For more than 15 years I’ve advocated for various carriers and cell tower companies so that their customers can text their boyfriends, call their offices or surf the internet. Until now, however, I never appreciated what a cellular infrastructure does for democracy.
In today’s New York Times, researchers with Rand Corporation editorialize (“Can You Hear Libya Now”) that the only thing we can do to support Libya’s protestors short of military intervention is to give them . . . cellular antennas. Here’s how they describe it:
“Fortunately, there is an easy step the United States and its allies could take to help: deploying cell phone base stations on aircraft or tethered balloons. The calls could then be routed to Navy ships equipped with satellite communications terminals.
Base stations are small and cheap. Indeed, this kind of portable system, though not used, was already available in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and in the years since the hurricane, the equipment has shrunk even further.”
But the point is not Libya. The point is that democracy has always been advanced through widespread communication. The Gutenberg Press, for example, has been credited with enabling the more democratic Protestantism to gain footholds where the Catholic Church had monopolistic control on religious thought.
Democracy in America was made possible because men like Ben Franklin and Thomas Paine had access to printing presses, and we’ve all heard many times by now that Marc Zuckerberg’s greatest legacy may actually be the use of Facebook to promote democracy in the Arab world.
Which brings me full circle. I’ve stood in front of Boards of Adjustment and planning boards and elected bodies in three states promoting the construction of cell towers. In my presentations I’ve discussed comprehensive plans, zoning codes, the necessity of business to business communication, emergency professionals communicating with each other, families staying in closer communication and having 3G networks for wireless access to classrooms.
I now will add another weapon to my arsenal. Mass communication unfiltered by the owners and producers and editors of media corporations is an important tool for self-governance on local and national levels.
Don’t believe me? If their cellular reception is good enough, neighbors complaining about one of my board presentations can write and post nasty articles and photos of me on blogs, websites and as letters to the editor in the local paper even before the hearing has ended, and making good use, of course, of the very thing they came to the hearing to protest and demonize.
Welcome to my world!
And welcome to America.
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