Sunday, August 07, 2011

My Own Family Reunion - "She Don't Need The Internet"

(Note: This post was lingering in draft form since my impromptu family reunion.  I have made a second visit a few weeks later and will merge the two visits together.)

The title represents the statement that broke my heart after I arrived back home and worked to get an Internet connection in my grandmother's house.  

My two aunts rotate their weekly live-in car for my 100 year old grandmother. State Medicare only pays for an in-house guardian for 30 hours a week.  When she leaves in the afternoon one of my two aunts are there to take over for the evening.

One of these aunts (apparently) has assumed primary care of her own granddaughters.  (Let's call her Crystal).  When this one particular aunt is caring for my grandmother she also brings Crystal along to my grandmother's house.

On my first visit my parents drove down from Pennsylvania and carried along two surplus laptops from my younger brother's job.  They were still in very good shape and ran fast.  He knew that I was coming up from Atlanta and asked that I configure the laptops for them to use.

My grandmother's house does not have Internet access.   I pulled out my mobile phone and turned on the "WiFi Tethering" feature.  This allows the laptop to connect to my phone and then get on the Internet through the cellular network.  

As I was working to configure the laptop Crystal was sitting at the kitchen table with me.  She is a very brilliant 7 year old girl - very tall for her age.  She demanded that I ask her a series of questions to see if she could get the right answers.  She had me laughing as she sometimes said "OK, that's a hard one.  Ask me another question.".  My kids are older and now more independent.  Crystal make me miss the attention I used to get from them.

I admit that I am disappointed in her mother (my cousin) for dropping out of high school, getting pregnant as a teenager, and then letting herself go physically. Despite the push for her to get her GED - she nor her brother decided to pursue this course of action.  She is destined to struggle for the rest of her life - hoping from job to job - just as some of the people in this small town who surround her.  She is working at what appears to be a stable job.  This area is still feeling the effects of the loss of the textile and furniture manufacturing industry - to Asian nations.   Not having a college degree is hard enough.  Not having a high school diploma is even worse.

My interactions with Crystal motivated me to place my disappointments in her mother into ensuring that Crystal at least had access to the same resources on the Internet that my children have.  My son plays video games on the computer and watches YouTube videos of wrestling and Transformers.  My daughter syncs her MP3 player from my Rhapsody To Go subscription and goes on line to find recipes that she has discovered from "The Food Channel".   For them Internet access is an integral part of their lives.

I showed Crystal how to pull up a picture of the house on Google Maps Street View.  I had her tricked, thinking that it was a live picture.  I went to the window and asked her 'Don't you see me in the window on the computer?".  (It was a static picture from about 2 years ago when the Google Maps truck had driven down the street).  Later when her mother came by she showed her everything that I had taught her on the computer.  Clearly this bright light girl needs guidance from someone who can expose her to a bigger world than what she presently lives in.  Failing to do so - her intellectual diameter will be stunted.

The Monopoly 'Bama' Phone Company

After assuming payment responsibility for my grandmother's phone and electric bills I set up web access to her accounts.  I can monitor the bills and pay them on line without needing the physical bills which still go to her house.

I began researching the options for Internet access in this small Carolina city.   Even though AT&T services both North and South Carolina - I could not get my grandmother's address to come up on AT&T's web site. I had to wait until the offices opened on Monday to see what the problem was.

Turns out that the local phone company controls that particular region.   They have a lock on both DSL and Cable based Internet access.  There is no other choice (besides satellite).   Even though the wireless carries offer options for WiFi hotspots - these are price prohibitive for what I need them for.

I took a copy of my grandmother's phone bill back home with me and called the local monopoly phone company.  

Even though I had my grandmother's social security number they would not even tell me if Internet service was available at the house.  (They knew that I was not the account holder).  I told the lady that I am not asking to make any changes to the account.  I only want to know if Internet is available.   "Sorry sir.  You need to be an authorized person on the account.  You are going to get 'Power of Attorney' to be able to make any changes on your grandmother's behalf."

"With all due respect ma'am THIS IS RIDICULOUS.  I asked you for general information about your services, NOT to change anything about the account.  I can go to your competitor's web site and type in any address in America to see if they have service at that location.  Can I speak to your supervisor? ".  

She took my information.

I did research on switching them over to Vonage.  Instead of the variable phone bills - they would have a predictable $24.99 and then about $45 for the Internet access.  They would get voice and Internet for less than what they are paying for voice alone today.

Sorry - that monopoly phone company does not allow you to port the phone number to Vonage!!!  The primary mandate from my aunt is that the phone number of 40 years not change.  The monopoly phone company had me screwed again.

When the supervisor called back I missed the call.

I called the customer service line once again, hoping to get another operator.  I did.  This lady was far more helpful.  I told her that the phone bill was too high and that, admittedly, I was seeking to switch to Vonage.  She looked at the bill and told me that we needed to get Unlimited Local & Long Distance which would cut the phone bill in half.  They were charging my grandmother $9 per month for caller id service.  The new bundle plan would give this for free.

With the two options at hand - Vonage or the unlimited calling plan from the monopoly small town company - I decided that it would be a lesser risk to stick with what they've got.  We could add Internet to the account and still pay less than present.

I called my aunt and told her that she needs to call in to the account, pretending that she is my grandmother (a female voice will do) and request the change in service.  A month later they should call in and establish Internet service and then I would drive up and configure everything.

The Return Trip
A few weeks went by and then I had to drive with my family to a Tae Kwon Do tournament in the area.  We stopped by my grandmother's house so my children could see their great-grandmother one more time while she is still with us.

Crystal was there.  Still talkative as ever.  They said that she was asking about me after I had left.  She was sleeping when I left early in the morning and I didn't bother waking her.

My aunt told me that they tried to make a change to the phone service but the phone company demanded that she bring my grandmother to the office with her.  I am not sure what happened with the phone call but she must have used her own name rather than my grandmothers.  (This is some B.S.).  That monopoly phone company is content with my grandmother being in the wrong service plan. They are not going to do anything to save their customers money or allow them to switch to Vonage.

As my uncle (who is really my drinking buddy) went on a beer run and then back to their home so that we could talk - the sight that I saw was very disappointing.   Even though they have Internet over there.......that new laptop was sitting in a bag, under the desk where their desktop computer resides.

My aunt told me the last time "I need for you to look at our computer.  There is something wrong with it".
This told me that Crystal has not been on the laptop or the desktop computer since I left.

On our second visit - as my family and I exited - my aunt said to me again "I need for you to take a look at our computer the next time you are here".

It is clear that the only way we are going to get Crystal actively using the computer is to get her interacting with my kids and me - possibly using Skype and a web cam.   I need to get the laptop back over my grandmother's house and Internet access in.

No comments: