AT&T has promised that their 3G service will be wider than ever when customers start getting their hands on the new iPhone 3G. That’s great news depending on where you live. According to AT&T’s 3G coverage map, wait a minute, there is no coverage map for 3G coverage. You get to select a state or territory from a list to see where 3G coverage is and then you only get a list of cities available. Intriguing also, is that only 40 states (and Puerto Rico are included). There’s a pretty map of 2G coverage though. Vermont, West Virginia, the Dakota’s, Montana, and obviously a few others just are out of luck. And of course vast swaths of rural areas within states that do have 3G coverage aren’t included either.
I can’t fault AT&T (or any carrier) for going where the people are in large urban areas, that only makes sense. It takes a huge investment on the carrier’s part and we all know they don’t make back their investment with the very inexpensive rates they charge for service and things like SMS messaging. (That’s sarcasm in case you didn’t get it.) I do think it is time that the carriers tell us a little bit about their plans to make coverage available in the more rural areas of our country. Ubiquitous broadband is a great promise, but then so was ubiquitous electricity. I’m old enough to remember class mates in elementary school who didn’t have electricity in the rural area where I grew up, and that was long after most urbanites took electricity for granted. It took government action with the Rural Electrification Act of 1935 to get the power companies moving and even then it was done begrudgingly. And I suppose you could argue that if you choose to live in a rural area it is your choice and you take your chances.
I had a conversation with a neighbor last night about the new iPhone. He’s pretty distressed that AT&T has (according to their employees) no announce-able plans to roll out 3G here in our area anytime soon. He was very curious why I would even consider the new iPhone given that. The reason I am considering it, is that I do travel quite a bit during various parts of the year, and of course the destinations I travel to, all have 3G coverage. My friend does not travel as a part of his routine, except locally. To quote his words, “AT&T and Apple don’t want me as a customer and they insult me every time I see a commercial.”
In an age where there is a great push to deliver computing and connectivity to Third World countries it is intriguing we don’t hear any talk about or see any initiatives to widen the net to areas not served here in the US. We’ve heard many times that the US is at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to broadband access compared to Europe and Eastern Asia. While I’m sure that’s only part of a bigger complex story, it strikes me as odd, perhaps cyclical, and perhaps all too predictable, that we could be going through a similar page in US history when it comes to 3G connectivity in rural America as we did with electricity.