That I even have to explain why I need fast, reliable, and unlimited internet access speaks volumes to how Canadians and Americans (whose internet situation is only slightly better than ours) have been indoctrinated to perceive internet usage: as something frivolous and unnecessary.
So I will tell you that I need fast, reliable, and unlimited internet access because my livelihood depends on it.
I run a transcription business. I have been doing so for five years now. I have no idea what it is people think I do all day, to be honest, because, based on some of the comments I’ve received about my need for internet, it seems that folks think I’m on Netflix all day or something. There is zero comprehension that my anger, frustration, and impatience at my internet situation are driven by a much more powerful emotion: fear.
Those of you who have ever run your own business know how hard it is to do so. I’ve been able to work solely for myself for four years now and for the last two and a half, I’ve been turning a profit and making a decent income. Of course, work comes in peaks and valleys, but I can ride out the slow months now. I have a solid stable of clients and an immense freedom of schedule. Every time that I have an internet outage or that speeds slow to a crawl is a moment that threatens the very foundation of my life.
Here’s what I use internet for on a daily basis, how my internet situation makes these things difficult, and why the solutions people give me simply don’t work for my situation.
–Downloading files from clients using Dropbox, FTP, Hightail, or even receiving them as email attachments.
Just for work files, I can go through 20GB to over 100GB of bandwidth in a month, depending on how many video files I receive. Again, this is business usage! I’m not downloading TV shows or streaming Netflix. This bandwidth represents my monthly income.
Slow internet means that it can take forever to download anything. I usually have to turn down rush jobs that pay very well because I know I won’t have time to download the files and type them in the allotted amount of time.
Flaky internet means that downloads often drop. This is a major issue with the Hightail file sharing service in that if the connection drops in the middle of downloading a 1GB file, I have to start all over again, wasting both time and bandwidth.
Every client I’ve taken on has a clause in the contract that says that their subcontractors must have fast and reliable internet access. So there is no sympathy for me on days when the wind is blowing the wrong way, service is very spotty, and it takes me so long to download a file that I don’t have enough time left to type it by the deadline. I just don’t get paid for those files.
I lost one really good client because I had to work on their proprietary online platform rather than downloading files to my computer and it would take me about five times as long as anyone else to stream their audio and so I wasn’t able to meet the production metrics.
People who are unable to sympathise with my internet connection and/or don’t get just how much I need to download for work will tell me, “Just download overnight,” or “Go up the hill to the good signal once a day to download.” This isn’t a solution. If I’m up the hill for six hours a day downloading, I’m not in my office typing and earning income. If I start a download overnight and it times out, then I have the risk of the files not being ready for me to type in the morning.
–Communicating with clients by email and Skype.
This is one area where I know that very few people understand what it means to rely on the internet for communication purposes in a business setting. I cannot believe the number of people who have told me to check and send emails twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening, and not worry if I can’t receive or send anything during the day.
I communicate daily with my clients throughout the day. Some days are quieter than others and then there are days when I can’t get any real work done because emails won’t stop coming in. When internet drops and emails don’t come in in a timely fashion or the connection is so flaky that I can’t send even a small attachment, that affects how I look professionally. There’s nothing like getting and replying to a message with “URGENT” in the subject line an hour late to tell your clients that you’re not professional and not reliable.
Until I was able to get my better booster (thank you again to everyone who understood why I needed help with making the purchase and generously donated), I frequently had to pack up my computer and park my truck at the top of the nearest hill in order to send work. That is all time that I am not at my desk earning money.
Also, I have clients all over the world. Last summer, I was doing some projects out of Tunisia and Senegal and my client needed to speak to me from Dakar, shooting me an email asking if “now” was a good time to Skype as that was obviously the best way to do it. Skype sometimes works at home, but I can’t rely on it not dropping out and this had been a particularly bad day for internet. I replied that I needed 20 minutes, then hurriedly packed up my computer and drove to the nearest spot with a decent signal. Well, my client had been available 20 minutes before, but not then, and I had to sit up there for 30 minutes before he was available again. Again, this was time that I lost out of my day when I could have been making money and which threatened making a deadline on a project.
This happened again recently. A client in Kansas City wanted to Skype at his convenience. He’s a busy doctor and making an appointment doesn’t work well. When I was in Mexico, he knew that if Skype said I was in the office, he could call me and I’d be able to drop what I was doing and deal with him. Here, we had to try three times before we were able to make a satisfactory connection.
I transcribe a lot of highly technical material and so am constantly on Google researching spellings and other information needed to properly transcribe my files. A lot of my legal work has addresses, so I’m using Google Maps. Google does not work well unless you have a blazing fast connection. A simple Google search, not even in Maps, can take me ten minutes or more on a bad day.
I used to highlight those instances in my files and then, at the end of the day, look everything up at once. First of all, this took as much time as making each search individually. Second of all, I often would type these things phonetically. If I couldn’t find my answer based on my phonetic spelling, I would have to rescan the audio file to find that particular word or phrase and try other phonetic spellings. It was very time consuming and inefficient.
As a final note, I really shouldn’t have to waste my time writing all these letters and posts, making all these phone calls, and pleading for a service that the vast majority of the rest of the world takes for granted.
Just think for a minute of the hours I have put into demanding 21st century-level internet in my part of Saskatchewan and how much income I have sacrificed to give this project all that time.
Would I really be doing that if internet access was something that, really, I could do without? Or if, “Taking a deep breath and trying again in a few hours when the internet works better” was a viable option? Or that I would have pleaded for help to buy that better booster if I didn’t truly believe that I was going to lose the best contract of my life because I couldn’t reliably receive and send emails with small attachments?
If you think that the answers to any of those questions is no, then you’re part of the reason why Canada is far behind most of the rest of the world in matters of telecom. You really need to get out of this discussion so that those of us who want to move into the 21st century can get things changed.