The Garden is an egalitarian community farm on Tennessee which has been the subject of myriad false and hysterical claims on social media in recent months. I went there personally and researched all the claims people are making, and I also interviewed everyone about their infrastructure.
As a fanatical cyberpunk aficionado, I am always excited to see people solving their infrastructure challenges in radically innovative ways.
Rural Tennessee is not well served by cell phone providers. If you walk around the outer areas of The Garden, there is zero cell reception. You can’t even make emergency calls. This is typical for many forested rural areas. Trees are good at blocking cell phone signal. You need line of sight to a cell tower in most cases in order to get reception. The more things that are in the way, the worse your reception gets.
You’re probably familiar with WeBoost. It’s a simple device with three parts. First there is the outside antenna. This reaches out to the cell phone tower. That antenna connects to the box that contains all the electronics, and then there is an inside antenna that rebroadcasts the cell signal to your phone.
These are typically used for RVs and semi trucks. But The Garden decided to put one on a tall mast above a tall building. This means it can reach over the trees and establish that line of sight to the cell phone tower. Then it rebroadcasts that signal from the centrally located office building. This allows their community to have great cell phone service even though there are no towers, and no cell phone service in the area.
I actually have the newest high-end super fancy WeBoost on my camper, but it wasn’t tall enough to reach over the trees to the cell tower. So I used The Garden’s cheap, old, low-end WeBoost instead. This is a great example of how you don’t have to spend a lot of money to solve a problem, and often times spending more will do a worse job than spending less while doing it in a smarter way.
I was using my free T-Mobile hotspot with their $50/unlimited plan and jumping through The Garden’s Weboost to reach the tower. This provided plenty of bandwidth to do my zoom classes all week while I was there. I don’t recall ever having any problem with bandwidth. I was really surprised how well this system worked, and that it’s been in place like this for many years meeting their needs.
The presence of the WeBoost in this building means that it becomes a natural gathering spot for people who need to check in with the outside world. A couple solar panels are arranged on the far side of the building to provide a medium-sized solar power system for the WeBoost as well as the many cell phones that need some charge.
At any given moment, you will find half a dozen or so community members in there chatting and connecting with loved ones and friends, or uploading their TikToks.