The Spots Not Covered

On February 23, 2010 · 3 Comments

I’ve confessed before to my fondness for an old-fashioned newspaper on a Sunday morning, and it’s doubly so when I stumble across an informative map in those ink-stained pages. A map I spied among the folds demanded my full attention, the grandiose centerpiece of a full page advertisement for a mobile phone company. They touted their near-ubiquitous 3G network coverage stretching across a major metropolitan area.

AT&T 3G Coverage in Washington DC
SOURCE: Washington Post (print edition), February 21, 2010

First, a disclaimer: I don’t have a vested interest in this, other than the map itself. I’m not promoting or disparaging a specific company. OK, let’s move along…

With this map, the provider hopes to counter the effects of negative advertising from one of their main rivals. They are aiming to convince consumers that they offer 3G service where it really matters, where the people live. It doesn’t matter so much that they have spotty coverage in out-of-the-way spaces of the continental interior.

I’m simply making an observation and I’ll let the companies and their customers duke it out. I’m only interested in the tiny holes in this area of five million people that appear as blank spots on this map. Those are places that cannot benefit from the company’s 3G service. One can only wonder what these people did to anger the cellular Gods. They have fallen through the cracks.

It was a bit difficult to translate the lack of detail on the map to exact spots on the ground, and perhaps that’s the point. The company is trying to draw attention to the coverage rather than to the places it doesn’t serve. It’s an advertisement ploy and it only needs to show a sea of red. The white splotches are superfluous. However this made the small empty voids all that more interesting to me. It felt like a challenge and I was glad to accept it. I had to find those spots.

I discovered a better source online, the company’s Coverage Viewer. It generated maps with greater granularity. The purpose of this tool isn’t advertising, it’s to provide fair notice to consumers so the greater detail makes sense. I could use the viewer to drill down into the newspaper map’s empty spots, correlate them with more detailed renderings in Google Maps, and finally identify a few unlucky residents that fell outside of the 3G coverage areas.

View Larger Map

It’s a little surprising to find that any area of affluent Great Falls, Virginia, isn’t covered. That’s not why I focused here, though. I simply thought it ironic and amusing that the company doesn’t provide 3G service on Blackberry Lane! (zoom in on the street sign and see for yourself).

View Larger Map

This resident of eastern Fauquier County is totally screwed. Imagine the day he brought his new iPhone home only to discover that not only did he not get 3G coverage, he didn’t even get voice coverage! He happens to live right in the middle of the big white splotch on the lower-center part of the newspaper map.

View Larger Map

Here’s one more spot, this time in Calvert County, Maryland. Well at least he can take some solace in living just a couple of blocks away from the lovely shores of Chesapeake Bay.

It’s possible that the map is so large and the exceptions are so small that one’s eyes are drawn to the exceptions rather than the rule. Or maybe that’s just a peculiarity to me.

On February 23, 2010 · 3 Comments

3 Responses to “The Spots Not Covered”

  1. Alger says:

    I have a suspicion that the spot of white surrounding affluent Great Falls might exist because the high-toned residents refuse to lease cell tower space.

    Anyway…they still print newspapers? On paper?

    • Alger: After spending untold hours each week in front of a screen, it’s nice to go old-school and feel the crinkle of paper on a quiet, relaxed Sunday morning before the kids wake up. I live in an area where the dead-tree media will probably survive a lot longer than many other places although I’ve noticed a steady decline in the number of pages per edition over the years. Even here it won’t be much longer… I tell the kids to remember these days so they’ll have stories for their grandchildren, like when my dad tells them about the ice man that used to come by his home every few days when he was a child.

      Matthew: I loved the map. Discounting Alaska, I would concur with northern Nevada and probably add portions of Utah, Montana, North Dakota, etc. What I found particularly surprising from the map, looking strictly at the US, were the portions of Appalachia that were “distant” from what they considered major cities. I’m sure it’s not a matter of air miles as much as it’s the road infrastructure.

  2. Matthew says:

    This post made me wonder what the remotest spot is in the USA. Not in terms of 3G network coverage, but in terms of most inaccessible, or lowest population density, or some such measure. I saw this article a few months ago which probably made me think of this topic just now – whatever the location, I’m sure 3G coverage is not extensive. 🙂

    My bet would be northern Nevada.

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