COVAD and the Tale of the Last Mile

COVAD was a networking company designed to solve a very specific problem that existed in the days of dialup called the last mile. At the time, people connected through their home telephone network across two copper wires to a server somewhere at a speed of 56kb/s. The two copper wires from their home were connected to a place called the the Central Office. The central office is a concrete bunker somewhere close by that takes all the little copper wires from the entire neighborhood and bundles them into a faster trunk. It was that last mile of twisted copper wire from the central office to the house that slowed the connection down to a crawl. COVAD used a system that sent higher frequency signals to a bridge at the customers location to get speeds much higher than the usual dial up.

It was a good idea at the time and still used in places where people do not have access to anything else. But I knew it was time to look for another job when Verizon announced that they would run fiber to the world’s door.

The job they hired me for was called Test and Turn Up Agent. I sat in a crowded row of cubicles and ran a test remotely that determined whether a phone line that we were being leased was acceptable. I had more fun doing it than I was promised.

I was hired during the company’s initial rush to expansion and was one of the bodies they threw at that effort. We didn’t get a lot of training and most of us were not qualified. Managers promoted people that sounded like they new what they were talking about; and the more you sounded like a nerd, the higher the promotion.

It was about this time that my FM receiver stopped working in my car. At first it would go out and come back with any large jolt from the road. Running over things to turn your radio back on is not that easy, and I found myself either alone with my thoughts or listening to music in Spanish, which is more fun when you know what you are singing along too.

If I wanted a car radio for the two hour commute, I was going to have to sound like I knew what I was doing. I bought a book on networking and read the whole thing into a tape recorder, so that I could listen to myself during the commute.

I learned a lot this way, even if I did get sick of my own voice and dad jokes.





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