A rambling rant on communication technology


Column by Kevin Qualls, Professor of mass communications

The Internet is slow today (Tuesday). Interacting with colleagues and students in the very same building is frustrated because somehow, somewhere a fragile fiber optic cable was broken. We depend on web-based applications for almost everything.  Teaching and learning, getting a prescription refilled, filing taxes and even making a phone call are all dependent on the Internet working properly.

Whether by cyber attack or backhoe incident, all it takes to stop us dead in our tracks is a fiber-optic fracture. We are extremely vulnerable.

Yes, there are concerns about privacy, government spying, hacking and the sort. But there is something much more at stake because of our dependency on fiber optics. Our personal security is at risk. More on that later.

Not making a lot of progress on the office computer, I went home at lunch to see what could be accomplished there. No Internet at all. No telephone. Every channel on the TV frozen on whatever frame was being displayed when that bit of fiber was broken. All those services are bundled on a single copper coax cable. And that copper coax cable is part of a larger grid belonging to Time Warner Cable.  They are out of business today, too.  Go to their office, and they can’t do a thing for you. Not until they have net access again.

When the Internet was working this morning, I saw news headlines about the country of Denmark doing away with FM radio altogether. That’s stupid. We’ll probably follow suit in the USA soon enough. Wireless communication sounds pretty appealing when wired communication is completely shut down by natural disaster, terrorist attack, or whatever. But cell phone companies need more bandwidth. And they have a powerful lobbying group.

CTIA, aka “the wireless association” represents the interests of cell phone companies in efforts to get favorable legislation for the cell phone industry.  I think CTIA is an acronym for Cellular Telephone Industry Association. I would look it up to be sure, but can’t because of that broken fiber-optic cable. Anyway, let’s talk about CTIA.

Maybe you’ve seen their commercials. Really well done. Clever. It shows smart looking people accomplishing impressive things through cell phone technology. They use the tag line:  “Wireless is Freedom.” Bovine excrement. They are not advertising to you. They are buying influence with TV networks that, coincidently, are not telling you what CTIA is up to.

CTIA is petitioning Congress and the FCC to sell at auction the public airwaves that are owned by us all, collectively. It’ s been happening already. They want more. Digital TV transmissions only use about one sixth of the bandwidth that analogue transmissions required.

That’s why some TV stations have several channels now.  WPSD has Retro-TV, for example.  They are licensed to use airwaves that are owned by us. In return, they are supposed to operate in our interest, convenience or necessity. And they do, especially when the weather outside is frightful. I hope there are no tornadoes in the area today. TV stations come to me over Time Warner and they’ve got a broken piece of fiber.

It’s time to kick it old school. I want an antenna. FCC coverage maps say that up to 8 HDTV over-the-air stations could be received in Murray, with an antenna up on the roof. And it’s free.

Still, those TV stations aren’t talking about what CTIA is doing. But now you know something is up. You read about it right here in The Murray State News. Maybe you could Google it when the Internet is working again.