Tonawanda News

September 11, 2013

CONFER: Legalize cell phone jamming devices

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The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — The development and mainstream adoption of cellular technology has been a boon to humanity. It has made the ability to communicate across great distances affordable and accessible and it has brought to the masses portable computers (smartphones) that connect their users to the world and its knowledge.

But, cellular devices aren’t perfect; after all, they are used by imperfect humans. While these gadgets have succeeded in making us smarter, they have, oddly enough, made us more ignorant, too. People have become so reliant on these machines that they forsake etiquette, good taste, and productivity to use them.

Look no further than your favorite restaurant. You pay your hard-earned money to relax and enjoy a nice dinner in peace. How often has that environment been sullied by ridiculous ringtones or other diners obnoxiously yelling (the default means of cellspeak) into their phones?

Or, check out our public schools where teachers have to try to teach kids of all ages who were, inappropriately, given their own phone that they secretly — even openly — use to send and receive text messages all day, distracting them from the truly important non-social matters of schooling. It’s no wonder our graduates aren’t college or workplace ready.

And, what about those workplaces? Countless hours of productivity are lost every day in every business when workers sneak calls, engage in endless text conversations or become glued to their browser.

Cellphones are everywhere and so are their abuses.

How do we stop the insanity? Why not let those who have a vested interest in those facilities exert some control where others’ self control is lacking? Grant property owners the ability to jam cellular signals, something that is currently illegal under the Communications Act of 1934 and subsequent amendments (anyone caught doing so now would be fined $16,000 for each violation or each day of a continuing violation, or up to $112,000 for a single act).

Federal law excludes individuals, private enterprises and local and state governments from the act of interference (no matter how limited), yet permits the federal government to jam specific or many radio signals at will. So, it’s not like it is never or cannot be done; it’s done regularly and for various reasons.

What’s good for the goose should be good for the gander. There is no good reason — especially with the narrow bands within which cell phones operate — that schools, restaurants, and businesses should not be allowed to develop and install band-specific, very-low-power transmitters that would cover only a room or two at a time and prevent cellular signals from coming in or going out. This could be done with an elaborate licensing process that would require reasonable need by the applicant, engineering studies by the equipment provider/installer and review and approval by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). It would be no different than all that is involved with setting up any radio station (broadcast or two-way), except it would be at a much smaller scale.

What a wonderful world it would be if restaurateurs could maintain civility in their dining rooms, teachers could teach attentive students, and workers could commit themselves to the task at hand.

Is this even a possibility? Not right now. FCC documents cite the far-fetched threat that it poses to public safety, specifically the inability of folks to call 911, despite every one of those facilities having landlines and mankind having done pretty well before cell phones became ubiquitous in the past 15 years.

But, this can change. Public policy adjusts itself to the mood of the public. As time goes on, angry teachers, concerned business owners, and properly-behaved citizens could create a big enough stink that they could control the airwaves — and decency — at the micro level.

Gasport resident Bob Confer also writes for the New American magazine at TheNewAmerican.com. Follow him on Twitter @bobconfer