Where I live we don’t have cable or DSL. Our Internet connection comes via an antenna on the roof that gets a signal from a line-of-sight transmission from the next hill. Our Internet provider is a sort of homebrew  company that was founded by a guy at my church. It’s all a local effort.barbed wire telephone

When people ask me about the speed of my Internet, I usually say, jokingly, that we get it via the barbed wire fences that run between all the houses.

Well, at one time using the fence wire was how rural people communicated (Trew, 2003; Wheeler, 2014; Zhang, 2014). Stop here and go read one or more of these links. If you just read one, make it Wheeler.

I meant to use the barbed wire telephone story almost a year ago, but somehow it fell between the cracks. What struck me about this story was how people did this themselves. They figured out new technology and made it work where no business or corporate entity would. This sort of creativity, that overlaid the latest technology on mundane everyday things, seems lost today.

I wonder if health care has any niches that would profit from this sort of frontier innovation? I don’t have an already selected answer for this question.  I think though that more problems need to be solved at a grass roots level than by a bunch of specialists in some exotic corporate structure.

Maybe the rural environment is more conducive to practical innovation. Sort of a skonk works* for real.

Join us for a real-time discussion about ideas raised by this essay on Friday from 12:00 p.m. to 12:45 p.m. See Discussion and SL tabs above for details. Link to the virtual meeting room: http://tinyurl.com/cjfx9ag.

* Skonk Works – a small, independent group charged with a highly innovative task and characterized by reduced corporate interference. Term originally came from Al Capp’s newspaper comic strip, Li’l Abner, and was adopted by Lockheed Martin for its development facility. In the latter usage as Skunk Works® it is registered by Lockheed Martin.


  1. Trew, D. Barbed Wire Telephone Lines Brought Gossip and News to Farm and Ranch. Farm Collector, September 2003.
  2. Wheeler, C. Wired for Sound. Texas Co-op Power, May 2014.
  3. Zhang, S. Barbed Wire Fences Were An Early DIY Telephone Network. Gizmodo, January, 2014.