How Rural America is Like the Third World

When it comes to communications technology, at least: in a Netroots Nation panel today on political organizing in rural areas, Mindy Diane Feldman mentioned that some rural areas in this country are effectively leapfrogging a generation of communications technology, skipping past dial-up and even broadband internet directly to cell phones. We’ve seen this dynamic at work all around the world, as cell coverage penetrates to areas that wires have never reach, and it’s changed lives and whole local economies in the process.

This technological shift has obvious implications for political communicators, since many rural residents have been hard to reach and harder to organize. Door-to-door canvassing is out (unless you want to get shot at), phonebanking works in some places but not in others, internet access only reaches half of rural America and even direct mail won’t find everyone regularly. As cell coverage penetrates more and more of the hinterland, however, Mindy says that some rural political organizers are turning to cell phones as a primary tool, particularly focusing on SMS text messaging and Twitter.

They’re not the only ones, of course, since political organizers from Manila to D.C. have found that cell phones are profoundly political devices, particularly when they reach populations that are otherwise effectively off the grid. And of course, the gradual expansion of broadband will eventually reach many of these people, even in remote corners of the American West. But for now, country is apparently country, whether it’s in New Mexico or Nigeria, and cell phones are one of the few ways to reach deep into the boonies.


Written by
Colin Delany
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1 comment
  • There’s a lot of interesting stuff that’s been done with mobile phone in African political campaigning in particular, so who knows – perhaps the future will hold more of the US picking up lessons from other countries rather than the usual flow in the other direction?