HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND – Could You Live Off-the-Grid? Part VII: Staying In Touch

By Kelly Moran

Could You Live Off-the-Grid? Part VII: Staying In Touch

Once you have secured water and electricity, and can keep the temperature comfortable in your off-the-grid house, you can start thinking about what most people also consider key ingredients of civilized life: telephone, television and internet.

Obviously, you can not have a “land-line” if you are off the grid. But you may already have a cellular phone, and market research shows that more and more people – in younger demographics, especially – are now using their cell phone as their only phone.

All the major carriers (e.g. Verizon, AT&T, etc.) are here on the Big Island. Their coverage areas overlap, and reception is generally very good. If you are contemplating buying a particular piece of land, you will want to make and receive a cell-phone call while you’re checking the place out. There are only a few “dead” zones on the island, most noticeably at the bottom of the three gulches along the Hamakua Coast; but it’s not likely that you’ll be living down there.

Cell phones are very reliable, and there are many (some folks would say “too many”) choices of equipment. You can have anything from a simple voice-only phone to a phone with a camera – even a video camera – to something like a Blackberry that gives you almost as much power as a laptop computer, to do email and browse the Web (about which, more next time). A client of mine, who needs to constantly hack down ginger and other weeds around his stream, found it necessary – after a little mishap – to get a cell phone that is waterproof!

The only disadvantage to having a cell phone as your only phone is that you don’t get listed in local telephone directories – they are published by the land-line phone companies – though you could, if your business needs the exposure, buy a listing in one of the “yellow-pages” directories and include your cell phone number there. Otherwise, if someone wants to phone you, they will need to know your number already, or acquire it some other way – perhaps by a “Google” search.

Satellite TV is very popular in Hawaii, even where cable TV is available and convenient. Both Dish Network and DirecTV  are offered here, and their rates are competitive. The only technical requirement is that the bowl-shaped antenna must be able to “see” its affiliated satellite(s) in the southeastern sky, with no hills or trees blocking the way. Typically, it’s about two feet in diameter, and doesn’t weigh much, so it is usually mounted right on the house (or can be pole mounted, cemented in the ground).

TV Satellite: Roof Mounted
TV Satellite: Roof Mounted
TV Satellite: Pole Mounted, Cemented in Ground
TV Satellite: Pole Mounted, Cemented in Ground

Like cable services, most satellite services include a digital video recorder (DVR) for recording programs to watch at your convenience. This is especially useful in Hawaii, because we are two hours behind the West Coast and five hours behind the East Coast (three and six, respectively, in the months when the Mainland observes Daylight Saving Time – which Hawaii does not).

Time-specific programs, like sports events, may have ended by the time you are ready to see them, and local broadcasts of national programming, such as PBS documentaries, may not be shown on the same day and time as on Mainland stations.

There are some downsides to satellite TV. Your choice of channels may be limited, compared to cable programming; and although light rain won’t interfere, a really big storm can interrupt your TV reception. Also, since any electronic equipment may fail unexpectedly, you may want to consider getting a DVR that allows you to back up recorded programs on an external hard-disk drive.

TV is passive; the Internet is interactive. I’ll cover internet options next time.

View Other Posts in the “Could You Live Off-the-Grid?” Series

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