“Television is a vast wasteland “applied to current efforts to limit Internet access; Woody Allen makes a guest appearance

In 1961 the FCC Chairman, Newton Minnow, gave a scathing speech at the National Association of Broadcasters Convention calling television “a vast wasteland.” Last week,  in the tradition of Newton Minnow’s “television is a vast wasteland” speech, the new and exciting Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Tom Wheeler delivered his visionary plan to ensure access for the poor to the Internet. TowWheeler Access to the Internet is a primary requisite for participation in the Information Age. If you cannot access the Internet

  • You job prospects decrease
  • Access to startling new healthcare, such as remote surgery is denied you
  • Communication with relatives and friends is more difficult.
  • Being part of mainstream society is DENIED.
"This picture is derived from Greek mythology, where the blind giant Orion carried his servant Cedalion on his shoulders." --Wikipedia
“This picture is derived from Greek mythology, where the blind giant Orion carried his servant Cedalion on his shoulders.” –Wikipedia

To get an understanding of the relevance of Wheeler’s ground breaking speech on the implications of excluding large numbers of people, especially, individuals in rural areas and the disabled and elderly, there are two Giants who come to mind instantly.

By giants, I refer to the phrase: “Dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants (Latin: nanos gigantum humeris insidentes) is a Western metaphor with a contemporary interpretation meaning “one who discovers by building on previous discoveries”.

“Its most familiar expression is found in the letters of Isaac Newton: If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” –Wikipedia


The two giants on whose shoulders Tom Wheeler is sitting are:

1. Marshall McLuhan and 2. Newton Minnow.


“Marshall McLuhan,  (July 21, 1911 – December 31, 1980) was a Canadian philosopher of communication theory. His work is viewed as one of the cornerstones of the study of media theory, as well as having practical applications in the advertising and television industries.

“McLuhan is known for coining the expressions the medium is the message and the global village, and for predicting the World Wide Web almost thirty years before it was invented.”




It is widely believed that John Kennedy became President by one of the narrowest margins in history because of his TELEVISION appearance in the 1960 Kennedy / Nixon debates described above. By 1968 (it is well documented) then candidate for President again Richard Nixon read Marschall McLuhan’s work very carefully. His top campaign advisors were sending memos back and forth with large excerpts from McLuhan’s Understanding Media, a very difficult book to read.

McLuhan had observed that people listening to the debate on the radio thought Nixon had won. I listened to the debate on radio and I thought Nixon had won. These debates marked a profound shift in the influence television has on our society.


Minow campaigned for President John F. Kennedy prior to the 1960 presidential election,” notes Wikipedia. “In 1961 he was appointed by President Kennedy to be one of seven commissioners of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as well as its Chair.

“Thereafter, it came as little surprise that after the election Minow eagerly pursued the position of FCC Chair. …Reportedly, Robert F. Kennedy, brother of John F. Kennedy, and Minow frequently talked at length about the increasing importance of television in the lives of their children during the Kennedy presidential campaign.

“Minow became one of the most well-known and respected — if sometimes controversial — political figures of the early 1960s because of his criticism of commercial television. In a speech given to the National Association of Broadcasters convention on May 9, 1961, he was extremely critical of television broadcasters for not doing more, in Minow’s view, to serve the public interest. His phrase, “vast wasteland”, is remembered years after the speech.”

Excerpt from Minnow’s Wasteland speech:When television is good, nothing — not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers — nothing is better. But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite each of you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there for a day without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland.


Back to the Present


Here President Obama announces the appointment of Wheeler to head the Federal Communications Commission.


As I write here in Rust Belt Pennsylvania in the center of the state of Pennsylvania, Internet service is limited to pockets of miles and miles of area where one cannot make a cell call because the infrastructure is not in place, let alone find one’s way to a Google prompt. ++++ What follows is the heart of Wheeler’s groundbreaking speech. As someone who works in the architecture, engineering and construction community, I am especially interested in the  effect access to broadband will have as the Baby Boom generation, as the largest generation in history retires and relocates. Essential to living in place is access to broadband.

This month, I became a columnist for e-architect uk. http://www.e-architect.co.uk/columns/joel-solkoffs-column-vol-i-number-3

My focus is on advice to architects on incorporating into their work consciousness about the requirements for elderly and disabled individuals. One clear lesson of Wheeler’s speech is that housing with easy access to broadband is essential coming  a close second, for those of us who are mobility disabled. to wheelchairs and ramps.


Prepared Remarks of FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler

The Ohio State University

Columbus, Ohio

December 2, 2013

“How we connect with friends and family, how our homes use energy; the efficiency of our transportation network; how we elect our public leaders and engage with government; all are impacted by our new networks.

“Here at Ohio State there was a dramatic example of how networks are changing old practices when Dr. Christopher Kaeding donned Google Glass to conduct a surgical operation that allowed medical students located miles away to see through his eyes.

“There is another aspect of the new networks that will differentiate the lives of the current crop of students at Ohio State.

“Historically, networks have been a centralizing force, pulling users closer to the place where the technology resided. The new network operates in an opposing manner, pushing activities outward to the edge of the network. The result is an explosion in individual opportunity – a re-birth of the entrepreneurial dynamism that characterized the pre-industrial era of our nation. “Enter the Federal Communications Commission.

“The FCC is the public’s representative to the ongoing network revolution. “The agency was created originally in 1934 to oversee the third-generation networks of telephony and broadcast and, eventually cable and wireless carriers.

“Specifically, Congress charged the FCC to protect – quote – ‘the public interest, convenience, and necessity’ of the nation’s networks. “In serving the public interest, the FCC has focused on dual responsibilities. “First, facilitating dynamic technological change to ensure the U.S. has world-class communications networks.

“Second, ensuring that our networks reflect our civic values, most notably our belief that communications networks should be accessible to all.

“Today, we find ourselves at a crossroads. The old monopoly telephone network is being replaced by new, more flexible and efficient digital networks. This is a good thing. The networks of the 21st century bear scant physical resemblance to the networks that defined the 20th century.”


Wheeler’s complete remarks, available at the FCC site,  includes Wheeler’s glee that his alma mater beat its arch football rival Penn State in football.  Here in State College where i live  WE ARE ALL PENN STATE.

Despite Tom’s position on the wrong side of football, I trust that Tom Wheeler is on the right side of broadband policy for the poor, elderly, and disabled.

— Joel Solkoff

Copyright 2013 by Joel Solkoff. All rights reserved.

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