Back When The Senate Tried To Ban Dial Telephones

from the a-series-of-tubes dept

With a group of Senators now looking to block various websites the Justice Department deems as "pirate," websites, it's worth taking a look back at how Senators can be rather silly in their rush to ban certain technologies, highlighting why it's generally not a good idea when politicians get involved in technology. The Nieman Journalism Lab points us to the news that, back in 1930, the Senate came close to banning dial telephones (where you dialed them yourself), preferring to have an operator do the connection instead. To the anti-dial Senators, it was seen as inappropriate to do the work of operators themselves. The resolution, which passed, read:
Whereas dial telephones are more difficult to operate than are manual telephones; and Whereas Senators are required, since the installation of dial phones in the Capitol, to perform the duties of telephone operators in order to enjoy the benefits of telephone service; and Whereas dial telephones have failed to expedite telephone service; Therefore be it resolved that the Sergeant at Arms of the Senate is authorized and directed to order the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Co. to replace with manual phones within 30 days after the adoption of this resolution, all dial telephones in the Senate wing of the United States Capitol and in the Senate office building.
Now, it's true that the resolution only impacted the Senate -- but when another Senator asked why they didn't ban dial phones from all of Washington DC, Senator Carter Glass from Virginia who sponsored the resolution apparently said that "he hoped the phone company would take the hint," and would remove all dial phones.

While the resolution did pass, some younger Senators were apparently upset about it -- as they actually preferred to dial their own numbers, and put forth a resolution to let Senators choose which they wanted -- leading to a "compromise" where those who wanted dial phones could keep them, but those who wanted to have the operator handle the difficulty for them, could do so. As one Senator, Clarence Dill, noted in support of the ban:
In his experience, the dial phone "could not be more awkward than it is. One has to use both hands to dial; he must be in a position where there is good light, day or night, in order to see the number; and if he happens to turn the dial not quite far enough, then he gets a wrong connection."
Is it any wonder that some of us think that it's not a good idea for elected officials to determine the relative merits of technology?
Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: censorship, history, senators, technology

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread

  1. icon
    Mike Masnick (profile), 23 Sep 2010 @ 10:41pm

    Re: Are you serious?

    Mike Masnick is comparing Apples to Oranges…

    No. I'm not actually. But nice try.

    There are laws for road traffic, for contracts and for personal safety. Therefore it should be no different on the internet. We all have free speech but if you yell “I have a Bomb” inside an airport or an airplane you will be arrested and shot if you resist arrest.

    Indeed. But that's got nothing to do with what's going on here. We already have strong copyright protection laws, so there's no issue there. The problem is that the new attempt is not about copyright infringement, it's about some Senators deciding which new technologies will be allowed.

    Remember, when the VCR came out it was declared a "piracy tool," with Jack Valenti calling it "the Boston strangler" to the movie industry. If these Senators had their way, they would have banned it this way, without due process.

    When player pianos first came along they were damned for being "pirate tools."

    When radio came along it was damned for being a "pirate" tool.

    When television first came along it was damned for being a "pirate tool."

    How far do you want to go?

    Why should the internet be any different from enforcement of laws?

    It's not. As I said, we already have copyright laws. This is not about that. This is because the entertainment industry is either too lazy or too clueless to adapt, and so they want to ban tools -- not infringers -- for their problems.

    How many of you would tolerate coming up with an idea or product that people want to buy but there is a whole segment of the population who feel they don't need to pay for your product or idea and will take it and give it away to others for free.

    Out here, in the real world, it's what we call competition.

    I guarantee you would not be the least bit happy if someone was taking money out of your pocket because someone wanted to play Robin Hood.

    Nobody's "taking money" out of anyone's pocket. They're *not buying* but that's not the same thing. Please learn a little about this subject before standing up in favor of censorship.

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter

Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Make this the First Word or Last Word. No thanks. (get credits or sign in to see balance)    
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Special Affiliate Offer

Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Recent Stories

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.