April 27 is the day Samuel Morse was born. An artist, inventor and innovator, Morse is most well-known for Morse code, the “dits” and “dahs” system of telegraphic communication he developed alongside Alfred Vail that turned rhythm into letters.
Morse has been dead since 1872, but his April birthday is still seen as important to contemporary society and modern technology. Last year, the quirky and gigantic internet company, Google, modified its sometimes playful home page to be an homage to Morse.
After all, Morse was a contemporary of Heinrich Hertz.
Like Hertz, Morse helped pave the way for Guglielmo Marconi and Nikolai Tesla, if you like, as well as the development and eventual ubiquity of radio. On those developers’ shoulders rests today’s extraordinary and unwieldy communications network.
Two overriding factors mark the current lay of the land first marked by those early pioneers. The first is tremendous interconnectivity, allowing for an unprecedented level of information exchange, and attendant advances in media, health, science, activism and overall human understanding. The second factor is the stunning level of corporate control of this interconnectivity.
In Santa Fe, we apparently misunderstand both. City government has been lackadaisical, to say the least, about encouraging new infrastructure to allow better broadband internet connectivity here. A cursory glance at the city’s fabric of scientists, artists, government bodies, colleges and businesses indicates the ready advantage of investing in improved communications infrastructure but, somehow, the political will is too perpetually distracted to focus.
The recent debate surrounding Santa Fe’s telecommunications ordinance—a routine ordinance that sets provisions for protecting aesthetics, property values and public input in municipal contracts with telecoms—has been guided by the anti-corporate sentiments of a small group of activists and their tagalongs. The activists are concerned about (unproven) health effects of wireless and cellular transmissions. They interpret the congressionally mandated Federal Communications Commission rule against municipalities considering possible health effects when drafting telecommunications ordinances as sure signs of corporate collusion. It’s a conspiracy worthy of the tea party.
Not only is there good rationale for barring local government bodies from getting all willynilly with their subjective ideas about health, activists’ suspicions are totally misguided. Want to stick it to telecommunications corporations that rake common folks over the coals? Start by empowering the FCC, not crying foul.
The Obama administration has in FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski an undeniable ally of social justice and public welfare. Genachowski has made it clear that the United States desperately needs increased broadband connectivity and has made it his chief priority. However, he’s currently having his ass handed to him by Comcast, AT&T and the extremely conservative Washington, DC, Circuit Court of Appeals— entities that appear united in their determination to kill net neutrality, aka federal regulation against corporate censorship of the internet.
Santa Fe’s confusion about who the enemy is has been exacerbated by so-called “reporting” that appears to be more sensationalist than accurate. In a March 10 SFReeper.com posting, SFR Staff Writer Corey Pein notes The Santa Fe New Mexican’s willingness to hype controversy over facts regarding debates about electromagnetic radiation. More recently, an April 8 article in the New Mexican by Julie Ann Grimm opens by claiming, “The federal government does not want cities to talk about possible health or environmental consequences from the growing number of wireless antennas.” It’s a wild misrepresentation of the truth for a news article.
Ironically, activists hoping to prevent increased Wi-Fi and cellular connectivity in Santa Fe are lapping up these intimations of government conspiracy in an effort to get…the government to protect them.
Grimm was reporting—and I use the word loosely—on an April 8 “town hall” meeting cohosted by the Santa Fe Alliance for Public Health and Safety (a generously named anti-Wi-Fi group) and City Councilor Miguel Chavez. Never mind that it’s somewhat inappropriate for Chavez to co-host a meeting with other special interest groups—telecommunications corporations, for example. The media’s treatment of the meeting as legitimate discourse on an ordinance that is fundamentally unrelated to the concerns expressed is appalling. Worse, it contributes to ineffective government.
Santa Fe blogger Steve Stockdale, writing on his Discern This! blog, notes both the meeting’s incredible bias toward a specific agenda and the New Mexican’s failure to accurately report the facts.
Overall, it’s an incredible low for public dialogue that has been aggravated by the City Council’s failure to prioritize broadband development and properly empower staff to initiate such development, which would include a professional and thorough telecommunications ordinance. If city staff had the tools and trust to do their jobs, the council (and specific councilors) wouldn’t wind up playing hero to a misguided and mediahyped minority.
In the spirit of Samuel Morse, and in case there’s anyone out there who can help, I’ll summarize with this message: — — —
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