Like other American geeks, idea junkies and proponents of innovation, creativity and the slim possibility of a future United States with meaningful, marketable skills, I was inspired and thrilled with the president’s State of the Union commitment to push wireless broadband out to 98 percent of the nation. Then I remembered I live in Santa Fe, where we’re determined to be in that SOL 2 percent.

The City of Santa Fe’s Public Works CIP & Land Use Committee agreed last month to a six-month moratorium on permit approvals for telecommunications towers and antennas. Without discussion.

When the full City Council addresses the issue, we know it’s going to be swamped with opposition to new towers. Some of it will come from people with aesthetic and historic-styles concerns, and most of it will come from people who are concerned with the health effects of electromagnetic radiation. As someone who has spent the last year desperately searching for credible research to support these health concerns, I can tell you that there’s very little out there which legitimately supports them. I’d like to believe our elected officials aren’t being swayed by hyperbolic arguments based on shaky science and gross exaggerations, but there’s no telling for sure. Certainly, they are being swayed, as usual, by the pure noise of a vocal minority.

A lot of lip service is given to economic development and the idea of promoting Santa Fe as a ripe environment for technology start-ups and young, progressive entrepreneurs. But until our elected officials develop enough backbone to pull out some benevolent dictatorship and bring us up to speed, that’s a lot of empty talk. Plenty of people are concerned that the president’s talk about expanding broadband will be empty as well. But the White House already has launched the Startup America Partnership, an effort to foster growth in the arena of startups and job creation. The initiative is getting play from Facebook, Google and the TechStars Network, and looks like it may actually have some traction. But we can’t play if we don’t have a bat and a ball.

In the State of the Union, the president mentioned that the US is behind South Korea in terms of broadband speed. That’s a useless statement because everybody is behind South Korea. A more telling assessment of the US ranking in broadband would be to note that we’re also trailing behind such places as Romania and the Czech Republic. And inside the United States, New Mexico has a habit of coming up dead last on tests of average connection speeds. This puts local government in the hypocritical role of bitching at Qwest and Comcast for failing to invest sufficiently in our telecommunications infrastructure, while simultaneously preventing that investment from moving forward in any meaningful way.

In case no one has noticed, the middle class in the United States has been absolutely gutted and our industrial manufacturing base is a withered zombie compared to developing nations and growing economic juggernauts such as China. This is no accident. The economic powers that be have made their assessment and determined that the best use of the US populace going forward is as a farm for low-wage labor. The way to fight against this outcome—for the US to be globally competitive and for municipalities such as Santa Fe to be part of that—is through the aggressive promotion of innovation and creativity. The way to hamstring that promotion is to limit connectivity and flexibility.

Santa Fe can be the most beautiful, historic city in the world with more bicycle trails and cultural amenities than any person could utilize in a lifetime. But until we can compete in terms of raw connectivity, we’re never going to attract serious investment.
And all we need to do is get out of the way.

There are local opponents to the spread of wireless technology who realize this and who argue in favor of developing more efficient, high-speed wired networks. But these people are failing to realize the order of magnitude by which mobile technologies are dwarfing the rate at which the wired internet was developed. Global mobile data traffic nearly tripled in 2010—for the third straight year in a row. The amount of data consumption last year on mobile devices was three times total global internet traffic from a decade ago. A community without mobile connectivity is a community in the dark ages.

But grokking technology doesn’t appear to be the city’s strong suit. For example, I’d like to be part of the company that’s looking to sell the police and fire department some $400,000 mapping software so that first responders can rapidly navigate to addresses throughout the region. Almost a half-million bucks for mapping software? Can’t our police and fire departments just pick up a few cheap mobile phones and accomplish the same thing?

Oh, right—this is Santa Fe—we’d need some telecommunications towers for that to work.

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