<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> WiFi -- RVers Responsibility Today
Little Log



By Tom Gonser (Updated 08/13)

The name of this website, “RVers Online”, was spawned in the mid-1990s for the purpose of raising awareness of the need for RVers to have internet access while on the road. Those were, comparatively speaking, primitive times indeed. And it seemed as if RV Park owners were virtually oblivious to the growing need of RVers to be able to stay in touch with their laptops while they were enjoying RV travels. At that point in time the only viable option for internet access was via a modem plugged into a wired telephone line. We actually coined the phrase “modem friendly” here at this site in our very first editorial. That label indeed took root, and in time the term “modem friendly” was adopted by the entire RVing community -- happily including RV Park owners.

Always at the core of the argument was that RV parks could use providing internet access (at that time, being “modem friendly”) as an inducement to persuade RVers to stay at their campground or RV park. There was the inevitable tension between those parks that would provide “free” access, versus those who initially saw RVer use of the internet as a new revenue opportunity. In time most recognized there was little revenue to be gained by charging a fee to use an existing phone line; and indeed RVers would vote with their wheels and go elsewhere where a free service was provided.

That same “free versus fee” argument carried over into the next stage of internet access for RVers, which was through wireless internet (WiFi). Once again park owners were reluctant to learn enough about this new technology to take the needed step, and incur the costs, to provide a WiFi service. And third party providers leaped in to fill the gap by installing the needed equipment in RV parks, and permitting users to use it for what was usually an unacceptably high fee for those who only wanted to use the service for a day or two, and then move on. There are still parks that use third party providers. But an increasing number have discovered that the potential to attract new business by advertising “free WiFi” far outweighs the cost of providing the service. Perhaps a cue was taken from the highly competitive hotel industry.

The next step in this story, which we’ve documented over the past few years, involved the *quality” of the WiFi service provided -- whether free or fee based. RVers began to experience true high speed service at home, and increasingly at an affordable cost. While traveling in their RV, WiFi service was by comparison often unreliable at best; and when it was working at all the download speeds were dismally slow. Compared to the experience they were now having at home, the RV park WiFi offerings were far too often seen as unacceptable. Unfortunately they're correct.

In response, many parks made a genuine effort to upgrade their WiFi service, whether alone or through a third party provider, in order to improve reliability and download speeds. But just as that was happening, internet usage began to increase exponentially. Internet usage among RVers skyrocketed from a comparatively small percentage to a point where it became commonplace in most RVs. At the same time the major telephone companies were rapidly expanding both the coverage areas and speed of the services they offered. Devices that were once thought of only as wireless telephones were suddenly major sources of data access. Then enter the iPad, and the era of the “tablet” computer. These go-anywhere devices also had the ability to gobble up bandwidth from an RV park’s WiFi system, or alternatively from their cell provider. More devices capable of using high speed wireless in turn invited the explosion of more ways to capture new customers with offerings that required an enormous amount of bandwidth to use. Perhaps the most frequently referenced example is NetFlix, which offers very low cost movies and videos on demand 24/7 with a very low fixed monthly rate.

The result? Today we typically find in an RV park offering "high speed internet" that the RV guest is fortunate occasionally to get as much as 1 MBPS download speed. Usually it's a fraction of that -- even where a park may think it's offering a generous 2-5+ Mbps WiFi amenity. During peak hours it is often virtually unavailable because the usage is so high the system can't handle it. Even where parks provide a system that "meters" the traffic -- such as offering a "fast" connection for the first so many MB of data transferred -- then dramatically slower for anything in excess of the allowable limit (which is usually not much) -- the download speeds are woefully lacking. In many cases we suspect park owners are not even aware of the extent of the problem, as they've contracted their WiFi service to an outside provider who has promised "good service". It's tempting to name the well-known provider that so often causes our frustration here; but it's probably not even necessary to do so. Moreover, as we're now discovering, the real fault is often likely less with the provider than with the conscious choice made be the park owner to NOT purchase sufficient bandwitch to provide for easily projected RV guest needs.

With the proliferation of new devices all having a voracious appetite for ever more bandwidth, we’ve now quickly outpaced the ability of many RV parks to meet the extraordinary needs we now have. For the past few years we’ve encouraged RV parks to increase their WiFi offerings to meet the growing needs of RVers. But it now appears that we’ve been overtaken by our own progress, and the parks in many cases have not (for whatever reason -- see below) been able to keep up. Adding to the mêlée now is the fact that with a large number of RVs all parked within “wireless range” of each other, we’re creating our own virtual obstacle course which the WiFi signal of many RV parks will now find simply impenetrable. Any RVer trying to use a wireless signal in an RV park can now go online and, when searching for the “right” wireless signal will find a long list of available networks, likely all of which require a password, but which collectively are contributing to the chaos. When the right signal is found, it’s likely already in use by a large number of devices all competing for the same limited bandwidth. And that same signal is often being degraded by the presence of so many other wireless networks, many of which are broadcasting a signal for use by multiple computers in a single RV -- but severely impairing the useable WiFi airspace around that unit. These challenges were persuasively documented by an article by Dan Wright, owner of the Borrego Springs RV Resort in the September/October 2013 issue of the Escapees Magazine, who addresses the problem from the park owner's perspective. RV parks and campgrounds located in more remote areas may indeed not have the option to acquire sufficient bandwidth to provide true high speed connections for RV guests. But in many locations we suspect the real issue is that either the park owner does not realize how overburdened their WiFi offering has become, or they are simpy choosing to make a cost/benefit choice not to provide it. Likely those of us that fail to let the RV park management know of our dissatisfaction, and intent to patronize other parks that can provide adequate coverage, are contributing to the problem.

But the time has come, as that well-known Walrus once said -- to recognize that we, as RVers, now must take some degree of responsibility for providing our own backup source of internet access in RV parks. Which in turn means we’ll need to assume our fair share of the cost in doing so. One caveat here: we do not mean to imply that RV parks should do other than make their best efforts to provide a quality service. Some parks will have available options that permit them to provide true "high" internet speeds on a reliable basis. Others at this time may not have access to those same options. And RVers will increasingly have a strong preference for those parks that are able to provide quality WiFi service without additional daily fees.

Virtually all major wireless phone providers offer data plans that can support internet access directly to smartphones, tablets, and computers; or to a wide variety of small “hotspot” devices (routers) that can distribute the signal inside our rigs (okay, and unfortunately outside it as well) so that it can provide internet access to laptops, phones, tablets, Apple TVs, and other bandwidth-hungry devices. Most plans will be priced according to the amount of data we use -- usually measured in megabytes or gigabytes. [Note: While satellite internet service can still provide an answer to RVer needs, we believe it's becoming increasingly clear that it is not a preferred solution for most RVers on the basis of cost alone.] If we really want to use lots of bandwidth, we can do it. But we’ll have to pay for it. Many will likely conclude that for RV travels a rather modest amount of data will suffice for our normal use of email and limited use of internet browsing. We probably won’t want to download video, do major system upgrades, or swap a large number of high resolution photos. Those will just have to wait until we’re back home...