Alexander Graham Bell patented the phone in 1876 and a year later—the same year Farm Journal was born in Philadelphia—the first switchboard was installed in Boston. Here we are 137 years later, and I’m astonished at the connectivity we have in rural America.
Those of us who live in the boonies know all of the dead zones for cell coverage where we live and drive frequently. We know where to stand in the shop to make a call and when to stop at the top of the hill to finish a conversation before it vaporizes at the bottom. Because texts can sneak through in places calls don’t, I have rancher friends in remote locations that I text—requesting that they call when they get to a stronger, reliable signal.
In the past month, we seem to have reached a tipping point for cell coverage and Internet reliability. Rural America’s communications infrastructure is clearly beleaguered and going backward.
The Swiss cheese grid of cell towers is overwhelmed more often than not, and there are no more "reliable spots" for calling. At the same time—both at our Farm Journal office in town and at the farm—our broadband has unexplainably disappeared several times. Often, that happens on the same day—even though we’re using two different companies.
Even though the Broadband For America reports that the average connection speed has increased by 19 times in the past six years, that isn’t even close to reality for us in farm country.
The Digital Divide between urban and rural areas, as it is known, is actually a Digital Grand Canyon. It’s unquestionably time to get serious about broadband and cell tower coverage.