Micah Rodman and Olivia Rosenthal
In this chapter, we examine New Haven’s telecommunications in more recent years and accounting for the rise of digital technology. We examine the postal service and the proliferation of newspapers in the Elm City, paying specific attention to how the internet has shaped these infrastructures. We then move on to explore internet services and more recent changes within telephone infrastructures in New Haven. While cell phones, the Internet, and the decline of print publications all seem to point towards a loss of place, the infrastructural backbones that enable these technologies are all deeply rooted in the physical world. Perhaps paradoxically, they both inhibit and enable a sense of place.
Perched on the west side of the New Haven Green sits a monumental example of classical revival architecture. The building now serves as exclusively a courthouse, renamed in 1998 to honor New Haven Mayor Richard C. Lee, though it originally was both a post office and courthouse. However, the looming white building, with its imposing columns, used to host both a courthouse and the United States Post Office. Constructed between 1913-1919, the building was designed by James Gamble Rogers, the architect of Yale’s residential colleges. The classical revival style of the building was chosen—not uncommon for federal government buildings at that time—because it was thought to convey a sense of dignity and reliability. Gamble’s structure was almost demolished in the 1960s during the city’s wave of urban renewal. Preservationists were able to save the building; it has proven to be a resilient edifice. The post office vacated the building in 1979, moving to Union Avenue.
Richard C. Lee Post Office. Now a courthouse on Church and Elm Streets, this Neo-Classical building once housed the post office.
In 19___, USPS built a prominent and strategically located sorting center in the Long Wharf urban redevelopment area, on Brewery Street. The location of this infrastructure is significant for two reasons: for one thing the facility is positioned near the impressive interchange of two interstate highways, I-91 and I-95. Planning for the Long Wharf Redevelopment Project took shape in the 1950s, under Mayor Richard C. Lee. I-95 was completed in 1958. By 1970, six other large businesses had moved into the Long Wharf renewal area, anchored by Sargent and Co., the venerable maker of architectural hardware. The federal government also played the role of patron when it commissioned the USPS sorting facility in 19??.
Yale’s relationship with the U.S. Postal Service began on October 1, 1900, when the Yale Post Office Sub-Station opened in the North College dormitory(called the Yale station), demolished during the university’s expansion during the 1920s and 30s. At the time, it was the most up-to-date facility of its kind; equipped with 500 lockboxes, the new station retired the old system in which a college postman would hand-deliver letters to students’ rooms. By 1915, the station’s business had increased by 500%. By 1968, the Yale station was so overloaded that the University considered a proposal to eliminate all post-office boxes in favor of distributing large unsorted deliveries to different areas of campus. But the Yale station survived, relocating to the basement of Lanman-Wright Hall on Old Campus (206 Elm Street) in 1994
Yale Station Post Office. This post office now serves Yale students, as there are not post office boxes for each individual student in the residential colleges.
However, with the rise of email over the 1990s, just as the new Yale station was opening it doors, the relationship between the public and the postal service has changed rapidly—in the last twenty years there was been a remarkable revolution in the way we communicate with one another. One ramification is the dwindling relevance of the USPS. Today, email (even a text message!) is a commonly excepted form of personal and professional communication. However, when we refer to the convenience of sending an email, we often forget that this form of communication is also an exclusionary one: subscribing to the services that provide the Internet is quite expensive though, and it was never very costly to mail a letter.
The USPS not faces decreasing demands but increasing costs (stemming from its history of labor contracts offering good benefits), placing the United States Post Office in an increasingly precarious position. The USPS faces competition from cyberspace on one hand, and from private companies like United Parcel Service (UPS) and Federal Express (FedEx) on the other. UPS and FedEx cannot deliver non-urgent letters; nor can they ship directly to U.S. mailboxes at residential or commercial destinations. Both companies have negotiated transit agreements with the USPS so that an item can be dropped off to FedEx or UPS who will then ship the item to the post office serving the recipient where it will be transferred to the USPS for delivery to its final destination. UPS and FedEx can also handle mail packages deemed too heavy by the USPS. In New Haven, UPS has a prominent location on Dixwell at the Tower Parkway and FedEx’s main office is on Whitney Avenue.
The threat posed by the privatized postal networks of UPS and FedEx to the USPS has influenced perceptions of these services. As UPS and FedEx have become more popular and reliable, these infrastructure networks come to be seen as playing public functions.
In 1998, SBC Communications(Southwestern Bell Corporation) purchased the Southern New England Telephone Company (SNET) for $4.4 Billion dollars. This transaction was significant, in both financial as well as symbolic terms. A Texas-based regional telephone company, SBC acquired the New Haven-born telephone company that had played such an important role in the development of the Elm City. SBC would subsequently purchased AT&T, but decided to keep that venerable corporate trademark and ditching the SBC moniker. New Haven’s telephone infrastructure was now controlled by a global corporation with no innate ties to the city.
AT&T’s business in New Haven was built with landlines. The proliferation of mobile phones( in 2000-2001)complicated what had been a monopoly on telephone infrastructure in the city. Citizens had a choice of cellphone provider (perhaps driven by product mix, family plans, brand loyalty, or advertising). AT&T has adapted to this changing telecommunications landscape and focused attention on mobile phone services and expanded into Internet services.
Telephones may have been conceived as a technological infrastructure capable of connecting people across far distances and, consequently, of annihilating space. Nonetheless, SNET was also a company deeply rooted in New Haven, making a symbolic and physical imprint on the city. The brand was local and its profits folded, in one way or another, into the development of the city and region. As mobile phones have eroded the landline monopoly, telephonic infrastructure has become less tangible. Perhaps this was always the fate of telephony.
Newspapers and other informational publications play an integral role in the communications infrastructure of the city. Though the relevance of physical print publications has dwindled over the past decade, many news sources have shifted their focus toward an online audience and web-based publications have amassed large local followings. It is fair to say that the Internet has digitized the public sphere—the question is what have citizens gained and what have they lost in this process.
New Haven Independent
Founded in 2005 by its current Editor-in-Chief, Paul Bass, The New Haven Independent is a non-profit, online publication that covers on local news, politics, and culture. It and its online comments section have developed a loyal following and for its in-depth coverage of city hall and local politics. With an annual operating budget around $200,000, the enterprise does not occupy a large physical footprint. The Independent neither prints physical newspapers, nor does it occupy a physical office space, and for these reasons it can be considered as a metonym for the general state of telecomm in New Haven and in the country at large. Above all, the large number of heated comments have made The Independent a public forum: a democratic newspaper, where anyone can share his or her views on the matter and engage in hopefully constructive debates with the thousands of other readers.
New Haven Daily Nutmeg:
Founded on January 25, 2012, by Michael Mims, publisher of Connecticut Magazine, the Daily Nutmeg functions as an online-only local magazine. Each day, the site sends out an article profiling one of New Haven’s myriad cultural events, new stories or restaurants to its list of subscribers. Online, these posts exist collectively on the publication’s website, which functions as a local cultural database..
New Haven Register :
The New Haven Register still prints a physical paper and occupies a physical office at 840 Sergeant Drive. In 2012, however, it stopped printing locally. The paper is now produced in Hartford through a contract with the Courant. The paper is also no longer owned locally, as it held by the 21st Century Media a company with 350 multi-platform products that are distributed in 992 communities. According to the most recent statistics available online, in 2012, the Register had a weekday circulation of 74,848, giving it the second-highest circulation in Conncticut after the Hartford Courant (135,283).
Many observers believe that the quality of the Register’s metro section. The web version of the Register, moreover, does not equal the often rabid participation of Independent commenters..Its recent purchase by 21st Century Media, a company focused on translating small, dying print publications to an online format, might portend a second life for New Haven’s oldest daily newspaper.
City of New Haven Website:
The City of New Haven Website logs the activity of City Hall and includes minutes from Board of Alderman meetings, plans from the office of economic development, online-only forms, and other bureaucratic information important to the daily lives of New Haveners.
Sponsored by The New Haven Register, SeeClickFix began in 2007 and is an interactive website that empowers New Haven residents to report non-emergency, quality of life issues they have encountered in their neighborhood. Users highlight their neighborhood on a map, fill out a form describing the problem(from a faulty pothole to a noisy concert) and can also upload a picture if they wish. Other users can write comments and city officials can respond to the problem and the person who reported it. For many city deparmtents, the website has become the main way of tracking assignments(to see when they are completed).
Yale Daily News:
Founded on January 28, 1878, the Yale Daily News is America’s oldest college daily newspaper. Financially and editorially independent from Yale, the paper is published by a student editorial and business staff five days a week during the academic year. There is reason to believe that the website has a readership beyond the Ivory Tower. However, it largely serves as the information hub for a substantial number of New Haven residents to accumulate information about the University, as well as an opportunity to interface with the community outside its walls.
Considering the infrastructural improvements that the Internet allows, it is important to remember that the Internet is not a priori—it is instead itself part of, and dependent on an infrastructural network. To begin considering the Internet as an infrastructural network, we should start at the smallest scale. On the individual level, every Internet user taps into the global network through a broadband or Ethernet enabled device. These devices get their Internet service from an Internet Service Provider (ISP), through either a physical modem, or some type of broadband router. ISPs each own or lease either a digital frequency, or a physical electrical communications network, or some combination of distribution channels at the regional scale. Then, these networks communicate with satellites, which enable a national—even global—network.
In New Haven, as in the rest of the country and across the world, the Internet has allowed for myriad infrastructural improvements. However, it is important to consider the physical dimensions and impact of this infrastructure. According to DataHaven’s 2013 Community Index, 91 percent of New Haven families own a computer with high-speed internet access at home, which breaks down to 98 percent among families that earn more more than 50,000 dollars in annual income, and 77 percent among families that make less than 50,000 dollars in annual income. (However, it is safe to assume that for families making well below 50,000 per year in annual income, this percentage is assuredly much, much lower, which creates an inequality of access to any Internet infrastructure project that is at least in some way dependent on private internet access on the part of New Haveners.)
The vast majority of New Haven families that do have Internet access, however, subscribed to an ISP—largely Comcast, which controls 25 percent of the national broadband market share. (Now that it owns Time Warner, it owns 30 percent of the cable TV market share as well.) While operating on a local scale, New Haven’s Internet network, along with all such networks, is no way municipally—or even regionally—controlled. Everyone, including the city itself, must tap into the global network in order to access the Internet and its capabilities locally.
Comcast building, corner of Chapel and Olive Streets. Located on Chapel and Olive Streets, this building serves as the headquarters for Comcast in New Haven. It is a reminder of the physical backbone that is necessary to enable the digital network.
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