We were somewhere in Kansas when we found the second microwave tower. We’d found the ruins of one somewhere else in Kansas earlier during that day. This other one still had its pyramidal horn-reflector antennae intact. One abandoned microwave tower is a coincidence; two is probably an omen. Especially when that second one has AT&T Long Lines signage out front.
Long Lines, AT&T’s division for long-distance communication networks, built out a massive microwave radio network starting in 1951. At the time, it was the first large-scale microwave-transmission network for telephony and broadcast, and it would be expanded a ton over the next few decades. But by the time the Internet rose to prominence, the technology was pretty outdated and couldn't carry the kind of bandwidth that fiber-optic cable could carry. AT&T sold off most of the towers in the late 1990s. According to FCC records it looks like this tower still belongs to AT&T, but it didn’t look like anyone had been around the tower site in a while—and no one answered the door at the weird building with the AT&T mailbox out front. A Google Earth image shows a white van parked by the building, so presumably someone does work there sometimes.
Looking at the base of the tower through a fence, I burst out laughing at a beam on which someone had written “FAIRVIEW.” A few months before this trip, ProPublica and The New York Times had published their lengthy overview of the NSA’s Fairview program, in which AT&T had generously assisted the NSA with interception and surveillance. Could this random tower surrounded by farmland at the edge of Kansas possibly be the namesake of the surveillance program?
Fear not, dear reader. In this moment, I did stop myself from going full-throttle surveillance bro. The beam probably just indicated a ground truth: We were in Fairview, Kansas. There are lots of places called Fairview, any of which could have heretofore unknown spooky qualities. And NSA code-words are kind of like horoscopes: endlessly amusing, but generally any meaning gleaned from them is more a reflection of their interpreter. During the remainder of the drive we didn’t dig deeper into the site, although we were pretty curious about what looked like an entrance to an underground bunker near the tower.