The great (wired) outdoors

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Boy, there's just nothing like experiencing the great outdoors! The majesty of the Grand Canyon, for example, puts the hubbub of our harried lives into perspective. Out there, you can be in touch with the eons, or with your inner self, or ... with your cell phone?

Yes! CellularONE Group -- a joint venture of AT&T, Southwestern Bell and Vanguard Systems -- has demanded that our National Park Service allow it to build a 43-foot cellular-phone tower at Hopi Point on the south rim of the Grand Canyon. CellularONE executives say they need a tower there so drivers can make use of their mobile telephones.

Hey -- who cares if a handful of cell-phone freaks can't yakety-yak while visiting this timeless natural wonder? As a Sierra Club representative put it: "Hang up the phone and hike! Get in touch with the Grand Canyon, not the office!"

Yes, but your hikers and lovers of solitude are not major campaign contributors and don't have high-priced, Gucci-wearing lobbyists hiking up to Capitol Hill in Washington. They probably don't know that Bill Clinton issued a presidential memorandum in 1995 mandating that federal properties, specifically including national parks, be made available "for the siting of mobile services antennas." And if that's not enough, Congress also wrote the cellular-tower mandate into the Telecommunications Act of 1996. So, under the law, the park service has no choice but to consider the company's demand.

This is the start of something awful. CellularONE already has petitioned to erect another tower in the Kaibab National Forest, and it can't be long before this company and others decide that all of our public parks are their for-profit playthings.

How many of you want to go to a national park to hear cell phones in the wild? Confront your Congress critters on this -- ask why Congress OK'd this pollution of the people's parks.

Jim Hightower is an author, radio commentator, public speaker and political sparkplug from Austin, Texas. For more populist commentary, visit his website.

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