February 21, 2012 - For over a week Frontline trumpeted "Cell Tower Deaths" on its Public Broadcasting Service stations. It was expected to air today, but the eight-months-long investigation was unexpectedly canceled last Wednesday.
A spokesperson for the WGBH-TV-produced program informed Wireless Estimator he could not discuss the reason why the prime time investigation was suddenly yanked, but did state that it would be rescheduled.
However, many industry workers, family members of deceased tower technicians - the genesis of the investigation - and the general public are concerned that Frontline might permanently shelve the program, and they have started a petition for Frontline to air the industry probe.
Within four days, over 500 people have signed the petition with approximately 75 signers voicing their opinions regarding worker deaths, turfing contractors and the generally unprofitable state of wireless contractors - other than turfing firms.
Corporate pressure a concernCommenters on the petition site and individuals contacting Wireless Estimator registered their concerns that PBS and their partner in the investigation, Pro-Publica, buckled in to corporate censorship because they would lose their funding or have advertisers such as AT&T pull their ads.
Although it is unknown why the documentary was pulled at the last moment, based upon the independence accorded to the two non-profit media outlets, it would seem unlikely that outside pressure resulted in the cancellation.
Funding for Frontline is provided through the support of PBS viewers and by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting as well as a number of institutions such as the Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
As the nation's third largest advertiser, AT&T's ad spend last year was approximately $3 billion, an impressive sum which floats in with a cloud of clout. It also spent $40 million on advertising between May and October to promote its failed $39 billion purchase of T-Mobile,
But the telecom giant doesn't provide funding to Frontline. Although the carrier might occasionally underwrite a local PBS station's programming, public broadcasting is not a target for AT&T's philanthropy.
ProPublica is primarily foundation supported, but last year allowed advertising to be placed along with rigid guidelines. To date, neither AT&T nor any other carrier has placed ads with the Pulitzer Price-winning website.
Deceased's family members press for its release"Frontline needs to air their probe into cell phone worker's deaths immediately. The public does need to know and understand that their communications service does come at a very high cost," wrote Gina Kopfman on the petition website. Her 21-year-old stepson, Jacob, was working in Missouri when he fell to his death August 11, 2011.
Bridgette Hubble said, "My husband was killed on the job...yes, air this!" Jonce Hubble and Barry Sloan, 37, were killed in 2010 when a bucket truck cut a guy wire, collapsing the tower they were working on in Anniston, Ala.
Mariah Remington talked about her dad, Dirk, who died after a fall.
"My nephew died in a cell phone tower accident and something needs to be done to protect these workers better," said Sara Pearson.
After learning about the dangers involve in working aloft, a number of mothers voiced their concerns about their children. "My son is in this business and I want him to be safe. Big corporations make millions and these guys risk their lives for almost minimum wage," explained Barbara Lewis.
The Frontline trailer said that complex layers of subcontracting insulate the carriers against liability, despite the fact that they set the aggressive schedule that can force subcontractors to cut corners in order to meet deadlines, and those ambitious timeframes may be one of the reasons why workers are dying.
Some petition signers said they were hoping that the investigation would focus upon the turfing model, a price point program that may set contractors up for failure.
The petition reads: "We request you to air your episode delving into cell phone worker's deaths immediately. Our plight to bring cell reception to every corner of this beautiful nation should not go unnoticed. People need to know that for every bar of service they see looking down at their cell phone, it comes at a cost."
If you agree that this program should be aired, please sign the petition below.