The road less traveled is Highway 6, starting in eastern California and traversing the mid-section of Nevada. Although its neighbor highway to the North, Highway 50, was deemed the “Loneliest Road in America,” the two-lane ribbon of seemingly endless asphalt that is Highway 6 really deserves that moniker. The condition of the road is great, but what is lacking is the complementary communications nervous system, so common along the Interstate system. The lack of wired or wireless network could mean life or death for the stranded motorist, as this author recently discovered.
Highway 6 cuts across the volcanic remnants of the famous Mono Lake and snakes its way to the mining town of Tonopah. Touching the northern edge of Sandia National Laboratory and relatively close to the fabled “Area 51”, it passes through numerous valleys and summits in the Great Basin where it finally merges with Highway 50 in the town of Ely, Nevada. Through this vast expanse of hundreds of miles, cellular service appears to be available only in the two towns.
Driving along in the family truckster, between Tonapah and Ely, I observed to my 11 and 13-year-old sons (knowing they would find this utterly fascinating), that someone should make a bid on this rural corridor in the upcoming FCC’s Auction 901 (Mobility Fund Phase 1 reverse auction). I suggested that the bidder could partner with the electric utility and use the many poles to install a fiber backbone connecting femtocells to provide wireless coverage along the highway.
A few minutes later we would find out how useful my proposed communications network would be along this rural road. A blowout (actually tread separating from the tire) stopped our forward progress, but the good news was that there was no oncoming traffic. The bad news was there were only two cars in the half hour it took to change the blown tire. Limping into Ely, Nevada on a spare and another tire that was slashed from our 180 degree spin into a road marker; we were looking for a connection to the Internet so we could find a big box retailer with cost-effective replacement tires.
Unfortunately, besides the lack of a big box retailer, there also wasn’t Internet in this remote mining town. The cell phone wouldn’t even pick up a “G” network. After countless attempts to connect at the best hotel in town, the person at the front desk said the ISP had told them that the problems with the Internet connections were due to the fires in Utah. The implication was that there was either no redundant paths to the Internet or all paths had failed.
My proposed fiber backbone to serve wireless along Highway 6 could also potentially serve as another path to the Internet (assuming it could somehow be extended to a meet point with some more populous area) for landline connections as well. This could be an interesting opportunity for an electric cooperative, such as the Mt. Wheeler Power, or some other entity who has a vested interest in the community of Ely and surrounding environs.
Assuming upfront capital costs would come from the fund, the million dollar question is whether the ongoing operation of the network would be sustainable from the revenue derived from roaming fees, anchor tenants and residential Internet. It will be interesting to see if any entity jumps in with a bid in the FCC Auction 901 for this stretch of rural and lonely road.
[Postscript: The nearest big box retailer was over 200 miles away from Ely. The first tire shop in Eli didn’t have tires to fit our rig. Fortunately, the other tire shop in Eli had tires, which we gladly purchased and we were merrily along our way on Highway 6– still without mobile phone or data service, but thankful it was only our tires that were damaged.]