There was a time when student protests in the U.S. meant something, when the iconic sit-ins, occupations and banner-waving could’ve impacted the world. Now Santa Clara U students have a new cause: AT&T’s coverage. What?
AT&T’s spotty network coverage and high data drop-out rate is the stuff of (recent) legend, and even lawsuits and public company-to-company slanging matches. The reasons behind it are clear–partly a lack of foresight and continued investment in improving infrastructure by AT&T, and partly through the unprecedented explosion in mobile data consumption caused by the iPhone, which is an AT&T exclusive device inside the U.S. It’s annoying to AT&T users (it’s annoying to the majority of iPhone users too who, as extra-USA folk, are fed up of hearing about the issue.) It’s been embarrassing to AT&T, and the company has apparently been working desperately to tackle the matter–with, according to the latest stats, some notable successes.
But that’s not enough for Santa Clara U students. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, they’ve agitated, cogitated, deliberated, and organized, and then they arranged for a “Campus Wide Call AT&T to Complain Day.” Some 200 to 300 staff and students took part. AT&T even took notice, and sent a representative out to engage in dialog. We do not know if any banners were waved, whether the strains of “we shall overcome” were heard drifting across the campus, or indeed if the protest campaign had any effect on the issue in hand.
And what precisely was this issue? Allegedly poor AT&T cell phone reception on campus. Compared to the drugs and free speech sit-ins of the ’60s, the Vietnam protests, and student activism about the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, does AT&T network performance really stand up as an issue to fight for?
I’m being light-hearted of course. But there is actually a socially important matter at the core of this news. Is cell phone reception now regarded on almost the same basis as other human rights like freedom of speech? Will we see a Constitutional amendment guaranteeing free, fair and ubiquitous access to cell phone signals no matter weather, locale or political persuasion? Of course not… yet. But the times they are a-changing, and the changes are extremely swift.