The Hoosierist: A Different Spin

TV drones, rural internet, and Amazon’s massive Indiana distribution centers. Ask the Hoosierist.

Illustration by Ryan Johnson

Q: It seems like the local TV news stations have gone drone-crazy lately. How do they decide when to send a helicopter, and when to send a robot?
A: Choosing between a helicopter and a drone is a non-issue for Indy-area stations, because all of them have ditched their choppers in favor of remote systems. The last holdout was WTHR. “We sold our helicopter about eight or nine months ago,” says Jeff Rosetti, the station’s news director. The reason was money. While tiny drones (which carry batteries with a 20-minute charge) lack the endurance of a chopper, they also don’t cost an estimated $750 per hour to operate. Which helicopters totally do. “The price of putting up a helicopter twice for morning traffic roughly equals the purchase price of a drone,” Rosetti says. Currently, his station operates a fleet of eight, with two more on order. And some of his competitors made the switch years ago.

Q: Internet connectivity in rural Indiana is terrible. Why can’t small towns get a good connection?
A: Yes, the sad truth is, in some corners of the state, internet service has barely progressed beyond the America Online dial-up era. As with almost everything, it boils down to economics. Stringing the fiber-optic cables necessary to bring places like Union and Warren counties up to speed costs a fortune. In spots with small populations, the investment (for a private firm) simply isn’t worth the trouble. Big providers may pawn off such areas to local entities, which can scrape by on less revenue—but also invest less in advanced services. If we really want fast internet from one corner of the state to the other, it probably means spending a big chunk of state and federal money to build the infrastructure. But that seems about as likely as using an old 1,200-bit modem to download Gone with the Wind.

Q: Amazon’s warehouses around Indy are huge. How does their footprint here compare to other cities?
A: Indiana hosts five of these distribution centers, built on a scale that would make the pharaohs jealous. The biggest Hoosier structure sits in Whitestown, and encompasses more than 1 million square feet. While big, that’s somewhat smaller than Amazon’s largest warehouse in Schertz, Texas, which measures 1,264,200 square feet. And both are tiny pieces of Amazon’s total real estate holdings. As of 2018, the company’s worldwide square footage was around 288 million, including offices and server sites. But most of that space is dedicated to distribution centers, where workers rush around putting the coffee-scented candles
you ordered at 2 a.m. into boxes.


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