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FCC Maps the 3G Wasteland Of the Western US 173

Posted by timothy
from the desires-infinite-resources-scarce dept.
alphadogg writes "The Federal Communications Commission has released a map showing which counties across the U.S. lacked coverage from either 3G or 4G networks and found that wide swaths of the western half of the country were 3G wastelands, particularly in mountainous states such as Idaho and Nevada. This isn't particularly surprising since it's much more difficult for carriers to afford building out mobile data networks in sparsely populated mountainous regions, but it does underscore how large stretches of the United States lack access to mobile data services that people in the Northeast, South and Midwest now take for granted."
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FCC Maps the 3G Wasteland Of the Western US

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  • by Moryath (553296) on Friday February 10, 2012 @05:45PM (#39000815)

    from 10 years ago, the same areas look like wastelands for net access in general.

    Telecommunications companies simply don't want to build out. Either the government makes them do it, or they drag their feet on it. The more they drag their feet, the more isolated the communities out there become. Some communities out there - like the FLDS compounds - actually thrive on that level of isolation.

    It's not a matter of carriers not being able to "afford" building out - previous telecommunications acts requiring them to build out telephone infrastructure proved that not to be the case. They just don't "want" to.

    "Free Market" at work, apparently. It doesn't fix shit.

    • by thomasw_lrd (1203850) on Friday February 10, 2012 @05:54PM (#39000909)

      It is the free market at work. Not enough people out there to justify building the infrastructure. Less people, less money.

      But should we classify 3G or 4G service as a utility? That's the real question.

      • by macraig (621737) <`mark.a.craig' `at' `gmail.com'> on Friday February 10, 2012 @06:02PM (#39001025)

        It is the free market at work. Not enough people out there to justify building the infrastructure. Less people, less money.

        There might not be enough people to justify it for the profit motives of those companies, but those motives are by nature selfish and don't give a damn about the larger socioeconomic picture. What might those few people be able to contribute to society if they actually enjoyed the same connectedness as their urban comrades?

        Like the GP said, the free market has tunnel vision and doesn't fix shit.

        • by Dave Emami (237460) on Friday February 10, 2012 @07:15PM (#39001803) Homepage

          It is the free market at work. Not enough people out there to justify building the infrastructure. Less people, less money.

          There might not be enough people to justify it for the profit motives of those companies, but those motives are by nature selfish and don't give a damn about the larger socioeconomic picture. What might those few people be able to contribute to society if they actually enjoyed the same connectedness as their urban comrades?

          And how much money might be sunk into providing higher-capacity connectivity to those people, only to find that that they don't contribute anything, tovarisch?

          Like the GP said, the free market has tunnel vision and doesn't fix shit.

          Rather, it doesn't make the decisions you want it to make. The people living there choose to do so, knowing the various trade-offs that come with that. They have the pluses of better air quality and less noise, and the minuses of crappy connectivity and more-expensive groceries. I'm sure pizza delivery service sucks out there, too. Going to force Dominos to open stores out in those parts of Nevada where population density drops below half a person per square mile?

          • Yes because you should have to choose either a healthy environment or being cut off from civilisation and excluded from every modern innovation.
          • And how much money might be sunk into providing higher-capacity connectivity to those people, only to find that that they don't contribute anything, tovarisch?

            Red Godwin.

        • by PeanutButterBreath (1224570) on Friday February 10, 2012 @07:22PM (#39001843)

          What might those few people be able to contribute to society if they actually enjoyed the same connectedness as their urban comrades?

          What might our urban comrades contribute to society if they got off the damned internet once and a while?

        • by suprcvic (684521)
          Corporate obligations are to their shareholders, not society. Sure we don't want them harming society, but if they're not harming society then they should have no concern for the "socioeconomic picture." If you care so much about it, invest in a company that does give a damn and quitcherbitchin. All that aside, if the people who don't have adequate access want to contribute something bad enough, they'll find a way. It's not anybodies responsibility but their own to get it done.
        • by onefriedrice (1171917) on Friday February 10, 2012 @08:02PM (#39002131)

          Like the GP said, the free market has tunnel vision and doesn't fix shit.

          Your concern is wasted on the people who actually choose to live in those places. Those who really care so much about how connected they are to the rest of the world can just as easily choose to relocate nearer to a city. The rest will continue to live happy lives as they always have. The only ones who think these people's lack of fast internet or mobile data is such a travesty are people like you who already have a fast connection and think that everyone else should want the same thing.

          But don't worry. Our brilliant politicians in Washington agree with you, so they will spend millions of taxpayer dollars in order to bring 3G speeds to people that couldn't care less. Really smart. The only tunnel vision is that of those who stubbornly refuse to acknowledge that the free market is responsible for much of the good that they take for granted every day.

          • by Xtravar (725372)

            Look at the opposite way. I don't want to live anywhere without 3G or broadband. Few people do. It's like having a city without electricity or running water these days. It might even be more important since this is the way people share ideas and news.

            You can argue that they should move, but that's easier said than done, and how are they to know what they're missing if they've lived without it? Yes, you can also argue that isolated communities should remain isolated communities, but then their ideas do

            • by pclminion (145572)

              I don't want to live anywhere without 3G or broadband. Few people do. It's like having a city without electricity or running water these days.

              Being someone who lives near some of these "wastelands" I can assure you there's nothing there and anything qualifying as a "city" is going to have both 3G and broadband. You're worried that the lack of 3G access in the middle of a cattle rancher's mountainous 100,000 acre property is causing "unnecessary strife" and some kind of disconnect within the United States

        • More to the point, Can the USA afford to fracture along the digital divide?

          A lot of the social and political issues that I now find are important did not exist in my world ten years ago, before we had this level of Internet connectivity, and do not exist in the world of persons who do not use the Internet on a daily basis. This is not just matters of intellectual property, identity theft, and so forth. My exposure through the Internet to a much broader range of opinions on just about every topic has caused

          • I am on the internet several hours a day between work and home and a voracious reader of sources from all ends of the ideological spectrum and my conservatism, if anything, is re-enforced.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        People always talk about the free market, but one thing they miss is that the free market requires rational actors. Expanding the companies' infrastructures may or may not be rational, but this depends on whether the rational acting consumers demand and will pay for it if they do.

        Generally, we as consumers put up with waaay too much shit, and continue to buy products anyway, allowing the companies to whatever they want.

        It seems to me like having nationwide 4G coverage would be a HUGE selling point fo
        • by uncqual (836337)

          It seems to me like having nationwide 4G coverage would be a HUGE selling point for a telco, even in sparsely populated areas (we're everywhere, even while you're sleeping in the woods!!!), but they know they don't have to until forced.

          I don't think most people are in such areas enough that they are willing to pay much more monthly for a service they will rarely if ever use.

          Personally, I wouldn't pay an extra $10/month on my mobile bill to get mobile access while sleeping in the woods (or even driving th

      • by MBCook (132727)

        I don't know. There are parts of Kansas where the little spots cover a dozen people. There are parts of other states where the spots cover a few hundred.

        The spot in north east AZ covers over 30k people. Surely there would be some ROI there.

        • by tehdaemon (753808)

          That spot happens to be an indian reservation - very poor people and possibly some weird legal reasons why they can't put coverage there. It is one of the few big black spots on the map that deserves coverage though.

          Take for example that small black spot just south of the wyoming border in Utah (bottom of the 'notch' in the state map) That is the High Unitas Wildernes area. Backpackers and forest rangers only. - there are few roads, and no houses or farms, let alone cell phone towers.

          How about that blac

      • by hairyfeet (841228)
        Your argument might work if the telecos didn't sue the shit out of any city that tries to go DIY which we've seen time and time again. And don't forget that We, the People ALREADY PAID 200 billion for nationwide broadband [newnetworks.com] and all we got in return was a low res Goatse from the telecos while they passed out the money to their CEOs for more hookers and blow.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      "Free Market" at work, apparently. It doesn't fix shit.

      You're assuming something's broken.

      The badlands and ranges and ranches and deserts and endless waves of what North-easterners call flyover country have gotten along without cell phones for centuries, and they've done just fine. Urbanites need their cell phones; ranch-hands don't. Bringing multiplayer Angry Birds to the back woods of Idaho is not profitable because it doesn't fill a need. There is no shit to fix here. Move along, lil' doggies.

      • by BurfCurse (937117)
        Why do people still think that those who work in agriculture don't have the same needs and wants that everyone else in America does?
        • They don't relize that the fields are not plowed by mule or oxen anymore. They would be stunned to see the tech in the harvesters and tractors these days. GPS, radios, air conditioning. Heck, thats just the equipment for the field. Then in the homes usually are computers hooked to the internet to trade futures on what they are growing/raising. Then there are applications to measure livestock growth/health as well as soil analysis systems. The city dwellers think you just throw out some food and water
        • by meerling (1487879)
          Don't know. I know some farmers that would make a hell of a lot more use in their job with more data and connectivity than most people do in their entire lives.
          The uses are apparently more than can be summed up in a 300 page article.

          And it's not just farmers that don't live in the cities. I know of a lot of towns and small cities that have connectivity that harkens back to the 1930s or 40s, except they don't have human switchboard operators or crank phones.

          It's already been shown that when the government gi
      • by Deagol (323173)

        > Urbanites need their cell phones

        Yeah, like they need a bad rash. Are you fucking kidding me?

        I say *nobody* really needs cell phones.

      • by morari (1080535)

        You city folk have gotten along without cell phones for centuries as well... you did just fine.

        Asshole.

      • by toejam13 (958243)

        You're assuming something's broken.

        Farmers and ranchers in remote areas have been using portable VHF radios for communications for a number of decades now. Last I checked, such radios were still available and offered superior reception and battery life when compared to UHF cellular phones.

        Furthermore, the dead zones in the western US states and Canadian provinces aren't solely the fault of private telecommunications companies. The last I checked, neither government has allocated a range in the lower UHF or upper VHF bands for cellular comm

      • You need a cell phone in a densely populated city with phones on every corner yet the guy that's miles away from anyone else or a phone doesn't need a cell phone? That makes complete sense.
        • by Algae_94 (2017070)
          Those phones on every corner are in peoples pockets now. Payphones are rapidly disappearing in the US.
    • by dwillden (521345)
      Though 10 years ago the cell coverage for basic phone service was much better. Back in the days of analog you had to hunt a lot harder to find areas without coverage. There were still plenty of them but not nearly as many.

      Also I question the validity of the map. I know some of the areas of Utah where they claim solid coverage exists, it certainly doesn't have it. Once you get out of town or off the main transit routes (I-15, I-80, I-70, I-84, and Hwys 89 and 40) coverage becomes much more intermitten
      • by icebike (68054) *

        The map shows 3G and 4G DATA.
        Many areas that appear totally devoid of coverage still have voice coverage, and slower Edge and GPRS for data.

        I drive these areas often, and the number of places the phone drops to "No Signal" is really pretty small.
        The areas where you can't even make a voice call are usually canyons.

        Bear in mind where this data comes from. The maps are those areas that are going to eventually be built out
        with the Federal Universal Service Charge. Thats the $5 per line that appears on your bi

    • by Reverand Dave (1959652) on Friday February 10, 2012 @05:56PM (#39000955)
      I was just wondering why the FCC has to subsidize these a-holes that are using public spectrum free of charge when they are turning multi-billion dollar profits. Maybe the FCC should just say "build it by this time next year or hand over your spectrum rights to someone who will"
      • The billions of dollars paid in frequency licenses by these companies insinuate that they are most certainly not using the public spectrum free of charge.

        • As an example to my point, the 2008 spectrum auctions raised nearly $20Billion for the US Treasury - definitely not getting the public spectrum for free...

    • If you compare maps from 10 years ago, the same areas look like wastelands for net access in general. Telecommunications companies simply don't want to build out.

      Well, duh. If you look at those maps and look at population and geographic maps - I wouldn't want to build out in many of the black areas either. Not only is the terrain forbidding, there's just not that many people there to be served.

    • by trout007 (975317) on Friday February 10, 2012 @06:59PM (#39001669)

      The benefit of a free market is that it does the best job at allocating limited resources. Right now 3G and 4G technology is expensive to implement. So it makes sense that it would be put to first use in a place where there is the fastest payback. All during the roll out of these technologies the prices become better known and cheaper. That allows the technology to spread. Think of it this way. Part of your carrier bill helps to pay for all of those towers you pass as you go about your daily life. The more people using that tower the cheaper it is to use it. Now if you live somewhere so remote that you and 5 families you know are the only ones using the tower you would either have to pay more for modern technology or wait until the tech gets cheaper. This is a perfect example of a free market working to allocate limited resources.

      • There are going to be places where it isn't profitable to implement 3G no matter how much the technology improves.

        The free market won't always allocate resources in a way which is most beneficial to society. It took government intervention to push electricity, phone lines and now broadband to many areas that are not profitable despite advancements in technology.

    • by icebike (68054) *

      from 10 years ago, the same areas look like wastelands for net access in general.

      Telecommunications companies simply don't want to build out.

      Clue Bat:

      Nobody lives in the black areas. Try a little google earth some day.

      Its pretty damned hard to get a chipmunk to pay a cell bill.

      • Many of these areas in Idaho (where I'm from) are actually too rugged to be used for logging. Why anyone would think they need 3G coverage is beyond me.

    • by antdude (79039)

      Ugly colors too. :(

    • Thanks. The resolution still sucks though.

      If I sound bitter about it, it's because I am. Some places east and south-east have shitty cell reception where the refineries are at. Quite a few inspectors will use aircards near the area. VPN links constantly go down and you never know when Verizon will fuck up passing of GRE traffic. Dropped calls is quite common. Maybe there's just too much metal in the area obstructing the signal. Having a cell booster (repeater) in the area would be nice if at all possible.

      • Thanks. The resolution still sucks though.

        The resolution is fine. There's a very detailed little black sliver of my town that shows as a 'wasteland'.

        Which it is, but so is lots of the rest of the town, and it's not black at all on this map.

        Decent resolution, useless accuracy.

    • by RoboRay (735839)

      THANK you.

      I was wondering why TFA had linked a map of central Africa...

  • Gee... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by cirby (2599) on Friday February 10, 2012 @05:51PM (#39000879)

    Large areas where there's no advanced communications networks.

    Of course, nobody really LIVES in most of those huge data voids, which is why nobody puts billions of dollars into building cell towers in those areas, but...

    • by zuzulo (136299)

      Absolutely. Which is why this visualization is not useful. Now if they mapped the intersection of population density and cell coverage, that would be interesting. ;-)

      • by amiga3D (567632)

        Yes. That would actually show useful data. I don't think people living out in the boonies expect or in many cases even want 3G coverage. On the other hand I watch all the droid and iphone users where I work drearily waiting while the supposed verizon and at&t broadband achieves slightly better than dialup speeds.

    • I used to live in central Oregon, back in the day when cell phones were bricks. We were up riding horses in the Cascade Mountains, and one of our party fell and might have a back problem, so I rode back to our vehicle and called 911. The parking lot was down in a canyon, so I had to stand on top of the car to get a signal. I did get connected - to a 911 center 100 miles away, skipping over the nearest one in Bend (only 30 miles away)! They were a little confused for a while, but it all worked out with a

      • by Kymermosst (33885)

        I had a similar situation when I lived in central Oregon (specifically Redmond). I pulled out my trusty ham radio HT which was smaller and had better range than most cell phones at the time. Autopatched to emergency services via a repeater situated near Smith Rocks, which has way better coverage than any cell tower.

        Just because there isn't cell coverage doesn't mean there is no communications. Those who want communications ability have it.

    • Re:Gee... (Score:5, Informative)

      by rhysweatherley (193588) on Friday February 10, 2012 @06:27PM (#39001333)
      "Of course, nobody really LIVES in most of those huge data voids, ..."

      Yes, because farmers don't need to call 911 for help in an emergency, call the local food co-op to check this week's prices, order new seed from a supplier's web site, or e-mail the mechanic to get an ETA as to when the tractor will be fixed. And we certainly don't want the farmer's kids getting a decent education via distance learning web sites, or talking to their friends in nearby cities.

      Putting cell towers in those areas is not profitable, but it is necessary. I say this as an Australian - for over a decade the commercial carriers did squat to wire up the country-side. The Australian government had to create its own carrier from scratch because the free market just didn't care about the 95% of the country where "nobody really lives there". Oh, except for the people who do.
      • Re:Gee... (Score:4, Informative)

        by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater@gmFREEBSDail.com minus bsd> on Friday February 10, 2012 @07:01PM (#39001701) Homepage

        The article doesn't say cellular voice coverage isn't available there - it says cellular data coverage isn't there. The aren't the same thing, not even close. Not to mention, the lack of cellular data coverage isn't the same thing as lack of internet access.

        • The problem with that is where I am at, there's typically no voice coverage, either. There are huge areas in rural Western, WA that you can't get a cell signal because there's hills and mountains between you and any towers. What's even more funny is that when I'm at home, I get service from one tower that is 40 miles away. If the power goes out, there's no other tower nearby to take the calls, and there's no plan for any of the telco's to put one in. Heck, the one tower that feeds 4 towns (one having a popu

      • Ever heard of satellite phones?

    • by Jaktar (975138)

      I live on the east coast. I have neither 3G nor 4G. I also do not have high speed internet access. It's not like people don't live here either.

      Where I live, people aren't even as spread out as they are over the western wastelands.

  • No 3G access? Some days that would seem like heaven instead of a wasteland. I suggest we section it off and make a campground.
    • I was going to post, "It's not a bug. It's a feature" but replying to your post will do.

      I ended up vacationing in Silverton Colorado in mid-September 2001. The B&B we stayed in had no TV and only one phone and it was at the foot of the stairs with guest room all on the second floor. Even better, Silverton had (and I think continues to have) absolutely no cell phone service. The town has even acted to PREVENT carriers from installing cell towers.

      It's an absolutly fantastic place to really get away fr

    • by slinches (1540051)

      I suggest we section it off and make a campground.

      They already did. A lot of the places that have no coverage are park land or wilderness areas.

  • by bragr (1612015) * on Friday February 10, 2012 @05:55PM (#39000923)
    Seriously, have you ever been to those places that are all in black? The population density is less than 1 person per square mile in a lot of them. A lot less in most places. Large portions of Nevada have population densities of 0 people per square mile. There is just no reason to build towers in the middle of no where.
    • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Friday February 10, 2012 @06:27PM (#39001327) Homepage

      What about Moose?

      Look at Alaska - all those blank spots. All those poor Mooses without 3G coverage. How are they ever going to get to watch Northern Exposure reruns? While it's common to denigrate them as just another ungulate, Moose are smarter than the average American voter, smell better than the average American voter and certainly are better behaved.

      Where's the love?

      • by dkf (304284)

        While it's common to denigrate them as just another ungulate, Moose are smarter than the average American voter, smell better than the average American voter and certainly are better behaved.

        The average tree stump can outwit a moose. While I remain cynical about my fellow men, I really think that moose are still more stupid than that.

        What's more, moose don't pay taxes or vote and they taste delicious.

    • by evilviper (135110)

      Seriously, have you ever been to those places that are all in black? The population density is less than 1 person per square mile in a lot of them.

      Yeah, nobody lives in Palm Springs, San Luis Obispo, Montery, etc. Even the "middle-of-nowhere" in California has tons of people. Even the figures on the map are deflated by averaging huge areas with absolutely no people, in with real towns with reasonable population density.

      Besides that, from the map it looks like the FCC is much more concerned with "road mile

  • I live in the Northeast (NJ) and coverage at my house is pitiful. I can't imagine what it's like in more remote areas.

    The thing that isn't mentioned much is that even in areas with good signal, the sound quality of current digital cellular systems stinks. Even back in the 90's, analog cellular had WAY better sound quality.

  • I'm willing to bet a relief map that just showed less than and greater than 7000 feet elevation would very closely match the map.

    I live in one of the areas that is surrounded by black and sure enough it's a river valley. No great mystery, putting wireless in unpopulated mountainous terrain is not worth the effort.

  • by oodaloop (1229816) on Friday February 10, 2012 @06:00PM (#39001001)
    Sorry, took a while to get a signal.
  • There are trade offs wherever you live. People living out in the back end of Utah get to avoid the plague of crime and pollution of the populated areas and they miss out on facebook.

  • by macraig (621737) <`mark.a.craig' `at' `gmail.com'> on Friday February 10, 2012 @06:09PM (#39001107)

    What we need is one gigantic Tesla coil the size of Mons Olympus smack in the middle of the country. We can use it to beam wireless power to every phone and small gadget in the country and get rid of them nasty batteries and use the power feed as a carrier signal for everything else. (/sarcasm)

  • hey! I hear all this about great coverage in places like Asia and Europe (even former Warsaw Pact countries) but we got crapola coverage in the land that developed this stuff. Google does have free wifi in Mountain View but geez it is slow. Well there is option of getting the iphone kind of thing... SJC airport seems to have great free wifi (it has been very fast when I've been there). There is Starbucks but I don't care for their coffee. I'm not concerned about most rural areas of US, if I go to such place
  • I guess we'll have to wait before the cowphone [dodgecharger.com] can go 3G...
  • by Liquid-Gecka (319494) on Friday February 10, 2012 @09:02PM (#39002423)

    The map does not appear to actually mark the areas of the country where it is completely impossible to setup service. In Idaho, where I grew up, there are huge tracts of government property with restrictions and limitations that make it impossible to have cell service, let alone 3G.

    Craters of the Moon is one of the largest exposed lava rock flats in the world. If you go to Google maps and search for "idaho", you will see a huge black spot in the bottom right. The flow is actually much larger than that and its all one big preserve. Its impossible to run underground cables since its all basically solid rock, and running overhead wires is pretty damn challenging as well given the lack of roads.

    The Frank Church wilderness area which makes up a large chunk of the middle of the state specifically bans wires and electricity, cell towers, wheels, and pretty much any other modern technology. There is no way it will have 3G coverage any time soon.

    Montana has the Bob Marshal wilderness area, Wyoming has Yellowstone, California has Yosemite, etc.

    Hell, even the south western part of Idaho is just a big flat desert with virtually no farms, roads, or people. Why should we worry about its 3g coverage?

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