This Side of the Pond
Notes from an Uprooted Englishwoman
October 1, 2020
We’ve heard endless talk over the last few years about improving access to broadband for people who live in the more far-flung corners of Wyoming. Right now, for instance, there’s a push at the state level to dip into the pandemic purse for just that goal, and I’m here to bring you proof that this is an excellent idea.
Bad internet, as it turns out, can make it difficult to watch your favorite television shows – but not for the reason you might be thinking. This was a lesson recently learned by every occupant of the village of Aberhosan in Wales.
This is another one of those settlements that are precisely what springs into your mind when I say the words “quaint British cottages”. It’s not big, there’s nothing but rolling hills to the horizon on every side and it’s not exactly swimming in modern amenities, but one thing the community of Aberhosan has been able to boast is a relatively decent internet connection.
Unfortunately, that claim to fame went out the window about 18 months ago. All 400 occupants of the village began to experience the same problem.
At 7 a.m. every morning, everyone’s broadband connection disappeared. This wasn’t just the sort of annoying blip you get when the video you’re watching hangs (always at just the right moment to make every character’s face look like it’s melting).
No, the signal vanished entirely, and nobody could figure out why. The company providing the broadband sent out its engineers, who spent many days experimenting to find the cause.
They replaced cables and prodded at connections, but nothing seemed to work. The same thing kept happening at the same time every day.
The villagers were growing frustrated, as you’d expect. One 79-year-old chap said he couldn’t even remember a time the broadband was working properly, and this was a problem because he needed it to order his groceries and have them delivered.
No doubt frustrated, the engineers asked for help. The company sent out what it described as a “crack squad” of engineers, so if this is anything like in the movies I’m assuming they were each wearing a waterproof onesie and night vision goggles.
This crack team had a theory, and it was a good one. Well, I assume it was, because the hamster in my brain wheel had to run real fast before I could figure out what it meant.
The engineers believed the outages were being caused by what’s known as a “single high-level impulse noise”. There’s an acronym for almost everything, and this is no different: to those in the know, it’s referred to as SHINE.
What this apparently means is that a household appliance is capable of emitting electrical interference, which gets in the way of the broadband. The crack team geared up, grabbed whatever contraptions one uses to find shiny appliances and headed out into the village.
This being Britain, it was pouring with rain, so those waterproof onesies must have been a godsend. They wandered up and down the village streets from 6 a.m., looking for a noise that matched their theory.
Fortunately, a town of 400 people doesn’t need that many roads, so they were able to cover the territory with ease. Then, at 7 a.m. precisely, they recorded a large burst of electrical interference – something was definitely shining brightly in that village.
The crack team was able to pinpoint precisely which home the signal was coming from. Inside was a gentleman who had made a questionable purchase around 18 months beforehand.
That purchase was a second-hand television – one of the truly old and bulky sets that require a third of the living room space. This television, unsurprisingly, did not “meet current standards”.
No word on what exactly the homeowner was watching at 7 a.m. every morning, but it’s safe to say he was a loyal viewer. Every time he tuned in, the burst of interference knocked out the broadband signal for the entire village.
The poor guy was mortified and asked not to be identified in the inevitable national news coverage. He did, however, promise to throw away the television.
His fellow villagers are said to be “keen” to make sure their neighbor actually throws out his old set. I imagine the 79-year-old resident who doesn’t feel comfortable leaving his home for grocery shopping will be plenty happy to pop round with a hammer if his internet disappears again.
If broadband is delicate enough to be destroyed by a piece of technology that was built half a century before it was even invented, I think this supports the argument that we should make sure every home has the strongest possible connection. After all, if we ever have to resort to working and learning from home again, I think the argument could definitely be made that the last thing we need is to fail an important assignment because one of our neighbors switched on their blender.