Teeth-hating neighbours snatch up ADSL olive branch, snap it off
But I found one couple who had moved to Scotland to escape the fiendish fluoridators of England (I kid you not - in Scotland there's no fluoride in the water, and it's really, really, hard to find a dentist too), but despite being so obviously insane, they were willing to let me pay for their ADSL in exchange for having a wireless router connected. The problem was that their house didn't quite have line to sight to mine, despite climbing a lamp post and buying suitably-high-gain antennas I couldn't get a reliable link.
At one point I had a decent connection working, with speeds topping 500Kb/sec, but only at certain times of day. Turned out, a house over the road provided a fortuitous reflector with a closed garage door. Sneaking into someone's garden and closing their garage door every time they left it open seemed excessive, and the locals were already asking pointed questions about my lamp-post mounted yagi: stringing wires across the road to get line of sight wasn't going to fly. I was back to dial-up.
By this point we had some children, which always helps one integrate with the local community, and while Anthony and Yvette* aren't exactly neighbours, they have a daughter the same age and an interest in free ADSL. There's no chance of line of sight, with a house and copse between us, but our houses back onto the same sheep field, so all one needs is a spool of CAT-5 and a lawn-edger. The farmer was cool with the idea, so we set out to lay 150 metres of cheap CAT-5 to connect the houses together.
We didn't use expensive CAT-5, because it was too expensive, and given that 90 per cent signal loss was entirely acceptable, there seemed little reason to spend more than necessary. Unfortunately, the cable failed within a day; a second cable lasted a month before it too gave up. Before I could spend money on something more reliable, Anthony called up to say he'd gone off the idea.
Given I'd signed a 12-month contract to provide him with ADSL, I wasn't amused, though more shocked than angry. We saw the couple a few times after that, but within a month they had receded entirely and decided to home school. These days they blank us in the street and ignore us if we talk to them. Apparently it's not just us, but we can't help thinking that free broadband might have been too much for them.
Tearing the BT engineers to shreds
During this period I lobbied BT for some ADSL, but just couldn't get a signal. I tried ordering ISDN, which was an interesting conversation as I spent an hour trying to find someone at BT who had any idea what ISDN was - apparently you can't get it anymore, but it was worth a punt.
I had the BT engineers round a few times, trying to get a signal, but their efforts were frustrated by my next-door neighbour, who is still adamant that he owns all the BT cabling in the area and won't let the BT engineers into his garden. Apparently some of his rhododendrons have been there 20 years and it wouldn't be safe to let anyone near his monkey-puzzle tree as it "would tear them to shreds".
But not, fortunately, when his own phone started playing up. Suddenly it was perfectly safe to work under the tree, and the nice BT engineers (with whom I was quite chummy by this point) were able to connect me up while they were fixing my neighbour's fortuitously faulty phone line.
So, finally, I got ADSL, just about. It takes about 30 minutes to handshake, and even when connected I got a few hundred k at best. About once a week it fails for a day, and while I can only commend Zen Internet for its tireless pursuit of BT every time that happened, the telco was always able to turn around and say the house is just too far from the exchange and would have to do without.
But then, earlier this year, my friend Claire made the mistake of commenting that from her new house she could see mine: Claire gets a stable 4Mb/sec, and if she can see my house then a radio connection should be possible.
According to Google Maps, it's 5km from Claire's to mine, with a village between which is slightly depressed – so line of sight is possible. Over the next few months it became obvious that Claire had never seen my house from her place, but by the time we realised this it was way too late.
Initially it seemed like it would be prohibitively expensive to try and connect our houses, with one company quoting more than £2,000 (plus the cost of hired cherry pickers) to establish if a connection was possible.
I've never had a lot of luck with long-range 2.4GHz, so decided that 5GHz was the frequency of choice even if it meant getting a £50 licence from Ofcom. Then I came across Solwise, which sell a £80 801.11a (5.8GHz) box with in-built antenna and power-over-ethernet, which seemed worth a punt for a pair of them.