, , , ,

Carter  Glass, 1930

The date was was June 25, 1930, and the U.S. Senate considered the following resolution:

Whereas dial telephones are more difficult to operate than manual telephones and Senators are required to perform the duties of telephone operators in order to enjoy the benefits of dial telephone service;  Therefore be it resolved… the Senate will order the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Co to replace with manual phones…all dial telephones…in  the Capitol and the Senate office building.

Sponsored by Virginia’s Carter Glass, the resolution passed without objection…The Congressional Record would not be mailable [according to one source] “if it contained in print what Senators think of the dial telephone system.” When asked why the resolution did not also ban the dial system from the District of Columbia, Glass said he hoped the phone company would take the hint.

One day before the scheduled removal of all dial phones, Sen. Millard Tydings (R-MD) offered a resolution to give senators a choice. Some of the younger senators actually preferred the dial phones. This angered the anti-dial senators, who immediately blocked the measure’s consideration.

Apparently, U.S. Senate resistance to new technology has ample precedent. It is an especially timely comparison now, in light of the Friday, 24 August proposed legislation targeted at digital content piracy. Regulatory oversight and surveillance of the internet and electronic communications is likely to have a restrictive effect on digital pirates. Unfortunately, it will impact the ease of access to the internet that law-abiding corporations and individuals have enjoyed until now.

Sen. Dill was not ready to give up, arguing that the dial phone “could not be more awkward than it is. One has to use both hands to dial; must have good light, day or night, in order to see the number. If he happens to turn the dial not quite far enough, then he gets a wrong connection!” Finally, technology offered a solution: provide the Senate with phones that worked both ways [dial or manual, according to individual preference].

Before bemoaning the fact that a solution was so obvious then, note how lengthy the process of arriving there was, as the technology was new, and the Senate is not agile. However, the same could be said of the situation at present, which gives me hope that somehow, “technology will offer a solution” yet again, so that will not be the end of an era, the era of the accessible internet.