'Communication' A Bigger Issue Than Most Think

Friday, Jul 15, 2016

Over last weekend, television was full of "news" fueled with live cell phone video.

The idea from many of the talking heads was that "our culture" is rapidly changing thanks to cell phone capabilities.

Meanwhile, in Belle Fourche and our surrounding Tri-State area, much of that discussion was irrelevant. For seven hours Friday for about half of "us," it was completely irrelevant.

A cell tower in Belle Fourche was "down."

For the half of us with one cell service, there was no internet, no texting, and no voice calls even for emergencies such as accident or illness.

Ditto our city and county "code red" service to warn of dangerous weather, fires, lost children and other emergency public notice.

Many of us no longer have, or use, wired telephones. Some don't have either cable or local broadcast television.

"We" rely increasingly on cell phones. They connect us for work, for emergencies, with friends and family, and even for entertainment.

Cell phone and internet service are not as available or reliable here as in cities.

Watching "cable-attached" television last weekend, you'd never know that there's a left-out segment of the American public.


We've known for years that cell coverage can be poor or intermittent in the Tri-State area and Black Hills. That's even before nearly everyone carried a $700 "device" and paid a monthly bundle for reliable service that isn't always.

It's a political thing that appears beyond local and state government.

The National Weather Service's "weather radio" was in the same situation 20 years ago.

Weather radio offered a degree of warning about major storms, but wasn't available in many rural areas.

Back then, we didn't think much about cell phones. They were expensive and less reliable than other sorts of two-way radio.

Even wired telephone service could be horrid. Many rural businesses couldn't use a fax machine, let alone the slow telephone wire internet that town folks were adapting.

It took pressure from our South Dakota Congressional delegation, notably Sen. Tim Johnson, to expand weather radio coverage.

Compared to 20 years ago, cell phone and "cable" services have improved.

But nobody, it seems to me, looks at weak links in that service. We're out of service in too much of our rural area.

It wasn't just the 7-hour Friday cell phone break. I'm aware of other problems with area internet service for various reasons.

The problem here Friday? Apparently it was "a wire."

Services are flakey in rural areas and vulnerable even in cities.

A century ago, loss of telegraph service was a business disaster.

Half a century ago, loss of wired telephone service was a local emergency.

Today technology connects us as never before, whether we like it or not.

Losing that technology disconnects us as never before.

It is a critical to live in today's world.

It's vulnerable and flakey everywhere, but especially in rural America.

We need somehow to insist it's reliable as possible and available for all of us in rural America. Not just city folks.

But is anyone listening?


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