Data Bing-Data Boom!

Posted February 24, 2017 – Narrated by Jim
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If not for our hand-crank radio, walkie-talkies and flare gun, sometimes we’d feel abandoned.

When we’re in a State or National Park with no cell service or WiFi, we play a little question and answer game: What do we do if one of us doesn’t come back from walking the dog?

Or, if one should have a medical emergency, how should one proceed?

There are some stretches of highway and landscape – hundreds of miles – with no cell service, whatsoever. Mississippi, particularly, is Verizon dry.

Two weeks ago, around 10pm on a moonless night, we parked outside a library in Decatur, Mississippi to upload audio and photos.

The day before – with a stack of projects, from taxes to board work – we traveled an hour to The Daily Grind in Meridian, to gorge on their screaming complimentary WiFi.

Anyone who lives full-time on the road understands the daily challenge of connectivity.

We’re frustrated that mobile digital services haven’t managed to engineer product to keep up with the mobility needs of it’s users.

Trying to get connectivity at a campground

When we started living in Beauty, we were prepared to tangle with the fickle blessings and curses of the cell tower gods – but less prepared for the anxiety of managing our data allowances.

It’s not like we can drive-thru “Usage R’ Us” and grab a bucket of data and fries. No, our service provider expects us to know in advance, how much data we will consume for the month, or else suffer severe penalties.

Until a couple of months ago, carry-over data wasn’t an option. Back in July 2016 – just before Verizon offered throttling – once we consumed our paid data, we were charged over $500 for “excessive” usage.

To avoid such penalties, we use Yelp! to find camp locations that offer WiFi, or are near libraries, coffee shops, restaurants – places where we can “hitch a ride.”

It’s also called piggybacking, mooching, squatting … Oh yes, we do that in The Beast.

After hours we turn off our lights and pull into shadowy parking lots to hunker over our computers to respond to email, write or upload audio …

And, we think we’re a little old for this kind of excitement. People have even been arrested for this.

In Tahoe, we watched young locals on dirt bikes pop the curb, whip out the computer for a quickie upload and skip out within seconds looking over their shoulder. When a police car made a slow drive-by, I rehearsed my, “Hello Officer …” speech.

If your internet usage is light –  email, and an occasional check on stock or weather forecasts – you probably have no idea how difficult it is to access up to 40 Gigabites or more of data a month while on the road.

Carmen’s blog, writing projects and voice over biz are data heavy with research, photo, and video uploads. Her audio uploads can be a hefty 2 gigabytes.

Also, through online video-teleconferencing, I am able to serve on a committee in San Diego – and, I prepare for those conferences by studying hours of video presentations.

LIB is a paperless journey, so our travel plans and knowledge of our current and future whereabouts are dependent on content we find on our favorite sources, and RV blogs.

Attending a committee meeting while mooching data at a restaurant.
Participating telephonically in a committee meeting while mooching data at Zack’s in Newton, MS.

Even though our LIB lifestyle has significantly lowered our carbon footprint, our data and cell service needs have remained the same as they always were when we lived in a house, but costs much, much more.

Efforts to control and (gulp!) pull back our data began early when we installed “TripMode” software. TripMode allows us to turn off selected data usage on applications when we’re on a wireless cell network. It also tattles – tells us who, what, when where and why data is being chewed up.

We also installed “Bandwidth+” software which visually monitors and reports how much overall data is being used in the moment.

Of course, even with these “hall-monitors” we always exceed our 24GB data plan – sharing it with two iPhones and a Verizon JetPack MiFi hotspot.

Through painful diligence, we limited our consumption: time on social media; shopping; uploading photos and video to the cloud; never watching video and avoiding sites that force video on you through ads and promotions; reserving film as a rare treat; sending fewer texts and photos to friends and family … and, we’d still run out of data within two-to-three weeks and get throttled down to an unbearable speed.

Of course, Verizon consistently offered opportunities to increase our data usage. But, we were already exceeding our budget for data.

If we kept increasing, where would this highway robbery stop? We had to set limits. Send the message that we will not be abused.

The best solution was to be avid hunter-gatherers of free WiFi.

Then, one day last week, while digging through the ashes of Carmen’s fathers house, an unusual thing happened.  I received a text from Verizon – in a locale that usually has no service at all – and, instantly … Everything Changed.

Okay, maybe at first we exhibited a kind of Stockholm Syndrome. We thought the text was a joke.

C’mon … Verizon Wireless breaking news of unlimited data now available on their LTE cell network? “Ha Ha!” we chortled. That’ll be the day!

Why would they set us free when they have us right where they want us?”

So, I called and asked some very pointed questions:

Now – at least for the last two weeks – we have unlimited data all the time. Yes!!!! and yes, we realize Verizon has a few limitations on their unlimited plan.

When connecting to a cell tower that is experiencing massive usage, if any single device reaches 22 gigabytes of usage in the month, it loses priority behind a device which has not reached that limit.

But our research seems to be indicating this is not a big deal.

Also, Verizon’s unlimited plan imposes a secondary limit on tethering, or using your iPhone as a portable WiFi hotspot to share its connectivity with another device, like your computer.

You get 15 GB a month of LTE tethering — per line, not account. After that, your tethering drops to 3G speeds. Since have a Verizon Prepaid Jetpack truly unlimited (no throttling) for a monthly fee of $65 for a Verizon Jetpack MiFi Hotspot, we do not use our iPhones as hotspots, so this limitation does not apply to us. Unfortunately, Verizon has quit offering this great plan to new users.

Except for the few times when we’re in a place that has NO cell service – like Tellico Plains, Tennessee, Conahatta, Mississippi, and Carmen’s happy place in the Anza-Borrego desert – we’re good to go.

And, as more State and National Parks  increase connectivity, we are vastly more capable, than we were just two weeks ago, to travel wherever we want and stay wherever we want with much more confidence that we can download, upload, research and write … simply “be ourselves” without having to squat in library parking lots.

Our next step is to research and purchase a cell service booster so we can get better coverage in remote places. Stay tuned for another post on that topic.

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UPDATE AUGUST 2017: We bought the weBoost 4G-X Cell Phone Signal Booster and have found it increases our Verizon cell signal considerably. At times a 1x signal is increased to LTE. Reading reviews indicated this was the best!

UPDATE JULY 2019 – In April 2019, we signed up for Verizon’s ‘Prepaid’ unlimited (no throttling) hotspot plan for $65 a month. Within 2 months Verizon discontinued offering an unlimited (no throttling) hotspot plan, but we are grandfathered. We use this hotspot for everything and typically use up to 100 GBs per month, never throttled. Wish it was still offered so we could recommend it to our readers.

Just when we thought this LIB thing couldn’t (or wouldn’t) get any better, it did!