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On Grand Bahama, the internet is terrible. I loved it

I spent my vacation actually having a good time instead of documenting it.
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer

Last week, I decided to take a very long-needed vacation on Grand Bahama Island. And while I did not purposely intend to ditch my technology on this trip, the fact that it wasn't convenient to use my electronic creature comforts contributed significantly to my enjoyment.

Grand Bahama, an island of about 530 square miles, is only 60 miles to the east of Palm Beach, Florida. But it might as well be 6,000 miles away because its internet connectivity is terrible. 

BTC, a single mobile telecom provider, provides 3G and 4G services throughout the island with limited cell coverage. Full-time and seasonal residents can get dedicated broadband internet. But at our timeshare condo residence, the Island Seas Resort, one broadband connection was shared by a few dozen apartments -- with limited Wi-Fi access points throughout the entire complex.


Overlooking Taino Beach on Grand Bahama from Tony Macaroni's Conch Experience

Jason Perlow/ZDNet

Before going to the island, my wife and I knew that connectivity would be lousy. We'd taken two other trips in 2008 and 2012, so we had some experience with the place. But to further complicate matters, Grand Bahama is still recovering from Hurricane Dorian (September 2019), which caused devastating damage to its eastern half and its principal town of Freeport to the west. Its tiny airport terminal is currently temporary, as its permanent structure is undergoing major repairs. 

So why vacation on the island? Unlike Nassau/New Providence, which has about 275,000 residents and gets a constant influx of tourists from jam-packed cruise ships, Freeport/Grand Bahama has fewer people on it -- with a max population of about 52,000 at any given time. It has very little in terms of nightlife, restaurants, and bars. What it does have is many beautiful (and sparsely-visited) white sand beaches; a crystal blue ocean for snorkeling and scuba diving with lots of fish, some sharks, and manta rays; and great island cuisine. 

Because we needed a barebones level of connectivity while we were away, I decided that only one of us needed mobile data. I asked my wife to contact AT&T and get us an unlimited international roaming contract for her phone for the month, which costs $10 per 24 hours of use in the Bahamas. That sounds like a lot of money for a one-week stay, but it's far less than any data overages we might have incurred otherwise. 

My wife decided to bring her iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch because she absolutely had to have Apple Fitness Plus and close her rings every day. I decided to go minimalist by bringing only a global Android phone with me -- an OPPO Find X5 Pro review unit -- primarily to take food photos with its exceptional camera. I also took a six-year-old Kindle Oasis preloaded with books. 

Also: Amazon Kindle Oasis: E-reader for the one percent

We could have also bought an eSIM from BTC for my phone, which is more affordable than the AT&T plan. But they are data skimpy, and we'd need to be very careful about the photos and videos cloud syncing if we used one. As it is, I had my wife turn off all the data sync stuff in iCloud for her photostream and application updates, just in case. We did need to use Google Maps on my wife's phone for GPS navigation in the car, but we pre-downloaded the maps for Grand Bahama so we could navigate offline.


High Rock Beach, Grand Bahama

Jason Perlow/ZDNet

After seeing just how bad the 3G and 4G connectivity on Grand Bahama was on my wife's phone, I decided not to get a data plan from BTC. I would connect to Wi-Fi at the timeshare, cafes -- wherever I could find it. And I was not going to get stressed if it didn't work because I was on vacation.

There's an interesting side effect to having slow, unresponsive internet connectivity: you put your phone down, and it forces you to engage with people and your environment. Since I knew my connectivity would be crappy for the week, I turned on DND, put both of my email accounts and Slack on OOO, and quiesced all my notifications. 

Do you know what happened? After about half a day of painful withdrawal, I stopped stressing about it.

Instead of thinking of emails, social networking notifications, and instant messages, my only concerns for the day were getting up in the morning, having coffee and eating breakfast, going to the pool or beach, considering what beer (in Grand Bahama, it's Sands, brewed in Freeport) or cocktail (I recommend the Goombay Smash or the Yellow Bird) I was going to drink, deciding what we were going to do for lunch, choosing what I was going to read that afternoon, and then deciding what we were going to do for dinner.


Steamed Conch with Macaroni and Cheese at the Bell Harbor Inn, Grand Bahama

Jason Perlow/ZDNet

That's an oversimplification of what a typical vacation day in Grand Bahama is like, but it's not that far off the mark. 

Because the Wi-Fi was slow and unreliable, it was painful to use it. So I spent my vacation actually having a good time instead of documenting it. 

My wife told me that I was more present because I wasn't constantly looking at my phone. It was a side of me she hadn't seen in a while, as I'm always connected and distracted by notifications back home. 

Having poor data connectivity has other advantages as well, including forcing you to engage with people to get information. While we did use Google searches to discover restaurants and shops, we found out very quickly that a lot of information was woefully out of date due to Hurricane Dorian. It turns out that word of mouth, driving around, and exploring are the best ways to get to know the place.

Don't get me wrong -- coming home and having my multi-gigabit broadband and 5G was great. I don't think I can ever give it up, at least not with my current profession. But there is something to be said for a "Grand Bahama" mode for our connected devices, especially after work and on weekends.

If there is an easy way for Apple and Google to simulate frustratingly-slow Caribbean internet connectivity -- so slow that you are disinclined to use technology when you aren't on the clock -- that's a feature we might all benefit from using.

Grand Bahama Mode in iOS 16 and Android 13? No problem.

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