May 11, 2001, 3:18 PM — You oversee a four-star restaurant, a Broadway theater or a house of worship, and all you're praying for these days is a way to stop ringing cell phones from spoiling the experience that draws people to your establishment.
The good news is we have the technology.
The bad news is that jamming cell phone signals is illegal, by and large, unless you have a public-safety or security rationale to offer, as with hospitals and certain government buildings.
The situation presents a thorny challenge to entrepreneurs such as J. David Derosier, CEO of a year-old start-up called Cell Block Technologies.
Derosier emphasizes -- repeatedly -- that his company's Cell-Block-R system does not use illegal and otherwise problematic jamming technology to quiet boorish phone users. Instead, he claims to have hit on "an elegantly simple solution" that . . . well, we could get into the details here, but they almost certainly will not matter. He has yet to convince regulators in the U.S. or Canada that Cell-Block-R warrants any government stamp of approval that has long been denied to the jammers.
As for the principle at stake?
"Our position is that the proprietor of an enclosed space should have the right to control disturbances within that space," Derosier says. "That could be a fight in a bar, that could be somebody yelling at his kid on a cell phone, or whatever."
He's right, but again, that's unlikely to matter either.
Public cell phone use isn't an issue of personal freedom. Diners, moviegoers and worshipers have no more of a "right" to use a cell phone in such places than they do a boombox or a chain saw.
No, this is a battle over big bucks and the competing interests of property owners. And this competition is a mismatch.
In one corner we've got small-time entrepreneurs like Derosier and the largely mom-and-pop proprietors of eateries and theaters who'd like to maintain decorum in their establishments by fighting technology with technology.
In the other corner we've got a multibillion-dollar mobile telecommunications industry that paid megabucks to the government for its spectrum and really couldn't give a beep if moviegoers beat each other silly over differences of opinion on phone manners. The industry doesn't want to see that investment devalued in any way.
So ask yourself this question: Which of these two constituencies -- the mammas and the pappas, or the 800-pound campaign contributors -- has the better chance of winning the support of federal lawmakers and the government regulators who bow to them?
Derosier knows it may be awhile before the dynamic changes.
"We're fortunate in that our corporate strategy doesn't depend on it for survival," he says.