Just the other day, on NPR I was listening to some local business owners in North Carolina’s rural area complain about their internet connection. They discussed the prolonged amount of time it takes to upload a small video and how this disconnect directly effects their business’s sales. The community, bringing this issue to the attention of their local phone company, requested for more cell towers to be built. The sentiment was that a faster broad-band would equate to more economically thriving businesses, and further, be contributing to increased financial stability in the community. Some of the store owners lamented on how difficult it was to stay competitive in the market when their web presence was inferior to those of their competitors, due to a challenge that is, for the most part, out of their hands.
No Wifi No Business…..
Since it is nearly impossible these days to have a business without a website, limited internet access does in fact have a direct correlation to a business’s success, and a business’s success does relate to a community’s economic health. More and more remote, small town stores have found ways to survive in communities with limited resources with the help of internet sales. However, with a lack of attention placed on rural areas without fast broadband- which phone companies often justify by arguing that most rural towns don’t have a large enough demographic for more cell towers to be viable- small town businesses are suffering. I question if the phone companies invested anytime into contemplating how the demographic may (or may not) be directly related to the lack of connectivity, at least in this day-and-age. Wouldn’t more cell towers and increased broadband, give rise to population, clearing up the initial problems that prevented the building of such technology in the first place? I guess in this case, they find it important for the chicken to be in place before the egg.
Can Sheep provide Wifi?
But wait! There may be a solution! It seems the lack of connectivity is being solved in rural areas. In fact, without tampering with the natural landscape, there are plans in place to utilize the exact environment and species that already exist. And I am not talking about those ridiculous fake trees that have been erected on highways, which by the way, look like a cell tower had intentional decided to wear a tree costume because it was getting a little bashful about its’ slender figure. No, none of that. I’m referring to animals. More specifically, sheep! It seems as though rural North Carolina was not the only community commiserating about broadband issues. Research seems to have been underway for some time to find a solution for those still living in an antiqued time-capsule. And low-and-behold the answer had been right underneath their (cough) fork the entire time! What better way to increase connectivity than to create far reaching, and roaming, WiFi Hotspots with other members on the community. And even better, community members that so often go unnoticed- yes I am still talking about sheep.
Digital Smart Collars
At Lancaster University, researchers have recently been granted $260,000 to test digital “Smart” Collars (why does everything have to be “smart”?) on sheep! And not only will these sheep have the fastest connection, but with the smart collar rings attached to their ears, they look like a furry version of Mr. T! But all jokes aside, the initial purpose of these “smart” collars was to simply track the sheep’s whereabouts, along with the weather conditions. However, recently researchers have discovered the collars could provide an secondary purpose -bringing WiFi hotspots to rural areas. A “mesh network” can be created by a herd of sheep, transmitting connectivity across expansive distances. There has even been interest in bringing this technology to nomadic communities in Scandinavia
So far the research is still in its infancy stages. However, if it does end up coming into fruition, the community in North Caroline might have other things to worry about. Overly connected cheep? Bionic Ram invasion? One can only hope.
By Kayleigh Stack
Blogger & Researcher