Remember to Appreciate Our (Almost Always) Open Internet Access

I read this morning that Marriott was fined $600,000 for blocking Internet access. Hooray! Click here to read about it. But it got me wondering how much China would owe.

As I write this, I’m on one of the fastest trains on the planet, moving at exactly 304 km/h (over 185 mph) between Shanghai and Beijing. Indeed, I’m on a two-week journey through China. My brother’s here on a two-year rotation as part of his job.

China is an amazing country, full of amazing sights, and amazing people. But there’s one thing here that’s amazing in a different way … and it’s a reminder to us in the United States (and many other places) to be truly appreciative of the Internet as we know it, NSA monitoring and all.

My brother and his family were not home when my wife and I arrived at their Shanghai apartment. Having been offline for 24-hours, my first move — after locating his wine collection — was to jump on his WiFi network to synch email, check Facebook, access …

Whoops. You can’t access Facebook in China. Well, I’ll just have to read my birthday wishes after the fact. Not a huge deal.

Instead, since we’re in the midst of the so called Hong Kong Umbrella Rebellion (I mean in time rather than place) I’ll entertain myself by checking Twitter to see what’s happened in the past day. No, you can’t go there either.

No worries. I’ll use the NYTimes App on my iPad to access the latest news. Fail! Nytimes.com is blocked too.

I’ll just have to use Google to investigate which websites I can access from China. No, you can’t do that either. Google, Gmail, Google+, … they’re all blocked.

Then I remember; I’ve saved some documents from my brother on my Box.net or Dropbox account. It’s time to read them. I’ll have to check both sites.

You guessed it. They’re both blocked.

Maybe his Internet connection is down? No … Speedtest.net shows throughput speeds approaching 100 Mbps, the fastest residential Internet service I’ve ever seen. Netflix is awesome!

With a bit more work, I eventually discover that Yahoo is sometimes available, perhaps whenever they’re not featuring “objectionable” content on their homepage. Lowly Bing (sorry Microsoft fans) is virtually always available and boy does it pop, as long as you don’t search for the wrong thing.

By the time my brother got home, his Internet connection was entirely offline. And strangely, his WiFi router’s SSID had reset to the original factory default (dd-wrt if you’re curious). I’ve never seen anything like that before. It must have been a fluke firmware failure.

Not a problem. He has a spare router. A few hours later we have it configured (including with proper security settings) and his Internet connection comes back. We’re online just in time for bed so I am confident that I can get to work first thing in the morning.

Or not. By then, the new router had suffered the same fluke reset crash. What incredibly bad luck, don’t you think?

You can draw your own conclusions from my story, but here’s my takeaway: Next time you’re frustrated with a favorite website taking ten seconds to load, be appreciative of the Internet as you know it (in the US). It’s amazing!

UPDATE (one day later): As of this morning, text messaging on my iPhone 6 is not working. I’m in the same beautiful Beijing Renaissance Hotel (a Marriott property) as yesterday, when it was working perfectly. Is the telecom network here just wildly unreliable or should I be paranoid? All I did was text to friends that air quality was 454 AQI. So you know, the air quality scale tops out at 300 (hazardous – don’t go outside).

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