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A Pleasant Surprise
July 28, 2022
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By David Haldane

July 21, 2022


It started as a tiny niggle.

That’s the first sentence of a column I wrote back in 2018, shortly after moving into our then-under-construction house in Punta Bilar, a remote barangay of Surigao City.

The piece described how the niggle “developed into the source of a deep existential angst” over the lack of a decent Internet signal. “No Internet?” I whined. “We’d be completely disconnected. Not only from friends and family, but from the larger world outside. Without a proper Internet signal, how would we survive?”

Eventually I solved the problem, for a time anyway, by regularly visiting a coffee shop downtown that offered a serviceable connection. For the price of a cup of coffee, I discovered, I could surf the web at my leisure, a solution that lasted for nearly a year.

Then Globe gifted us with its saintly smile. The same company that, along with Smart and PLDT, had flatly refused earlier entreaties to serve our sparsely populated corner of Mindanao, now duly anointed us with a plan that, despite frequent interruptions and slowdowns, at least kept us hanging online.

Until a category five typhoon called Odette changed everything.

We were in America when it happened. The last thing we saw was my wife’s sister, who lives in our house, livestreaming through a window as palm trees swayed dangerously close to the ground and horizontal raindrops pierced the air like bullets. Suddenly they began piercing our windows. “Oh God,” Eva said, “the glass is shattering and water is pouring in everywhere!” Or words to that effect. And that’s when the signal went dead. For a very long time.

Ah, but recently we heard some encouraging news: the Marcos administration, it seems, is planning to vastly improve Mindanao’s Internet connection with the help of billionaire Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite communications network. “The scope of coverage is far greater and can reach areas that can’t be reached or are hard to reach,” Information and Communications Secretary Ivan John Uy said in a press briefing reported by the Manila Times. Because it uses low-orbit satellites, he explained, Starlink can easily establish strong connections in areas where a dearth of paying customers discourages other companies from setting up so-called “missionary routes.”

Areas like our Punta Bilar.

Which is why we were surprised, on our first day back seven months after the storm, to receive a visit from a representative of PLDT. The company, she explained, had recently wired our area for fiber optic Internet. Would we care to partake?

“Are you here because of all the times I left you my phone number last year?” I immediately wanted to know.

In fact, I had visited their local office downtown on many occasions only to be told that the fiber optic wiring would be completed in a “week or two” and I would certainly be among the first to know. Eventually, I gave up and stopped making my biweekly visits.

“I don’t have your phone number at all, sir,” she said cheerfully, deflating my ego in an instant. “I’m just surveying the area for potential customers.”

Because word on the street has it that Musk’s satellite system won’t be available until sometime next year, we quickly lunged at the thin fiber of hope this smiling woman was dangling before us. That was two weeks ago. Now, if the installer would only show up.


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David Haldane’s award-winning memoir, “Nazis & Nudists,” is available on Amazon. A former Los Angeles Times staff writer, he is a journalist, author and sometimes radio broadcaster currently dividing his time between homes in Joshua Tree, California, and Northern Mindanao, Philippines, where this column appears weekly in the Mindanao Gold Star Daily.


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