Empire rots and grows dark at the edges even as the lights seem brightest in its heart where the leaders feverishly tweak and prime the flow of the wealth-pump and would-be leaders make promises to restore the Republic to its former glory. And both sets struggle mightily to keep the haves content and the have-nots hopeful.
We live an hour from Knoxville to our north-east and Chattanooga to our south-west in a narrow valley with low ridges. Our county just ten years ago had twelve repairmen servicing phone lines. Today it has one individual who now services two counties with the same amount of landline.
Phone companies have always been required, as a semi-public utility, to maintain that access in rural areas. But the cell phone revolution has allowed them a way out of that obligation. In a historical slight-of-hand, as the number of cell phones proliferated, phone companies began dismantling the service infrastructure. Today a disruption to the landline entails many calls and a week or more response time; a process that is guaranteed to gin up the numbers who get fed up and opt out. The more who opt out, the quainter the requirement to provide the costly landline infrastructure seems until eventually the service is removed and replaced with….?
Meanwhile, currently 7 out of 10 teachers in the US assign homework to students that require a broadband connection to complete the work (according to a recent FCC report). And one out of three households do not subscribe to broadband. The report is primarily urban-centric. Very little data about how rural-households cope. But one could reasonably surmise that for lack of digital infrastructure or for affordability, large sections of this land are left out of the techno-fantasies of our education elites.
Indeed one does not need to read that report. Read an article in a newspaper or watch a segment on a newscast and witness that disconnect between the fantasy imaginings of a connected world and the realities of everyday life. It has only been three years since we began to get a cell phone signal at our house. Before that date I’d have to drive ten miles and park at the Fender’s Methodist Church to take calls. The teenage boy in a neighboring family walked up to our back field (north-east corner) and found a forty-foot patch where he could reach his girlfriend.
Today we enjoy a ghost echo of the digital revolution here in the valley. We now receive cellphone calls in the front two rooms of the house. Outside we can take calls from the house to almost half-way down the drive. At that point you’d still need to drive out to the church to complete your call. And our connection speeds have increased. We get a pretty consistent 1G in those two front rooms with the occasional 3G pulse. And some of the time we get nothing.
I’m not whinging, I have a good job, a good farm and a full belly. But one does wonder who speaks for or is concerned about the rural lives of this country, the kids held back by both finances and access to the digital promised-land. A technological revolution that I suspect the elites are no longer capable of either funding or even conceptualizing a need for outside the core hubs where the lights still burn bright.
There you have it, as a society we are busy rolling up the carpets of communication infrastructure while requiring kids to use a technology which is only sporadically available or on terms they can’t afford. And failing that, they are effectively being asked to kindly turn out the lights when they leave.
Our rural population along with the abandoned urban core are being asked to “eat cake”. And we all know where that ends. And in case you are having trouble imagining, it doesn’t end with a “digital” revolution.