Big Brother is on the loose. When Congress passed the Communications Act of 1996, a piece of legislation written by and for the telecommunications industry, which put $40 million into its lobbying effort (not including campaign donations), the people of America were stripped of some very basic rights.
Ten years ago, when Sprint made its original proposals for making Rappahannock County into an Antenna Farm, I ran across an old friend who was visiting the county. This great gentleman was a distinguished United States senator. We shared a cup of coffee outside the old Mountainside Market on a lovely Sunday morning.
Several of us were kvetching about the Sprint proposal.
“Why don’t you just say ‘No’ to them,” the senator opined.
“We can’t,” I replied. “It is a federal mandate that negates any state or local objection.”
“Now, that’s a hell of a thing,” said my distinguished friend.
“Well, senator,” I said without a smile, “you voted for it.”
He looked at me a bit slaunch-eyed, and changed the subject.
Like death and taxes, the cell tower folks are back, and this time their mojo is working better.
Maybe it is just me, but I think we are trading our souls for a piece of dirt pie.
I’ve been laid up a lot in the last couple of years, the result of several major surgeries and slow recoveries, as surgeons gradually replace the bones the Good Lord gave me 70 years ago. (“Doctors,” said Long John Silver, “is all swabs.”)
The upside of this condition is that I have plenty of time to surf the Internet and do lots of homework on any subject that drifts through what is left of my mind. This past week it has been a lot about cell towers. Not only does the 1996 Communications Act say you gotta have ‘em whether you want them or not, it also says they cannot be rejected for any reasons concerning the citizen’s health, i.e., the effect of the potentially dangerous electromagnetic fields they emit. I’ll bet you that only a handful of the 525 members of the Senate and House who voted on this knew that little passage was in there.
Why weren’t the “tea party types” raising Cain about that one? Maybe it was because their corporate sponsors were the ones who wrote the bill. Or maybe, like the rest of us, they didn’t know about it.
So, we are told, a local government can do nothing to prevent the presence of the towers, can do nothing to protect their citizens from the deleterious effects of the transmissions, and can do little to protect the “aesthetics” of their community. One might ask, given the ever-increasing gadget frenzy that is now the bulwark of American television advertising, why anyone would even bother to protest this rush to be like everyone else? And the answer, of course, is in the question.
With all due respect and sensitivity to my friends here who think that this opposition to the inevitable is somehow an antediluvian romance, I would reply that my opposition is grounded in American tradition, in Appalachian tradition, and in Virginia tradition.
Americans threw off the yoke of an arbitrary power, mountain folk have always been independent of flatland styles and trends, and it was the Virginians, led by Jefferson and Madison and John Randolph who bristled at the concentrated power of a federal government. Now all of that seems moot, as the gradually expanding claw of Big Brother seems to create rationalizations in the best of us.
“Oh, those environment people complain about everything.”
“Those towers are just the price of progress . . .”
“There’s nothing to that dangerous transmission stuff . . .”
“I need that phone to keep up in business when I’m drivin’ around . . .”
“If somebody wrecks their car while on a cell phone, it’s their own durn fault . . .”
“Cell towers don’t lower property values . . .”
“Cell phones mean more businesses will come here, more jobs . . .”
“Those ugly towers are the price of keepin’ up . . .”
“I want an iPhone like everybody else . . .”
And, “We don’t have a choice in the matter . . .”
I will say it again. In my life’s ramblings, I believe I have been everywhere twice.
And I have never, ever seen a more beautiful, a more civilized, and a more pleasant place to live than Rappahannock. That is because such a place doesn’t exist. I don’t think you can improve on it with more cell towers.
We must demand much more of AT&T. And we must demand much more of ourselves.