Vigliotti: Nixon, kitchens and small cells — a redux

In Annapolis, there are new moves to impose small cells on Marylanders (such as House Bill 654). Legislation to do so last year went nowhere; and municipalities and the Maryland Municipal League are determined to prevent the latest round.

Essentially low-powered stations meant to improve wireless service, small cells are usually positioned at most a few hundred feet away from one another. But the personal cost for such service is high.


The continuing debate eerily echoes one which took place 60 years ago, and many of the consequences are the same.

In July 1959, Vice President Richard Nixon traveled to Moscow’s Sokolniki Park for the American National Exhibition, a cultural display of technology and products naturally arising within free society. It was hoped the exhibition would not only improve relations between citizens of the American-led West and the Soviet-dominated East by letting each see how the other half lived, but would demonstrate in a very clear and very real way the common, everyday benefits of human freedom.

Nixon toured the American Exhibition with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, looking over everything from refrigerators, modern fashions, open concept kitchens and cars to the Mechanical Maid (forerunner of the Rumba) and the computer-controlled “miracle kitchen” (a presage to Alexa). Some were things presently and readily available to Americans; and those not yet available demonstrated the vision and potential of the American future.

Khrushchev, in a desperate bid to both defend Communism and the Soviet system, contended that within seven years, the Americans would be surpassed. Khrushchev cursed and denied his way through the tour. The American Exhibition was even mocked as a department store. Nixon was not deterred.

Nixon knew that engaging in a free society would lead to successes which would benefit all Americans, in which hard work, innovation and choice would only further the life of the American people and their nation.

At their most fundamental level, that debate between Nixon and Khrushchev was about freedom, and by function, choice. The everyday question of whether husbands and wives could pick the refrigerator that was a good fit for them and their children was merely an extension of the moral and ideological struggle for human freedom.

It was not the Soviet state cramming people into compact, government housing and providing what it believed was appropriate for those people, be they fashions and styles 10 years out of date or cars that usually failed to work. And Khrushchev startlingly recognized all of this when he tried and failed to debate Nixon on the merits of automatic washers, proclaiming much of the range of American products to be mere “gadgets” that Soviets would never adopt.

The impromptu debate demonstrated the shortcomings of not only daily life under communism, but the shortfalls and evils of communism itself. It was further proof that communism, and socialism, were enemies of human rights, personal choice and private freedoms, which are natural to humankind.

Should Maryland’s General Assembly and Senate side with wireless network corporations over citizens and municipalities, the state would deny such rights. It would also compound problems created by an incomplete FCC order on small cell towers which took effect in January. The order leaves many decisions up to the states. And so the wireless industry is once again pushing hard in Maryland for legislation that would protect its own interests.

The industry is demanding that anything in a public right-of-way, as well as anything not a single-family residence, is a “use by right” and therefore not subject to local zoning laws. This effectively gives corporations the ability to put small cell technology almost anywhere they so choose.

In other words, citizens and municipalities will be at the mercy of the corporations when it comes to site selection and placement — and corporations will have capped the fee amount granted to municipalities in exchange for emplacement. These fees will number only in the hundreds of dollars.

Visually, small cells make the worst of modern art seem attractive. They could even be mistaken for obsolete Soviet technology that no one has bothered getting around to tearing down, yet. Nixon would probably feel quite out of place observing the jumble of metal boxes, poles, antennas and cables that can form small cells. The industry will only consent to aesthetic guidelines if they fairly apply to everyone else — unlike the industry which wants special exceptions in the first place.

If this wasn’t troubling enough, the wireless industry wants all industry-favorable laws enacted in Maryland to remain in place no matter what becomes of the FCC order in the future.

Americans favor the free market. Yet corporations intertwined at such a level with government is neither free, nor the market in action. These are not corporations offering wireless coverage of the future to citizens who may choose or decline, but an industry insisting its activities be codified under law. An industry within the comfort of state sanction will be less inclined to innovate, improve, or be held to account; and the state will protect the industry in order to protect itself from criticisms and real issues.


Nixon would be appalled at the move by the wireless industry and its backers to gain greater control under the guise of providing citizens with better wireless coverage. There are better, and freer ways to provide wireless signal. It may not be as easy as the state mandating impositions, but it is freedom of choice that makes the real difference.