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Wireless Networking Communications Networking United States IT

FCC Maps the 3G Wasteland Of the Western US 173

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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  • Gee... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by cirby ( 2599 ) on Friday February 10, 2012 @06:51PM (#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 thomasw_lrd ( 1203850 ) on Friday February 10, 2012 @06:54PM (#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 Anonymous Coward on Friday February 10, 2012 @06:54PM (#39000913)

    "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 macraig ( 621737 ) <> on Friday February 10, 2012 @07:02PM (#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 trout007 ( 975317 ) on Friday February 10, 2012 @07:59PM (#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.

  • by danbob999 ( 2490674 ) on Friday February 10, 2012 @08:01PM (#39001699)

    Why stop to mobile broadband? Why not movie theaters or professional sport teams? Each village should deserve one. Does who work in agriculture might want to enjoy these activities too.
    Living in the country has some advantages. Fresh air, more space, nature. It also has shortcomings like not being the first to get new cellular technologies deployed.

  • by Adriax ( 746043 ) on Friday February 10, 2012 @08:03PM (#39001715)

    I can!
    Instantaneous access to current market prices. Farmers who have this access have reported much better returns on their harvests.
    Access to emergency services incase of an accident. Some ranches around here don't have even basic cell access.
    Instant access to veterinary, horticultural, ect... resources. "Never seen this bug before, is it good or bad for my crops? If I don't squish now will I have to napalm my field later?"
    Sound and image recognition programs. Not many people can tell the different between a crow's mating call and their "Holyshit it's a bear!" call.
    Repair resources. Not everyone knows their quad bolt by bolt, knowing your kawasaki has a loose clutch linkage can save a lot of walking.
    Entertainment. Not all cowboys find the great outdoors so incredibly breathtaking that they never get bored, and a horse can navigate by itself better than any californian driver.

  • by HapSlappy_2222 ( 1089149 ) on Friday February 10, 2012 @08:06PM (#39001743)
    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 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.

    Also, as a former telco employee, classifying a service as a utility should not be done lightly. The portion of your bill that goes to taxes on utilities are fucking nuts (worse than what you see) and while it's harder to price gouge in the short run, there's a reason a land line costs $60 after taxes. Also, the intent of guidelines can be skirted pretty easily, which is why calling customer service results in a sales pitch, and why unless you specifically ask for a "1FR line" you get the package deal with long distance and call waiting blah blah.
  • by Dave Emami ( 237460 ) on Friday February 10, 2012 @08:15PM (#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?

  • by PeanutButterBreath ( 1224570 ) on Friday February 10, 2012 @08:22PM (#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 wierd_w ( 1375923 ) on Friday February 10, 2012 @10:28PM (#39002533)

    Usually, rural types are extremely local-community driven, simply *because* there isn't a huge and diverse network of social services paid for by taxes.

    Water, electric, and basic telephone on wires that are literally 70 years old. That and having the roads grated 12 times a year (if you are lucky!) Is what their tax money buys them. (Compare to city people who get prompt emergency services, prompt police protection/assistance, paved roads, and a bunch of other nice things.)

    This community centric "we gotta help each other out!" Mentality is how they survive. Their crop catches fire? Who shows up first-- all the neighbors with sacks to BEAT it out, or the fire dept? Guess what? Its the former. Unless the fire is really, horribly, "omg! Its destroying the whole state!" Big, the county will only send a cop car to go acess the damages.

    Similarly, the "no rural internet" problem could be solved fairly easily, if two things were permitted.

    1) force the telecoms to offer a highspeed connection at radically reduced rates to farmers who then redistribute access to thir neighbors. (These are the ones right next to civic centers. You know, the ones that can get access to the main lines.)

    2) free up, and preserve a spectrum chunk for longer-range (say, 5 miles tops) node to node mesh networks intended for public use.

    Allow the farmers themselves to build out the network, and it will get where it needs to go.

    The carriers have said they can't make a profit from it and so they won't do it. Obviously they would have no problem with somebody else doing it, since clearly no profit can be lost.

    Or, is it really just a pac of lies, like most people know it to be?


  • by Dave Emami ( 237460 ) on Friday February 10, 2012 @10:36PM (#39002571) Homepage

    Of course. Because Internet Connectivity is the same thing has having a Domino's store nearby.

    They are both luxuries, yes. Hard as it is for those of us in the tech world to grasp, there are quite a few people who can get along just fine without a network connection. For that matter, we're not talking about connectivity vs. lack of it, we're talking about broadband vs. dialup/satellite. Actually, the original article was about a lack of 3G coverage. These aren't areas where you're isolated from the world because you can't use email or instant messaging, these are areas where you can't watch YouTube on your cell phone. Call me hard-hearted if you like, but that doesn't come close to justifying intervention in the market, by my standards.

    You are, of course, right when you say that the market doesn't make the decision I want it to make. Duh. It makes the decisions that the companies who make up the market want to make. Which, in turn, are predicated on the needs and desires of customers in said market.

    Now that we have the Captain Obvious commentary out of the way, why don't we focus on the actual problem?

    Your assertion was that the free market didn't "fix" the situation. My point was that just because you think something is a problem, doesn't mean that it is a problem that requires fixing.

    Namely, that Internet connectivity these days is a lot more like electricity and roads: a fundamental infrastructure whose cost is far outweighed by the network effect it promotes. At that point, the question of ROI trumps all, and arguing that the market knows best is a ridiculously short-sighted answer.

    That's your as-yet-unproven assertion. Failing to see the same things that you do does not qualify as "short-sighted" unless those things are actually there.

    Finally, your argument that people choose to live there means they ought to just suck it up... even ignoring the incredible amount of Not-My-Problem attitude that this displays,

    As I pointed out, everyone has costs that they have to "suck up", as well as benefits, based on where they live. Those people living someplace should bear those costs as well as reaping those benefits. There's already far too much subsidizing of some areas at the expense of others. We should be rolling such things back, not adding more.

    it also ignores the fact that moving has significant costs attached to it: emotional costs of rebuilding your social life, monetary costs of actually moving, and even the requirement of actually finding and having a job in the new area before moving. Those are all real costs that are easy to quantify for someone who is pondering moving.

    Putting aside the idea that people in urban areas should be subsidizing wireless broadband for people in rural (or in many cases, near-wilderness) areas in order to spare those folks the costs of moving out of such places, which i absolutely reject, I think you have a major misconception about who lives in these areas. Although I suppose it's theoretically possible, I highly doubt there is anyone living out in the middle of the Mojave, miles away from anybody else, due to being too poor to move to the city; anyone without the ability (and requisite income) to regularly visit a population center for supplies is going to die. Anyone else would save money by moving into town. In Nevada, at least (where I'm at, hence my example bias), the major source of rural employment is mining, whose average salary is almost double the overall average for the state. They don't need other people subsidizing them. Another reason people live in those regions is to get away from the city. Well, if the most important things to you are clean air, privacy, elbow room, being able to see the stars at night, and being able to fire off your guns without anyone caring, go for it. Just be prepared for poor wireless coverage, and don't ask other people to pay for it.

  • by wierd_w ( 1375923 ) on Friday February 10, 2012 @10:47PM (#39002611)

    See my reply above.

    If the carriers can't be bothered to buld/can't make a profit from building the necessary infrastructure, then permit the farmers themselves to do it.

    Many farmers put up towers already for a wide variety of reasons, such as wind generators, and agricultural fuel pumps/water towers.

    Allowing them to put a simple mesh extender/repeater up there so that they can help service their neighbors, with the subsidy going to the telecom upstream to not throttle the exit pipes, and the money stays where you want it to stay, and the people impacted pay for the infrastructure themselves.

    Of course, that's awefully close to filthy communism..... once a functional mesh network servicing a large pool of users springs up, rest assured somebody would rush in to extract tolls on the thing.

    That's how shit like that works.

  • by wierd_w ( 1375923 ) on Saturday February 11, 2012 @12:37AM (#39002939)

    You aparently are not realizing the number of farmers being serviced, nor are you comprehending that large civic centers with the necessary trunk lines are fairly uniformly dotted inside such agrarian areas.

    Also, I am not suggesting that the mesh network supply a t1 speed connection for all users either. It only needs to provide better than 28.8kbps dialup. (Bcause that is all you can squeeze out of the horrifically neglected lines that were only installed because of a 1950s federal law requiring them.)

    Latency would be bad. Yes. It has to hop through tree clutter between god knows how many repeaters to get to the trunk. But if it is 1) faster than 28.8kbps, and 2)costs approx 10$/mo or less, aggregated between subsribers, it will be a hit. That is how fucking badly people demand internet out there.

    The problem with the forcing, is the latter option you mention. The telecoms are focusing on local maxima, and the initial costs of implementing a suitable level of service does not have a comparable RoI when viewed against a high density city.

    Many major metro areas in the intended coverage zones are completely surrounded by agrarian farmers. Take for instance, oklahoma city OK, wichita KS, Topeka KS, Hutchinson KS, etc.

    Said dedicated fiber trunks would at most 5 to 10 miles to the city edge, where they interface with the mesh network.

    The cost for those pipes will indeed be quite sizable, and out of the reach of the farmers. However, here is how it SHOULD be viewed:

    Either they open and maintain those short trunks, well inside the urban coverage areas, *OR* they can expect another 1950s telephone access bill to pass, and they can expect to lay thousands of miles of cable instead.

    There are litterally thousands of farmers in the mesh network area. Aggregated over that pool, the 250k/yr cost of a trunk line can easily come into the 10-15$/mo range, especially since you are not paying to service the mesh.

    The real problem will be keeping the local state and city governments (especially city!) From trying to treat the license fees from the mesh's operation as a fungible income source.

  • by rtfa-troll ( 1340807 ) on Saturday February 11, 2012 @04:17AM (#39003529)

    Some of what you say is true and country folks can't expect the same services as in the city. That's why people moved to the cities in the first place. However:

    Nobody is stopping you from doing that.

    Oh yes they are. The first fundamental blockage is that the teleco companies own the most interesting parts of the radio spectrum and buy it up everywhere. Secondly, whenever a town starts to build a network of their own they come in and try to get legislation blocking it.

    This blocking of competition also generalises to private initiatives in many places; when someone starts to build a competing network they will come in exactly there, and nowhere else, and make sure they kill off the competition.

    Finally, the telecos got ownership of a whole bunch of infrastructure that was state built almost everywhere. The value of that is obvious, but most important is the blocking power; there's no way to rebuild the whole thing all at once and the person who has it already is always able to block competition wherever they choose.

    This just is an area where the companies ensure that pure free market fails and so there needs to be intervention.

Exceptions prove the rule, and wreck the budget. -- Miller