Li Xing

A serf in the Internet kingdom

By Li Xing (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-01-07 06:57
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It is sometimes interesting to resist the winds of change.

In the United States, Sara Bongiorni and her family resisted buying products from China and wrote about it in her book, A Year without "Made in China".

In China, many young people have embraced a "low-carbon" lifestyle. They re-use water at home, recycle whenever possible, and take the stairs instead of the elevator, among other things.

Few of us would consider doing without the Internet, however.

For better or worse, a good part of our life and work is now dependent on the "world wide web", from connecting with family and friends to transactions large and small. Last year, I attended the G20 summit in London, an international conference in Yekaterinburg, Russia, and the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. I registered for all of them online.

Certainly my husband and I had no intention of doing without the Internet last weekend. The experience was thrust upon us and turned out to be frustrating, to say the least. Not only were we forced to do without something that has become a daily ritual; we felt completely helpless, not knowing what had happened.

It all started Saturday night, when my laptop and my husband's PC both lost the Internet. We immediately suspected that our modem, a product of Alcatel (based in Shanghai), had broken down.

After a restless night, we got up early Sunday morning and drove out to Top Electronic City at Zhongguancun, braving icy roads, 10cm of snow and the heaviest snowstorm Beijing has seen in 59 years.

There, a saleswoman recommended what she said was a state-of-the-art device, a TP-Link product that combines a modem and a wireless router. We paid 200 yuan for it.

Returning home, we hooked up the new device, carefully following the instructions in the manual. Despite repeated attempts, however, we were unable to get online.

Only then did it occur to us that the problem might not be with our modem, but with our broadband service. The service technician at the local telecom company, which provides us Internet service, agreed to check, but called back a few hours later to say he found no problem at their end. Feeling helpless and frustrated, we asked the technician to come to our apartment and conduct a thorough check.

Because of the heavy snow, which disrupted traffic throughout the city, he didn't show up until Monday afternoon. He immediately noted that the new modem wasn't working properly. After checking the lines, he asked us to reinstall our old Alcatel modem. To our surprise, it worked.

So what went wrong? We learned from the technician that our service provider had indeed experienced an equipment failure, which they eventually fixed. He also revealed that the broadband service his company's local branch provides works only with a few brands of modems, such as Alcatel, but not with other brands, such as TP-Link.

Years ago we chose to subscribe to the local telecom company's broadband service because we believed it was a branch of China Telecom, arguably the largest Internet service provider in China at that time. Its door-to-door service is free.

This proved to be a mixed blessing, however. The company has since grown so big that it makes its own rules, rules it does not always share with its customers.

We learned a lot from our weekend without the Internet. I couldn't call my sister who works in New York. My husband, who works at home, couldn't access his emails and files to complete his assignment. What's more annoying, it will be hard for us to return the new modem, without a lot of bargaining.

We're online again, but the experience has been as a revelation. Not only are we more dependent on "the cloud" than we ever imagined; we are also serfs in the kingdom of a telecom giant.


(China Daily 01/07/2010 page9)