Here’s another example of the digital divide, geographical edition, with bonus points for how giant digital companies can be awful.
The state of Vermont is very rural. Most inhabitants find mobile phone coverage to be spotty, if not just bad. In contrast, cell phone carrier services – Verizon, AT&T, etc. – have recently declared Vermont to be pretty well covered, thank you very much.
To resolve this contradiction, a state Department of Public Service employee decided to map the state’s actual cell phone coverage. He drove to every single town, testing signal strength with a box of phones, each tuned to a different carrier.
The results confirm folk wisdom, as well as my research into the digital divide. The most populated urban areas have good coverage. For example, the Burlington area, population around 45,000:
Compare with Montpelier, the state capital, population around 7,500:
Some pleasing squares of green, then yellow, then sad orange and fiery red not too far away.
Compare with central Vermont, which lacks any cities, except for a few wealthy towns, like Middlebury:
Some patches of green, some lines of yellow, and big lanes of red.
Similar patterns occur on the state’s southern edge, with a couple of bigger towns – Brattleboro, Bennington – separated by low mountains:
In other words, Vermont has very uneven cell service, ranging from decent to basic to nothing at all.
Why does this matter? A few observations:
- Rural areas are underserved, again. The digital divide persists along this access.
- Using cell service to make up for bad internet connections is not a universally available option.
- The cell carriers are not trustworthy on this score.
- We may need better data on the reality of connectivity.