The grid in my garden

When I moved house at the end of August, I decided to forgo the land line and rely entirely on wireless for my telephone service.

Even the most basic land package from Verizon seems overpriced, the legacy of a bygone era when telephone customers didn’t have many options. Besides, I already do most of my telephone work on my blackberry; the signal in the new place is strong; and I use cable for my internet connection (because it’s faster than DSL, not because I like the cable companies any more than I like Verizon).

Verizon’s wires still run through the place, previous residents and tenants over the past half century having installed a telephone in nearly every room. I’ve traced the wires from their origin on a pole just on the other side of the fence at the far end of our garden. The wires run the length of the garden, through the branches of trees, winding together in some places with creeping vines, weighed down in others by the heavy summer growth. They reach the house at a central hub or switch box, at which point they creep up and across the brick walls, where they find entry, through the brick and into the house. Once inside, the lines follow the trim and molding, angle to mimic a corner, and master the contours of every room’s interior, until they reach a jack.

The lines are held in place with staples. I have already spent some time removing these staples and pulling telephone wires out from the walls, cutting them close to the little holes where they emerge, and generally trying to rid the place of them. (I’ll need to do the same with all the television cables running into the house, with the exception of the one carrying my internet connection.)

We’ve gotten so accustomed to having all these lines and cables and cords creep through our homes that we no longer realize just how intrusive all this old wire technology is. The wires are unsightly. They ruin the molding and get in the way of painting. And now they’re dead: they no longer carry a signal or a voice. In certain moods I see them as reminders of absence, of lost connections, of loss.

I get a certain satisfaction from removing the wires inside the house, but now I’m wondering what it would take to get Verizon to clean up its equipment, take down the line that runs to the house from the pole in the back of the garden, pull down the lines that run up the back of the house, remove the switch box, and get all its gear off the property.

So far as I have been able to determine, Verizon’s ownership of the telephone wires is not really in question, even though regulatory changes from the 1960s through the 1990s have required the telephone companies to “behave neutrally” and to allow other service providers (like ISPs) to access their wires. Yet it also appears that the law of trespass is not entirely settled when it comes to telephone lines.

Airplanes and telephone lines once tested the law of trespass; they required exceptions and accommodations. But things change. A previous property owner allowed Verizon to string lines across and above my property. What if I now deem them a nuisance? And imagine what might happen to those easements and allowances if hundreds or thousands or even millions of property owners were to ask the telephone companies to take down their lines.

Most people probably consider the lines and cables and wires on their property none of their concern. In exchange for services, we’ve allowed the phone and power and cable companies to encroach and build on our property; and we’ve grown used to seeing the stuff everywhere we go.

That is not likely to change. New technologies (like fiber optic) and bundled services will most likely allow the phone companies to convert and upgrade rather than tear down the infrastructure they have in place. But I’m not interested. I want the grid out of my garden.

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