A major conundrum for cohousing and one that warrants a chapter in the next book on building a cohousing community is internet service. To provide it collectively or each to their own? If collectively how to charge, or whether to include in condo fees? Which technology? Who maintains it?
When Takoma Village was conceived in 1998-1999, we had several internet-knowledgeable people who insisted that we install wiring for internet connections. Every unit has at least 4 jacks with telephone, cable TV, and ethernet connections. The 3 and 4 bedrooms have more. Basically one in every room, even the kitchen. (We have connected units, not houses on lots.)
There are routers in the north and south basements and in the common house basement that connect all these wires to modems. For years we only had one modem. Then we upgraded to one modem with business class service, now to two business class service modems from two different companies so we rarely have a total outage because one service is down. Service is just slower when one modem is down.
One modem used to serve the North side and one the South side but one side has more gamers than the other. Unfair advantage to be limited to the same modem. Now the traffic rolls over.
Each device connected to the internet has its own IP address (one for each jack). This has caused a problem with Bluehost, our ISP, because they don’t like our account coming from different IPs all the time. So we have some special connection with them. When I work on the website, that was a problem because my own IP and email is at Bluehost. Even though I have my own account, working on websites is upload intensive and with everyone’s email plus any internet connections to other website also hosted by Bluehost caused traffic jams. So they now run all the connections to Bluehost through a second single IP address.
In addition, when people started using wireless, we installed community wireless connections for people to use. And we use each others. All the passwords are the same.
We have an intranet so people can share music and files, and the teenagers play games with each other. Several units collectively bought an expensive backdrive to share and use the intranet to backup.
The problems are around the routers. One or the other of them blows a port with some regularity. It’s a long process to test the system and isolate the bad ports. We have internal people–one active expert and one that can be called in, and 2-3 who have training. The trained can get on the phone with expert and understand how to follow his instructions. ____Without internal people to manage the network, we couldn’t do this.____
One person who works professionally installing networks recommends purchasing new routers every year. Install the basic reliable inexpensive router and when you replace the next year the most reliable extra features will be built in and you will always have up-to-date technology. And no downtimes. Others think this is wasteful so we have downtimes until someone gets a new router. I think we now always have a backup handy.
Many would like to hire someone who would always be available. Our current expert often goes to remote places to hike. But it would be expensive and no one is always available anyway. (We used to have 3 experts but two moved. We can still call them but the system changes so their knowledge is not always current.)
Some would like an external business class service that is guaranteed to be up 99% of the time. It feels unreasonable to expect neighbors to get up at night to fix things but so many people work from home now they are dependent on the internet. I’m online literally 12-14 hours a day. (I can almost instantly contact the others who are online that much too. A subculture.)
We bought software so the techies can change settings and check the system from their computers, but when it is a hardware problem they still have to go to the basement. Often for several hours.
We used to have huge problems with people moving in and setting up their computers without consulting our techs. They would bring down the whole system and we couldn’t find the problem. And because we have an IP address for each device ( computers, cable system, netflix, blueray, etc.) people have to have the right settings or they throw someone else off the internet. Now the techs contact new people to set them up. Even now when residents buy new equipment they forget that step. Auto detect doesn’t always work correctly. With the wireless, this is less of a problem (I think).
It’s soooo much cheaper than each of us having our own service. And we our service is twice as fast. It’s slower on Friday night when every one seems to be watching movies or playing games. Sometimes on Saturday and Sunday but still not a slow as it would be if each of us had a smaller residential modem for $35 a month. 43x$35=$1,500 a month. Instead we pay $365. Less than 20% for faster service. And if the service to the modem is the problem, the service for business class is same day, usually within hours. Residential can be 3-4 days.
Internet service is included in our condo fee so it is paid at the same rate, with larger units paying more.
When we moved in, less than half our households used the internet at home. Some, not at all. A number used it only at work. Others only on weekends. Whenever we sent out an email with a request it had to be out there over a weekend so people could read at home and over some workdays for those who only read at work. From the beginning, we had a computer in the office for people who didn’t have or need a computer at home. It is now used by people whose own computer is broken or much slower and by guests. And some just like to get out of their units.
When only a few were using the internet at home, it was harder to get attention to the network being down because very few people were dependent on it. Several of us had our own modems because of this.
Now every household has at least one device hooked up. I have four and have my own router to handle them. Some have their own internal intranet so they can share devices. Perhaps a third work at home all the time or a significant part of the time. And that number is growing rapidly. I would guess that most people check work email at home though many companies are now not allowing that for security reasons.
A long history but an important one that I think that Takoma Village has handled at a high level because we had tech savvy people from the beginning who were avid about new technology and foresaw the future–even though it still isn’t perfect. Every community will probably be at some point in this evolutionary process. If anyone is beyond it, please let us know!!!!