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David Talbot

A View from David Talbot

635,392 U.S. Road Miles Lack 3G or 4G

FCC takes a stab at closing parts of the nation’s wireless divide

  • October 3, 2012

Amid the recent release of new ultrafast smartphone models, two interactive maps provide a reminder of the United States’ wireless divide and the incremental progress in closing it. 

This one shows areas that still lack coverage for 3G or 4G wireless coverage. It includes 1,738,828 residents and 653,392 miles of highways and secondary roads (including a few stretches of the fabled Route 66 through northern New Mexico and Arizona). If you live in one of these areas or are driving through, you’ll find no 4G or even 3G service for your new iPhone5, Droid Razr M, Nokia Lumia 900, or other smartphone.

And this one shows the areas with 224,462 residents, and 83,000 miles of roads, expected to start getting service thanks to $300 million worth of grants the U.S. Federal Communications Commission announced today. The money is going to large and small wireless carriers, following a bidding process favoring areas that would get the most road miles covered.

One recipient of project grants is Pine Belt Cellular, which services parts of west central Alabama, not far from Selma, site of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s freedom marches in 1965. (It appears that the Route 80 corridor, toward Montgomery, did already had some coverage.) 

Ten years after 3G’s introduction in the United States, many sparsely populated and poor regions, and many Indian reservations, cannot yet participate in the smartphone and wireless applications boom. But Washington is working on it.

The FCC Chairman, Julius Genachowski, said in his statement that people in the affected areas “will soon have greater access to the job, education and health-care opportunities of America’s world-leading mobile economy.” And he said the commission is expected to spend $50 million in one-time aid to tribal areas and $500 million a year to continue new phases of the effort elsewhere in the country.

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