Tuesday, October 04, 2011

The trouble with towers

(This week's column by Ryan Craig.)

Don’t think me an ingrate, but I’m about to shore up my complaining pants, tighten my sass belt and straighten my tie of righteous indignation and dance the dance with my angry shoes.

AT&T, you break my heart.

We have reported and reported on the possibility that you would bring us better service here in “wittle-old” Todd County.

You teased us with your towers that will bring service, that will look like those cool commercials with apps that can tell you how many fleas are on our dogs or make us a sandwich when we are tired.

We complained bitterly about your stance that Todd County didn’t have enough customers ... and we still probably don’t, but thanks to that gigantic silicon making thing to the south of us, you guys got a lot of pressure to get something going.

(Sorry, I stopped to take a call and, I would swear to this in front of a judge on a stack of Bibles, the person on the phone lost their service. Their AT&T service.)

Anyway, you dedicated with major pomp and circumstance a tower in south Todd. It wasn’t immediately working, but now it is.

The tower in Clifty — I will get into why I say Clifty and not north Todd later — was up and working faster but many have complained that while they are happy to have cell phone service they were perplexed as to why there is only basic or 2G service.

Since there was no real indication of when 3G (or hopefully 4G since 5G is on its way) will come to Clifty, it seems like the excitement in north Todd at the posibility of overall wireless broadband service is a fleeting dream.

Of course, this wouldn’t be a problem that people in most places would care so much about, except in Todd County, most of the houses outside of the cities don’t have broadband access. Or, at best, they have satellite service which is not always what most experts consider affordable.

Most are stuck with 1994 technology in their homes and a burning dislike in their hearts for companies that see a profit margin before they can see their customers.

Also, we have a high school full of students who have laptops, and there have been real issues for almost three years now getting good high-speed service for the students to use at home.

Truthfully, I think most people on a daily basis don’t see the absolute need for better broadband access, but as the technological world heads farther away from desktop computing to mobile broadband devices like cell phones, laptops and hybrid devices like the iPad, the need for a good infrastructure becomes more and more apparent.

Still, after all the complaining, and, trust us, this newspaper and its editor have complained to the governor, state and U.S. representatives and senators and even AT&T itself. It boggles our mind that we might have to be glad that the slither of north Todd that can get a fast signal through the hills and hollers might be as good as it gets for a long while.

Here’s a story that is absolutely true and scary at the same time:

When this newspaper had a Web site with HD videos, an avid reader and supporter of the newspaper told me he had to download a video in the morning before he went to work on his slow dial-up service and when he’d get home in the afternoon, he would sometimes see the download of the video had just finished up.

That is real problem ... for 1998!

People often ask me when I’m going to put a Web site back up and I tell them that I would be glad to when I thought there would be enough of my readers who could watch our videos and enjoy our site instead of just the parts that will upload at the speed of slug.

Hilda Legg, who has served in the Rural Utilities Service and in the Appalachian Regional Commission in Washington, D.C., and now serves as a consultant in Rural Economic Development with emphasis in telecommunications deployment in rural America, told me in 2007 (that’s right, four years ago) that high-speed broadband access might be the most important single infrastructure a rural community can have.

Just like market-to-farm roads in the 1930s and electricity in the following decades, she said broadband will be key to the future of rural America staying with the rest of the country, much less the rest of the world.

It just saddens me to see our struggles when communities in Kentucky much smaller than ours have broadband service or are on their way to good service through USDA grants.

The grants, as part of the stimulus package a few years back, were deemed too small for large companies like AT&T.

So if a slow drip by AT&T is the best we can do then our leaders and those who seek a better and brighter future should be commended for what we have.

Still, our leaders (and AT&T) should be challenged to bring in more and better service to Todd County.

Then I can retire my complaining pants and sass belt and enjoy a world where anywhere I go — and I do mean anywhere — I can look up information on the internet on my mobile device just like those folks in the big city.

We should accept nothing less ... we deserve nothing less.


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