NPR has the story of a community that would seem downright unlivable to most of us. Walk down the streets and you’ll find payphone booths lining the road. Whip out your cellular phone and you won’t even get a single bar of Edge Network connectivity, much less LTE. Try as you might, you won’t even find a Wi-Fi signal. And no, it’s not in the remotest depths of some third-world nation. No, it’s not Amish country. It’s a 13,000-square-mile area in the eastern half of West Virginia devoid of cell towers, where Wi-Fi is banned and ham radio is the go-to means of communication in the event of emergency.
But not for the reasons you might suspect.
In fact, this National Radio Quiet Zone is one of the more scientifically important swaths of land east of the Mississippi River. The reason for all of this radio silence? The Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope – the world’s largest fully steerable radio telescope — and the nearby Sugar Grove research facility, both of which deal with such low-energy readings that even a stray Wi-Fi signal could skew the results:
“We still have communications. I mean, it’s just … older. Dial-up telephones. We still have phone booths,” says Chuck Niday, an engineer for the National Radio Astronomy Observatory and a volunteer at Allegheny Mountain Radio.
To keep the zone protected from signals that could confuse the telescope, Niday and others from the NRAO drive the 20-mile radius around the Green Bank Telescope weekly, policing for possible interference.
“Say someone has a Wi-Fi service set up near the observatory that’s causing us interference, we can ask them to shut it off and most of the time they do,” he says.
How very Canadian!
Of course, the lack of wireless communications isn’t exactly a blessing for everyone in the area. The story goes on to discuss the efforts of the owner of the nearby Snowshoe Ski Resort to provide short-range cellular service for visitors.
By the way, the Green Bank Telescope — the reason for all of this radio silence — is itself currently silent because of the government shutdown Tea Party junta.
The most interesting aspect of all of this, though, is that the lack of Wi-Fi, cellular service, and even high-energy radio broadcasts sets the stage for what could be another very interesting scientific study. I, for one, would love to know if the residents of the National Radio Quiet Zone are healthier than the rest of us. If all of the RF energy that permeates our modern society do, in fact, cause cancer and other health problems, as the True Believers claim, the residents of this region should be significantly healthier. If any such study has been done, I’d love to read it.