need a data plan; this is like a normal cell phone plan except you won’t get a phone connection. There are some issues with AT&T’s own data plan, though. Most important, it limits how much data you can use per month. After 10 gigabytes, AT&T throttles the connection for the rest of that month. If you have a few people doing the sorts of things people do with the Internet these days, you may hit that limit.

So we instead decided to get a data plan from Ubifi.net. In fact, we bought our MoFi router through them; it’s the same price but they pre-install the sim card and configure the device for you. Ubifi has three advantages over AT&T’s data plan.

First, it is unlimited. Use all the data you want.

Second, the support people I spoke with were great. There’s no big phone tree to navigate, and no scripts the support people are required to speak from. The support folks were friendly and super competent.

Third, while the per month charge is $90, and thus substantially more than AT&T’s data plan and even more than Verizon’s DSL + landline charge, Ubifi lets you suspend your service for free. No monthly charges at all. They can do this because you don’t actually suspend your service. You cancel it. To re-start it, you pay $30 for a new sim card and you’re good to go. This makes the annual cost more attractive for those of us who are summer residents.

Our experience with the Mofi so far has been good. The unit arrived in three business days as promised. The Ubifi support folks said that while the bandwidth depends upon how strong the reception is, their users typically get 15-40Mbps. We are getting 15-25Mbps, depending on factors we don’t know and can’t measure. That’s about 25 times the bandwidth we were getting from Verizon. (Speedtest.net is reportedly a reliable way of testing your bandwidth.)

So far so good.

(Note: I have no connection to any of the companies mentioned here.)

New feature: Lake Stories

We’ve added a new feature to this blog: Lake Stories, a place where you can post stories and memories of life on the Lake.

This feature was inspired by a message from Steve Hall who came across this site while editing his father’s memoir. He gave us permission to post a memory of Camp To-Ho-Ne and the Guest Camp in the early 1940s.

If you have something you’d like to post, the Lake Stories page has contact information.

Thanks, Steve, and we look forward to hearing more stories of the lake from all of you…

The new length of the Lake

This site’s FAQ has proudly stated that the length of the Lake at its longest stretch is “almost two miles.” It is with regret that we have updated that with a less impressionistic number. The Lake at its longest is in face 1.24 miles. Our source? The mighty Google Maps.

Google Maps has a feature that lets you stretch a line from any two points, and it tells you the length of the line. A line from 45 NE Cove Road to the very other end of the Lake is something like the longest straight line that doesn’t touch land. Google’s report of 1.25 miles is consistent with the Garmin watch worn by our swims-the-Lake-the-long-way nephew.

Those who are distressed that the length of their morning row or swim has now been seriously downgraded may want to switch to metric: Lake Buel is slightly more than 2km long.

Administrative note: A new way to get to this site

You’ve been getting to this site by going to LakeBuel.org. Now you can also get here by going to LakeBuel.com. Same site, just one more way to get here.

The LakeBuel.com site became available, so we scooped it up and set it up so that going there automatically takes you to our .org address.

Note that it doesn’t matter how you capitalize these or whether you prepend the www. E.g., http://www.laKEbuEL.com should work just fine for those who want to keep an even “KEEL,”  wwW.lAKEbuel.com will work for those who want to leave something in their “WAKE,” and LAkeBuEL.org should work for those who like to “LABEL” everything.

Paula’s note about Sandy

Paul Hatch sent a message to the Lake Buel mailing list. I’m posting it here with some minor edits to remove references to particular properties:

 

Hey Everyone,

Last night was a wild and wooly, full-blown January nor’easter-like night. Trees and boughs were crashing all over the place.  I took a long walk around the Lake Buel Road side of the lake this morning and found only one tree on a house….  There were lots of very near misses, and some smaller trees down that got cleared up pretty quickly.

 

Power and phones over in the Downs Road area went out at 7:25pm Monday night and have stayed out.  There was a live power line down across Downs Road, which is why the road was closed. When I came upon it mid-morning, it was surging, sparking and generating 3 to 4 inch flames in the leaves and pine needles here and there. Pretty impressive, so I trotted the rest of the way up to Lake Buel Road, flagged down a truck, and urged the driver to contact National Grid when he got into cell service and let them know they needed to get out here now.  Must have worked as the reports show the road opened later in the afternoon.  But I’m not sure if the power is back on in the immediate neighborhood yet.  I left the lake at about 1:30 this afternoon and it was still down at that time, and Bill reported it was still out at almost 6pm.

I took a fairly comprehensive tour of the lake and found very little significant damage. I was not able to view every single cottage, but a good number of them. Gibson’s Grove was in good shape as was Laurel Banks, Abel’s Ridge and Dentist Row.  The Camp Half Moon entrance was blocked off so I didn’t get down there, or North Cove. Along the way, I spoke with some contractors who were out and about making sure their clients were all ok, so if there’s a problem with  your cottage, you probably know by now.  …

 

The lake is up only a few inches.  Chris Hassett told me he and Mark Amstead (and Pete Hagen?) were going to work on the outlet control over the weekend in advance of the storm, and apparently their work was helpful.  Thanks, guys!

 

I hope this helps alleviate your concerns, and my best wishes go out to those of you who were in harm’s way elsewhere.

With warmest regards,

Paula

Thanks, Paula! We’re all glad you’re safe.

 

Initial reports on Hurricane Sandy

Initial reports garnered from the Lake Buel mailing list seem to indicate that the damage caused by Sandy was less than it might have been.

The power went out for a few hours in at least some spots on the Lake.

Peter Menaker Road was closed the day after, but because there was no surface erosion visible from the top of the road, it’s suspected that there is a downed tree.

So far not many trees seem to have fallen, although there are lots of branches down.

The level of the Lake seems to have gone up 4-6″.

Reports suggest even lighter damage on the 57 side of the lake.

If you have more information, please either post it as a comment to this post or let us know and we’ll update this post directly. Thanks.