I was disconnected from the internet yet again because of…I’m not sure what.
The last few times it was due to power irregularity from Lebanon’s measly state-run electricity that often surges and destroys electronic devices. I’ve had to replace a TV set, a laptop, a UPS, a 16 TB external hard disk and a modem.
For context: Lebanon suffers from chronic power cuts, leading people to rely on neighborhood generators run by mafias out to milk income-strapped citizens shellshocked from a 2019 financial meltdown, the 2020 Beirut port explosion that decimated half the capital, runaway hyperinflation, crippling unemployment, a staggering crime rate, a faltering economy, political gridlock by vicious power-intoxicated politicians and stifling sectarianism.
We’re lucky if we get an hour’s worth of government electricity at unannounced times of the day or night.
Imagine running your vacuum cleaner or washing machine at 3:00 a.m. because that’s when the power comes on, and forget hot, or even warm, water settings. A short cold cycle and hang your clothes out to dry. Dryers are expensive luxuries.
As for neighborhood generators, their owners belong to a rip-off cabal that constantly raises prices to run a rationed power supply from pollution-spewing diesel engines.
Against that backdrop, the new modem I bought flashed a red light announcing my inaccessibility to the internet. While the Wi-Fi router and UPS (uninterrupted power supply device) seem OK, my normal connection to the outside world is not.
It was another cost, adding to the hefty price of the UPS I acquired last spring when the old one fizzled, so I’d stay connected and run my devices when there’s no electricity at all.
I called my internet service provider’s (ISP) help department to check if there was a transmission/reception problem in my neck of the woods. After several tries and being disconnected while waiting an eternity for a real human to answer following a slew of recorded messages, the voice at the other end assured me the phone company line was fine.
Translation: the problem was with the modem that the ISP folks said should be reset and the router that must be reconfigured, with all that the process entails of changing passwords and reconnecting devices. I called the IT guy who’d installed the network and who said he’d come by later in the day. Another waiting game.
Browsing at all hours thanks to the UPS and internet connection, albeit at snail’s pace, lessens the aggravation of not having electricity for everything else 24/7, like watching TV, running appliances and turning on lights — what people in normal countries wouldn’t give a second thought about.
But Lebanon isn’t a normal country.
Someone once said the Lebanese are good at finding workarounds for whatever doesn’t function, and workarounds for the workarounds. It’s debilitating having to spend endless hours troubleshooting basic human rights issues.
Forget all the crap about resilience. Most people I know are sick and tired of being resilient. They just want to lead normal lives.
If it isn’t malfunctioning devices, it’s the breakdown of basic services.
Trying to get anyone from Lebanon’s state-run (and only) landline phone company to come and fix things is an exercise in futility. The emergency number is answered by a moronic robotic message with instructions on what extension to dial for which service, followed by aggravatingly off-key loud pseudo-music, then your number in line to be answered by a real human being.
Unless you’re cut off, which is often the case, so you have to start over.
It’s always a different person and you end up having to repeat your issue and request for the umpteenth time after waiting for at least 20 minutes, and being charged for a very long call.
Whoever designed these evil answering systems did it to discourage complaints. Customer service is a colossal misnomer. But I’m stubborn and wanted my landline restored when it, too, was cut. I masochistically called repeatedly, and waited, until a human replied.
Last September, the phone company had a series of outages due to a fuel shortage that tripped emergency services, disrupted businesses, upended people’s lives and wreaked havoc across the country.
The telecommunications minister warned phone and internet services would stop and the company announced old-fashioned 2G mobile service would end, leaving countless customers without fancy smartphones in the lurch.
In October, totally unannounced, the internet cable to my house/office died. The old modem stopped blinking its four lights. Instead, it was one steady light on the power panel indicator and one blinking light. But no connection signal, and the router took a dive for three days.
It was quite baffling until a friend said an entire zone in my part of the mountains was offline because the phone exchange serving us ran out of fuel to operate generators and power the phones and internet. The fuel tanks were eventually replenished, but not before the disruption had caused immense financial and other damage to people’s lives.
A couple of weeks later the landline at home went dead for about 24 hours before a signal was restored. No explanation, no apologies.
The same friend said it was due to upgrades to the system. He’d checked with a buddy at the phone company’s headquarters.
No sooner was that problem solved when the internet line died altogether and was out of commission for several days.
I contacted my friend to intercede with his friends at the phone company and internet provider since he knew people at both places and after I’d wasted an inordinate amount of time listening to recordings while trying to reach them and explain ad nauseum what the issue was.
A lady who did answer said the problem was from the internet provider since I use that firm, and not the phone company’s internet service. Nothing like passing the buck when systems fail.
The phone company guy kept promising he’d send someone to check and would follow up on the matter. Nobody showed up.
The internet company was more accommodating. My friend’s friend had an IT person call to set an appointment, check my lines, test the signal and change any faulty equipment.
The technician came, tested the line, confirmed the fault was from the telecom company since there was no signal from the exchange to my building, sent a message to his supervisor, and told me it would take 3–4 days to fix, barring complications.
Meanwhile, I had to use 3G on my phone (more like 2.5 given the poor connection affected by weather vagaries) that eats into my monthly subscription to yet another company to access the internet, hotspot my laptop, and try to function circuitously.
But it didn’t really solve the problem given the phone internet connection’s instability that kept cutting me off and reverting to the default Wi-Fi. I wasted time re-setting the connection, juggling that with on-and-off Bluetooth and trying to finish my online tasks.
I’m back full circle, hot-spotting from my mobile phone until further notice.